sharp, sour

My morning name from a few weeks ago was the technical term oxytone. From NOAD2:

adj. oxytone: (especially in ancient Greek) having an acute accent on the last syllable.

with an etymology < Gk. ὀξύτονος, oxýtonos, ‘sharp-sounding’. with the first of our ‘sharp’ elements in modern English: OXY, oxy– (from Greek) or oxi– (from Latin).

As a prosodic term in Greek, it’s part of the set:

oxytone – paroxytone – proparoxytone

corresponding to the more familiar Latin terms:

ultimate – penultimate – antepenultimate

— that is,

final, last – next to last, second from the end – third from the end

OXY is familiar from the rhetorical term oxymoron < Gk. ὀξύς oksús ‘sharp, keen, pointed’ + μωρός mōros ‘dull, stupid, foolish’ — as it were, ‘sharp-dull’, referring to apparently contradictory combinations of expressions.

But wait, there’s more!

Next there’s a shift from one domain of sensation, in the meaning ‘sharp’, to another, referring to smell or taste. In sharp itself, from NOAD2’s senses 1a and 1b to 1c:

adj. sharp: 1 (of an object) [a] having an edge or point that is able to cut or pierce something: cut the cake with a very sharp knife | keep tools sharp; [b] producing a sudden, piercing physical sensation or effect: I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my back; [c] (of a food, taste, or smell) acidic [that is, sourish] and intense: sharp goats’ milk cheese.

Now for OXY, with ‘sharp’ > ‘sour’ in the name of a genus of plants, in my 10/27 posting on “X-Bulbs”: plant B7, the genus Oxalis, commonly known as wood-sorrel or sourgrass, because of the sour taste of its leaves. On the SOUR element in the common names on these plants, note the plant name sorrel (related to sour), the common name for plants of the genus Rumex, with species including the English sorrel (R. acetosa) and the more slender-leaved French sorrel (R. scutatus), both with notably sour-tasting leaves.

Now yet another element, ACID ‘sour’. From NOAD2:

noun acid: ORIGIN early 17th century (in the sense ‘sour-tasting’): from Latin acidus, from acere ‘be sour.’

ACID is a crucial mediating element in another set of developments of OXY in ‘sour’ uses (alluding to acids), in:

noun oxygen: ORIGIN late 18th century: from French (principe) oxygène ‘acidifying constituent’ (because at first it was held to be the essential component in the formation of acids). (NOAD2)

That brings us an enormous number of words with OXY now referring to oxygen, among them: oxide, dioxide, peroxide, oxidant, oxidation, oxidize, oxygenate, hydroxyl (hydrogen + oxygen), oximeter, oxycodone.

On the last two, from NOAD2:

noun oximeter: an instrument for measuring the proportion of oxygenated hemoglobin in the blood.

(#1) A fingertip pulse oximeter, measuring saturation of oxygen and pulse rate

noun oxycodone [tradename OxyContin]: a synthetic analgesic drug that is similar to morphine in its effects and subject to abuse and addiction. ORIGIN 1970s: from oxy- for oxygen + co- in codeine.


(Personal experience: I have my oxygen saturation (in a percentage) and pulse rates (in beats per minute) regularly checked via a fingertip pulse oximeter: at rest, high 90s and low 60s. And when I had my hip replacement surgery, I took OxyContin for a while, but stopped it as soon as possible because of its side effects: distressing fuzziness of thought and confusion, dry mouth, unpleasant constipation. Yes, it did cut the pain, but I wanted my life back.)

And then one more element, ACR ‘sharp’, as in:

adj. acrid: having an irritatingly strong and unpleasant taste or smell. ORIGIN early 18th century: formed irregularly from Latin acer, acri- ‘sharp, pungent’ (NOAD2)

To summarize: the elements OXY, SOUR, ACID, and ACR, covering variously ‘sharp, pointed’ and ‘sour’,  and also ‘involving oxygen’ and ‘pungent, acrid’. Plus a term for accent placement within words and for a figure of speech.

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