Nudiustertian: Sesquipedalian Word Post

It’s Friday the 13th, so time for another sesquipedalian  paraskevidekatriaphobia word post! Despite the date on the post, I actually finished this early, on the nudiustertian morning.

The what?

Calendar image by alice10 at morguefile.com
Calendar image by alice10 at morguefile.com

When it comes to single-word expressions, English conceives of time and the relative positions of days in just three categories: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Other languages have single words for what are in English slightly more complex phrases; Korean has 모레 (rhymes with “moray” in “Moray eel”) and even 글피 (“geul-pi”) for “the day after tomorrow” and “two days after tomorrow,” respectively, and Russian and Swedish have позавчера (pozavchera) and i förrgår for “the day before yesterday.”*

The equivalents in English, on the other hand, are largely forgotten, including this obscure adjective dating back to the 1600s: nudiustertian.

The eagle-eyed among you, knowing that we’re talking about days, might wonder if the “diu” in the middle comes from the same word as “diurnal,” an adjective to describe daytime activities. (Some people tend to keep pretty nocturnal hours, but most humans are by default diurnal.) And you’d be correct! The base form of this word is actually dies, which you might remember from English teachers telling you to carpe diem, or from your requiem masses as Dies Irae.

There are two other bits of Latin in there: nu is from nunc, meaning “now,” though not seen often in English (and not to be confused with nuntiare in Old French, which relates to many speaking verbs: announce, denounce, pronounce, etc.). Ter, on the other hand, turns up in “tertiary” (after primary and secondary comes tertiary) and isn’t too far from the tri- morpheme for three-related words (triple, triangle, triune).

So we can see how the word has the most important bits of the original Latin phrase: nunc dies tertius est, or “now it is the third day.” As in, if the event happened on the first day, then the second day would be yesterday and the third day would be today, so “now it is the third day.”

It’s not hard to imagine why, when English already had the purely Germanic ereyesterday to do the same job. Why use a convoluted Latin mishmash instead of the much more intuitive Germanic option that’s already in use? It’s visually much cleaner and (to my mind) involves a less complicated numerical concept. (If the day before yesterday was two days ago, how can today be the third day?) What’s more puzzling is why ereyesterday hasn’t stuck around, either. Is “the day before yesterday” that much easier to say?

 

*I want to say that I’ve heard häromdagen much more often than i förrgår, but while the former is more like “the other day,” i förrgår refers specifically to “the day before yesterday.”

Big Words in English: Sesquipedalian

In honor of paraskevidekatriaphobia, I like to talk about long words every Friday the 13th. This Friday’s word is sesquipedalian.

It’s perhaps an especially appropriate word to discuss in a recurring segment on long words, as that’s exactly what sesquipedalian refers to. “Paraskevidekatriaphobia,” for example, is a sesquipedalian word: a unusually long word. You can even make sesquipedalian a little longer by turning it into a plural noun: sesquipedalianisms.

The emphasis is on the fourth syllable: ses/qui/pe/DAL/i/an. And there’s something fun about saying it, isn’t there? Maybe it’s that “qui” sound in the middle (“qui” like “queen” or “quite,” not like aqui). Or maybe it’s the hypnotic, lilting rhythm of the stress pattern.

You might have noticed ped/pedal in there, and recognized it from the classical stem word for “foot.” You’d be right; the sesqui– prefix is a combination of “semi” (familiar, hopefully, as meaning “half”) and “que” (“in addition”). Together, sesqui means “a half more again.” Together, something sesquipedalian is “one and a half feet long.” Its use in Latin dates back to Horace, who complained of sesquipedalia verba: words that were one and a half feet long. (Too long, in other words.) And while it can literally refer to anything that’s a foot and a half long, it’s mostly used to describe long words (perhaps thanks to that initial usage by Horace.) It can also refer to an overly and needlessly verbose writing style, rather than a particular word.

Language that describes language: it’s turtles all the way down!

Paraskevidekatriaphobia: Big Words in English

Big words are fun, aren’t they? Of course they make you sound smart, and they might be handy in a game of Scrabble or Words With Friends, but (at least in English) they often have a specificity that is in and of itself fascinating.

The hyper-linguistic polysyllabic speech association!

If you’re an English student, I admit that precisely because of this specificity many of this words don’t exactly have “high coverage.” In other words, they’re not very useful. But they’re fun, and they can still be useful as a learning tool. Most of the words in English that you would consider “big” aren’t just random collections of letters; rather, they’re collections of different smaller words or word pieces (bases and affixes). The strategy you use to learn about or understand a word like paraskevidekatriaphobia can be applied to shorter, less complex words you might actually encounter in your life or in your studies.

So, in honor of paraskevidekatriaphobia, I’m going to spend every Friday the 13th looking at bigwords! Starting, of course, with paraskevidekatriaphobia.

Now, let’s assume that you didn’t already know that it means “fear of Friday the 13th.” Could you figure it out?

The first and biggest clue is in the last little word piece (or morpheme, if you want to be technical): phobia. Fear. If you know that, then you know that a phobia is a fear of something. You might have seen arachnophobia (fear of spiders) or claustrophobia (fear of small spaces) before, as those seem to be fairly common fears. There’s a whole list of different phobias, in fact, if you feel like whiling away an afternoon.

If you know that “phobia” comes to English, via Latin, from the Greek word for fear (phobos), you might think to look at the rest of the word through a Greek lens: paraskevidekatria-. As it turns out, this would be the right way to go. Paraskevi is Greek for Friday, and dekatreis refers to the number 13. While “paraskevi” might be somewhat obscure, at least for those who don’t speak Greek*, in “dekatreis” one can see connections to other common roots: decem and decim for “ten,” and tri for “three.”

So, do you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia? Or how about somniphobia? Nyctophobia? When I was a child, I had a pretty bad case of agyrophobia: fear of streets. (Don’t worry. I got better!)

A final point on phobias: since the word has crystallized into the language both as “fear” and “aversion” (see, for example, homophobia and Islamophobia to refer to attitudes that aren’t the traditional irrational fear of a phobia, but rather a cultural and/or personal revulsion), English has taken a tendency to take words from other languages and stick them on the end. Not just with phobia, either; there is a tendency to mix different languages. But that’s what makes English so fascinating!

*While writing up this blog post, I wondered if the para- in “paraskevi” might have the same root as pent (five), as in the fifth day of the week (much like the Russian names for the weekdays), but this turned out not to be the case. The word is related to the Greek word “to prepare” and apparently is named after Friday preparations for the Sabbath.