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Welcome to issue #34 of Words Matter, our bi-weekly newsletter
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A is for Apple
The first entry in an English dictionary (or second if you count the name of the letter A itself) is the little but powerful and ubiquitous word a.
One of the earliest things we learn while acquiring English is that we say a dog, a house, a door, but an eagle, an igloo, an entry. You might think that the letter and sound N is inserted to ease the sound between the vowels. That's partially correct. What has actually happened is that the N is part of the original word and has been dropped, not inserted, in appropriate places.
Yes, the word a is a clipped, shortened form of the word an, itself a kissing cousin of the word one. The N is in there as part of the root of the word. Those of you who know some French or German will recognize the connection between the English words an and one through un/une and ein/eins.
Some interesting word histories result from confusion about the little word an and its dropped N. Sometimes people mixed up whether it was the word a or the word an in front of an upcoming word. For example, UMPIRE (the game referee) comes from NON-PEER (the guy who is not on the same level as the players). A NON-PEER became a NOMPEER, and the phrase was confused in sound and print with anUMPIRE.
The same thing happened with the phrase "anapron". NAPRON was a cloth, but through confusion of the phrase anapron, anapron was born. Same with the snake ADDER: the original English word was nadder, as in "I stepped on anadder". But a nadder got re-written as anadder. ORANGE suffered the same switch in article: it's from the Persian "anarang".
I remember my third grade teacher calling a zero in arithmetic an aught. Old-timers in my youth would reminisce that this-or-that had happened back in "nineteen and aught-seven" (1907). Aught meant zero, but then, so did naught (as in "I worked all this time for naught"). But let's not get bogged down for the nonce into the complication of the words aught/naught. That's just a whole nother discussion. --R.D. "Doc" Larrick
Enjoy this brief student video that comes directly from WordBuild Elements Level 1.
The root PLIC
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