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Aug 5, 2002
This week's theme
False cognates

This week's words

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When an ambitious entrepreneur in Silicon Valley raises capital and an industrious farmer in an African hamlet raises cattle, they are not doing something very different, etymologically speaking. The words cattle, capital (and chattel) are of the same parentage. They are derived from the same word root -- all are ultimately from Latin caput (head). Such words are called cognates.

On the other hand, we have false cognates, also known as false friends. These are words that appear to be related but have completely different origins. In this week's AWAD we'll see five of these word pairs.

False friends work across languages too. You'd think you can figure out the meanings if you come across the words embarazada, tasten, and stanza in Spanish, German, and Italian. But watch out! They actually mean "pregnant", "to touch or feel" and "room" in the respective languages.


(sak-ri-LIJ-uhs) Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

adjective: Violating what is considered sacred.

From Middle English, from Old French, from Latin sacrilegium, from sacrilegus (one who steals sacred thing), from scar, from sacer (sacred) + -legere (to gather, steal).

The word has no etymological connection to "religious" though its pronunciation has altered due to its similarity with the latter. It comes from the same Indo-European root sak- (to sanctify) as the words saint, consecrate, and sacred.

"A media buyer for a company whose clients include Volkswagen, Fidelity and McDonald's told the Journal: /I don't think you will see any of our clients advertising during the special 9/11 coverage on the TV networks.' Here you have companies -- some of them pillars of the economy -- saying, in effect, that there is something inherently vulgar about commerce, perhaps even sacrilegious."
Tunku Varadarajan; No Television Ads This 9/11?; The Wall Street Journal (New York); Jul 31, 2002.

"The chief executive, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, says the government believes in complete freedom of the press but it would not allow the publication of any derogatory and sacrilegious material. Condemning the publication of an outrageous and sacrilegious letter in an English language daily of Peshawar, he said stern action would be taken against those responsible. Firm action under the law has already been taken and offenders will be proceeded against strictly in accordance with the law."
Radio Pakistan (Islamabad); Jan 30, 2001.


The poet judges not as a judge judges but as the sun falling around a helpless thing. -Walt Whitman, poet (1819-92)

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