Word of the Week - Archive page 5

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This weeks word (from the noun sedulity) means to give steady attention and effort (to a job/task), to be assiduous, diligent and steadily hardworking. It comes from the Latin word edulus, from se dolo meaning 'without deception'.

This weeks word is one to which I can relate to personally having, in an extreme act of sedulity, finally finished my thesis! Hurrah!

An animal that has a reputation for its sedulousness is the Beaver. The phrase ' to work like a beaver' was first recorded in 1741, and to be 'busy as a beaver' from the late 1700's. In World War II the phase 'eager beaver' (meaning an exceptionally zealous person who habitually takes on more tasks/works harder than others) was used to describe recruits trying hard to impress their commanding officers with their sedulity.

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This weeks' word has two meanings, one musical and one biblical, both these words come from a Greek term relating to the concept of harmony.

In music terms diatessaron is another term for the perfect fourth (or P4 as it is sometimes written). It is called 'perfect' due to the simple pitch relationships between its notes, which creates a high degree of consonance. The double bass and the bass guitar are both tuned by intervals of perfect fourths. The same is true for all but one of the strings on a guitar.

In biblical terms the Diatessaron is the name given to the book written by the Syrian Christian Tatian in approx.175A.D which united the 4 Gospels of the New Testament into a single document. To do this he rewrote parts of the gospels to resolve conflicting statements (such as the two apparently irreconcilable genealogies of Jesus) and to remove duplicate information. No significant text was added and in the end the Diatessaron was about 72% of the length of the combined Gospels. Tatian's book proved popular, perhaps because he had written it to be in the language of his time. It became the standard Gospel text for the Syrian Church for two centuries, after which it disappeared.

Its disappearance is attributed to Theodoret, the Bishop of Cyrrhus on the Euphrates in 423A.D. He suspected that the Diatessaron was heretical so he sought out more than two hundred copies of it and "put them away". At this time the 4 separate Gospels were re-introduced as the standard texts.

No original copy of the Diatesseron has been discovered and what is known about it has been gleaned from studying the translations of it which have been found over the years as well as references to it from Syrian writers at the time. This is not a simple job, translations from the 6th to 15th century have been found across the world from China to England. Combining the information from these to decide what was in Tatian's original won't be an easy job.

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Sigillography (sometimes referred to under its Greek name of Sphragistics) is one of the auxiliary sciences of history. It refers to the study of seals attached to documents as a source of historical information. It concentrates on the legal and social meaning of seals, as well as evolution of their look. As such, it is closely related to heraldry.

Seals were used to prove the authenticity of documents such as charters, legal agreements etc. Seals were also used to seal folded documents to ensure their secrecy.

Sigillography, the study of seals, can reveal much about the political and social climate of the times. Seals often reflected the tastes of the owner and could be used to study changes in fashions. Seals were used to indicate heraldry long before coats of arms came about and this allows historians to trace the alliances between various families and even to trace their genealogy. Craftsmen's seals often depicted tools of their trade, and some seals with towns, churches, castles etc can be of great used to architectural historians.

Seals have been traced back as far as the Mesopotamia in the late 4th millennium BC and continued to be used there until 4th century BC.

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(plural sinciputs or sincipita)

This week's word of the week is the medical term for the upper front half of the cranium, from the crown to the forehead. The frontal bone (called the os frontale) is made of two separate bones called the squama and the orbital or horizontal portion. The squama is the vertical bone that forms your forehead, the orbital/horizontal bone forms the tops of your eye and nose cavities.

Facts about your head:

  1. The skull is made of 8 bones and is almost full sized at birth. At this time the bones are not fused together to allow the head to deform to make birth easier. The individual plates of bone fuse together after about 24 months, to form the adult skull.
  2. The fixed joints between the 8 bones in your head are called sutures.
  3. The only bone in the adult human skull that can freely move is the mandible - your jaw.
  4. According to the Guinness World Records, the largest object removed from a human skull is a 20.32-cm (8-inch) survival knife, which was plunged into the head of 41-year-old Michael Hill on April 25, 1998. Michael survived the ordeal and the next day astonished doctors by functioning normally, although it was soon clear the knife had caused permanent damage to his memory and paralyzed his left hand.

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  1. Of such fine texture as to allow light to pass through; translucent or transparent. Of delicate form
  2. Vague; insubstantial.

Diaphanous derives from Greek diaphanes, "showing through," from diaphainein, "to show through, to be transparent," from dia-, "though" + phainein, "to show, to appear." It is related to phantom, something apparently sensed but having no physical reality.

This word also has scientific connections. A diaphanometer is an instrument for measuring transparacy (of liquids etc), and diaphanoscopy is a medical procedure for taking images by shining a bright light within an internal organ and imaging the result. Diaphanoscopy can be used for imaging tumours in breast tissue and can also be used in sinus surgery to help the surgeon locate the area to operate on (a mistake could lead to damage of the optic nerve so its a tricky procedure!).

Quotes of the Week:

"The curtains are thin, a diaphanous membrane that can't quite contain the light outside."
-- Eric Liu, The Accidental Asian

She needed more than diaphanous hope, more than I could give her."
-- Tej Rae, "One Hand Extended," Washington Post, August 12, 2001

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  1. The act of banishing or excluding.
  2. Banishment or exclusion from a group; disgrace.
  3. In Athens and other cities of ancient Greece, the temporary banishment by popular vote of a citizen considered dangerous to the state.

This week's word originates from the times of the Athenean democracy and the word ostracon meaning fragment of pottery. In the days of Ancient Greece papyrus was an expensive imported item and broken pieces of pottery (which were cheap and plentiful) were used as more everyday 'paper'. Tax receipts, letters, notes, schoolwork and ballots were all common used of ostraca (plural of ostracon). This practice was not only seen in Greece, they were also common in the Roman, Egyptian and Hebrew civilisations.

In Ancient Greece it was accepted that although they had democracy it was still possible for a strong/charismatic leader to make bad decisions or lead the people intro trouble. Ostracism was devised as a democratic means of getting rid of troublemakers. In January of each year an assembly was called and invited to vote for the person they thought should be ostracised. If at least 6,000 votes were cast (a number thought by historians to be far in excess of the usual number of people at the monthly council meetings) then the ostracised person was selected by simple majority. The ostracised person would then be banished from the city for 10 years and thus lost his right to participate in politics at all. However this was the only real hardship, no property was confiscated and the chosen person could appoint a manger to deal with his affairs in the city and forward the income.

Many well known politicians were ostracised at some point and it in some cases the ostracism was revoked before the 10 years were up if the person was needed. For example, in the time of the Persian Wars the ostracised politician Aristides was recalled to serve Athens and materially aided the state at the Battle of Salamis.

Historians have found much evidence of this custom by excavating large numbers of Ostraca. There has even been evidence of cheating where numerous ostraca with the same mis-spelled name are found and thought to have been handed out to random citizens to help oust a certain person!

The last ostracism, it is believed, was that of Hyperbolus. Hyperbolus was famous as a bit of a fool who was the butt of many an Athenean joke thanks to his antics and to the comic poets who wrote a fair bit about him. He was ironically the principle instigator of the ostracism that ended up being his own. Two politicians of the day, Alcibiades and Nicias, were the leaders of opposing factions. Alcibiades was hated because of his lazy and profligate way of life, Nicias was despised because he was very rich and had also spoken against the majority opinion on several occaisions. When an ostracism was called for both politicians realised that it would be one of them that would be voted out and so decided to join forces to save themselves. They managed to have Hyperbolus receive the most votes and he was banished for 10 years. Since the process of ostracism was created to get rid of people like Alcibiades and Nicias, i.e. people judged too powerful and therefore likely to become tyrants, it was after the banishment of Hyperbolus, who was dim but harmless, that the Athenians realised that they should look for another method to sort out this kind of problem.

Quote of the Week

Commenting on the fate of Hyperbolus Plato (the comic poet not the famous philosopher) famously said:

"The man deserved the fate, but the fate did not deserve the man."

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Just for fun

A little peek into the lighter side of life within the Heriot-Watt Waves & Fields group.

Word of the Week: