Sunday, 25 December 2016

Seven Wonders of the World

Never had the opportunity to see any of these, I'm not that old. Now when it comes to the origins of the names it is quite obvious why a lighthouse is known as a lighthouse, thus it is only the place names and personal names which I shall bother to look at.

Great Pyramid of Giza takes the simplistic but informative place name coming from gaza and meaning 'to cross'. This shows this was a place known as a good crossing point on the Nile.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon is a Greek place name, translated from the Akkadian Babili. It is thought this Babylonian name is a translation of a non-Semitic place name but one unknown and lost in time. However the name Babili is thought to have come about in the belief it meant 'gate of God', this being the meaning of this phrase but not the original name.

Statue of Zeus at Olympia is a gold statue by the sculptor Phidias standing in a place taking its name from Mount Olympos and not to be confused with Mount Olympus, home of the gods, other than the origins of both are completely unknown. Zeus is a very different story and is easily traced. This Greek supreme deity came straight from Proto-Indo-European dewos meaning simply 'god' which is also the source of the Latin deus 'god' and Old Persian daiva 'demon, evil god'. It has also given us wordsin Old Slavonic and Sanskrit meaning 'to gleam, shine' and it is quite likely the idea of an aura around the god gave rise to all these words.

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, a place in modern Turkey.The name of Ephesus is held to be from Greek ephoros meaning 'overseer' and telling of its importance as a religious site. While Artemis is of unknown origin, the alternative Diana can be traced to the Proto-Indo-European root dyeu meaning, as seen in Zeus, 'to shine'.

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus is thought to represent a place name meaning 'fortress', this supposes it comes from Carian, a language spoken alongside Greek in this area and said to be supported by the inscriptions found here of Alos-o-karnos-o.

Colossus at Rhodes sees the city and the island named from the nymph Rhodos of Greek mythology who bore seven sons sired by Helios, the sun god. Whils she gave her name to the island, three of her grandsons are remembered in three places on the island - namely Camirus, Ialysus, and Lindus.

Pharos Lighthouse at Alexandria is an easy enough place name to explain for it is named after Alexander the Great. Previously this had been known locally as Rhakotis meaning 'that which is built up' and is still a region of the modern city.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Muses

Now a very good friend the other day said I had been an inspiration when it came to a project we (and others) are currently working on. Never thought of myself as anyone's muse but after challenging myself to recall the names of the Muses from Greek mythology (no surprise to find I was not among them), my thoughts turned to the origins of these names.

Muse is itself worthy of a quick look. This comes from the Ancient Greek mousai likely from the Proto-Indo-European root men which is found to mean both 'to think' and 'mountain'. Just to clear a point here, remember Proto-Indo-European spelling is based solely on phonetics and many words have identical sounds and completely different meanings (these are called homonyms). Here both uses of men are appropriate, for not only are they held to help the creative think but also the centres for such cults were always atop high points such as hills or mountains.

Calliope is the muse of epic poetry, hence represented by the writing tablet or stylus. The name is also that of a steam-powered organ and comes from the Greek kalli and opos, quite literally 'beautiful voice'.

Clio is the muse of history and represented by scrolls and books.Again from the Greek, here kleiein meaning 'to tell, make famous'. Ultimately this is from the Proto-Indo-European root kleu 'to hear' and related to the name of Damocles which means literally 'fame of the people'.

Euterpe is represented by a flute-like instrument known as the aulos and the panpipes. Hence it comes as no surprise to find Euterpe the muse of music, song and lyric poetry. Another of Greek origin where eu terpein means 'well pleasing' and related to the following name.

Terpsichore, as the muse of dance, may be represented by a lyre or its plectrum. Here again we find the Greek element terpein, this from Proto-Indo-European terp 'to satisfy', and coupled with khoros means 'enjoyment of dance' - note this second elemt is also the origin of 'chorus', those singing and/or dancing in a production.

Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, is represented by a tragic mask, a blade, or a club. The name comes from the Greek melpein meaning 'to sing'.

Thalia uses a comic mask or a shepherd's crook, the act of pulling someone off the stage by means of such refers directly to this muse of comedy. This name comes from the Greek thallein 'to bloom' and related to thallos 'young shoot'.

Erato, as the muse of love poetry, is represented by a kind of lyre known as a cithara and comes from the Greek erastos 'loved, charming', itself from eran 'to love' and also the source of the Greek god Eros.

Polyhymnia is the muse of hymns, represented by a veil and a name derived from the Greek poly hymnos or 'the one with many veils'.

Urania uses the globe or a compass, this the muse of astronomy and from the Greek ouranios meaning literally 'heavenly' and a name related to the Greek god and the planet Uranus.

As I proved to be the inspiration for some work on the history of a local street, perhaps that makes me the muse of mews? And before you ask, this homonym has no relation to 'muse' but came to English in referring to stables grouped around an open yard and from the 16th century Mewes in Charing Cross, London where the royal hunting hawks were kept. Hence the name shares its origins with many birds in the sound they make, indeed the mew is an old name for the gull.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Unlucky 13

With advent calendar doors opening daily to enjoy a chocolate for breakfast - in my formative years it was simply a picture - I overheard the question wondering why the clock has not been decilmalised. As someone who can remember pounds sterling changing overnight from 240 pennies to the pound down to 100 leading to utter bewilderment for many, a metric clock would prove quite entertaining for a decaday or two.

Any attempt to bring about any metric clock is doomed to failure whilst we are still marooned on Sol 3. Star Trek 's stardate, seemingly a futuristic dating system, is in reality quite arbitrary and created so the audience would find it difficult to understand exactly what date it equated to on the Julian Calendar and write it pointing out endless continuity errors or giving opinions on whether the toilet would be obsolete on the Enterprise (having never seen one I assume they simply beam waste products away, a much easier method) or innumerable other scenarios deemed impossible by that century or this.

Not that Earth time has prevented the creation of any number of metric systems, aside from the many created by fiction authors - Battlestar Galactica writers created the 'centon', equal to roughly one minute - while mathematicians and scientists have created the decasecond (which is 10 seconds), the hectosecond (two hectoseconds to boil an egg), the megasecond (around 11.1/2 days), the gigasecond (equating to more than 31 years and meaning few of us will ever see a lifetime of three gigaseconds), the myriasecond (just short of three hours), and the marvellously named hectocoulomb per milliampere, which may sound like an eternity but is actually only a little under 28 hours.

There have also been attempts to change days, weeks and months. Possibly best known is the French Revolutionary Calendar which relied more on the cycle of the Moon, thus giving thirteen months in a year. Thirteen is considered unlucky - Friday 13th is the unluckiest day of all but any month with such must also begin with Sunday 1st, seen as the luckiest day so one balances the other out - which may have been one factor in not adopting the French idea. Another would be how they reflect northern hemisphere seasons, although the main reason would be down solely to reluctance to change. Despite decimalisation in the United Kingdom happening more than 40 years ago, those who remember shillings, coloquially known as a 'bob', may still refer to good fractions of the pound as 'a few bob'.

The thirteen French months were coined quite recently, hence the origins are fairly self-explanatory but still worthwhile examining from an etymological point of view. However before we start, some mention should be made of the start of the year which begins on either 22nd, 23rd or 24th September. The Julian calendar began in March, taking the spring equinox as when the longer day than night sees the beginning of the growing season, while the Gregorian calendar looks more at the closest from the shortest hours of daylight, thereafter opting for the start of the following month around 10 days later. Note both are relevant only in the northern hemisphere, as we have already noted also applies to the French suggestion.

Vendemiaire is from the Occitan language, a Romance language named from the Occitan valley of Italy but not confined to that region, and translates as 'grape harvester'. It begins on either 22nd, 23rd or 24th September but the confusion does not stop there, for each month had thirty days, each of three decades (metric weeks) of ten days which saw the metric week of Primidi, Duodi, Tridi, Quartidi, Sextidi, Septidi, Octidi, Nonidi, Decadi or 'first, second, third', etc,. Further confusion comes from the thirty days each having a second name. The majority in Vendemiaire named after plants, with the 5th (Quintidi) taking the name of a domesticated animal and the 10th (Decadi) the name of an agricultural tool. This results in Raisin 'grape' Safran 'saffron', Chataignes 'chestnut', Colchique 'autumn crocus', Cheval 'horse', Balsamine 'yellow balsam', Carottes 'carrots', Amarantine 'amaranth', Panais 'parsnip', Cuve 'tub', Pommes de terre 'potatoes', Immortelle 'strawflower', Potiron 'giant pumpkin', Reseda 'mignonette', Ane 'donkey', Belle de nuit 'marvel of Peru', Citrouille 'summer pumpkin', Sarrazin 'buckwheat', Tournesol 'sunflower', Pressoir 'wine-press', Chanvre 'hemp', Peches 'peaches', Navets 'turnip', Amarillis 'amaryllis', Boeuf 'cattle', Aubergine 'aubergine', Piment 'chile pepper', Tomate 'tomato', Orge 'barley', Tonneau 'barrel'.

Brumaire is from the French word for 'fog', as this month is the most likely to see fog. It begins on either 22nd, 23rd or 24th October. While the metric weeks retain the ten-day names, different names are given for each of the thirty days but retain the idea of plants, with the addition of 5th (Quintidi) taking the name of a domesticated animal and the 10th (Decadi) the name of an agricultural tool. Pomme 'apple', Celeri 'celery', Poire 'pear', Bettarave 'beetroot', Oye 'goose', Heliotrope 'European turnsole', Figue 'fig', Scorsonere 'black salsify', Alisier 'chequer tree', Charrue 'plough', Salsifis 'salsify', Macre 'water chestnut', Topinambour 'Jerusalem artichoke', Endive 'endive', Dindon 'turkey', Chervi 'skirret', Cresson 'watercress', Dentelaire 'leadwort', Grenade 'pomegranate', Herse 'harrow', Bacchante 'wild ginger', Azerole 'Crete hawthorn', Garence 'madder', Orange 'orange', Faisan 'pheasant', Pistache 'pistachio', Macjonc 'sweetpea', Coing 'quince', Cormier 'service tree', Rouleau 'roller'.

Frimaire is the French word for 'frost'. It begins on either 21st, 22nd or 23rd November. While the metric weeks retain the ten-day names, different names are given for each of the thirty days but retain the idea of plants, with the addition of 5th (Quintidi) taking the name of a domesticated animal and the 10th (Decadi) the name of an agricultural tool. Raiponce 'rampion', Terneps 'turnips', Chicoree 'chicory', Nefle 'medlar', Cochon 'pig', Mache 'corn salad', Cho-fleur 'cauliflower', Miel 'honey', Genievre 'juniper', Pioche 'pick', Cire 'wax', Raifort 'horseradish', Cedre 'cedar', Sapin 'fir', Chevreuil 'roe', Ajonc 'gorse', Cypres 'cypress', :ierre 'ivy', Sabine 'savin juniper', Hoyau 'axe', Erable sucre 'silver maple', Bruyere 'heather', Roseau 'reed', Oseille 'sorrel', Grillon 'cricket', Pignon 'pinenut', Liege 'cork oak', Truffe 'truffle', Olive 'olive', Pelle 'shovel'.

Novose is from the Latin for 'snow'. It begins on the 21st, 22nd or 23rd of December. While the metric weeks retain the ten-day names, different names are given for each of the thirty days and is different in using minerals and animal substances instead of plants, again with the addition of 5th (Quintidi) taking the name of a domesticated animal and the 10th (Decadi) the name of an agricultural tool. Tourbe 'peat', Houille 'coal', Bitume 'asphalt', Soufre 'sulphur', Chien 'dog', Lave 'lava', Terre vegetale 'humus', Fumier 'manure', Salpetre 'nitrate', Fleau 'flail', Granit 'granite', Argile 'clay', Ardoise 'slate', Gres 'sandstone', Lapin 'rabbit', Silex 'flint', Marne 'marl', Pierre a chaux 'limestone', Marbre 'marble', Van 'winnowing basket', Pierre a platre 'gypsum', Sel 'salt', Fer 'iron', Culvre 'copper', Chat 'cat', Etain 'tin', Plomb 'lead', Zinc 'zinc', Mercure 'mercury', Crible 'sieve'.

Pluviose is from the Latin for 'rainy'. It begins on 20th, 21st or 22nd of January. While the metric weeks retain the ten-day names, different names are given for each of the thirty days but retain the idea of plants, with the addition of 5th (Quintidi) taking the name of a domesticated animal and the 10th (Decadi) the name of an agricultural tool. Laureole 'spurge laurel', Mousse 'moss', Fragon 'buther's broom', Perce Neige 'snowdrop', Taureau 'bull', Laurier Thym 'bay thyme', Amadouvier 'tinder fungus', Mezereon 'February daphne' (ironically in January), Peuplier 'poplar', Coignee 'hatchet', Ellebore 'hellebore', Broccoli 'broccoli', Laurier 'laurel', Avelinier 'cobnut', Buis 'boxwood', Lichen 'Iceland moss', If 'yew', Pulmonaire 'lungwort', Sepette 'pruning knife', Thlaspi 'pennycross', Thimele 'rose daphne', Chiendent 'couchgrass', Trainasse 'knotweed', Lievre 'hare', Guedre 'dyer's woad', Voisetier 'hazelnut', Cyclamen 'sowbread', Chelidoine 'celandine', Traineau 'sleigh'.

Ventose is from the Latin for 'windy'. It begins on 19th, 20th or 21st of February. While the metric weeks retain the ten-day names, different names are given for each of the thirty days but retain the idea of plants, with the addition of 5th (Quintidi) taking the name of a domesticated animal and the 10th (Decadi) the name of an agricultural tool. Tussilage 'coltsfoot', Cornouiller 'dogwood', Viollier 'stock', Troene 'privet', Bouc 'billy goat', Asaret 'wild ginger', Alaterne 'evergreen buckthorne', Violette 'violet', Marceau 'willow', Beche 'spade', Narcisse 'narcissus', Orme 'elm', Fumeterre 'fumitory', Velar 'hedge mustard', Chevre 'goat', Epinard 'spinach', Doronic 'leopard's bane', Mouron 'pimpernel', Cerfeuil 'chervil', Cordeau 'twine', Mandragore 'mandrake', Percil 'parsley', Cochleria 'scurvygrass', Paquerette 'daisy', Thon 'tuna', Pissenlit 'dandelion', Sylvie 'anemone', Capillaire 'maidenhead fern', Frene 'ash tree', Plantoir 'dibble'.

Germinal is from the Latin for 'germination', most often simply said to be 'seed'. It begins on either the 20th or 21st of March. While the metric weeks retain the ten-day names, different names are given for each of the thirty days but retain the idea of plants, with the addition of 5th (Quintidi) taking the name of a domesticated animal and the 10th (Decadi) the name of an agricultural tool. Primevere 'primrose', Platane 'plane tree', Asperge 'asparagus', Tulipe 'tulip', Poule 'hen', Blette 'beetroot', Bouleau 'birch', Jonquille 'jonquil', Aulne 'alder', Couvoir 'hatchery', Pervenche 'periwinkle', Charme 'hornbeam', Morille 'round morel', Hetre 'beech', Abeille 'bee', Laitue 'lettuce', Meleze 'larch', Cigue 'hemlock', Radis 'radish', Ruche 'beehive', Gainier 'Judas tree', Romaine 'cos lettuce', Maronnier 'horse chestnut', Roquette 'rocket', Pigeon 'pigeon', Anemone / Lilas 'anemone or lilac', Pensee 'pansy', Myrtil 'blueberry', Greffoir 'graft knife'.

Floreal comes from the Latin for 'flower'. It begins in either 20th or 21st of April. While the metric weeks retain the ten-day names, different names are given for each of the thirty days but retain the idea of plants, with the addition of 5th (Quintidi) taking the name of a domesticated animal and the 10th (Decadi) the name of an agricultural tool. Rose 'rose', Chene 'oak', Fougere 'fern', Aubepine 'hawthorn', Rossignol 'nightingale', Ancolie 'columbine', Muguet 'lily of the valley', Champignon 'mushroom', Hyacinthe 'hyacinth', Rateau 'rake', Rhubarbe 'rhubarb', Sain-foin 'sainfoin', Baton d'or 'wallflower', Chamerisier 'dwarf honeysuckle', Ver-a-sole 'silkworm', Consoude 'comfrey', Pimprenelle 'burnet', Corbeil d'or 'alison', Arroche 'orache', Sarcloir 'hoe', Statice 'sea lavender', Fritillaire 'fritillary', Bourrache 'borage', Valeriane 'valerian', Carpe 'carp', Fusian 'spindle tree', Civette 'chive', Buglose 'bugloss', Seneve 'charlock', Houlette 'shepherd's staff.

Prairal is from the French word for 'meadow'. It begins on either 20th or 21st of May. While the metric weeks retain the ten-day names, different names are given for each of the thirty days but retain the idea of plants, with the addition of 5th (Quintidi) taking the name of a domesticated animal and the 10th (Decadi) the name of an agricultural tool. Luserne 'lucerne', Hemerocalle 'daylily', Trefle 'clover', Angelique 'angelica', Canard 'duck', Melisse 'melissa', Fromental 'oat grass', Martagon 'martagon lily', Serpolet 'wild thyme', Faulx 'scythe', Fraise 'strawberry', Betoine 'betony', Pois 'pea', Acacia 'acacia', Caille 'quail', Oeillet 'pink', Sureau 'elder', Pavot 'poppy', Tilleul 'lime tree', Fourche 'pitchfork', Barbeau 'cornflower', Camomille 'chamomile', Chevrefeuille 'honeysuckle', Caille lait 'bedstraw', Tranche 'tench', Jasmin 'jasmine', Verveine 'vervain', Thym 'thyme', Pivoine 'peony', Chariot 'cart.

Messidore is from Latin for 'harvest'. It begins on either 19th or 20th of June. While the metric weeks retain the ten-day names, different names are given for each of the thirty days but retain the idea of plants, with the addition of 5th (Quintidi) taking the name of a domesticated animal and the 10th (Decadi) the name of an agricultural tool. Seigle 'rye', Avoine 'oats', Oignon 'onion', Veronique 'speedwell', Mulet 'mule', Romarin 'rosemary', Concombre 'cucumber', Echalotte 'shallot', Absynthe 'wormwood', Faucille 'sickle', Coriandre 'coriander', Artichaut 'artichoke', Giroflee 'clove', Lavande 'lavender', Chamois 'chamois', Tabac 'tobacco', Groseille 'currant', Cesse 'vetchling', Cerise 'cherry', Parc 'fold', Menthe 'mint', Cumin 'caraway', Haricot 'bean', Orcanete 'alkanet', Pintade 'guinea fowl', Sauge 'sage', Ail 'garlic', Vesce 'vetch', Ble 'wheat', Chalemie 'shawm.

Thermidor is derived from the French 'heat', although some printed calendars give this as Fervidor or 'hot'. It begins on either 19th or 20th July. While the metric weeks retain the ten-day names, different names are given for each of the thirty days but retain the idea of plants, with the addition of 5th (Quintidi) taking the name of a domesticated animal and the 10th (Decadi) the name of an agricultural tool. Epeautre 'spelt', Bouillon blanc 'mullein', Melon 'melon', Ivraie 'ryegrass', Belier 'ram', Prele 'horsetail', Armoise 'mugwort', Carthame 'safflower', Mure 'mulberry', Arrosoir 'watering can', Panic 'eryngo', Salicor 'glasswort', Abricot 'apricot', Basilic 'basil', Brebis 'ewe', Guimauve 'marsh mallow', Lin 'flax', Amande 'almond', Genthiane 'gentian', Ecluse 'lock', Carline 'silver thistle', Caprier 'caper', Lentille 'lentil', Aunee 'elecampane', Loutre 'otter', Myrthe 'myrtle', Colza 'rapeseed', Lupin 'lupin', Coton 'cotton', Moulin 'mill'.

Fructidor comes from the Latin for 'fruit'. It begins on either August 18th or 19th. While the metric weeks retain the ten-day names, different names are given for each of the thirty days but retain the idea of plants, with the addition of 5th (Quintidi) taking the name of a domesticated animal and the 10th (Decadi) the name of an agricultural tool. Prune 'plum', Millet 'millet', Licoperde 'puffball', Escourgeon 'barleygrass', Saumon 'salmon', Tubereuse 'tuberose', Sucrion 'barleygrass', Apocyn 'dogbane', Reglisse 'licquorice', Echelle 'ladder', Pasteque 'watermelon', Fenouil 'fennel', Epine vinette 'barberry', Noix 'walnut', Truite 'trout', Citron 'lemon', Cardiere 'teasel', Nerprun 'buckthorn', Tagette 'African marigold', Hotte 'basket', Eglantier 'dog rose', Noisette 'hazelnut', Houblon 'hops', Sorgho 'soghum', Ecrevisse 'bitterorange', Verge d'or 'golden rod', Mais 'corn', Marron 'horse chestnut', Panier 'basket'.

Even for the French this calendar proved but unappealing and having implemented it in 1793 then abandoned the system just 12 years later. A short revival in 1871 similarly saw little support, actually the Paris Commune's use lasted just 12 days or a whole megasecond.

As this is being posted on December 11th 2016, as far as I can tell this, had the French proved popular, would mean today is: silver maple, first of the third decade of frost month.

Note the piece uses English spellings as it is written in English and speaking of which, one 19th-century British wit made a little fun of the new months by renaming them "Wheezy, Sneezy, Freezy, Slippy, Drippy, Nippy, Showery, Flowery, Bowery, Hoppy, Croppy, and Poppy.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

All Greek

I find it fascinating how letters from the Greek alphabet have become a part of everyday English. Regularly we hear about the 'alpha male', 'gamma rays', how we don't care 'one iota', and the last or ultimate having the added 'omega'. As ever I began wondering just how these names developed and why. Hence what follows is twenty-four explanations for the twenty-four letters of the Greek alphabet.

Alpha, in its modern sense of 'the first', dates from the early 17th century. It is taken directly from the Hebrew and/or Phoenician aleph (Greek does not permit the use of certain consonants at the end of words so they added the final 'a') and, in turn, from the Semitic group of languages where eleph literally meant 'ox'. It is thought this is due to the character representing the head of an ox.

Beta is another ultimately from the Hebrew/Phoenician where bayt meant 'house'. Just why the 'house' is seen in the letter is difficult to understand as a 'B' is possibly the most diverse of all letters and represented in very differing forms in a variety of scripts. Note the word has also found its way into Hindi and Urdu where it means 'royal son'.

Gamma comes from the Phoenician gimel meaning 'camel', as it is said to resemble some part of the animal, most likely the curve of the neck when at rest. However this is possibly quite fanciful and may represent the Egyptian hieroglyph depicting a club or throwing stick similar to a boomerang.

Delta is from the Phoenician daleth meaning 'tent door' and describing the triangular shape of the letter.

Epsilon represents the Greek e psilon, literally '-e and nothing else'. This unusual meaning is to distinguish this letter with the diphthong 'ai', both having come to be pronounced the same. The Greek word psilon was used to mean both 'smooth' and 'simple', the former originating in the Proto-Indo-European root bhes 'to rub'.

Zeta may be the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet but it is the basis for our modern Z. It is derived from the Hebrew zayin, literally meaning 'weapon' and likely a reference to its shape resembling a jagged edge.

Eta is derived from the Phoenician letter heth, itself ultimately from the hieroglyph for 'thread'.

Theta comes from the Hebrew teth, and used as Greek shorthand for thanatos on ballots to suggest a sentence of 'death'. It was pronounced as the modern 'th' and only being pronounced as the 'th' in 'Thomas' or 'thyme' when influenced by Latin and is derived from a Proto-Indo-European or Germanic rune. Just what that rune represented is unknown, although note this is the first letter originating in a sound rather than an image, this due to the comparatively late development.

Iota is used to mean 'a very small amount' and was indeed the smallest of the Greek letters. It may correspond to our ninth letter of the alphabet but written without the dot or 'tittle' - the latter from the Greek keraia or 'little horn'. The letter comes from the Semitic languages and the Proto-Semitic yad, itself from the Egyptian hieroglyph of an arm.

Kappa is from the Herbrew qoph and Phoenician qaph and originally described 'the hollow of the hand'.

Lambda comes from the Hebrew lamed and Arabic lam, in both cases appears as a prefix and used as a preposition meaning 'to' or 'for', depending on the context.

Mu is from the Semitic mem and ultimately from the Egyptian hieroglyph for 'water'.

Nu is from the Phoenician nun and ultimately from the Egyptian hieroglyph of a snake.

Xi is another from the Phoenician, here samekh's origins are unclear. Likely dating from the Middle Bronze Age and thus originally a hieroglyph, it could represent a tent peg or similar as the modern Hebrew equivalent means 'to support'.

Omicron comes from the Greek meaning 'small o' and derived from the Proto-Indo-European word smik or 'small' as this is a notably short vowel. As a letter it is derived from the Phoenician ayn or 'eye', itself taken from the Egyptian hieroglyph of an eye.

Pi is another of Phoenician origins, here Pe and comes from the pictogram of a mouth.

Rho is from the Phoenician resh, the pictogram of a head and related to Proto-Semitic ra and the Sumerian cuneiform sign for 'head'.

Sigma may be from an obsolete letter san, yet the most popular explanation is this is a Greek creation and simply means 'hissing'.

Tau is from the Phoenician taw and is from the Egyptian hieroglyph meaning 'mark'.

Upsilon is from the Phoenician waw and described its shape when meaning 'hook'.

Phi represents the sound as in 'ph', an aspirated 'p' and as the sound made by blowing through the lips is officially referred to as a 'bilabial spirant'.

Chi represents the sound 'ch' although is shaped like the letter 'x' which explains why this comes from the Greek khiastos or 'two things placed crosswise'. As among the simplest of symbols it is common to many ancient languages and although the origin is comparatively late here, should be expected in any or even every form of writing.

Psi is the penultimate letter of the Greek alphabet and has somewhat uncertain origins. It likely comes from a rune as it has been adopted in several different written forms including Cyrillic where psy means 'dogs'.

Omega was a late addition to the Greek alphabet, not seen until around 2,800 years ago. It is related to omicron and means 'great o' - literally 'o - mega'. Much as the 'x' symbol would be common to many languages so would the circle which is 'o'. The difference is in the short form of 'o' being used in the first part of 'lotto' while the longer version is found at the end.

Hence the Greek alphabet could be said to be: ox, house, camel, tent door, simple, weapon, thread, death, arm, hollow of the hand, for, water, snake, tent peg, eye, mouth, head, hissing, mark, hook, blowing through the lips, two things placed crosswise, dogs, circle.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Canada's Provinces

Having recently been reminded of how the name of Canada being named for a tiny area around the St Lawrence where the Iroquoi referred to their kanata or ‘village’, I thought it a good idea to examine the origins of the names of the territories. These twelve names have a variety of origins, some simplistic, others transferred from the Old World, and even those from the indigenous languages.

Alberta's name is down to the Scottish Marquis of Lorne, the Governor General of Canada, who named it after his wife Princess Louise Caroline Alberta in 1882.

British Colombia shares an origin with the US District of Columbiia in being named after Christopher Columbus, although this was much later than the US names and not known as such until 1858.

Manitoba is a province named after Lake Manitoba, itself from the Cree tribe's name for the island in the centre of the lake which they called Manatuapa or 'great spirit' as they regarded this as the home of said spirit.

New Brunswick is named to honour King George III in 1784 when it was separated from Nova Scotia (see below). George was not only the third George to be king of England but also the third of the House of Hanover, also referred to as Brunswick.

Newfoundland is possibly the most simplistic English place name anywhere. Discovered by John Cabot, an Italian-born Englishman, in 1497 he never actually named it such but is first seen in a document of the following year when it is simply said to be 'the new-found land'. Correctly the territory is Newfoundland and Labrador, where the English name of the island was translated to Portuguese as Terre-Nueve. The Portuguese exploration of this region is also seen in the naming of Labrador, itself directly from the surname of the navigator Joao Fernandes Lavrador. Hence the dog taking its name from the region and often abbreviated to just 'lab' should correctly be called a 'lav'. Also of note is the name given to some parts as New Britain, named as this was north of what was known as New France in the 17th century. This all started in 1612 with Welsh captain Thomas Button when he spent the winter on the shoreline of Hudson Bay at a place he called Nelson on the shores of the Nelson River. He called the region 'New Wales' and erected a sign telling others who came here. Nobody arrived until 1619 when Captain Luke Foxe discovered the sign and referred to the lands north of the mouth of the Nelson River as New North Wales and that to the south as New South Wales.

North West Territories is another requiring no explanation other than to say it is referred to as being 'north west' of Rupert's Land. A much better name is the earlier Inuktitut name of Nunatsiaq or 'beautiful land'. In the earliest days it was proposed the name should be changed to Denendeh, an Athabaskan word meaning 'our land'. This was rejected along with the rather amusing idea this should be known as simply 'Bob', which likely began as a joke but attracted a lot of interest until the joke ceased to be funny.

Nova Scotia is literally the Latin for 'New Scotland' and named by Sir William Alexander after being granted the area by James I. Previously the French had settled here and knew the place as Acadia.

Ontario, like Manitoba, is named after its lake. Here the Iroquois oniatar-io means 'beautiful' in referring to lake. The river and state of Ohio in the USA share this derivation.

Prince Edward Island was discovered in 1534 by the French explorer Jacques Cartier who called it Ile St Jean or St John's Island as it indeed became known when ceded to the British in 1763. In 1798 it was renamed after Prince Edward who was the fourth son of George III but, more importantly, the father of Queen Victoria.

Quebec takes the name of the city, one of the oldest known names on the North American continent and from the Algonquin kebec meaning 'where the river narrows'.

Yukon, as our final example, is thankfully an indigenous name. The region takes its name from the Yukon River which simply means 'big river'.

For those interested I looked at the origins of the names of Canadian cities a couple of years ago.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Atomic Etymologies

Following on from my recent examination of Elemental Etymologies, and after hearing the latest news on the hunt for the Higgs Bosun, thoughts turned to the origin of these. With the science of splitting the atom a very new idea, the names of the sub-atomic particles would be expected to have very recent beginnings. However some of the following have a most surprising meaning and origin.

Atom is certainly the oldest of the words and also comes first alphabetically, hence it is the logical place to start. It is first seen in the late 15th century and taken from the Latin atomus meaning 'indivisible particle'. Even though we are speaking about sub-atomic particles from hereon, this definition still fits as this is indeed the smallest state any of any element, and smaller and it is quite simply something else. Latin took the Greek atomos meaning 'uncut, unhewn, indivisible' from a 'not' and tomos 'a cutting'. What had been ancient speculation by Greeks such as Leucippus and Democritus, saw a revival in 1805 by the British scientist John Dalton.

Quark is, for a particle only named just fifty years ago, still questioned. As a sub-atomic particle it was certainly named by US physicist Murray Gell-Mann who, in correspondence with the Oxford English Dictionary, informed the editors he took it directly from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake but already had the sound in his head before he found the word in print. Now this is said to be plausible as Gell-Mann's parents emigrated to the US from Austria-Hungary and German quark does exist (its meaning of 'curds, rubbish' is hardly relevant here). The questions concern the pronunciation which in US circles is generally pronounced to rhyme with 'stark' and in the UK more often rhyming with 'walk'. Note George Zweig, who deserves equal credit in the work, suggested the name ace.

Ion, as a noun, came into being when suggested by polymath the Rev William Whewell to physicist and chemist Michael Faraday. Whewell understood the Greek ion, being the neuter present participle of ienai 'go' came from the Proto-Indo-European ei 'to go, to walk' and perfectly describes how electrons move towards the electrode of opposite charge. Incidentally, this ancient root can be traced to words with identical meaning in Greek, Latin, Old Irish, Irish, Gothic, Gaulish, Sanskrit, Avestan, Old Persian, Lithuanian, Old Church Slavonic, Bulgarian and Russian.

Electron was coined by Irish physicist George J. Stoney in 1891. He combined 'electric' with 'on', as seen in 'ion' (below) as the flow of electrons is, in a most basic sense, what the layman refers to as 'electricity'.

Proton was coined in 1920 by the English physicist John Rutherford. He used proton as the neuter of the Greek noun protos meaning 'first'.

Neutron is 'the electrically neuter part of the atom' and named in 1921 by US chemist William D Harkins, he taking 'neutral' and 'on' (see 'ion') to produce a word which has a basis in 'neuter' and originally referring solely to gender in the sense 'not capable of breeding'.

Neutrinos are particles smaller than a neutron, the term coined by Italian physicist Enrico Fermi and ultimately shares its etymology with 'neutron' (above).

Photons are units of electromagnetic radiation (light to you and I), and derives its name from the Greek photo 'light' and the suffix 'on' (see 'ion'). Note the Greek photo can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European bha 'to shine'.

Baryon comes from the Greek barys 'heavy' and the addition of 'on' (see 'ion').

Fermion is a name coined by Paul Dirac and inspired by Italian physicist Enrico Fermi with the addition of 'on' (see 'ion').

Lepton is named from the Greek leptos 'small.slight' and derived from lepein 'to peel' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European lep 'peel, shave, to scale (from fish)'. Here the suggestion is the lepton is a weak force and shares a root with 'leper'.

Mesons are intermediate in mass between protons and electrons hence, with the suffix 'on' (see 'ion') the Greek mesos or 'middle' was used.

Hadron uses the suffix 'on' (see 'ion') to follow the Greek hadros 'thick, bulky' as well as 'great, large, ripe'. This prefix comes from the Proto-Indo-European root sa 'to satisfy' and shares an origin with 'sad'. Scientist working at the Hadron Collider (a fabulous potential pub name) might have their own opinions as to their work being related to 'thick' and 'sad'.

Higgs boson is the Holy Grail for physicists - the Holy Grail that is until they discover something ever deeper - and is named after Peter Ware Higgs CH FRS FRSE and Satyendra Nath Bose FRS. Neither men gave the alternative name of the 'God particle' to the Higgs boson, this most often attributed to Leon Lederman as the author of the book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? (catchy isn't it?) but actually came from the publisher (yes, been there!) after Lederman originally came up with the phrase the "Goddamn particle".

Pions were named from the Greek letter pi, itself from the Hebrew where it meant 'little mouth', together with the suffix 'on' (see 'ion').

Positron was coined in 1933 and simply takes the first part of 'positive' and the ending of 'electron' to describe itself.

Muons were once known as the 'mu meson' but scientists agreed upon the shorter version. Hence the 'meson' (see above) took on the Greek letter mu, itself derived from the Egyptian hieroglyph for 'water' and which also formed the basis for the Polish word for 'slime', the Sanskrit word for 'urine', and the Avestan word for 'excrement'.

This is why language is so wonderful. In the modern world of science we need to travel back thousands of years, only to discover the 'water', 'urine' and 'excrement' all, etymologically speaking, stem from the same thing.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Not All At Sea

As a youngster I did not enjoy a very boring holiday week in Great Yarmouth. Nothing against Great Yarmouth, it was the torrential rain which threw a very real dampener on things. Yet for years one image stuck in my mind, that image is still there in the form of the Barking Smack public house. At the time I had no idea that 'Barking' was a place name and that a 'smack' was a vessel. Recently I visited the resort again and, reminded of the visit years ago, wondered why a vessel would ever be called a 'smack'. Not only is the smack examined here but many other vessels, not all to be found at sea.

Barge can also be used to mean 'bump into', and it came as something of a surprise to find this usage is derived from the vessel normally handled quite roughly. The name of the vessel came to English from Old French barge and ultimately from Latin barica and Greek baris meaning 'Egyptian boat' and this from Coptic bari or 'small boat'. Barque (sometimes 'bark') shares this origin.

Although trireme is a much better known term, there is also a bireme, the difference being the former has three rows of oars and the latter just two. The suffix in each case comes from the Latin remus meaning 'oar' and derived from same root as the word 'row' in Proto-Indo-European ere with the same meaning.

Brig is a shortened form of 'brigantine', itself referring to a vessel most often associated with trouble, particularly piracy. Hence it has the same root as 'brigand' and also 'brigade' in Italian briga 'to fight' and also seen Gaelic brigh and Welsh bri both meaning 'power'. Note the prison on board ship, known as the brig, is derived from the name of the vessel as, once again, it was associated with trouble.

The canoe may have been used for millennia but the word can be traced to the 15th and 16th century voyages of Christopher Columbus. The Spanish canoa is taken directly from the Arawakan (Haiti) word canaoua, used solely to refer to the boat.

Caravel came to English from Middle French caravelle, this from the Spanish caravo and Latin carabus referring to this small wicker boat covered with leather. Further back we find an apt description of the upturned boat in the Greek karabos meaning 'beetle, lobster'.

Catamarans were first seen when trading in what were then known as the East Indies. As most will know the modern catamaran uses two small hulls with the main body of the vessel atop that connecting these hulls. It came as no surprise to find this was the origin, where Tamil kattu-maram literally means 'tied wood' and from kattu 'binding' and maram 'wood, tree'.

Clipper is less than two centuries old and named for its speed, the verb 'clip' still used to speak of a fast pace.

Coracles are those ancient one-man craft typically seen in an artist's impression of early life in Britain. Our modern word came from the Saxons, itself related to Welsh corwgl, Gaelic curachan and Middle Irish curachan, the latter meaning simply 'boat'. These all likely share a root with Latin corium meaning 'hide, leather', cortex 'bark', Sanskrit krith 'hide', and Russian skora 'hide' and kora 'bark' in Proto-Indo-European ker 'to cut' and point to this framework being covered with skins

Dinghy is a Hindi word, where dingi simply means 'small boat'. It is doubtless related to Sanskrit drona-n 'wooden trough' and dru-s 'tree'.

Dreadnought is not so easy to see today but, when coined by the Royal Navy in the late 16th century, simply meant 'fearing nothing'.

Ferry, as a vessel, comes from its use as a verb which originally meant 'to carry, bring, or transport' (particularly over water) and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European per and shares an origin with 'port'.

Galleon shares an origin with galley and galliot the origin of all uncertain but is certainly of great antiquity as it is represented in most European languages.

Gondola is recorded since the 16th century but prior to that nothing is known of its origins.

Junk always seemed an odd word for a vessel but of course the modern 'rubbish' use has a quite different etymology. As the name of a vessel it has travelled quite a long way, coming to us from Portuguese junco 'Chinese sailing ship', from Malay jong 'large boat' and ultimately from Japanese djong.

Kayak came to English from Danish kajak and Greenland Eskimo qayaq meaning 'small boat of skins'. Note the kayak is, at least in its homeland, the male craft and the 'umiak' its counterpart really does mean 'woman's boat'.

Ketch is derived from the Middle English cacchen meaning 'to capture' and another vessel named for its use in warfare.

Launch may seem obvious but it is not named from the verb, albeit the spelling has been influenced by such. This comes from the Malay lancharan itself from lanchar meaning 'quick, agile'.

Liner is surprising recent, unknown prior to 1838 and simply means 'a vessel belonging to a shipping line'. Interestingly the use of 'line' here is also very recent, dating from around 1786 when it referred to lines of horse-drawn coaches.

Luggers are named for their lug sail, itself named for its supposed resemblance to an ear flap (lug hole!), which in turn shares an origin with the handle of a pitcher.

Pinnace comes from a root shared with the Latin pino 'pine tree' and also 'ship'.

Punt is an Old English word for a flat-bottomed boat taken from the Latin ponto and named for its apparent resemblance, and also effective use, to a bridge.

Sampan is a light Chinese boat name from the Chinese san pan, quite literally meaning 'three boards'.

Schooner is related to the archaic term scon, once used to mean 'to send over water'. Both are related to shun, itself meaning 'to turn aside', which also came to be used by the railways in the form of 'shunt'.

Skiff is a small boat with a name shared with 'ship', itself common to many European languages in a variety of forms and traceable back to Proto-Indo-European skei meaning 'cut, split' and referring to wooden ship construction.

Sloop came to English from Dutch sloep, this from Middle Dutch slupen 'to glide'. Interestingly this also shares a root in Proto-Indo-European sleubh, which has also given us 'sleeve' and that part of the garment which can the wearer has to 'slide' on.

Tugs are powerful vessels doing what their name suggests. The term 'tug' as a verb can be traced to Proto-Indo-European deuk meaning 'to lead'.

Yacht is quite well known as being from the Dutch, although the Germanic root is common to many of this group of languages and describes speed. The Proto-Germanic yago and earlier Proto-Indo-European yek both originally used to refer to 'the hunt'.

And of course the smack, the name that started it all. Not seen before the early 17th century, as this single-masted boat did not exist prior to that, came to English from the Dutch or German smak meaning 'sailing boat' and ultimately from smakken 'to fling or dash'. This can only be seen as the noise made by the sails as it catches the wind.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Equine Etymologies

A few months ago I looked at the origins behind the names of the various parts of a suit of armour. Since then it has always been my intention to look at, to me, quite baffling names given to the various parts of the horse andcfinally here it is beginning with the noble steed itself.

Horse is a Germanic word, where all its languages are little different from the Proto-Germanic root of hursa. This in turn is derived from Proto-Indo-European kurs meaning 'run', a very apt description of a horse. Note the Greek term 'equine' has taken different route, coming through the Greek and ultimately Proto-Indo-European ekwa or 'horse'.

Stallion came to English from the French where around the end of the twelfth century staloun described 'a male horse used for breeding'. It shares an origin with Old High German stal meaning both 'stable' and 'stall' and where breeding stock would be kept.

Mare is another Germanic word, this from the Proto-Germanic root markhjon originally meaning simply 'horse'.

Foal once again has a Proto-Germanic root. Here fulon ultimately comes from Proto-Indo-European pulo meaning simply 'young of an animal'.

Cannon is the large bone, once simply the middle toe of the earliest horse known as Eohippus, fused to give the creature added height. Undoubtedly this name comes from its resemblance to the tapering barrel of a cannon, itself ultimately meaning simply 'tube'.

Coronet is the upper, almost circular part of the hoof and thus is almost identical to that worn on the head and thus took the name.

Croup is the name given to the topmost part of the hindquarters and associated muscle, it gets its name from the French croupier which, prior to its modern usage, described 'one who rides behind the other' and referred to where the second individual sat.

Fetlock is the tuft of hair behind the pastern joint of the animal. This Germanic term is from fetel and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ped-el and originally referred to 'the foot part'.

Flank, the fleshy part of the side, came to English from Old French flanc 'hip, side' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European kleng 'to bend, turn'.

Hock, the joint in the hind leg of the animal, corresponds to the ankle joint in humans but derives its name from Old English hoh and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European kenk 'heel'.

Hoof is a Germanic word, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European kop meaning 'to beat, strike' and imitative of the noise made by the horse as it walks.

Loin, the side of the animal, gets its name from its use as the choicest cut of meat as food. Less appetising is how the same word also gave us 'lumbago'.

Mane is yet another traceable back to Proto-Germanic where mano, and the ultimate origin of Proto-Indo-European mon, simply meant 'nape of the neck'.

Pastern has only been used for a part of the leg since the early 16th century. It came from the tether known as a pastern used to keep the animal, not just the horse, where it had been left. This, in turn, shares an origin with 'pasture' and even 'pastor' as the early animals were tethered in the pasture rather than fenced in.

Poll is the occipital crest behind the ears, it shares an origin with the sense of electoral poll in that it refers to the head, and was originally used to refer to a haircut before it was also applied to trees and plants (as in pollarding).

Stifle, the equine equivalent of the human knee joint, does share an origin with the more often heard sense 'choke, suffocate' as both come from Old High German stopfon 'to plug up, stuff' as this is could easily be seen as a description of a joint.

Withers is that point just above the top of the shoulder blades and where the height of a horse is measured. It is this sense where Old English wither, also used to mean 'against, contrary, opposite', speaks of this being the point where the beast of burden would oppose the weight of the load.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Not So Royal Residences

Found myself in Windsor Great Park recently and recalled an interview on BBC Radio Berkshire with Anne Diamond when I launched my Berkshire Place Names. Our chat had been interrupted due to a serious traffic problem in Windsor and we took the opportunity to define the place name which, as you can see below, has nothing 'royal' about it whatsoever.

Buckingham Palace replaced St James' Palace as the official residence on the succession of Queen Victorias in 1837. It had been used by royalty since Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, used it as her private residence from 1716. Although there have been a number of houses on this site, the core of the present building had been built for John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham in 1703. This dukedom takes the name of the county town of Buckinghamshire, a name not seen before the early 10th century and one from Old English inga hamm following a personal name, this is 'the land in a river bend of the family or followers of a man named Bucca'.

Clarence House is another royal residence to have taken its name from a dukedom. Built by John Nash between 1825 and 1827, it is named for the Duke of Clarence, the future William IV. Unlike Buckingham there is no place of this name in England, this example comes from the town of Clare in Suffolk, a manor held by Lionel of Antwerp, the first Duke of Clarence. As a place name Clare is derived from the river of the same name, a British or Celtic name meaning 'bright river'.

Glamis Castle has been home to the Lyon family since the 14th century, although much of the present building dates from the 17th century. The village of Glamis takes its name from the Scottish Gaelic Glamhus, literally 'wide gap' and a reference to the vale in which it is found.

Hampton Court appears as it does today largely through the redevelopment of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey around 1515. This favourite of Henry VIII fell out of favour 15 years later and the king made himself well and truly at home here. As a place name it is quite common and has three possible origins, this example coming from 'farmstead in a river bend'.

Holyrood House may be in Scotland but is an Old English place name, from halig 'holy' and rod 'cross'. This building was originally a 12th century abbey founded by King David I. Its most prized relic being the 'black rood', said to be a part of the True Cross and brought to Scotland by his mother, St Margaret.

Osborne House had been bought by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert from Lady Isabella Blachford in October 1845, but soon proved far too small and what we see today is a reworking completed in 1851. The name of the place comes, once again, from Old English, here eowestre burna meaning 'the stream by the sheep fold'.

Windsor Castle, the name that first came to mind, comes from Old English windels ora and describes 'the bank or slope with a windlass'. Here, simply by defining the place name, we have an image of a steep and muddy bank where the only way to load and unload vessels on the river is by winching loads on a sled-like affair up and down the bank. Such names are those I particularly enjoy as it gives an image from history which no painter would commit to canvas and no camera could record.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

A Liquid Lesson

Not a cookery or brewing lesson but one looking at why various liquids, and not just drinks, are known by the names we use virtually every day.

Alcohol comes from the Arabic al-kuhul, this the fine metallic powder used to darken eyelids, for kahala means 'to stain, paint'. Not that the two things at all similar, other than in the method of production - sublimation.

Beer has been said to be a major factor in creating civilsation - it is argued that our ancestors were forced to settle temporarily to produce beer for drinking, a reasonable alternative to potentially bad water. Be that true or no there is no doubt beer has been drunk for thousands of years, as seen in the many seemingly diverse languages which speak of the drink using quite similar words. The English 'beer' is related to the Latin biber meaning 'to drink' which has given us the word 'imbibe'.

Blood is another word which has remained largely unchanged for millennia, the term seen in the ancient Proto-Indo-European bhlo-to which was also used to mean 'to swell, gush, spurt'. It takes little imagination to realise just how blood was most often viewed in those far-off days.

Broth is a Germanic word, seen in Old High German brod and its root bhreue meaning 'boil, bubble'. Here we see how 'broth', a liquid from cooking, and 'brew', the act of producing beer, are related and have a common root as the two use the same process.

Diesel comes directly from Rudolph Diesel, the German engineer who designed the diesel engine. The surname is a pet form of Mathias (or Matthew) and is from the Hebrew for 'Gift of God'.

Emulsion came to English from the French and earlier from Latin emulgere or 'to milk out'. Milk is the best example of an emulsion, that is drops of one liquid dispersed in another.

Gasoline uses the chemical suffix 'ine' after 'ol' (understood as representing 'oil') and 'gas'. Here the use of 'gas' is taken from 'gas' as both are fuels. Incidentally 'gas' is from the Greek khaos meaning 'empty space' and has the same origin as 'chaos'.

Gravy is an Anglo-French corruption of the Old French grave, itself from grane meaning both 'sauce' and 'stew'. Earlier this is seen as Latin granum, 'grain, seed'.

Honey is a Germanic term and originated as Proto-Indo-European keneko simply meaning 'yellow' or 'golden'.

Ink came to English from Old French encre which described the same thing. Taking it further back we find Greek enkauston from enkaiein meaning 'to burn' and related to 'caustic'. Here we need a history lesson, for this was also used to refer to a kind of painting produced using fire or heat. Later it was transferred to a purple-red ink used by Roman emperors and produced by heating the ground remains of certain shellfish - note the Code of Justinian prohibited common folk from making this ink on pain of death.

Juice, in its simplest form, refers to any flavoured liquid. Going back to Proto-Indo-European yeue it meant 'to blend, mix food' and from this came Sanskrit yus 'broth' and Lithuanian juse 'fish soup' among others.

Kerosene uses the chemical suffix 'ene' following a word derived from the Greek keros or 'wax'. The link here is that both contain paraffin.

Milk may be a noun but it is also a verb, indeed it is the action of milking which has given the product its name. Tracing this back to Proto-Indo-European we discover this has hardly changed since melg meant 'to stroke, wipe, rub off'.

Molasses has been adopted into English in the plural form, although this is seen as singular. This came to English from Portuguese melaco from Latin mellaceum or 'new wine' and ultimately from mellaceus or 'resembling honey'.

Oil is a comparatively late word for substances with a certain texture. Indeed olive oil must have been known since prehistory, although we have no idea what these ancestors knew the product as. The modern oil takes the name of possibly the earliest produced oil, that being olive oil and named for the olive. Ironically substances with this greasy or viscous texture are named from the early olive oil, itself derived from the olive which had the original meaning of 'oil' and has thus turned full circle.

Paint as a noun comes from the verb. This term came from French and Latin, both from the Proto-Indo-European root peig meaning 'to cut'. Hence first used to mean 'decorate' (pots, for example) the term now means the substance with which we most often decorate our homes.

Sauce originates from the Latin salsa, literally 'that which is salted'.

Syrup is from the Old French sirop 'sugared drink' and ultimately from Arabic sharab 'beverage, wine'.

Turpentine was first derived from the terebinth tree, hence its name, although now applied to that obtained from conifers. Terebinth trees are native to the Mediterranean, the name coming from Greek but here the etymological trail dries up and can only have been an early loan word from a non-Indo-European language.

Varnish began as a noun, this from Latin vernix meaning 'odorous resin'. Here the trail becomes unclear but it could well be derived from the Greek Berenike, the ancient Libyan city today known as Bengasi as this is where varnish is said to have been first used. This town is named after Berenike II, queen of Egypt whose name is now seen as Berenice.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Acidic Answers

Not all acids are the highly corrosive substances introduced to us by our chemistry teacher. Amino acids for example are the basis for life as we know it. While defining the origins and meanings of various elements in previous posts, the question of what is an acid and how it got its name came to mind. The answers are below and beginning with the word 'acid' itself.

Acid, rather unsurprisingly, got its name for its taste - remember acid drops? Derived from the Latin acidus or 'sour', this is ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European ak meaning 'sharp' but also used to mean 'pointed'. When it comes to the chemical names with which we are most familiar, these are self-explanatory. For example hydrochloric simply means 'composed of chloring and hydrogen'; Sulphuric is 'of or pertaining to sulphur'; Nitric derives its name from 'nitre'; boric from 'boron'; and carbonic is derived from 'carbon dioxide'.

Formic acid is familiar to anyone who has been on the receiving end of a nettle sting - that irritant is formic acid. It is also used by ants and German chemist Andreas Sigismund Marggraf first obtained a pure form by distilling it from red ants. The name comes from the Latin formica meaning 'ants'.

Acetic acid has been tasted by most of us, be it in pickle or splashed liberally on chips, it is commonly known as vinegar. The word comes to English from the French acetique meaning 'vinegar' and ultimately from the Latin vinum acetum or 'wine turned sour'. Incidentally 'vinegar is derived from the Latin vinum aigre with the same 'sour wine' meaning.

Oxalic is related to 'oxygen' for both first elements come from the Latin oxalis 'sharp' and ultimately from the Greek oxys 'sharp'.

Tartaric acid is found in foods such as apples, bananas, avocados, apricots and grapes and thus in wine. Its name is derived from tartar or bitartrate of potash, this from Greek tartaron, a reference to the 'tartar encrusting the sides of wine casks'. It is thought to be of Semitic origin but the exact source has yet to be identified.

Folic acid is a B vitamin, important during pregnancy, and derived from the Latin folium meaning 'leaf' as it is found in abundance in green leaves such as spinach.

Ascorbic acid is a naturally occurring antioxidant. Its name comes from Middle Latin scorbuticus or 'scurvy' as was originally a reference to Vitamin C which is an anti-scorbutic.

Citric acid is found in citrus fruits. Here 'citrus' is a Latin word referring to the citron tree, the name given to a tree with a lemon-like fruit and aromatic wood native to Africa and was the first citrus fruit available to the west.

Lactic acid is obtained from sour milk, the name meaning 'procured from milk' and ultimately derived from the Latin lac or 'milk'.

Uric acid is, as any gout sufferer will tell you, the acid in urine which crystallizes in the joint (usually of the big toe) to cause the pain. It is, of course, present in urine and also blood and came to English from the French orine. We can trace this back to a Proto-Indo-European we-r, used to mean 'water, liquid, milk' and the root of Sanskrit var 'water', Avestan var 'rain', Lithuanian jures and Old Norse ver both meaning 'sea', and Old Norse ur referring very specifically to 'drizzling rain'.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Elemental Etymology

Having looked at the origins of the names of some elements, such as the noble gases and metals, here is a look at the some of the others of the periodic table. I have deliberately left out those having more recent and therefore quite obvious meanings - thinking of such as californium and einsteinium - and opted for those which would only be understood by those with a reasonable knowledge of Greek and/or Latin.

Boron was originally extracted from boracic acid by Sir Humphry Davy who called it boracium. Later he changed it to 'boron', taking the first syllable from the source borax and adding the suffix simply because it resembled carbon.

Bromine was discovered by the French chemist Antoine Jerard Balard and initially called 'muride' but eventually named from the Greek bromos 'stench' with the chemical suffix '-ine'.

Carbon was officially named by Lavoisier in 1787 as charbone, this from the Latin carbo 'charcoal' and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root ker meaning 'heat, fire, burn'.

Chlorine is another named by Sir Humphry Davy, the English chemist opting for the chemical suffix '-ine' preceded by the Greek khloros or 'pale green'. Schoolchildren everywhere will be delighted to learn the early name of 'dephlogisticated marine acid' lasted little more than thirty years.

Fluorine another '-ine' named by Sir Humphry Davy, who chose to show he had found it in the mineral fluorspar and an old chemistry term indicating minerals 'useful as fluxes in smelting'.

Hydrogen was isolated and named by four French scientists. From the Greek hydor meaning 'water' and French gene or 'producing', as it readily produces water when exposed to oxygen.

Iodine was another discovered and named by Sir Humphry Davy. Here he took the chemical suffix '-ine' and preceded it with the Greek ioeides 'the colour violet'. Undoubtedly both the colour and the flower have a common root in pre-Indo-European language.

Nitrogen has, once again, the French suffix gene meaning 'producing', it is derived from the Greekgen or 'giving birth to'. Named by French chemist Jena Antoine Chaptal in 1790, the first element came from the Greek nitron or 'sodium carbonate' and ultimately Egptian ntr and a word for the native soda. Note earlier nitrogen had been known as 'mephitic air' and Lavoisier called it 'azote', where 'azo' is still used as a prefix denoting the presence of nitrogen.

Oxygen again uses the suffix from the French meaning 'producing', the first syllable is Greek oxys 'sharp, acid' and which has also given us 'acrid'.

Phosphorus was named by the early 17th century, its name coming from the Greek for the morning star and literally translating as 'torchbearer'. This comes from the Greek phaos 'light' and pherein 'to carry'.

Silicon was coined by British chemist Thomas Thomson in 1817, he deriving this from silica, from which it was isolated. The term 'silica' was named from the Latin silex meaning 'flint, pebble'.

Sulphur may be the traditional preferred British spelling but, as this suggests a Greek origin, is wrong and today the US spelling of 'sulfur' is becoming increasingly popular. The term came to English from Old French soufre and ultimately from the Latin for 'to burn'.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

All That Glisters ......

Elements isolated and identified in the comparatively modern era are, most often, named quite logically. However those known to the ancients were known for very different reasons, albeit they had no concept of the idea of an element in a scientific sense. The earliest isolated elements were metals and named for what they saw and, as we shall see, they saw yhings in a rather different light.

Cadmium is a bluish-white metal discovered in 1871 by the German Friedrich Strohmeyer. It is borrowed from the Modern Latin cadmia, with the addition of the metallic suffix ‘-ium’, and itself used by the ancient naturalists for every earth and oxide they found. It comes from the Greek kadmeia meaning ‘earth’ and a name derived from the legendary founder of Boeotian Thebes ‘Cadmus’ and known as such as cadmium was first found in the area around Thebes.

Caesium is a rare alkaline metal, hence the suffix ‘-ium’, discovered and named in 1861 by scientists Bunsen and Kirchhoff. It was named from the Latin caesius meaning ‘blue-grey’ for the spectrum showing the presence of caesium is identified, and indeed was discovered, by two prominent blue lines.

Calcium and another metallic ‘-ium’ coined by Sir Humphrey Davy, this coined in 1808. He borrowed the first syllable from the Latin calx meaning ‘limestone’, this also the origin of the word ‘chalk’.

Aluminium is a an abundant metal and one which epitomises the quote from George Bernard Shaw when he said “Two nations divided by a common language”, for the name ‘aluminium’ is used on the eastern shores of the Atlantic, while on the western side the name is ‘aluminum’. The difference may be but one letter yet with the emphasis is on differing syllables it makes the two names sound very different. In Britain many find the American version difficult to accept and yet (sorry Britain) when first isolated by Sir Humphrey Davy in 1808, he did refer to it as ‘aluminum’. However four years later he changed his mind, with a little encouragement from fellow scientists, and added the ‘i’ to make it ‘aluminium’. This made sense as the suffix ‘-ium’ is used for other metallic elements and thus the British version (sorry America) makes more sense. To further complicate matters Davy’s original name was ‘alumium’. All three names come from the aluminium oxide, known by the Latin alumen, and derived from ‘alum’, itself defined as ‘a whitish mineral salt used as an astringent and a dye’. Alum comes from Old French alum and Latin alumen literally meaning ‘bitter salt’ and associated with the Greek aludoimos and thus amazingly having a common root with ‘ale’.

Barium is another metallic element known since ancient times, albeit only as it was present in the mineral barytes. Not until Sir Humphrey Davy isolated barium in 1808 was it named, although clearly this is derived from the mineral where ‘barytes’ comes from the Greek for ‘heavy spar’. The Greek barys or ‘heavy’ can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European gwere also meaning ‘heavy’ – the latter also the root of the word ‘grave’ - used as an adjective, not a noun.

Chromium isolated in 1807 by Fourcroy and Hauy it was named from the French chrome, itself from the Greek chroma meaning ‘colour’ and aptly, for the compounds are often identified by their colours.

Nickel was identified and named in 1754 by Swedish mineralogist Axel von Cronstedt, an abbreviation of Swedish kopparnickel literally meaning ‘copper-coloured ore’. The Swedes translated this from the German Kupfernickel or ‘copper demon’, so-called as its colour suggested copper yet contained none. Here the alternative name for the devil himself, Old Nick, has a common origin.

Platinum was named by the Spanish, it comes from platina referring to ‘sheet of metal’. As it was thought to resemble silver the Spaniards thought it simply inferior silver, hence the name.

Magnesium here the metallic suffix ‘-ium’ follows the ‘magnesia’, itself the Greek referring to the ‘loadstone’. Here it gets its name from Magnesia, a region of Thessaly inhabited by the Magnetes people whose name has never been explained. What we do know is the metal shares an etymology with ‘magnet’.

Lead comes from the Germanic loudhorn and related to Lot meaning ‘weight’. Earlier usage is unclear, although it seems likely to have referred to ‘weight’ or ‘density’ in some respect.

Tin is from the Proto-Germanic tinom but here the trail ceases and this word is unknown outside the Germanic family. Early references, such as Pliny’s plumbum album or ‘white lead’, are due to the mistaken belief tin was nothing more than silver tainted with lead.

Zinc has been known for millennia, the name derived from the Germanic zint ‘prong, point’ and referring to the pointed shape of the crystals after smelting. Here we can trace the word back to Proto-Indo-European denk meaning ‘to bite’

Mercury is famously the fluid metal, also one of the seven metals known to the ancients as the bodies terrestrial and linked to astrology and alchemy. The Greek name of hydrargyros means ‘liquid silver’ and has also given us the chemical symbol Hg.

Gold has been known since prehistory, the term coming to English from Proto-Germanic ghl-to and derived from the Proto-Indo-European ghel ‘to shine’ – the same root as ‘glass’.

Silver, like gold, has been known since prehistory and can be traced through Germanic languages to somewhere around Asia Minor where Akkadian sarpu meant ‘silver’, coming from sarapu ‘to refine, smelt’.

Copper would have been one of the earliest mined metals and, as a word, it comes to English from the Proto-Germanic kupar. Ultimately this can be traced to the Latin cuprum, itself from Greek Kyprios meaning ‘Cyprus’ as it had been originally mined on that island. Note the original Latin for ‘copper’ had been aes but this was soon used for the alloy with tin ‘bronze’, eventually coming to English as ‘ore’.

Iron is another of ancient origins, coming to English through Celtic isarnon and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European isero meaning ‘powerful’ and also used in the sense of ‘holy’.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

An Etymological Chemistry Lesson

Remember the school laboratory and our introduction to the noble or rare gases? Germany's Hugo Erdmann first coined the term Edelgas or 'noble gas' to indicate their extremely low level of reactivity. Some may recall these being referred to as 'inert', but this is now known to be untrue as some have been known to form compounds, albeit only under very unlikely conditions. These are also referred to as 'rare gases', this is also a misnomer as argon alone amounts to almost 1% of the Earth's atmosphere, albeit the remainder very much smaller amounts.

As we would expect the names coined for these gases are very recent, chemistry being a very recent science. There are but six noble gases and, in alphabetical order, each has an interesting reason for its name.

Argon is a Modern Latin word taken directly from the Greek argon. It is the neuter of argos, itself meaning 'lazy, idle'. This is a compound of a 'without' and ergon 'work'.

Helium may be the simplest to see as it is derived from the Greek helios or 'sun'. The reason for this is simply as it was first detected in the spectrum of the light from the sun, this during an eclipse of August 18th 1868 by astronomer Sir Joseph Lockyer and chemist Sir Edmund Frankland. Interestingly it was not isolated on this planet until 1895, and until then thought to be an alkali metal which is why the discoverers used the suffix '-ium'.

Krypton is another from the Greek, where krypton, the neuter of kryptos, was chosen by discoverers Sir William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers in 1898 for it means 'hidden'. Thus it has the same derivation as 'crypt' and both 'hidden', the gas as it remained undiscovered for so long.

Neon was also discovered and named by Sir William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers. They chose the Greek neon as it means 'new' and, in 1898, they had indeed just discovered it and thus could not be any newer. As both neon and helium were discovered by the same two scientists in the same year, it is only because neon was discovered first that we are not seeing advertising in krypton lights.

Radon is the heaviest gaseous element. This from the radioactive decay of radium discovered in 1918. It is derived from 'radium', with the addition of '-on' to indicate a noble gas, and ultimately from the Latin radius meaning 'ray' as it emits energy in the form of rays, as identified by Marie Curie. In France and Germany it has been known as niton from the Latin nitens meaning 'shining'.

Xenon owes its name to discoverer Sir William Ramsay, again in 1898, where he looked once more to Greek and chose xenon, the neuter of xenos meaning 'foreign, strange'.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Roman Roads

My history lessons, courtesy of Mr Wallbank, told us how these wonderful Romans brought the civilized world to our barbaric islands. Every week we heard of how they educated the savage Celts, brought viaducts, the arch, roads, housing, etc. Doubtless if I had bothered to listen long enough we would have been told the Romans also invented television, internet, iPad and every other technological advance of modern times.

Of course we now know this is not quite correct. The Romans came here to find a thoroughly advanced group of Britons skilled in metalwork - with the Britons equally keen to find a market for their products and the conquerors were simply responsible for writing the history. Doubtless the technologies of the day were not dreamt up by the Romans but acquired from those they encountered. For example our lesson on how the Romans invented the viaduct fails to take into consideration the Babylonians moved water around centuries before the foundation of Rome and its subsequent empire.

The same is true of the famed Roman roads. In Britain there are a number of major arteries known as Roman roads and yet the names alone tell us these are not simply 'Roman'. Indeed the tracks were undoubtedly in use for uears before the Romans arrived. Whilst we should concede the superior surface, enabling rapid movement of troops, is down to Roman intervention, these are no more Roman roads than the modern version of Watling Street with its dual carriageways, traffic lights, white lines and electric lighting.

To find the use and routes prior to the arrival of the Romans is impossible. However we can look at what happened in the years following their departure. For example, note how many of the following names are known as 'Streets', indeed none of the Roman roads are named 'Roads'. The term 'street' comes from Old English straet, a Saxon term referring very specifically to 'a paved road' and that would only be a Roman road. This element is seen in place names such as Stratford 'the ford on a Roman road' and Stretton 'the farmstead on a Roman road'.

The names of the roads themselves also provide information on how they developed and why they were named.

Watling Street was originally a stretch of road around St Albans, albeit then the place was home to the Saxon tribe known as the Waeclinga or 'the people of Waecla'. Eventually the name of this short stretch of road began to stretch along the route, albeit very slowly. Not until the 11th century did the name begin to be used for the whole length and also for other routes not part of this ancient route. This was down to a royal proclamation ordering designated 'safe' routes, among which was Watling Street. Those keen to ensure the trade routes to their towns were considered 'safe' took the clever step of naming such Watling Street. Thus anyone considering committing any crime (no matter how trivial) received the same punishment - death.

Ermine Street, running from London to Lincoln, follows a similar tale to Watling Street. With the earliest recorded version as Earninga Straete, this is from the Earningas tribe who lived around Arrington in Cambridgeshire where they gave their name to the Armingford Hundred and also to the route.

Icknield Street is originally recorded as Hikenild Street and generally accepted as a reference to the Iceni tribe of Boudicca fame as the earliest Saxon records speak of this as Icenhilde Weg.

Ryknield Street is a little different, with the name not found before the 12th century. Both the route and the lack of early forms (not to mention the differences in those records found) have brought into question whether this road ever existed as a true Roman road but is simply another attempt to copy a safe route and thus an erroneous version of Icknield Street above.

Fosse Way is undoubtedly both a Roman road and one named by the Saxons. Indeed, because this comes from Old English fosse meaning 'ditch', it is clear it will not have been named until the Saxons arrived (and the Romans had departed our shores).

Athough the Latin fossa has the same meaning of 'ditch', it is difficult to see why the Romans would name one road when leaving all the rest nameless. Indeed, at a time when the maximum distance travelled in a day would have been 32 miles - the distance a group of soldiers could march in a day and no coincidence as also the distance between Roman forts on these roads - the only thing to know was the next place to rest, final destinations were not applicable and the major roads are all known for their destination.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Universal Languages Few Understand

Anyone who has read much of this blog will be aware my interest is in the development of words and languages. Whilst modern languages are most often named after the nation where they were originally spoken, there are those which have no national identity. I am thinking here of the artificial languages created in comparatively recent times, the most famous of which is Esperanto although there are a number of computer languages included. As these are such recent creations, I would hope the names would have been well thought out beforehand. At least the modern origins should mean there are no doubts as to the origins.

Esperanto was created in 1887 by Polish-born Lazarus Ludwig Zamenhof but not officially named until five years later. Oddly the name of the language comes from a term in Esperanto where Doktoro Esperanto means 'one who hopes'. This is the pen-name used by Zamenhof and on the title page.

Idiom Neutral was published in 1902 by the International Academy of the Universal Language, it is a revised form of Volapuk (see below), this considered imperfect. The reworking brought in many western terms and while technically a revision is in almost every aspect a new language - the name describes 'the neutral language'.

Interglossa was invented by biologist Lancelot Hogben in an attempt to provide a link between science terminology and etymology and the classical languages after having noticed the difficulty students had in learning scientific terms. This 'between languages' idea is also the origin of the name.

Interlingua is a computer language produced by the International Auxiliary Language Association, this founded by the American heiress Alice Vanderbilt Morris in the 1920s. As a name it speaks for itself.

Novial is derived from nov 'new' plus the initial letters IAL standing for International Auxiliary Language. It is designed to allow those who speak native languages to speak a single common tongue. With sources in Romance, Germanic, Occidental and Ido tongues, it first came to light in the late 1920s and virtually disappeared with the death of its inventor, Otto Jespersen, in 1943. However the internet has seen a minor revival of interest.

Occidental, later known as Interlingue, was another planned language to allow those of differing tongues to converse. Created by German Edgar de Wahl its name is taken from the French and Latin for 'western'.

Tutonish was created in 1901 by Elias Molee, with revisions in 1905 and 1915. It is the first Pan-Germanic language and intended as an Anglo-German unifying language and it is from the name virtually suggested itself. However it never really caught on, as evidenced by its reworking and also the various forms of its name, including Tutonish, Teutonish, Teutonik, Alteutonish, Altutonish, Altetonik, Nu Teutonish, Niu Teutonish, and Neuteutonish.

Volapuk was published in 1880, the work of German priest Johann Martin Schleyer. He claimed he had been told by God to create an international language, one he named to mean 'world speech'. Perhaps unkindly the word is used in other languages, Danish for example, to mean 'nonsense'.

Algol is not derived from the star in the constellation of Perseus, this from the Arabic al-ghul or 'the demon', but a contraction of 'algorithmic language'.

Basic is a computer language, an acronym standing for 'Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code'. It was invented by Hungarian-born US computer scientist John G. Kemeny in 1964.

Cobol is another computer language and acronym created in 1960 by the US Defense Department and describing 'Common Business-Oriented Language'.

Fortran is also a computer language, one dating from 1956 and an abbreviated form of 'formula translation'.

Modula is a programming language created by the Swiss Niklaus Wirth in the 1970s. It is derived from the Pascal (see below) language and named because it uses a module system unlike its predecessor.

Pascal is a computer language invented in 1971 and named for the 17th-century French scholar Blaise Pascal, who invented a calculating machine in 1642.

One thought - if the idea is to produce a single language spoken by us all (presumably as a second language), why are there so many?

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Guam Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest of Guam's settlements.

Dededo is by far the largest settlement with a population of almost 45,000. The origin of the name is unclear but often said to mean 'two inches' and from the Chamorro word dededo. Other words from the same language are offered, such as dedeggo 'heel of the foot' and deggo 'tiptoes'. If any of these explanations are the true origin then the reference is a mystery.

Yigo is another which is by no means certain but most often said to come from either the Spanish yugo meaning 'yoke', as in that used to hitch an animal to the plough. However there is also an alternative name for the area, this Asyigo said to represent 'the home of a man called Yigo'.

Tamuning is a Carolinian word given after they settled here around the middle of the 19th century and thought to be after the chieftain of this people.

Mongmong-Toto-Maite are actually three villages and one principality. Once again the origin is uncertain but this has not prevented an intricate tale of how these names came about. It seems the Chamorro version of creation involved the god Puntan and his sister Fu'una. On his death Fu'una used the god's body to form the world and the sky, with his eyes producing the moon and stars and his flesh the earth. Hence the Chamorro words momongmong is a description of a heartbeat, toto meant 'to recline', and Maite is from ma'ette or 'the touch of another'.

Mangilao is undoubtedly from the Chamorro word ilao meaning 'to search'. This refers to this being a hunter's paradise where, in the past, many would come seeking deer, boar, fish and crabs.

Barrigada is from the local word for 'flank', here a possible reference to hunters coming here and the target when hunting deer. However this idea likely came from the Chamorro creation myth, for barrigada 'flank' and tuyan 'stomach' would refer to the two central hills of Guam, each formed by parts of the body of Fu'unta.

Chalan-Pago-Ordot uses the Chamorro Chalan Pago or 'the pago road', a reference to this being the route from Hagatna to Pago and is covered with Pago trees. Ordot is a second village name, this from otdot meaning 'ant'.

Yona is from iyo na, this Chamorro and meaning 'to possess something'. This has given rise to the tale of how visitors to the region, admiring the extensive coconut plantation, enquired who owned this area and heard the response Iyo na or 'we do'.

Santa Rita is clearly of Spanish origin, this from the patron saint of St Rita of Cascia.

Agat is thought to either come from the cry of the Marianas Crow which flies here calling out aga, this was then adopted by the Agat people who came to settle here and thereafter the place, or from the Chamorro haga meaning 'blood'.

Talofofo gets its name from entalo' i fe fo' meaning 'between the cliffs' and an apt description of the location. Note some argue this could also be from fo' fo' or 'bubbling spring' and thus 'between the bubbling springs'.

Sinajana is possibly from the local word china-jan, this referring to the local cookware designed specifically to cook the yams which, owing to their proliferation, would have been the staple food.

Inarajan is a Spanish pronunciation of the original Chamorro name of Inalahan

Asan is from hassan meaning 'scarce, rare', although just what this refers to is uncertain.

Merizo was earlier known as Malesso this from the Chamorro word lesso and the name given to the immature stage of the rabbit fish which run these bays at certain times of the year and prove a great delicacy for the locals.

Piti is thought to come from the Chamorro word puti meaning 'to hurt, ache' but the reference is unclear.

Hagatna is from the Chamorro haga' na, literally translating as 'his (or her) blood'.

Umatac is believed to come from the name of the Chamorro equivalent of March, this being Umatalaf, if so this may refer to the annual celebration held to the north of the village before and after the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century.

Ma'ina comes from Chamorro ina or 'shine, illuminate'. Here the reference is disputed, some point to those who hunted at night and used torches to light their way, others speak of the sunrise marking the arrival of a new birth, and a third explanation speaks of the moon illuminating the valley in which the settlement lies.

Unlike many nations of the Americas once under Spanish rule, few of the place names have come from this language but have retained their indigenous names. Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Vietnam Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing a tour of the world and a look at the largest of Vietnam's settlements.

Ho Chi Minh City is the capital and, as many will know, named after the first leader of Vietnam after the communist takeover of South Vietnam, this adopted in 1976. Prior to this the city has been known by many names including Saigon. Here Sino-Vietnamese Sai meaning 'firewood, twigs, palisade' and Gon or 'stick, bole, pole' and understood as 'cotton stick'. This is not named after something used for personal grooming but to the kapok trees, a common sight in the area.

Hanoi is on the banks of the Red River, hence its name meaning 'the river within'. Historically there have been many official and unofficial names of the place: Long Bien 'dragon edge'; Tong Binh 'song peace'; Long Do 'dragon belly'; Dai La 'big net'; Thang Long 'ascending dragon'; Dong Do 'eastern metropolis'; Dong Kinh 'eastern capital'; Dong Quan 'eastern gate'; Ke Cho 'marketplace'; Trang An 'long peace'; and Thu Do ''capital'.

Haphong translates as 'coastal defence'.

Da Nang sits on an estuary and its name means 'opening of a large river'.

Hoi An translates as 'the peaceful meeting place'.

Bac Giang means 'north of the river' in Sino-Vietnamese.

Cai River means 'mother river' in Vietnamese.

Ha Long is Sino-Vietnamese for 'descending dragon'.

My Tho is named after its river, itself named for the local fauna as it means 'beautiful tree'.

Phan Thiet is a Vietnamese name, the latter an abbrivated form of Lihit or 'near the sea' with the addition of Phan, a family name.

Da Lat refers to itself as 'the stream of the Lat', these the local ethnic group. This does not prevent the story of this being of Latin origin in Dat Aliis Laetitiam Aliis Temperiem. which translates as "It gives pleasure to some, freshness to others".

Bac Ninh is sino-Vietnamese for 'northerrn serenity'.

Nha Trang is claimed by some as a spelling error and should be Ya Trang or 'the reed river'.

Vung Tau transaltes as 'anchorage'.

Cao Bang refers to itself as 'the high plateau'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Grenada Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest of Grenada's settlements. Note many of these are transferred names from colonial days and, while they are hardly relevant in Grenada, the name is nevertheless still defined as are those which are clearly simply descriptions of the place and, for anyone who speaks even a smattering of French, self-explanatory - although it is not always easy to see why the name was coined.

Dunfermline is a name taken from the Scottish town, where the origin is disputed. If this represents Gaelic dun then this probably refers to the prominent rocky outcrop, here with the addition of two river names - the Tower Burn and the Lyne Burn.

Gouyave was named by the French owing to its proliferation of guava trees. Previously this had been Charlotte Town after Queen Charlotte, wife and consort of King George III.

Grenville is named after former British prime minister George Grenville, and is also known by its former French name of La Baye.

St George's is the capital and renamed by the new administration in 1763 and clearly referring to the patron saint of England. However the earlier name of Fort George had been named after King George III.

Sauters is undoubtedly the best name on the island, although it probably also qualifies as the most unfortunate. When the French held this island the last remaining Carib people leapt to their deaths from the 40-metre high cliff now known as Carib Leap, seemingly a better proposition than living under French rule. The town became known as sauters. as this is the French for 'jumpers'.

Apres Tout translates literally as 'after all'.

Belmont is 'the beautiful mount'.

Bonaire means, quite simply, 'good air'.

Crochu is French meaning 'hooked'.

Grand Roy is understood as 'great king'.

L'Anse Aux Epines translates as 'prickly or thorny bay'.

La Fortune really does mean 'fortune'.

La Mode translates as 'fashion'.

La Sagesse means simply 'wisdom'.

La Tante means 'the aunt'.

Morne Fendue describes the 'cracked mountain'.

Morne Jaloux Ridge was named as 'the jealous mountain'.

Morne Longue comes from 'the long mountain'.

Morne Tranquille is clearly 'the quiet mountain'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Greenland Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the names of Greenland's settlements. Note there are only 74 in the entire country, of which less than half can boast a population of over two hundred.

Nuuk is from the local Kalaallisut word for 'cape', so-called because of its position on the end of the Nuup Kangerlua fjord.

Sisimiut is a delicious place name with a literal translation form the Kalaallisut tongue of 'the people of the fox burrows'.

Ilulissat is another Kalaallisut word, an apt one for this means 'icebergs'.

Aasiaat in Greenlandic means 'spiders', a literal translation ofter said to be because of its abundance of arachnids. This seems highly unlikely as even the modern heated town such creatures are rare.

Paamiut is a Kalaallisut word meaning 'those who reside by the mouth', this a reference to the estuary known as Kuannersooq meaning 'inlet'.

Narsaq is another name of Kalaallisut origin, this translating as 'plain' and a reference to the Tunulliarfik Fjord where it is situated.

Nanortalik comes from Greenlandic and translates as 'place of polar bears'.

Uummannaq is town on Uumannaq Island, itself named from Uummannaq mountain, a Greenlandic name meaning 'heart-shaped'. The mountain, with a cleft between its two summits, could be seen as heart-shaped if viewed from a particular part of the island.

Upernavik is a Kalaallisut word meaning 'springtime place', clearly named for being accessible in warmer months.

Kangerlussuaq is another from the Kalaallisut language, here meaning simply 'big fjord'.

Ittoqqortoomiit, which used to be known as Scoresbysund after the Arctic explorer and whaler William Scoresby, comes from the Eastern Greenlandic dialect and describes the 'big house dwellers'.

Kullorsuaq is again from Kalaallisut and means 'big thumb', a prominent pinnacle in the centre of the island known to the English as Devil's Thumb.

Kulusk continues the list of marvellous Kalaallisut names, this translating as 'chest of a black guillemot'.

Tasiusaq is again Kalaallisut and means 'bay with a small outlet'.

Qeqertarsuatsiaat is another Kalaallisut name which, like the previous example is very simplistic in its meaning of 'rather large island'.

Sermiligaaq is also Kalaallisut and means 'beautiful glacier fjord'.

Nuussuaq is a town and the name of a peninsula and appropriately means 'large tip' in the Greenlandic language.

Saqqaq is a Kalaallisut translation of the original Danish name Solsiden meaning 'sunny side'. This is a reference to its position relative to Livets Top.

Aappilattoq is from the Greenlandic language meaning 'sea anemone'.

Kapisillit is from the Greenlandic language and means 'the salmon', traditionally the local river is the only spawning ground for the fish in Greenland.

Savissivik may well qualify as most informative place name in the world, for it offers cultural, historic, archaeological and scientific information. In the Greenlandic language the name translates as 'place of knives' which some would offer as 'place of meteoric iron'. In a land where iron ore is quite impossible to find beneath the ice, the 100-tonne Cape York meteorite proved a technological boon when it exploded over this area some 10,000 years ago. Fragments from the iron-rich meteorite were easy to find and turn into knives, indeed it is widely accepted the iron found here attracted the Inuit who migrated here from the Arctic regions of Canada. All this from defining a place name which, in 2010, had a population of just 66.

Ilimanaq is a Kalaallisut name meaning 'place of expectations'.

Naajaat is from Kalaallisut and means simply 'seagulls'.

Tasiusaq is from Greenlandic and means 'a bay with a small outlet'.

Niaqornat means 'head-shaped' and comes from the Kalaallisut tongue.

Ammassivik is the Kalaallisut word for 'plain'.

Oqaatsut also comes from the Kalaallisut language where it translates as 'cormorants'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.