Word Nerd Wednesday    

 

Voni Harris    

 

10-12-11    

 

 I promised a frightening Word Nerd experience today, so here it is! Another October-appropriate Word Nerd post.

 

 The word terror comes from the Latin terrere, “to frighten,” and came to English through the Middle French and the Middle English. Makes easy sense. The Greeks also had trein, “to tremble/flee,” coming from the same Indo-European root.

 

 Above that in the dictionary is terrific, and that doesn’t make any sense. Except that the first definition for terrific in Webster’s New World College Dictionary is “causing great fear or dismay.” The way we use terrific, to mean “fine, admirable, enjoyable” is only part b of the second definition. That means it’s a new development in our language.

 

 LONG AGO:

 

“How are you?”

 

“Terrific!”

 

*looking around in fright* “Oh no! What’s wrong?”

 

 THESE DAYS:

 

“How are you?”

 

“Terrific!”

 

*slapping him on the back* “That’s great. So you got the raise?”

 

 Fascinating! The Word Nerd in me wants to go to the first person who used the word terrific in the modern way and ask why. Maybe it was the same person who first used horrible to mean “very bad, ugly, shocking” instead of “causing a feeling of horror.”

 

 I also noticed terrier and territory in the same portion of the dictionary, and I made a cool connection. They come from the Latin word terra, meaning “land,” (Terriers were bred to hunt vermin and fox, even going underground into their burrows after them.) Not the Latin terrere. So I’d say they come from two different roots. But I now live in Alaska, so naturally I made a connection to earthquakes, which are the land shaking. So maybe there is a connection, even if I can’t prove it.

By the way, horror and its accompanying words, like horrify, horrid, horrible, horrific, etc., all come from the Latin horridus/horrere, “to bristle, shake.” Makes me think of the hairs standing up on your head.

 

 Awesome word picture in one word.

 

 WORD NERD CHALLENGE: Back to the modernization of words. We now use cool as a word of approval, as well as a temperature word. What other word modernizations can you think of?

 

 Blessings,

 

Voni

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