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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Temp-er, Temp-er, Temp-er!

Okay, I realize I’ve offered spelling advice that says, “Look to the root word when seeking better spelling.” But I have also suggested that you can ignore some advice that was absorbed as “rule”. And temp is one of them. This scruffy little root word has a variety of meanings. My dictionary (American Heritage, 4th Edition) lists more than two dozen words beginning with “t-e-m-p…” and a variety of meanings running from temper to temporary.

The etymology of this root is fascinating, but I won’t bore you with it. Know that t-e-m-p has been mished and mashed and put through a wringer over the centuries in order to produce quite a variety of uses in U.S.-English.

Most of the temp words refer to a root meaning of “time” or “mix” or “mingle”. Go figure! Here are a few of the differences:

A plain old temp can be that outsider who comes into your office “temporarily” to work on the books in your department.

A temper is “the tantrum” you throw when you weren’t asked to help.

That was when you were asked to temper your temper, “to moderate” it.

Temperament or temperamentally is “the way you handle” that temper.

Temperance goes further and asks you to knock it off completely, to “restrain” yourself.

When the office temperature rises, sometimes tempers also “get hot”.

Not wanting a tempest of “violent behavior of tornado proportions” to upset the office, your HR psychologist would likely suggest you temper your temper and avoid a tempest in a teapot with a well-tempered clavichord, with “tempered” music!

Remaining on an artsy level, tempera is a “mingling” of colors.

The temple in the Temple of Doom, on the other hand, draws meaning from sacred ground that was “divided” or “separated” (ironically meaning un-mixed) from ordinary ground. And from that, surprisingly, comes the meaning for the temple on either side of your eyes, originating from a Greek word meaning “vital spot”, as indicated by the Greek Vale of Tempe located between two important Greek mountains. (Classical Latin refers to that forehead area as the “temporal bone” or “temporal muscle”, protecting the precious vital eyes.)

No, I won’t miss some other t-e-m-p’s: as in Shirley Temple, Tempe AZ, or tempeh, an Indonesian dish made from fermented soybeans. Wonder where these t-e-m-p’s came from…

Ain’t language fun!

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