Daily Archives: February 12, 2012

retiarius

In a fight between a heavily armoured guy with a sword and a guy without armour (more of an air-suiter) but carrying a net, a long trident, and a dagger, who would you favour?

This was once a viable real-life question, and you could ask which of each: which secutor and which retiarius? In the Roman circus, such match-ups were common. The retiarius, with his net and trident, would face off against a secutor, or even two of them. Secutor meant “follower”, and mayhem would typically follow; retiarius meant “net user”, and he would try to retain the secutor in order to retire him and hope to return, as there was no retreat. Nor any retrial – nor trial at all: no judge, jury, or prosecutor, just one pro secutor. Ready or not, ready your net. And try to retain it and use it on your adversary – don’t be reticent.

The retiarius would actually do the damage with the trident or the dagger, but it was the net he was associated with – that’s what the arius is about, often showing up in English as ary: actuary, apothecary, secretary, adversary. Or, of course, in the original in Aquarius, the sign of the water-carrier. And the ret? That’s the net. It’s not made of flax – ret may mean “soak flax”, but that’s unrelated, Germanic. This ret is from Latin rete, “net”. As in reticulated. There are numerous other English words that start with ret, but pretty much none of them are derived from rete.

This word has that pleasant tongue-tip effect that Latin often gives: the consonants are /r/ /t/ /r/ /s/ – a trill, a stop, a tap, a hiss, but all at the tip of the tongue. In form it has little resemblance to a net; its most salient visual trait is the two i’s sticking up. Actually, what makes me think more of a net – or specifically a web – is the trident. After all, the w in world wide web has the three upward points.

And today’s net user is not a gladiatorial contestant, not exactly. No, the net user is you – and me. And I cast my net on the web, the www – a triple trident – by my blog and via Twitter. Which is where I hope to ensnare followers. Who will, I hope, retweet.