Word problem

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Dear Ace: Where did the “Venable” in Venable Elementary come from? Doesn’t that word mean you’re really, really old?—Justin A. Child

Justin: It is a curious thing, linguistics. Just a few letters and the entire word can change meaning. Of course, it is even more curious, perhaps, that one does not know the origin of his local elementary school’s name. Granted, Ace can see where you’d be confused (Variable? Vulnerable? Tentacle?), but you’ve come to the right place. Sit back, let Ace delight (delightable?) you with an historic tale.

It was 1925 when Venable Elementary—so named for Colonel Charles Scott Venable—was opened. At the time of its conception (conceptionable?), Venable’s architecture was executed to ensure students and teachers’ productivity and enjoyment. According to the school’s website, it combined “the elements of harmony, simplicity, utility, and beauty." In 1990, the school’s $3.4 million renovation (renovationable?) was completed in compliance with those same standards.

But back to Venable. A Virginia native, Venable graduated from Hampden-Sydney College at the very young age of 15 and soon after began tutoring mathematics at UVA. Then he headed to Berlin and Bonn, Germany, to further his education. Venable was a Colonel during the Civil War under Robert E. Lee. Following the war, he returned to academia as a teacher.

During his time teaching at UVA, Venable wrote a series of arithmetic books for children, which were adopted by Virginia in 1870. A sample of his writing, for your pleasure (pleasurable?): “Thus, if to each of the two heaps containing, the first, 5 pebbles, and the second, 7 pebbles, we add 10 pebbles, the second heap will still contain two pebbles more than the first.” To be perfectly frank (frankable?), Ace thinks perhaps Venable could have said, “Adding the same amount to each number doesn’t change the difference between them,” but, then again, Ace is no mathematician.

Oh, and Justin? The word you’re looking for is “venerable,” which does indeed mean “really, really old,” though Ace would encourage you to be a bit more tactful, for the ever-venerable Venable’s sake.

You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 19 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to ace@c-ville.com.

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