I had a professor in college who would always start off class on a tangent. He’d march down to the front of the lecture hall and write down a word on the board, and then draw a line through the middle of it, splitting it into its root elements. More often than not, the word was of Ancient Greek origin. Metanoia comes to mind–I can see him writing it out, slashing it, turning around, taking in a deep breath–
Oh boy, classic Fagerberg, I thought. That’s unfortunately all I remember about that lecture though. I don’t quite remember what metanoia really means, but since that memory at least let me remember how it’s spelled, I suppose I can suss it out. From the introduction of one puzzling word at the start of the hour, by the end of lecture, our minds were blown. In this way, it was like good jazz.
Not all words are this elegant in the land of etymology. Take for instance, the word “dashboard.” At some point or another, the bane of a designer’s existence–have you ever tried to explain what a dashboard is in one sentence? Charitably?
In this case, it is history more than language that has the answers:
“Originally, the word dashboard applied to a barrier of wood or leather fixed at the front of a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh to protect the driver from mud or other debris “dashed up” (thrown up) by the horses’ hooves.” (scholarly source)
Looks like even back then it was that thing with a bunch of crap thrown onto it that you always had to see 😀.