This week we'll present the interesting etymologies of some familiar words from astronomy. My grateful acknowledgement to AR Tullock, whose article in The Scotsman provided the idea of this theme and much of the information, to which I have added.
moon – from an Indo-European root meaning 'to measure"; a month is measured by the phases of the moon
If I understand correctly, in many of the Indo-European languages the words for "moon" and "month" are identical or are cognates: German, Sanskrit, Irish, Lithuanian, Avestan, Persian, Old Irish, Welsh. In other languages (Greek, Armenian) they were originally cognates, until another term was substituted for "moon".This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
January 25, 2005, 10:28
quote:If I understand correctly, in many of the Indo-European languages the words for "moon" and "month" are identical or are cognates: German, Sanskrit, Irish, Lithuanian, Avestan, Persian, Old Irish, Welsh. In other languages (Greek, Armenian) they were originally cognates, until another term was substituted for "moon".
Is this also generally true for non-Indo-European languages?
January 25, 2005, 11:55
In Mandarin Chinese the word for month is the same as the word for moon. (Not an IE language).
January 26, 2005, 08:06
It would seem obvious that the words meteor and meteorology must be related, and yet they have entirely different meanings: meteorology is the study of weather and other aspects of the atmosphere, not the study of meteors. What then is the connection between the two words?
We understand that lightning, streaking across the night sky, is a phenomenon of the atmosphere. The ancients, seeing the differently-shaped steak of light which we today call a meteor or shooting star, had no reason to think it too was anything other than atmospheric. The English word meteor meant 'an atmospheric phenomena of any type'.¹ Only in the 1800s did it become generally understood that the streak of a shooting star was something fundamentally different. With that, the word meteor became confined to a shooting star, and new forms of the word emerged:
meteoroid² – a stone in interplanetary space, too small to be an asteroid
meteor – the streak of light as that stone passes through the earth's atmosphere; also, the stone itself during that passage
meteorite – the same stone, resting on or in the earth
How did meteor come to mean 'an atmospheric phenomenon' in the first place? It began with Greek aeirein 'to raise' and aoros 'lifted' (kin to the terms that gave us aorta 'that which is hung', air, and malaria 'bad air'). The Greeks added the prefix meta- 'over; beyond' to form meteoros, referring to a ship raised on the crest of a wave, but later taking this word to mean 'suspended up in the air'.¹ Hence meteorology, the study of atmospheric phenomena.
The verb form of the same word (meteôrizô 'to raise in the air') came to be used figuratively for 'to raise hope' (Thucydides) or 'to inflate with pride' (Aristophanes, The Birds). In the Bible the word is used precisely once and with an unclear meaning, something like 'to be kept in suspense'. (Luke xii. 29) ¹One spoke of four types of meteors: aqueous meteors (rain, snow, hail); aerial meteors (wind); luminous meteors (aurora, rainbow); and igneous or fiery meteors (lightning; shooting star) ²Coined 1865 by Hubert Anson Newton of Yale: "The term meteoroid will be used to designate such a body before it enters the earth’s atmosphere." Amer. J. of Science (apparently at 39:198, but possibly at 37:377-389 or 38:53-61). AHD calls him 'Huburt', but is mistaken.Disclaimer: I rely on secondary sources; certain details conflict or appear in only one source. I have not been able to trace original texts, nor do I speak Greek.This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
January 27, 2005, 10:26
cosmos – the universe, the world, seen as a well-ordered whole cosmology – a account (whether scientific, philosophic or mythic) of the creation of the universe The root is Greek kosmos "orderly arrangement". in Homer, kosmeo is the act of marshaling troops.
The same sense of kosmos gives us microcosm, macrocosm,cosmopolitan, and obviously cosmonaut. Less obviously, it is the base of cosmetic: Greek kosmetikos "skilled in adornment," > kosmein "to arrange, adorn," > kosmos "order."