A catastrophe wasn't always a terrible event! When it was borrowed in the early sixteenth century, the word merely referred to a sudden and unexpected reversal. In this context, it could even refer to, say, an impoverished person winning the lottery. Through Latin, this comes from the Greek word katastrophe, meaning "an overturning" (as if the plot was suddenly overturned). This is a portmanteau of kata, meaning "down" or "against", and strephein, meaning "turn". Kata comes from Proto-Indo-European kom, with the definition of "beside". The verb strephein, meanwhile, comes from PIE strebh, also having to do with "twisting" and "turning". Now, the whole reason for this post is so I can share one of my favorite words: eucatastrophe, when a previously dark story took a suddenly good turn and ending happily. This was coined by none other than Lord of the Rings author and amateur etymologist J.R.R. Tolkein in a 1944 letter by attaching the prefix eu-, an Ancient Greek prefix for "good". What a eucatastrophical origin!
7/7/2020 03:29:34 pm
Please provide additional insights into the origin of the word catastrophe. My question is based upon a passage from book published circa 2005 retelling Xenophon's Anabasis. I have since passed the book on to another and can't recall the author. The author tells of a nuanced meaning of the word catastrophe. As I recall, an alternative meaning has to to do with the moment when a vibrating string comes to rest. Metaphorically this also may symbolize a loss of vibrancy and indeed even life. When vibrancy comes to rest, life ceases. This even suggests Plato's dialogue in which Socrates likens the soul's immortality to vibrating strings on a lyre. I would appreciate your comments. Many thanks, Joseph Furnish, Ph.D. in Entomology
8/31/2020 01:32:00 pm
The book in question is "The Ten Thousand" by Michael Curtis Ford (^_^)
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior 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.