Still more to the point

The last two posts have dealt with punto/point and other words based on Vulgar Latin *punctum, the past participle of pungere ‘to prick.’ The result of pricking an object is a puntura/puncture. Often that’s unintentional, but in the case of acupuntura/acupuncture it’s on purpose; practitioners believe that putting fine needles into certain points in the human body can ameliorate maladies. (The acu- in acupuntura/acupuncture is from Latin acus ‘needle,’ which has also given us agudo/acute and, from a diminutive, Spanish aguja). Not surprisingly, venipuntura/venipuncture is, in the definition of the online Collins English Dictionary, ‘the puncturing of a vein, esp[ecially] to take a sample of venous blood or inject a drug.’ Curiously, although some medical procedures involve puncturing an artery, there doesn’t seem to be a word *arteripuntura/*arteri[o]puncture.

From punto Spanish created the diminutive puntillo ‘a fine point.’ English renders that punctilio, a version of the Latinized punctiglio that Italian created from the Spanish word. A punctilio is ‘a fine—or petty—point of etiquette, conduct, or procedure.’  Someone who is puntilloso/punctilious ‘pays attention to all the fine points, to every little detail, of a subject or procedure.’

Late Latin compunctio, with stem compunction-, was created to mean ‘the “puncture” of conscience that a person feels after doing something wrong.’ We’ve carried that over as compunción/compunction, which can include anxiety, grief, shame, and guilt. Spanish has added, perhaps due to influence from the similar word compasión, the generalized sense ‘the feeling caused by other people’s suffering.’

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Jun 08, 2012 @ 08:21:29

    It occurs to me that, while loss of vocabulary can limit our view of the world and our ability to describe it, some words may disappear because the qualities they describe no longer matter.

    Being punctilious and feeling compunction certainly seem less important than they did a few decades ago. Our loss.

    Reply

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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