Sunday, December 19, 2010

Verbum Hodiernum: SIGNUM

The word for today is SIGNUM, the Latin word which gives us "sign" in English. The Latin etymology of the word is important to recognize: signum most probably comes from the verb sequor (this is not 100% guaranteed, but Calvert Watkins for one endorses this etymology). How do you get from sequor to signum? Just think of the "signs" carried as standards by the legions - you follow where the sign leads you. I'll let the semiotically-minded readers ponder that metaphor more deeply; it can lead in some profound directions!

Another English word that ultimately derives from Latin signum is the word "seal" - not the animal, but instead the seal or stamp that serves as a marker or identifier. Start with Latin signum, form the Latin diminutive sigillum, which becomes seel in Old French and finally English "seal."

The English word "tocsin" is also derived from Latin signum. The Old French toquassen came from Provencal "tocar senh" (tocar, "to touch" and senh, from signum, here meaning a bell or signal), which then yielded English "tocsin."

Here are some Latin sayings and proverbs that use today's word:

Per signum crucis.

Hoc est signum Dei.

In hoc signo spes mea.

In hoc signo vinces.

Hoc signo victor eris.

Quid vesper serus vehat, sol tibi signa dabit.

A signis caeli nolite metuere quae timent gentes.

Signa autem temporum non potestis scire.

Animo qui aegrotat, corpore hunc signum dare.

Morbum signa precurrunt.

Certis rebus certa signa praecurrunt.

Oblivio signum neglegentiae.

Oblivio beneficiorum signum ingratitudinis.

Magnae indolis signum est sperare semper.

Senex in domo, bonum signum in domo.

Signum scientis est posse docere.

Silentium est signum sapientiae, et loquacitas est signum stultitiae.

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