I have a book called Scott’s Original Miscellany. I first started dipping into it when staying at an aunt’s house in London. I later bought myself a copy which has been living in the bathroom, ready to be dipped in and out of as the fancy takes you. It’s very much a dipping in and out sort of book. I particularly liked the fact that the 33 degrees of Freemasonry are listed on the same page as are the names of the Seven Dwarves…
I also loved the page about English words which have come from other languages. I’ve known for a long time that English is a particularly rich language – I remember doing medieval history for ‘A’ level at school and reading that the British are one of the most mongrel of races (Celts, Britons, Vikings, Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Picts, Normans… I do wonder whether modern America is more of an ethnic mix, however) and so what with that and our trading/mercantile/seafaring history, it’s no surprise that the language is equally as diverse. It’s rubbish that it’s a Germanic language – almost half of our words are of ‘Latin’ origin but because of trade there are also plenty from Portugese and further afield.
So here are a few of my favourites, as quoted in Scott’s Miscellany:
Arabic: “The admiral in the alcove, whilst sitting on his sequin sofa dreaming of harems, should fear the assassin rather than seeking solace in the alchemy of alcohol” (interesting that ‘alcohol’ is an arabic word);
Aluet Inuit: “My anorak is far too cold for a kayak expedition to the igloo. Bring me my parka instead” (perhaps no surprises there);
Farsi/Persian: “This talc bazaar has everything! Just one kiosk alone sells lilac tiaras and azure shawls” (isn’t ‘azure’ a lovely word – so much more elegant and uplifting than ‘blue’);
Turkish: coffee and yoghurt come from Turkish, as does another lovely blue word – turquoise.
Did you know the word ‘tycoon’ comes from Japanese; or the words ‘robot’ and ‘pistol’ from Czech? Whereas the parliamentary ombudsman is Swedish – as is tungsten light. Other Scandinavian-origin words include inkling, flaunting, dregs and glitter. On the other hand at the other end of the world, from hotter climes, we got (took?) avocado, chilli, tomato and chocolate (all Aztec).
Of course Scott’s Miscellany isn’t only about language or the names of things. Dip into it and you’ll find out obscure facts that you didn’t know before – for example, I had no idea that the last castrato, Moreschi, retired in 1913 and died as late as 1922: you always think of castrati as being very much an 18th century phenomenon. As an aside, the French film Farinelli (he lived from 1705-1782) depicts in lavish style the life of one of the most famous castrati ever, and digitally merges the voice of a female soprano and a male counter-tenor to create the castrato voice… the film, in French and Italian with sub-titles, contains some divine music.
Which brings me full circle really, and complements a comment I made on another blog earlier. Language; writing; singing. ‘These are a few of my favourite things’.