Friday, March 28, 2008

Ether Or

No, that's not a typo. Today's topic is the word ether and it's adjectival counterpart, ethereal. In what may prove to be the last etymological discussion in my so-called office, we were actually discussing the fleeting nature of such discussions and how an online forum would establish a permanence our groundbreaking discoveries had always lacked. Our nerdy word conversations now had the chance to survive for posterity instead of, as my friend put it, disappearing into the ether.

I immediately got excited in a word-nerd way, because I had been on the verge of describing the exchanges as ethereal, and I finally realized the connection of the two words. But I had to admit, I didn't really understand the phrase "disappear into the ether." I've heard it used, but I was always a bit confused as to how the chemical ether would be involved in anything's disappearance, other than someone who was knocked out by it and kidnapped.

Ether, as explained to me, has an interesting history. People used to think it was the chemical that constituted the upper reaches of space. So when something disappeared into the ether, it dissipated or evaporated into the soaring gulfs of the atmosphere. And something ethereal has a heavenly or immaterial quality. And whenever I do these dictionary scavenger hunts, the search always leads me to words I never intended to peruse. This time, it was rarefied, a beautifully ethereal word in it's own right.

Good night, now. I'm a dork.

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I welcome all comments and arguments, especially if you cite your sources (no need to use MLA style or anything).