On Skywatch Friday, I posted some additional notes about two obsolete Shakespearean-era English words, ravel and sleave. When checking on the background of these words, I discovered that “ravel” and it’s perceived (and non-obsolete) opposite, “unravel” each mean the same thing. It brought up the whole topic of how English forms negatives or opposites of things. We usually do it by adding a prefix, and for that we certainly have a number of choices:
A prominent exception, as mentioned on Friday by Sue, is the seemingly opposite pair, "flammable" and "inflammable." However, just as with ravel/unravel, these two fiery words mean the exactly same thing. The confusion (which began in the 16th Century and wasn’t resoled until the 18th!) resulted because each of the English words in question is based on a different Latin one, but the confusion posed too great a risk. We can’t have people thinking that something “inflammable” is fireproof when it isn’t! What we usually see these days in "flammable" and "non-flammable." (If you’d like the complete and really fascinating history, go HERE.)
Another fellow blogger, Small City Scenes, commented on the words “thaw/unthaw.” This really intrigued me. At first glance, this pair would seem to be following the same linguistic route as flammable/inflammable” but wait… We can definitely freeze and unfreeze something. And when we unfreeze something, we thaw it, right? So how do we explain “unthaw?” Stickler as I can be over my word usage at times, I’m also a great fan of slang and creative idioms, so I’m pretty sure I’ve probably used “unthaw” at one time or another. Plus, I found that several online dictionaries listed “unthaw” and the equally redundant “dethaw.” Are these the result of an over-zealous application of the rules of English negation? One online commenter at a site I visited simply called unthaw a “slang synonym.” Then Barb brought up the intriguing subject of "lost positives" like "gruntled" and "sheveled," which we only use now wit the prefix "dis." But I'll save that one for another post and another day.
And finally, a thanks to Sandy Carlsonfor the link for the Online Etymology Dictionary, a handy reference for all our future linguistic troubleshooting. I’ve saved it, and will surely never unbookmark it!
The Cloud Messenger (Meghadūta) is a lyric poem by the respected Indian poet, Kālidāsa. The poem centers around a yaksa in exile. Longing for his beloved, waiting for him on a Himalayan mountain, he asks a cloud to take a message to her. The sights he tells the cloud it will see on its way make up most of the poem.
The idea of recording observations appeals to me. I thought The Cloud Messenger was the perfect title for a blog about the journey that we all make as we move through our days.
I'm a baby boomer who grew up dancing in the streets of Detroit during the classic Motown years, lived beside the Rocky Mountains for many years, now retired and living (and writing full time) in S. Ontario. I have one blog for rock 'n' roll oldies, and one for nature, poetry and life along the Lake.