07.25.08

Figuratively Speaking

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 7:40 am by Marion

INORDINATE

This week, I found myself reading some historical information about Fort Macon, N.C., a marvelous open place at the tip of the Bogue Banks island at Atlantic Beach.

I’ve been visiting the site since childhood, and even today, make the trip whenever I’m on the coast. Fort Macon is the most highly visited state park in North Carolina — you might think a fort would be boring, but just beyond, in about 12 feet of water, lies Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. What’s more, the fort has beaches, open spaces, hidden passageways and is a wonderland for kids.

But reading about the fort, I came across this line

As a result of congressional economizing, it was garrisoned in 1834-36, 1842-44 and 1848-49, but more often it was occupied by a single ordnance sergeant acting as caretaker.

Ordnance is a noun referring to mounted guns, military weapons, ammunition and equipment used in connection with them. It’s also a branch of the armed forces.

It has no “i” as you might expect — but is a variant of the more familiar ordinance, which is a piece of legislation enacted by a municipal authority. We have city ordinances against open burning, weedy yards, loud music. (Guess cities aren’t powerful enough for full-blown laws.)

Ordinance derives from the Middle English ordenance, from the Latin ordinare, to put in order. That meaning also gives us ordain.

We also have the word ordonnance, which is the systematic or orderly arrangement of parts, especially in art and architecture. That word is not surprisingly also derived from the French. (I can imagine trying to use this word in conversation, with that French nasal twang. No one would be listening, just laughing as I uttered oar…donn…awnce.)

From the Latin ordinare we also have ordinate, which in math means to place in order on the x- and y-axis.

That’s an extraordinary talent, indeed.

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