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Mercurial

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Mercurial

Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri Nov 29, 2013 12:12 am

• mercurial •


Pronunciation: mêr-kyUr-ee-êl • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Having the characteristics of the element mercury; swift, changeable, temperamental. 2. Related to the Roman god Mercury or having the characteristics imputed to him: eloquence, shrewdness, swiftness, fickleness—or a relation to commerce.

Notes: The adverb is mercurially, the noun mercuriality, and the verb is mercurialize "treat with mercury, cause to be mercurial". Other forms have been used, but have not widely survived, e.g. the adjective mercurious, and the verb mercuriate.

In Play: Today's word offers a wide array of interpretations, so be careful to use it in a clarifying context, "His lack of commercial acumen caused his mercurial slide into bankruptcy." The swiftness of the winged feet of Mercury is most often associated with this word, however: "His marriage to the CEO's daughter sent his career into a mercurial ascent." It can also mean unpredictably changeable in direction as happens to uncontained mercury: "His temperament is a bit too mercurial for a school superintendent."

Word History: While the Roman god Mercury (Mercurius) was originally associated with trade, he eventually became equated with the Greek god Hermes, he of the winged feet. The speed imputed by winged feet recommended his name to the liquid metallic element used in thermometers and batteries, otherwise known as "quicksilver". However, we still find the root of Mercury's name in commerce, merchant, and market—all from Latin mercari "to trade", a verb from the noun merx, merc- "merchandise". (We hope this less than mercurial acknowledgement of Barbara Kelly for suggesting today's word is a fair enough for her service.)
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Re: Mercurial

Postby Slava » Fri Nov 29, 2013 12:27 am

Somewhere I have a picture from Moscow of a certain shop. The name of this shop is "The Mercury Fish Shop." A big oops in English, but in Russian Mercury the god and mercury the element are different words. Fun, nonetheless. :D

Oh, and let's add another word from the roots here: anyone ever heard of someone who sells their military talents to the highest bidder? AKA a mercenary?
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Re: Mercurial

Postby MTC » Fri Nov 29, 2013 10:24 am

mercenary (n.) Look up mercenary at Dictionary.com
late 14c., "one who works only for hire," from Old French mercenaire "mercenary, hireling" (13c.) and directly from Latin mercenarius "one who does anything for pay," literally "hired, paid," from merces (genitive mercedis) "pay, reward, wages," from merx (see market (n.)).

market (n.) Look up market at Dictionary.com
early 12c., "a meeting at a fixed time for buying and selling livestock and provisions," from Old North French market "marketplace, trade, commerce" (Old French marchiet, Modern French marché), from Latin mercatus "trading, buying and selling, trade, market" (source of Italian mercato, Spanish mercado, Dutch markt, German Markt), from past participle of mercari "to trade, deal in, buy," from merx (genitive mercis) "wares, merchandise," from Italic root *merk-, possibly from Etruscan, referring to various aspects of economics.

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Re: Mercurial

Postby damoge » Fri Nov 29, 2013 1:38 pm

Does anyone else have the reaction I have to the two verb forms (mercurialize, mercuriate), that one seems to carry the idea of turning into mercury, the other the sense of coated with mercury?

if so, any idea why?
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Re: Mercurial

Postby Slava » Fri Nov 29, 2013 1:57 pm

Well, mercurialize does mean "cause to be mercurial." I don't think you can actually turn something into mercury, but you can make things behave in a mercurial manner.

Mercuriate, as the Doc said, didn't make it as a verb. It is, however, a noun according to dictionary.com: any salt in which bivalent mercury is part of a complex anion.
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Re: Mercurial

Postby damoge » Fri Nov 29, 2013 2:37 pm

thanks, Slava, but I was thinking more of the connotative meanings, wondering if you had the same "sense" of the words that I did. I don't know that I've clarified my question any.

Denotatively (is that a word?) they seem to be the same, but the sense I have of them is different. Sort of liberty versus freedom kind of thing.
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Re: Mercurial

Postby Perry Lassiter » Fri Nov 29, 2013 3:05 pm

Lots of interconnections here. Usually when I say the word mercenary, I think of Mercy, though the word is almost the opposite. However consider etymology Online that piles them all in together:

late 12c., "God's forgiveness of his creatures' offenses," from Old French mercit, merci (9c.) "reward, gift; kindness, grace, pity," from Latin mercedem (nominative merces) "reward, wages, pay hire" (in Vulgar Latin "favor, pity"), from merx (genitive mercis) "wares, merchandise" (see market (n.)). In Church Latin (6c.) applied to the heavenly reward of those who show kindness to the helpless.

Meaning "disposition to forgive or show compassion" is attested from early 13c. As an interjection, attested from mid-13c. In French largely superseded by miséricorde except as a word of thanks. Seat of mercy "golden covering of the Ark of the Covenant" (1530) is Tyndale's loan-translation of Luther's gnadenstuhl, an inexact rendering of Hebrew kapporeth, literally "propitiatory."

Some people have horse thieves in their ancestry; others have saints!

Incidentally in the Bible mercy can have slightly different meanings depending on context. One, however, is significant.
Chese, hesed, kesed (the word begins with an unaspirated or glottal H) in the OT often reflects God's love for his covenant people. NIV translates "steadfast love," though "covenant love" would usually be more accurate. In the NT, mercy can be more ambiguous as to the recipients as Christianity becomes more inclusive. A basic interpretive problem in NT is how much any word should be considered in its Greek connotations, vs Hebrew. After all, so far as we know, all those writers were Hebrew except possibly Luke.
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Re: Mercurial

Postby Slava » Fri Nov 29, 2013 3:22 pm

etymonline doesn't put them all together. The entries for mercy and mercenary do not include the other.

The two entries for mercenary are:
mercenary (adj.) 1530s, from mercenary (n.), or in part from Latin mercenarius "hired, paid, serving for pay."

mercenary (n.) late 14c., "one who works only for hire," from Old French mercenaire "mercenary, hireling" (13c.) and directly from Latin mercenarius "one who does anything for pay," literally "hired, paid," from merces (genitive mercedis) "pay, reward, wages," from merx).

Mercy and mercenary may start from one root, but they split off and became other things.

I would hardly expect to get any mercy from a mercenary.
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Re: Mercurial

Postby gailr » Fri Nov 29, 2013 5:18 pm

Slava wrote:I would hardly expect to get any mercy from a mercenary.

Hmmm, nary a mercy?
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Re: Mercurial

Postby Slava » Fri Nov 29, 2013 5:45 pm

Mercy Me! How'd I miss that one? Good catch.
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Re: Mercurial

Postby damoge » Fri Nov 29, 2013 9:10 pm

gailr wrote:
Slava wrote:I would hardly expect to get any mercy from a mercenary.

Hmmm, nary a mercy?



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