Friday, December 3, 2010

The End of Words, or South-Bound Dictionaries

I wrote this last year, Thanksgiving 2009, though why I never posted it is unclear: sloth, forgetfulness, doubt, the usual excuses of an unfocused mind. But I find my work in this case to be of a timeless nature, so I'm publishing it now.

Twas the day after Thanksgiving, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except in the living room. The stockings were hung by the fireplace with care, in hopes that they'd dry out, because it was raining.
We are all reading: Katharine is halfway through Wolf Hall, a 700-page fictionalized account of Henry VIII that recently won the Man Booker Prize. Marian has a script from her friend, Edward Albee, and she's busily underlining with a yellow marker. Wells has left the room to tend to the roasting sweet potatoes and spend some quality time with his chemistry textbook.

I am browsing, rather than actually reading, through the Apple iTunes store for anything having to do with Portugal in general or Lisbon specifically. There are travel apps for guide books, maps, and language study; audiobooks, a walking tour of Lisbon and a recently published book about the great earthquake, tidal wave, and fire of 1755 that is referred to by Voltaire in Candide; and there are lectures from iTunes U. that touch on matters Portuguese from numerous angles, including matters economic and political.

But it is Katharine who brings up the subject of zymurgy—actually, the discussion is focussed on the word rather than the subject. There it is, right in the middle of a paragraph, in the middle of the page, in the middle of a chapter, in the middle of Wolf Hall. I've looked it up, now.

zy·mur·gy (zī'mûr'jē)
n. The branch of chemistry that deals with fermentation processes, as in brewing.

So says the American Heritage Dictionary, and Katharine remarks that it is just like the word "enzyme." She can make these rapid word associations because she's studied both Greek and Latin, though only Greek matters in this case. But then follows this gem of randomness; a fact so trivial and yet so profound, that I barely know what to say, except that I shall treasure this bit of knowledge and use it in conversation as often as possible.

The following I quote in it's entirety from by way of the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Word Origin & History

branch of chemistry which deals with wine-making and brewing, 1868, from Gk. zymo-, comb. form of zyme "a leaven" (from PIE base *yus-; see juice) + -ourgia "a working," from ergon "work" (see urge (v.)). The last word in many standard English dictionaries; but in the OED [2nd ed.] the last word is zyxt, an obsolete Kentish form of the second person singular of see (v.).

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