Word Hoard

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Oblivion and Epenthesis

Oblivion: 1 the state of forgetting or having forgotten or of being unaware or unconscious 2 the condition or state of being forgotten or unknown

"Oblivion" derived via Middle English and Anglo-French from the Latin "oblivisci," which means "to forget." This form may have stemmed from combining "ob-" ("in the way") and "levis" ("smooth"). In the past, "oblivion" has been used in reference to the River Lethe, which according to Greek myth flowed through the Underworld and induced a state of forgetfulness in anyone who drank its water. Among those who have used the word this way is the poet John Milton, who wrote in Paradise Lost, "Farr off from these a slow and silent stream, Lethe the River of Oblivion roules Her watrie Labyrinth."

This is all according to my Merriam-Webster (I first typed Miriam.) word of the day. I really like the quote and the nonstandard spelling. Could you call it a nonstandard orthography, since orthography is literally "correct writing"?

Another from our friend Miriam Webster:
Epenthesis: the insertion or development of a sound or letter in the body of a word

If you say "athlete" as "ath-a-lete," you've committed epenthesis. Some people consider the pronunciation to be unacceptable, but there's a perfectly good reason why it occurs; epenthesis is simply a natural way to break up an awkward cluster of consonants. It's easier for some people to say "athlete" as three syllables instead of two, just as it's easier for some to insert a "b" sound into "cummerbund," pronouncing that word as "cum-ber-bund." Epenthesis has even contributed to the evolution of recognized spelling variants, giving us such options as "cumberbund" and "sherbert" (for "sherbet"). The word "epenthesis" came to us by way of Late Latin from the Greek verb "epentithenai," which means "to insert a letter

Is orthophony "correct speaking"? I guess it is.


  • At July 27, 2006 3:57 PM, Blogger Michael Covarrubias said…

    And so we have a connection to lethargy as well. The leth- of course related to the forgetfulness brought on by drinking the water of Lethe, and the -argy coming from the combination of a- (no/not) and ergon (work - cf ERG).

    My thanks to Buffy for having alerted me to the connection with the underworld river.

    Here's the question - I can't yet determine if the Greek lethe is descended from the river's name or if they are siblings/cognates.

  • At July 27, 2006 3:58 PM, Blogger Michael Covarrubias said…

    That's not really a question I guess.

  • At July 28, 2006 12:06 AM, Blogger Daniel said…

    All you needed was a question mark at the end. Ron Burgundy would have been able to pull it off.

    This river of forgetfulness is a pretty great feature. The Greeks knew how to do death up right.

  • At August 13, 2006 12:56 AM, Blogger Michael Covarrubias said…

    Two questions Daniel:

    1) What made you choose this rosy magenta colour for your theme?

    B) When will we see some more discussion of words-of-interest?

  • At August 13, 2006 11:58 AM, Blogger Daniel said…

    1. For some reason the blue and green versions of this layout weren't available to me in the quick start template menu. I was initially hoping to base a color palate off of wedgwood blue. And I tried to manipulate the template to no avail.

    2. I actually spent a lot of time working on a new post Friday and had thought I posted it but I guess it is still in draft form. I'll get that up right away.


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