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Greek Pan incited 'panic'

Question: My daughter said she learned in school that the word "panic" comes from the name of the Greek god Pan. Isn't Pan that little guy who played the pipes? What is the association between him and "panic"?Anwser: You're right that the ancient Greek god Pan is often represented playing the "panpipe," which is so called because Pan was believed to be the inventor of the instrument. Pan was very lustful and fond of chasing the nymphs. A nymph named Syrinx was once being chased by him and, finding herself unable to escape across the River Ladon, asked the nymphs of the river for help. They changed her into a bed of reeds by the riverbank. When Pan saw these reeds, the story goes, he cut pieces of different lengths and made a panpipe.

But that is all a digression from the answer to your question. Pan did not spend all of his time playing pipes or chasing nymphs. For instance, it was believed that he gave a great shout that instilled fear into the giants during their battle against the gods, and in Athens Pan was worshipped because the citizens believed that it was he who caused the Persians to flee in fear from the battle of Marathon. It is from this more awesome aspect of his nature that we get the word "panic."

Question: Can you please tell me what the word "bandersnatch" means and where it came from?

Anwser: "Beware the Jabberwock, my son!/ The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!/ Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun / The frumious Bandersnatch!" In those lines from the poem "Jabberwocky," Lewis Carroll introduced his readers, and by extension the rest of the English speaking world, to the fantastical creature he called a "Bandersnatch."

The poem "Jabberwocky" appeared in the first chapter of Lewis's classic book "Through the Looking Glass." Written as a sequel to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," "Through the Looking Glass" described Alice's further adventures as she moved through a mirror into an unreal world of illogical behavior dominated by chessboards and pieces. The word "bandersnatch" showed up initially in "Jabberwocky," but it made other appearances as well.

Nowadays, "Bandersnatch" is used as a byword for any fabulously bizarre character, especially one who moves with exceptional speed or is impervious to persuasion. It's sometimes still paired, as it was in "Jabberwocky," with Carroll's made-up adjective "frumious." In 1995, for example, a newspaper columnist referred to a prominent politician as a "frumious Bandersnatch of tax liberation." As Carroll himself explained, "frumious" is a portmanteau -- that is, a word formed by blending two or more other words. In this case, "fuming" and "furious" are blended to invoke a sense of the terribleness of the Bandersnatch.

Question: I feel uncomfortable with the contemporary usage of "loan" as a verb. I realize that language changes with time, but I would hate to attend a performance of Julius Caesar and hear "Friends, Romans, countrymen, loan me your ears."

Anwser: You really don't need to worry about hearing that odd-sounding version of Mark Antony's famous line in a theater. You can either "lend" or "loan" someone a dollar, but you can only "lend" him a hand or "lend" him an ear, and distance can only "lend" enchantment. "Loan" may be used as a verb only when it is used literally; "lend" may be used either literally or figuratively.

"Loan" as a verb has been in use at least since the time of Henry VIII. It was brought to this country by our earliest settlers, and it continued to be used here after it fell out of use in England. Its use was first criticized by English visitors to America. In its continued use, it is a sturdy Americanism. Many have been taught to dislike it, but there is no question that "loan" is entirely standard as a verb.

This column was prepared by the editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition. Send questions to: Merriam-Webster's Wordwatch, P.O. Box 281, 47 Federal St., Springfield, MA 01102. Merriam-Webster Inc. Dist. by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service