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Rodent – Podictionary Word of the Day

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There’s an etymological connection between the platform upon which speeches are made and squirrels, rats and beavers.

The platform I’m talking about is a rostrum.

A rostrum is so called because it was so called in ancient Rome.

People would stand on a platform that faced the senate and make speeches.

The reason we call such a speaking platform a rostrum is that more than 2300 years ago the Romans won a battle and brought their war trophies back to show off.

This battle was pretty close to home since the city they conquered was less than 50 kilometers from Rome itself.

rostrum-rodentThe war trophies were the prows of six ships that they had captured. They hung these up on the platform where speeches were made and presumably made speeches about winning the battle.

Afterward people began referring to the platform as “the prows” because of this.

Except that in Latin a ship’s prow was called a rostrum and the plural of rostrum was rostra so they called the speaking platform rostra.

The reason a ship’s prow was called rostrum was because it was the beak or the snout of the ship and rostrum was also the word used to describe an animal’s beak or muzzle.

In turn the beak or muzzle was so named because to peck or gnaw at something was in Latin rodere.

Animals like squirrels, rats and beavers have teeth that keep on growing their whole lives so that they have no worries about wearing them down by gnawing on nut shells, household foundations or trees.

Since rodere means “gnaw” rodent literally means “gnawer.”


Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of several books including his latest History of Wine Words – An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle.

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