The Word Worth Knowing this week is Dense.
When we’ve heard the word “dense” it’s usually been related to chemistry, medicine, cooking recipes, or even the weather, but we usually don’t hear the word “dense” being used to talk about hair, right? There are many other useful adjectives for abundant hair. I thought the same until I knew the origin of the word, and you’re sure to be as surprised as I was when you read about it after this couple of definitions.
Dense: Adjective. Close together and difficult to go or see through; thick (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary)
Dense: Adjective. [Chemistry] Having a high mass per unit volume. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Dense: Adjective. [Of a text] hard to understand because of its complexity of ideas. (Oxford English Dictionary)
Dense: Adjective [Informal] Slow to understand: Stupid, Thickheaded. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
According to the Collins English dictionary, Dense is a word in Common Usage, but I hope it’s to talk about science or about a very difficult class instead of using it to offend someone else. We all have different rhythms to learn and that’s perfectly respectable.
Dense is one of the 10,000 most commonly used words in our language, and here I leave you three correct and respectful ways to use it:
“The National Weather Service is advising drives to slow down because of dense fog in southern Connecticut Tuesday morning.”
From ctpost website Article: Slow down: Areas of dense fog across southern CT. 2019
“It could be remnants of dense oxides that formed in the final stages of cooling back when the moon was covered in ancient magma oceans.”
From National Geographic website Article: Huge mystery blob found under the moon’s far side. 2019
“Suburban neighborhoods are less dense than urban ones by definition. But the analysis suggests that the median suburban neighborhood is fairly dense, housing approximately 1,800 to 2,000 people per square mile.”
From Citylab website Article: How Should We Define the Suburbs? 2019
Dense like a Sheep
I know, I also find it strange to say that a sheep is dense, but for the settlers of ancient Greece this would have been perfectly consistent.
They were the ones who invented the word dense, or rather its ancestor, the word dasús (δᾰσῠ́ς); which was an adjective with several meanings, sometimes positive and sometimes negative, depending on the object to which they referred.
If they were talking about a dasús garden or wood, it meant that it was thickly wooden or bushy; if they mentioned that a land was dasús, then it was a rough terrain; if they qualified a glass of water or someone’s urine as dasús, that liquid was cloudy and that was definitely not a good sign; lastly, if they spoke of dasús animals, such as birds, horses, or sheep, it meant that they had abundant plumage or fur, so much so that it prevented their skin from being easily seen. Having a dasús sheep was a wonderful thing, as they could get enough wool for their clothing.
What all the uses of the word dasús had in common was the high concentration of some substance or object, which is actually something that is often needed to be referred to and makes the word quite useful.
This is why the word transcended the Latin densus as “thick, crowded, cloudy”, and in the 15th century it was adopted by the English as “Dense“, with almost the same meaning. In short, we have to thank the Greeks for having such a dense imagination to create a word for absolutely everything!