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Aug 07

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Odd Words: Cirque

Cirque de Gavarnie

Page 54 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition was a very difficult one! I’ll explain in a moment. But first, today’s word: cirque.

Around the Page!

The entire first column on page 54, and a little bit more, was made up of circum– words. I can’t say that I knew all of them, but it was trivial to figure out what they meant. Or close enough. They started with “circumambient.” A surprising number of these words just meant what this one did: “encircling; encompassing.” People apparently need a lot of different worlds to say “around.”

This set of words ended with “circumvolve.” I’m sure few will be surprised to learn that it means “to wind about or around; rotate.”

The only really useful word of the bunch was “circumlocution,” which is about the only word that I specifically remember seeing. It’s a pretty common word meaning “excessive use of words to express an idea; an evasive or round about way of speaking.” I won’t name anyone, but it is a word that I associate very much with one of my close friends. (I’ll leave it to them to fight over who it is.)

My Side of Whatever

Almost a quarter of page 54 was made up of cis– words. In Latin, cis means “on this side of.” And that is what this prefix does to words. For example, “cisalpine” means “on this (the Italian) side of the Alps.” And then “cismontane” is a slightly more general “cisalpine,” meaning “on this side of the mountains.”

Similarly, there is “cislunar,” which is “lying between the Earth and the Moon.” And you know, even though it isn’t part of the classic thought experiment, if there were a teapot orbiting cislunar, we would very likely not have noticed it.

Cirque

And so, that takes us to today’s word, which despite a difficult page, is quite useful: cirque.

Cirque  noun  \surk\

1. a basin in a mountain forming a circular space like an amphitheater.

Date: late 17th century.

Origin: from Latin circus, which is a circular line.

Example: Each lake occupies a glacial cirque ­– a type of basin named for its shape — with steep banks. –Deborah Wall, Lakes Loop Trail a Highlight of Great Basin

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/08/07/cirque/

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2 comments

  1. Barney

    I can’t see ‘cirque’ without thinking back to geography lessons, and the “cirque, corrie or cwm” that forms at the top of a glacier. And I’m glad to see that British geography is still taught with the same 3 words yoked together: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/geography/glacial_landscapes/glacial_erosion_landforms_rev1.shtml

    ‘Cwm’ is, of course, the best word of the three, since it has no English vowels. My spellchecker doesn’t recognise it.

    1. Frank Moraes

      Wow; those are great! I didn’t know a word like “cwm” was possible. According to Google, it is pronounced “kum.” Wild.

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