3/20/07

Elvis Is Watching You

Trivia of the day: What do Elvis, Hades, and videos have in common?

According to my Greek professor, who knows more about etymology than ought to be humanly possible, all three words come from the same Indo-European root, wid-, meaning roughly "knowing through seeing." This root came into Latin unchanged (the sound [w] was written as v) in the verb videre, "to see," whence the English word "video." In Greek, the [w] sound was represented by the elusive digamma, which was lost very early on, leaving id-, one of several roots of the verb "to see." With the addition of an alpha privative (the fancy grammatical term for an initial alpha that negates the meaning of the word), we get the adjective aïdes, "unseen," and as a substantive (with the iota turning into an iota subscript somewhere along the way), Hades, "the unseen realm." Now that I've bored you with linguistic details, we get to the good part - how Elvis fits into all of this. If you take his name apart, "vis" is another variant of the root wid-, and "el" is a cognate to the English word "all." So Elvis is "the all-seeing one." Now does it really matter if he's alive or not?

This post was made possible by Etymological Storytime with Pavlos, a daily feature of ancient Greek class.