Surd is the word

Surd: adjective, meaning senseless or meaningless; a voiceless consonant; an irrational number.

Ever get a word stuck in your head? I’ve been delightfully repeating Surd since I heard it on Monday afternoon. It was instant lingo-love — seriously, say it aloud — it’s wonderful. Plus, as much as I love absurdity, it never occurred to me that the root of that word was surd. But, there are new developments!

I’d like to outright dismiss the irrational number element (the definition I found said “specially one expressed using the √ symbol”), since I don’t really understand mathematics. But part of what’s so cool is that this is one of those rare places where math vocabulary and language vocabulary intersect – Surd also means a voiceless consonant, which is a linguistics term for consonants like p, t, k, s, sh, ch, th (as in thing), that are percussive in nature and don’t require the skills of your larynx. Now, to get super technical, there are a few voiceless consonants that become voiced in certain words. Take skills from two sentences back, which sounds like skillz. S becomes a voiced consonant.

Now, this is exciting for you loyal readers because a while back we learned one of the best words ever, Susurrus. Get this – the etymology of Surd says that though it arrived on the scene around 1571 from the latin word surdus meaning unheard, silent or dull, it’s also possibly related to our onomatopoeic vocab word susurrus.

But that’s not all! Surd also has a regular old meaning, too: senseless or irrational. And there are tons of contexts in which to use to use it in. I can’t quite figure out how absurd could also mean inconsistent with reason or logic or common sense, but I guess the ab- (meaning away from) means absurd isn’t quite nonsense.

Now for an absurd treat (long, but really hilarious):

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Categories: etymology, media | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Surd is the word

  1. A simple description of an irrational number is one that cannot be written as fraction and isn’t 0. Pi is probably the most popular one. Math nerd signing out 🙂

  2. well that was fun!

  3. Scott

    “absurd” is not from “surd”, as far as I can tell. In defense of that claim I can cite at least this:

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/absurd

    Can you cite any evidence for this connection?

  4. The OED and the American Heritage Dictionary (among others) give Latin surdus meaning “deaf” as the root for both absurd and surd. I wonder what Wiktionary’s basis is for saying the two are not connected. (Etymological sources that go into the speculative Proto-Indo-European roots suggest that surdus shares a root with susurrus.)

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