Tuesday, February 9

Northern Enlightenment

I was following the big snowstorm of the Mid-Atlantic states that recently hit the U.S., but not really from a meteorology standpoint, but rather an etymology one.   As a geographically-challenged American (you know, the ones that end up in last place against even the Albanians, who did not even know up until 1999 that there was a world outside their borders), I started thinking about the mid-Atlantic and where, that was exactly.

Taken literally, it would appear they’d been squawking about Bermuda – it’s in the middle of the Atlantic…isn’t it?  Now, that would have been news.  But, I wonder, to pass your weatherman test, do they give you a list of impossible terms that only you and your brethren are supposed to know?  I think it’s the closest thing to Dan Brown’s secret societies truly in our midst.

In Italy, I was okay with orientale and occidentale to mean East and West.  When back in the States, of course, you gotta learn real quick to zip up that ‘oriental’ bit real fast when speaking of those who hail from the Far East.  
But, then, I turned on the weather.
And I heard there was a big snowstorm in Italia settentrionale.  First time I heard that, I thought for sure it was one of those missing little regions you can never name, like Molise or Basilicata. 

And, of course, you always hear about the meridionale (often disparagingly), meaning, southern.  But then again, it’s also called the ‘mezzogiorno’.  Twelve noon?  You start thinking, High noon – like the Far West because of the Camorra, but then again, it’d be occidentale, no?  So, you think meridians – as in those lines that in your fourth grade geography class you kind of remember lining the globe.  Are we truly that near the equator?

Back to settentrionale, you finally infer that it means the North.  But, what does that have to do with seven?  And is that some bad thing like in the movie ‘Seven’?  As if you’re not confused enough by this time, you look it up – and boy, what you find really sheds light on the subject:

Turns out, it’s derived from the Latin, “septemtriones" meaning "seven oxes".  From here, we stay in the Animal Kingdom to find those seven oxen are stars in the heavens that make up Ursa Maggiore – and in there, the North Star.  And, while you rejoice in your leap of logic, you still are left to ponder over what the oxen have to do with the bear.

If someone would just let me in the secret society I, too, can be one of the enlightened few…

1 comment:

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

Hah, too funny as I was just thinking about this the other day as I watched the weather here! Didn't know it had to do with oxen. Never would've guessed.