Thursday, September 21, 2017

Language of Confusion: More Tops

And now more words for top, this time focusing on peaks.

Peak didn’t specifically mean the top of a mountain until the seventeenth century, although it actually a century earlier meaning a pointed top. When it showed up then it was a variant of pike, a long pointy stick, which in turn is from pick, which somehow leads us back to pike again. They’re all related is what I’m getting at. Peak has no further origins, but pick and pike have further histories that I’m sure I’ll get to someday. I know this is a bit of a cop out but oh well :P.

Maybe this one won’t trail off to nowhere. Apex first showed up in the seventeenth century from the classical Latin apex, which means point. Or, you know, apex. It’s thought to be related to the verb apere, to fasten or fix, from the Proto Indo European word ap-, to take or reach. The reason that an apex is the tip of something is because in Latin it was also a word for “the small rod at the top of the flamen’s cap”. It was…fastened onto the tip.

Acme showed up in the mid sixteenth century from the Greek akme, which of course means acme. It can be traced all the way back to the Proto Indo European ak-ma-, where the prefix ak- means be sharp or rise out. No great mysteries here! But it is a fun word to say.

Summit is the earliest of these wrods, having showed up in the fifteenth century. It comes from the Middle French somete and Old French somete. Which, yeah, just means summit, but it’s actually the diminutive of som/sum, the top of a hill. Before that, it was the classical Latin summum, summit, from summus, high, which is related to super, on or over, and yes that’s where super comes from. It’s actually from the Proto Indo European root *uper, which means over, which gave us words like hyper and over, as well as super, summit, and even sum. Man, I should do a post on all the uper words.

Whew. That was quite a wild ride, wasn’t it?



  1. Acme is also where Wile E. Coyote gets all of his explosives and rockets.

  2. Up until a couple hundred years ago, people generally weren't climbing to the tops of mountains anyway.

  3. So you're super when you reach the summit?

  4. I didn't even realize acme was a real word (not just something on cartoons) until I was well into adulthood. Perhaps I shouldn't admit that...


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