Of Spies and Spectacles

The 105 was clear, but as C.J. maneuvered the Leaf onto the 110 North, things jammed up. He frowned.  “I spy with my little eye something that stinks,” he said. The carpool lane was closed, awaiting its rebirth as a pay-to-play lane.

“So, how long have there been spies?” he asked.

“As long as someone felt the urge to know what was really going on in the next cave,” I guessed. “But you’re talking etymology; right?”


“The word has been around a while, too. Both the noun and the verb spy crop up in a version of the biblical books of Genesis and Exodus from the year 1225. A century and a half later Chaucer writes about Fame having all the spies in the realm. English got the word from the Old French espie, which etymologists figure is descended from a hypothetical Frankish word spehōn, ‘to watch.’ The Frankish word comes from the Indo-European root spek-, which is also the parent of Latin specere, meaning‘behold, look.’”

“As in spectator, spectacle and like that?”

“Yep. And many, many more.” I sighed. “That takes me back.”

“We are back.”

I was having so much fun tracing word origins that I didn’t realize that we were in front of my apartment. I felt his warm breath on my face. “What happened to your lady friend?” I asked.

“I decided she was insensate and the relationship was downright insalubrious.”

“C’mere,” I said, unlocking the door and pulling him inside. I tripped over the potted hollyhocks and sent us both crashing to the floor. But C.J. had promised to make my efforts worth my while. And he did.


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