Friday, December 4, 2009

Origins - Hints and Helps.

The verb intimate is from Latin intimus, innermost, the same root from which the adjective intimate and its noun intimacy are derived; but the relationship is only in etymology, not in meaning. An intimation contains a significance buried deep in the innermost core, only a hint showing. As you grow older, you begin to have intimations that you are mortal; when someone aims a gun at you, or when a lorry comes roaring down at you as you drive absent-mindedly against a red light through an intersection, you are suddenly very sure that you are mortal.
Alleviate is a combination of Latin levis, light (not heavy), the prefix ad-, to, and the verb suffix. (Ad- changes to al- before a root starting with l-).
If something alleviates your pain, it makes your pain lighter for you; if I alleviate your sadness, I make it lighter to bear; and if you need some alleviation of your problems, you need them made lighter and less burdensome. To alleviate is to relieve only temporarily, not to cure or do away with. (Relieve is also from levis, plus re-, again – to make light or easy again.) The adjective form of alleviate is alleviative – aspirin is an alleviative drug.
Anything light will rise – so from the prefix e- (ex-), out, plus levis, we can construct the verb elevate, etymologically, to raise out, or, actually, raise up, as to elevate one’s spirits, raise them up, make them lighter; or elevate someone to a higher position.
Have you ever seen a performance of magic in which a person or an object apparently rises in the air as if floating? That’s levitation – rising through no visible means. (I’ve watched it a dozen times and never could work it out!) The verb, so to rise, is levitate.
And how about levity? That’s lightness too, but of a different sort – lightness in the sense of frivolity, flippancy, joking, or lack of seriousness, especially when solemnity, dignity, or formality is required or more appropriate, as in ‘tones of levity’, or as in, ‘Levity is out of place at a funeral or in a house of worship’, or as in, ‘Okay, enough levity – now let’s get down to business!’.
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