SCG Daily Shot — What’s In A Name?

Language is the paintbrush by which we express ourselves to the word, so why limit yourself to the basic spectrum when there’s a panoply of colors upon which to call? If you’re interested in learning what many of these words and phrases you’ve encountered on Magic cards mean, then please, read on. I’ve tried to throw in a funny joke or two. You never know, if you’re not careful, you just might learn something.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

We all have our curious interests and peccadilloes, oddities that fall outside the general mainstream. Mine happens to be words, specifically, the history and origins of words and phrases, better known as word etymology. It should probably not surprise anyone reading this that I was one of those oddballs who actually have read the dictionary for fun, and that Word Origins has always been my favorite Jeopardy! category.

And this has what to do with Magic, you ask? One of the ancillary things I’ve loved about Magic: The Gathering is that the designers, too, seem to have a similar love of language, coming up with arcane and verbose ways of describing the usual and mundane; after all, how many different names for Counterspells have they come up with so far? A good deal of it, I’m sure, comes from various D&D manuals, but a lot of this they had to either know or research considerably, and I’m always bemused and pleased when I come across an odd word that I don’t know. A ha – a tidbit of verbiage to add to my ever-growing elephantine lexicon!

Now, the downside of using all these arcane words is that at a younger age, you will get the Martin Prince treatment, and you will probably grow up to be a spelling Nazi (although we prefer the more politically correct term logofascist these days). (And then you become an editor – The Ferrett) Despite these negatives, this knowledge has come in very handy during my tenures as both a technical editor and “Backstory Guy” on a few games I’ve worked on, as well as one certain game show that somebody who looks suspiciously like me happened to appear on… But that’s another article.

Language is the paintbrush by which we express ourselves to the word, so why limit yourself to the basic spectrum when there’s a panoply of colors upon which to call? If you’re interested in learning what many of these words and phrases you’ve encountered on Magic cards mean, then please, read on. I’ve tried to throw in a funny joke or two. You never know, if you’re not careful, you just might learn something.

And, to give credit where credit is due, additional research was done using Wikipedia and ye olde Oxford English Dictionary. Ask for it by name!

There are several different meanings for the word, but the one that best fits the bill we are looking for is “temporary inactivity or cessation of activity.” Rather appropriate. It is also used to indicate a property of undetermined ownership, but you only need to know that if you happen to be a real estate attorney. Or a word geek like me.

I was sure this was a made-up word – but lo and behold, research has proven me wrong. An abuna (plural: abunas) is a bishop or high-ranking official in the Abyssinian or Ethiopian Church. There must be some ex-theologians working in Creative.

That means the leonin are Coptic. Who knew?

An acrolith is a statue where the head and extremities are made of marble but the torso is made of wood or another material and generally hidden via draperies or other disguising. It’s basically sculpture for the a) lazy, b) broke or c) members of the John Ashcroft School of Design.

Because enquiring minds want to know: what the heck is that “Æ” thingie? It’s a vestigial remnant of Anglo-Saxon runes upon which Old English was based upon, seldom seen in American English but still commonly used in other Indo-European languages of northern Europe. In American English, Æ and its similar cousins have been replaced by breaking the grapheme (a symbol that indicates a single sound or letter) into its individual letters (“Ae”; e.g. “archaeology” instead of “archæology”), and is pronounced as a long e, so æther is properly pronounced as “ether.”

So why æther instead of ether? Using the older grapheme æ is often used to invoke an anachronistic or medieval feel to text, which is why I imagine a game set in a fantasy milieu would use it.

Next question: Just what the heck, then, is æther? Æther comes from the Greek æther, meaning “upper air,” as it was believed this was what the gods breathed on Mount Olympus, and in alchemical and natural history circles, it was considered the fifth element (in addition to the classical quartet of fire, earth, air and water), which existed between space and the earth. In the terminology of Magic: The Gathering, æther is basically formless energy which can be manipulated by mages into more useful spells.

From the Greek aeoli and pila (the ball of Aeolus, the god of winds), the aeolipile was invented in the first century A. D. and was most likely the first steam engine. An airtight ball with curved pipes projecting from it would be attached via another set of pipes along its equatorial axis to a water basin. As water in the basin was heated, steam would rise along the second set of pipes, enter the ball and be expelled along the first set of pipes, causing the ball to spin. Unfortunately, the aeolipile was seen as little more than a curiosity, and it would be centuries before the power of the steam engine was truly realized.

Where the two damage comes from, I don’t know. Perhaps they were prone to explode. (They were – The Ferrett, who’s read first-hand accounts of steamships exploding on the ol’ Mississip) Now that would have been a good use for it. Somebody get back to Hero of Alexandria about that.

Not a made-up word – but not far off, either. The frog-like Anurids from Odyssey block most likely get their name from amphibian order Anura, meaning “tailless” in Greek. Add the –id prefix, which will be seen again, and voila! What was old is, well, different.

Defined as one who gives up all worldly possessions and pursues a life of self-reflection; monks and hermits are frequently referred to as ascetics. The definition has more recently come to refer to harsh, rigorous form of asceticism to the point of flagellation and self-abuse, like Silas from The Da Vinci Code.

Meaning “to deceive by trickery or illusion,” this is one of the many mysteries of word etymology, as most books I have are fairly vague to its origins. I suspect it’s either American slang or perhaps Dickensian in nature. If you’ve actually read this far (and if so, congrats, Brainiac!), perhaps you can shed some light on it in the forums.

English is an odd tongue, brought by the Anglo-Saxons into Britain over a millennium ago, it’s evolved, devolved and changed considerably in a thousand years’ time, borrowing heavily from Latin, French and the romance languages but also adopting new words from new cultures and new encounters – it’s the magpie of linguistics. Accordingly, it’s one of the most difficult languages for non-native speakers to learn, what with the “I before E except after C” garbage. But that’s neither here nor there.

Bazaar, as you might imagine, is Arabic in origin, means “marketplace,” more specifically, an open market, and comes from the Pahlavi word baha-char.

To “divide or fork into two branches,” so the card in question is fairly correct in usage, but this would have been a much cooler name for the original Fork.

Of or pertaining to the north.” The fancy name for the northern lights is aurora borealis, after all. Readers native to the low latitudes of the southern hemisphere should be familiar with their Antarctic counterparts, the aurora australis, or southern lights.

Austral…austral…why does that sound familiar?

Not a tasty treat in this sense, but rather an elf popular in the folklore of northern England and Scotland. Dobby the House Elf from the “Harry Potter” novels is most likely a brownie. There’s only one Brownie in Magic, and that was back in Legends, so clearly they’ve done something to get on Creative’s bad side, or they finally got that sock they wanted and escaped.

Done already, and we’re only into the B’s? Fear not! We’ll get deeper into the alphabet come Tuesday.