Thursday, March 31, 2022

Language Of Confusion: Flats, Part II

Got plenty more of these to go over, each weirder than the last. As you’re all aware, flat comes from the Proto Indo European plat-, to spread, which is from the root pele-, flat or to spread. So lets get to look at all the words that are somehow related to it. This week: words that still sound like flat but with a P instead of an F.
First, plate. It showed up in the mid thirteenth century, but back then it meant a flat sheet of gold or silver, before starting to mean armor made from sheets of metal, and then dinnerware in the fifteenth century. So yes, plate armor predates plates you eat off of. It comes from the Old French plate, a thin piece of metal, from the Medieval Latin plata (same meaning). That’s thought to be from the Vulgar Latin plattus, from the Greek platys, flat or broad, and of course that’s from plat-/pele-.
And of course there are a ton of other words with plat- in them. Platter showed up in the late thirteenth century with the same meaning we have for it—meaning platter predates plate as something for food. It comes from the Anglo French plater, from the Old French plate, and we all know where that comes from. Plateau, plate with an -au on the end, showed up in 1796, from the French plateau, which means plateau or more literally “table land”. It’s from the Old French platel, a flat piece of metal, from plat, flat surface, and, well, it all traces back to platys.
Next, words that begin with plat-. Platform showed up in the mid sixteenth century from the French plateforme, which means plat form or literally flat form. Platitude didn’t show up until 1812, where it meant “insipidity of thought”, meaning a platitude is something unoriginal. It’s from the French platitude, flatness, from plat, so a platitude is something that is metaphorically flat! Then there’s platinum the metal, whish also showed up in 1812. Its name is of Latin origin, but it was actually Spanish who shaped the word. See, in Spanish, the word for silver is actually plata, because it was shortened from the phrase plata d’argento, plate of silver, and plata just became silver. The metal platinum was considered by the Spanish to be an inferior silver, so it was called platino, and when the metal was officially named, it was because of that.
Finally today, platypus. It has plat in there, so it shouldn’t be that surprising. Platypus is another recent word, having shown up in 1799. It’s actually a Latin word from the Greek platypous, a mix of platys (flat) and pous (foot), so a platypus is a flat foot. Which is far from the most distinguishing thing about them.
Online Etymology Dictionary
Google Translate
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language
Dictionary of Medieval Latin
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Fordham University


  1. Platinum is inferior silver... I can kind of see that. How little they knew...

  2. They could have just named the platypus "weirdo".

  3. Imagine having food on gold / silver plates!


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