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World of Words
A monthly blog of interesting words, phrases, and idioms.  Like us on Facebook to receive new posts.

In this blog we tend to focus on less common words -- words like anomia and tendentious, which don't get used in everyday conversation. This month's word, however, is a more common word. You know what the word means, but you might not know its origin. The word is companionship.

Companionship can be defined as "the fellowship that exists among companions," or "the good feeling that comes from being with someone else." In other words, you have a feeling of companionship for someone you enjoy spending time with -- someone you call a friend.

But where does the word "companionship" come from? How does it break down? First, we can split it into "companion" and "ship." The suffix "-ship" means a "condition" or "office." In other words, companionship is the condition of being a companion.

But what about companion? Where does that come from? In Latin, the word "com" means "with," and "panis" means "bread" (from which the French get their word "pain" and the Spanish get "pan"). So a companion is someone you eat bread with, and companionship is the sense of well-being that comes from having someone to share bread with.

The word "companionship" is only 500 years old, but the concept has been around since the beginning of recorded history. Ancient literature is filled with concepts like "breaking bread together" as symbolism for friendship. The patriarch Abraham saw three strangers walking down the road by the Oaks of Mamre and ran to greet them, saying, "Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on."

Eating together: it is such a simple pleasure, yet it is a cornerstone of most relationship building -- both platonic and romantic. 

And so, we leave you with this simple advertisement from "President's Choice": Eat Together.

 

 

You can't read a book or watch a movie about the seafaring life without running into the word landlubber. Maybe you've heard a definition of the word, or maybe you just inferred the definition from the context.

"Captain Jones, Governor Williams' son wants to join our crew."
"Ah, that there's a family of landlubbers; the boy won't know the difference between a rudder and galley."

From this you infer, correctly, that a landlubber is someone who doesn't know much about life aboard a ship. And, since the word is a compound word made up of land and lubber, you might infer -- also correctly -- that a landlubber is someone who has spent their whole life on land, and (in the eyes of the seafarers) should probably stay there.

But you might have gone a step further in your inferences and wondered, "What in the world is a lubber? Is that even a word?"

It is a word. And I thought I knew what it meant. You see, I've spent some time in South America, and was fascinated to notice that the letter B and the letter V are pronounced the same. "Oh!" I thought, "lubber is just a misspelling of lover! So a landlubber is someone who loves the land instead of the sea."

As I said, I thought I knew. It turns out I was completely wrong about the origin of the word.

Lubber is believed to come from an Old French word: lobeor. What did the word lobeor mean? A lobeor was a cheater or a swindler.

That knowledge puts a whole different twist on the meaning of the word landlubber. When Captain Jones called the Williams family a family of landlubbers, he wasn't just saying that they don't know anything about the seafaring life; he was also saying that, because they were not seafarers, they weren't to be trusted!

Nowadays, the word no longer carries that meaning. It simply means "a person unfamiliar with the sea or sailing." And the word lubber, by itself, means "a big, clumsy person." But there was a time when it was simply a way of saying, in effect, "You're not like us, so we don't trust you."

Sounds like our world today.

Have you ever used the word ineffable? Have you ever heard it used? The first time I stumbled across this word was while reading a poem by the 12th century abbot and poet Bernard de Clairvaux:

O Jesus, King most wonderful!
O Conqueror renowned!
O Source of peace ineffable,
In whom all joys are found.

The word "ineffable" simply means "too great to be expressed with words." So another way of saying that third line would be, "Source of indescribable peace."

As you would expect, since this word begins with the prefix "in," there is another English word which can be obtained by removing the prefix. That word is "effable." If ineffable means "too great to be expressed with words," you would probably guess -- and correctly so -- that effable means "not too great to be expressed with words," or simply, "describable."

What makes this interesting to me is that the original word, "effable," is far less common than the derived word, "ineffable."

How often have you heard the word "effable" used? I would be very surprised if you said that you hear the word "effable" more often than you hear the word "ineffable." After all, if something is describable, is there really any point to saying that it's describable? If it's describable, you just describe it, instead of mentioning the fact that it can be described!

According to Google's Ngram Viewer, when "effable" was at its most popular, "ineffable" was still about four times as popular. This happened in the early 1700s. In modern times, both words have declined in usage, but "effable" has declined much more than "ineffable." "Ineffable" is used approximately 100 times as often as effable.

Interestingly, the spell-checker I'm using while I type this blog post recognizes the word "ineffable," but tells me that I have a typo whenever I type "effable."

And since I have just described the word "ineffable," I guess we could conclude by saying that ineffable is effable.

It's now 2017, so it is time to present our 2016 Word of the Year. That's right; we're chosen a single word that we think represents 2016 perfectly.

The word is tendentious. When I hear this word, I automatically think of the word "contentious." Tendentious doesn't mean the same thing as contentious, but as you will see, tendentiousness tends to lead to contentiousness.

To be tendentious means that you are expressing or promoting a particular cause or point of view. It would be fair to say that being tendentious means that you are more interested in promoting a cause or view than in promoting what is true.

The root of tendentious is the word tendency. We have a tendency to accept and promote information that fits with our pre-existing viewpoints. An online thesaurus lists "prejudicial," "one-sided," and "partisan" as synonyms. "Biased" would be another synonym.

This has certainly been a perfect year for tendentiousness. Aside from the unavoidable bias implicit in the choice of what is important enough to print, this year has seen a massive proliferation of both right-wing and left-wing media sources that have absolutely no interest in posting anything that doesn't promote their pre-existing views. Did a liberal politician do something wonderful? Don't expect to see a word about it on any right-wing site. Did he do something horrible? Don't expect to read it in a left-wing source. (And by the way, if he did do or say something wonderful, right-wing media sources will find a way to take it out of context and make it sound horrible!) It's important for all of us to learn to notice and acknowledge this when it happens, even and especially when it happens on our own "side."

And it's not just corporate media. With the ever-increasing usage of social media platforms, every one of us is now a media source. We can't complain about "corporate media bias" when we are guilty of exactly the same sins -- to an even greater degree. We see tweets and Facebook memes and we assume they must be true solely on the basis that they fit our pre-existing notions. Since they fit our ideas, we automatically retweet or share, without a moment's hesitation or reflection. And certainly without any research.

Woe unto the social media user who decides to challenge these postings with a, "Wait a minute. That's not even true!" comment. The response to "that's not true" is almost always a variation on "but they make a good point," and a refusal to remove the false content from their personal media platform.

In one of the greatest ironies of the year, people who defend the importance of truth amidst the onslaught of media fiction seem to be just as often accused of tendentiousness. I find nothing more depressing than my friends on one side of the political spectrum claiming that concern about the proliferation of "fake news" is a partisan invention of the other side. In other words, opposition to tendentiousness is seen as tendentious.

All of this tendentiousness leads to more and more contentiousness.

After selecting our 2016 Word of the Year, we learned that the Oxford Dictionary has selected "post-truth" as its word of the year. We think our word and theirs fit well together.

It's getting toward the end of the month, and I was trying to think of a good word to write about for the blog, and suddenly, I had an epiphany! Have you ever had an epiphany? If you've ever had a sudden flash of insight or realization, then yes, you've had an epiphany. 

If you want to understand the word epiphany, you should remember that old story of Archimedes, jumping out of the bathtub and running down the streets of Syracuse, shouting "Eureka! Eureka!" because he had suddenly realized that a bathtub (and the water it contained) could be a wonderful tool for determining the volume of an object.

Mind you, an epiphany does not require you to shout "eureka," and it also doesn't require you to run down the streets of the city in your bath-time wardrobe. But it is -- like Archimedes' realization -- a sudden, startling insight.

The word epiphany comes to us from Greek, by way of Old French and Latin. The Greek word was epiphainein, and it simply meant "reveal." This definition fits nicely with our modern understanding of the word; when we have a flash of insight, we often have the feeling that the answer has been there all along, but it was hidden from us -- right up until the moment it was revealed.

Epiphany is also a "December word" -- in the sense that it is closely tied to the Christian Advent season. The Greek word epiphainō, (another form of the Greek word mentioned above) appears in the book of Titus chapter 2, in the following contexts:

Titus 2:11 -- "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men."

Titus 2:13 -- "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ."

These two verses encapsulate one of the main themes of the Advent celebration -- that The Christ appeared (was revealed), and that he will appear (be revealed) again.

After Christmas, the holiday of the "Three Kings" is celebrated. This holiday is also called "Epiphany," because it represents the revealing of the child to the kings of this world. In the eastern tradition, the holiday celebrates the baptism of Christ, because it was his revealing to the people of Israel.

As one last bit of Christmasy trivia, Bishop Nicholaus of Myra (the man we typically refer to as Santa Claus), was a 3rd century man who lived in Asia Minor. His father's name was Epiphanius, which is, of course, a variation on the word epiphainō.

May your Christmas season be filled with epiphanies!

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