Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tools of the Trade: Special Presidential Inauguration Edition!

I've read mixed reactions to the Inauguration Poem, Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander. Personally, I liked it. I listened to the proceedings live on the radio (because I was in my car, not because I don't believe in TV or the Internet), and found it thought-provoking and appropriate for the event.

The use of the word "declaimed" in the sixth stanza caught me a bit short, though, as I realized I wasn't entirely sure what that word meant. In the context of the poem, it seemed to mean something along the lines of "proclaimed" ... but why would "de" and "pro" have the same meaning? Then again, "declared" starts with "de" and is a synonym for "proclaimed."

Anyway, long story short: My curiosity about the use of that word in the Inauguration Poem inspired this edition of "Tools of the Trade." (You can find past editions here.) Upon reading the poem, I noted two words I wasn't entirely sure about: "declaimed" and "filial." So I thought I'd explore those two words along with the word "inauguration."

Credit for much of this info goes to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Inauguration dates back to 1569, from the French, meaning "installation, consecration.” This in turn comes from the Latin, inaugurationem, from inaugurare "take omens from the flight of birds, consecrate or install when such omens are favorable." The root word is augurare, meaning "to act as an augur, predict.”

I don’t think we see much bird migration here in the D.C. area in late January, but maybe the light snowfall we had the day before the inauguration was a good omen ... snow always helps people see the world around them in a new light. (Full disclosure: I voted for John McCain but certainly appreciate the historic moment we had here this week and of course hope that President Obama will lead our nation where we need to go.)

Declaim, the seminal (there's a great word for ya) word for this post, does indeed mean the same as "proclaim." It hails from 1385, from the Latin declamare. Turns out, in etymology, "de" is an "intensifying prefix." ("Pro" as a prefix means "forth.") And the Latin clamare is "to cry, shout."

And finally, filial means "of, relating to, or befitting a son or daughter." It first appeared in Medieval French, 1393, and has roots in the Latin filialis, from filius, "son," and filia "daughter."


rilla said...

Hey Linda,
I love learning about word origins. This is fascinating! I had no idea that inaugurals had anything to do with bird flight patterns! But I have to admit, I was less than inspired by the inaugural poem.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

I agree wit rilla on the poem. At first I thought it may have been her reading of it, but upon reading the text, still not overwhelmed.

LindaBudz said...

Gosh, I'm outnumbered on my own blog!

I guess the themes of how we get caught up in the little things and also how much commonality we have in those little things (which is what I resonated with most in the poem) just really spoke to me on that day.

I will admit the delivery left something to be desired, but I'm guessing poets in general aren't big on public speaking. They should have had someone like James Earl Jones repeat each line after her ... like in those Geico commercials. That would've been awesome!