Three meanings of Vega

As summer ends, the Summer Triangle tilts over toward the west.

Yet the top star of the triangle (and by far the most distant), Deneb in Cygnus, is near the zenith, off the top of our picture.  The tilt brings Altair, the southernmost (and nearest) almost level with Vega.  Vega, brightest of the three, and almost equal with Arcturus as brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, is queen of the western evening sky.

I pronounce the first vowel of Vega’s name like ee; Americans often pronounce it like ey.  It was an attempt by writers in Latin from about 1545 to represent the Arabic word wâqi`, active participle of a verb meaning “descend.”  The constellation we call Lyra, the lyre, was to Arab astronomers an-Nasr al-Wâqi`, “the swooping eagle” or “vulture.”  The apparently earliest reference to it in English is by an author named Blundeville in 1594: “a faire starre of the second bignes called Vega, and Brineck.”  I don’t know where Brineck came from.

The second vega I know of is a Spanish word for “meadow,” as in Las Vegas.  And also in Lope de Vega – that is, Felix Lope de Vega y Carpio, Spanish playwright and poet of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century.  He was monstrously prolific and successful, but I have a prejudice against him because he poured scorn on his contemporary Cervantes.

And then there is vegan, though it doesn’t derive from eagles or meadows but is a back-formation from vegetarian.  It was invented by Donald Watson in 1944 for the stricter form of vegetarianism which eschews not only dead flesh but all products from animals, such as eggs and cheese.  I, like Jeremy Corbyn, am wanting to push myself into it, though it’s going to be hard for someone who likes everything.  Everything.  The only food I’ve ever disliked to the point of not being able to eat a second mouthful of it, at the age of about six, was burnt custard.

Recent large peer-reviewed studies in London and the USA have shown that if the world’s population became vegan, greenhouse gas emissions would be halved, the area of new land needed for feeding the increasing population would be nearly halved, and there would be 8,100,000 fewer deaths per year.


11 thoughts on “Three meanings of Vega”

  1. As you pointed out, Vega comes from the Arabic word for falling, or descending (like the lyrebird swooping).

    The word vegetable comes from the Latin word “Vegetare”, meaning “to quicken”, probably cuz veggies grow rapidly.
    (To vegetate means to to be in an unthinking way, like a vegetable plant that just mindlessly grows.)

    If meat were made illegal, there would be less CO2 production, and people would be far healthier, but I don’t see that happening … cows, chickens, pigs and seafood are too tasty. Plus, people living in arctic regions can’t grow crops so they need to eat animals to obtain second hand vegetable nutrition.

    1. No one expects the whole world to become vegetarian, let alone vegan. It’s a simplification to make the point. The more of it that happens, the better.
      Eskimos or Bushmen should not be expected to give up hunting, nor homesteaders to give up keeping chickens.
      Meat can now be grown from a few stem cells instead of from slaughtered animals. I believe it is identical except that it is free of disease.

      1. If 2 people started eating half as much meat, that would have the same effect as 1 person giving up meat altogether.

  2. I suspect that many people whose formative years were in the 1960’s or 1970’s in the United States, and who may have never heard the star name Vega pronounced correctly (such as myself), were most influenced by the way Chevrolet chose to pronounce the name of their economy car, the Vega (pronounced with a long ‘a’ sound). It wasn’t the best car ever made lol.

  3. I like Michael Pollan’s conclusion in _The Omnivore’s Dilemma_:
    Eat food*,
    Not too much,
    Mostly plants.

    * i.e., not food-like industrial products.

    Some people seem to need some animal protein for good health. In some ecosystems it makes sense to let grazing and browsing animals eat plants that humans couldn’t digest directly, and then eat the animals. Aquaculture growing fish and edible plants in symbiotic systems seems to be highly efficient.

    I personally don’t eat mammals or birds, but that’s just a matter of personal sympathy, not a program I’m advocating for the rest of humanity.

  4. But, how would the 8 million more people each year impact emissions and farm land? Just devil’s advocating.

    1. It’s a good point, of which I was aware. One might think there’s a basic clash between the objectives of reducing preventable deaths and reducing the problems caused by population-multiplied-by-consumption. I think the answer is that when fewer of people’s children die, they conceive fewer children. This is why population increases more slowly, or not at all, in prosperous countries with good health care, as compared with under-nourished ones.

      1. I’m guessing those fewer deaths would be among adults, not children. Earth is a closed system, At some point it will only be able to sustain xx number of humans, when births and death have to be equal, or we’ll be headed for a population “correction”. Any idea what that number is, and when it will be here?

  5. It is much easier nowadays to be vegan. Up until recently the only thing was cheese, but even that has improved dramatically. We find a very good vegan cheese now at Publix, our supermarket up the road! Vega, Lope de Vega and vegans, I like these connection!

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