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The Nature of Words by Laurel Stoddard, CET

by on August 15, 2018

childrenreadingMany of us who have been engaged successfully in the field of transcription for some time have the habit of reading, and it is through this habit that we continually add to our internal glossaries and learn new idioms and literary allusions. Reading keeps our minds sharp, it keeps us culturally informed, and it fuels the imagination.  How many times have you thought twice about seeing the movie made from a book you loved because you had already seen it in your imagination?

I am an enthusiastic convert to electronic readers, despite the fact that I love the feel of the paper, the tactile act of turning the pages, and I frequently remember things I’ve read by their location on the page. But how else can one take a trip with dozens of books and they weigh less than two pounds?

I worry that in our world of instant gratification and electronic games that more children are turning away from reading. I am strongly convinced that the skill of reading will shape a young mind for learning like nothing else will. With that concern in mind, I urge everyone to engage in reading, and not just to yourself.  Read aloud. Read to your children. Read to your grandchildren. Read to your adult children.  Read to your neighbors’ children. Read to anyone who will sit still for it.

A good time ago when we went through a spell that included several hospitalizations for my husband Mark, I stayed as close to him as I could, and I brought books and read to him. Short stories and essays work well. Of course, don’t read a book of humor to someone who’s just had abdominal surgery.

Now I’ll get down off my soapbox and share a peregrination through some words. As I recently have been having difficulty with misbehaving muscles and tendons and joints, I’ve been spending a good bit of time hanging out with physical therapists and, as is my wont, reading about muscles and bones, wondering what prompted some of the names.

I observed that a muscle that attaches at one end to the outer pelvis and, on the other, to the inner part of the leg below the knee, is called the sartorius. My curiosity was piqued as to the relationship between the name of that muscle and the word sartorial.”

It is a direct relationship. The sartorius is the longest muscle in the human body, allowing rotation of the leg for sitting with legs folded, like a tailor. It arises from the Latin sartor, tailor, from sartus, the past participle of sarcire, to mend.  The sartorius was named at the cusp of the 18th century, and the use of sartorial to mean elegant and tailor-made began around a hundred years later.

One of my favorite unusual names is the gastrocnemius, which is the largest muscle of the calf.  It comes from the Greek gastrokneme, calf of the leg, from gastro‑ belly plus kneme, shin or leg, and this name was first used in the last quarter of the 17th century.

Higher up on the leg, the femur, or thigh bone, which is both the longest and largest bone in the human body, has a large outer prominence at the hip to which a number of muscles attach.  It’s called the greater trochanter, from the Greek trochanter, from trechein, to run. And, yes, there is a lesser trochanter.

One of the muscles that attaches to the greater trochanter is a small pear-shaped muscle that assists internal rotation of the hip. It is appropriately named the piriformis, through a New Latin alteration of pyriformis; by way of Medieval Latin pyrum, pear, plus Latin ‑iformis. In some individuals the sciatic nerve wends its way through this muscle, rather than to one side or the other of it, and the result can be discomfort, to put it mildly.

So sit up straight, pull your shoulder blades back and down to give your arm bones room to rotate properly while you work at the computer. Then get up and move around from time to time. Shake out your legs and stretch, even take a little walk to keep those joints limber. And when you can, take a reading break and pass on that love of words that is so important to our work.

                    –– Laurel Stoddard, CET

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