In ending the previous post with the sentence “May the following photograph of verbena reverberate in your memory,” I left a hook to today’s post. The adjacent words verbena and reverberate share five consecutive letters, and that commonality is not coincidental. Yesterday we saw that the Indo-European root *werb- or *werbh- ‘to turn, to bend’ led to the Latin word verbena, which meant ‘foliage, herbage; the leaves, twigs, and branches of laurel, olive, or myrtle, cypress, tamarisk; sacred boughs.’

The same Indo-European root produced Latin verber, which designated ‘an instrument for flogging, a lash, a whip, a cord’; perhaps the instrument in question was originally something like a flexible branch or a bundle of branches. From verber came the Latin verb verberare, whose meanings included ‘to flog, scourge, strike repeatedly, batter, beat down.’ Fancy English once occasionally used verberate in those senses, but the descendant of verberare that we recognize and still use is the prefixed reverberar/reverberate, whose senses include ‘to recoil, echo, reflect,’ especially with respect to light or heat. English has also added the figurative meaning that the Macmillan Dictionary explains as ‘to have an effect that spreads over a wide area or lasts for a long time.’

The corresponding noun is reverberación/reverberation, with English sometimes shortening its version to reverb. Spanish reverbero, on the other hand, is ‘a reflector made of glass or metal,’ as for example the reflector behind the light in a lighthouse.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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