Issue 143, page 2

Search Home FAQ Links Site map Book Store


New Ask Us Theory About
AG00003_.gif (10348 bytes)

Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From Mike Sher:

I teach finance, so I hope that I can learn about the source of the term investment.

You've invested your hope in the right people, Mike!  Etymologically, to invest is to "clothe".  It comes ultimately from Latin investire, formed from in- plus vestis "clothing".  Some cognates in English are vest, vestment, and travesty (etymologically "to disguise oneself by changing clothes").  When invest first appeared in English in the 16th century, it meant "to clothe in a garment".  Soon thereafter it came to mean "to cover as with a garment" and then "to clothe with certain attributes".  At about the same time it also took on the meaning "to clothe with the insignia of an office" and, hence "to clothe with the dignity of the office itself". 

The first example of the word being used in a financial sense in English comes from 1613.  The notion was one of "putting money into different forms, much like changing its clothing".  That usage and sense came from Italian investire,  which is found in the Italian written record as early as 1333 with the same meaning.  It is thought that the word passed through the Levant or Turkey Company and into the East India Company's use.

From Danielle Timmons:

What are the origins of the words consonant and vowel?

Well, etymologically, consonants "sound together" with vowels, while vowels are "vocal", being pronounced with the vocal cords.  Consonant derives from Latin consonans, formed from com- "together" and "sonare "to sound".  The thought was that consonants cannot be sounded alone - they must be connected with a vowel to be uttered (in most cases, anyhow).  As for vowel, it derives ultimately from Latin vocalis, which was short for littera vocalis or sonus vocalis, "vocal letter" or "vocal sound", referring to the fact that vowels are pronounced using the vocal cords versus just the mouth, tongue, and throat, as consonants are.  Vocalis derives from vox "voice".  Both of these words first appear in English in the early 14th century, and both entered English via Old French forms.

Note that vowels originate in the larynx and get their special qualities only by the shape of the mouth as they are uttered.  They are then pure voice.  Consonants are pronounced in the mouth or the mouth and nose, making them either simple noises or noises combined with the voice.  This means that consonants run the gamut from being vowel-like to being unvoiced and purely noise.  That is why, in linguistics, there are different groupings of sounds: vowels, semi-vowels (j and w), liquids (l and r), nasals (m and n), voiced fricatives (v, z) and unvoiced or breath fricatives (f, s, x), and voiced stops (b, d, g) and unvoiced or breath stops (p, t, k).  Consonants may also be classified based on the area of the mouth in which they originate:  labials (pronounced using the lips), dentals (pronounced using the teeth), palatals (using the palate) and gutturals.

From Gore:

I would like to know the etymology of -ber, as in September, October, November, and December.    

The month of December.  Click to follow the link.That's a tough one. The OED says that the suffix's origin is uncertain.  Robert K. Barnhart suggests that the -ber was originally -bris (decembris) and that it is an adjectival ending, so that decembris meant "tenth" instead of just "ten".  Etymologists at the American Heritage Dictionary give a slightly different explanation: that Latin December derives ultimately from decem-mensris, from decem "ten" plus mensis "month", and that decem-mensris was corrupted to decemmembris and, finally, december.  This same process occurred with all of the -ber month names.

Allow us to remind you, our gentle readers, that September, etymologically the "seventh month", no longer applies to our seventh month because the Roman calendar was altered in 46 BC under the direction of Julius Caesar by the astronomer Sosigenes.  His changes caused the year to begin on January 1 instead of March 1, so that the months that had been named for their position in the calendar were then off by two.

From Dave Erwin:

In my Human Resources Management class, the term let's get the hell out of Dodge came up,Dodge City, here we come!  Clicl to follow the link. and I think all understand it to mean "to leave in a big hurry".  But a discussion ensued concerning how it developed, and, of course, everyone automatically assumed that the "absent-minded professor" (me) would be able to either tell them the answer, or at least find it.  So, can you  help out an old "prof" and show the "kids" that older may be wiser?

Well, it depends upon how old you are!  The scant information available on the phrase get the hell out of Dodge suggests that it is a reference to the lawless nature of Dodge City in Kansas (and there's also a Dodge in Nebraska), which was a frontier town in the heyday of the cowboy in the US.  If things started getting rowdy in Dodge, it was wise for one to hightail it out of town in order to avoid getting injured, killed, or even just robbed.

The phrase seems to be a relatively recent one, suggesting influence from television (Gunsmoke?) or film.


Comments, additions? Send to Melanie & Mike:
Copyright 1995-
2001 TIERE
Last Updated 12/16/01 05:26 PM