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Gnomon

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Gnomon

Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri May 31, 2013 10:14 pm

• gnomon •


Pronunciation: no-mên • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. An upright arm that projects a shadow and is used as an indicator or measure, as on a sundial. 2. An L-shaped figure created by removing a smaller parallelogram from a larger one from one of its corners. 3. (Facetiously) The nose.

Notes: You might think we will have no use for this word; after all, we all have electronic clocks and watches. But sundials are still a common garden decoration, and many have lost their whatchamacallits. Now we have a word for the whatchamacallit: gnomon. It comes with three adjectives, gnomonic, with or without the meaningless extension -al, gnomonical. Another adjective that should come in handy when appraising sundials is gnomonless.

In Play: The most common gnomon is the one on the sundial: "I would take this sundial, but its gnomon seems to be missing." In other words, it is gnomonless. In his memoirs, published in 1803, Charles Lee Lewes wrote the following: ". . . [g]iving him at the same time, a blow that demolished the gnomon of poor Roger's face." The OED cites four examples of this use of the word.

Word History: Today's Good Word is Latin gnomon "interpreter, pointer". The Romans picked up this word from the Greeks, who derived it from gignoskein "to know". In fact, the original Proto-Indo-European word came to English as know. It is also present in myriad words borrowed from Latin: cognition, cogent, recognize. I know you are wondering about its relation to gnome. Well, there are two words spelled gnome. One means "proverb, maxim, aphorism"; I'm sure you can see the connection between this sense and "know". The other sense is a mystery. It was first used by the 16th century scientist Paracelsus. He used it to refer to a genus of small people who moved through the earth unobstructed, as fish, through water and birds, through air. Our best guess is that he made the word up. (Today's Good Word was suggested by Jerry B. Lincecum last year—the gnomon on my sundial is missing).
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Re: Gnomon

Postby MTC » Sat Jun 01, 2013 7:01 am

Today, class, our subject is gnomonclature.

I love the comparison between Latin gnomon "interpreter, pointer" on a sundial and gnomic verse and proverbs which "point the way" so to speak.

Biblical scholars (i.e., Perry and Philip) will appreciate the gnomes in the Book of Proverbs.

And speaking of conciseness, what happened to concise?
Does anyone else feel frustrated by the chronic, uncorrected problem of unposted Goodwords? Or am I grousing in the wind?
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Re: Gnomon

Postby LukeJavan8 » Sat Jun 01, 2013 12:10 pm

Cognoscere: to Know. A favorite of mine.

No, you are not grousing in the wind. It has been going
on for months. Slava usually picks it up. I would if I knew
how. A type of cut/paste I presume.
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Re: Gnomon

Postby Philip Hudson » Sat Jun 01, 2013 2:55 pm

There is a rather maudlin novel, "Just David" by Eleanor H. Porter (best seller in 1916). David, a lost child with no known surname, saw a sundial in a garden he was visiting. It had a line of Latin on its perimeter that David translated as, "I report only the sunny hours." The people who had found David were amazed that he could read Latin but didn't know his own last name. I read this book as a small child and am a sucker for tear jerker novels even now.
It is dark at night, but the Sun will come up and then we can see.
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Re: Gnomon

Postby LukeJavan8 » Sun Jun 02, 2013 9:51 pm

As am I. I will check my local library for it.
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Re: Gnomon

Postby Philip Hudson » Mon Jun 03, 2013 1:06 am

MTC: I just noticed your reference to gnomes in the Biblical book of Proverbs. I am surprised that Proverbs is not named the Book of Gnomes since it is just one gnome after another.
It is dark at night, but the Sun will come up and then we can see.
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Re: Gnomon

Postby MTC » Mon Jun 03, 2013 6:19 am

Philip Hudson wrote:MTC: I am surprised that Proverbs is not named the Book of Gnomes since it is just one gnome after another.


Perhaps the authors did want to belittle the Bible, Philip.

"(J)ust one gnome after another," that's the way I feel about Tolkien. But I like the image of rows and columns of identical gnomes stretching out to infinity. There's something very Cantoresque about it. (George Cantor, the mathematician)
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