Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

In English, when you want to express that a container is completely airtight or sealed, you can talk about it being “Hermetically sealed”. Although the term sounds very scientific, the origin is actually rooted not in science, but in Alchemy and Spellcasting.

Hermes Trismegistus (‘Hermes the Thrice Majestic’) was the Mythical founder of both alchemy and astrology, and a God of Ancient Greece. Several very important alchemical texts are attributed to him (including the Emerald Tablet), and for some Greeks, he took the place of both the Greek God Hermes and of Thoth, the Egyptian God of writing and science.

As you may have figured out, origin of “hermetically” comes from the Latin form of Hermes’ name (‘Hermeticus’). Hermes’ name is associated with this concept because he was purported to be able to magically seal a box or chest in such a way that it could never be opened. Thanks, Wikipedia Later on, in the 17th century, Hermes’ name became linked to secrets and seals. The term “Hermetically Sealed” was then popularized by an invention called the Magdeburg Hemispheres, which used a vacuum to remain sealed no matter the force applied to take them apart.

So, what sounds like a nice, scientific Latin term is really a relic of Ancient Alchemy. Aren’t word origins awesome?

Some site news

A few major things are happening in the world of Linguistic Mysticism, most of which involve some form of bragging.

I’m proud to report that this site has now surpassed 21,000 unique hits. Thanks to all of you who read the site and link to me in all sorts of different ways. It really does my heart good to know that people enjoy the site.

I’m even more proud to report that I’ve gotten a flurry of publicity and links over yesterday’s post about LOLCode, including (I’m quite proud to say), a link from the Language Log. I’m just bragging, really, but it’s very neat to see that the world’s most famous language bloggers have noticed me.

Speaking of the site, I’m sure some of you have noticed the slightly tweaked layout, design and color scheme. I hope you like them, but I’m certainly open to suggestions, ideas and complaints. Comments and emails are welcome.

Finally, I’m going off to a conference for a few days, but I’ll be back and posting on Monday.

So, thanks again for reading, for linking, and for commenting. I appreciate it.

Now, off to bag up my shampoo and contact solution, hoping they don’t leak in my luggage on the plane. Where’s Hermes and his magical seal when you need him?


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