Saturday, January 3, 2009

#1: scribo, scribere, scripsi, scriptum: write

Welcome back, etymology fans! I hope you have all had some wonderful holidays, and make a habit of learning a great deal about English vocabulary words for the new year. I shall begin this year focusing on one of the more prolific Latin roots that give rise to many English derivatives, the root:

Scribo, scribere, scripsi, scriptum—to write

Today let's discuss simpler words that come from this root to see how the root word works in English. To scribble is to write usually with little purpose. To describe someone's appearance is to "write" about it; giving a full description can often be a time-consuming task, worthy of the best authors. In fact, people are, by and large, perfectly indescribable as it is hard to know oneself, much less know about another; Marcel Proust discusses this conceit fully in In Search of Lost Time. I often wonder if Proust, as he lay sick and often completely lost in a debilitating fog while trying to write his 3000+ page manuscript (etymologically that which is "written" by hand, via the Latin root manus: hand), ever thought he would finish, or would be able to provide a summary that would even suggest what his greatest work was even about, trying to woo perennially recalcitrant publishers.

Speaking of publishing, a subscriber ‘underwrites’ a magazine by paying money for a ‘subscription,’ thereby supporting its existence. A term that is becoming rather obsolescent with the phasing out of the typewriter (though I saw one for sale the other day in a Hammacher Schlemmer catalog--excellent stuff they sell) is the word "typescript," (via the Greek typos: blow, impression, form) which is a manuscript completed upon said instrument. Holy scripture are etymologically simply "writings" (scriptural matters are those things "written" in holy works, such as the Koran, Torah, Tao te Ching, and the Pentateuch).

PS: Latin for post scriptum, an abbreviation used for something ‘written after’ the main body of a letter, a kind of highly truncated epistolary epilogue, as it were.

Intrigued by all the extra roots found in the entry above? Check out this list of Latin roots and list of Greek roots: you will be simply amazed at what you can find, and how helpful can be when it comes to learning English vocabulary via Greek and Latin roots. In addition to beautiful Greek and Latin root word trees, a striking Greek and Latin roots poster is available, 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 Latin roots SAT word of the day, an entertaining and informative discussion on the wonders of word origin and the fun of the English language.