I like words.
Many of my friends do, too, and if you’re reading this blog there’s a good chance you feel the same way about them.
I’m not one of those people who “collects” words, nor am I the person who can pull out an obscure term at the drop of a hat (or at the occasion of any other cliche). Rather, I’m one of those people who enjoys etymology. I like knowing why a word is what it is, since there’s usually a reason.
Quick aside: If you were a bug person who wanted to know where an insect’s name came from, would you be an etymological entomologist or an entomological etymologist?
Getting back on the path of this story, I was out hiking the other day (see what I did there?) when I was struck with the need to look up a word. My wife and I were on a favorite trail here in north Alabama, enjoying a beautiful afternoon, when we came upon a red-bellied woodpecker hanging from a branch about 15 feet above the ground.
The bird flew from one tree to another, then touched down on three more in quick succession. One to another to another to another to another before flying off out of sight, in just about the amount of time it took you to read this sentence.
I thought, “Flitting–that bird is flitting.”
Flit. Flitting. Flitted.
That’s an unusual word, and in my limited experience it’s almost always used to describe the flight of a bird. Also, it’s not a word that I often hear spoken. I’ve read it a lot, but not heard it a lot. Anyway, right there, far enough from civilization to see a red-bellied woodpecker flit from tree to tree, but not so far from civilization that I didn’t have a cell signal, I stopped walking, pulled out my phone, and looked it up. I needed to know: what’s the story of flit?
It turns out it’s got Scots/Northern English/Old Norse roots (fleet and flytja) and it’s related to “fleet.” From watching that woodpecker, I’m not surprised, as my view of it was fleeting, indeed.
My curiosity satisfied, I slipped my phone back into my pocket and moved quickly to catch up with my wife. I didn’t quite flit, but the thought of doing so brought a smile to my face.