Terabyte: a “monstrous” amount of data

Last week, the Panama Papers leaked 2.6 terabytes of data. That adds ups to 11.5 million confidential documents about the secret, and potentially scandalous, offshoring of wealth across the globe. That’s a lot of information. You might even call it a “monstrous” amount, if you look to the origin of the prefix tera

Monsters and marvels 

While the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first attests terabyte in 1982, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) officially adopted the scientific prefix tera-, or tira- in its original French, in 1947. As the OED cites: “The following prefixes to abbreviations for the names of units should be used to indicate the specified multiples or sub-multiples of these units: T tira- 1012 ×.” One of the earliest usages, as far as I can tell, is teracycle, in reference to some very fast frequencies.

The IUPAC also gave the temporary names to some newly discovered elements, including ununtrium and ununpentium, as I discussed earlier this year.

To acknowledge the sheer size of this prefix quantifies, IUPAC scientists looked to a Greek word: τέρας, or teras. According to Liddell and Scott’s Greek dictionary,  the ancient Greek teras had two main meanings: 1) a “sign,” “wonder,” or “marvel,” as of the heavens; and 2) a “monster,” like a  giant serpent of the sea. The connecting sense appears to be “awe-inspiring size.”

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The Modern Greek edition of Disney’s The Beauty and the Beast translates “beast” with our focal Greek word,  teras. Image from greekshops.com.

We see a similar sense development in a prodigy, which, as in its original Latin prodigium, named both a “portent” and a “monster.” Perhaps we can imagine the ancients – and ourselves – trying to make meaning out out of some sublime but terrifying storm or creature, as Edmund Burke philosophized.

Tera-ble words 

English, as did Ancient Greek, used tera- (or its genitive τερατ-, terat-) as a combining form to make new words. Apparently a nonce usage, English scholar John Spencer used teratoscopy, or “augury from prodigies,” in his 1665 Discourses Concerning Prodigies, as the OED records. We see a teratology, a “tale about something marvelous,” in Edwards Phillips’s 1678 New World of Words, an early English dictionary. By the 1720s, something teratical “resembled a monster.”

By 1842, biologists applied teratology to the “study of physiological abnormalities,” which reminds us that we once referred to such conditions as “monstrosities.” Terata, teratogen, teratoma, and teratogenesis developed as other scientific terms referring to various physiological abnormalities.

For Indo-European scholars, the Greek teras has its lexical lair in the Proto-Indo-European *kwer-, “to make.” The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (AHD) cites cognates in the Sanskrit karma (literally “something made,” hence an “act”) as well as the very word Sanskrit (“well-formed”). Barnhart’s etymological dictionary, among others, cites Balto-Slavic relatives meaning “sorcery” and “spell.”

What is the sense development from “make” to “monster”? As the AHD suggests, a monster can “make” harm – or cause destruction.

Super-sized storage

Terabytes aren’t the only “monsters” terrorizing computer technology. The giga- in gigabyte is also borrowed from the Greek. Here, γίγας, or gigas, originally one of the superhuman “giants” the Olympian gods overthrew. English ultimately gets its word giant from this Greek root. Like terabyte, giga- was adopted by the IUPAC in 1947, this prefix signifying 109, an order of magnitude of one billion.

According to some accounts,  computer scientist Werner Buchholz coined byte in 1956. A byte contains 8 bits of digital information; bit is shortened from binary digit. Byte apparently, nods to this bit and plays with bite  (appropriately enough for this discussion of monsters). Megabyte appears by 1965, kilobyte by 1970, if the OED is any measure.

Clearly, as computer memory increased, so did the need for ever-larger prefixes, hence the super-sized gigabyte and terabyte of the 1980s. (And up from a terabyte is a petabyte, but I’m not going to take that bait.)

A terabyte is indeed a “monstrous” amount of data. But the real monsters, many fear, are lurking in the shadowy, financial underworld of the offshore accounts, shell companies, and tax havens the Panama Papers may just bring to light.

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asylum

Last post, I considered the origin of refugee. The word comes from Latin, as we saw, though so many of the actual refugees are fleeing Syria and other Middle Eastern and North African countries to seek asylum in Europe. Here, let’s seek the origin of asylum. 

Humans should not have to be cargo. "Cargo crates." Ink on paper. Doodle by @andrescalo.
Humans should not have to be smuggled like cargo. “Cargo crates.” Ink on paper. Doodle by @andrescalo.

Asylum

In my experience, asylum evokes two phrases in the English language: political asylum and insane or lunatic asylum. The latter has largely and duly fallen out of use, but both terms are documented around the middle of the 19th century.

The earliest record of asylum in English comes in the form of asyle, attested in the late 1300s in Wycliffe’s Bible. Asylum is recorded by the early 1400s. As the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines it, an asylum initially was “a sanctuary or inviolable place of refuge and protection for criminals and debtors, from which they cannot be forcibly removed without sacrilege.” Over the next 200 years, the word became more general in its sense of “refuge.” Now, the word has again narrowed, this time to the political and humanitarian rather than the religious or psychological.

Where did English find asylumAsyle comes from French via Latin’s  asȳlum while English re-borrowed asylum directly from the same. Latin, in turn, took asȳlum from the Greek ἄσῡλον (asylon), a “refuge” or “sanctuary.” This word is formed from the adjective ἄσῡλος (asylos), “safe from violence,” “inviolable,” or “seeking protection.” Now, ἄσῡλος itself has two parts: ἄ (“not,” “without”) and σύλη/σύλον (syle/sylon). Connected to a verb meaning “to strip the armor off a slain enemy,” this σύλον ultimately names a maritime concept, according to Liddell and Scott: “The right of seizing the ship or cargo of a foreign merchant to cover losses received through him.”

For many of today’s refugees, it also comes down to ships – although in a very different manner, of course – as they risk perilous passage across the Mediterranean, hoping for asylum.

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meteor (re-post)

Somehow, the link to the original post on meteor burned up like, well, a meteor in Earth’s atmosphere. Or should I say it had a meteoric rise — and fall? After some fruitless troubleshooting,  I’ve re-posted in the hopes this link, like a meteorite, makes impact.

This week, we’ve had quite the show. No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump: I’m talking about the Perseid meteor shower. It’s fitting a stargazer can behold so many shooting stars during these annual Perseids, because the origin of meteor is in many ways all about plurals.

OK,
OK, “that which is hung up” in Ancient Greece referred to swords, not shirts. Doodle by me.

Meteor

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first cites meteor in the late 15th-century in a plural form (metheours), naming “a treatise on atmospheric phenomenon.” English owes this usage to the French meteores, in turn from the Latin meteora. These are largely indebted to one treatise in particular: Aristotle’s Meterologica, which was sometimes recorded as Meteora in Latin.

In Meterologica, Aristotle discusses various topics, such as evaporation, earthquakes, weather, and the atmosphere, as well as other geographic and geologic phenomena. Aristotle: philosopher, scientist, weatherman.

Meteorologists, of course, study weather and the atmosphere, not meteors. So how is a shooting star connected to partly cloudy?

In the 16th century, early meteorologists classified meteors into four types, according to the OED:

Atmospheric phenomena were formerly often classed as aerial meteor or airy meteors (winds), aqueous meteor or watery meteors (rain, snow, hail, dew, etc.), luminous meteors (the aurora, rainbow, sun halo, etc…), and igneous meteor or  fiery meteors (lightning, shooting stars, etc.).

Today, of course, we inherited a more narrow understanding of meteor, of course, but the further etymology of the word shows what all the phenomena have in common.

Like its direct Latin descendant meteora, the Ancient Greek μετέωρα (meteora) was a plural noun: “celestial phenomenon.” Literally, though, it means “things lifted up off the ground.” You  know, like rain, rainbows, shooting stars, or the other atmospheric matters happening over our heads? Meteor joins two elements: 1) μετα- (meta), a versatile prefix suffix denoting, among other things, “over” and “beyond,” and 2) a form of the verb ἀείρειν (aeirein)“to raise” or “lift up.”

Meta- survives today not only in technical words like metaphysics and metathesis, but also as a term in its own right, used especially for self-referential cultural production. For example, a TV show about a TV show may be called “very meta.” While it may look quite foreign, ἀείρειν (aeirein) lives on in all of our postmodern hearts: It produced aorta. In Greek, ἀορτή (aorte) literally means “that which is hung.” Hippocrates used the term for bronchial tubes, while Aristotle, adding anatomist to his résumé, applied the term to the main artery to the heart. If you look at the body’s aorta, the name is quite apt.

Artery also derives from aeirein. Perhaps all this body talk makes you queasy? You might want to go out and get some air. Er—that, too, might derive from aeireinBut while you’re out there, don’t forget to look up.

meteor_scribblesm ∫ r ∫

meteor

This week, we’ve had quite the show. No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump: I’m talking about the Perseid meteor shower. It’s fitting a stargazer can behold so many shooting stars during these annual Perseids, because the origin of meteor is in many ways all about plurals.

OK, "hangers" in Ancient Greece held up swords, not shirts.
OK, “that which is hung up” in Ancient Greece referred to swords, not shirts. Doodle by me.

Meteor

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first cites meteor in the late 15th-century in a plural form (metheours), naming “a treatise on atmospheric phenomenon.” English owes this usage to the French meteores, in turn from the Latin meteora. These are largely indebted to one treatise in particular: Aristotle’s Meterologica, which was sometimes recorded as Meteora in Latin.

In Meterologica, Aristotle discusses various topics, such as evaporation, earthquakes, weather, and the atmosphere, as well as other geographic and geologic phenomena. Aristotle: philosopher, scientist, weatherman.

Meteorologists, of course, study weather and the atmosphere, not meteors. So how is a shooting star connected to partly cloudy?

In the 16th century, early meteorologists classified meteors into four types, according to the OED:

Atmospheric phenomena were formerly often classed as aerial meteor or airy meteors (winds), aqueous meteor or watery meteors (rain, snow, hail, dew, etc.), luminous meteors (the aurora, rainbow, sun halo, etc…), and igneous meteor or  fiery meteors (lightning, shooting stars, etc.).

Today, of course, we inherited a more narrow understanding of meteor, of course, but the further etymology of the word shows what all the phenomena have in common.

Like its direct Latin descendant meteora, the Ancient Greek μετέωρα (meteora) was a plural noun: “celestial phenomenon.” Literally, though, it means “things lifted up off the ground.” You  know, like rain, rainbows, shooting stars, or the other atmospheric matters happening over our heads? Meteor joins two elements: 1) μετα- (meta), a versatile prefix suffix denoting, among other things, “over” and “beyond,” and 2) a form of the verb ἀείρειν (aeirein)“to raise” or “lift up.”

Meta- survives today not only in technical words like metaphysics and metathesis, but also as a term in its own right, used especially for self-referential cultural production. For example, a TV show about a TV show may be called “very meta.” While it may look quite foreign, ἀείρειν (aeirein) lives on in all of our postmodern hearts: It produced aorta. In Greek, ἀορτή (aorte) literally means “that which is hung.” Hippocrates used the term for bronchial tubes, while Aristotle, adding anatomist to his résumé, applied the term to the main artery to the heart. If you look at the body’s aorta, the name is quite apt.

Artery also derives from aeirein. Perhaps all this body talk makes you queasy? You might want to go out and get some air. Er—that, too, might derive from aeireinBut while you’re out there, don’t forget to look up.

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austerity

This past Sunday, Greece voted “No” to the terms – or more austerity measures or policies, as many describe them – of a new bailout from its international creditors. While modern Greece’s economic austerity may be due to the fact that it is in debt to its creditors, the origin of the word austerity is in debt to Ancient Greece.

“Austerity.” Crayola marker, ink, ball point, and felt-tip on lined paper. Doodle by @andrescalo.

Austerity

In its economic sense of “restraint in public spending,” the OED first attests austerity in a famous 1937 declaration by economist John Maynard Keynes in the London Times: “The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity of the treasury.” This term became more widely popular, the OED observes, during the rationing of the Second World War.

Austerity, of course, is a noun form of austere, first appearing in the late 14th century. The OED cites it in Wycliffe’s Bible, where it used to describe a “stern disposition.” Indeed, austere was early on confused with stern, thus appearing as austerne. Stern has a different origin.

The English austere comes from the French austere, in turn from the Latin austērus. As is often the case, the Latin is owed to the Greek: here, αὐστηρός (austeros). Across all of these languages, austere has not been so austere, semantically speaking, variously describing something “strict,” “severe,” “rough,” “harsh,” or “bitter,” much like a very astringent wine.

Indeed, some of the earliest uses of the Greek αὐστηρός, according to the likes of Liddell and Scott, refer to foods and wines “making the tongue dry.” The Greek αὐστηρός is ultimately formed on αὖος (auos), “dry.” Indo-European linguists have derived this word from the Proto-Indo-European *saus-, “dry.”

The hypothetical root *saus- also produced the English sear as well as the more archaic sere, whose earliest senses are “dry” and “withered.” Around the corner is the month of August, once referred to as Sere month in English. The reddish-brown color sorrel has also been connected to this root.

After hitting too much of the *saus-, I suppose, one should really want to dry out.

Withered (Stones) Tongue - scribbles

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corned

While you might not find many Irish people eating it, many Americans will be plating up corned beef and cabbage to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today. The particular reasons for this are complicated and fascinating, as Shaylyn Esposito explained in 2013 on Smithsonian.com. Traditions vary with time, space, and circumstance, of course–and so do words, as is true for the corned in corned beef. So, why is it corned beef?

"Corned beef." Doodle by @andrescalo.
“Corned beef.” Doodle by @andrescalo.

Corn

Corned means “salted,” as corned beef is preserved or cured with salt. Salt is made up of particles or grains, which the English language used to refer to more generally as corn. Indeed, corn is attested as corn in Old English. One might mention a corn of sand or rice–or pepper or barley, hence peppercorn or barleycorn. These instances have corned these old senses of corn, if you will.  For today, the sense of corn is more restricted. It likely evokes maize for North Americans, shortened from the phrase Indian corn. Wheat, oat, or rye, though, may come to mind across the Atlantic.

It’s no coincidence that corn means “grain.” Both words come from the same root, making them doublets, etymologically speaking. Both originally meaning “grain” or “seed,” corn was harvested from the Germanic *kurnóm, while grain from the Latin grānum. The Germanic root also gives English kernel, while the Latin has produced a crop, including garner, gram, granitegranule, filigree, and pomegranate, to name a few.

If we dig deeper into the Germanic and Latin roots, we find their common ancestor, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *gre-no- or *grhnóm, or “grain.” According to Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World, the root *gerh-, meaning “to ripen” underlies *gre-no- or *grhnóm, “grain.”

Etymologists have suggested a connection to the Sanskrit jṛa verb meaning “to wear down” or “waste away.” With this in mind, the Oxford English Dictionary explains: “A corn or grain is therefore, etymologically, a ‘worn-down’ particle.” So something, “worn down” or “wasted away” might be considered “old.” So, the PIE *gerə-, “to grow old,” may then be connected to corn, thus connecting the word to some other “age-old” derivatives of the PIE *gerə-. (Perhaps the PIE for “to grow old” and “ripen” are themselves connected.)

Do you work in the field of gerontology? Ancient Greek yields γέρων (ron)“an old man.” The Old Persian name Zarathustra, behind Zoroastrianism, is said to have the literal meaning of “owner of old camels.” *Zarant (“old”) has been reconstructed down the Iranian branch of Indo-European languages. (Ushthra means “camel,” thus yoga’s Ushthrasana, or “camel pose.”)

Now, those old camels probably just don’t have corns of sand on their weathered hooves, but that kind of corn, natively referred to as an agnail (later, hangnail), actually comes from the same root that gives us the word horn. Corned beef and cabbage was never so interesting.

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socks & cardinals

Fast Mash

  • Sock, attested as socc as far back as 725, is from the Latin, soccus, meaning “slipper,” which may come from a yet more Ancient Greek word for some type of early footwear
  • Cardinal, as in “fundamental” and numbers, comes from Latin’s cardo (hinge)
  • The adjective form of the noun, cardinalis, gave us the name for the Catholic dignitary, occupying a pivotal position in the church, and whose scarlet robes inspired the name of the bird

First off, take a minute to check out (and follow) Lexicolatry, a fun and informed project run out of Ireland by Eddie, a linguaphile reading the OED and blogging about it, one word at a time. He graciously invited me to guest-post about breakfast, which I adapted from my own. And it’s not just leftovers–it also includes fresh goetta.

Second, I want to thank all my new followers and re-tweeters of late. For the isolation we fear it can cause, social media is also so good at building community. You can’t throw a digital dictionary without hitting a word nerd online.

The leaves may not change much out here in Southern California, but the air is crisp and cool on the coast, and the World Series is on TV. Whoever you are rooting for, I can’t help but root for sock and cardinal. (Permission to groan like you would at a bad call from an ump.)

Sock

They get holes, they get stinky, they get mismatched, they get mysteriously gobbled up by the dryer. Some can’t stand to sleep in them (moi), others can’t stand to sleep without them. Socks are fussy, but, as a word, sock is hard to quibble with.

The word is attested as socc (synonym for slebescoh in Old English, or “slip shoe”) as far back as 725, when, according to the OED, it referred to a “light, low-heeled shoe.” It’s from the Latin soccus, which meant “slipper.” Germanic languages variously darned it, including German’s own Socke. Latin’s soccus may derive from Ancient Greek’s sykchos, which the Online Etymology Dictionary glosses as a “kind of footwear from Phrygian or another Asiatic language.”Think modern day Turkey. The word’s older meanings indeed point to sock’s evolution of form, function, and fashion, including the world’s ostensibly oldest known pair, made in Egypt somewhere between 250-420 AD. The divided toe was designed for sandals:

oldest known socks

At least Big Bird, Germans, and Garrison Keillor would have been right at home in them.

Cardinal

Latin had cardo, a multifunctional word which meant “pivot and socket,” “hinge,” “turning point,” “axis,” “pole,” or “boundary,” among other meanings. In its adjective form, cardinalis, a mechanical metaphor was already at work, signifying “principal” or “fundamental”–literally, “on which something hinges or depends,” as the OED puts it. Hence, cardinal virtues, winds, sins, numbers (so-called because, according to Percyvall in 1591, all the rest depend on them). This adjective gave its blessing to its ecclesiastical sense: a principal dignitary in the Catholic Church, next in rank to the pope and among whom the pope is chosen. It is after cardinals’ red vestures the Northern bird species was named by early colonists.  

And why do cardinals wear red? According to the College of Cardinals, the red cap cardinals don, called a biretta, is:

…red as a sign of the dignity of the office of a cardinal, signifying that you are ready to act with fortitude, even to the point of spilling your blood, for the increase of the Christian faith…

I bet many fans of the Redbirds feel the same way right now.

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ocean

Fast Mash

  • Ocean enters English via Anglo-Norman from Old French occean ca. late 12th-c.
  • Old French occean comes from Latin, ōceanus, from Ancient Greek κεανὸς keans)
  • Ōkeans referred to a great river circling the earth which fed all other rivers; geographic discoveries later narrowed it to remote waters and far boundaries of the west (Atlantic)
  • Ōkeanwas also a primeval, life-giving god, son of Uranus (Sky) and Earth (Gaia), married to Tethys, father of the Oceanids and river gods
  • Not Indo-European in origin; ultimate origin unknown 

Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Billy, Frank, Spray, a 1990s single by a be-flanneled American alternative rock group, a star-studded remake but ultimately middling 2000s heist film trilogy—all are oceans of one sort or another. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, oceans cover over 70% of Earth’s surface and yet less than 5% of these saline waters have been properly explored. For as vast it is, for as essential to life on earth, for as awesome to the human imagination, ocean is a little word and one whose form has, in my opinion, changed very little over time. Of course, when it comes to language, size doesn’t matter, because even the plainest word can be a portal to surprising places, profound meanings, alternate realities. (Yes, even I had to resist the more obvious metaphors: vessel, voyage, Disney Cruise Liner, the Pequod, etc….)

Ocean

Ocean has sailed a familiar etymological route in the English language: French by way of Latin and Latin by way of Ancient Greek. Middle English had occean(e) (and many other spellings, from occion to oxyan). This was borrowed in the late 12th-c via Anglo-Norman from Old French occean, related to the Spanish and Italian oceano. These Romance forms developed from Latin, ōceanus, which, with its hard c, hails from the Ancient Greek, κεανὸςkeans). In Ancient Greek, Ōkeanwas both a geographical and a mythological entity.  And, originally, it wasn’t an ocean, per se, but a great river.

I pulled my Oxford Classical Dictionary (OCD) off the shelf, where it had been long lying heavily on its side, propping up my wireless router. I won the dictionary (nerd alert) in high school for a Latin site translation competition. It’s authoritative, even if it’s lived a decorative life for the past decade in my household. That’ll change, though, if words like ocean keep pointing me to the far reaches of the globe.

Here’s what the OCD has to say about our word. Don’t skip these paragraphs: there is some seriously interesting stuff here.

Concerning the geographical Oceanus:

A circumambient ocean-river, the final destination of all streams, predates Greek and Roman culture, appears in Homer and Hesiod, and was confirmed by geographical theory: the accessible land-mass could only cover a small portion of the earth’s surface. Some Homeric commentators thought that Homer had deliberately practised exokeanismos—removing the experience of Odysseus into a world beyond the domain of factuality. Phoenician contacts with the metalliferious and fertile Guadalquivr valley…took them into Atlantic waters early, and…Greeks followed soon… (OCD, 3rd ed., p. 1058)

First of all, exokeanismos. Whoa. Second, circumambient and metalliferious. Good thing I’ve already taken the GRE. So, the ocean was conceived of as a big river circling around the great mass of Earth, and it fed all the water sources flowing into the land.

Mythologically, the great, world-girding river was personified in the primeval deity, Oceanus:

Son of Uranus (Sky) and Ge (Gaia, Earth), husband of Tethys (a combination probably derived from the Babylonian creation-epic Enuma Elis) and father of the Oceanids and river-gods…: the name has no Indo-European etymology and is probably a loan-word. The Homeric Oceanus is the river encircling the whole world, which through subterranean connections issue all other rivers; its sources are in the west where the sun sets…The rise of geographical investigation in Herodotus…and others narrowed the significance of Oceanus down to the geographical term of ‘Ocean.’ (OCD, 3rd ed., p. 1058)

Out in the life-giving waters of Oceanus were believed to be terrifying monsters, far-flung peoples, and mystical islands (including the Elysian fields), as were the setting sun and stars. And with better geography, these distant terrors and mysteries were Oceanus’ domain, Poseidon coming to rule over the Mediterranean. Maybe way out there in open waters is the ultimate origin of the word.

Okeanos
The bull-horned, serpentine fish-tailed Okeanos in a procession (ca. 580BC, Sophilos, British Museum)

Linguistically, it is in Mediterranean—the sea between land or in the middle of the earth, Mesogeios in Greek—that we might understand Oceanus even better. As the OED observes, up to around 1650, ocean often didn’t appear by its lonesome, but as ocean sea, sea of the ocean, and, earlier yet, see occean. (The OED likens this to the more familiar concept of the so-called open sea.) This construction is modelled on the French, the OED continues: mer oceane or oceane mer, based on Latin’s mare ōceanum. Indeed, the distinction between rivers and the ocean river and seas and ocean seas was marked even by Homer, who uses όoς Ὠκεανὸῖo (rόos Okeanoio) and Ὠκεανὸς πoταμός (Okeanos potamoslike hippopotamus).

The Cosmic C

Now, the whole pronunciation of ocean is a little choppy. Greek used the letter kappa, κ (/k/), which sound Latin systematically (eventually) recorded as a c. (There is a lot more to this alphabetic and phonetic business with c, g, k, and q, of course ). As Latin evolved into the Romance languages, the [k] sound became palatalized (think: middle of roof of your mouth), pronounced more like [ts] by French peoples. In English-speaking mouths, I speculate that the “workout” of starting with a long and finishing with an might have pushed the tongue back and bunched it up to make what are called palato-alveolars, specifically the [ʃ] sound we hear in ocean (but more recognizable in, say, ship or mashed radish). Further, earlier spellings of the ocean include and and often double c‘s (I’d be curious to know if Old English’s pronunciation of double consonants had any influence). I’m no phonetician, but, with such palatalization, I think we might compare the situation to the pronunciation of the [ʃ] sound in words like mission and nation.

Why sounds change as they do is fascinating in its own right, and, in so many ways, a more proper linguistic pursuit than I can carry out here. But I can’t get over the fact that oceanfive little letters, two short syllablesevokes ancient cosmology. And I can’t help but pretend I’m standing at the shorea formidable expanse, a menacing, marvelous horizon bounding the known and unknownand not also see our distant forebears, wondering the same. This connection, threaded through one small word for one great phenomenon.

And you know how we say you can hear the ocean if you hold a seashell up to your ear? To me, etymologies can be like that, too. With ocean, I like to think I can hear just a bit of the past, an ancient god and ancient worldview, if I listen hard and close enough.

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