Advent, Day 12: Septentrional

Dear readers,
Join
 The Maine for an adventure a day, each day of this advent season — big or small, by land or sea, with friends or solo, in image or word, exuberant or contemplative, real or conceptual. We live in a state of wonder, its wide open spaces anticipating our
hope and joy.

For 12/12/12 we have an adventure in etymology
with poet and naturalist Kristen Lindquist.

I subscribe to wordsmith.org’s Word.A.Day, which I highly recommend to anyone fascinated by words and language. As a linguistics minor in college (and a writer), I admit I’m kind of a word nerd, so am always delighted when each day’s new word appears in my email inbox. This week’s theme is “words derived from numbers.” Today’s word–septentrional, which means “northern”–particularly struck me because it’s not only unusual, it’s also related to one of my favorite constellations, the Big Dipper.

Here’s the etymology, according to Word.A.Day: “From Latin septentriones, literally the seven ploughing oxen, a name for the seven stars of the Great Bear constellation that appears in the northern sky. From Latin septem (seven) + triones (ploughing oxen). Earliest documented use: around 1400.”

The Big Dipper goes by many names around the world: Ursa Major, the Great Bear; Charles’ Wain or Wagon; the Plough; the Drinking Gourd; the Seven Wisemen; the Frying Pan; even the Salmon Net. As a circumpolar constellation, it wheels around Polaris, the North Star. To find the North Star, you trace a line in the sky up through the two stars that form the right side of the ladle. So its meaning of “northern” makes perfect sense, even while the backstory involving seven oxen might be a little less clear, lost in translation over time.

Seven stars, many stories.
We face north, align
with the heavens.