Monday, February 10, 2014


I embrace new words.

This week, I learned two new words: TESSITURA and AGITA.

Since I don't watch the Super Bowl, but I did want to see Renee Fleming's performance of The National Anthem, I "Googled" about it and in one of the comments, the word "TESSITURA" was used to describe her vocal ability. See definition from the Encyclopaedia Britannica HERE.

I was watching Hardball and the host was quoting a newspaper report and the word "AGITA" was used. To the dictionary, post haste! Definition from Merriam Webster (pronounced "AJ-uh-tuh") "a feeling of anxiety or agitation".

"Judging by its spelling and meaning, one might think that "agita" is simply a shortened version of "agitation", but that's not the case. Both the word "agitation" and "agitate" derive from the Latin "agere" ("to drive"). "Agita", which first appeared in American English in the 1980s comes from a dialectical pronunciation of the Italian word "acido" ("acidus") which means "acid" and "heartburn". "Agita" is occasionally used in English with the meaning "heartburn". For a while, the word's usage was limited to New York City and surrounding regions, but the word has become more widespread since the mid-1990s."

I just learned the word and as we were watching Jeopardy! last night, a correct question was AGITA! It's going to be like schadenfruede: after I'd heard the word, I've heard it dozens of times since.

I have recently begun using the word "thread" in answering postings on Facebook. I contributed to a "54-thread" recently. FIFTY-FOUR back-and-forth remonstrances about one subject! My brother said that I obviously have too much time on my hands! I love passionate discourse and exposing ignorance! I wondered how/when the use of "thread" came into its current usage. See Grammarphobia article:

Thready or not

Q: Having a grammar insurrection in a non-grammar thread on the Lost Des Moines Facebook site. Hence a question about etymology. How did “thread” come to be used in this way?

A: The word “thread” has been used this way in writing since the 1980s, according to examples in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The OED says this use of “thread” means “a linked sequence of posts or messages relating to the same subject on a newsgroup or (now more usually) an Internet forum.”

The earliest examples in the dictionary are, naturally, from newsgroup postings.

The first appeared on May 30, 1984, in a Usenet group,, under the heading “Beta Testers for Readnews Replacem. Wanted.” The relevant sentence reads:

“When following subject threads, the next article with the same subject is located while the last page of the previous article is being read.”

The term was so useful that it was bound to catch on. Here’s another example from the OED: “A self-described ‘overpackaholic’ started a thread in the Travel Forum.” (From CompuServe Magazine, 1994.)

We should note that “thread” had an earlier and much more technical meaning in the terminology of computer programming.

The OED says this sense of the word, which dates to the early 1970s, means “a programming structure or sequence of operations formed by linking a number of separate elements or subroutines; esp. each of the parts of a program executed concurrently in multithreading.” (Got that?)

Here’s the dictionary’s earliest example, from Proceedings of the First European Seminar on Computing With Real-Time Systems (1972):

“The present research is aimed at investigating the costs of using a common program for different machines, and this leads to the concept of ‘single-thread programming.’”

The less technical sense of “thread” —a linked series of messages on the same subject— is just the latest figurative use of an extremely old noun.

“Thread” came from old Germanic sources and was first recorded around the year 725 in a Latin-Old English glossary.

Nearly 1,300 years later, its literal meaning remains basically unchanged—a fine cord of fibers of some material spun or twisted together.

Figurative usages have abounded over the centuries, Oxford says, with “thread” used metaphorically to mean “something figured as being spun or continuously drawn out like a thread.”

The figurative spinning out can refer to the course of a life, a conversation or argument, one’s thoughts, a persistent or recurring theme, and so on.

Finally, on a less poetic note, “threads” has been American slang for “clothes” since the Roaring Twenties.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Renee Fleming was great! ML