Let the Negotations Begin

I discovered an interesting bit of etymology recently. I was reading SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard. In a chapter about work and business, she mentioned a Latin word  – otium.

Used in Ancient Rome to refer to the ideal state of humanity, it can roughly be translated as being in control of one’s time. Business of any kind was seen as the opposite of this state, an annoying intrusion that occupies your time when you’d rather it didn’t. Business was therefore portrayed as “not otium,” constructed in Latin by adding the negative prefix neg-negotium.


It’s not hard to see here the origin of the word to negotiate, and its related forms, as well as words in other languages like the Italian negozio (shop/store). And it’s not surprising, either, that these words would derive from the Latin word for business.

What’s interesting though is how looking at the origin of the word highlights just how the long the journey a word takes can be. And that’s especially true when we think of the different ways we can now use the word to negotiate. Of course there are still the obviously business-related uses of the word, which have extended into other spheres, such as politics. But the word’s also taken on much more figurative meanings, and can be used in many contexts to generally refer to dealing with something. In motorsports, for example, commentators often refer to drivers negotiating tricky corners. And the meaning hasn’t changed that much really. If you’re negotiating something, you’re dealing with some kind of obstacle to a desired state.

And all this stemming from an Ancient Roman sense of an ideal life – otium. It’s a long way from there to negotiating the pitfalls of modern life. But there’s something quite poignant in the sense that something of that ancient sense of what life should be like lingers on over 2,000 years later.

Quite a Predicament

I saw the word predicament recently, and thought that it would be an interesting case for a little bit of etymology figuring-out. It looks so Latin, with such clearly separate sections, each of which could have its own meaning, and which could all be added up to clearly show the meaning of the word as whole. Continue reading

Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

If you want peace, prepare for war.

An ancient, but enduring adage, first found in the 5th century De re militari (Concerning Military Matters) by the Latin writer Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus.

I was thinking about this phrase recently, inspired by the subtitle of the latest John Wick filmParabellum. Continue reading


Yesterday I shared with you my new favourite word: neck-verse. The first time I typed it, it sounded like an informal term for a group of films all tied together by featuring characters related to a superhero called The Neck.

And sadly, while such a series of films doesn’t (yet) exist, it made me think of the newly-obvious similarity between the words verse and universe. Could there be a link? Continue reading