Sunday, October 26, 2008

#2: medius: middle; in the middle; in half

Dear English vocabulary enthusiasts--

Welcome back to my discussion concerning a fine Latin roots adjective that gives rise to many English vocabulary words--the Latin root word medius: middle, in the middle, in half. Certainly of no mediocre importance in the rich history of word origins that gives rise to English vocabulary words, its importance as a Latin root word can be viewed in its immediate and unmitigated glory at this Greek and Latin root words venue by gongoozling (no lorgnette required) at the medius tree, where you will see related Greek and Latin roots (for a detailed history of word origin in regards to Greek and Latin root words, please visit my Introduction to Word Origin at ). The word list of English medius derivatives is quite extensive, and includes much GRE and SAT vocabulary, including SAT prep words and GRE prep words.

Before we continue on with the diabolical duo of Billy and Panfloss working in tandem to ensnare the gorgeous Morgan, let's review a few of the Latin roots that give rise to the English vocabulary words that we will be focusing on (much focus last time was paid upon English words that came from medius; this time more focus will be paid upon those subsidiary roots of medius itself):

Medius—middle, in the middle, in half {mezz}
Medialis—of the middle {medal}
Medianus—central {mean}

You will no doubt recall that in our last exciting rendition of Billy's somewhat middling attempts to impress Morgan, Panfloss, his mediator, suggested an exploratory trip to the Mediterranean Sea (that sea in the "middle" of the land, via the Latin root terra: land, earth) to discover his own roots, to divulge whether or not any of his ancestors had pinned medals (the word medal comes from a Latin coin which was valued at ‘half’ a denarius; a medal also looks like a coin) to their chests, to unearth a glorious past with which to woo the seemingly unwooable and superlatively non-mediocre Morgan! Deciding never to be mediocre himself ever again, that is, to never do anything "halfway" or non-superlatively "in the middle," he set off, full of immediacy, realizing that directness and not stopping "halfway" would serve him very nicely in his quest for the Questyng Beast of his past.

Wandering about day and night along the Prime Meridian (via the Latin meridianus: midday) of the city of Greenwich, he paused long enough in his despair on a dark rainy night, having found little with which to impress his beloved. Not knowing what to do, he suddenly heard, far off in the distance, a mezzo-soprano (in the "middle" of soprano and contralto) singing in the most haunting tones; led on by the eldritch intermezzo (short musical work "amongst the middle" of a more lengthy one) he entered a gorgeous medieval cathedral of immense proportions, and there, above, in the rarefied air of the clerestory, he saw a prismatic picture in stained glass of a mathematician with a sole word subscribed below: Fontagerus. Billy, beholding the iridiscent glow of the mathematician hard at work, gaped in astonishment again at his very own surname: Fontagerus. Was this the lost relative that would launch his amorous career? Was this the scholar who would bolster the mediocrity of his untoward claim upon Morgan's heart? At this moment of epiphanic wonderment, he was brusquely accosted by a somberly clad beadle, who urged him to leave the godly edifice and return the next day, as the music had now ceased.

The next day, as Billy was making his way toward the cathedral of Fontagerus, he saw, standing alone on the median strip that split a busy street in two, a lone tatterdemalion of suspect appearance who seemed to be disoriented. Billy, of a soft and middling temperament, kind to the core, leapt courageously to the aid of the tatterdemalion, and asked him "What, sire, is wrong?" Upon this kindly query, a smile radiated from the woman standing therein in rags, who immediately, seemingly restored, thanked Billy for his benevolence, and offered him a boon in repayment. Taking a wild shot in the dark, Billy asked if she knew of Fontagerus. The scholar, who had been posing as a medicant only so that people would leave her alone, said that she indeed did, and that she would tell Billy the story thereof:

Fontagerus, according to legend, had been a mathematician of no mean, or "middling" ability. It was rumored that he was able to take an incredible set of numbers and not only figure out the median (the number in the middle of them all), but also the mean (the average or central value of the numbers, or the sum of all the numbers divided by the number of numbers in the data set). It got to the point where Fontagerus, after doing so many of these statistical computations, was simply able to eyeball any number of numbers and miraculously derive their mean and median instantaneously, seemingly inspired from above, thus placing him smack dab in the "middle" of the academic milieu of his day (a milieu is etymologically ‘in the middle of a place'). The mathematical prowess of Fontagerus only continued to increase with age, and soon he was able to calculate the Golden Mean of any set of circumstances or phenomena, prefiguring the synthesis of apparent opposites that appears so lyrically in Herman Hesse's Magister Ludi. Thus could he find the harmonious "central" course in any disparate set of circumstances, and his counsel was thereby sought far and wide. This ability extended even to exegesis and the fusing of even seemingly incompatible opposites found in the greatest works of literature, including scripture (it is rumored that he was even able to solve the seemingly insoluble solution put forth in the Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas). The Tatterdemalion explicated to the enthused Billy that all the marginalia of the great Fontagerus were housed at the cathedral, although they were by and large illegible as they had been poorly preserved. Hence, sanctified and having undergone apohagiosis, or the turning into a saint, he was so honored by being placed in the clerestory of the Greenwich cathedral, immortalized in radiant glass.
What will Billy do with all this new information? Will Morgan be amazed by the revelation of this so scholarly ancestor of Billy's? Would Billy be able to explicate the importance of the mean, the median, and, most importantly, the Universal Golden Mean? Join Magister Brunner as he continues, in medias res (that is, in the "middle" of things, used usually to refer to a trope in epics in which the action begins chronologically in the "middle" of the story), the saga of Billy's immiddling European tour to discover his ancestry next week.

A striking Greek and Latin roots poster is available which contains this most non-mediocre Latin root, and numerous other Greek and Latin root words, based upon Word Empire III: Clarity, the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionary available. To discover a daily SAT vocabulary word and a Onceler word, please check out Magister Brunner's Greek and Latin roots word of the day, an entertaining and informative discussion on the wonders of word origin and the fun of the English language.