Tag Archive: etymology


photo-2Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian world, the beginning of the Lenten season, where ritual fasting brings the whole flock back together again by Easter.

Historical: For 40 days before his crucifixion, Jesus fasted in the desert and was tempted by Satan.

Practical: For 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday (the Lenten season), Christians may partake in fasting by abstaining from red meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday (the day of the crucifixion), and every Friday in between as a way of penance and re-aligning back to God. Typically, an indulgence or favorite food is given up for the entire Lenten period. And as this period of time spans an actual 46 days, the six Sundays during Lent are considered “free” days when anything given up can be enjoyed.

Grammatical: Yes, grammatical, of course. Here’s how we got to fasting: Fast began as word meaning to hold firmly, securely, vigorously. Think, “The sign was held fast to the wall with duct tape,” or think, “The sign was fastened to the wall with duct tape.” Here’s another: “Hold fast to that which is good.” I like that one.

Now, look to vigorously in the definition. This is where we get our familiar speedy definition for fast as anything done with vigor seemed to speed things up. Around 900 A.D., “Run with vigor” began to equal “Run fast.”

Fast teamed up with other words combining to include steadfast, stead meaning position or stand, and fast meaning firm, thus steadfast love is firm-standing. And of course, there’s my other favorite fast combo, breakfast. Now we’re getting to our food definition. Breakfast, we know, breaks the fast since last night’s dinner. Returning to our original definition of fast, to go without food for a religious or health reason is to hold firmly to one’s resolution for doing so. Eyes on the prize, if you want to rhyme about it.  And that, my friends, is the why and the how of fasting during Lent.

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Noun and Nerdy

Forgive me for this, but I find these things fascinating. Today I was reading about eye health when I came across the opias: myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), presbyopia—This one caught me. Seriously, there’s a presbyopia?

photo-2Indeed there is. Oh, those Greek origins!

Hopefully the words I tracked down and looked up are correct, but even if not, it’s a fun exercise—one that helps with lateral thinking.

Opia is a condition having to do with the eye. To find the kind of opia, we of course look to the front of the word. Myopia comes from myein, a Greek word meaning to shut. Wondering about the etymology, I came across associations with closing the eyes and even being closed-minded.

I get that hyperopia would go awry in the opposite way. Hyper, meaning beyond. Farsighted and even longsighted appear in the etymology.  And then there’s presbyopia, which made me think of Presbyterian, in my mental word association game.

Presby- has to do with age. Presbyopia is the need for reading glasses, which typically (not always) happens with age. Presbyterian is a church governed by the lay elders.

You try it. Here’s the game I played yesterday when someone asked me to spell ambidextrous. Ready? Make the connections: Ambidextrous and ambivalence. Go!

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