Ass and Name
Zola and Zoilus
A few Neos
What's in a Nem?
Pleo III-Two More Pleons
Achron.. and Acroam..
Per IV--Perpotation et al.
Per and Pre--Prevenient
Perpense and Perpend
Epi I--Epiplexis, et al.
The Doric Column
Epi III--Episemon et al.
Something Fishy II
Further Thoughts on Fish
We need to go deeper into the waters of the "ichthyo" prefix before trying to get to the "point" of this two-essay reflection. As I said at the end of the previous essay, one has a beautiful word such as ichthyoacanthotoxism. But, why stop there? You can elminate the middle root, I suppose on the theory that if you are poisoned by a fish it is not because it kisses you (that is, the "thorn" or "point"--acanthos--is assumed), and simply have the word ichthyotoxism, which means the poisoning resulting from the venom of a fish.
Doctors want to save syllables when treating deadly sick people, and maybe the latter can be seen as a concession to the realities of the medical profession and the nature of human sickness. Probably not. Though there are a lot of classificatory words which have the "ichthyo" prefix, which do not interest me at the moment, there are also a few words of a more "humanities" interest. You have a person who writes about fishes, an ichthyographer, and one who worships fishes, an ichthyolatrist (even though only the two following forms appear in the OED: ichthyolatry, meaning the "worship of fishes," and ichthyolatrous, the adjective). But you are getting the point regarding how to invent a word or two in a pinch.
I also like the world ichthyopolist, a seller of fish, which, interestingly enough, has a Latin equivalent in piscitarian. The story is told about David Starr Jordan, Ph. D., an ichthyologist and one of the early Presidents of Stanford University. Dr. Jordan decided that in order to be a good President he needed to learn the names of all the students he could. But he found, to his dismay, that every time he learned the name of a student he forgot the name of a fish. He had not anticipated encountering such a dilemma. What to do? He quietly gave up learning student names, deciding that the world needed more ichthyophiles than "student lovers" (hm..what word could we come up with for that?).
Finally, the Problem
But I have been having too much fun here, and we have to get to the problem. There are some words using the "ichthyo" and "pisci" prefix that are identical in English, as indicated (ichthyophagous/piscivorous or ichthyopolist/piscitarian or ichthyology/piscatology). Another such nice example is ichthyoid/pisciform, both meaning "fish-like." Then there are some English words from the Greek root that simply have no Latin root. These are mostly medical terms and classification terms, it seems to me. But that is the problem. Is there any rhyme or reason why English would have built more of its "fish-related" words on a Greek rather than a Latin stem? To speak as a lawyer, is there any "rule" that would "control" the case (Remember Al Gore's intonation of "no controlling legal authority"?) and tell us when to build off ichthyo and when to turn to pisci? I don't think so. But as a lawyer I may want to try to come up with such a rule. That is, Long's proposed rule would look like the following:
"Whenever you have a medical or classificatory word building on 'fish,' or whenever you have a dominant Greek root, such as 'graphos'--writing-- or "philos"--lover, you would tend to build your word off of the Greek rather than the Latin."
As a legal rule, however, there would always be exceptions, such as piscicolous, with the latter syllable taken from the Latin word for "inhabitant," meaning something that is "parasitic upon fishes." There is no equivalent derived from Greek. But why try to make a rule of it? It probably didn't develop in a rule-like fashion, and lawyers often take all the fun out of life anyway, though we do it so that we can make money, by developing rules so that we can tell clients how a court is likely to decide on a question in the future. But let's just imagine that the invention and development of words is much more haphazard and joyfully disordered than anything previously posited. The person who knows the roots, then, is the one who has the keys to the kingdom, the keys to the vault in which is kept the great treasure. We can then read the OED (the unabridgeds are pretty useless in this venture, I have found) as containing only the beginning suggestions as to what the English language is, rather than the final authority on English words.
Ah, now with the decks cleared, I can get on with more words.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long