A snappish portion of the class

The One Big Happy of 11/20, in which, as usual, Ruthie copes with an unfamiliar (semi-)technical term (here, cross section) by extracting a familiar word (here, the cross of irritability) from it:

Ruthie crosses the cross ‘representative’ of cross section with the cross ‘snappish, angry’ of cross words. These are grossly different lexical items in modern English, but in fact they share an etymology that goes back to the noun cross of the hymns “The Old Rugged Cross” and “In the Cross of Christ I Glory”.

cross section. From NOAD:

noun cross section: [a] a surface or shape that is or would be exposed by making a straight cut through something, especially at right angles to an axis: the cross section of an octahedron is a square | in cross section the sailfish’s body looks like a tapering spear. [b] a thin strip of organic tissue or other material removed by making two straight parallel cuts through it. [c] a diagram representing what a cross section would reveal. [d] a typical or representative sample of a larger group, especially of people: a cross section of our senior managers.

The main sense, a, of the adj. cross in cross section is ‘transverse, at right angles’. But the adj. in cross section in the cartoon has the metaphorical sense d: taking a representative sample of a population is like slicing across it.

The adj. cross of irritability. A range of senses here, from ‘snappish, easily annoyed’ to the stronger ‘angry’. Consider NOAD‘s thesaurus entry:

adj. crossJane was getting cross: angry, annoyed, irate, irritated, in a bad mood, vexed, irked, piqued, out of humor, put out, displeased; irritable, short-tempered, bad-tempered, snappish, snappy, crotchety, grouchy, grumpy, fractious, testy, crabby, cranky, mad, hot under the collar, peeved, riled, on the warpath, up in arms, steamed up, sore, bent out of shape, teed off, ticked off, pissed off.

(Ruthie’s choice of paraphrase in boldface.)

Paths of historical development. The story begins with the noun cross, referring to the instrument of crucifixion or its abstract representation as a shape. Then some highlights from OED2:

— adv., prep., and adj. across. Etymology: < a prep.1 + cross n. Compare Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French en croix in the form of a cross (12th cent.).

— adv. cross. Etymology: Aphetic [omitting an initial unstressed vowel] form of across adv., prep., and adj., originally a phrase on cross, a-cross: compare adown, down, etc.

— adj. cross. Etymology: Originally an attributive or elliptical use of cross adv., some participle (e.g. lying, passing, coming, etc.) being understood.

1.a. Lying or situated athwart the main direction; transverse; passing from side to side. Also said fig.of things to which spatial relations are transferred.
b. Passing or lying athwart each other; crossing, intersecting.
c. Of the wind: …
d. Of the sea: …

3. Contrary, opposite, opposed (to each other, or to something specified)
4. Of events, circumstances, or fortune: Adverse, opposing, thwarting; contrary to one’s desire or liking; unfavourable, untoward.

5. Of persons, their dispositions, actions, etc.

†a. Given to opposition; inclined to quarrel or disagree; perverse, froward, contrarious. Obsolete or arch. [1st cite 1594]

b. Ill-tempered, peevish, petulant; in an irritable frame of mind, out of humour, vexed. (colloq.). [1st cite 1639 crosse lookes; 1676 a cross word; 1711 I was so cross]

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