The Toad's Words

Excursus #10

This Toad's Words is going to take a slightly different approach than usual. This time we will be looking more at the origins of some fairly common words as opposed to the meanings of fairly obscure words. From the feedback I have been getting, most of you are more interested in the word origins (pronounced etymology) than the definitions. Actually, several people have said they know what all the words mean, but didn't know the origins.

In a recent e-mail, Margaret Klock (yes, she is Prof. Klock's wife) asks "I wonder why ice skaters are ranked by judges but ballroom dancers are ranked by adjudicators." Good question, Margaret! I know piano players and violin players are adjudicated but, as a trombone player, I was always judged (usually by my brother, but that's another story.) So we start Toad #10 with 'adjudicate.'

Adjudicate, verb

To adjudge. To pass judgement on; to settle judiciously.

Don't you just love it when someone defines a word using words that use the same root. In this case I think it is ok because the issue is why use 'adjudicate' or even 'adjudge' when 'judge' will do? The word comes from ad meaning 'to' , jus meaning 'law' or 'right' , dic meaning 'to say' , and ate is the English ending on Latin verbs replacing the are. In this case, 'adjudicare' becomes 'adjudicate.'

All of my resources seem to define 'judge,' 'adjudge,' 'adjudicate' as interchangeable words. Hence, my learned opinion is that 'adjudicate' is a pompous version of 'judge' and should be used when evaluating kids if you really want them to practice.

Please send me your concocted definitions of 'posh' and a select committee will adjudicate the entries.

Capricious, adjective

Apt to change suddenly without a reason, fickle.

I find the phrase "arbitrary and capricious" is commonly used when referring to the actions of management, Congress, small children, and the gopher that is tearing up my yard. This word has an interesting origin. Originally, in Italian, capriccio meant a sudden shiver. This comes from capo meaning head and riccio meaning hedgehog. Hence, a frightened person's hair would stand on end and look like a hedgehog. Ultimately, capriccio developed the meaning of sudden whim. This is because capra (which is similar to capriccio) is Italian for goat which is an animal that behaves erratically. The Latin caper also means goat. Hence, 'cutting capers' is to act like a goat.

The capricious adjudication of the goat roping competition left the audience extremely agitated.

Gargoyle, noun

A rainspout in the form (usually grotesque) of a human or animal.

The gargoyles of Notre Dame are in actuality rainspouts. The fanciful figures that adorn rooftops that are not rainspouts should probably be referred to as chimeras and not gargoyles. The word comes from the French gargouiller which means to gargle. The rain spout tends to make a gargling sound when water passes through it.

The gargoyle on the church looked like a grotesque cross between a goat and an angel.

Antenna, noun

1. One of the movable segmented organs on the head of certain insects, crustaceans, and myriopods used as sensors for touch, sound, odors, or light.

2. Figuratively, the sense of perception.

3. A metallic contraption used to receive or transmit electromagnetic waves.

People are always wondering about the plural of this word. Well, I have it on good authority that the plural of definitions #1 and #2 is 'antennae' and the plural of definition 3 is 'antennas.' It is also interesting that #1 usually come in pairs while #3 is either singular or in units of N.

The origin of antenna goes back to the Latin where it meant 'sail yard.' A 'sail yard' is a long spar tapered toward the ends to support and spread the head of a sail on a sailing vessel. Ultimately, the term was used to refer to the organs on insects and then to the metal contraptions we all know and try to make smaller, conformal, and broadband.

'Antennal' is the adjective meaning of or having to do with antennae. An 'antennule' is a small antenna.

Since the antennas on the low flying aircraft were not conformal, they tended to collect the antennae of all insects that were hit.

Attic, noun

A room or space immediately below the roof of a building but above the other main rooms; garret.

The city of Athens, Greece, sits on the Attic peninsula or Attica. In ancient Greece, the city-state of Athens included the entire Attic peninsula. Classically, 'Attic' means having characteristics that are peculiarly Athenian. (See 'solecism' in Toad #9.) When Greek architecture was revived in England in the 18th-century, many buildings were built in the style of ancient Athenian structures, which often used pilasters (rectangular columns projecting from, but attached to the wall). When the low story of a building next to the roof is decorated with pilasters rather than pillars the style was called the Attic style or Attic order. From this descriptive architectural style, people began referring to the whole structure under the roof as the attic.

The architectural-board adjudicators felt that it was awfully capricious to put gargoyles on the pilasters decorating the attic of the proposed city hall. What they didn't realize was that each of the grotesque rainspouts was actually hiding an antenna.

Disclaimer: The author, his peers, friends, and colleagues in no way take responsibility for crossed-eyed glances, slapped faces, rejected offers, or any draconian consequences as a result of using The Toad's Words.

Revised: August 27, 2000

Copyright by Michael L. VanBlaricum, 04 September 2000.

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