Palin and Lalia
Theological Terms I
Theological Terms II
Theol. Terms III
Noso and Noce/Nocu
Milton, Book I (PL)
Oo and Ovi
Labors of Hercules I
Oblectation et al.
Dissimulare et al.
Acroama et al.
Tetrous et al.
Commeate et al.
Obsolete et al.
Subtle et al. I
Hesitate et al. (Ovid)
Excoriate et al. I
Excoriate et al. II
Bill Long 1/3/08
I decided that when I heard the word "fodient" (fitted for digging or burrowing...a "fodient" animal) at a recent spelling bee I would explore the Latin behind it, especially to explain why something beginning both with "fod" and "fos" express the same concept--digging. The simple explanation suffices on one level, for the Latin verb fodio, fodere, fodi, fossum points both to the fod- and fos- words (fosse, fossil, fossor, etc) that have to do with digging. But let's take a more detailed tour and see the wonders along the way.
I should note that fodient is the only word we have in English beginning with "fod" and derived from fodio. Why all our English words are formed off the 4th principal part of the verb is a mystery to me, but here it is. Ten "fos" words that are useful to know are fossa, fosse, fossor, fossaria, fossette, fossil, fossiform/fossulate, fossilology, and fossorial.
Do You Dig Fossors?
The most interesting of all these words to me is not fossil but fossor. A fossor was a grave digger, a person who actually was recognized as one of the lower orders of clergy in Christian antiquity. Here is an article. One interesting fact is that:
"the duties of the Christian fossor corresponded in a general way with those of the pagan vespillones, but whereas the latter were held in anything but high esteem in pagan society, the fossors from an early date were ranked among the inferior clergy of the church.."
Interesting to me, also, is that in Classical Latin a fossor was an agricultural worker or a miner. Both of these "dug" things, too. So, the early Church not only took over an occupation and elevated it, but it also gave a more dignified name to the job. There even were artists who were employed to decorate Christian tombs, and corporations of fossores were formed to protect their interests. A fossarian is also a fossor, even though a Rotarian isn't also a rotor.
A "fossil, literally, is something that is "dug up," though its figurative use now includes reference to a person who is so set in his ways that he refused to change. "That old Professor Jones is such a fossil." Indeed, there is a further word to characterize these people: fossildom. From 1905: "Protestantism, and even Anglican Protestansim, is essentially fossildom" (i.e., a lifeless piece of antiquity). Usually people who are "fossils" self-characterize as "dinosaurs"; it is a more modern-sounding term. A bundle of words are built on "fossil," such as "fossilize" (to turn into a fossil); "fossilification and fossilization (the same thing); and "fossiliferous" (containing fossils). I like the word fossilology. Actually, the OED informs us that fossilology is a "less incorrect form" of fossilogy. But what does "less incorrect" mean? Which is the preferred term? I am dying to learn. But, then, upon further consideration, the Unabridged says it is archaic for paleontology, so it isn't used anymore. Yet, there is nothing like a good linguistic fight when the stakes are completely worthless. Though fossilogy goes back to the 1776, paleontology and fossilology first appeared in the 1830s. By the 1860s, however, paleontology had sent the other two packing.
The former of these two words is taken directly from the Latin and means a "pit, cavity, depression." Normally fossa is used in a medical context (such as in this 1830 quotation: "The inflation of the abdomen...causes the contents of the stomach to flow...into..the nasal fossae or the mouth." A fossette is a "small fossa" or little hollow. Fosse (or foss) is defined as a "canal, ditch, trench" and is used to describe a barrier set up against an enemy. In particular, a fosse (pronounced 'fos') encircled the donjon or keep in the center of a castle compound; the moat was the ditch surrounding the entire castle complex.
But we also have a fossa (alternative spelling is fousa) to describe "a slender lithe mammal that is the largest carnivore of Madagascar" (the Cryptoprocta ferox), and is illustrated here. If you want loads of unique animal and plant species, visit Madagascar, the Amazon and Australia/New Zealand. The Malagasy word for this animal is the fanaloka. Exploding words...
A Brief Interlude
I found a word in the OED that doesn't appear in the Unabridged, and even though it isn't used, I think it teaches a lesson. The word is fossage, and is defined as a "composition paid, to be excused from the ...maintaining the Ditches round a Town." You pay a fossage, you don't have to shovel, clean out or repair the ditch. We also have the word murage, which is the tax assessed for maintaining town walls. Eatage is the right of using grassland for pasturage (note here that it doesn't refer to a fee to do this). I wondered at first whether "millage" would be related to these two, but it is a comparatively new term, invented only in 1891 in America (and not in "common law England") to denote "the rate of taxation in mills per dollar to which a given area, group or individual is liable."
A fosseway is an old Roman road in Britain that was built along a ditch. Something that is fossiform has the form of a "fossa," or is grooved. Fossulate means the same thing. Fossaria are "a widely distributed genus of small freshwater pulmonate snails (family Lymnaeidae)." But I am confused, because there are very few Google references to these guys or girls, but considerably more to fossores, which are "a group of hymenopterous insects including the sand wasp." This looks suspect, however, since fossores are the grave diggers we met at the top of the page. Let's let sleeping hymenopterous wasps lie for the time being....
The essay wouldn't be complete without reference to fossorial, which relates to something that is "adapted to digging." An animal might have a "fossorial" foot. The opposite of "fossorial" is cursorial. Something that is cursorial has limbs adapted for running. Of course, this opens up the entire world of the word cursus, which means a course or race track, but we can't get into that now. Suffice it to say that cursory, the most popular word derived from cursus, means running over (as in reading) something quickly.
But the last word for this essay belongs to my Billphorism on fossorial. It is # 241, relating to an overheard student conversation about one of the favorite archaeology professors on campus.
"I really dig his profossorial manner."
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long