Daily Archives: November 17, 2008

vertex

A word that starts and ends with angles: v, x. (It is perhaps ironic that this word lacks an A, since it was first of all not just any angle put the apex of a triangle – ah, APEX: there’s the angle to take.) Even in pronunciation you can find an angle: you start at the lips with [v], pass the alvolar ridge at [t] and proceed to [k], but then turn back forward to [s] – in [eks] the tongue closes the angle like a tapping telegraph key. And this word may have a flavour of narrowing in other ways, as other verts may seem narrow because tall (vertical) or simply reminding one of the angle of a v (divert). Others have a more vicious vibe (pervert). And of course there are the ones that turn to the point of dizziness (vertigo), true to the turning origins of vert. But somehow this word does not whirl like vortex, which forces the mouth into a funnel and has the roar of voracious and the lethality of vorpal. Yet vortex comes from vertex, which in Latin meant both the top of the head (and the highest point of anything) and a whirlpool. The o version took the swirl and the e version has taken the whorl on the top of the head. And so we find that the true tellers in the shapes of this word are the t – which has the highest point – and the two e‘s, which are the closest thing to a spiral.