Saturday, February 12, 2011

Five Fascinating Words

Here are five fascinating words for your pleasure. If you have seen the TV dcommercial "Show me the carfax!", you may be in for a small surprise!

Carfax, n (Latin quadrifurcus, four-forked)

A place where four roads meet; an intersection of main roads at the center of a town. Despite its appearance, it has nothing to do with cars or faxes, but is an anglicisation of the older Latin term.

Phrontistery, n (Greek phrontisterion, from phrontistes a thinker, from phroneein to think)

A thinking-place; a place for study. I simply had to include 'phrontistery' on this list. It was first used by Aristophanes to apply to the school of Socrates, and was somewhat mocking in tone. A peculiar (and under-used) term, let's reclaim it for thinking people everywhere. No other term is synonymous, and its intellectual if pompous sound merely adds to its charm.

Tregetour, n (Old French tresgetour, from tresgeter, from Latin trans across and jetere to throw)

A juggler, trickster or deceiver. Originally used to describe a type of jester or juggler, tregetour, though now archaic, eventually came to mean someone who uses cunning tricks to deceive others (sometimes but not limited to stage performances). A useful poetic word for a magician, but also a more pleasant-sounding name for a huckster or con man. Or politician?

Almacantar, n (Arabic almuqantarat, the sundials)

A circle of altitude, parallel to the horizon. An astronomical term, used to describe imaginary lines in the sky by which an astronomer determines the height of a star in the sky relative to the horizon. Many Arabic loanwords to English begin with the prefix "al", which in Arabic simply means "the".

Zetetic, adj or n (Greek zetetikos, from zeteein to seek)

Proceeding by inquiry; a search or investigation; a skeptical seeker of knowledge. A term originally used to refer to Pyrrhonists, a group of ancient Greek skeptics, it has come to mean both the process of inquiry and one who so proceeds. A zetetic is thus a sort of intellectual agnostic who, while seeking greater truths, is always wary of falsehood.

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