You Say You Want Annihilation

Posted in Arcana on August 20, 2014

By Mike McArtor

Mike first played with Ice Age and became the copy editor for in December 2011. Before DailyMTG, he was an editor on D&D's Dragon magazine for four years.

When asked if I would like to do another etymological Arcana I didn't hesitate to say yes. Writing about words and board wipes in one article? Yes please! So far, I've done one on the words Æther and Soul. Today, I'm going to be looking at several words from the names of cards in From the Vault: Annihilation.

There's no reason not to start with the obvious choice. The word annihilation entered English in the 1630s and came to us from Late Latin via Middle French. It derives from annihilate, which comes from Latin ad (to) + nihil (nothing). And the cheery word root "nihil" itself appears in seven card names in Magic, including, of course, Decree of Annihilation:

The cata- word element is found in the names of two different board wipes in Magic, Cataclysm and Catastrophe. Today, of course, I'm talking about Cataclysm.

The early 17th century was a great time for words of mass destruction in English, for cataclysm also entered the lexicon at that time. In what is not a surprise to any of us, cataclysm came to English from French, which got it from Latin. But the word "originally" came from Ancient Greek's kataklusmos (deluge), which is formed by kata- (down or toward) + kluzein or klúzō (to wash away). I put originally in quotation marks because, as with many Ancient Greek word roots, there's some evidence that suggests it came from Proto-Indo-European (aka PIE), in this case *kleue- (to clean).

Originally, cataclysm entered English to describe one particular deluge (you can probably guess which one) but, over time, its specific meaning gave way to a more generalized meaning.

Continuing in the trend of the 17th century loving words about destroying things, ruin in the sense of "complete destruction" evolved in the latter half of that century. But the word had been in English since at least the 14th century. It came (all together now) from Latin via Old French. And Latin apparently got it from the PIE *reue- (tear down, smash, etc.).

Part of the fun of doing these kinds of articles is finding the words that don't follow the pretty familiar Latin to French to English route (which, for example, virtue does), or at least finding a little twist to the story. I hope you also enjoy these looks at the words that make up the cards we all know and love.

And in case you wonder about my sources, I go always to at least three:

I'm always on the lookout for more sources, though, so if you know of any let me know via email or on Twitter!

Thanks for reading!

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