Lexie Kahn Fears No Art

I jammed my hands into the pockets of my trench coat as C.J. sent his sky-blue Leaf slaloming down the 101 to the 110 and the 105. Would the turbulence of the planes landing at LAX blow the agile little car off Sepulveda? Maybe my fear was justified. After all, we were headed to an art exhibit whose title, “Meticulosity,” is related to a Latin word for fear. Turns out there were no bears, beheadings or bludgeoning in the show. The fear referred to the artists’ dread of falling short, of not measuring up to their own standards. Thus they were meticulous, a word that once meant timid and overcareful, but now means careful and precise – in a good way. That they were: wonderfully exacting with their X-Acto knives, chisels and finely honed charcoal sticks. I mentioned to C.J. that meticulous comes from Latin metus meaning ‘fear.’ “Is that the origin of miedo in Spanish?” he wondered. “Oh, yeah, your Peruvian relatives…Sounds right. Let’s see what the Spanish Academy says.” I pulled out my phone to check. “You got it. One thing puzzles me, though. When I search the Oxford English Dictionary Online for metus in the etymology, the only thing that comes up is meticulous. I would expect it to be the root of timid and timorous, but the OED says metus is of unknown origin. It says timid is from Latin timidus, which it says is from timēre ‘to fear,’ also of unknown origin.”

We were quiet for a while, just looking.

Photos: “Infinity Column 4″ by Elizabeth Turk, Head by Tanya Batura. J.B. Herman

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