July 28, 2017

Words of the Month - From the Stars

        In honor of next month’s upcoming solar eclipse, I have some words for you that come from the sun and other stars.  Of course there are all the scientific words including Greek and Latin roots  helios, sol, aster, and stella, such as parhelion, solar, solstice, stellar, asteroid, astronomy, astronaut, and constellation.  But today I want to share some words that you might not have associated with the stars.
        First, a few where the root is still fairly clear:
helium - “sun’s element”, first detected in the solar spectrum during an eclipse in 1868
parasol - “defense against the sun”
starling - starred bird
heliotrope - flower that “turns to the sun”

Let’s continue with the botanical theme:
girasole - flower that “turns to the sun” from Latin roots instead of heliotrope’s Greek.  This is an archaic word for the sunflower in English, borrowed from Italian.  I’ve never heard it used, although perhaps it remains in some dialects.  However, it does live on in the Jerusalem artichoke, whose “jerusalem” is actually a folk etymology, a reinterpretation by others who weren’t familiar with the word girasole, either.
aster - flower shaped like a star

asterisk - “small star”, also pretty obvious when you think about it

        Here are a couple of words in which the sun and stars are much better hidden:
south - “sun-side” (in the northern hemisphere, anyway)
disaster - “ill-starred”


        And finally, two bonus words whose etymologies are disputed.  They may come from astrology:
desire - “from the stars”, with the sense of awaiting what the stars have in store for us
consider - “to observe the stars”, with the sense of study and contemplation
        … or then again, they may come from a different root with a sense of “stretching or extending”.  Just like the stars themselves, word origins are a long way off, and possible to study only from the faint signals that have made it all the way to us.


[Pictures: Solar eclipse, wood block print from Vberrimum sphere mundi by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, 1498 (Image from Indiana University);
Calendar of eclipses, wood block printing from Calendar by Regiomantanus, printed by Erhard Ratdolt, 1582 (Image from University of Glasgow);
De Eclypsi Solis, wood block print from an unspecified book on the Venerable Saint Bede, 17th century (Image from University of South Carolina).]

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