A Temperate Tempest

I like the high ceilings and spacious oak tables in my second office, the L.A. Central Library, but speaking of temperature, it was getting as hot as a stereo that fell off a truck. Ms. Khan lifted her long hair off her neck.

“I notice you don’t wear a head scarf,” I said.

You’re very observant, Ms. Kahn,” she replied.

“Who me? No, I’m not relig—“ I started to say. “Oh. Sorry. I’ll confine my snooping to words.

“You asked about temperate and tempestuous. Your hunch was right: though they are antonyms they probably come from the same root. Temperate comes from the Latin temperāt-us, meaning ‘tempered, regulated or restrained.’ It’s the past participle of temperāre ‘to temper.’

Tempest, ‘a violent storm,’ came into English from Old French tempeste, which derived from Latin tempestās , -ātem ‘season, weather, storm,’ ultimately from tempus ‘a time, a season.’ We were just saying that most etymologists believe temperāre derives from tempus.”

“Yes, I remember, but I don’t get it.”

“What?”

“How did tempestās, meaning a time or a season get to mean weather and specifically stormy weather? Well, I can see how a certain season or time period is associated with a certain kind of weather, like the rainy season.”

‘And if someone says, “We’re expecting some weather,” you know they don’t mean sunshine and soft breezes.”

“That’s true,” she agreed. “‘Some weather,’ means tempestuous, not temperate weather.

“To shift the subject a bit,” she went on, “What about temple?”

“I told you I’m not relig—“

“I’m talking about the etymology of the word, meaning a place of worship, yes, and also this one here,” she said, tapping the side of her head.

“Of course.”


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