Wednesday, 16 December 2015


"...the supernova was aloft by day, invisible. Disaster, Trevelyan thought with a shudder. How little had Earth's ancient astrologers known of how terrible a word they were shaping!"
-Poul Anderson, Starship (New York, 1982), p. 234.

Why does Trevelyan think that? Because just as "nova" is short for nova stella, meaning "new star," "disaster" means disastro, "bad star." (Latin: stella; Greek: aster.) I learned that by googling after rereading Anderson's "The Pirate."

Two words not related to astronomy but frequently used on this blog came to have their present meanings in similar ways:

"novels" are so called because very recently, historically speaking, they were a new/novel form of literature;

"comic strips" are so called because originally their contents were exclusively comical - hence also, "funny papers."

Words encapsulate history. To be bewildered is to be lost in the wilderness.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Interesting, I had not known that "disaster" comes from "disastro," meaning "bad star." The "new star", alas, was a disastrous bad star to the race we learned about in "The Pirate."