Syntax, and lexemes and morphemes… oh my!
This weekend I was working on a medical translation and was reminded that the French word for scapula is “une omoplate,” but the adjective is “scapulaire.” The term “omoplate” comes from Greek, while “scapula” comes from Latin. These lexical incongruencies are common in French, especially in medical terminology, due to the combination of Greek and Latin etymologies. French medical terms derived from Latin are familiar to English speakers (we use very similar forms ex. “nasal,” “sinus,” etc.).
Though I’ve never studied these topics in-depth, I’ve always been fascinated by etymology and morphology — the ways words travel and change through time, how they relate to one another, how meanings shift and slip. There are words that come into fashion for a brief period of time, only to resurface a couple of decades later (like harem pants) and those that stand the test of time (like the little black dress). There are words I used to use a lot (too much) in my own writing (“liminal,” “hybrid,” “subjective,”) — lexical ticks, if you will. I spent some time this morning thinking about words I am currently obsessed with (“interstitial,” “hygienic,” “convergence,”) and why I love them so (their specific — or mutable– meanings, the way they look, their shock value, they way they add flavor and imagery to a phrase, the way they sound as I read drafts out loud).
We carry words, meanings and associations with us all the time. Our brains are constantly engaged in a cycle of inputting, storing, and retrieving words when we need them (if we’re lucky). Our emotions and experiences have a profound influence over which words enter our speech patterns and writing. Words have the power to snap us into a different state of mind or take us down another creative path. They have the power not only to communicate, but to transform.