More New Free Rice Words X
Bill Long 8/19/08
Beginning with Ligure
Before beginning with ligure, I have one final note about the word ort, with which I finished the previous essay. As you recall, ort/s are the leavings or scraps of the hay left in the stall by cattle. I learned that DH Lawrence used the word in 1913: "Then what art colleyfoglin' for?--I'm not havin' your orts and slarts." The word slarts was new for me also, and it means "refuse" or left-overs. In fact, the OED has Lawrence's use as the first attestation of the word.
When I ran into the word ligure it was like running into someone at a party that you think you know but, in fact, you don't. Rather than guessing the person's name incorrectly, you simply ask them again who they are. Thus, I thought I might have seen "ligament" or something that "binds" in the word, but I would have been quite mistaken. The OED goes on an extensive etymological journey, telling us that it is dervived from ligurion, a word in the Septuagint of Ex. 28:19, which describes the stones on the high priest's breastplate. Thus it is "some precious stone." The Greek word appeared in many different forms, one of which was lynkourios, which came into late Latin as lyncarious. The story emerged in the mists of time that the stone so called was nothing more than a concretion of the urine of the lynx (the word ouron is Greek for "urine").
The word came into English very early (14th century). Wyclif, in translating Ex. 39:12 (another passage where the word appears), renders it: "He putte in it foure ordres of gemmes..in the thridde [was] ligury, achatese, amatist." The word ligure/ligury translates the Hebrew leshem. Since Wyclif's time speculation as to what the ligure really is has been widespread. Some identify it with the jacinth (NRSV), but others with the opal or tourmalin.
I was fascinated, however, to see that Wyclif calls the second stone in the third row a achatese. What is that? In a word, it is the agate. In Hebrew it is the shebo. The stone achatase/achates is, according to Theophrastus, named from the river Achates, now the Drillo, in Sicily, where the stone was first found. This site tells us that the agate is creatively striped and often found as a round nodule with concentric bands. Here is a picture of this chalcedony (a cryptocrystalline quartz) displaying concentric banding. They are all over the Oregon coast... Oh, by the way, the transition from achates to agate can be witnessed in the history of Bible translations. Miles Coverdale (1535) translated Ex. 28:19 as "A Ligurious, an Achatt and an Ametyst." But the 1611 version of the Coverdale Bible rendered it "A Lygure, an Agate, and an Amethist." There you have it, or a little bit of "it."
Burnoose and Spahi
We can kill two words with one agate, or sentence. The burnoose, more frequently burnous, is a Berber Arab word to describe a long cloak of coarse woollen fabric with a hood worn first by the Berbers and N African Arabs but, in the 19th century, by the French colonial army's Spahi soldiers. Here is a picture of a Spahi so attired. The guy looks a little like Superman in the cape, but the French army didn't perform like a Superman in the 20th century, even though it managed to subdue Algeria, Morocco and other N African lands in the 19th. By the way, the Spahis were light cavalry regiments recruited from the local populations in North Africa. The OED informs us that the spahi (a Turkish word derived ultimately from the Persian) was a horseman which formerly constituted an important part of the Turkish army. I don't have the time or interest at this point to try to trace the connection with between the spahi and the Indian sepoy/sipahi or the spahi and the Turkish/Ottoman janissaries. Suffice it to say that the term became associated with the native North Africans serving under the French government in the mid-19th century.
Finishing with Samisen
We have just left North Africa and the Ottoman Empire; let's finish with something from East Asia. The samisen is a Japanese musical instrument, like a rectangular banjo. Here is a photo of a "Girl Playing the Samisen." Here is a better image, taken circa 1904. The word is quite old in English--entering into our language in 1616: "The tuerto that plaid on the shamshin." By the way, a tuerto is a blind man (Spanish). The fact that I don't recall ever learning samisen is a reminder to me, and us all, that words are trivially easy--to someone. Study hard to make them easy for yourself. The result will be a much deeper appreciation of the cultures of the world, as well as a much easier time making connections with people.
That's enough for one more day, but I think there are loads of words and concepts to go!