Saturday, May 16, 2009

Porno for Tyros

No fireworks this week, just an honest-to-god useful word that I only recently learned about.
tyro (TIE-row) — noun: a novice; someone just beginning to learn a given thing.
Has anyone else managed to get this far in their life without encountering this word? I feel like tyro must have avoided me. Here’s why: When reading, I tend to skip over strange multisyllabic monstrosities but will often take the time to look up shorter that words that I don’t know, the possible underlying logic being that many of the words we English speakers use most often are shorter and that, just maybe, this new, short word has a better chance of working its way into my regular vocabulary than, for example, aequeosalinocalcalinoceraceoaluminosocupreovitriolic.

Straightforward though tyro might be, it’s a head-scratcher etymologically. The hand-dandy Online Etymological Dictionary traces its history as an English word back to the Middle Latin tiro, “young soldier, recruit, beginner.” The trail seems to end there. So, basically, the word hasn’t changed much since we started paying attention to it, but despite that constancy no one’s sure how it came to be. Of course, it may well have skipped around like most other words — we just don’t have any record of it doing so.

Previous words of the week:
Word nerd? Subscribe to Back of the Cereal Box’s word-related posts by clicking here.

6 comments:

  1. It's fair to say most Enlgish speakers avoid sesquipedalian words.

    1.having many syllables
    2.given to or characterized by the use of long words

    ReplyDelete
  2. The OED has a short entry that dates it to late middle English, from the Latin, like you say.

    Tyro- also occurs as a prefix meaning cheese-related, e.g. Tyroglyphidae (cheese and house mites) and tyromancy (divination by watching cheese coagulate). From the Greek turos. But that probably has nothing to do with tyro meaning "novice".

    ReplyDelete
  3. Adrian: Probably true, but those of us who obsessively collect weird words often skew toward longer ones. I've tried to pick ones that don't look like they came out of the glossary from some high-level science textbook.

    Stan: I actually was going to write this week's entry on tyrotoxism, but scotched it because of the reasons I just stated. I didn't see and also couldn't think of a possible connection between "tyro" and cheese either.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Michael1:10 PM

    "tyro" shows up in crosswords with some frequency.

    ReplyDelete
  5. That makes sense, given that it's a short word with a convenient combination of letters. I've always thought that designing crosswords would be a good way of learning about such words. "Damn, it would be great if there were such as a word as adz, because that would fit in perfectly... Hey, wait a minute..."

    ReplyDelete
  6. I wonder how is pronounced. There is the town of Tyro not too far from me, in North Carolina.

    ReplyDelete