I recently came across the word hysteresis, in which English puts secondary stress on the first syllable and primary stress on the third. In contrast, as the written accent in histéresis tells us, Spanish stresses the second syllable. Regardless, the discrepancy in stress between the two languages should occasion no stress in us and be no cause for histeria/hysteria, a similar-looking word that is likewise of Greek origin but is otherwise unrelated. (This is a good time to remind ourselves yet again that not all that glitters is gold.)

Histéresis/hysteresis is a scientific term that means ‘the lagging of an effect behind its cause.’ Wikipedia puts it more technically: ‘Hysteresis is the time-based dependence of a system’s output on current and past inputs.’ In doing some looking, I didn’t find examples of the term in climatology, but hysteresis would seem to fit the familiar phenomenon of the seasons lagging behind the sun; for example, in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun reaches its highest elevation at the summer solstice near the end of June, but the hottest days in the season don’t normally occur until August.

But we’re not here to discuss science. According to Wikipedia, the term hysteresis was coined around 1890 by Sir James Alfred Ewing to describe the behaviour of magnetic materials.’ Ewing took the word from ancient Greek husterēsis, which meant ‘a shortcoming.’ That word had been built on husteros, meaning ‘late,’ which the American Heritage Dictionary traces back to Indo-European *ud-tero, a comparative form of the *ud- that meant both ‘up’ and ‘out.’ Greek husteros, therefore, had originally conveyed the sense ‘farther out [in time].’

Although Indo-European *ud- seems to have left no native descendants in Latin (and therefore none in Spanish either), it produced native English out, which stands alone as a preposition and adverb, and serves as a particle in phrasal verbs like make out, figure out, get out, check out, point out, drop out. Out also appears in compounds like outlaw, outlandish, outpouring, outlier, outsized, output, and outline. Out may be short, but it’s an out-and-out useful word in English.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim in IA
    Jun 28, 2015 @ 21:51:46

    Yes, a term common in physics such as the hysteresis loop.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jun 28, 2015 @ 21:58:28

      It’s good to encounter someone familiar with the term.


    • Frederick Jackson
      Jun 29, 2015 @ 12:57:09

      Yep, Jim, I remember that, it is when you cannot reverse the process to get back to the initial state (of magnetic field) because of changes to the medium, so in the loop you do not get back to where you started.

      Yep, Steve, you have a bunch of polymaths (my academic credentials are in physics and physical oceanography) following your every linguistic footstep. Do you have a bio? Do you consider yourself a philologist? I worship philologists and I have had the good fortune to have met two in my life, both from India and both looking so incredibly alike, short and slim, brown as a betel nut, with beautiful (bare brown) cranial domes. The first I met wandering drunk in my neighborhood. I felt for him immediately as was only 5 years sober then myself).. I ended up taking him on a 40 minute drive to a hospital where I dropped him off. On the way we talked and he told me that he had a PhD in philology from Cambridge University. The second man is a friend and fellow sufi. He has the unusual distinction (I believe it to be unusual) of specializing in both Indo-European and Semitic language groups.

      I am a total idiot when it comes to etymologies. I make so many mistakes my brother likened my to the dark age encyclopaedist Isidore of Seville. Here is a funny story that illustrates just how inept I am at doing what you do. I told my brother that “testify” came from the custom of grabbing one’s testicles when swearing an oath. (This is really, really stupid as it occurs to me now that I must have read this somewhere about Jewish custom (ha, wrong language group, you idiot.)) My brother, who has a PhD in history (and knows Latin) laughed at me. Well, I looked, and see there! I was right, the two words are of course related!

      Well, Steve, the story concludes a few years later when somehow this subject came up again and again I had recourse to the dictionary. Yep, there was the “obvious” word connection:


      and not the other way around,


      P.S. My error rate — my Isidore Index — in etymological connection making is ca. 98%, sometimes dipping to 97%. I look forward to dinner or lunch soon with my philologist friend Moazzam while I am here up from Mexico in Washington, DC.


  2. Maria F.
    Jun 29, 2015 @ 19:31:12

    What a comment, it had to come from a Facebook individual who hides behind a FB membership. I certainly do not care about the origin of ‘testes’ and much less this life testimony you’ve left here.


  3. shoreacres
    Jun 30, 2015 @ 22:28:02

    And then there’s outsourcing: a new phenomenon that leaves many people feeling fed up.

    “Up and out” also brought to mind the 1960s song by The Fifth Dimension, “Up, Up and Away.

    I’ve actually come across hysteresis in meteorology. Here’s a formal definition, which I suspect will make sense to you. I can’t figure it out, but I knew enough to look it up.

    “HYSTERESIS: The difference noted in a sensor’s output as a response to first an increasing, and then a decreasing, input signal of the same value.

    If Yi is the value of the output with an increasing input of value X, and Yd is the value of the output with decreasing input of value X, then the hysteresis can be defined as the maximum absolute value of the difference (Yi – Yd) for any value of X. This is frequently expressed as a percentage of the sensor’s full scale range and usually is included as a component of total sensor error.”

    And, of course, there’s the slang phrase that’s always useful: whacked out.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jul 01, 2015 @ 05:30:14

      If you’ve come across the word hysteresis in meteorology, that’s one more place than I’d ever come across it until the occurrence that triggered this post. I hope that after having read that meteorological definition a few times, you’ve come in from the outer darkness and don’t find the term hysteresis utter nonsense any more.

      As four outsourcing, the word seems to have first appeared in about 1981. I just wondered whether there’s a parallel opposite term to outsourcing, and it turns out that insourcing exists.


  4. Maria F.
    Jul 03, 2015 @ 13:47:51

    Whatever Latin did to the word, the word ‘orchis’ is from Ancient Greek ὄρχις orchis, meaning “testicle”, from the appearance of the paired subterranean tuberous of some orchids. The word orchis, from which the whole family received its name, was first used for this purpose by the Greek philospher Theophrastus (c. 372-c. 287 B.C.), a pupil of Aristotle. In 1845, introduced by John Lindley in “School Botanty,” from Modern Latin Orchideæ (Linnaeus), the plant’s family name, from Latin ‘orchis’, a kind of orchid, from Greek orkhis (genitive orkheos) “orchid,” literally “testicle,” The plant so called because of the shape of its paired bulbous root. Whatever happened afterwards with Latin (to “testify” in name of men’s virility) is of no concern to this beautiful flower, which was the reason for my posting about its myth a year ago:


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jul 03, 2015 @ 14:47:22

      I think most people are surprised (or horrified) when they learn the etymology of orquídea/orchid and aguacate/avocado.

      That yellow (with purple) orchid you linked to is quite striking against the black background.


  5. Maria F.
    Jul 03, 2015 @ 16:04:54

    Thanks Steve. The comment you posted doesn’t horrify me at all; no more than the slang for “nuts” does or “cherries”. There must be some sort of grandiosity involved when joking this way plus the chauvinistic tone demands attention.


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