Monday, May 29, 2006

May 29: Summit Day

Today is the anniversary of the first successful climb to the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. Just before noon on May 28, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay climbed to the top of Mount Everest, a height of 28,126 feet.

News of this great accomplishment reached London on June 2, 1953, the same day that Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne of England. This confluence of important events became an unprecedented day of celebration of everything British. New Zealander Edmund Hillary was later knighted by the queen, and virtually overnight he became one of the world’s most famous men. In India, Nepal, and Tibet, Tenzing Norgay became a national hero.

Several words in English denote both a literal high point as well as a high point that relates to human achievement.

For example, the word summit is from the Latin summus, meaning highest number. This relates to the Roman method of adding "up" a column of numbers and placing the highest number at the top instead of at the bottom of the column.

Pinnacle and Apex also come to English via Latin. Pinnacle is from pinna meaning "wing tip" (the same shape as a mountain peak) and apex means "highest point or tip."

Acme is from the Greek for "point or sharp edge."

Zenith is from Arabic for highest point, while the Arabic nadir means lowest point.

The book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer tells the history of human achievement on Mount Everest, but the book’s primary focus is on one particular tragedy that occurred in May of 1996. Krakauer was a member of a 27-person team that took on Everest and left with 12 members of its party dead.

Today’s Challenge: Mountain Madness
All the words below are found in Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book Into Thin Air. See if you can match up each word with its definition:

1. audacious
2. castigate
3. taciturn
4. garrulous
5. peripatetic
6. apoplectic
7. fetid
8. augur
9. ostracize
10. hubris

A. Overbearing pride or arrogance.
B. Fearlessly, often recklessly daring.
C. Walking about or from place to place; traveling on foot.
D. Extremely angry, furious
E. Having an offensive odor
F. To predict, especially from signs and omens
G. To inflict severe punishment on
H Given to excessive and often trivial or rambling talk
I. Habitually untalkative
J. To exclude from a group.

Quote of the Day: It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. –Sir Edmund Hillary

Answers: A. 10 B. 1 C. 5 D. 6 E. 7 F. 8 G. 2 H. 4 I. 3 J. 9

1 - Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air. New York: Anchor Books, 1997.

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