This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Nuts and Bolts: rivers of derivation.

So, what do bacteria and baguettes have in common?

Hm, it does sound alarming, doesn't it.

Here's a clue: they share this same thing with bails (as in the game of cricket), a debacle, a tropical American palm, and the many- many-times great-granny of the octopus.

What is it? Well, it's the Greek word, baktron, which means rod or staff.

It's easy to see what a baguette has to do with a staff because it is, well, staff-shaped. Some bacteria are, too, though they're so small you can't actually see them. Appropriately enough, the word bacteria comes from the diminuative of baktron, baktērion, which means little staff.

Cricket bails:

well, you can see where people are coming from with that one.

Nothing would seem less staff-like than an octopus, but the fossil of the shell of the bactrites:

makes all quite clear.

Palm trees are of course all staff-like. This is the bactris.

Peach palm (<i>Bactris gasipaes</i>)
Photo by Chris 73.

But where's the staff in debacle? Well, a debacle is when things fall apart, and it comes from a French word, desbacler, meaning to unbolt. And there, with the bolt, is the staff-shape.

Isn't it amazing where the current of a word-river can take you?

Word To Use Today: derivation. This word comes from the Old French deriver, to spring from, from the Latin dērīvāre, to draw off, from rīvus, a stream.

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