Many people are aware of the link between wormwood and absinthe. As names for the plant Artemisia absinthium, they are synonyms. A. absinthium has been used for many centuries to add a bitter flavor to various concoctions, especially wines and liqueurs. It has even taken the place of hops in some beer recipes. The cultural … Continue reading Wormwood and vermouth are the same word
When as a naive 8th-grader I first trudged my long and arduous way through J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, I understood "eleventy-one" (111) to be a charming neologism on the part of the author—meant to be a quirk either of Bilbo Baggins' speech or of Hobbit-language as a whole. In fact, this … Continue reading Eleventy-one
People of all walks of life in Ancient Greek civilization(s) were fond of predicting the future by any means necessary. Sometimes this was a structured, purposeful process where a knowledgeable seer would set up an experiment, as it were, and use animal entrails or the flights of birds or random lines of literature. But sometimes … Continue reading An ominous sneeze (Od. 17.534–547)
J.R.R. Tolkien's adventures in language creation are well known and do not need elaboration here. But, in addition to his conlanging projects, he also composed an original 18-line poem in the Gothic language, the best-attested member of the extinct East Germanic language family. The bulk of the Gothic corpus is the Codex Argenteus, which contains … Continue reading Bagmē Blōma “Flower of the Trees”: Tolkien’s Gothic poem
There is an 8th-century Latin-German glossary (named Abrogans after its initial entry) that presents a large number of Latin words along with their Old High German meanings. The vocabulary is largely religious and/or biblical, but there are such occasional flights of whimsy as the following: cit · Inprinnit · Crapula · ummazzi · Ebrietaſ · … Continue reading Some Old High German vocabulary for ‘intoxication’
Our word cannabis—as in the scientific names for Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica—comes ultimately from Greek ἡ κάνναβις (or, depending on whom you read, ἡ κανναβίς with different accentuation). Herodotus mentions the plant— ἔστι δέ σφι κάνναβις φυομένη ἐν τῇ χώρῃ πλὴν παχύτητος καὶ μεγάθεος τῷ λίνῳ ἐμφερεστάτη. [The Scythians] have kánnabis growing in the … Continue reading Hemp and cannabis are the same word
Many Indo-European languages exhibit a word for 'human being' that is built off of PIE *dʰéɡ́ʰom- 'earth, ground.' Celtic *gdonyo- (Irish duine 'person,' Welsh dyn 'man') < *dʰɡ́ʰom-yo- Germanic *guman- 'man' (Old English guma 'man,' English [bride]groom; Old High German gomo 'man,' German [Bräuti]gam) < *dʰɡ́ʰm̥-mon- Latin homō, -minis 'person' < *dʰɡ́ʰm-on- (whence also hūmānus) Phrygian ζεμελως 'man … Continue reading An ancient word for ‘earthling’?