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"Mens" means mind, and "Mensa" is the club for geniuses. I follow so far.

But "mensa" also means "table." How would that relate to the meaning in the previous paragraph? Does a table have a relationship to a mind, i.e. is there a connection I'm missing? Or is the "Mensa" in the genius club and "mensa," the table just homonyms?

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    The Latin word mensa means a table. Are you asking whether the Latin words mens and mensa are related or whether the name of the club is related to the word mens? Either way, the question is interesting, but I want to make sure I understand your goal. – Joonas Ilmavirta Aug 22 '16 at 2:40
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    @JoonasIlmavirta: Are mens and mensa related, or is it just a coincidence that mensa, the table, is the same word as mensa the genius club? Were there, by chance, even two different derivations? – Tom Au Aug 22 '16 at 2:42
  • @JoonasIlmavirta: Here's an example (from Chinese SE), where a "bench" refers to a (legal) "case."chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/5623/… I was wondering if there might be a similar connection. – Tom Au Aug 22 '16 at 9:46
  • Incidentally, I believe Mensa was actually originally supposed to be called Mens, but that name was too similar to the English word men's. – TKR Aug 22 '16 at 23:44
  • @TKR: It is sometimes "accidents" like this that make for great literature and good questions. For instance, "Enron" was originally "Enteron," until somebody realized it meant "intestine." They should have stuck with that name. – Tom Au Aug 22 '16 at 23:45
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According to Mensa's About Us page, the name is taken from Latin mensa, which means "table":

What does "Mensa" mean?

The word "Mensa" means "table" in Latin. Mensa is a round-table society, where race, color, creed, national origin, age, politics, educational or social background are irrelevant.

This is further corroborated by the fact that the logo depicts...a table:

Mensa

This seems to be the official account of things, but the double entendre (actually--triple entendre) does not appear to be lost to them either. From the official US site on Mensa's History:

The word mensa means "table" in Latin; similarly, mens means "mind" and mensis means "month." The name "Mensa" is reminiscent of "mind, table, month," which suggests a monthly meeting of great minds around a table.

Rather clever, if you ask me. "Reminiscent" suggests that they are not positing an etymological relationship between mensa and mens, which, as @Nathaniel demonstrates, are unrelated.

  • Ok, so the club was named after "table," and not after "mind;" at least officially. – Tom Au Aug 22 '16 at 14:05
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According to De Vaan's Etymological Dictionary, these two words are not related. Here are his notes on mēns:

PIt. *mnti-.
PIE *mn-ti- [f.] 'thought, mind'. IE cognates: Skt. mati- [f.] 'thought, mind', Av. *maiti-, Lith. mintis 'thought, idea'

So Proto-Italic and Proto-Indo-European take this mnti form, which has a number of Indo-European cognates (in Sanskrit, Avestan, and Lithuanian, among others).

On the other hand, mēnsa's etymology is different:

PIt. *menssa- 'measured'. It. cognates: U. mefa, mefa [acc.sg.], mefa [abl.sg.], mefe [loc.sg.] 'a certain sacrificial object, maybe cake'.

Here, the cognates are in the Umbrian language. We might not make the connection with "sacrifical objects," but de Vaan indicates that that was originally relevant to the definition – a mēnsa is a "table (for sacred offerings, for meals)."

So no, there's no connection. Mensa International actually employs the "table" meaning anyway, in order to emphasize its nature as a "round-table society, where race, color, creed, national origin, age, politics, educational or social background are irrelevant."

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    +1 for the etymological track. – brianpck Aug 22 '16 at 12:25
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    On the other hand, it is just possible that mensa and mensis are related, going back to the IE word for "measure". – fdb Aug 22 '16 at 19:02
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    De Vaan further equates mensa with the p.p.p. of metior "measure", from PIE meh1-; this may make it cognate with mos and mensis, but probably not mens which doesn't seem to have had a laryngeal. – TKR Aug 22 '16 at 23:40

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