Words matter

The goddess Ostara or Eostre by Johannes Gehrts (1884)

Happy Easter!

No, I’ve not gone all conventionally religious. You no doubt know that Easter wasn’t originally a Christian feast but a pagan one. Nearly a millennium and a half ago the Venerable Bede derived the Anglo-Saxon word for April — Eosturmonath or ‘Easter-month’ — from a celebration of the goddess Eostre, the latter probably an ancient divinity symbolising dawn and fertility and therefore extremely apt for the season. As are eggs, daffodils, chicks, lambs and rabbits. You see, words matter.

You may remember, in the immediate wake of the EU Referendum, a ridiculous suggestion that the mottoes Dieu et Mon Droit and Honi soit qui mal y pense be removed from the new British passports on the grounds that they were in French (https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/163824). Yes, even with Brexiteers words matter, though in this case they blew up in the would be petitioner’s face.

You may or may not be pleased to know that the petition to Parliament fell far short of the 10000 signatures required to trigger a debate. Maybe it was down to the counter arguments that words like ‘passport’ were themselves of French or Latin origin, as are all the words below in bold:

The vote to leave the EU means people voted to Take Back Control. Control of their borders, their culture and their language. Whether ‘Dieu et mon droit’ and ‘Honi qui mal y pense’ have existed as mottos in England for ages is irrelevant. French is an EU language and has no place on a UK passport.

I occasionally go on the social media site Quora where individuals seek answers to questions that concern them. Ignoring the Russian trolls, the American white supremacist gun-toting males and the illiterates who can’t string words in the correct order to make any sense is time-consuming and frustrating, which is why I infrequently visit the site.

My point is that where do you start when an Odinist says we have to rename all the months because of their hated Roman — and therefore European — associations? July and August are from Julius Caesar and Augustus, January from the god Janus, May and June from the goddesses Maia and Juno. The Odinist seemed to think that April was also a female name though he didn’t say so explicitly. (He appeared unaware of the Eosturmonath option.)

As it happens, April appears to be cognate with Italian aprire and French ouvrir (‘to open’) and loan words in English like aperture and overture meaning ‘opening’: all words of Indo-European origin probably referring to leaves and buds erupting and flowers revealing themselves — in other words all evidence of the emergence of spring.

On a related note, I see one of the tech companies — Apple, is it? — has chosen today to launch a new and revolutionary app, still in its development phases. It consists of a nanowire electrode inserted into the Wernicke’s area of the brain’s left hemisphere, from where the electrode is wirelessly linked up to a laptop or smartphone app. This clever arrangement allows the person with the inserted nano-electrode to simultaneously translate, interpret and understand speech in a selection of modern foreign languages — what the techies called ‘refuelling’, because it allows the direct transfer of vocabulary, metaphor and other linguistic concepts into the recipient brain. This simultaneous translator is similar to (though it functions differently from) the so-called Babel Fish conjured up by Douglas Adams for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Babel Fish diagram from the BBC TV series HHGG: the first poisson d’avril?

More information on this new development can be had by googling¹ App Refuel

Remember, words matter.


¹ Other search engines are of course available.
² Not to be confused with Refuel App, a nutrition app: http://refuelapps.com/about/

31 thoughts on “Words matter

  1. Those Brexiteers might suggest to purge the language of its French and Latin contaminations one day to speak a sort of pure Anglo-Saxon. You would find yourself at the restaurant ordering roasted pigs or cows rather than pork and beef.

    You are right, words do matter, and on this point I made mine a line which belongs to one of my favourire Italian directors Nanni Moretti: “those who speak badly, think badly and act badly”. It has always been so, no exception.

    Buona Pasqua, Chris, a te e alla tua famiglia. 🇪🇺🇮🇹🙋

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Grazie mille, Stefy, anche a te!

      Those Brexiteers surely wouldn’t go to a restaurant or café, French words after all! Your Moretti quote is to the point — I was often so frustrated with students who couldn’t appreciate the difference between a metaphor/simile and a literal statement or who would demand I ‘speak English’ when I used words outside the thousand or so words they were familiar with.

      Incidentally, did you spot that only one of my anecdotes today was true? 🙂

      Like

          1. I must admit I was. But it was eight a.m. when I read your post and I didn’t think about April’s fool. If Chris writes it, well, it is the truth I thought. From now on, I’ll check anything you say. Mannaggia. 😉

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, I remember seeing this nonsense at the time, Lizzie, though I had to look it up to remind myself! Yes, chauvinism of this type just reflects on the stupidity and bigotry of those who suggest such actions; they don’t realise how ridiculous they seem at the time, let alone in retrospect.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. As it’s after the traditional midday cut-off, when the joke rebounds on the joker, I can reveal that the Parliamentary petition is true, the Quora Odinist anecdote isn’t but could be, and the AppRefuel news release story is completely and utterly bogus. But in ten years’ time it may well turn out not only to be true but commonplace… 😁

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, thanks, I saw it at the time but had forgotten it until Lizzie Ross above reminded me about it! As we Brits used to say, a storm in a teacup; and so ridiculous as French fries (chips to us, though your chips are crisps in the UK) aren’t of course French but claimed by the Belgians, while the French merely call them ‘frites’ which is much shorter than ‘pommes de terre frites’.

      Misguided patriotism, isn’t it, whichever country it originates in, and in my opinion a short step to a fully lobotomised brain.

      Liked by 1 person

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