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IE ak- sharp

The English 'sharp' has its arisen from the Indo-European root ak-


“Oh you know my Sunny! How proud his papa and I are of him! Just 10 years of age and he solves sums that we have problems doing! He is really acute, I tell you!”


Sandhu aunty was raving about her son before Gopi’s mummy. Gopi was doing his homework nearby. When she called Sunny acute, he looked up, looked at her, and then down at the acute angles he was working on. Sunny certainly did not look like them! No, aunty did not know her words, he decided. Sunny was like a straight angle; he was not acute at all.


Gopi did not realize that Sunny’s mummy was being figurative. What she meant was that her son’s mind was as sharp as an acute angle. The word ‘acute’ comes from the Latin acus, needle. The other words from acus are:


Acuityacumen, acupuncture


The face of teenage boys and girls often becomes pockmarked by pimples. This much-lamented disease is called ‘acne’, from the Greek root akme meaning point. The pointed top of a mountain is called an acme due to the same root. Shilpa Shetty’s character in the movie Baazigar would never have agreed to climb to an acme, no matter how much her lover or anybody else goaded her. She was acrophobic.

An ‘acid’ is so named because it is so sharp. The Latin acer means sharp and bitter and is the root behind acrid, acrimony, acerbic and exacerbate.


Since 1774, the French scientist Antoine Lavoisier had been experimenting on a gas discovered two years before. Some called it the ‘fire air’ because it supported combustion. He called it the ‘vital air’ because he discovered that it was essential not just for combustion but also for respiration. By 1777, he had determined that it was also necessary to produce acids. So he renamed it to ‘oxygene’ (French spelling), from the Greek roots oxys meaning acidic, sharp and –gen, producer. Later, chemists found many acids that had no oxygen but the name of the gas stayed.


Paroxysms of pain have the same origin as the oxygen we cannot live without, another reminder of the fact that life is no bed of roses. Sigh!


Latin pungere to prick

The Chinese relieve pain or produce regional anesthesia by inserting needles at specific points on the patient’s body. This medical system is known as ‘Acupuncture’. The word acupuncture is formed by compounding the Latin acus, needle and pungere, and so means ‘to prick with needles.’


The small mark made by pricking was called punctum in Latin; by the time it reached English, it had become a ‘point’. An ‘appointment’ takes somebody to a point, either in time or in space.


The man who arrives at the appointed time is ‘punctual’. Marking a sentence with points and dots is called ‘punctuation’. And what is a ‘puncture’? The unfortunate pricking of the car tire when you are already running late for a date.


The other words from this root are:

Pungere-1: pungentexpungepoignant

Pungere-2: punctiliouscompunction

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