Use this forum to discuss past Good Words.
User avatar
Dr. Goodword
Site Admin
Posts: 4559
Joined: Wed Feb 02, 2005 9:28 am
Location: Lewisburg, PA


Postby Dr. Goodword » Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:03 pm

• ascertain •

Pronunciation: æs-sêr-taynHear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: To learn with certainty through careful examination of evidence or experimentation.

Notes: I love words with other words hidden by history in them, like atonement, which has the phrase at one hidden in it, and disease that contains ease. Today's Good Word contains certain, though most of us, I would guess, use this word unaware of its contents. This word has two derivatives that are [/b]readily accessible: ascertainable, an adjective, and ascertainment, a noun.

In Play: Today's Good Word means to learn with certainty based in proof: "I have ascertained from your several e-mail messages that you are you are displeased with the way I do my job." It is just as easy to find uses around the house for this word as around the office: "I ascertain from the tone of your voice that you wish me to clean my room right away." Won't your parents be pleased that you know how to employ this word correctly?

Word History: This Good Word came from Old French acerteiner "to assure, certify", made up of a(d) "up to" + certain "certain". We suppose that there was a Vulgar (Street) Latin word certanus that must have intervened between Old French and Latin certus "sure, fixed, settled, determined", but we have no proof. Vulgar Latin was only spoken, after all. Certus was originally the past participle of cernere "to distinguish, decide". The original PIE word was apparently critos, which underwent metathesis when the R and I traded places. This explains how certus can be related to Greek krites "judge", the origin of English critic. (Having ascertained that Jorge Mejía suggested today's Good Word, we now express our gratitude to him for doing so.)
• The Good Dr. Goodword

Grand Panjandrum
Posts: 1079
Joined: Mon Apr 05, 2010 11:40 am
Location: Pasadena


Postby MTC » Mon Oct 08, 2012 9:18 am

Dr. Goodword comments, "I love words with other words hidden by history in them...." And indeed such words are always a surprise and a delight to discover, "hiding in plain sight." Oddly though no word or expression describes then precisely, at least none that I can find. What should we call words hihing within words, then? Here are some suggestions:

"Nested words:" After the familiar Russian Nesting Dolls. Although "nested words" already has a meaning in computer science, it wouldn't be the first time one field borrowed an expression from another.

"Matryoska words:" Matryoska is another name for Russian Nesting Dolls. This choice has the advantage of being exotic and interesting, but for the same reason lacks familiarity. Still, according to Wikipedia:

"Matryoshkas are also used metaphorically, as a design paradigm, known as the "matryoshka principle" or "nested doll principle". It denotes a recognizable relationship of "object-within-similar-object" that appears in the design of many other natural and man-made objects."

So the choice seems particularly appropriate.

"Russian Doll words" is a more wordy but more recognizable alternative.

"Onion words:" A pungent visual metaphor, simple, smelly, familiar, and direct.

The choice (or not) is yours. I am forwarding a copy of this post to various language societies in the probably futile hope that one choice will be taken up. But as Mrs. Malaprop says, "Hop springs eternal."

Return to “Good Word Discussion”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot] and 5 guests