At the beginning of 4th grade of primary (elementary) school, our teacher gave us a big spelling test. One of the last words was one I spelled conshienshus. He marked it wrong, of course. He gave us the same spelling test the next year (I had the same teacher two years in a row). Either he’d told us that it was going to be the same spelling test, or I’d decided that I’d swot up on that word just in case it was going to be in it. I got it right the second time. Even now, I often have to mentally say con-ski-en-ti-ous, in order to remember the spelling. The etymology is Latin con + scire – conscience comes with knowing.

sci- pronounced /ʃ/ is a rare occurrence in English. I can only find conscience, prescience (which I knew), nescience (which I didn’t, but which I could guess (WordPress’s spell-checker doesn’t recognise it)), conscious, luscious and their derivatives. All other -science words are actually about science. -ti pronounced /ʃ/ is a very common occurrence. Without doing too much research at this time of night (just after 11 pm), I think that all -tion and -tious are pronounced /ʃ/. (There’s a technical term for this.)

I was reminded about this during class, when one of the words on a list of adjectives of personality was conscientious.


‘To the egress’

At a railway station in central Sydney, I saw a door marked EMERGENCY EGRESS ONLY. I guess that at least 99% of such doors in the English-speaking world are marked EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY.

Egress is the slightly earlier word, dating from the 1530s. Exit as a stage direction (technically, a verb) as in ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ dates from the 1530s, but from the 1590s it was used as a noun, as in ‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances’ and (occasionally) a ‘real’ verb.

From about 1650 to about 1850, the two words were used more or less interchangeably, but then the use of exit grew and egress declined, probably corresponding to the growth in public railway travel. Then in the early 1970s, the use of exit skyrocketed, for reasons I can’t think of, but curiously declined from 2000 to 2008. Most of this was due to the use of exit as a noun; exit really only began to be used as a verb in the 20th century.

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rest eternal and light perpetual

When I was drafting my previous post, I realised that I wasn’t sure about the exact wording of the funeral/memorial sentence Rest eternal rest grant (unto) them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine (up)on them.

The Latin original is Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Latin adjectives standardly follow the noun they modify (though word order in Latin is relatively free), so requiem (rest) aeternum (eternal) and lux (light) perpetua (perpetual). I searched online for an English translation. About half said rest eternal and light perpetual, and half said eternal rest and perpetual light. English adjectives standardly precede the noun they modify, but can follow them in certain circumstances, one of which is to produce an air of formality, perhaps because of the echo of Latin. (From a brief browse, no source switches word order mid-way: rest eternal and perpetual light or eternal rest and light perpetual.)

I noticed that the sources which use rest eternal and light perpetual tend to be Anglican/Episcopalian, and those which use eternal rest and perpetual light tend to be Roman Catholic. In fact, the Wikipedia article about this prayer says that Lutherans use the noun-adj order and Methodists use the adj-noun. I’m not sure what conclusion, if any, we can draw from that.

One of the many choral settings of the Latin.

re-member me

Following on from the lesson about changing nouns into adjectives and vice versa by adding or subtracting suffixes (and enhancing the meaning by adding prefixes), I pulled out an activity from the teachers book of another textbook series. There are 18 cards, each divided into four diagonally, with, typically, a prefix, two main words and a suffix in the four quadrants. The students have to match up the prefix on one card with the root on another to make a compound word, building up a 3 x 6 grid. This is harder than it sounds because so many prefixes and suffixes go with with so many main words. For example, two of the prefixes are pro- and anti-, and some of the roots were government, communist, European and abortion. (Several students chose ‘pro-abortion’. I had to explain that no-one states their own position as ‘pro-abortion’ – everyone agrees that abortion is, in general, a Bad Thing; some people just prioritise a woman’s right to choose as more important.)

Several students put re- and member together to form remember, which is wrong (in this activity) and kind of right (etymologically). I join a choir and am a member. I leave it and am an ex-member. I rejoin it and am a re-member. Makes sense. Except that’s not what remember means. The re- of remember does indeed mean again, but the member is derived from Latin memor, memory: to remember is to memory again. Compare remind, recall and recollect, which are indeed to mind again, to call (to mind) again and to collect (your thoughts) again, and contrast reminisce, which does not mean to minisce again (minisce is ultimately derived from Latin mens, mind). Member, by the way, is derived from Latin membrum.

And a song.

‘Bridal glory round her shed’

One Sunday morning many years ago a choir was rehearsing the hymn ‘Blessed city, heavenly Salem’. It had just sung the first two lines of the second verse – ‘From celestial realms descending, Bridal glory round her shed’ – when there came a soft guffaw from one of the altos. She had (jokingly, I’m sure) taken the meaning as ‘Bridal glory (round (her shed))’, instead of the intended (I’m sure) ‘Bridal glory (round her) (shed)’. The first four lines, in full, from the hymnbook we were using, are ‘From celestial realms descending, Bridal glory round her shed, To his presence, decked with jewels, By her Lord shall she be led’. (Other translations exist.)

There are several reasons for the ambiguity. The ‘deep structure’ is ‘God sheds bridal glory round her’. This leads to ‘Bridal glory is shed round her (by God)’, which is a complete sentence, and then to ‘Bridal glory shed round her’, which is not a complete sentence and which can exist only alongside a noun or pronoun in order to describe it, in this case ‘she’ (the heavenly city). In standard word order, the those four lines are: ‘She – descending from celestial realms, with bridal glory shed round her, and decked with jewels – shall be led by her Lord to his presence.’ (Now you know why I’m not a poet!)

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