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Desert Diary


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A fascinating aspect of words is their history, for like organisms and various aspects of culture, they evolve. A meaning at one time in history may be quite different from at another. Sometimes this is a result of misunderstandings. Thus, the term "Indians", applied to New World natives in the mistaken belief that the New World was India; or think of the turkey, a native American bird known by the name of a western Asian nation.

Mistakes may stimulate interest, but the derivations of words do likewise. We all recognize the hippopotamus, but how many of us know that the name comes from the Greek, meaning a horse of the river? Closer to home, how about creosotebush? The creosote part goes back to the Greek, from kreas, meaning flesh, and soter, preserver. Today, pungent creosotes are used for rapid smoke-drying of meat, but these chemicals also go far back in history as ingredients used in the preservation of the mummies of Egypt. Surely now, the delightful smell of creosotebush after a desert rain will evoke your imagination as never before!
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.