I heart English. And French

And Ms. Benedict!


Language is always of interest to me. Just all the time, and by that I mean I could talk about words and language all day long. It might have started when I took that Latin and Greek in Modern English Vocabulary class at Hyak Junior High School — with Ms. Benedict, of course — and learned how to figure out what a word might mean by taking it apart and looking at the different bits of it. I still use those skills every day, and not just for crosswords and scrabble but for real actual life too.

Very important side track: Ms. Benedict was awesome. She had the most extraordinary teaching ability. I took a similar course at the UW, and I have to say that I learned more in hers than I did in the college course.

A few things I remember about her:

    Warned the class a million times that the final exam would be the hardest test we’d ever had. Then, when exam day came, after we’d all studied our heads off, she threw us a party instead.

    Told us she’d been married three times, but had kept the name of the first or second husband because she liked its meaning the best: bene = good or well, and dict = speak. Or something like that.

    Didn’t give a damn what anyone thought of her, or anyway it seemed that way to me.

    Was very vocal in her support of the students who started a campaign to change our school’s mascot. We were the Raiders, and our mascot was a grinning Indian. So really, just about anything else would have been better. There was a lot of debate — a few people were surprisingly vehement about their attachment to our “cute” little Indian — and there was a vote. We ended up with a raccoon carrying a sack, I think. Too bad she didn’t go to Cleveland next…

Ms. Benedict passed away almost 11 years ago. I wouldn’t know that if it weren’t for the Hyak facebook group.

In the picture above, she is smiling more than I ever remember her doing in class. In a word (ha!) she was formidable. Come to think of it, she may have been one of my first feminist influences. I owe her a serious debt of gratitude. Thank you, Ms. Benedict!

Now, where was I? Oh yes! Language and words.

So my brain’s always doing this word-dissection thing, and has been for many years (let’s see, junior high was at least 10 years ago now, right? Ha ha). By now, it’s unusual for me to stumble upon something new in a common word. Unusual, and a real treat.

The treat this time: bracelet. Bracelet and anklet. Those two words sound sort of similar, right? Like they might have similar origins. Like they’re parallel in a way. Except they aren’t. Anklet goes around the ankle, and bracelet goes around the… brace? That kind of always bothered me. Yeah, I’m easily bothered.

But just the other day I remembered: in French, bras means arm. OMG! So it’s like saying armlet! Bracelet and anklet are parallel after all! Hurrah!

Looked it up in the OED, and sure enough, bracelet is from the Old French, a diminutive form of bracel, which comes from the Latin brachium, which does indeed mean the arm, specifically the fore-arm. WOO

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