Today is Groundhog
Day. Also known as a
woodchuck, the animal is basically a squirrel on steroids. It is a rodent,
which means that it gnaws incessantly.
word rodent comes from the Latin verb rodere, to gnaw, eat away, or erode. It started off
meaning corrosive, then erosive, then became a classification for gnawing
mammals. Common words based on the
Latin verb include corrode, erode, the aforementioned rodent, and rostrum. Rostrum?!
I was startled to see
rostrum in the list when I did a wildcard search on the online Oxford
English Dictionary. It’s a
platform or stage, a structure used by public speakers or by music conductors.
But how does that fit in with gnawing? It turns out that the original rostrum
stood in the Forum of ancient Rome. It was decorated with the beakheads of
captured warships. Beaks . . . gnawing—there’s the connection.
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