Issue 175, page 2

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Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From T. Mourad:

I was flipping through this book the other day called The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam and it is filled with interesting facts. Some stuff I didn't even know. One of them concerns the term mosque. According to the author of this book the English term mosque is derived from the Spanish word for mosquito and came into use during the Christian invasion of Muslim Spain in the 15th century. The forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella boasted they would swat out Muslim prayer houses like mosquitoes.

Click to learn about this, the Imam Mosque.Well, the "Complete Idiot" in the title is the writer, not the reader.  How disappointing that such so-called etymology could make it into print.  First, the Spanish for mosquito is mosquito.  It means "little fly", mosca being "fly" and -ito being a diminutive suffix.

Mosque first came to English in the late 14th or early 15th century from French mosquée, and the French got it from Italian moschea.  The Italians got it from Arabic masgid, which derived from sagada "to worship".  

Interestingly, the Arabic form masgid or masjid was occasionally used in English in the 19th and 20th centuries, and one can find masjid in English language sites on the Web today.

By the way, we think that this spurious etymology you presented qualifies as Netymology as it has now been published on the Web!

From Yvette:

I remember reading that desire comes from the Sanskrit word vani, which is also the root of the word "womb". Is this right? What is the etymology of desire?  Thank you!

What is this, spurious etymology week? Maybe everyone's giving us a "trick" instead of a "treat" for Halloween?  Not only does desire not come from Sanskrit, but vani is not Sanskrit for "womb".  

Instead, desire is formed from the Latin parts de- "down, away, off" and sidus "star".  Why is not exactly known, but the guess is that it may have been a word of astrology or augury, though no evidence of that has been found.  Consider is another word formed from sidus that has no obvious connection to stars.  Continuing the suggested "star" connection, our guess is that desire was something one wanted "from" or "to come down from" the stars or astrology, while to consider something was to look at it "with" or "by way of" the stars or astrology.

Desire entered English from Old French desirer (the girl's name Desirée is the past participle, meaning "desired" or "wanted") in the 13th century, and then the Latin past participle brought us desiderate "desire", all from desiderare "to desire".

In the late 1960s, a poster bearing a poem named Desiderata began appearing on the walls of the homes of hippies and students. Despite its incongruously modern language ("Go placidly amid the noise and haste... you are a child of the universe..."), this document was widely believed to be an anonymous work from 1692, found by chance in St. Paul's Church in Baltimore. It soon turned out that it was actually written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann. The confusion arose from a mimeographed copy of the poem handed out one Lent (1959 or 1960) by Rev. Frederick Kates, the rector of St. Paul's. The date of 1692 was the date the church had been founded and appeared on its letterhead. Desiderata, the poem's title, is the plural of desideratum "a desired thing" although Max Ehrmann may have intended it to mean "things which are to be desired".

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