This week's word doesn't turn up often in conversation, but I like the sound of it, and it has an interesting history, possibly going back to the Latin oscillum, meaning "small mouth". In Georgics, Virgil used the Latin oscillum to describe a mask of the god Dionysus/Bacchus dangling in a sacred grove and dancing about in the wind. From the original Latin noun came a verb in the same language describing something moving back and forth like a pendulum, a set of wind chimes or a child's swing. Then along came the verb scillti to describe the action of rotating from side to side. At the end of our wordy exploration lies this morning's noun (first seen in 1658) and its verb form oscillate, both connoting swinging movement of some kind.
Here is a gathering of vowels and consonants with a fabulous trail and origins both mythic and intriguing. Encountering the word in print or hearing it spoken aloud, my thoughts do a bunk and wander away from the present book or conversation and off to the ancient Roman countryside, 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?
The weather here has been erratic in the last week or so, swinging (er oscillating) wildly between blue skies and rain, deliciously mild temperatures and icy cold, brilliant sunlight and whole days of murky twilight. As I tap away here, it is raining, and beyond the windows are heaps of sodden leaves, sodden artifacts from last night's wild "toing and froing" from one end of the weather pendulum's arc (or oscillation) to the other. We call such a sweep 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 (or oscillating) about with boots and umbrella.