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Letter From a Young Girl

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Letter From a Young Girl | Top Stories Archives
Note: An 11-year-old girl sent me an e-mail in the last week (around May 9). I decided to take up the challenge and this turned into a fascinating experiment in communication. Below you will see (a) her short e-mail to me – where I removed her real name, home town and e-mail address, but left her spelling and punctuation as is; (b) my e-mail reply; (c) her follow-up response. If and when I hear what her grade becomes and what happens with her field trip, I will place an update* at the end of this feature. *Update Posted as of May 24, 2006.


Julia’s Letter

Hi: my name is Julia and i live in ,Oregon. i am eleven years old and i need your help. my sixth grade teacher said that if we could find out why stars are called stars and whoever turned it in could get extra credit and i need my B- in science to become an A so i can go on the school feild trip. i have been looking forever on the internet but i cant find the right answer. i dont need to know what stars are made of or where
they are at or anything like that but i need to know why stars are called stars and who came up with the name star. my email is so if you could please send me some information in the next few days that would be terrific!

thanks for all you can do.
Julia

My Letter to Julia

Dear Julia: Thanks for your e-mail. Here is the best I can come up with, but I would like YOU to do a little more homework once I give you the suggestion, so that when you turn in your homework, you really feel like you deserve an A. Okay?

What you do to figure out WHERE the name "Star" comes from is first go to a really good dictionary.

Most really good dictionaries will have (a) the meaning of the word itself and (b) at the very end, what is considered the ETYMOLOGY of the word. "Etymology" means the ORIGIN of the word or where it comes from -- going back to ANOTHER language, like Italian, German, Greek or Latin.

Many of our English words -- if not all of them -- come from ANOTHER language in the past.

So when you go to a dictionary, the word "star" appears to have its roots in the following:

Old English "steorra" -- that word was the weird-looking way that people living in England maybe 1000 years ago would have understood the concept and meaning of what we call a "star."

German "stern" -- that word "stern" is from the German language and also means "star" If you were from Germany, instead of saying "star," you would say or speak "stern" when you were referring to a star in the sky or something that appeared "star-like."

Latin "stella" -- many of our English or American words come from Latin. What is Latin? It is pretty much the language that the Romans used around the time of Jesus 2000 years ago. The Romans -- people living in Rome, Italy back around 2000 years ago -- spoke in Latin. But now it is NOT a language that most people speak. Instead, it is a fantastic SOURCE of our words. Latin is still used in some religious ceremonies, at churches, particularly in the Catholic faith. Therefore, someone who was looking at the bright objects in the sky at night in ancient Rome would have used the word "stella" either as an adjective describing that bright object or as perhaps as a noun -- the object itself.

Greek "aster" -- the Greek language pre-dates or comes before the Latin language in time, because the ancient people in Greece had their civilization at an earlier time than the Romans who used the Latin language.

"Aster" is very interesting as the most ancient or original root for our word "star." Why? Because in the Greek word "aster" is (a) "ster" -- the connection to our English word of "star" and (b) the beginning part that starts with the first letter of the alphabet "a." Therefore, "aster" is a combination of the letter "a" and the letters "ster."

This gives you "aster." Now why is this important? Here's why!

Objects in the sky that were shining were given this name of "aster" or "stella," etc., that has come down to us as "star." But in the early 1800s, a group of astronomers -- looking through their telescopes -- discovered small celestial bodies that they named Ceres, Pallas, Juno and Vesta. These celestial bodies in the heavens or sky were named after great Goddesses of Ancient Rome.

At first they were considered "planets" -- like Mars, Venus and Jupiter. And the word "planet" means "wandering star," or a star that is NOT fixed in the sky, but appears to move around.

After about 5 decades or 50 years following the discovery of these four small celestial bodies, they were given the name "asteroids" and the word "asteroids" has the ancient word for "star" -- "aster" -- inside it! An "asteroid" means a "star-like" body in outer space.

Since this naming of the "asteroids," astronomers have now discovered HUNDREDS and THOUSANDS of these "asteroids" or star-like bodies in the solar system, and most of them are located in the orbits between Mars and Jupiter.

One more closing note: Our English words "disaster" and "catastrophe" -- both of which refer to very bad things happening on the Earth (like train wrecks and explosions and accidents, etc) -- these words BOTH have the ancient Greek name for "star" ("aster") inside them.

So, for instance "disaster" is really a compound word made up of DIS and ASTER. That means to "go against the stars"! When a "disaster" -- or terrible event happens on Earth -- the reason we are using that word "disaster" is because the terrible event occurred because it went AGAINST THE STARS or AGAINST THE HEAVENS. The letters "dis" refer to being against something. Like the word "disease." It really means dis-ease -- to NOT be in a state of ease or relaxation or calm, but to be suffering with an ailment, a medical problem, a disease.

The same thing with the word "catastrophe." It is really a compound word made up of CAT and ASTROPHE. "Cat" -- which has the same spelling as the actual cat that you may have as a pet in your home -- comes from a root meaning of "negative" or "against." So, the word "catastrophe" like "disaster" means to go AGAINST A STAR OR STARS.

Okay! Well, I did not plan on writing so much, but you wanted an answer. One thing I cannot tell you is the actual person in history who came up with the word "star" in the first place. The great playwright Shakespeare (living in the late 1500s and early 1600s) in England certainly used the word "star" a lot in his plays, like Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, and so on. Hundreds of poets have used the word "star" in their poems for the last few hundred years.

But through what I have written here in this e-mail, you now know the ORIGIN of where "star" came from when going back to other, ancient languages.

There are special ETYMOLOGY type dictionaries in the Public Library -- and by looking up the word "star" in one of those dictionaries, you may get deeper answers. You should go to your Public Library and tell the librarian that you want the best dictionary that gives you the ETYMOLOGY or root origins for the word "star."

I really hope you turn your B into an A. Let me know what happens.

Many Blessings, your friend in Eugene, Oregon...Mark

Reply from Julia

Hi Mark: thank you so much for all your info. i did exactly what you said to do: i went to the public libary with my dad and we each got a full page of
information! so tonight when i get home from school i am going to type it all
up. i'll let you know when i have turned it in and what my grade turns into.

Julia's Update from May 24 to me:

i finaly have straight As i have never had a 4.0 grade in my life so now i
get to go on the trip to SilverWood thanks to you!!
gotta do my homework bye!
~>julia~<

© 2006 by Mark Lerner and Great Bear Enterprises, Ltd. All rights reserved.


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