Monday, February 08, 2010

Etymology Monday EXPLODES onto the scene!

So, it has been brought to my attention that I fail hard for allowing this blog to lapse for so long. Fair enough, and where better to start than with my favorite new feature: Etymology Monday!

Philology is one of my foremost passions, and today's Word of the Week pretty handily illustrates why. It's a perfectly ordinary word, albeit an awesome one: explode. Chances are you've used it today, especially if you're Bruce Willis. When it was suggested to me as a topic for today's post, I didn't expect it to be particularly diverting. But get this: Its roots are the Latin ex-, meaning "out of," and plaudere, meaning "to clap." It was originally a theatrical term, meaning "to hiss or clap a player off the stage." The Oxford English Dictionary has its earliest appearance in English in the 1530s, where it is used to mean "to reject with scorn." Throughout the 1600s, the definition broadened from impromptu drama criticism to the more general " to drive away with expressions of disapprobation; to cry down; to banish ignominiously." ("Banish ignominiously"-- I love the OED.) In the late 1600s and early 1700s,  the focus seems to have shifted from the act of rejection to the loud noises which accompanied it. It came to mean "to drive forth with sudden noise," and began to be used to describe gunshots, lightning, and coals ejected from the fireplace. By the 1790s, to explode meant "to go off with a loud noise," which the Online Etymology Dictionary quotes as an Americanism. Its use in the current sense, "to burst with destructive force," is not reported until 1882.

The OED also reports a similar verb, displode, which arose in the 1600s. From the same Latin root, but with the ancient prefix dis-, derived from a Proto-Indo-European root *dvis, meaning "two, in two ways" and by extension, "asunder, in twain." Latin displodere meant "to burst asunder," and the English word "displode" is glossed as "to drive out or discharge with explosive violence." It seems a far more likely verb for our current needs, but "displode" fell out of favor. Its last attestation in the OED is in 1812. Why "explode" and not "displode?" Was it more familiar? More evocative? I don't know, and this is what fascinates me about etymology. Even the most ordinary word carries within it a secret history not only of the language, but of the people who speak it, of their preferences and their prejudices. Words are like geodes-- scratch the surface and you'll find shimmering layers of meaning.


Posted by Silent Five @ 9:55 PM

Word of the Week

gymnosophy [jim-NAH-so-fee]

n. Philosophical, amusing, or nonsensical insights realized when naked, as in the shower or in bed. (recent coinage: att. S. Galasso, 2010)

Victoria and Albert enjoyed a spot of postprandial concupiscence culminating in a night of gymnosophy and coffee and crumpets at dawn.

The Silent Top Five: Bacon-Flavored Desserts

1) Bacon cheesecake.
2) Bacon gumballs.
3) Bacon ice cream.
4) Bacon-orange bars.
5) Bacon apple pie.

Standard Disclaimer

This is all in no way meant to incur copyright-infringement-related wrath. I'm harmless. I promise. Oh, and if you're offended by anything I may post herein, I guarantee I didn't mean to do so (unless, of course, you are a humorless prig. In which case, go right on and be offended, with my blessings.)