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March 02, 2017  |  Friday words, 2017-03-03  |  390 hit(s)

It's March, but there's still talk of snow in Seattle. One of yer weirder winters in these parts. Fortunately, we have the consolation of words.

I have a couple of new-to-me words today. The first I got via Facebook Friend Brendan, who asked "Why do I never know about a 'craze' until it's over?" Well, he's ahead of me, because I didn't hear about it till he posted about it. The craze? Something called sologamy: marrying yourself. The idea is to have a ceremony that's essentially a wedding, but there's no partner. (It also has no legal implications.) As far as I can tell, sologamy does not preclude a more traditional wedding at a later time. Sologamy seems to be related to the quirkyalone movement, another new term, which is about embracing being single.

Whatever the sociology behind it—and there's a lot of commentary—it's a well-constructed word. Compare monogamy, bigamy, and polygamy, where gamy is a combining form, as they call it, meaning "union."[1]

I can't pin down how old the word is. The concept seems to be around 20 years old, or perhaps older, and was earlier also referred to as self-marriage. The earliest reference to sologamy I can find is from 2014, but the author isn't claiming he made up the term. Interestingly, I found a tweet from 2011 that references sologamist:

But that isn't telling us how old the word sologamy is. If I learn more, I'll update.

I have another new-to-me term, which came about in an odd way. My wife was typing away on her computer, stopped, and asked me "How do you spell sequela?" Spell it? I'd never even heard it. (The preceding conversation was of course out loud, not typed.) Turns out that a sequela is a medical disorder that is the result of a previous disorder; as M-W puts it, a sequela is an aftereffect. An example in Wikipedia is that kidney disease can be the sequela of diabetes. Or the more obvious one that neck pain might be the sequela of whiplash.

Let us now turn to unexpected word origins. The other day someone said something was a "conundrum," and it occurred to me for the first time to wonder whence we get this excellent word. Amateur etymologist that I am, I of course immediately thought that, well, con is Latin for "with" and undrum must be … something interesting. In Latin.

The OED has an unexpectedly unexpected etymology: "Origin lost." Their best guess is that it's "an Oxford term, possibly originating in some university joke or a parody of some Latin term of the schools." So it's a madey-uppy word, a 16th-century instance of teen slang. The OED also revealed that the term has had a variety of definitions, of which the one I use—"something puzzling"—is but one. Others include a riddle in which the answer is a pun (no examples given, sad); a pun; a "whim, crotchet, conceit."

It must be rare to find an etymology like this for a word this old. Sure, people make up funny words all the time, but I bet not many of them survive for 400 years.

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[1] Well, I was just recently obliged to argue against set someone straight about their mistaken notion that you're "not supposed to" combine Latin (solo) and Greek (gamy) roots.