Another way to help make new words easier to remember is to examine their origin. Today, using examples, I want to talk about two words of foreign origin, foreign to English that is.
This, as you may well know, is from the Chinese"叩头", which describes the erstwhile practice of people knocking their forehead on the floor (preferably making audible noises, I hear some elders say) in meeting an emperor or some big potato or other. This word, though long out of fashion (along with the act itself, thank goodness) in China, is still alive and well in the English language due, obviously, to its exotic nature.
"Google Kowtows to China", purrs one headline (The Register, UK, January 26, 2006). Other recent headlines include: The Supreme Court Kowtows to the Dictator: Civil Rights and Capitalism Take it on the Chin (associatedcontent.com, July 5, 2007); BBC "Kowtows" to Queen, Photographer for Botched Promo (Xinhuanet, July 13, 2007).
And of course, the Economist seems to be particularly fond of the word's unique descriptiveness. From my notes:
1. The BBC's AllegedKowtow(a headline of a story "arguing over the coverage of the Litvinenko murder", July 19, 2007).
2. Only English-speakers, it seems, are expected tokowtowto name-changers' whims (Goodbye, Bangalore, November 9, 2006).
3. That money will notkowtowto Mr de Villepin or anyone else in the French government (French Business, June 29, 2006).
The other word for today is the Italian omerta.
Omerta, Sicilian for manliness, refers to the vow of silence taken by members of the Mafia. In other words, members will not tell on one another and in case of arrest will refuse to give evidence to the police of their criminal activities.
Omerta is also the title of one of books by Mario Puzo (best known for the Godfather which was adapted into hit films) about the Mafia. Omerta implies strong loyalty (be a man, you know) plus wrongdoing. Understanding the word's cultural background, one will find it easier to remember as well as to put in correct use (if the situation arises. If ever, that is).
Here are two media examples:
1. From The Guardian (Mafia Rebirth Dismays UN Conference, December 12, 2000):
A Mafia challenge to the state in 1992, climaxing in the car-bomb murders of judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, prompted new laws and a prolonged crackdown. Mobsters such as Giovanni Brusca, who were persuaded to breakomerta, the code of silence, implicated hundreds of colleagues in so-called "maxi" trials.
Toto Riina, the boss of bosses, was sentenced to life and the former prime minister Giulio Andreotti, the organization's alleged protector in Rome, was put on trial.
2. From salon.com (The Three Stooges, August 2, 2007):
Omerta(or a code of silence) has become the final bond holding the Bush administration together. Honesty is dishonorable; silence is manly; penitence is weakness. Loyalty trumps law. Protecting higher-ups is patriotism. Stonewalling is idealism. Telling the truth is informing. Cooperation with investigators is cowardice; breaking the code is betrayal. Once the code is shattered, however, no one can be trusted and the entire edifice crumbles.
If Attorney General Alberto Gonzales were miraculously to tell the truth, or if he were to resign or be removed, the secret government of the past six years would be unlocked. So long as a Republican Congress rigorously engaged in enforcing no oversight was smugly complicit through its passive ignorance and abdication of constitutional responsibility, the White House was secure...