In my first language of Serbian and in Russian, we use the word семафор for "traffic light". When spoken aloud, this sounds like sehmah-for. Yesterday in traffic I had an epiphany concerning this: in English, we also have the word semaphore (pronounced the exact same way) as a noun for the communication system using colored flags to send messages. You can see the connection: both use colors to signal something to you. It seems like the words from both languages come from French semafore, which literally meant "bearer of symbols". This has two parts: Ancient Greek sema, meaning "sign", and phoros, meaning "bearer". Sema, a root in semantic and polysemy, comes from the Proto-Indo-European root dyeh, meaning "to notice". Phoros, which is present in phosphorous and Christopher, comes from Proto-Indo-European bher, "carry". Surprisingly, usage of the word semaphore in literature over time increased all the way up to the 1990s, but has been on the downturn since.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a rising junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.