Zealous diapers

So I’m still stuck on infants, which I blathered on about a few weeks ago. The newbies, Max and Ellie, are doing well and are scheduled to go home very soon.

That means that suddenly my niece and her husband will be responsible for the swaddling done by the NICU nurses until now.

Swaddling, as you know if you’ve read the Gospels at all, dates back thousands of years (Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes….), even before Jesus.

The ancient Greeks and Romans were known to swaddle. The belief was that by wrapping an infant tightly in cloth it would prevent deformities of the limbs: crooked legs, bent arms, etc.

My experience with swaddling is limited, despite having raised a son with straight legs and arms. He would never tolerate swaddling. We think it overheated him.

(He’s always run hot; he brought home notes from school where the teacher asked us to dress him properly for winter, but long pants were too warm for him. He still swans about in the snow in shorts.)

Swaddle comes from an Old English word swathe, which we might recognize as a perfectly good modern day word meaning to wrap in layers of fabric. A clear connection to swaddling, which until the invention of Baby Gap meant to wrap in layers of fabric. But now every baby is treated to a soft, snuggly Baby Gap blanket in which to swaddle away the hours.

Now what, I can hear you asking, does swathe have to do with swath? The two are so similar there must be a relationship. Plus, swath means a broad strip of something—something like cloth, maybe?

Simply put, swathe is the verb form of swath, a noun. They come from the same Old English root, swaeth. Once that word transmogrified into swath, it wasn’t long before the verb swathe untucked itself.

Actually, swath hearkens back to the days of mowing fields by hand. One cut with the scythe a swath does make.

So we have a grandparent, a parent, and a child: swath, swathe, and swaddle.

My sister, grandparent of the newborns, plans to be zealous in her attention to the twins. Uh oh. <<CAUTION! WILD DIVERSION AHEAD!>>The twins will live just a short drive from her, whence the zealotry. Zeal is a perfectly good word (although its popularity in the U.S. has taken a nose dive), and from it we get all kinds of zeal words: zealous and zealotry among them, and all of which imply energetic and unflagging pursuit of an aim or devotion.

But zealot, while having the same root, has a very particular meaning. It dates back to the first century after Jesus, when a band of Jews was fighting the Romans to get them out of Palestine, wishing to be left alone to practice their faith. So all of these zeal words actually mean being an enthusiastic adherent to one’s god.

I can hear my sister complaining. All she wants to do is tuck a Baby Gap blanket around the little beauties.


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