More Words That Turn on the Root “Vert”
A recent post dealt with many of the English words based on the Latin verb vertere, meaning “turn,” focusing on those that precede the root vert with a prefix, and their various grammatical forms. This follow-up post defines some additional words in the vertere family: those beginning with vert. Those with the variant stem vers rather than vert will be outlined in a subsequent post.
Vertigo originally meant “a spinning or whirling movement” and later came to refer to a form of dizziness in which the sufferer has a sensation suggestive of spinning or whirling. The related adjective is vertiginous, which also applies neutrally to any spinning motion or judgmentally to frequent and unnecessary change.
A vertebra (plural: vertebrae) is a segment of the system of bones that constitute the spine, or backbone, of vertebrates; that last word refers to two classes of animals, the higher and lower vertebrates, possessing a spine of bone or cartilage or a similar process. It also serves as an adjective, as does vertebral—the spinal column is also called the vertebral column—and as an adjective, vertebrate also means “well formed or “well organized,” though this usage is rare. The connection to vertere is of the spine’s hinge-like quality, which allows animals to turn or bend their bodies. An invertebrate is an animal lacking a spine or a similar process.
In Latin, vertex and vortex both mean “whirl,” but in English the terms are distinct: Vertex applies to the top of the head, the highest point (such as a summit), or a point farthest from the base of an object or shape. (It also applies in geometry to the point at which two lines or curves meet.) A vortex, meanwhile, is a literal or figurative whirlpool. The adjective vertical is related and in one sense means “located at the highest point” but usually means “upright” or “lengthwise” and is an antonym of horizontal. In economic and sociological contexts, it can refer, respectively, to the scope of activity in the production of goods or to hierarchy.