Thursday, November 4, 2010


I had a personally profound experience a while ago, one which I am still thinking about.  I was sitting around, thinking about the word 'crux'.  It's such an odd word; it holds much power in its meaning, but sounds so very odd to our ears.

The only time we use it is in the phrase "the crux of the argument", which is the single thing that holds the entire structure together.  Without a crux, everything falls apart.

I started playing around with the forms that 'crux' could take.  I came up with its adjectival form: cruxial.  That is when all of the gears started turning in my head.  I thought about my studies of linguistics, about how language changes and the specific ways that English has evolved.

'Cruxial' is not a word, even though it should be.  So what would it have become?  X's become softer, becoming S's of some sort.  It would become 'crusial'.  Or maybe. . .crucial!  Of course!  'Crux' becomes 'crucial'.  It all makes sense.  If something is crucial, then it is absolutely necessary.  If a crucial thing is missing, then the entire structure it was built on falls apart.

Although I do find language evolution interesting, I also find it frustrating.  We are so disconnected from our language's roots that we have no idea that crux and crucial are two forms of the exact same word.  Sure, I know how to use both of the words in sentences.  I know how to define both of those words, but still was totally unaware of their relationship.

Though it bothers me that I have to sit down to think about words just to understand them, I am glad that I do sit down and think about words.  I love discovering these connections that are right in front of us that we never realize for the longest time.

What have you discovered recently?

1 comment:

  1. I arrived here after googling the word "cruxial" - I had a similar epiphany to you. I was using the word "crux" and ended up making a split second decision to modify it in an effort to make it sound a little smarter.

    Funnily enough, we were talking about a different word. Worcester, to be exact. Myself (American) and my friend (British). I pointed out how the word is evil because the beginning 'wors' can be pronounced two different ways in American English; wus, wors. So more on the 's' there, which was my complaint that triggered my usage of the non-existent word. The letters you pronounce in Worcester are 'Worster'. I argued that it was an evil word because as an American, not only can the beginning be pronounced two different ways, but - what I planned on saying: "what seems like the crux of the word isn't pronounced." And what I modified it to mid-sentence; "What seems like a cruxial part of the word isn't even pronounced!"

    When I googled the word, google asked "Did you mean crucial?", and my brain immediately said "No, I meant crux..ial... wait... is it..? are they..? I'm sure it's some sort of archaic usage, I studied Middle English a bit, it sounds like a word they would use!" But no dice; 'cruxial' has never appeared as a word in a book, it has forever been 'crucial'.