The author

It’s an understatement to say that I love words and their histories. Although this series deals with Spanish and English, I’ve chosen to write in English, which is my native language, the one in which I express myself the best. In high school and college I studied Latin and several foreign languages. Upon graduation I joined the Peace Corps and had my first regular training in Spanish, after which I spent two years teaching math in Spanish in Honduras. Later I took a number (but not a sinnúmero) of linguistics courses, and since then I’ve done a lot of reading about etymology, the origins of words.

For those for whom credentials are important: I have a B.A. in French, magna cum laude, from Columbia University, and an M.A. (actually A.B.D.) in Romance linguistics from the University of Texas with a 4.0 GPA. I’m the author of The Words of Mathematics, published by the Mathematical Association of America in 1994 and still in print.

Another passion of mine is photography, particularly of the native plants in central Texas, the region where I live. If you look through enough of the postings in this blog, you’ll see that I’ve taken the liberty of sneaking in a picture every now and then when it relates to a word under discussion. (Nine months after beginning this blog I compounded my folly by starting one called Portraits of Wildflowers, which overtly serves as an outlet for my photographs of nature; there the photographs have primacy and the words are subservient to them.)

Who am I? My name is Steve Schwartzman, and in keeping with a blog about the histories of words, I feel obligated to add that Steven comes from a Greek word meaning ‘crown of laurel,’ and Schwartzman is German for ‘black man, dark man’—compare the related native English swarthy.

42 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ariana
    Sep 04, 2010 @ 14:30:35



  2. bythefirelight
    Sep 26, 2010 @ 03:15:03

    Great blog. It is a lot of fun to read. Keep up the good work!


  3. allen josephs
    Jan 08, 2011 @ 17:28:48

    Why only ABD?


  4. wordconnections
    Jan 08, 2011 @ 18:29:44

    My attention was diverted to, among other things, mathematics and computer graphics.


  5. George Jochnowitz
    May 07, 2011 @ 00:50:40

    If you’re interested in Spanish, you might also be fascinated by Ladino.


  6. wordconnections
    May 07, 2011 @ 01:36:30

    The 1986 movie “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” which was set in Israel, included surprisingly many conversations in Ladino, which I could largely understand.


  7. niasunset
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 14:29:16

    Photography is amazing… Through the photography blogs I have met with you dear Steven. You are doing great job in this blog. I haven’t seen any study like that before. Made me so excited. I love to read and to learn something about the words and also the connections of the different languages… And your writing is amazing too, your usage of English language is so nice… But as I explained before, I don’t know Spanish language… can I learn, I don’t have any idea, (because I have an experince in Italy when I stayed there, it was so difficult for me to learn a new language…) Why I am here… because I am not a student, and also I am not a teacher too. BUT I am a student in this life till to die… or till to my brain stops… I hope I don’t make you confused. Your experiences, knowledge and photographs and stories they all like to read an enjoyable book… I wished to read all these post without giving break… but this is my second language and I get tired sometimes… So day by day I want to visit and to read them all… Please go slow that I can catch you 🙂 (I am joking…) By the way I should understand that you are a mathematician… I can see you in your sentences, in your way of expressions… has a poetical way too. I don’t get surprise if you say that you are writing poetry too. Everything starts with the harmony of the words… and this is a kind of mathematic too… Thank you dear Steven and Good Luck for all these works, and I wish you to make all these post a published book… With your photographs… as in here. Blessing and Happiness, with my love, (and sorry if I make mistakes in my sentences…)


  8. Steve Schwartzman
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 15:00:04

    Thanks so much for all your kind comments, Nia. Yes, I used to teach mathematics, so I got in the habit of explaining things clearly. If you can find poetry mixed in with the mathematical clarity, I’m all for it! And if you can find a publisher for the kinds of things I do in these two blogs, by all means let me know, because I’ve tried but have so far been unable to find one.


    • niasunset
      Dec 16, 2011 @ 15:39:15

      I can’t imagine this… In my country, I gave up to write in my own language because it makes me so sad all about these things…publishing etc. I supposed that it was problem only in my geography… What happened there too… I am so sad for this dear Steven… How would be so interesting these works… But who knows maybe you can find in near future dear Steven. You are welcome and Thanks, with my love, nia


  9. Susan Okaty
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 14:24:22

    Both my sons are UT graduates, one in math. And Austin is one of my favorite cities. I miss Polvos tons!


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 07, 2012 @ 16:10:46

      That’s quite a coincidence, even to the math connection. I’ll confess that I’ve never eaten at Polvos, but as a nature photographer I’ve certainly had my share of polvo.


  10. georgettesullins
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 14:16:59

    Several coincidences today. I noticed you started blogging the same time I did September, 2010. shoreacres referred me here and I see other friends have visited your site. Yesterday I posted about my encounter with “Guernica” at MOMA back in the day. I noticed you attended Columbia. In my post I mention my reason for being in NY, to attend a seminar on your campus. Looking forward to more visits.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 10, 2012 @ 14:26:50

      I’m a fan of coincidences too, so I’m glad to hear that you started blogging the same month I did and that you have a connection to Columbia. And speaking of coincidences, I left a comment on shoreacres’s blog last night pointing out that her father and mother turn out to have been born in the same years as mine.

      Since this is a blog about Spanish, I’ll add that English speakers have fallen into the habit of pronouncing Guernica as if it were Guérnica; in fact there is no accent mark on the Spanish word, which therefore is stressed on its middle syllable. But then Spanish speakers mangle their share of English words.


  11. georgettesullins
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 14:36:21

    The most obvious thing for people who know me and I failed to mention above is I’m originally from Mexico, teach Spanish at our local community college and am involved in much consulting work re: Spanish pedagogy. Don’t know how that slipped my mind in the comment I left above.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 10, 2012 @ 14:54:13

      Ah, with a name like Georgette Sullins I wouldn’t have suspected a connection to Mexico, so I’m glad you mentioned it. Now I understand your interest in this blog. And as words are food for the mind, I’ll say ¡Buen provecho!


  12. Subhan Zein
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 17:42:14

    Hi Steve,

    I’m glad to come across to your blog. The idea of the blog is praiseworthy. And if there was an award on ‘originality’, you’d be a very strong contender! Your blog is awesome!! 🙂

    Please feel free to visit mine. Perhaps my poetry and flash fiction will entertain you:

    “Dance, Dance Under the Rain!”:
    “Whirling Towards the Divinity”:
    “Love is the Water of Life”:
    “A Hug from My Heart”:
    “The Scholar and the Boatman:
    “Two Rupiah Notes”:
    “Becoming Human”:
    “Chinese Bamboo and Paulo Coelho”:

    Thank you and have a great weekend! 🙂

    Subhan Zein


  13. John Todaro
    Apr 20, 2012 @ 20:25:01

    Compelling idea for a blog on a number of levels.
    Thanks too, for your warm words today at mine.


  14. Steve Schwartzman
    Apr 20, 2012 @ 21:26:47

    Thanks, and you’re welcome. I was wearing my nature photographer hat when I commented on your photo and post, but WordPress led you to my first blog. C’est la vie.


  15. RobiniArt
    Feb 25, 2013 @ 22:14:40

    I clicked the avatar/thistle photo next to your name and ended up here. I’m going to follow you here on WordPress. VERY interested in language lately. Most of the fans of my art are from Mexico. I don’t speak Spanish. Oops, right? I understand some. I’ve always, always been interested in language since taking a linguistics class from Haj Ross at UNT. You may have heard of him?


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 25, 2013 @ 23:40:32

      Welcome. I’ve been interested in language since before I got involved with photography. At the moment photography has the upper hand, but I never stop delving into language as well.

      Thanks for this second link. I do indeed know who Ross is, but I had no idea he was teaching in Denton. What a surprise! You’re lucky to have had a course with him.


      • RobiniArt
        Feb 26, 2013 @ 10:29:24

        I think he’s been living and teaching in Denton for decades. He was one of my favorite professors. I learned so much in his class. And I want to say that he was barefoot a lot. Haha!


  16. Norman F Kolb
    Jun 04, 2013 @ 14:18:24

    One of the Founders of Blackstone , the very successful financing Company is Steve Schwartzman , the other was Pete Peterson . Both double letters in their names! Would that be a form of alteration ? When I read your quickie bio I realized that you were not that S S .I was thinking of , but , who cares ! money and huge success do not fall on everyone . For sure ! You have a gift of clarity of language , he probably needs one of ambiguity , obfuscation and double meaning , at least a lot of “deals” may need those qualities . Clarity and single meaning don’t seem to be important in contract negotiation, as they do in contract language .
    I read that Mr Schwartzman (not you) spent one million dollars to celebrate his 60th or 70th birthday. I am going to look for your photos .
    Best wishes ,

    Norm Kolb


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jun 04, 2013 @ 14:38:34

      I’ve occasionally thought it would be nice to have some of the wealth of that other Steve Schwartzman, but as you point out, I have treasures of other kinds, nowadays primarily linguistic and photographic. During the years when I taught math, clarity was of the utmost importance. I could never be in a field (e.g. politics) where obfuscation is practiced and valued.

      In any case, thanks for your good wishes.


  17. ladyofthecakes
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 01:58:05

    Great blog, not sure why I’ve only just stumbled across it today!


  18. Jim Green
    May 14, 2014 @ 15:25:48

    Thank you Steve for aiding and abetting intellectual curiosity! It would be wonderful to be able to peruse what you’ve written in book form. Have you considered on-demand publishing (with or without crowdfunding) or such?


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 14, 2014 @ 17:38:54

      And thanks for your appreciation of my aiding and abetting intellectual curiosity. Yes, I’ve thought about on-demand publishing, and even more so about some e-books, both for language and photography, but I haven’t brought any out yet.


  19. Jim Green
    May 15, 2014 @ 13:35:19

    Well, I offer my encouragement and will stay tuned…


  20. coastalcrone
    Jun 29, 2014 @ 15:45:21

    Thank you for your recent visit and comment on my blog. I will enjoy exploring your blogs. I live on the Texas gulf coast and enjoy trying to go with native plants. My degree is in English and my math is rather weak, but I appreciate the logic of math. My Spanish is limited but I enjoy the origins and connections of languages.


  21. anyone4curryandotherthings
    Jan 28, 2017 @ 23:36:14

    thanks for pointing me into this (your) direction on my own blog – and glad I am you did!! But I only hope this site is still going, since the last comment date is June, 2014!!!!anyhow, I clicked “follow” and we will see whats happening :).
    Re your name “Schwartzman” in German, as you well know, means “Schwarzer Mann” – but where does this name originally stem from: From the profession of “Schornsteinfeger (which were always completely black from the dirt in the chimneys) or…….???


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jan 29, 2017 @ 05:40:51

      Till you mentioned it, I hadn’t noticed that no one had commented on this “About” page for more than two years. Still, the blog is active, and you can go to the main page at

      and scroll back through recent entries if you’d like. I did receive a notification confirming your subscription. Welcome! (I’ll add that this etymology blog arouses much less interest than the nature photography one, which I don’t find surprising.)

      The website says of the name Schwartzman that it’s a “descriptive nickname for a dark-skinned or black-haired man.” I don’t know if that’s correct, but it matches what I’ve always assumed


  22. mariosphere
    Feb 25, 2017 @ 23:36:11

    Steve, a belated thank you for your comment in my blog back in 2011. Like you, my attention has been rerouted to other activities. I see that you have an interest in etymology. Me too, but I’m broadly interested in dictionaries and thesauri.


  23. Gabby Avila
    Jan 11, 2019 @ 16:01:06

    I believe coincidence is an amazing path of great encounters and revelations in life. I am grade two teacher in Alberta, Canada. I teach at a Spanish bilingual school, and we teach math in Spanish. I do not agree with it, whatsoever, and I am looking for sustainable arguments to make the government to re consider and fix this mistake. I would love to know your thoughts, since this has to do with language, abstraction and the acquisition of a foreign language.
    Thanks a lot for your blog.



    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jan 11, 2019 @ 17:16:43

      Ah, coincidences. I’m always open to them and glad when they happen. I spent an enjoyable few weeks in (mostly) Alberta close to a year and a half ago, pictures from which I showed in various posts on my nature photography blog:

      Can you tell me a little more about how your school teaches math in Spanish? Does that mean that all the grade two math is taught in Spanish and never in English? If so, does it imply that one or more other subjects are taught only in English and never in Spanish? If that segregation exists, who decides what language each subject is to be taught in, and what is the rationale for the separation? In the next grade, do the languages reverse, so that math is taught only in English?


      • WAM BWV
        Jan 12, 2019 @ 12:12:21

        Thanks Steve. It is amazing how another coincidence happened in this chain, with you and your trip to Alberta. I will sit down and answer your questions. Great questions. I also believe that the answers are always embedded into proper questioning. Just like equations…… wow I just realized the word equations and questions are sooo close for spelling. Cheers.


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