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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The real source of stamina

When you talk about someone's stamina you are literally saying that he or she is at the mercy of the Fates.  

Stamina is the plural of the Latin word stamen (thread), which of course has given us the word for the threadlike part of a flower.
Image result for stamens
Image result for stamens

But stamen was also used to mean the thread spun by the three Fates in Greek and Roman mythology, the length of which determined one's life. 

Image result for three fates
Her stamina has definitely run out

When "stamina" first came into English around 1700, it was as the plural of this word "stamen". Maintaining the metaphor of the thread spun by the Fates, it meant all the bodily characteristics that could be expected to determine one's life expectancy. That sense died out, leaving us with the current meaning, the capacity to endure fatigue and exertion. 

The word ceased to be plural and became a singular. Knowing this may come in handy the next time someone berates you for using "media" or "data" with a singular verb. Would they say "Her stamina are extraordinary"?

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I like the original sense of the word more than the current sense. And I rather like the singular/plural tip at the end. Thanks, Katherine!

    ReplyDelete

About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.