Finishing the Sunday Fun II
Bill Long 8/31/08
From Brands of Snuff (Macouba) to Walls and More
One worthwhile project would be to compile a list of all the words in English derived from place names throughout the world. By searching out these products/words we could come to a much deeper understanding of the world. To date, for example, my list would be composed of the four terms: magenta, scandaroon, latakia, meander. Tonight I begin with a fifth: macouba or, as it is sometimes known, maccaboy. Freerice.com used it in the latter spelling, so I will preserve that here. It is a "kind of snuff, usually scented with attar of roses." All kinds of articles on snuff, or smokeless tobacco, are online; I only am interested here in the geographical reference. From 1823 we have: "The snuff of Martinico (Martinique), celebrated under the term 'Macouba.'" That it could be spelled in tons of ways is evident from Thackeray's sentence from 1849: "[He] pocketted his snuff-box, not desirous that Madame Brack's dubious fingers should plunge too frequently into his Mackabaw." Here is the web site of the "Snuff Store," which sells Fribourg & Treyer Snuff. F & T have been in the business since 1737, and some of their snuff brands are Bordeaux, High Dry Toast, French Carotte, and Macouba Snuff. The last is described:
"A moist, brown snuff of medium mill and strength. This delicious snuff is mentioned in Thackeray's Pendennis and may well have suggested to Dickens the name of his famous character Mr. Micawber [lots of credit to the snuff here]. It is interesting to note that it is still perfumed with pure attar of roses, as it was one hundred and fifty years ago."
The only other thing we need to know is that Macouba is a commune of the overseas French departement of Martinique. I didn't know that its 2006 estimated population was only 1,300 people. It is fewer than 20 sq. km in size. Here is a map of Martinique with Macouba highlighted. Just think--a word in English from that tiny place. Some sources I read talk about Macouba as a former tobacco town; I will have to await until I visit to find out for myself...
This 1821 book talks about the tobacco as, among other things, an apophlegmatizant. I think that word won't come in for much use in the future, but just to set the record straight, an apophlegmatizant is something that aids in the discharge of phlegm or, in other words, an expectorant. Wouldn't you like to say to your hostess, when you need to spit something out, "Pray ma'am, do you have an apophlegmatizant to help me out?" I wonder what she would give you...
Muriform and Murid
We run into real intercultural difficulties with the word murid because it is both a member of a Sufi religious order under the guidance of a "sheikh, pir, or murshid" and, at the same time, it is, as an adjective, "of or belonging to the family Muridae, which includes most kinds of rats, mice, and voles." Thus, the religious Sufi, when learning English, might be tempted to say, "Are you trying to call me a rat?" Suspicion would feed prejudice and misunderstanding would triumph. Until, someone came rushing in to say, "Mr. Murid, your title is derived from the active participle of arada, which means in Arabic "to desire, strive after, aspire to" while our English word for rat or mouse comes from the Classical Latin mus, mur..." We might further say, "Ah, Mr. Murid, since the Latin language forms words off the genitive singular and Arabic doesn't even have the genitive case, let's all forget this and sing 'Michael Row the Boat Ashore' together."
The Arabic murid came into English in 1815. A murid is a desirous or willing to take on all kinds of religious discipline at the hands of his murshid--leader of a mystical order. One would learn a lot by taking on a study of comparative mysticism in Christianity, Judaism (the Kabbalah) and Islam (the Sufi approach). Then, and only then, will we truly understand the motivation of the murid.
The Muridae, on the other hand, are a "family of quadrupeds of the order Rodenta or Glires, typified by the genus Mus. Let's descend into "mouse-language" for a minute. If you wanted to kill those little guys, you would use a muricide. But, if you wanted to make sure you knew what they were shaped like before you killed them, you might want a muriform or mouse-like object. Something that is murine differs quite a bit from something marine. Murine either means characteristic of a mouse or "affecting mice and murids generally."
An Itsy-Bitsy Digression
Actually, that word muriform can be more complex than it ought. It can also mean two other things: in the form of a wall or in the form of a mulberry. What, you say? Read on. The Latin word for wall is murus. We have intramural athletics, which means sports that are contested "within the walls" (of the college). So, muriform can mean "composed of cells that are arranged in a regular fashion, like bricks in a wall." Murage was a tax to keep up the city walls; a murenger was the guy who maintained the city walls. I wonder if anyone ever said to newlyweds: "How's the new murage coming?" Also, the Classical Latin for the mulberry is morum. The French picks this up as muriforme, from which our English word muriform, rather than moriform, meaning "shaped like a mulberry," is derived. But I will have to admit that the variety of terms with the "mur/mus" beginning is staggering; I probably will devote an entire essay to some of them, at some point.
Conclusion--One More Word on Leech
I went through a lot of words in the previous essay relating to "leeches"--which has to do with healing. A doctor is a practicer of leechcraft. I found one more "leech"-word that I don't want to miss, the leech-finger. The leech-finger is your ring finger, your digitus annularis. This article on the ring finger describes how that finger is conceived as the "magical finger" in many cultures. In many languages the fourth finger or ring finger is associated with the "magic" of healing.. Thus, the leech-finger is the ring finger. I wonder if there is any connection any made between a ring and healing. Perhaps it is the notion of rings and magic which is the connection.
Well, this is enough on leeches and other things. There are still some words to go..