Sep 16, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: Writing Words

Up this week: words that have to do with writing.

Novel, from Italian novella, meaning short story. Originally from Latin novella, "new things," also the source for the French nouvelle. At first it didn't mean a longer work at all, but a short story. Longer works were called romances. In Finnish, novelli still means "short story," not novel. 

Story, from Old French estorie, estoire "story, chronicle history," from Late Latin storia, shortened from historia. At first it meant "a recital of true events," but in the 1500s it started to mean a fictional account meant to entertain. 

Book, from Old English boc, "written document," from Proto-Germanic bokiz "beech," maybe because runes were inscribed on beechwood tablets, or even on the trees themselves. 

On to poetry:

Poem, from Middle French poème, from Latin poema, "composition in verse, poetry," from Greek poema, literally "a thing made or created ."

Epic, originally from Greek epikos, from epos,"a word; a tale; a story,"from Proto-Indo-European root word wekw "to speak." The sense of "heroic, grand" is only from the 1700s, which I find surprising.

Lyric from Latin lyricus,  "of or for the lyre," from Greek lyrikos, "singing to the lyre." Unsurprisingly, the word "lyrics" has the same root.  

Quatrain, from Middle-French quatrain, "four-line stanza," from Old French quatre, "four." Okay, so now you want to know about stanza, too. Here you go: Stanza, from Vulgar Latin stantia, from Latin statem "to stand." On a related note, sestina is a fixed verse consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, followed by a three line envoi, a short stanza meant to address a person or to comment on the body of the poem. The words that end the first stanza are used as line endings in the following stanzas, rotated in a set pattern. 

Boy, poetry is complicated. Maybe I should stick to prose? 

Okay, so far this has been pretty straightforward, but let's finish with a tough one:

Iambic tetrameter. Iambic, from Latin iambicus, from Greek iambikos, from iambos, "metrical foot of one unaccented followed by one accented syllable," from iaptain, "to put forth."The next part is easier. Tetrameter from Late Latin tetrametrus, from Greek tetrameron, "verse of four measures."  Tetra "four"+ "metron "measure." Metre, the unit of length, comes from the same root. 

Happy writing!


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