Saturday, December 14, 2002

Etymology Today from M-W: emblem \EM-blum\
*1 : an object or the figure of an object symbolizing and suggesting another object or an idea
2 : a device, symbol, or figure adopted and used as an identifying mark

"For forty years I have fed upon dry salted fare -- fit emblem of the dry nourishment of my soul." (Herman Melville, _Moby Dick_)

Both "emblem" and its synonym "symbol" trace back to the Greek verb "ballein," meaning "to throw." "Emblem" arose from "emballein," meaning "to insert," while "symbol" comes from "symballein," Greek for "to throw together." "Ballein" is also an ancestor of the words "parable" (from "paraballein," "to compare"), "metabolism" (from "metaballein," "to change"), and "problem" (from "proballein," "to throw forward"). Another (somewhat surprising) "ballein" descendant is "devil," which comes from Greek "diabolos," literally meaning "slanderer." "Diabolos" in turn comes from "diaballein," meaning "to throw across" or "to slander."

E.T. bonus: usage watch: A subtext to the NY Times sports columns controversy: one of the columnists, Harvey Araton, committed the offense of honoring the ghastly concoction, the virulent adjective "impactful": the cause of women membership at Augusta, compared with other feminist issues, he wrote, "is not as earth-shattering or as impactful on women's lives in America.'' *Sigh*

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