Sunday, March 24, 2013


So this  should be a pretty simple one, right? But that's what I always think. It's just that I was listening to some news program and hear either the word moderate--mod-ur-rate--or the word moderate--mod-ur-rut, and realized that I really didn't know what the two had to do with each other.

To moderate is to sort of preside over a panel or a forum or a debate--maybe even a game show. To be moderate, though, is to keep a steady course between extremes. I can see how a moderator might be the one that keeps people on track, though I doubt, given our political discourse, that one could make anyone more moderate simply by being there. Well, maybe he or she can keep people from throwing chairs...

Anyway, I got interested in the two definitions of what must be a common word. Is a moderator a mode operator? I'm ready to find out.

A moderate day in Santa Cruz

"Moderate" is a weather word originally. From the late 14th century, it related to weather and other physical conditions. It comes out of the Latin moderatus, which was all about keeping things "within bounds". It's related to another Latin word, "modus", or measure. So, everything measured, restrained, sensible.

As the Online Etymology Dictionary has it: "In English, of persons from early 15c.; of opinions from 1640s; of prices from 1904."

"Moderator", however, comes to us straight from the Latin, where it meant something like manager, ruler or director--one who imposes a limit. The sense of the English word came to mean also "one who acts an umpire" in the 1560s. You can see how the idea of running something could with time come to mean mediating between factions as well.

"Moderatrix" for the feminine version is attested from 1530. Sounds a bit kinky to the modern ear, but I think probably shows that the position of women was relatively good back in England of the 16th century.

These tiles represent "Natura moderatrix optima" and reside at the Convento de São Francisco, Pelourinho, Salvador, Bahía, Brasil. The photo was taken by "Draken". You can seem more of them on Panoramio. I wasn't able to discover more about what the story the tiles are illustrating is, though.


  1. Hi Seana, the "natura moderatrix" is one of the 103 Quinti Horatii Flaccii Emblemata, a collection of graphic and text aphorisms after the Stoic tradition, published by Otto Van Veen in 1607.
    The emblem is paired with a Latin text (I'm only able to translate the French version you can access in the link below). It says, roughly:

    Nature moderates everything
    Let's be happy of the little that Nature produces
    Let's not borrow a thing from Art to be nourished.
    Why seek all around for all superfluous things
    and delicious dishes with such a lot of pain?
    As we can easily keep our health
    With just a little bread and fountain water.


  2. That is great stuff, Hugo. I have to wonder how it found its way all the way to that convent in Brazil, although of course the philosophy is appropriate. Although personally, I am not very good at following its advice.

  3. Ah, you make me work as a detective...

  4. Well, it's excellent detective work, Hugo, if that's any consolation. The Dutch in Brazil is not something I've ever really thought about.

    The Dutch, with their white and blue tiles, have reached very far in their influence, I'd say. All the way to my mother's kitchen in coastal California, where Delft style tiles are the predominent theme.