Tuesday, May 26, 2009

rubric

I'm sure that the one or maybe two people who follow this blog have been living under the impression that I have now pretty much cleared up all that pesky ignorance that plagued me for so long--hence the languors of late. No, my friends, it's far from the case. Outer life with its claims to importance has kept me from posting. There is, in fact, a backlog of ignorance waiting at the floodgates.

Awhile ago, Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders fame suggested that I post about the word 'rubric'. Now just why he assumed I would not know what the word 'rubric' meant, I don't know, but of course it's already obvious here that he was right. 'Under the rubric of' means something like 'under the heading of' or 'under the category of'. In other words you could plug it into a sentence where either of those phrases might fit and get away with it. But, like me, you would probably still be none the wiser as to the actual meaning of rubric.

As this actually came up awhile ago, I've had plenty of time to try and tease out an etymology. But I've failed. The 'ru-' beginning leads me to think of runes, or possibly Rome. and the -ic ending, well, I've got cubic and tunic, oh and tumeric, now that I think of it, and for some reason I again think of Roman transplants. But enough of all my clutching at straws. Let's find out...





Rose, where did you get that red? That's a Kenneth Koch title about teaching poetry to children, by the way. But it's also a clue. I wish I had Sucharita Sarkar's way with fonts, colors and sizes to emphasize both the answer and my embarrassment at not somehow finding the obvious clue in all this--'rub-'.

As in 'ruby'. Ruber is Latin for 'red'.

Rubric does mean heading. And it does sometimes mean also 'class', or 'category'. But the only reason it means these things is because headings and such were at one point, designated in bright red letters--particularly in Christian manuscripts.

'Red letter days' are probably a parallel development, I'm thinking.

18 comments:

  1. Now wait a minute. I never assume you're as ignorant as you would like the world to think you are. At most, you occasionally grasp, as we all do, for meaning in a world of uncertainty.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  2. This was a new one for me, although I was aware of the meaning, 'category'. It simply did not occur to me to associate 'rub' with 'ruby' or red. This somehow makes rubric a rather picturesque word, don't you think?

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  3. That is often the way with words. We know what they mean, but knowing their origin makes them into little stories.

    I remember the time I was reading a parallel English/Greek edition of Theophrastus' Characters. For the sketch called in English "Stupidity," the Greek (which I can read just well enough to sound the words) title was "Anaesthesia." Suddenly I felt I had a much richer picture of the world for them, stupidity means a dulling of the senses, a dulling of the mind to, er, aesthetic pleasure.

    Anaesthesia, in the modern dental sense, is a subject with which I have intimately renewed my familiarity this week and will do so even more deeply next Tuesday morning.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Here is a link to The Characters, though obviously not the freshest translation available.

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  6. Thanks for the comments, Peter and Sucharita.

    I don't actually worry too much about my ignorance, as I do muddle through, like pretty much everyone else. What I think this blog is about, which is really just my current guess, is that I, and may I be so bold as to say we, collectively, (your illustrious selves excluded) jump into the conversation with these half-formed words and terms and ideas that we have heard somewhere, and think we understand well enough to use them. I think sometimes we get a lovely surprise when we dig a little deeper, and sometimes we're in for quite a shock when we realize that we've got it all wrong.

    Rubric is a great example. We do know the word, but we don't know where it came from. What I like about this one is that though I thought I couldn't possibly get at its derivation, in fact, I did know other words that held clues. I must admit that I am not all that embarrassed about not having figured it out in advance. It's more the 'ah, shoot' effect I sometimes get when I finally look up the answer to a crossword and find that I could have figured it out on my own.

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  7. Was wondering when you were going to show up here, sexy, as you seem to have been everywhere else, you little tramp.

    If you're having trouble getting some action, you might want to consider speaking more clearly.

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  8. I'm having a week that suggests two words whose roots you might want to explore: "endodontist" and "periodontist."

    My v-word denotes a deep belief in cvertain birds: crowism
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com

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  9. I might do. Meanwhile though, good luck with all that dental work. Ouch.

    I like crowism. I think in some ways I'm one of its adherents.

    A member of the flock, so to speak.

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  10. Thanks. The root canal was absolutely painless; I could have fallen asleep in the chair. Except now I have to decide if I want him to finish the work, in which case the tooth might last five years, or just have it yanked now and an implant put in. I always wanted to have a screw in my head.

    Did you ever spend any time in England ("I might do)?

    By the way, try deleting that "sexy" comment. I was able to delete my spam today.

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  11. I'd go for the implant if its not too painful.

    I have spent a little time in England, but not a lot. But the English have permeated my life in various ways, and sometimes I resort to their diction. It's kind of a nostalgic thing.

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  12. I feel like a guest on the The Price is Right with the audience screaming its advice. Thanks for weighing in; I'm leaning that way myself, and I'll discuss the matter further with my dentist this afternoon.

    A linguistics professor once suggested that there is an underlying "do" in most or all English verbal forms. We Americans will say, "Do you have the time?" (Odd, since English might say, "Have you the time?") And negations have "do" in them. Yes, they do! And don't even think of saying, "They do not!"

    I don't know if this is a vestige of an older form of English, or if it goes back further.

    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  13. The more I think about the word 'do', the less I understand what it means. Especially in the sense of 'do you?'

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  14. You don't understand "do," do you? Neither do I. I suspect historical linguistics could shed some light on the matter.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com

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  15. Sorry for taking up your time and possible enriching Richard Dawkins, but I've tagged you for a meme. This one asks some interesting questions about travel and food, and it offers the latitude (as if you needed permission from me) to trim, expand or otherwise modify the questions.

    You'll find my answers here. If you choose to take part, let me know, and I'll link to your post.

    Thanks.
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com

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  16. Looks fun, Peter. I'll try to get to it, and when I do, I'll let you know.

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  17. I chose my recipients carefully, calculating who could cudgel their brains to good effect. Take your time, and have fun with the questions (of which J. Kingston Pierce's are slightly different from mine and also from those that were sent to him).
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete