January 08, 2009

#01-207: Reading Boomtown Chronicles 71

wide view of an urban area with bushes in the foreground, over which is written "READING BOOMTOWN CHRONICLES"
Shenzhen, the Boomtown

Note: Between Lesson #01-128 and #01-208, I wrote 72 lessons explaining expressions in articles published in the Shenzhen Daily. Read more about "Reading Boomtown Chronicles."

Get Ready: What sorts of things have you done with chalk? Writing on a blackboard? Drawing on a sidewalk? Or...?

Boomtown Chronicles Part XXV - published Monday, December 29, 2008 (cont.)

In this lesson, we're going to look at a couple of words with interesting origins.

  • Clerks "chalked stock prices on a blackboard each day..."

chalk: a piece of white limestone used for writing on many different surfaces. The familiar word has an exotic and complex background. It is from a German word which was borrowed from the Latin calx, meaning "lime" or "limestone." We see this root in the English word "calcium."

The Latin calx is also a pebble or small stone (of limestone or other material) called in English a "calculus." Do you know what calculus is? It's a kind of mathematics. In fact, the words "calculate," "calculator," etc., all come from the idea of counting with small stones.

But oddly, the word also means "heel" in Latin. This shows up in the word "recalcitrant," used to describe someone who is rebellious and "kicks" (with the heel) against authority.

It seems these two words, one for stone and one for heel, had no connection in origin or meaning. They were homonyms. A homonym is a word that is written the same and sounds the same as another, but has a different meaning, such as the English "bear" (the animal) and "bear" (the verb meaning "to carry"). This is different from a homophone (words that only sound the same, like two, too, and to) or a homograph (words that only are written the same, such as the "wind" that blows and to "wind" a watch).


  • "The rampant black market spread even to the park opposite the securities firm."

rampant: very active or moving forward without any hindrance. There is an Old French verb ramper, meaning to crawl or to climb. From the meaning "climb" we get the word "ramp" meaning a slope used in place of stairs. But an animal standing on its hind legs is also said to "ramp," as if climbing, and can then be described as "rampant" (standing up). When animals do this, they are usually being aggressive or are excited in some way


Friends, this brings us to the end of the series "Reading 'Boomtown Chronicles'" which began a-way back in Lesson #01-128.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shenzhen

Practice: Choose the correct term to fill in the blank in the sentence below:

  1. calcium
  2. calculate
  3. calculus
  4. chalk
  5. rampant
  6. ramps
  7. recalcitrant

  1. Dairy products are a good source of ________ for the body.
  2. Many buildings have installed ________ to provide better access for people in wheelchairs.
  3. When he studied to be an engineer, he found doing ________ to be very difficult.
  4. Even the most ________ student will cooperate if we find a way to catch his attention.
  5. The new police chief announced strict measures to counter the ________ crime in her city.
  6. The team spent days trying to ________ the costs of their project.
  7. I love seeing children's ________ drawings on the sidewalk.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 8, 2009

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. f; 3. c; 4. g; 5. e; 6. b; 7. d