Killing It

Whom we decide to murder is, luckily, mostly up to us. Simply connect a Latin prefix of your choice with the Latin four-banger of -cide, a suffix with a license to kill.

Feeling fond of warmer weather during the colder months? Murdering your brother might kindle passion’s proper flame. The first round of the ninth layer of hell is, according to an Italian eye-witness account in the early 14th Century, inhabited by the perpetrator of the world’s first slay, Cain, and subsequently the first fratricide. The Latin prefix frater(brother) joins hands of red deed with -cide in order to fell our brothers. But what about putting a sharp one through your sister? For this, there’s sororicide. This word stems from the Latin soror (sister), likely best recognized through the common university campus clubs called sororities, which institutions also serve as a kind of murder of a young woman. The eight-hour flight just started, the headphones just went kaput, and the baby is right on time with its piercing cries. Infanticide is the killing of infants, a task of unmatched physical ease—David Lynch’s Eraserhead shows one how simple it can be. Or, if offing the baby is not in the offing, then perhaps logic better supports the offing of oneself, namely through suicide, a word stemming from the Latin sui (of oneself). Matricide is the whacking of one’s mother, patricide the same for one’s father—I didn’t say off. For otherwise lesser spendthrifts amongst this exceedingly humble readership, a two-for-one scenario exists in parricide: the killing of one’s parents. Or, perhaps you are one for sticking it to The Man. The French and the Russians, amongst many other highly civilized animals, are rather fond of it: regicide, the murder of a king (or ruler), has been a crowd favorite for some time. The acting party most oft sees it, however, as tyrannicide: the killing of a tyrant. Simply getting your hands dirty without a specific target will likewise put a few hairs on your chest. Homicide (Latin homo [man/human]) will get the task done on the cheap. For a real deal, however, it’s best to buy in bulk. Genocide (Latin genus) is the killing of a race or kind. Or, if you are particularly fond of tragedy on a scale hitherto unforeseen, you might fancy menticide: the systematic undermining of a person’s values and beliefs through brainwashing or torture, a weak attempt at which may be easily imbibed with the viewing of the latest Batman film. 

True humanists are a rare breed nowadays, but they nevertheless roam packless across this planet as God’s lonely children. No problem, though. There is plenty of stuff for you to kill, too. There’s pesticide for pests, insecticide for insects (often pests), herbicide for weeds (unfortunately nothing yet for potheads), bactericide for bacteria, fungicide for fungus, and vermicide for worms. 

Words by the Decade

Yesterday was Shakespeare’s 457th birthday, which got me thinking about a few things. 

I don’t want to die. Like most people, I find Earth to lack a certain something, but I often refuse to give the next destination a proper shot. This helpful mental fodder eventually gave way to a tincture of gerascophobia, which begot an unwelcome dose of thanatophobia. But how many decades does one really have in pursuit such old-fashioned fun? What started as a healthy trifle of harmless Anglophilia logically progressed into a healthy death-based potion of etymological arithmomania.

Much as the objects of phobia, fondness, and obsession are denoted above, decade words are created by splicing a combining form and a suffix. In the case of decade words, the combining form denotes the cardinal number of each decade and the suffix, -arian, designates a person who is or does something (contrarian, librarian, Rastafarian, humanitarian, vegetarian). 

Decade words have been deemed too sophisticated for souls under forty. But the English language has you covered from there.

Quadragenarian: quadr(i) (four): those in their forties 

Quinquagenarian: Quinqu(e) (five): those in their fifties

Sexagenarian: Sex (six): those in their sixties

Septuagenarian: Sept(i) (seven): those in their seventies 

Octogenarian: Octo (eight): those in their eighties

Nonagenarian: Nona (nine): those in their nineties (not to be confused with the English word nonage: the period of immaturity or youth…perhaps this could be used for all ages under forty)

Centenarian: cent(i)=hundred(th): Ouch

A List of Latin Lingo

I never reached great heights in middle-school Latin class. In fact, I distinctly recall, after achieving my latest D test-grade, whereon, for one verb conjugation question, I scrawled “slipknot,” and, from there—much to the delight of my classmates—growled the word in my best devil voice during said test, my teacher’s telling me to clean out the wastebaskets after class, during which he asked if I were soon prepared to take it up as a career. I remember leaving generally unimpressed. 

I never became a garbageman, but I have been taking out the trash recently as regards some common contemporary Latin phrases. 

It should be noted that this is an ad hoc listing of Latin loan-phrases that endeavors not to go on ad infinitum, rather to cover specifically only some of the higher frequency contemporary phrases until the much more realistic ad nauseam

A fortiori: translated literally as “from the stronger.” This is used to refer to a preference for a stronger conclusion to an argument, for which a weaker conclusion previously prevailed.

A Posteriori: “from the latter.” Related to or derived by reasoning from known or observed facts. The Latin prefix “post” here refers to “after” observation, during which the gleaned data may be deduced.

A Priori: “from the former.” This is a posteriori’s antithesis. It is related to or derived by reasoning from self-evident propositions and theoretical deduction, or prior to empirical observation. 

But, should you really want a bona fide win in the debate, use Ad Hominem: “to the man.” This phrase denotes a marked denigration of an opponent’s character, rather than answer rationally the conundrum present or the issues raised. This is the favored contemporary model towards understanding.

To admit Mea culpa, “through my fault,” would be to admit personal fault or error, and thus to be somewhat honorable. Don’t expect to see as much of this as of the abovementioned. Here we also see the origins of the common English word culpability

An Alter Ego is a “second I,” which also a nice pun. This refers to a trusted friend, personal representative, or, as is today’s most common usage: the opposite side of a personality, which one assumes to be much like a trusted friend or personal representative. 

Caveat emptor means “buyer beware.” The onus is on the buyer. This also displays modern English’s caveat, which is often misused as “twist.”

There’s nothing to seize with Carpe diem, its literal translation being that of “pluck the day.” Enjoy the pleasures and opportunities the day brings without concern for the future, some day. Cliches completely prevent me from doing so, I retort pluckily. Don’t worry. I took care of this one for the public pro bono. You can get me later with a pint. Let’s call it a quid pro quo.

Not much for murdered bodies myself, I like using Corpus delicti or the “body of the crime” metaphorically. In either case, this phrase refers to the substantial groundwork of necessary facts required to prove that a crime has been committed. Any skilled linguists reading this whose modus operandi it is to report on the magnum opus of lesser beings, if you should not want to change your wayward modus vivendi, then consider this artifact as merely the Pons asinorum, literally “the asses’ bridge.” 

Most prospective employers require a curriculum vitae from their applicants. I’ve always found this a bit much to ask for: a “course of one’s life.” But it’s interesting how so many applicants get by with merely a short summary of one’s education, career experience, and relevant qualifications. It is, however, apparently a sine qua non, and done de jure.

Something can also be done de facto or “from that fact,” which means something akin to “there ain’t no name for it, but this is how it really goes.” Or ex post facto, meaning something done after the fact or in the aftermath of something, or “whoops.”

And here are a few of my least favorite things:

i.e.: “id est”; that is or namely 

e.g.: “exempli gratia”; for example 

q.v.: “quod vide”; which see

cf.: “conferatur”; confer; compare

etc.: “et cetera”; and so on

CV: “curriculum vitae”; boring paperwork 

I have a very special hatred in my heart for Latin abbreviations. This has less to do with their being Latin and more to do with their being abbreviations. But, since they are both, my prejudice knows no bounds. No one uses Latin correctly. And no one abbreviates correctly. Put the two together and you’ve something really quite special. 

This was either unhelpfully interesting or vice versa. But it was only pro temporeTempus Fugit, no?

The Words of the Gods

Sometimes, those around us do godlike things.

Consider that trusted friend whose body temperature frequently rivals that of a cucumber’s. He’s Apollonian to the core. Your friend’s harmonious, rational, calm disposition conjures Apollo, the Greek god of sun, light, and music, and, if he’s feeling a tad more illogical that day, prophecy.

Haply you might prefer to trade all this cool sobriety in for a good Bacchanalian night out on the town. You can thank Bacchus, the Greek god of drama, wine, and ecstasy for that. Your frenzied, orgiastic evening that left you sick all over the passenger seat, however, would not have been fondly received by a centurion after 186 B.C, as the Bacchanalia—a festival of wild desire and unrivaled debauchery, was then outlawed. Or, should you desire to take your sins to the level of Original, you might consider stepping up to all things Dionysian. Dionysus invented the first intoxicant, wine, and was always followed by his Friday Night Crew of satyrs and maenads.

Perhaps all this filth has brought you to new lows. Or maybe it has made you jovial. Jovial comes from Jove, the Roman equivalent of Zeus. Your cheerful, sociable, fatherly nature has made you the belle of the ball, or the Santa Claus of the department store.

Capricious with fleet-feet? When something’s Mercurial it has rapid and unpredictable changes in mood. This comes from Mercury, the god of speed and athletics. The planet Mercury was named for him due it its orbital speed, and liquid silver mercury for its skittering out of one’s hand so quickly.

Something venereal has to do with sexual intercourse, or the diseases transmitted by it. This originates in Venus, the goddess of love, who governed all aspects of human sensuality and sexuality. Perhaps these began at the sight of something callipygian; but, if used injudiciously, it will bring about venereal diseases. 

Palladium is a silver-white metal related to platinum that is used in electrical contracts or as an alloy with gold to form white gold. This comes from Pallas Athena. This is the goddess Athena’s full name. During a friendly sparring match with a fellow female warrior, Athena accidentally killed her battle-sister. This warrior’s name was Pallas. Thus, in honor of her, Athena put Pallas’s name before her own.

This article is Hades. Hades is both the land of the dead the God who rules it. Misery loves company. Hades is primarily used today as a euphemism for hell.

Cereal is a grain-based breakfast food often mixed with milk. The word “cereal” comes from the Roman goddess Ceres. She was a serene goddess who did not take part in quarrels with the other gods. I find this a fitting etymology for cereal indeed, as might most people who find serenity in devouring cereal by the boxful. There’s a glazed-over look to people eating cereal. 

Junoesque means to have a matured, poised, dignified beauty. Juno was the wife of Jupiter. She was matronly, mature, and well filled-out. Moreover, she was, for the time, something of an ideal for the Greek Wife. This is no longer true.

Martial arts, martial law, Marshall Mathers: two of these are etymologically consistent with war and military life. Something martial comes from the god of war, Mars. He was in charge of the brutish and chaotic aspects of war. He also dabbled in marching music.

Something vulcanized is a crude synthetic rubber so elastic and strong that it resists decay. This comes from Vulcan, the god of fire.

Something with a glowing, rainbow-like play of color that seems to change as the light shifts is iridescent. Goddess of the rainbow, Iris took messages from Olympus to Earth, using the rainbow as her staircase.

If someone is your muse then she or he is your source of inspiration, or a guiding spirit. Nine goddesses who presided over such things as music and literature were called the Muses. Their temple was called a museum. Many artists have chosen living human beings as muses. Dante chose Beatrice. Chopin: Aurore Dudevant. James Joyce: Nora Barnacle (and her rear end).

One of the nine goddess muses, Calliope was the muse of heroic or epic poetry and responsible for inspiring poets to write beautiful, eloquent-sounding epics, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. A Calliope is an organ in which whistles are sounded by steam or compressed air and is the preferred musical instrument of circuses. It’s also a somewhat rare girls’ name. 

Zephyr a breeze from the west, or a gentle breeze. Not quite a proper god, the Greeks called the west wind “Zephyrus” and regarded him and his fellow winds as gods.

Neither was Prometheus quite a god, rather a titan. To be promethean is to be new or creative in a daring way. During the Titanomachy, Prometheus fought for the gods against his own kind. Thereafter, he brought the gods fire, taught them how to write, farm, build houses, read the stars and weather, cure themselves when sick, and tame animals—in short, all the arts and skills that make humans unique. 

At some point, Zeus decided to chain Prometheus to a titanic rocky cliff, where, for centuries, an eagle daily tore at his liver. Thus, Promethean also means to suffer on a grand scale. And I don’t think that the myth simultaneously conveys the “genuinely unique and creative” and “pure, prolonged suffering” by chance. I believe that not only does the former beget the latter, but also that they’re ineluctable coevals. If one is truly new and creative, then one’s life is inevitably tortured.