More to the point

The last post talked about punto/point, which developed from Vulgar Latin *punctum, the past participle of pungere ‘to prick.’ From that came puntuación/punctuation, and now let’s add the verb puntuar/punctuate. Spanish and English share the literal sense ‘to put in punctuation marks,’ but they differ in secondary senses. Spanish puntuar can mean ‘to gain points in a game’ and ‘to grade a homework assignment.’ An extended English sense of punctuate, based on the way punctuation marks break up the flow of words in a sentence, is ‘to interrupt.’ Another extended English sense is ‘to highlight, to emphasize.’

Someone who regularly shows up “on the dot” for an appointment or who gets things done on time is said to be puntual/punctual. Here, too, the Spanish version has senses that English doesn’t share: ‘certain, leaving no doubt; convenient, adequate.’ In physics, puntual means literally ‘coming from a point, situated at a point.’ On the other hand, three sentences ago we saw a cognate that English has but Spanish lacks: appointment, based on the verb appoint, which Noah Webster defined in his 1828 dictionary as ‘To fix; to settle; to establish; to make fast.’ Other definitions that he gave were ‘To constitute, ordain, or fix by decree, order or decision; to allot, assign or designate.’ Those secondary senses led to the current meaning of appointment as ‘a meeting set for a fixed time.’

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Jun 08, 2012 @ 08:15:59

    This is why I love these posts so much. I never would have associated “punctuate” and “appointment”. But there’s the connection – a reminder of why your blog title’s so appropriate.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jun 08, 2012 @ 09:36:33

      It seems to me that your comment is to the point, and punctual, too. It just reminded me of what Thoreau wrote in Walden: “For many years I was self-appointed inspector of snow-storms and rain-storms, and did my duty faithfully; surveyor, if not of highways, then of forest paths and all across-lot routes, keeping them open, and ravines bridged and passable at all seasons, where the public heel had testified to their utility. .”

      An online variant, seemingly a misquotation, reminds me of us bloggers: “For many years I was a self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms and did my duty faithfully, though I never received payment for it.”


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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