Hanging Words

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The Latin verb pendere, “to hang,” has fostered numerous words that have something to do with the act of hanging.

In English, many “hanging” words have come and gone, but plenty remain in contemporary usage. The most immediately recognizable are pendant, pendent, pendulous, pendulum, pend, and pending.

The noun pendant refers to a loosely hanging piece of jewelry worn on a chain around the neck.

A pendant can also be the hanging part of an earring. “Pendant lamps” are designed to hang from the ceiling. An obsolete meaning of pendant–in the plural—-is testicles:

They gird themselves with a piece of raw leather, and fasten a square piece like the back of a glove, to it, which almost hangs so low as their pendants. (1634 example from the OED, spelling modernized)

The adjective pendent means hanging or suspended. Something that is hanging is said to be pendent. For example, on old documents like the Magna Carta, a seal is pendent from the parchment. In grammar, an incomplete grammatical structure, such as a dangling participle, is said to be pendent.

Like pendent, the adjective pendulous means “hanging,” but with the added connotation of drooping or sagging. The word is often applied to jowls; for example, bloodhounds and basset hounds have pendulous jowls.

The pendulum of a clock is a rod with a weight at one end, used to regulate and control the movements of the clock mechanism. It hangs and swings back and forth.

The verb pend is probably not used as often as its present participle form pending. “To pend” means “to await conclusion or resolution.” That’s to say that a matter is hanging in uncertainty. As an adjective, pending is used to mean “awaiting decision.” As a preposition, pending means “while awaiting, during, or until,” as in, “Court of Appeal stays appeal proceedings pending outcome of central amendment applications to the EPO.”

In the Roman economy, money was weighed in a scale that had hanging parts. I suppose that explains the fact that the Latin verb pendere, “to hang,” had the related meaning “to weigh.” For this reason, some English “hanging words” have a figurative sense of weighing something, for example, the English word compendium. A compendium is “an abridgement or condensation of a larger work or treatise, giving the sense and substance, within smaller compass.”

Compendium is from the Latin verb compendere, “to weigh together.” A compendium, in both Latin and in English, is the abridgement of a longer work in which the “heavier” part has been kept and the “lighter” part dispensed with. Dispense is another hanging word, from Latin pensare, “to weigh out.”) The association of weighing with money transactions can also be seen in some of these words.

Without further comment, I’ll leave you with a few more words and let you discern the “hanging” connection in them.


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