A Monster Calls

I went to see A Monster Calls on Friday night, and really enjoyed it. Without spoiling much, it was a tougher watch than I expected, but still quite beautiful and touching at the same time.

I’ve been ruminating on the word monster since then. While the meaning hasn’t changed greatly in the many years its been in use, I’ve been interested in its complexity and layers of meaning since learning something of its etymology a few years ago. It comes from the old Latin monstrum, meaning divine omen or portent. The appearance of hideous figures was believed to indicate the arrival of some great event. Monstrum is derived from the verb monere, which means both to warn and instruct. From this root also came the verb monstrare, meaning to show or point out. This word gained the prefix de-, with demonstrare meaning to demonstrate, with the prefix meaning entirely.

So while the words demonstrate and monster might seem quite different on the surface, there are some basic similarities in their individual meanings. The appearance of a monster was believed to demonstrate that something momentous was going to happen, and throughout all the time we’ve been telling stories, monsters have been used to demonstrate one thing or another, and instruct us in some important life lessons. Continue reading

Awfully Kind of You Old Chap


Figure 20 for Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Caption reads “FIG. 2. – Terror, from a photograph by Dr. Duchenne.”



If someone gave us a choice between having an awful meal or an awesome one, we probably wouldn’t hesitate in making our decision. 300 years ago, however, we may have taken our time. While the difference between the two in modern-day English is immediately evident, things were not so clear-cut in the past. The root word for both awesome and awful is awe, which is now generally considered to be a positive condition, but was until relatively recently more flexible. Awe was a concept much considered by the Gothic and Romantic writers of the late 18th and 19th century. It was defined as a feeling or reverence, admiration or fear, or a combination of the above in the face of the sublime: that which is so elevated beyond the ordinary, so transcendent, that the only natural response is awe.

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