Sunday, February 8, 2009

#3: spiro, spirare, spiravi, spiratum: to breathe

Human spirit is that which animates us, that which breathes vigor into our every action, that which, indeed, gives us the wherewithal and the gumption to live. Breath, of course, is intimately associated with life itself; one way to define the cycle of life is the drawing of the first breath, and the breathing out of one's last, at least in this physical bardo. Let's now focus for our last time on the Latin root below as we look at some GRE English vocabulary words, and also some French language expressions that have made their way over into English vocabulary as exonyms:

Spiro, spirare, spiravi, spiratum—to breathe {spiro-}
Spiritus—breath, the soul, vigor, that which animates life {spright}

If one has become inspirited by reading one of the great epics, such as Homer's Iliad, Beowulf, or Malory's Morte D'Arthur, one has had courage breathed into one; one can also think about life, or even a defined life, breathed into one at this point as well...have we not all been inspired by another to do great things? Hence humanity runs largely by example and early patterning...perhaps Hawthorne's major lesson in The House of the Seven Gables was not so far off. Harold Bloom speaks much of inspiration via great literature; it is difficult to read those geniuses, such as Shakespeare, Proust, Cervantes (my personal favorite), and Dickinson, but oh are they so very much worth the effort for the inspirational wisdom they impart to all dedicated readers willing to make that considerable effort.

Suspire? Suspiration? Via the Latin preposition sub, in this case meaning "from below," this verb means simply "to breathe," whereas the noun means "the act of breathing." Suspiring is a more poetical use of the verb breathe; I also like to think of suspiring in terms of true deep breathing in yoga...a breathing "from below" and conversely into the depths invigorates and strengthens the whole organism; try breathing slowly deep into the belly, and even deeper, and feel the expansion as the body lets go...this calms the mind, and thereby strengthens the spirit.

To respire is a physiogical term etymologically meaning to "breathe again" (and again, and again, and again, via the Latin preposition re: back, again). This is what respiration is all about, the "act of breathing again" throughout the life cycle of animals, that is, the full cycle of breath, the inhalation and exhalation, via the Latin halo, halare, halavi, halatum—to breathe. Plants and fish can also respire as they exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide with their environment. Respiration can also refer to the use of oxygen by cells and the concomitant release of carbon dioxide in animals, and vice versa for plants. Respirable air is fit for breathing, and a respirator helps someone who cannot breathe on their own enjoy the breath of life, with the ultimate hope of respiring autonomously some day. Transpiration, on the other hand, is the expulsion of vapor from a plant or animal, such as the movement of water from the roots of a plant out through the stomata of its leaves, or perspiration in an animal.

Have you ever felt full of life in a spring day, breathing in the beautiful fresh west wind (the zephyr) as it engenders and coaxes life from long frozen soil? That is a feeling of sprightliness, when one feels full of life, spirit, and energy. A sprightly, brisk feeling mimics that of life once again coursing through organisms...may spring come soon! And, of course, a sprite, or woodland spirit, such as an elf, pixie, or other such member of faerie, is an integral part of the spirit of the woods itself (a sprite can also be a ghost or phantom, but this is a much less used meaning of the word). Dare I say that the soft drink Sprite gives one vigor (it certainly offers carbohydrates)? Watch out for the high fructose corn syrup...for more on that topic, read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food.

Have you ever played for a team in which there was a palpable esprit de corps (note the Latin root corpus: body)? This phenomenon is a common feeling of purpose amongst a group of people who all believe in a common cause and harmoniously, vigorously, and devotedly work together to get there; I, for instance, am a member of both the Green Mountain Club, devoted to maintaining The Long Trail in Vermont, and The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, devoted to preserving The Appalachian Trail. Most commonly the best sports teams, especially in the Olympics, have not only members with a great deal of esprit, but once having formed into a collective whole possess a nigh indomitable esprit de corps; I poignantly think of the Lakers teams in the 80s, which not only had huge talent, but also a fantastic team ethic: consider again Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, Kurt Rambis, and James Worthy. Whew!

Did you enjoy all the subsidiary words, such as halare, sub, re, and corpus in the above post? If so, check out this Greek and Latin roots and English vocabulary words site, sure to whet your appetite for the core roots of the English language; word origin is not only fascinating, but highly powerful. Interested in a Greek and Latin roots poster that features the above Latin root? Or more beautiful Greek and Latin root word trees that list 100s of English derivatives? For the verbal enthusiast serious about learning her English vocabulary, there is no quicker route to learning and remembering our wonderful English language than truly learning Greek and Latin root words, the morphemic core of the English language.