Language & Literature

Where Does the Word Candidate Come From?

Today is election day in UK, when the citizens of the country choose their new government. You can read all about how the elections work here. You wouldn’t think that dress codes of ancient Rome would affect the elections of today, but they do! Millie Slavidou explains.

Today is a good day to think about the word ‘candidate’. I rather like the etymology of this one.

It comes from Latin candidus, which is the past participle* of candidare, which meant ‘to make white, to make bright’.

Not because of whitewashing whatever the candidates might have said or done! It was because in ancient Rome candidates who wanted to be elected either to the Senate or any other office wore white robes.

If we take it one step further back, to a root meaning ‘white, shining’, we find that ‘candle’ is a cognate.**

 

*Past Particle

The past particle is the past form of the verb that can also be used as an adjective, like “a fallen tree”. In the case above, the adjective is like saying ‘whitened’ in English. Other examples of past particles are:

verb: bite
past particle: bitten
example: a bitten apple

verb: choose
past particle: chosen
example: aa chosen present

verb: crash
past particle: crashed
example: a crashed bicycle

 

**Cognates

A cognate is a distant relative, a word ultimately from the same root. Like a third cousin. Here are some examples of cognates.

 

14126405243_c179f6f9b8_qBook is related to beech. Well, actually, book means beech! Both come from Germanic word meaning beech tree, Buche.

Germanic runes were originally inscribed on tablets made of beech wood. Modern German for book is Buch!

 

2400500463_67988839f0_qWOOL and FLANNEL are distant cognates.  Today, fashion stores often describe plaid shirts as ‘flannel’, but it is actually a soft woven fabric, originally made of wool, but now often cotton or synthetic. You might have a flannel pyjamas, which are lovely and cosy in the winter!
The word wool is from a Proto Indo European root *wele meaning ‘wool’.
 In Welsh, the word gwlanen, means ‘wool’ and is from the same root. The word flannel comes from the woollen vests that were made, presumably by Welsh traders from Welsh sheep –  Gwlanen became fwlanen, and then flannel. So wool and flannel are distant cousins!

 

5556105449_ebe9616b47_q 14322245779_00c3428d73_qToday’s featured image is Marasmiellus candidus, a type of mushroom. You will often find the word ‘candidus’ used in botany or biology to describe something that is white, such as crocus candidus or the white woodpecker Melanerpes Candidus. There is even a white monkey called Propithecus candidus. 

Crocus Image

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Science, Nature and Tech

Pride of Place – The World of the Lion

Lions are felines, which means that they are members of the same wider family as cats. Indeed, they are frequently referred to as “large cats” or something similar.

They live on plains and savanna in Africa and India, where the sun beats down on the grassland so that it fades, withers and turns yellow – just the colour of a lion, which helps to camouflage it, so that it can blend in with its surroundings and stay hidden.

 

 

The Hunter

 

 

Lions are predators, which means they hunt and kill other animals for their meat. The hunting is usually the task of the lioness, while the male lion provides protection from other lions.

They will generally hunt zebras, antelopes, impala, and even giraffes, hippos and young elephants. The lioness may need to attack quickly, before the prey can run away, and the lion can reach amazing speeds of up to 56 km/h (around 30 mph).

 

 

The Pride

 

 

Lions generally live in family groups known as prides. This may be made up of between 7 and 10 animals.

A lioness will normally give birth to a litter of three cubs, although occasionally there may be as many as six. These are blind at birth, and remain so for the first two weeks of life, just like kittens!

 

 

Lifespan and Population

 

 

When a lion lives in the wild, forced to compete for food, and to fight with other lions, and survive in times when prey may be scarce, it has a life expectancy of around 15 years.

However, lions in captivity, that do not have to fight for their territory and have a ready food supply and medical attention may live up to 30 years – double their wild cousins!

The lion population is in decline, which means that there are fewer and fewer. In Africa, there are an estimated 39,000 lions, whereas in Asia the number stands at just 400.

 

 

Featured Image by Valerie, via Flickr

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Language & Literature

The Contronym – a Word that Bends Over Backwards

I expect most of you have heard of antonyms, and even if you haven’t heard the word, you know them and use them every day. Antonyms are words that mean the opposite. For example, hot is the antonym of cold, rich is the antonym of poor.
But what happens when we have a word that doesn’t have another antonym – it is the antonym of itself?! You are probably wondering what on earth that could mean. Well, there are some words that have two meanings which are the opposite of each other. This makes the word its own antonym. Words like this are known as contronyms.

 

LEFT 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One very common one that we shall start with is a word that you use all the time without ever thinking about it being a contronym. This is left, which can mean “gone, departed” or “still there, remaining” . If you have gone, then you have left, but if everyone else except you has gone, then you are left!

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Language & Literature

How Did the Penguin Get its Name?

These days, we all know what a penguin looks like. Even if you haven’t seen a real, live penguin, I’m sure you have seen pictures, perhaps watched them in a film. It seems strange to think that people in Europe had no idea they existed for so many centuries! Perhaps you have wondered about that part of history.

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Science, Nature and Tech

Green and Growing: The Life of a Seed

As you know, there is a vast number of different kinds of plants growing all over the world, from snowy slopes to Amazon rain forests to dusty deserts: plant life is everywhere. So how does it all work? Lets start with seeds.

 

 The Life of  a Seed

Picture a seed – I am sure you have all seen them. It will have a hard outer shell to protect it. When it has found the right conditions of warmth and moisture, this shell will crack or split as a root pushes its way out to take hold in the soil. Then the plant will start to grow and a shoot will make its way upwards, with the root growing down, to draw moisture from the ground and provide some balance for the plant, keeping it firm in its place.

Just like you and me, plants need food to grow. Their food is very different from ours, of course! Here’s what they do: the leaves draw water up from the roots, through the stem, and they also soak up sunlight and air. These three things combine to make food in the leaves, where it is stored. Now think of an onion. It is formed to store the food for the plant.

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