hiatus /hai’eitəs/

Circumstances at home have meant that The Word Guy missed out on his target of producing at least one word per week. I took a little hiatus. It’s a simple little words that stems from the Latin hiatus meaning “gaping, gap, or opening.” This is turn comes from the Latin word hiare, which means “to gape.”

Way back in 1563, the word referred to a break in the continuity of am object, such as a gaping chasm or an aperture of some type. In Meteors, a book by William Fulk published in 1640), he wrote, “These holes called Hiatus differ from wide gaping, in nothing, but that they be lesse, and therefore seeme deepe pits or holes, and not gaping.”

Notice that the plural here is hiatus, but the form hiatuses is also acceptable.

By the 1600’s, its meaning had estended to include the more modern connotation of “a gap or interruption of continuity in a chronological or other series.” (OED, Vol. VII, p.203.) Thomas Jackson’s Commentaries upon the apostles creed (1613) contains the line, “To forewarne the Reader of the hiatus in our aduersaries collections.”

Hiatus - with misspelling

Hiatus - with misspelling

In the world of logic, a hiatus refers specifically to a missing step in a logical proof, or a more general gap in reasoning. In The Works of John C. Calhoun – who was the 7th Vice President of the USA – he wrote, “Where is that hiatus between the premises and the concluions?” (1874).

The word can also be used in linguistics to describe the break between two vowels at a syllable boundary with no intervening consonant. For example, in “cooperation,” there is a hiatus between the /kɔ/ and /ɒp/ of /kɔɒpəˈreiʃən/.

And if you are unlucky enough to damage your diaphragm – that sheet of muscles at the bottom of the ribcage – you could suffer a hiatus hernia as the upper part of the stomach pushes its way through the tear. Here, the word hiatus refers to the gap in the diaphragm.

Hiatus Hernia

Hiatus Hernia

If I get the chance, I’ll indulge in a little revisionist blogging and add a word for last week next week. Go ahead, parse that sentence!



Filed under Etymology

2 responses to “hiatus /hai’eitəs/

  1. Wow, I found you through a tag- you have a fantastic blog! I’m a vocabulary freak!

    You might like my latest blog, My Electronic Hiatus. Check it out and Comment if you like!


    • russellcross

      Glad you found some value in the blog posts, Jordan. The Word Guy hasn’t been around as long as your blog but I can at least try to keep up! If you haven’t already signed up for a daily fix of words and etymologies, follow The Word Guy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/thewordguy

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