Correcting my limitless lack of knowledge, one post at a time.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Okay, enough about Spam and enough about spam. "Salient" is actually taking a step backwards. Sure, I think I know what I'm saying when I mention the salient point about something. To me I mean, the crucial point, or the most revealing point--something like that. But when I was researching resilience a few posts back, I noticed a passing reference in the etymology of the word that "salient" was actually a relative. In short, we have another of those salire words, meaning that somehow it probably incorporates the concept of leaping or bouncing. Right? The bouncing point? The leaping point? What? I wouldn't believe it was the same root, but apparently it is. Time to find out how.
So first things first. I am not too far off base in my sense of the word, because "salient" means conspicuous, noticeable, prominent. It is what juts out above the surface. It is, I suppose, what leaps out at one, which connects it to its other salire relatives. It has a military meaning, as when a part of the forward line pushes forward into enemy territory, and it has a geometrical meaning, where an angle of less than a 180 degrees is a salient angle. It has a meaning in heraldry, where it applies to creatures that are leaping or springing. Speaking of springing creatures, the superorder that includes frogs and toads and related fossils is called Salientia.
But the salient point in all this is, well, the salient point. According to the Online etymology dictionary, the "salient point" first appeared in English in the 1670s. The salient point is the heart of an embryo,which seems to leap. It goes all the way back to Aristotle, as the punctum saliens in his writings. "Hence," as the dictionary entry so eloquently ends, "the 'starting point' of anything."