designating or pertaining to a pictographic script, particularly that of the ancient Egyptians, in which many of the symbols are conventionalized, recognizable pictures of the things represented.
Hieroglyphic “designating or pertaining to a pictographic script” derives by way of Late Latin hieroglyphicus from Ancient Greek hieroglyphikós “pertaining to sacred writing,” which is a compound of hierós “holy, sacred” and glyphḗ “carving.” The adjective hierós is likely a cognate of Latin īra “anger” (compare irate and irascible); both appear to come from a Proto-Indo-European root that indicates words of passion. The noun glyphḗ derives from the verb glýphein “to carve, hollow out,” which has a few unexpected cognates in English. Grimm’s law, which we learned about from our recent Words of the Day cordiform, togated, and transcendental, states that Ancient Greek g often corresponds to English c and k. With this in mind, compare Ancient Greek glýphein with English cleave, cleft, and cloven, all three of which involve splitting something apart. Hieroglyphic was first recorded in English circa 1580.
The ancient language also offers clues as to how … iron was perceived by Egyptians–and that they knew meteorites were a source of the metal …. From the beginning of the 19th Dynasty (approximately 1295 BC) a new hieroglyphic word for iron appeared: “bi-A-n-pt,” which literally translates as “iron from the sky.” Why this new word appears in this exact form at this time is unknown but it was later applied to all metallic iron. An obvious explanation for the sudden emergence of the word would be a major impact event or large shower of meteorites.
Thousands of years after the Egyptians wrote the first hieroglyphic scripts, the spread of emoji seems to be bringing us back to a picture-based writing system. That may look like a retrograde step to a more primitive, childish form of communication. But it isn’t, because both hieroglyphs and emoji are far more powerful than they appear.
a misapplied or inappropriate name or designation.
Misnomer “a misapplied or inappropriate name or designation” comes by way of Middle English and Anglo-French from the Middle French verb mesnomer “to misname,” which is a compound of the prefix mes- “not” and the verb nomer “to name.” Despite the common misconception that mes- is the French cognate of Spanish menos- and derives from Latin minus “smaller,” it is likely that mes- is in fact of Germanic origin and related to the English verb miss “to fail to hit or reach.” The verb nomer comes from Latin nōmināre “to name, call by name,” which is also the source of denominator, nominate, and even renown. Misnomer was first recorded in English in the mid-15th century.
It’s a well-known fact among entomologists that whoever first named the millipede was being a touch dramatic. The name means “thousand-footed,” but no millipede has a thousand feet. At least, that was true until now. A discovery deep below the surface of Australia has shown that “millipede” isn’t always a misnomer. Researchers found a new species that can have more than 1,300 legs.
Ghost towns tend to start as boomtowns, and contemporary China more than likely has more boomtowns than any other country in history …. This rapid growth has resulted in [a] peculiar side effect: ghost cities, everywhere. Although the term “ghost town” is technically a misnomer in this case. A ghost town is a place that has become economically defunct—in other words, a place that has died. What China has is the opposite of ghost towns: It has new cities that have yet to come to life.
the series of small, jerky movements of the eyes when changing focus from one point to another.
Saccade “the series of small movements of the eyes when changing focus” is a borrowing of French saccade “a jerking movement, movement of a horseman who abruptly pulls the reins,” which derives from Middle French saquer “to pull violently,” a variant of Old French sachier. Though the connection is not certain, the prevailing theory is that sachier comes from the noun sac “bag, sack,” perhaps reflecting an early sense of sachier such as “to withdraw from a sack.” French sac derives via Latin saccus from Ancient Greek sákkos “bag made from goat hair,” which is likely borrowed from a Semitic source. It is rather common to find loanwords from Semitic languages (such as Arabic, Hebrew, and Phoenician) in Ancient Greek as the result of centuries of trade; whenever you read the words arsenic, crocus, cumin, lotus, myrrh, and sapphire, you’re looking at the remnants of Semitic influence on Ancient Greek. Saccade was first recorded in English in the 1720s.
Human eyes perform … jiggles, more formally called “saccades,” in response to a change in the field of vision. Our eyes quickly scan the surroundings and then send the data to the brain. Youthful eyes jiggle regularly to take in new or unfamiliar stimuli. As the person attached to those eyes ages, the eye muscles grow slower and the pathways between the eye and the brain grow longer, more complex, or, in some cases, damaged. In all, this means the brain receives less input over the course of a day. But by a certain age, the brain has grown accustomed to a certain amount of stimuli, and the relatively small amount received in old age leaves a person with the feeling that a day has ended too soon.
There’s a handy trick for reading station signs that otherwise fly past in a blur as you travel in a high-speed train. Look at one side of the window and then immediately at the other side of the window. When you change your gaze, your eyes will automatically make a rapid jerking movement, known as a saccade. If the direction of the saccade is the same as that of the train, your eyes will freeze the image for a split second, long enough to read the station name if you time things right …. The image of the station name becomes visible because it is traveling at the same speed as the eye, and the images before and after the saccade are blurred and so don’t interfere with the image of the sign. This shows us that our vision is still working when our eyes move rapidly during saccades.
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