Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Always look on the bright -cide of life

We engage in -cide every day. Some acts of -cide might be beneficial to you; others might land you in prison for the rest of your life.

Here are the basic facts: -cide comes from the Latin caedere, which means cut or kill. It formed compounds with the altered form -cidere, as in circumcidere, concidere, decidere, excidere, incidere and praecidere, from which we get circumcise, concise, decision, excision, incision and precision respectively. A lot of cutting but nothing really killing about these words. But then we come to the death-dealing creations with -cide, such as fungicide, insecticide and homicide. Now the -cide part carries a lot of connotations, depending on the first part of the compound. An insecticide is normally considered a chemical compound which causes the death of insects. However, I want to look at it in another light, namely as an act of killing.

Engaging in the act of killing something may or may not carry criminal associations. The act of killing an insect is not normally considered a violent act conveying the threat of punishment consisting of an extended stretch in prison at the very least. The act of insecticide is usually trivial, unless, of course, you're the insect. It stands to reason, however, that if you find yourself shrunk to the size of an insect in the manner of many a children's cartoon feature from Hollywood, the implications of insecticide might be more deleterious to your prospects of long term freedom, particularly if the insects have arthropodal courts of law in which they can put humans on trial and exoskeletal prisons to confine them to.

Homicide, on the other hand, is rather more serious than insecticide, since it results in the death of a human being. The -cide bit of this compound carries serious connotations of wrongdoing. On the other hand, it depends on the agent of the homicide. Just as humans do not generally consider the act of killing an insect something serious or heinous, a mosquito biting a human host would not give serious consideration to the consequences of its action in infecting the human with dengue fever or malaria, quite probably resulting in his/her death.

Admittedly, this is most likely to be a function of the inability of the mosquito to rationalise its actions and prognosticate about the implications of its deeds, largely because its brain is significantly lacking in the quantity and quality of those neurons which allow us to engage in these mental machinations. If the mosquito indeed had the use of such highly evolved mental faculties, and was challenged with the question “do you realise your act of biting this human will probably result in his or her demise?” one would surmise that the answer would be something on the lines of “sod off; I'm just having a quick bite to eat and I don't give a flying toss what happens to the victim”.

The result, however, is strangely symmetrical: we consider the act of inflicting death on another human as probably the most serious act any of us can perpetrate on society, yet we consider the swatting of a fly as a rather insignificant act to remove the source of an annoyance. With the proviso, outlined above, that insects lack the mental faculties of us humans, insects are equally uncaring about the effects of their -cide on us, but would probably view the act of insecticide of one of their species on another in the same light as we would when it comes to human on human killing.

Now, I admit that this doesn't really get us anywhere in the grand scheme of things, but I think you will agree that depending on how a compound word is formed, the second element often has connotations which are introduced into the compound by the first element and which are not present in the bare form of the second element. Think more on these compounds and see what you can come up with on the same lines.

  • ludere, play: allude, collude, delude, elude, illusion, interlude, prelude
  • praehendere, seize, grasp: apprehend, comprehend, reprehend
  • sedere, sit: dissident, insidious, obsession, preside, reside, subsidy, supersede
  • sentire, feel: assent, consent, dissent, presentiment, resent
  • signum, sign: assign, consign, design, designate, insignia, resign
  • specere, look at: aspect, circumspect, despicable, despite, introspection, inspect, perspicacious, perspective, prospect, respect, retrospect, suspect

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