Lexie Kahn Seeks the Origin of Time and Temperature

I inserted my earplugs and flipped through some dictionaries while I pondered my next move.

“Con?” a voice seemed to say.

Was C.J. De Sica “The Seeker” Chan’s story a con? Maybe, but to what end?

“Ms. Kahn?” the voice insisted.

I turned to see a slim, dark woman in jeans and layered mauve and white T-shirts. “I’m Lexie Kahn. And you are…?”

“I’m American.”

“I don’t care about your national – Wait.” I removed the earplugs.

“I’m Amira Khan,” She repeated. “I’ve got a temp assignment for you.”

“That’s the only way I work. Two-fifty a day and all the –”

“I know,” she interrupted. “My employer is in kind a hurry and doesn’t mind the cost. She said if the line is too long at the reference desk I should look for you.”

“You found me,” I said, slipping the bills she placed on the table into my purse. “Have a seat, Ms. Khan. What can I do for you?”

“Thanks, Ms. Kahn. As I said, it’s a temp- assignment. My employer wants to know whether time and temperature share a common origin.”

“Let me make something clear from the get-go, Miss. This better be about etymology. I don’t do cosmology. I can give you a referral, though.”

“No, no. It’s etymology, of course. My employer, who, as you might have guessed, prefers to remain anonymous, wants to know whether the temp- in tempo, temporary and so on, is the same temp- as in temperature.”

“Okay.” I tugged a hefty volume from the shelf and schlepped it to the table without dropping it on my steel-toed stilettos or Ms. Khan’s vulnerable sandal-clad feet. “Here’s what the OED says about the etymology of temporary:

< Latin temporāri-us , < tempus , tempor- time + -ary ‘connected with, pertaining to’

“and under temperature we’ve got this:

< Latin temperātūra the process or result of tempering, due measure and proportion, < participial stem of temperāre + -ure  ‘action or process.’

“Originally it meant ‘The action or process of tempering…mixing or combination (of elements).’”

“Well, the words sound related, all right,” said Ms. Khan, “but what does mixing have to do with heat and cold? Is tempering related to tampering?”

“The short answer to your latter question is yes. Here’s the OED on tamper:

Before 1600 mostly spelt temper, and apparently originating in temper v.

“The tale of temperature is tangled and protracted, but if your boss lady’s got the time, I’ve got the temperament.”

‘Just a second. I’m getting a text. She says, ‘Go4it.’”

[cont.]

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Lexie Kahn: Word Snooper is a blog about words and their origins at WordSnooper.com.
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