Oscillate... the word does not appear often in common parlance, but it has an interesting history, possibly going back to the Latin word oscillum, meaning small mouth. In a passage in his Georgics, the poet Greek poet Virgil used the Latin oscillum to describe a small mask of Dionysus/Bacchus which hung from one special tree in a sacred grove and danced about in the wind. From the original Latin noun came a verb in the same august language describing something that moves back and forth like a pendulum, a set of wind chimes or a child's swing. Thence came the verb scillti, which describes the action of rotating from side to side. At the end of all our wordy explorations lies the noun oscillation, first seen in 1658, and its verb form oscillate, both words connoting swinging movement.
The word's origins are both mythic and intriguing. When I see it in print or hear it spoken aloud, my thoughts wander off toward a carved wooden mask of a god, dangling from a tree in the ancient Roman countryside and swaying in the wind. Who would ever have guessed that vineyards and grapey Bacchanalian doings are associated with the simple act of something swinging to and fro in the breeze?
Why use the word here this morning and honor it with a Friday Ramble? The weather here has been erratic in the last week or so, swinging (or oscillating) wildly between rain and snowfall, between mild temperatures and deep icy cold, between brilliant sunlight and whole days of murky twilight. There is more rain in the cards, and there are sneaky swaths of black ice here and there, vestiges of the night's wild "toing and froing" between one end of the weather pendulum's arc (or oscillation) and the other. That sweep is called its amplitude, arising from the Latin amplitudo (or amplus), meaning large. Thus there is largeness, breadth and fullness at work here and not just mindless flapping about.
March 8, 2013
resting easy in friday rambles