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Welcome to issue #39  of  Words Matter , our bi-weekly newsletter .  Please feel free to share with a friend! 
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From Tires to Tuesdays

Anyone who has a curiosity about words (and who doesn't?) has noticed that sometimes a word has two or more very different meanings. For example, bat can be a stick for hitting a ball or it can be a flying mammal.  Sometimes what seems like a single word is actually two or more completely different words which just happen to look alike.  Word historians, or etymologists, dig into the background of such words to learn why the differences exist .

A former student of mine, Megan, emails me on occasion with engaging and challenging observations about words.  Recently she asked if I would explain why the word tire (as  to lose energy ) and the word tire ( the thing on the car ) look alike. 

I had studied many such examples, but not this specific one, so I eagerly set to work to find out.  This search, as they almost always do, led to astounding language delights, so I thank Megan for the idea in this week's Word Matters newsletter.

The verb tire, as to grow weary, comes from a root that means "to lack, to be without, to need".  So to be tired is to be lacking energy.  A tiresome job, movie, or conversation just doesn't have what it takes. 

That seems fairly straightforward and lackluster, except for a shadowy connection I found with the Greek form (dein-) of this root.  The meaning lacking leads to the meaning of "what is needed", and  almost 200 years ago, philosopher Jeremy Bentham coined the word deontologyDeontology is the study of what is socially needful--of never tiring to do what is right.  Use deontology in a sentence today and it will be yours!

The noun tire, on the other hand, (the thing on the car), turns out to be a shortening of the word attire (attractive clothing).  So a tire is actually the dressing on a wheel!  If we probe deeper into the history of the word attire, we find a root that means  "order, arrangement, something laid out in display".  It's then easy to see the basic meaning of the related word tier, like the layer of a cake or a level of seating.

Let's keep going.  At the base of "order, arrangement, display" is the sense of "attractiveness, shine, and glory".  That sense shows up in the name of one of the ancient Germanic deities, Tyr, so the car's tire (spelled tyre in British English) is more exalted and divine than we knew.  No wonder some people take such pride in their wheels!

The two words tire, then, are originally two completely separate concepts from two completely separate roots, but they have emerged in modern English as looking and sounding the same.  That's not always what happens, and we will explore more examples in later blogs.  But as you can see, tracing word history exposes astounding layers of meaning in ordinary words and is always a source of delight. 

One last thing.  We modern English speakers tirelessly commemorate that ancient Germanic deity Tyr four or five times a month.  His name shows up every Tuesday.
--R. D. "Doc" Larrick

Enjoy this brief student video that comes directly from WordBuildonLine Foundations Level 2. 
The prefix INTER
The prefix INTER

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