Friday, 8 January 2016
Time again for Friday words. I'm a little late today because I'm attending the Linguistics Society of America conference, where I am cramming my head full of linguistical-type Knowledge. The sessions are all firehoses, peppered with terms like coarticulation, pre-oral, copy raising, mirative, and clitic reflexive. Interesting activity of the day: I participated in a Wikipedia edit-a-thon, organized by the endlessly energetic Gretchen McCulloch. And talked to a series of people are all so smart about language, omg. It's a little frightening.
Anyway. The word this week is Mary Sue, which is not a new term, just new to me, because it's from the world of fan fiction (fanfic), a universe I have only the slightest acquaintance with/of. People who know this world know all about this word, I suppose, so if that's you, go ahead and skip this part. A Mary Sue was originally a character in fan fiction who is young but preternaturally skilled, named after a character of that name who appeared in some Star Trek fanfic back in 1973. These days, it seems that it can also refer to such a character that represents "wish fulfillment" (not my term) for the fanfic author. You can read more here and here. The male analog is a Marty Stu or Gary Stu. Creating a Mary Sue character is generally considered an amateur move, in spite of the fact that's it's practically a trope of a lot of manly-men movies. FWIW, the term seems to be in news again in discussions of the character of Rey in the new Star Wars movie.
For this week's unexpected etymology, consider the word cult. Spend a few moments contemplating where this word might have come from. Then consider that cult appears as part of the word agriculture, and that this not coincidence.
Cult came via French into English from the Latin word cultus. From our friend the OED:
Classical Latin cultus has a wide range of senses, including: cultivation, tilling, training or education, personal care and maintenance, style of dress or ornament, adornment, stylistic elegance, mode or standard of living, state of being refined, devotion, loyalty, respect.The religious sense of cult therefore derives from the senses of devotion and loyalty, whereas agriculture got its cult from the sense of tilling, i.e., cultivation. (The agri- part comes from the Latin word for field, agre, which is related to acre.)
Like this? Read all the Friday words.
Friday words, language