Friday, December 28, 2012

Keeping sort of humble

It's always an education to play word games with my friends and relatives. Words are a big part of my job, but I often lose Scrabble to Jane, or Boggle to Casey, or Quiddler to somebody else.

Still, it's fun being challenged to come up with words that fit combinations of letters, and it's a real triumph to come up with something that uses difficult letters such as J or X. I lost games at Christmas and Thanksgiving, and an earlier trip to Raleigh visiting friends, and still enjoyed them very much.

For the record: A quire is a quantity of paper, and it can also be used as a verb.

Also, although Merriam-Webster defines ley as a mere variant of lea, or meadow, and leaves it at that, it also has some more substantial definitions: Collins via The Free Dictionary says it's 1) grassland or pasture or 2) "a line joining two prominent points in the landscape, thought to be the line of a prehistoric track." adds that ley is "a pewter containing about 80 percent tin and 20 percent lead." Finally, here's a Wikipedia entry about ley lines, both as old travelers' tracks and in the newer mystical interpretation.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Go me!

There was a design/copy editor
so sharp, hardly anything fretted her.
Her demeanor was placid,
but her wit could be acid,
and she pounced on mistakes like a predator.

Please excuse my little triumph song; I had a successful first week at my job! I'm back full-time in the newspaper world. I'm learning how this company's software works at a reasonable pace, and one guy says I'm learning quicker than he expected. Already, though, I've hit the ground running as a proofreader, catching a number of mistakes by others before their pages hit the press. I've also been complimented on my headline-writing ability.
I'll still continue with freelance work on the side. Also, following this first, busy whirlwind, I'm planning to keep posting here at least once a week. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Salient and Desultory

I discovered today that "salient" and "desultory" come from the same root word, the Latin "salire," meaning to jump. That's very interesting to me, considering how modern usage has shifted them into nearly opposite meanings.

Merriam-Webster's first definition of salient is "moving by leaps or springs: jumping." I would say the more common use these days follows from its third definition, "projecting beyond a line, surface, or level," or "standing out conspicuously: prominent." A salient point originally simply meant some kind of projection, often related to military formations or structures, but it has gone from that to being used to describe the main thrust of an argument or discussion. The Free Dictionary suggests synonyms for "salient point" including "essence," "cornerstone," and "focal point," none of which seem related to jumping around!

"Desultory" comes from adding the Latin "de" (from) to salire, i.e. to jump from (something), so think of grasshoppers, not butterflies. Desultores were circus performers who leaped from one galloping horse to another.'s first definition of desultory is "lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful" and its second definition is "digressing from the main subject; random." I've also heard it used in conversation to simply mean casual, in the context of a dilettante, as in taking a desultory interest in some topic. 

Again, de means from or down from (or in some cases, about); it's not a preposition related to opposition, such as contra or adversus. Logically and etymologically, desultory should not be an antonym of salient, despite how their usages seem to be evolving in opposite directions. But then, if you crave order and reason in language, I'm afraid that English will often frustrate you; you might want to try instead for being amused by its surprises.