Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Surd is the Word 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
There's a special, private pleasure that comes whenever one learns a new word [well, at least that does it for me - ha.] - especially if it's obscure, syllabically concise to avoid giving the impression of pretense when used in conversation, and just plain neat. Today's word is surd, and Language Log provides a dizzyingly detailed analysis of this little lexical gem. Here's just a snippet:
The AHD gives two definitions:
1. Mathematics An irrational number, such as the square root of 2.2. Linguistics A voiceless sound in speech.
and a two-step etymology:
Medieval Latin surdus, speechless, surd (translation of Arabic (jaðr açamm) ’as?amm, deaf (root), surd, translation of Greek alogos, speechless, surd), from Latin.
surd does turns up Erasmus Darwin's 1799 Botanic Garden, which includes in Part II ("Containing the Loves of Plants"), Canto II, in a sort of ode to the invented goddess Papyra:

119 ---Three favour'd youths her soft attention share,
120 The fond disciples of the studious Fair,
121 Hear her sweet voice, the golden process prove;
122 Gaze, as they learn; and, as they listen, love.
123 The first from Alpha to Omega joins
124 The letter'd tribes along the level lines;
125 Weighs with nice ear the vowel, liquid, surd,
126 And breaks in syllables the volant word.
Silent, wordless, irrational but extant: surd is the antithesis of good blog. Don't be a surd.