From the Courant:

What do a dancer's plié and the exploits of Jack Sparrow have in common? (And why am I suddenly picturing a pirate in a tutu?)

The words "plié" and "exploits" are both ultimately derived from the Latin root "plicare," meaning "to fold."

The French ballet word "plié," meaning a bending or folding of the knees outward, derives directly from "plicare." "Exploits" derives from "explicatum," meaning "unfolding"; hence, an exploit is something that unfolds - a deed, act or feat.

English has folded this Latin root "plicare" into many crépe suzettes: "accomplice" (someone folded together with another in mischief); "complicate" (to fold together, mix up); "duplicate" (to double fold, hence copy); "replicate" (to fold again, repeat itself); "pliant" (bendable, foldable); "multiplication" (folding or increasing something many times; think of a sheet of paper folded into 16 squares).

Can you determine the concept behind each quartet of English words derived from the same Latin root?

1. dolce, dulcet, dulcimer, dulcify

2. subsequent, persecute, suit, sect

3. ludicrous, elude, interlude, illusion

4. fracture, fragile, frail, suffrage


1. The Latin root "dulcis" (sweet), which some believe is derived from the Greek "glykus," gave us "dolce" (a musical direction meaning "play sweetly"); "dulcet" (sweet to the ear or taste); "dulcimer" (a stringed instrument that makes sweet sounds); and "dulcify" (to make sweet, to mollify).

2. The Latin root "sequi" (to follow) gave us "subsequent" (following in time, order or place); "persecute" (to follow or harass in a manner designed to injure, grieve or afflict); "suit" (something that follows someone with the law, as in "a lawsuit," or follows a color, style or design, as in "a suit of clothes," or follows a certain pattern as in a suit in playing cards); "sect" (a group that follows a course of action or belief or way of life).

3. The Latin root "ludere" (to play) gave us "ludicrous" (amusing or laughable, as in play or sport); "elude" (to play away, that is, to evade or escape); "interlude" (in drama, music and other presentations, a brief period of playing between longer works); "illusion" (an act of playing with reality that deceives or misleads).

4. The Latin root "frangere," "fractus" (to break) gave us "fracture" (a break); "fragile" (breakable); "infringe" (to break laws or rights); "suffrage" (right to vote).

No one, by the way, is sure how the concept of breaking became associated with voting, though some suggest early Romans cast their votes using broken pieces of pottery. And even today, some of our political candidates are crackpots.