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Nov 27, 2003
This week's theme
Words formed in error

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(SAND-blind) Pronunciation RealAudio

adjective: Partially blind.

From Middle English, from Old English samblind (half-blind), from sam- (semi-) + blind.

The original word was samblind, from Old English prefix sam- meaning half. In a process known as folk etymology, similar sounds of sam and sand resulted in an erroneous belief that the term referred to blindness caused by sand, and the word transformed into sand-blind. Samuel Johnson is perhaps equally to blame here for defining the term as "Having a defect in the eyes, by which small particles appear to fly before them."

In Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, on his father Gobbo's inability to recognize him, Launcelot says:
"O heavens, this is my true-begotten father!
who, being more than sand-blind, high-gravel blind,
knows me not."

The Old English prefix sam- is derived from the same root as the prefixes Latin semi-, Greek hemi-, and Latin sesqui- (one and a half), as in sesquicentennial (150th anniversary), but not French demi-. A coinage that enthusiastically employs many of these in a single word is hemidemisemiquaver, a rather long word to describe a quite short sixty-fourth of a musical note (one eighth of a quaver).

"Or, worse yet, leave weak eyes to grow sand-blind, Content with darkness and vacuity."
Robert Browning; Asolando: Development; 1889.


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