Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gifts from the Gods

Lise Lunge-Larsen is a professional storyteller and folklorist.  She earned a master’s degree in applied linguistics and wrote her thesis on  using storytelling to teach the English language.  She combines her academic training, her interest in folklore, and her skill in storytelling to create Gifts from the Gods, a fascinating presentation on the derivation of English words which draw their spelling and meaning from Greek and Roman mythology. 

Limiting her scope to words that have their origin in character names, Lunge-Larsen has more than enough material for this illustrated informational book designed for middle grades.  If she had broadened her search to include objects and places, she would have found many more examples.  The Greeks and the Romans sometimes had different names for the gods and goddesses and both came into the English language.  Lunge-Larsen has chosen those whose stories so captured the imaginations that their meanings have endured for centuries.

Lunge-Larsen provides this interesting example:  “The Greek goddess of cleanliness and good health, Hygeia, has given us the word hygiene, which we use to describe good, healthful behaviors.  The Romans called this goddess Salus, and her name, too, survives in English.  As they greeted one another, the Romans called out, ‘Salus!’ meaning ‘How is your health?’  Today we call a greeting a salute, and thus remember the goddess of good health without even realizing it.”

The word fortune means destiny, good or bad luck, or wealth and riches.  Fortuna was the goddess of luck.  She sometimes appeared carrying a “horn of plenty,” meaning that she would bless those she visited with abundance and riches.  A never-ending supply of the most delicious food and drink dripped from this magical horn.  The Romans called the horn of plenty a cornucopia.  Both terms have come into our modern language carrying the very same meaning, a cone-shaped basket overflowing with delectable foods.

Why is a point of weakness called an Achilles heel?  Why do we think of grace as seemingly effortless beauty?  Put this amazing book into the hands of those children who are fascinated by words.  This book is a treasure for any age--Wilma Snyder.  Illustrated by Gareth Hinds; Houghton Mifflin, 2011.

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