Issue 117, page 1
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As we were working in the garden it occurred to us that compost has a lot in common with stewed fruit and printing. Have we lost you? Then let's back up a little.
As a general rule, a vowel + circumflex + T in French represents ST in English. Thus, French pâte is equivalent to English paste, an hôtel is a hostel, a bête is a beast and the côte is the coast. Similarly, one could say that a château is an Englishman's castle. (Château was chastel in Old French, it comes from Latin castellum, diminutive of castra "fort, military camp".) However, we digress...
Given these paradigms it is easy to see how we jumped from compost to the French compôte "stewed fruit". The ultimate source of both compost and compôte is the Latin compositus "assembled" (both are composed of many components) and, in the days of hot-metal type, a compositor assembled the type for printing. The Latin prefix com- simply means "with" and -positus "placed, posed". That positus (past participle of ponere "to place") is also the root of such words as depose, deposition, propose, proposition, posture, post, posit, position, postal, postage, pose, deposit, oppose and poseur. Ponere itself is believed to be formed from *po-sinere, literally "away from" + "leaving behind".
Some people think that etymology gives one a word's true meaning but, in that case, there is no difference between a compositor and a composer as, taken literally, they both mean "one who assembles". (Doesn't sound very creative, does it?)
A compositor should not be confused with a compotator nor a compotition with a competition. A compotator is a "fellow-drinker" and a compotition is a "drinking bout". Also, a computist does not work with computers but is "skilled in the workings of the calendar".
The name composite is also given to a family of plants (which includes the daisy) in which what looks like a flower is actually composed of hundreds of tiny flowers.
Well, as it's still light we've time to get back to the garden for some more muck-spreading. By the way, the word manure began as a Middle English euphemism. It is a corruption of the Old French manoeuvre "hand work" (same origin as maneuver) but we find that a fork works better.
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Last Updated 04/17/01 07:50 PM