Wednesday Word

I was thinking about how most of us rarely use actual cameras anymore. Our kids and grand kids will naturally think of cameras as a function of their cell phones. But the history of the word “camera” hearkens back to an earlier version of the device.

The Latin word “camera” means “chamber” (another derivative) or “room.” An early camera was a truncated form of “camera obscura,” or “dark room.” If you owned or have seen an old Brownie camera, you have seen that little dark chamber, holding the light-sensitive film safely inside the darkness.

Image credit to Jen Theodore on Unsplash
Image credit to Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Other English words derive from this root as well. Our legislature is called “bicameral,” because it has two houses, or rooms, the Senate and the House of Representatives. (Not because elected officials love to appear before the cameras.) A chamberlain, a royal officer who attends a king or high-ranking noble, is in literal terms a person who manages chambers, or rooms. A “camcorder” combines “camera” with “recorder.”

And how does “comrade” relate? Well, you’re chummy enough with a comrade that you’d be willing to share a room with him or her.

Our comrades are a far cry from the root word “camera.” And the skinny hand-held devices that can “hold” thousands of photos are a far cry from the old Brownie “chamber,” a handsome box that protected our pictures until we could drop off the film at the drug store.

P.S. Some of you will recognize this post as a continuation of Word of the Day on the Facebook “Latin at CSU” page. Latin, alas, is no more at CSU, so a weekly etymology will be appearing here on Wednesdays. Suggestions are welcome!

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4 Responses to Wednesday Word

  1. Kathy says:

    Thank you all for your encouragement!

  2. Jewel Moulthrop says:

    Carry on!

  3. Barb Ewing Cockroft says:

    I love the Wednesday Word, Kathy! (Maybe it is in our genes).
    When I was teaching in the 7th grade classroom, I called it “Weighty Word Wednesday” and then the students all chimed in with “WOW!” They looked forward to my sharing with them a word which had probaby not been in their lexicon as of yet. I too explained the etymology as I knew it would assist them in decoding unfamiliar words in their futures. Thank you for the lesson today on “camera.” I remember Granda Darr with her Brownie camera and she never could quite get all of us into the picture…sigh

  4. Roger Talbott says:

    Love this. Keep up! Made me think about the capturing of images. We wish, now, that we had taken more pictures of our kids when they were little. (We used to joke that we could get two Christmases on one roll of film.) One of the great things about digital technology is that we no longer have to be stingy about taking pictures.

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