HERE AT Canary Wharf, we can see the Millennium Dome burgeoning by the day, though for now it looks less like "a rounded vault forming the roof of a building or chief part of it" (OED) than a giant, upturned alien bug constructed by the people who made the sci-fi insect movie, Starship Troopers. And it bears no resemblance at all to the stately pleasure dome decreed by Kubla Khan.

Sadly for the purposes of this column, there is no connection with the dome of "Domesday", which comes from the German dom, or law. "Dome" originally meant "house" in English, derived from the Latin domus, which can be traced back to the Indo- European domo- or domu-, also the source of the Greek domos and Sanskrit dama-. In Europe, though, the various descendants of domus quickly came to mean more than a two-up, two-down constructed from woad, and was applied to mansions and cathedrals - in Italian, duomo came to mean "house of God". And as most Italian cathedrals had cupolas, "dome" in time attached itself to the bit on top. In the 1930s, American blacks revived the word, in the guise of "domie" or "dommey", to mean house.

The OED still lists "house" as one of its meanings, "but only as a poetical or dignified appellation". In Childe Harold, Byron wrote of "Ambition's airy hall,/The dome of thought, the palace of the Soul". The Domdaniel (Latin: "house of Daniel") was a fabled hall "beneath the roots of the ocean", according to Thomas Carlyle, where sorcerers met their apprentices. From domus came domesticus, from which we get "domestic" and all its derivatives, and dominus, "master" or "lord", giving rise to dominion, domain, domineer, dominate and dominatrix. The "lord" became "Lord", and a new branch of meanings opened up - hence, for example, St Dominic and his Dominicans - which resulted in a pub game: dominos is thought to have been invented by monks, who expected the winner to recite the first line of the prayer: "Dixit Dominus, Domino Meo". Another idea for Mr Mandelson as he garners his attractions for the year 2000?

Chris Maume

Nicholas Bagnall is away

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