Words at Work

Kathy McIntosh: From politics to pumpkins, words are amazing

KATHY McINTOSH, Boise author, speaker and freelance editor. Owner of A Well-Placed Word.October 15, 2013 

Kathy McIntosh

Since this week’s issue has a focus on green technologies, I thought I would begin with the etymology of the word green and a brief history of the “green” movement.

The word green has its roots in the Old English grene, meaning young, immature or raw, and, possibly, from Old High German, meaning to grow. According to some of my sources, grass has the same roots. (Language-wise.)

Green as a grassy field comes from Old English, and its reference to someone of a tender age, youthful and, hence, gullible has been in use since the 15th century.

Any discussion of the green movement and where it has its roots can quickly be made murky by politics. Many agree that Henry David Thoreau, who pleaded in his book “Maine Woods” that we preserve our virgin forests, was one of the first Americans to make an environmentalist statement. Others cite Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” a 1962 book that warned of the dangers of pesticides and environmental pollution, as the key factor in launching the green movement.

The first Earth Day, a grass-roots demonstration on behalf of the environment, was held April 22, 1970, the brainchild of U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wis.

The 1970s saw the worldwide beginnings of green parties, formed to promote grassroots democracy, environmentalism and social justice.

The season of harvest and Halloween led me to consider something else green: the maze.

Given the many corn mazes that we have in the Treasure Valley at this time of year, I wondered if the word maze had any relation to maize. It doesn’t.

Maize is corn, from the Spanish, maiz.

Maze comes from Middle English and means bewildered or stunned. It is the root of the word amaze. Maze was formerly a verb meaning to confuse or bewilder, but generally today is only used as a synonym for a labyrinth, a network of interconnecting and confusing paths.

If you get a chance to visit one of the mazes, do. They’re (sorry) amazing and plentiful.

I might even say, “Idaho’s got corn mazes,” if I were willing to annoy several readers. I have received emails listing as a peeve the indiscriminate use of got instead of have. I looked it up and discovered that the words are interchangeable, but got is slightly less formal than have.

Have got suggests obligation, and is stronger than must. You might hear someone saying, “I’ve got to go buy a pumpkin and carve it.” I would prefer they use the pumpkin to make pie or soup, but their usage is fine.

What isn’t fine, however, is a phrase I’ve been hearing far too often recently: “She is just like you and I.”

Although I would be more pleased to find her distinctive, if she does indeed share traits with us, then she is “like you and me.” You would say, “She is like me,” wouldn’t you? Please answer, “Yes, of course.”

Taking out the other pronoun is the easiest way to decide what is correct. In this usage, like, a versatile word, is a preposition. It also can be a verb, a noun, an adverb and an adjective. That makes the simple test an easier way of getting your words to work.

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kathy@awellplacedword.com

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