The Many Ways of “Via”

The Many Ways of “Via”

Via, the Latin word for “way,” is also the basis of many words, many of them disguised, that refer to movement or the way things move (or act). This post lists and defines terms derived from via.

In English, via itself often replaces “by way of” in writing in reference to traveling, though it is seldom employed in conversation. Words in which via is the first element include viaduct, which describes a raised watercourse, and viaticum, which refers to an allowance or provisions for a journey, or the ritual offering of Communion given to someone on the verge of death (the plural is viaticums or viatica). A viatical settlement (the phrase is sometimes simplified to viatical) is an insurance agreement pertaining to a death benefit.

Voyage, too, stems from via by way of French. Someone who voyages is a voyager; the French equivalent, voyageur, describes someone employed to transport goods for a fur-trapping company, especially in colonial Canada.

Other words derived from via include deviate (literally, “turn out of the way”), which means “differ from the norm” or “leave the expected course.” As a noun, the word describes a sexual pervert, though deviant is more commonly employed for that meaning; deviant is also an adjective in this context, while devious describes someone who is cunning or deceitful (although it is used, albeit rarely, as a synonym for errant, roundabout, or remote). Deviation describes a departure or difference, and deviance pertains to perversion.

Convey and convoy (“with way”) both refer to carrying away, but to convey is to bear, deliver, impart, or pass, while convoy means “accompany,” especially for protection, and as a noun refers to the act of accompanying for protection, or one or more people or things that provide such protection, usually in the context of a group of vehicles or vessels.

An envoy (“way in”) is a messenger or a representative from one government to another; the word may refer to someone with a particular diplomatic rank. It may also pertain to concluding remarks to a poem, song, or other composition, though the French spelling envoi is usually employed in that sense. Invoice, meanwhile, is not related to voice; it stems from the otherwise obsolete “message” sense of envoi.

Pervious (“way through”) means “accessible” or “permeable,” though its antonym, impervious, is much more common. Previous (“way before”), meanwhile, means “prior” or, rarely, “premature.” An instance of being previous is previousness, and the adverbial form is previously.

To obviate (“get in the way of”) is to prevent or to make unnecessary (an act of doing so is obviation), while obvious means “easily seen or understood,” and the noun form is obviousness.

Quadrivium (“four ways”) and trivium (“three ways”) refer to the division of the seven classical literal arts. (The former comprises arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music, and the latter consists of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.) Trivium also, in Latin, referred to a three-way crossing, where information might be posted—or passed on by travelers meeting at the intersection. From that idea, English acquired trivia, meaning “inconsequential information.”

The adjective trivial pertains to such information but also has the broader senses of “unimportant” and “ordinary”; to portray something substantial as trivial is to trivialize it, and the noun form triviality denotes the quality or state of being trivial or something trivial. (Trifle, meaning “something trivial” and the name of a type of dessert, though it appears as if it could be related to trivial, is actually from an Anglo-French word, by way of Old English, meaning “nonsense.”)

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Original post: The Many Ways of “Via”

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