No, not chameleon, but Gamelion. That was the name of one of the months in the calendar used in ancient Attica, the Greek region whose most prominent city-state was Athens. It so happens that we’re now in the month of Gamelion, which included the latter part of January and the first part of February. The month’s name was based on the Greek verb gamein ‘to marry,’ so presumably that cold part of the year struck the ancient Greeks as a good time to get married and snuggle down.

With the same root as the one found in the verb gamein, Greek had the similar nouns gamete ‘wife’ and gametes ‘husband.’ Not coincidentally, the first of those matches the gamete that in scientific English means, as does scientific Spanish gameto, ‘a mature sexual reproductive cell, either male or female, that can unite with one of the opposite gender to form the first stage in a new organism.’ Metaphorically speaking, gametes are cells that “get married.” According to Douglas Harper, it was the Austrian monk and biologist Gregor Mendel who coined the term gamete, which first appeared in English in 1886.

From Greek gamos ‘marriage’ we have the suffix -gamia/-gamy that appears in compounds indicating various types of marriage. The two most common words in that group are monogamia/monogamy ‘the state of being married to only one person’ and poligamia/polygamy ‘the state of being married to two or more people.’ I who am writing this have for some time now been in the states of monogamy and Texas.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Feb 01, 2012 @ 15:05:05

    And how interesting that the marriage of a Spanish-speaker and an English-speaker would be an example of “linguistic exogamy”.

    As for Texas… well, you’ve probably figured out by now that many Texans feel the best match is made with another Texan – cultural endogamy rules!


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Feb 01, 2012 @ 15:40:18

    Exogametes of the world, unite: you have nothing to lose but your accents!

    Thanks for throwing endogamy and exogamy into the mix for some etymological miscegenation.


  3. niasunset
    Feb 02, 2012 @ 01:08:35

    This was very interesting. I haven’t known all these notes… “Gamelion”… in the ancient Greeks was as a good time to get married… The stories behind the words as always fascinating me. Don’t think that I forgot your beautiful blog and works, just I have been busy with photography and photoshop in these days, maybe you noticed. Thank you so much dear Steve, I will come back always, it is so enjoyable and exciting to read your blog. Have a nice day, with my love, nia


  4. kathryningrid
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 21:45:39

    I’ve seen evidence of a gamy marriage or two in my time, but I’m happy to state that I am in a state of gaudeagamy (my new term for marital bliss) instead.


  5. Steve Schwartzman
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 22:41:55

    Great play on words, gamy marriage. And a great creation, gaudeagamy, introduced with the strains of Gaudeamus igitur playing in the background.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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