Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nice to Mete You

Shakespeare said, among a few other things, "therefore it is meet that noble minds keep ever with their likes".  He means it is appropriate that like minds stick together.  (We rarely use "meet" this way anymore.  To "meet" someone for an appointment is from an altogether different IE root.)  Shakespeare's meet comes from the root, med-, meaning "to take appropriate measures".  In fact, measure also comes from this root.  The English root of measure is mete.  Although seldom used in common conversation, I am gratified to see that "mete out punishment" (deliver the right amount) gets well over 100,00 hits on Google.

What do we ask doctors to do if not take appropriate measures to heal us?  Wonder why we call it the medical profession?  Hopefully, before Sawbones prescribes arsenic for a hangnail, he will meditate (consider what is appropriate) on his options for treatment.  Some docs are accused of arrogance when we wish they'd be more modest (taking accurate measure of their abilities).  On the other hand, many parents have wished docs would prescribe less moderate-strength antibiotics when the little ones are suffering an ear infection.  (Moderate means, well, the appropriate measure - neither too much nor too little.)

If you are working on a project - whether a work of art, an essay, or a batch of cookies - and the result is not quite right, you modify it.  If something is not the right shape, put it back in the mold and press harder!  Again, we are dealing with the idea of finding the appropriate measure.

If you want to meet (remember, unrelated) someone who lives in a castle, you must measure up to their expectations or they won't let you cross the mote (literally meaning to be permitted).  If the castle is empty, well, you need to find modify your plans for accommodation.  ("Empty" comes from an Old English word æmettig meaning "not occupied" - having nothing to measure.  "Accomodation" is based on the root mode generally referring the measure of the thing.)

Let's conclude with a personal favorite - Diomede.  A native Alaskan, I grew up hearing about the twin Diomede Islands.  (Only two miles apart and connected with an ice-bridge in the winter, Little Diomede is a part of Alaska; Big Diomede is Russian.)  Diomedes is a personal name with a fascinating etymology.  The man Diomedes was a hero of the Trojan Wars.  Because of his excellence as a warrior, it is said that Diomedes received counsel (as to the right mode and measure of battle to employ) from Zeus (please read that post!).  Dio (Zuess / God) + Mede (appropriate measure) literally means "he received counsel from Zeus".

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