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May 25, 2009
This week's theme
Words derived from numbers

This week's words
decussate
hecatomb
atone
tessera
decuman

Decussate leaves
Rustic Orange Coleus with decussate leaves
Coleus - Rustic Orange

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

We may think only mathematicians or economists or auditors have to deal with numbers, but numbers are everywhere. They're in beautiful patterns, they are in the spiral of a mollusk, in the arrangement of seeds in a sunflower, and beyond.

Though it may not be obvious at first glance, all of this week's words have their origins in numbers.

decussate

PRONUNCIATION:
(verb: di-KUHS-ayt, DEK-uh-sayt, adjective: di-KUHS-ayt, -it)

MEANING:
verb tr.:
To intersect or to cross.

adjective:
1. Intersected or crossed in the form of an X.
2. Arranged in pairs along the stem, each pair at a right angle to the one above or below.

ETYMOLOGY:
The word originated from Latin "as" (plural asses) which was a copper coin and the monetary unit in ancient Rome. The word for ten asses was decussis, from Latin decem (ten) + as (coin). Since ten is represented by X, this spawned the verb decussare, meaning to divide in the form of an X or intersect.

NOTES:
Samuel Johnson, lexicographer extraordinaire, has a well-deserved reputation for his magnum opus "A Dictionary of the English Language", but as they say, even Homer nods. He violated one of the dictums of lexicography -- do not define a word using harder words than the one being defined -- when he used today's word and two other uncommon words in defining the word network:
Network: Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections.
And what is "reticulated"? Again, according to Johnson:
Reticulated: Made of network; formed with interstitial vacuities.

USAGE:
"How I wished then that my body, too, if it had to droop and shrivel, for surely everyone's did, would furl and decussate with grace to sculpt the victory of my spirit."
J. Nozipo Maraire; Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter; Delta; 1997.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
Life's most urgent question is: what are you doing for others? -Martin Luther King, Jr , civil-rights leader (1929-1968)

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