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Permanent link for this word: orrery


Jan 5, 2004
This week's theme
Earls who became words (or places that became words)

This week's words
orrery
cadogan
Oxfordian
derby
yarborough

orrery
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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

This is the beginning of the year, so we feature some early words. 'Earl'y that is: words having connections with earls. Many everyday words are derived after earls' names. Cardigan, for example, came to us from James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan (1797-1868). This British cavalryman loved to wear a sweater that opened down the front; today he lives on in the name of this piece of apparel.

Or take British politician John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792). This inveterate gambler preferred to eat at the gaming table rather than interrupt his 24-hour-long betting game. No doubt people ate slices of bread with a filling before then, but the notoriety of this Earl resulted in his name getting attached to this repast.

A bit of earl trivia. Count is another word for an earl -- that's where we got the word county from (but not country). The wife or widow of an earl is called a countess. (Should the latter be called a countless?) And who is the most famous earl of all? A fictional character: Count Dracula.

This week we'll see other words that are coined after earls. You'll notice that these words could be called toponyms (words coined after place names) or eponyms (words coined from people's names).

orrery

Pronunciation RealAudio

orrery (OR-uh-ree) noun

A mechanical model of the solar system that represents the relative motions of the planets around the sun.

[After Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery (1676-1731), who was given one of those models by John Rowley, a London instrument-maker. They were invented by George Graham c. 1700.]

"The lamp at the center of the orrery demonstrates the way the sun lends light to the planets."
James Fenton; Sheridan the Revolutionary; The New York Review of Books; Feb 4, 1999.

"Even the nation's attic couldn't contain a 650-yard-long model of the solar system, so the Smithsonian Institution has put it outdoors, on the National Mall. 'Voyage: A Journey Through Our Solar System,' a new permanent installation, represents the solar system at one 10-billionth its actual size. ...
"The stations within this giant orrery also feature porcelain information plaques with high-resolution, full-color images of the planets."
Eric P Nash; A Smithsonian Spin Through the Cosmos; The New York Times; Feb 10, 2002.

X-Bonus

What is the purpose of the giant sequoia tree? The purpose of the giant sequoia tree is to provide shade for the tiny titmouse. -Edward Abbey, naturalist and author (1927-1989)

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