Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Behind the curve

Behind the curve

Some people can’t sleep because of partying neighbors, indigestion, climate change, or national news. Others lie awake at night wondering how the word parabolic could possibly be related to the word parable. In case you fall in the latter category, here’s the answer…

Parable, parabolic, parabola & parley all come from a Greek word constructed of para- (alongside) & -bole (a throwing, casting, beam, or ray). 

The original term literally meant a throwing beside, but parable’s primary application was its figurative meaning, a comparison. The word maintained that figurative meaning in Medieval times, when used in Late Latin to refer  to stories told to make a point, parables that compared a fictional tale to real life with the purpose of teaching a lesson. After Medieval times, much study turned to science, & the word picked up its mathematical meaning. 

Here we have a parabolic curve or parabola — still a comparison, not really a curve, but a collection of intersecting straight lines that appears to be a curve.

As to the word parley, it grew from the earlier meaning, as most parables weren’t written, but spoken, so parley means to speak, talk, or confer.

If anything about this Parable of the Parabolic Parley seems remarkable to you, please offer your remark in the comments section.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Merriam Webster, Collins Dictionary Etymonline & Wordnik.


  1. I had no idea that parabolas and parables had anything to do with each other. Amazing! Thanks for the explanation!

    1. Thanks, Anne. I'm in complete agreement. It just seems so unlikely, but there you go. English is nothing if not wacky.