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Unexpected Meanings from Sherlock Holmes

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June 20, 2010, 20:06
wordcrafter
Unexpected Meanings from Sherlock Holmes
This week we’ll investigate the short stories of Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and detect unfamiliar meanings of familiar words.mere (noun) – a sheet of standing water; a lake; a pond, a pool
[This is etymologically unrelated to our familiar term mere, and in that sense it it is not truly the “same” word. According to OED, the latter is Latinate, and the former is Germanic. But I wonder, noting that French la mer (as in Debussy) means “the sea”.]
June 22, 2010, 20:38
wordcrafter
chaff – light-hearted joking (verb: to tease)
[probably unrelated to chaff – the husks of grain or other seed separated by winnowing or threshing]
June 23, 2010, 04:29
zmježd
[This is etymologically unrelated to our familiar term mere, and in that sense it it is not truly the “same” word. According to OED, the latter is Latinate, and the former is Germanic. But I wonder, noting that French la mer (as in Debussy) means “the sea”.]

Well, English mere, as in a body of water, does go back past the Old English period to Common Germanic (or Proto-Germanic); a reflex of it exists in most Germanic languages.French mer goes back to Latin maris 'sea'. Both the Italic and Germanic roots no doubt go back to PIE.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
June 23, 2010, 06:54
bethree5
quote:
Originally posted by wordcrafter:
[This is etymologically unrelated to our familiar term mere, and in that sense it it is not truly the “same” word. According to OED, the latter is Latinate, and the former is Germanic. But I wonder, noting that French la mer (as in Debussy) means “the sea”.]


Etymonline says 'mere' the body of water's German roots and also 'mare' the Latin sea both come from PIE mori-/mari. So 'la mer' would be part of the same picture as z suggests.

Same source describes 'mere' (nothing more than) once also meaning 'nothing less than' (pure, absolute)-- & that deriving from Latin 'merus' unmixed, clear, bright -- all going back to PIE mer- to gleam/glimmer/sparkle.

Can't help thinking the two PIE roots that led us to such different meanings today (mer-, mori/mari) started off as closely related, the one perhaps describing the other.
June 23, 2010, 19:57
wordcrafter
Today’s word has a meaning which, though less-known than the usual one, is not completely unfamiliar. The root is the Latin for ‘twist back’, and you can see how that root sense also ties to the more usual meaning.retort – a long-necked glass container, used in distilling liquids and other chemical operations
[Latin retorquere ‘twist back’, referring to the backward-bending neck of the glass container]
Nowadays, used more to mean “a container or furnace for carrying out a chemical process on a large or industrial scale”.
June 23, 2010, 20:18
Robert Arvanitis
The term triggered a sudden flashback to archaic scientific terms, a vision of what today might be called by "steampunk."

Alembic and cucurbit, Wimshurst machine, Atwood machine, Leyden jars, Van de Graaff generator, Jacob's Ladder, aeolipile, Antikythera mechanism, astrolabe, orrerry, alidade...


RJA
June 24, 2010, 03:03
zmježd
steampunk

Difference engine. I've seen the one in the Computer History Museum actually working and printing a page of its results.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
June 24, 2010, 07:33
arnie
Although retort and some similar terms for chemical apparatus may be 'archaic' by the standards of modern-day professional chemists, I well recall their use in the chem labs at school. From what I've seen since, they are still used in schools, especially for teaching and demonstrating some of the more basic chemical reactions.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
June 24, 2010, 17:49
wordcrafter
shingle – coarse beach-gravel; also, a beach covered with such gravel
You’ll see the Southsea shingle beach in this old photo and this new one.

Unclear etymology, but with interesting speculation. The word was originally chingle, perhaps imitating the sound that loose gravel makes when you walk on it. (Compare the chink or clink, sounds of coins or glasses jostled against each other.) chingle’s initial ch- later changed to sh-. The ch- to sh- shift parallels the change of the old word chivere (perhaps akin to chatter) into our modern shiver.
June 25, 2010, 19:34
wordcrafter
The unexpected sense of today’s word is not just different from the usual sense. It is quite the opposite of it.

Come with me – or else.life preserver – a hand weapon with a weighted head upon a small shaft (the shaft may be strappy or springy, making a blackjack, or it may be a stick)

OED defines it as a stick weighted at one end “and intended for use in self-defence. Often carried for protection by burglars.” I think that is nonsense, in that the device is for attack, not defense. A quote from another Sherlock Holmes work makes this clear.- - - - - - -
By the way, do you agree with the dictionaries’ definition of the more usual meaning of “life preserver”? In rough terms, most define it either as “a life jacket” or as “a life jacket or other buoyancy device”. But in my view, the term explicitly excludes a life jacket; it specifically means a flotation device of doughnut shape.
June 25, 2010, 20:40
Kalleh
I would call the donut-shaped device a life preserver...and the jacket device a life jacket.
June 26, 2010, 18:04
wordcrafter
Today’s word was not originally a military term.

cadet – a younger son or brother; a younger branch of a family; a member of a younger branch
[from the diminutive form of Latin caput head; hence, “little chief” or “little head” of a family]
June 27, 2010, 16:11
bethree5
'Cadet' means younger (adj) or younger/youngest sibling (noun) in French. Etymology online claims the military association is from the 15th c. Gascon 'capdet', related to the Gascon tradition of sending younger sons of nobility to French court to serve as officers.
June 27, 2010, 20:14
wordcrafter
In Doyle’s usage, a magnate is a person of rank, power, influence, or distinction, in any field. Most dictionaries define it this way, although many (but not all; see Merriam-Webster) add “especially in business or industry”. I think that is wrong, and that is today’s usage the word applies solely to prominence in business.

magnate – a very wealthy or powerful businessman
June 28, 2010, 06:25
Proofreader
I'm a week behind, not having computer access in the hospital, so pardon a late entty re: chaff.
That also is the word for a radar countermeasure used by the British in World War II. Another name for it was Window.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
June 28, 2010, 09:55
LlamaLadySG
quote:
Originally posted by wordcrafter:
Unclear etymology, but with interesting speculation. The word was originally chingle, perhaps imitating the sound that loose gravel makes when you walk on it. (Compare the chink or clink, sounds of coins or glasses jostled against each other.) chingle’s initial ch- later changed to sh-. The ch- to sh- shift parallels the change of the old word chivere (perhaps akin to chatter) into our modern shiver.


Actually, as the surf works the rocks, it moves the back and forth on the beach which erodes them into a flattened shape. When you look at their distribution on a beach (and in ancient rocks that were shingled beach deposits) they are lapped one on another, just like roof shingles. So there is really no question as to where the name of this type of beach came from.
June 29, 2010, 02:05
arnie
quote:
So there is really no question as to where the name of this type of beach came from.

Not sure what you mean here. The word derives from Middle English, possibly from Old Norse, as is mentioned by Wordcrafter. The (primarily American) meaning of "roof tile" comes from different roots, and first appeared in English much later, in the 19th century; Latin scandula meant a roof tile.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.