Tuesday, April 22, 2008

April 22: Earth Day

April 22nd has been recognized as Earth Day ever since 1970, the same year that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established. On a day where many people are focused on preserving green space and maintaining clean drinking water, we will look at the relationship between the Big Blue Marble and our language.

Let's begin by looking at some 'roots.'

The Latin root for earth is terra, as in terra firma = "firm ground." It's the root found in words like subterranean, terrestrial, extraterrestrial, and terrarium.

The Greek root for earth is geo, as in geography, geology, and geopolitics.

On Earth Day, each of us becomes an Antaeus. Do you remember him from Greek mythology? He was the son of Gaia (mother earth) and Poseidon (god of the sea). Antaeus was an undefeated wrestler until he met up with Hercules, who was able to figure out his weakness. Even Hercules had trouble defeating the great wrestler until he lifted Antaeus' legs from the earth. When he did this, Antaeus became powerless. As a result, Antaeus is a powerful metaphor for those who realize that their strength and very survival depends on Mother Earth.

Our daily conversations are well 'grounded' in earth metaphors. A number of idioms (expressions of two or more words that mean something different from the literal meaning of the individual words) use the earth as a metaphor. Below are a few examples using the words "earth" and "ground" from The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1).

down to earth
four corners of the earth
move heaven and
not have an earthly chance
salt of the earth

both feet on the ground
break ground
common ground
ear to the ground
from the ground up
gain ground
hit the ground running
happy hunting ground
run into the ground
stand one's ground
worship the ground
someone walks on

Today's Challenge: Clear as Mud
Celebrate Earth Day by mining the language for expressions (idioms) containing the words listed below. Try to come up with as many as you can for each word:


Quote of the Day: Imperious Caesar. dead and turn'd to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away: O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe, Should patch a wall to expell the winter's flaw!
William Shakespeare in Hamlet: Act V, scene 1

1 - Ammer, Christine. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

1 comment:

izzy cohen said...

>> Celebrate Earth Day by mining the language for expressions (idioms) containing the words ...
mud, grass, dust, water <<

Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt (Hebrew NaTZiB MeLaX, using X for het), a rather harsh punishment for merely looking BACKWARDS when told to not do so. Actually we have to look at this phrase backwards to understand that she suffered a stroke / thrombosis < Greek throm = trama + bos < Hebrew BoTZ = mud. She became paralyzed and couldn't talk or move, as if stuck in the mud (due to mud in the veins ?).

NaTZiB is a reversal of BoTZeN = like mud. MeLaX is a reversal of XaLaM = to be strong, healthy. She became frail and weak. The modern Hebrew word for stroke/apoplexy is SHaBaTZ = caused by/result of BoTZ = mud.

The grass in the phrase "grass widow" is probably derived from Hebrew/Yiddish G'RooSHah which means "divorced woman".

The dust in the expression (they had a) dust-up is the translation of the Hebrew word @aVaK. In Hebrew, this word is a homonym that also means "quarrel, fight". So the translation "dust" is a euphemism for its other meaning.

The water in the expression "a diamond of the first water" is derived from meter/measure. If one fails to fully close his mouth when pronouncing an M, the result sounds like W. There are a lot of W-M parallels:
wer-/vir - man
world - monde
wane/wax - min/max
(wrist)watch - Hebrew MaD SHa3ah = measure + hour

Israel "izzy" Cohen