We hear a lot about avatars these days, mostly related to avatar’s most modern meaning, a digital representation or handle of a person. Truth is, this word & its forebears have been around quite some time. The first English application of avatar came about in 1784, & meant descent of a Hindu god in an incarnate form, which came from a Sanskrit word meaning the same thing. Linguists cite the source of the Sanskrit word as the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word *tere-, to overcome, pass through or cross over.
*Tere- is the source of many English words.
Through & thorough appeared in English in the 1300s. Initially, both meant from end to end & side to side. It wasn’t until the 1500s that through took on the meaning in one side & out the other & thorough began to mean exhaustively complete.
And because air passes through the holes in the nose, we have the word nostril, which came through Old English from a PIE root meaning nose combined with the PIE root *tere-, to pass through. Another word that came from that same Old English word initially meant to pierce or penetrate. By the 1590s this word picked up the meaning a shivering exciting feeling, & became our modern world thrill.
Because the Greek gods gained their immortality from drinking the nectar of the gods, the word nectar translates to overcoming death. In this word, *tere- became -tar, added to the PIE root *nek- (death), which also gave us necromancy & many of its kin. And nectar gave birth to the word nectarine.
*Tere- also made its way through Latin to become the combining form trans-, which gave us transparent, transcontinental, treason, transition, transcend, transcribe, transect, transient, transaction, transgender, & many more.
All this adds up to the fact that the root *tere- is responsible for 75% of the words in the sentence Her avatar’s nostrils thrilled as the treasonous necromancer thoroughly transfixed the nectarine.
Life is funny.
Please let me know which words or transformations in this post surprised you most.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, Merriam-Webster.com, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, & the OED.
I write for teens & tweens, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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