Saturday, October 31, 2009

Breaking the Silence

Yes, we've been absent a long time. We apologize for that. We simply got too busy with our "day jobs" and didn't have enough time to pursue our love of etymology. And we've been suffering because of it!

However, we want you to know that we are working on Take Our Word For It behind the scenes. Mike, the programmer in the family, is changing the design of the site. He's planning to seriously revamp it! We are also combing through all word requests submitted by readers over the last couple of years, looking for the best ones to address in Words to the Wise. Further, we have been keeping notes over the last couple of years regarding good topics for Spotlight. So we have been working on TOWFI - we simply haven't been able to show you the fruits of our work. And it will be a bit longer before we can do so.

In the meantime, we wanted to mention a couple of examples of word confusion we came across recently. They both come from the "storm chaser" world - if you haven't noticed, there are quite a few storm chaser programs on television these days, on the National Geographic Channel, the Weather Channel, and the Discovery family of channels. One of the storm chasers (he's actually a scientist) mentioned having to drive through a "maelstORm". Sure, it's easy to see whence the confusion arises, especially when speaking of storms, but the word is actually maelstrom. Edgar Allen Poe introduced the word to English from Norwegian in 1841. The strom element in the word does not mean "storm" but instead means "current". With mael meaning "grinding," the combined meaning of the word is "grinding current". In general, the word refers specifically to a whirlpool, but it is often used figuratively to mean "chaos".

The other bit of storm chasing word confusion we encountered was the use of the word transverse instead of traverse - one of the storm chasers, this one an engineer, was speaking of a supercell thunderstorm that was going to "transverse the countryside". The word transverse is technically not a verb. It's an adjective or a noun that refers to something that crosses or is at right angles to something else. It's understandable that a storm chaser with an engineering background might switch the two words inadvertently in speech, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Until next time,
Take Our Word For It!