Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Ramble - Oscillate

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".  Writing in Georgics, the poet Virgil used the Latin oscillum to describe a small mask of Dionysus (or Bacchus) hanging from one special tree in a sacred grove and dancing about in the wind.

From the original Latin noun came a verb in the same patrician language describing something that moves back and forth like a pendulum or a set of wind chimes, like clothes on a line or a child's swing. Then came the verb scillti, which describes the action of moving back and forth, 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 of some kind.

The word's origins are both mythic and intriguing. Seeing it in print, or hearing it spoken aloud, my thoughts wander off toward the 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 could be associated with the simple act of something swinging to and fro in the breeze?

Why use the word 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 snow and rain, icy cold and mild temperatures, brilliant sunlight and days of murky twilight. The situation will continue for a while longer, for there is both rain and snow in the cards for the next week.

Now and then, there are pools of melt water in village streets, but mostly there are heaps and rags of grimy white stuff and sneaky swaths of black ice everywhere, relics of the interval's wild "toing and froing" between one end of the weather pendulum's arc (or oscillation) and the other.  We call the expanses covered by such arcs "amplitudes", arising from the Latin amplitudo (or amplus), meaning large.  Thus, there is largeness, breadth and fullness at work in our tumultuous days, not just mindless flapping (or oscillating) about with winter boots and umbrella, and the camera of course.

And then there are the vibrant umbrellas blooming like peonies in the street outside our windows...  Perhaps I will find the perfect big green umbrella this year and do a little blooming of my own.


The Furry Gnome said...

You're right, we've had a very oscillating winter this year!

sarah said...

this is all so interesting :-)its a wonderful word.