The Word Snooper: Of Time and Temples

“So,” I said to Amira Khan, “your mysterious employer wants to know the origin of the word temple as well as temporary, temperature and the other temp- words we’ve discussed.”

“Yes. She’s attempting to make the most of this tempting temp- assignment.”

“Mmm-hmm. All right. Well, we’ve shown that time and temperature have a common origin. It looks as if time and space do too – etymologically anyway.”

“How’s that?”

Temple dates back to Old English, from at least the early 9th century. It comes from Latin templum meaning ‘a section, a part cut off.’

“Look,” I went on, “Here’s Cassell’s New Latin Dictionary. Someone must have brought it up from International Languages. Guess there are other word snoopers lurking around here. Cassell’s gives the literal meaning of templum as:

a space in the sky or on the earth marked out by the augur for the purpose of taking auspices.

Then it cites Livy using the word to mean

A consecrated piece of ground, esp. a sanctuary, asylum.”

“Didn’t tempus, the source of our words tempo and temporary, also have something to do with sectioning or dividing?” asked Ms. Khan, absently sectioning and braiding a strand of hair.

“That’s right. Look at what Cassell’s says about tempus:

a division, section

(1) in space; only of the temples of the head, usually plur.

(2) in time; a portion of time; period of time

“Well, we’ve got time, temperature and space properly proportioned,” I said, “but one thing puzzles me.”

“What’s that?”

“Why is your boss lady on the down low about her interest in etymology when she flaunts her other interests by emblazoning her name on buildings all over town devoted to –“

“Shhhh!” Ms. Khan hissed, pressing an index finger to her lips. It occurred to me that in all my years making the Central Library my office I had never seen a librarian do that.

Photo illustration by J.B. Herman

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