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Since You Asked: The company's all here

How did the phrases "Company is coming," "We've invited company," "having company" and the like arise?

— D. Linn, Ashland

Oh, the holidays, when the house is full.

While none of your friends and relations visiting this year come from ancient Rome, that's exactly where the term describing them as company originates.

A quick look at the etymology of "company" in Webster's New World Dictionary reveals that the word has its roots in Vulgar Latin, the everyday speech of regular folk in Rome (they didn't speak filth, necessarily, it was just the vernacular).

The specific Roman root "compania" literally meant a group sharing bread. The Latin words "com," which means with, and "panis," which means bread, also show up in the historical roots of the word companion.

The word "company" came up through Old French and Middle English as "compaignie." Today it has a slew of meanings all related to people coming together, from the guests showing up at your doorstep to military troops to theater groups to organizations set for business.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.