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Oct 13, 2000
This week's theme
Words with ambigrams

This week's words
ambiguity
philosophy
energy
gravity
syzygy

A.Word.A.Day--syzygy

Pronunciation RealAudio

syzygy (SIZ-uh-jee) noun

1. Astronomy. Either of two points in the orbit of a celestial body where the body is in opposition to or in conjunction with the sun. Either of two points in the orbit of the moon when the moon lies in a straight line with the sun and Earth. The configuration of the sun, the moon, and Earth lying in a straight line.
2. The combining of two feet into a single metrical unit in classical prosody.

[Late Latin syzygia, from Greek suzugia, union, from suzugos, paired : sun-, syn- + zugon, yoke.]

SYZYGY This curious word comes from the Greek language, where it meant the yoking of two oxen. Over the eons, it came to mean the joining of any two entities without losing the individual characteristics of either one. This idea brings the yin/yang symbol to mind, and also the ambigrammatic phenomenon of two letters being joined into one shape without loss of their readability. In astronomy, however, "syzygy" is defined as an alignment of three heavenly bodies in the solar system, more like the periodic alignment of the three Ys in the word. How could a word that once implied the pairing of two entities come to refer to the alignment of three?

The answer comes in the fact that in science, no phenomenon can be investigated without taking into account the presence of the investigator. And when two heavenly bodies are seen to be in alignment, they are being seen from a third, which is necessarily in the same straight line. So no matter which way you look at the syzygy ambigram, it satisfies both sides of its ambiguous definition. -John Langdon (this week's Guest Wordsmith)

X-Bonus

There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum. -Arthur C. Clarke, writer (1917- )

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