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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nerding Out with the Dictionary

In my Spanish studies, I recently came across radical-changing verbs. When Mark, the teacher (I'm using, among other sources, the excellent Coffee Break Spanish) first said "radical-changing" I first thought WHOA, RADICAL, they must be really extremely different. But here's how it works. In conjugating a standard verb, the stem stays the same, and the ending changes. For example, bailar - to dance: bailo, bailas, baila, bailamos, bailáis, bailan mean I dance, you dance, he dances, we dance, you-all dance, they dance. The stem stays the same and the ending changes. But in a radical-changing verb, there are spelling changes to the stem as well. For example pensar - to think, the "e" changes to "ie" sometimes: pienso, piensas, piensa, pensamos, pensáis, piensan mean I think, you think, he thinks, we think, you-all think, they think.

Why this is interesting to me, is it's another clear example of "radical" referring to a root. "Radical-changing verb" is referring to changes in the root of the word, as well as the ending. With numbers, an example is the square root of a number, like how "radical 9" means "the square root of 9." The symbol for which is , and that symbol is derived from a stretched out "r." The rationale I've heard for this word choice is, picture an upright square resting on the ground:
If the square has an area of 9, the root, the part resting on the ground, has a length of 3. The square root of 9 is 3.

So I went and looked up "radical," and behold the first definition:

rad·i·cal  adjective /ˈradikəl/ 
(esp. of change or action) Relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough

not, as I might have guessed, extreme or far-fetched, which are included in the definition, but farther down.

Anyway, you all probably knew that already. But I thought it was a neat connection.