18 November 2006

Latin Lessons: Octo-pus

So the other night we're riding in the car. Ms. Baby - for once - is not screaming bloody murder (although I am sitting in the backseat to provide assistance, just in case).

Since it is unusually quiet due to the lack of screaming, Ms. Four and I are having A Conversation.

"A hexagon," she says matter-of-factly, "has six sides."

"That's right," I chime in, ever ready with the reinforcement.

"And an octagon has... how many sides?" she asks. I know she knows the answer, but she doesn't like to guess wrong.

"Eight!" I say.

"Just like an octopus has eight legs," The Husband adds from the front of the car (where he gets to sit because he's driving).

"See 'oct' means 'eight'," I say, resisting the very strong urge to tell her it's Latin.

There's a thoughtful pause.

"So what does 'puss' mean?" askes Ms. Four.

"Well, 'puss' is another word for 'cat'" I explain, wondering at the sudden switch of subject. But, I figure, she's four and launch into a discussion of how we sometimes call our cats 'puss'.

She looks more and more mystified the longer I go on.

"No," she says slowly. "I mean the 'pus' in 'octopus'."

"Oh!" I laugh at what now seems obvious. "Well, I don't know."

I never actually took Latin, see. (What? It's dead! No one speaks it! I took French, instead... which is close enough, anyway.)

So. Any help out there? What's the '-pus' in 'octopus' mean??

1 comment:

Bethanie said...

Hah! Found the answer to my own question (thanks Merriam-Webster):

Originally Greek, '-pus' is some form of 'pod' and means 'foot', which - had I thought about it - I could have figured out from French 'pied'. See? Told ya French was close enough. :-D