The Conversations at the Crossroads

Every word has a story, and many of them are fascinating and fun to know. For example, let’s roll back the time machine to the Middle Ages. You’re a farmer heading to market, walking along with your ox Henry pulling the cart full of produce. Now, you love Henry, but he isn’t exactly conversational, so it’s kind of a lonely trek. Pretty soon you come to a 3-way intersection where you find your neighbor Jeremiah coming along with his cart. You don’t see Jeremiah often, so you eagerly strike up a conversation. How’s the farm? Did you get through that nasty frost? Jeremiah is not a man of many words, and he’s a little strange, but it’s great to have someone to visit with. And it gets even better- here comes another farmer down the lane with his cart. How great! A party at the intersection.

What’s the point of this story? We could use lots of words to describe the little gathering: visiting, talking, catching up, chatting, reminiscing, gabbing. And here’s another: trivial. Huh? How does that fit? Well, the prefix tri means “three;” the base root vi means “road, way, path, journey;” and the suffix ial means “pertaining to.”

Pertaining to Three Roads
Etymologically, trivial refers to the “conversations from the crossroads and everyday places- the place where three roads meet.” How cool is that? And of course there are lots of other words that share the vi root, like: obvious “quality of in the way, in the path”; previous: “pertaining to the journey before”; and deviate “to (go) off the road, away from the path”, just to name a few.

And remember the detail about Jeremiah being strange? We might also say he’s a bit peculiar. This word comes from the Latin peculiaris “of one’s own (property).” The root pecu actually means “cattle or flock.” So it’s possible Jeremiah has been hanging around his farm so long that he’s become “of his cattle.” A little remote, perhaps? Not what we would call effusive or loquacious? Jeremiah needs to get out more!

Roots are the keys that unlock word meanings and supply the first points on the word-story map. As our students read, they are constantly coming to “crossroads” presenting unfamiliar words, or maybe old word-acquaintances that still seem strange. Word Voyage teaches them to slow down, look inside the language, and join the conversations at the crossroads!


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