Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Daily Hump: Words of a Feather

The English word petition originally had a chiefly religious sense, meaning a supplication or prayer. The word comes from the Latin verb petere "to require, seek, go forward, to aim at" and ultimately we can trace its origin to the Proto-Indo-European base *pet-/*pte-, "to rush, to fly". From this base we've gotten words like pterodactyl, the Old English feðer (feather) and fearn (fern--for its feather-like fronds), and the Latin penna, meaning "feather, wing" which survives in modern ornithology to mean the contour feather of a bird (as opposed to a down feather or plume). From the Italian plural of penna we get penne, as in the pasta, whose diagonally cut ends likely reminded people of writing utensils, pens, whose name also comes from penna because pens were made from quills, the main shafts of feathers.

petition [Online Etymology Dictionary]
pen [Online Etymology Dictionary]
fern [Online Etymology Dictionary]
penne [AHD]

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:: posted by David, 8:03 AM


The root you're refering to is, as of this century, reconstructed as *peth1-/*pth1- (with *h1, a glottal consonant). There is no such thing anymore as **pte-.

You happen to be citing Julius Pokorny's ancient reconstructions published long ago in the 1950s!

See (But beware that American Heritage is also out-of-date by using a "schwa", a vowel, instead of a consonant "h" as found unanimously in modern academic texts. Blargh!! Makes me so mad!)

If interested in more geeky details about why we need to let go of Pokorny, check out my blog rant on the topic:
Blogger Glen Gordon, at 4:58 PM  
Awesome. Thanks so much for the correction and the Pokorny info. Let this be a lesson for you all: be wary of my armchair etymology.
Blogger David, at 5:02 PM  
Please forgive me as this has nothing to do with your current topic, but I was hoping I might get your help finding a word...

Suppose I have a leaky faucet. I go to find a wrench, but it's missing. I head for the car to visit the hardware store, but I have a flat tire. And so on. Is there a word that describes when you go down one path after another, ever further from where you started out?

much thanks,
Gary Stark
Blogger gary, at 1:22 AM  

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