When etymology becomes poetry (2) – 13/09/2023 – Sérgio Rodrigues

When etymology becomes poetry (2) – 13/09/2023 – Sérgio Rodrigues

When we enter the game of searching, for pure aesthetic pleasure, etymological associations between words that are now distant, we must be careful not to fall into addiction. Is it serious, doctor? Or would it be frivolous?

Well, the Latin ancestor “gravis”, which means heavy, lives both in the seriousness of a very serious academic and in the belly of a pregnant woman, both in the gravity of the state of health of an injured person and in the attraction of the Earth on the bodies.

In other words: gravity recommends keeping our feet firmly planted on the ground, but the gravitational attraction that poetic etymology exerts on our curiosity is pregnant with promises of renewed life. In this case, the life of words.

It’s true that it often takes a lot of work to find the thread. The famous Roman general Julius Caesar was not born by cesarean section, but a highly successful etymological legend in Antiquity linked his name to this type of surgery.

That was why, in addition to giving rise to the name of sovereigns in several languages, such as the German Kaiser and the Russian tsar (or tsar), Caesar ended up leading French doctors in the 16th century to baptize birth by excision as “césarienne”. . Legends also make the language machine run.

But not always: most of the time, beliefs about the origin of words are just nonsense. Like the one who swears that the poor guy is the one who was subjected to coitus. It is not and never has been.

Poor thing came from the Latin verb “coctare” (to torment, disgrace), while coitus is linked to “coire” (literally to go with, that is, to have sex with). Two entirely different families – and I haven’t even mentioned a third, that of the word biscuit, a descendant of the verb “cocere” (to cook), which is also often thrown into the salad by mistake.

It is recommended to be understanding of the confusion. After all, isn’t it a proven fact that ostracism brought its kinship with oysters from ancient Greek? After that, what will be impossible in the world of poetic etymology?

In fact, it was using oyster shells – or shards of pottery that bore this name as a metaphor, scholars are divided on this point – that the citizens of the old Athenian democracy voted for “ostrakhismós”, the suspension of someone’s political rights.

And there are even stranger cases that also bear the etymological seal of authenticity. Explaining how figs and liver come to be related is not simple, it requires going back to the Latin expression “jecur Ficatum”, which meant “liver (especially duck or goose) full of figs”, that is, the liver of animals that gained weight with figs to make it tastier.

It turns out that the name of the organ was “jecur”, not “ficatum”. The rest goes to account of the mania that adjectives have for nouns, as happened with the cell phone. From figoso or enfigado (to invent two words), the organ became just liver.

Although it’s always worth it, sometimes it’s really difficult to separate truth from lies in the realm of poetic etymology. As words are never trapped in a jail cell, their freedom can stun us.

One of the main reasons for this is their ability to escape through figurative meaning. What – in addition to a prison, due to its functional aspect – leads us to derive from the Latin “catena” (iron chain) the chain as a row of mountains, physical-chemical reactions in sequence or a network of commercial establishments, through the idea of ​​linked links.

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