Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Random Research Day: Bummer Etymology

My daughter is one of those crazy-overscheduled teenagers you hear about, and since she doesn’t have a driver’s license yet (too busy), I drive her places a lot. Mostly, we talk about words, or come up with word games, or talk about how we sure spend a lot of time talking about words. It’s pretty metalinguistic—occasionally meta-metalinguistic.

She was entranced one day by the words “imagine” and “magic”—it seemed logical to both of us that those ought to be related. But when we got home and looked it up, we found that:

• “Magic” comes, via French, Latin, and Greek, from magus, an ancient Zoroastrian philosopher (think “three Magi”).

• “Imagine,” on the other hand, comes via Latin from imago, or image.

• While we’re here, “magnificent,” “magnanimous,” “magnate,” etc. all come from Latin magnus, meaning “great.”

• And “maggot” comes from the Old Norse word mathkr, which means maggot.

So, if for some reason you say
“The magician imagined magnificent maggots,”
you have spanned four different source words from French, Latin, Greek, Persian, and Norse.

Impressive, but still disappointing.

They might not be etymologically related, but I still believe that imagination is magic.

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Lee Ann Setzer's blog about books, writing, and life in general.