This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Friday, 27 March 2015

Word To Use Today: distemper.

So what is the connection between a disease of dogs and a type of paint?

It's all to do with the mixing.

Distemper the paint comes from the Mediaeval Latin distemperāre, which means to soak, which is in turn from dis-, apart, plus temperāre, which means to mingle.

19th-century Mongolian thanka in distemper

Distemper the disease comes from the Late Latin distemperāre, to derange the health of, from dis-, apart, plus temperāre, which means to mix in correct proportions.

Neat, isn't it? The same Latin words, borrowed at slightly different times, have given us quite different words.

I especially like the disease derivation because it shows how people thought in the past. For them health is a balance, whereas for us in the West health is nowadays usually seen as a sort of perfection.

Distemper has also meant disease, disturbance or discontent.

And so, full of wonder and perhaps even a little wiser, we go on our temperate way.

Word To Use Today: distemper. Of which you already know two derivations.

No comments:

Post a comment