Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Am I even spelling this one right? Well, we'll see.

Feduciary is the type of word that I can read in a sentence and probably puzzle out some sort of meaning for from context. It might not be the right meaning, but it works well enough for me to go on to the next sentence. There are a lot of words like this, frankly. Usually, like this one, they belong to a world that I don't have a lot of expertise in, and that I don't always feel obligated to get a whole lot clearer on. This word comes from the world of finance--I think--which is usually enough to make me pass right over it in itself.

I think that as I read, I more or less read 'financial' when I come across the word 'feduciary'. I also associate it with banking, or at least the world of financial institutions. It seems to imply a seriousness and authority about fiscal responsibility, which frankly is a bit laughable after all that's gone down in the last few months, and apparently, years. Well, let's see. And I off on the wrong track here?

Well, as some or all of you will already know, I would have lost the spelling bee on that one. Fiduciary, not feduciary. The funny thing is that I might have had a better understanding of the roots of the word if I'd just spelled it right. Because 'fiduciary' is all about trust, and in fact comes from the Latin word for trust fiducia. 'Fid' would have at least led me to relate it to 'fidelity' or 'faithfulness' rather than some vague associaion with words like 'federal' and 'federated'.

But fed- words will have to be another discussion. Fiduciary means more specifically 'of or related to holding something in trust for another'. Or a person can be a fiduciary, which means to be a person bound to act for another's benefit--in fact, a trustee.

So the financial aspect, though not crucial to the word, is not so far off, as one of the things we do most often hold in trust for another is money in some form. But I would say the meaning is at heart much more legal than financial.

I did find another definition of the word that has nothing to do with the legal or the financial, but obviously springs from the same initial concept. Fiduciary can also mean 'of, relating to or being a system of marking in the field of view of an optical instrument that can be used as a reference point or measuring scale.

So in the otherwise confusing field of view, you make some kind of steady mark that you can find your bearings by.

In other words, something you can trust.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Unlike many of the words on this blog, I do know what this word means. It means something like 'the whole kit and caboodle' the range, the spectrum. But it was only just now when I was checking to make sure that I was spelling it right--I wasn't--that I came across its own interesting origins. So here's the interesting testish part. Where do you think the word gamut comes from?

The way I had it spelled in my mind--apparently 'gamit', the way I first typed it-- it sounded like one of those Anglo-Saxon words that have mysteriously disappeared from our discourse: "I searched high and low, Squire, but the whole gamit of them hares has just disappeared." When it turned out to be, 'gamut' though, it started sounding a bit Germanic: "Wo ist der Gamut, Herr Schoenfeld?" "Der Gamut ist Kaputt, Herr Mann!"

Neither of these, however, was really on the right track. 'Gamut' is a Middle English word, but a much more ethereal one than I was thinking. It refers to a musical scale. The original word 'gamut' is taken from the Medieval Latin musical term 'gamma', or low G, which was the first note in the lowest hexachord (don't ask) and 'ut' which is the first note of the Medieval Latin scale. Don't quote me, but it seems like 'gamma' is our G (though it looks like its pilfered from the Greeks) and 'ut' is our 'doh', as in 'doh, re, mi..." 'Ut' apparently comes from being the first word in a Latin hymn to Saint John the Baptist, which ascended as it was sung in a scale like way. "Ut queant laxis resonare..." Well, you get the picture. And if you don't, I'm afraid that quoting more of the hymn isn't really going to help you.