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The Nature of Words / Word Puzzle
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The Nature of Words / Word Puzzle

by Laurel Stoddard, CET


Recently I took a transcriber to task for using that upstart word comradery rather than the older and more elegant camaraderie. Deciding to check the background on these two words, I find that "camaraderie," from the French camarade, came into usage in the 1830s. The usage of "comradery" in the late 1870s was an attempt to nativize that French word. Now, the word upstart, from the Middle English, has been with us since the late 13th to early 14th century.

Another transcriber recently used the spelling "sargent" for that rank above corporal. As I wrote in the correct spelling, I saw it with fresh eyes and wondered why sergeant is the correct spelling. I discovered it is quite an old word which came into usage around the middle of the 12th century, from the Middle English sergant, serjant, serjaunt, by way the Old French sergent, from the Latin servient, present participle of servire.

Speaking of rank, the word lieutenant is to me much more obvious etymologically; it means a place holder, a lieu tenant, from Middle French, brought into Middle English in the middle of the 14th century.

Another place holder is a locum tenens, a term used for a doctor who works temporarily in the place of another doctor who’s taking an absence from a practice. Directly from Medieval Latin, it means "holding the place" and has been used since the 17th century.

Recently a transcriber came across this term in an interview. As she had not heard the term before, she punted and typed it as if it were a place of business called Loco Tenants. Another one of those goofs that gave me a good laugh but made me so glad I caught it. I think, however, that it might be a good name for a band. 


Word Puzzle

More Mysterious Words


____1. panjandrum

a. relating to dreams

____2. cognoscenti

b. courage and fortitude

____3. ouroboros

c. dark and gloomy

____4. phthisis

d. those with superior knowledge

____5. epistolary

e. closely massed body of persons

____6. oneiric

f. pretentious official

____7. palimpsest

g. symbol of infinity

____8. phalanx

h. pulmonary tuberculosis

____9. mettle

i. contained in letters

____10. tenebrous

j. blank slate


Click here for the answers


Laurel came of age in a small town in north Texas and ventured fewer than 30 miles, though worlds away, to attend a small Presbyterian liberal arts college, from whence she obtained a bachelor's degree in biology. Her first literary accomplishment was a letter, at the age of 5, to request that her parents allow her and her sister to open early just one volume of the encyclopedias that were awaiting Christmas morning. She remains passionate about words. Owner of On the Record Reporting & Transcription, she has worked in the industry since 1984.


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