Bill Casselman

Understand English words by learning the roots of words like diploma, archive & protocol

At the Wording Desk

Just as we today have laptops, e-readers, notepads and ring-binders, in the same way scribes scribbling scripts of yore had papyrus and lambskin parchment and scrolls in which they wrote down records of important things. It is generally agreed among scholars that writing itself began as a method of keeping business records.

During early December of 2010, I and many other citizens of the world read the Wikileaks of American diplomatic emails and were aghast at the low deception and the weasel disregard of truth endemic to diplomatic communication.

So it is natural that I began wondering about the root of the words diplomat, diplomacy and diploma. Now here in earliest summer it is the season in the western world when students reap the just guerdon of their winter labours, namely, the diploma, a very old word whose etymology intrigues the questing verbivore.

The defence of the creepy world of diplomacy by the world press and by American politicians like Hilary Clinton has been startling. Daily through the fecal pool of untruth wades diplomacy, neck-high in the evasion of honesty, its once-clean face now stained a brown shit-brindle with lying, stealing secrets, and all manner of prevarication from little white fibs to felonious subterfuges of low cunning.

All diplomats are sneaks.

Not so long ago in my own country of Canada we had an entire, far-right-wing, federal government dictated by the sneakiest, creepiest prime minister who ever had control of my once-honest country. His inglorious name was Stephen Harper.

Diploos Greek ‘folded in two’
As you might expect of diplomatic words, all three terms arise from sneakiness. Diploma in ancient Greek was ‘a letter folded in two’ so passersby could not read it and it remained secret.

Di- meant two or double in Greek and ploos meant ‘folded.’ Even in ancient Greek diploma came to mean things like ‘a letter of recommendation’ or ‘a communication between princes or important persons,’ containing information that mere grubby peasants should never know, even if they could read. Diploma also meant ‘a letter granting permission to perform certain acts.’ Today we’d call it a licence. From diploma came later extensions, first in French, like diplomat and diplomacy. Diplomate appears first in print as a French noun in CE 1792.

protos Greek ‘first’ + kolla ‘glue’

In medicine, a protocol is a detailed plan of treatment. In ancient times the first sheet of a papyrus was glued to the scroll. This protokollon or ‘first glued sheet’ displayed the title and summary of the scroll contents. It acted as a table of contents and an index. All other meanings, like diplomatic procedure and protocol’s use in computerese, arise from this original meaning of ‘first glued sheet.’

Archive began as the name of an ancient Greek office building where significant documents were stored. The word for government in ancient Greek was ἀρχή (arche) and the word for government office was ἀρχεῖον (archeion). That word was borrowed into late Latin as archivum and thence into early French as archif and thence into English as archive. Its first use in English was in the plural form, where by CE 1645 archives meant ‘the public records office.’

In medieval Latin, documentum was ‘any official paper or charter’, before that, in Old French, it meant ‘a lesson,’ that is, something taught, from Latin documen, documentis ‘lesson, specimen’ from the common Latin verb docere ‘to teach,’ the same root as its familiar agent noun doctor, literally ‘one who teaches, teacher.’

Dies is the Latin word for ‘day.’ In medieval Latin appeared the form diarium. First it was a military paymaster’s word. It was a daily fee paid to a soldier for extraordinary duty. This payment was duly recorded in a journal. Quite soon diarium came to refer to the journal itself with space for sundry memoranda, daily jottings, records of events, payments due etc. By CE 1581 the English form diary was established. Another word that began as a word for soldiers' pay was salary, originally salarium, a precious measure of salt doled out to serving military personnel, the only way of preserving meat in ancient times, from Latin sal, salis 'salt.'  

In Middle English, the word script started with this spelling: scrite, an aphetic borrowing from an Old French form like escript or escrit. The English spelling underwent what is sometimes called an etymological respelling, where someone who knew Latin wished to renew the Roman orthography. In classical Latin scriptum meant ‘something written’ being the perfect past participle of the verb scribere ‘to write,’ among whose future reflexes one finds words like scribe, to scribble, scribbler, conscription, to describe, perscription etc.


Manus is the Latin word for ‘hand.’ Think of manual labor, requiring hand work, the rules of which might be contained in a training manual. Therefore a manuscript is originally ‘something written by hand.’

Personal Opinion concerning Julian Assange
Julian Assange, the noble founder of Wikileaks, releases secret documents so that ordinary citizens can view the tissue-thin pond scum of deceit and the web of lies upon which the fragile peace of our world is so deceptively and precariously maintained. Assange is a hero to me. But he is a profound danger and embarrassment to the fib-fat swine who comprise the sneaky herd of current politicians. These moral lepers believe the people are stupid and MUST be lied to. Nonsense! Piffle! Balderdash!

Politicians have naturally rushed to try to discredit Mr. Assange. Those two Swedish sluts who falsely claimed a now exonerated Assange raped them were surely in the pay of some spy agency like the CIA or the FBI. Ditto that belligerent, manhating lesbian  frump who was the Foreign Minister of Sweden. She may return at any time to the dyke spa to palpate bosoms for pay, clearly a more apt destiny for such a  bitch. It is clear the CIA suborned sleazy Swedish prosecutors like her. If you believe the CIA or FBI did not pay for that false accusation, then you are a gullible ninny and deserve to be hornswoggled.

Secrets Be Damned & Be Made Public!
Instead, there ought to be a world-wide movement to rid ourselves of these clammy, secret-holding politicians. Particularly saddening to me was watching U.S. President Obama, elected on a platform of cleansing honesty, fold like a cheap lawn-chair and join the cowardly chorus of lying slimeballs like Hilary Clinton who condemned Julian Assange instead of praising his bravery. All this after Hilary and Obama apparently ordered the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI to spy on every member of the United Nations at its New York City headquarters. Shame on you, Obama! We expect dirty tricks from compromised lowlife like Hilary and her deceitful ilk. From you, Mr. President, we expected so much more. But what did the world's hopeful citizens receive from Obama? The shit pie of inaction square in the kisser.

In the proctoscope required to observe the current interior of the USA, we saw a president’s sucking lips firmly pressed to the foul, polluting anus of the American corporation. With Trump, the presidential bolus is now lodged firmly way up there, well past the anal sphincters.Remember that, when we of the world have been delivered like sheep into the claws of the fascist, know-nothing monsters of the American Night like Sarah Palin, our deliverer to Hell’s Mouth, our leader up the slaughterhouse ramp, our stumblebum messiah, will have been the Do-Nothing Non-Voter.

Western persons of good will must vote lest the choice-deniers, the grade-three-drop-out homophobes, the Tea Partiers and other sewerlife of modern times continue to infest the very halls of our government! 

Bill Casselman, June 11, 2017

Text Copyright 2017 by William Gordon Casselman