July 2, 2014

Case File #014.07.02: OPPORTUNE

While we in the twenty-first century might not think of opportune as a seafaring word, the fact is that it kind of started out as one. You see, back in the days of ancient Rome, long before the invention of our more reliable modern seagoing vessels and global-positioning technology and the like, taking a sea voyage was much riskier and more dangerous than it is now. Thus, Roman sailors viewed the harbor as a safe haven and considered the moments when they sailed into port as happy and favorable ones, and it should come as no surprise, then, that the Latin phrase ob portum, which meant “toward a port,” became an idiom meaning “advantageous conditions” or “propitious circumstances.” Over time, the idiomatic phrase evolved into the Latin adjective opportunus, which was used to mean both “apt or suitable” and “favorable,” and this passed into Old French as opportun. English speakers borrowed the Old French around the end of the fourteenth century, Anglicizing the word's form to opportune and refining its primary meaning to “suitable or appropriate for a particular purpose” and its secondary to “occurring at a useful or advantageous time.”

©2014 Michael R. Gates

No comments:

Post a Comment