From The Names of Things by Susan Brind Morrow, a strange and wonderful book about her life, travel in Egypt, and the roots of language:

You could begin with the crab that scratches in the sand. The name of the animal is the action or sound it makes, or its color. The name parents other like meanings belonging to other things, leaving the animal behind: grapho (Greek–to scratch, and so, to write), gramma (the scratches), graph, grammar, grab. …

… Words begin as description. They are prismatic, vehicles of hidden, deeper shades of thought. You can hold them up at different angles until the light bursts through in an unexpected color. The word carries the living thing concealed across millennia.

The hapax legomenon, a word used only once in text or in a particular body of text: nortelrye in Chaucer, slaepwerigne in Old English.  From there I find the nonce word, a word created for a particular need but not expected to be needed again: slithy, surlecultant, unidexter, quark (from James Joyce). Nonce words sometimes get picked up and used when they scratch the right language itch. Sniglets and portmanteau words follow.

Brind Morrow drops Arabic words here and there into her text, and in them, I see Turkish words. “Cairo is um a dunya, Mother of the World,” she writes. “Dunya” means “world” in Turkish, as well. Do these languages have similar grammatical structures, I wonder?


2 Responses to “XXX.”

  1. […] reading a fascinating book, here are some bits & pieces.  I wish I could fit an Arabic or Greek (classical) class into my schedule and finances.  You […]

  2. very different grammar. But a lot of borrowing Ar –> Tu

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