Aster and Disaster

“He loves me. He loves me not,” is an incantation traditionally recited while plucking the petals of a daisy until the last remaining ray of the “day’s eye” reveals the answer. If you removed the star-like rays of an aster in the same manner would you create a “disaster”?

“Disaster,” like “aster,” refers to a star. It dates from a time when many believed the stars in the heavens affected the lives of those below. “Disaster” came into English in the late 16th century from Italian disastro ‘ill-starred event,’ from dis- (expressing negation) + astro ‘star’ (from Latin astrum). At first it meant ‘an unfavorable aspect of a star or planet,’ as in the first scene of Hamlet, when Horatio speaks of, “…stars with trains of fire and dews of blood, Disasters in the sun; and the moist star…” It soon came to mean, as it does today, ‘an occurrence of ruinous or distressing nature; a sudden or great misfortune, mishap, or misadventure; a calamity.’

I guess we can call “disaster” another “lonely negative,” since the aster flower, though lovely, is not the opposite of disaster.

(;Name:Kalimeris incisa ;Family:Asteraceae Image no. 1 Permission granted to use under GFDL by Kurt Stueber Source: [http://www.biolib.de http://www.biolib.de {{GFDL}})
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Lexie Kahn: Word Snooper is a blog about words and their origins at WordSnooper.com.
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2 Responses to Aster and Disaster

  1. What a coincidence: a few minutes ago, without having seen your post, I began writing an entry on the word aster to appear in my blog later this month. This being fall, I’ve begun seeing some types of asters as I wander about Austin. Are there many where you are?

  2. lexiekahn says:

    That is a coincidence. Here on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, south of Los Angeles, there may be some asters in gardens, but the open spaces are rather dry and “golden” now. In the spring, though, some hillsides were covered with cliff asters.

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