[A regular Thursday feature of "Done With Mirrors"]
Today's list of words to be dissected was dragged, writhing and begging for mercy, from phrases that appeared in the Google "Zeitgeist" and the top 50 searches on Lycos for the week ending Feb. 19.
Hunter S. Thompson is dead. His obituaries describe him as the "Father of gonzo journalism," and labor to explain what exactly that is. Some writers correctly connect his professional lineage with Truman Capote and Mark Twain. His style is not as original as the word itself -- gonzo
-- which seems to have entered printed English in 1971 in his writings. The most likely origin is Italian gonzo
"simpleton, blockhead." But Thompson apparently didn't draw it directly from that source. Thompson in 1972 said he got the word from editor Bill Cardosa, and he explained it as "some Boston word for 'weird, bizarre.'"
* * *
President Bush broke bread with Europe this week. He spent yesterday in Germany. Ever wonder why it's called Germany
in English, Allemagne
in French, and Deutschland
in German? If you guessed I'm about to tell you why, pat yourself on the back.
To keep it short, the Germans got different names back when they were a set of tribes, not a nation. The peoples who had the bad fortune to have turf that backed up to the wild woods where the warlike Germans lived typically took the name of the tribe nearest them and cast it generally over the whole bunch. For instance, the Finns and Estonians seem to take their words for "Germany" (Saksa
respectively) from the tribe-name Saxon
, which was the designation of the tribe at the eastern end of the German land.
The English word German
comes from Latin Germanus.
Julius Caesar was the first Roman we know of to call them that. Probably it had been the name of an individual tribe, and linguists think Caesar got it from the Gauls, though they disagree over what Gaulish word is at the root of it. The two candidates mean, respectively "noisy" (perhaps in reference to battle cries; compare Old Irish garim
"to shout") or "neighbor" (Old Irish gair
Or you could split the difference and say the Germans were the noisy neighbors.German
as a people-name is farily recent in English; it only was used from the 16th century. The earlier English word for them was Almain
The first obviously is a cousin of French Allemagne
. It comes from Alemanni,
the name of a Suebic tribe or confederation that settled in Alsace and part of Switzerland. Since they lived in the region abutting France, the Franks naturally took this tribe's name as the generic Germanic-speaking people name (and passed it along to early English).Alemanni
could mean "all-man," in which case it would denote a wide alliance of tribes. But perhaps it means "alien men" instead; Allobroges
was the (Latin) name of a Celtic tribe in what is now Savoy, literally "the aliens," in reference to their having driven out the original inhabitants.
The French word spawned Spanish Alemania
and Portuguese Alemanha,
also Turkish Almanya,
which is not surprising considering French influence in the Ottoman court, but also, curiously, Welsh yr Almaen,
perhaps an early borrowing from the older English word.Dutch,
though now restructed in English to inhabitants of the Netherlands (and certain Pennsylvania ethnic groups) is closest to the modern word the Germans use to describe themselves.Dutch
was used in English from the 14th century in reference to Germans generally (before the Netherlands and Germany were separate nations). From about 1600, it began to be restricted to Hollanders, after the Netherlands became a united, independent state and the focus of English attention and rivalry. In Holland, however, duitsch
is used of the people of Germany.
The English probably got the word from the Dutch themselves, though once upon a time, there was an Anglo-Saxon equivalent of it, þeodisc
(pronounced "theodish") But this was not a nation-name. Rather it was (like Old High German duit-isc,
the ancestor of modern German Deutsch
) an adjective that meant "belonging to the people."
It was used especially of the common language of Germanic people. In the lands that became Germany and Holland, the sense was extended from the language to the people who spoke it. In Germany, Diutisklant,
ancestor of Deutschland,
was in use by the 13th century.
And yes, Tolkien, who was a professor of Anglo-Saxon, used it to form the name of Theoden, king of Rohan, in Lord of the Rings.
To take it back further, the root of it is þeod
"people, race, nation," from the ancient Indo-European root word *teuta-
"people." This prehistoric form, going back thousands of years, also survived in Celtic, as Irish tuath.
It has another relic as well. Roman writers also used Teutoni
as a German tribal name, originally as the name of a tribe that inhabited coastal Germany and devastated Gaul 113-101 B.C.E. Latin writers after about the 8th century commonly refer to the entire German language as teutonicus.
Evidently this was a Latinization of duit-isc.
Actually, the first recorded Latin use of theodice
is from 786 C.E., in correspondence between Charlemagne's court and the Pope, in reference to a synodical conference in Mercia; thus it refers to Old English. Before the Norman conquest, English, too, was "Dutch."
The broader, Middle English sense of Dutch
survives in Pennsylvania Dutch,
the local name for the communities (including the Amish and Mennonite sects) who immigrated to America from the Rhineland and Switzerland.
The Roman form Teutonic
had a revival in modern English as an anthropology term to avoid the modern political association of German.
To call a modern German a Teuton
is not an ancient idiom, but a modern, faintly jocluar one, dating only from the 1830s.
Confusingly, French uses germanique
and German uses germanisch
in this anthropoligical sense, since neither uses its form of German
for the narrower national meaning.
If the Germans defined themselves by their languages so, negatively, did at least one of their neighbors.
The Slavic word for Germany is represented by Czech Německo,
(also borrowed into non-Slavic Hungarian as Németország
). It is the opposite of the Slavs' ancient word for themselves -- Sloveninu,
which probably meant literally "one who speaks the language" (related to slovo
"word, speech"). Defining themselves as members of a speech community, the Slavs defined their neighbors who could not understand them, or be understood by them, as "the non-speakers." The Slavic word for "German" is thus related to Slavic nemu
* * *
"Bush to Press Putin on Democracy in Russia," the headline reads.
What is this democracy
of which he speaks? The case is a curious one: the American pitching an idea, and a word, to the very nations that taught it to us. Democracy
first appears in English in 1574, from French, from Medieval Latin, and ultimately from Greek demokratia,
which is a compound of demos
"common people" (originally "district") and kratos
"power, rule, strength" (which is from the same root as English hard
* * *
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was a big event last week. Dog
, however, (like cat
) has murky origins. It turns up late in the Old English period, as docga,
and by the 16th century it had driven into a narrow corner the original English word hund
(modern English hound,
now used mostly by foxhunters, though it is the general Germanic and Indo-European word, related to Greek kyon,
seems originally to have referred to a powerful breed of canine. Once it became popular in English it was picked up in continental languages (French dogue,
etc.), but where the word came from, and what relatives, if any, it has in other languages, remain a mystery.
The common Spanish word for "dog," perro,
also is a mystery word of unknown origin. Some linguists think it came from the ancient, and unrecorded, Celtic language of pre-Roman Iberia.
Bush spoke in Europe about his American mission to bring democracy to the Mideast. The protesters in the streets of Germany yesterday seem to regard the American president as fit only for a kennel. A great many people in positions of power seem to hope he's only bluffing when he talks. But as another ruler once said:
"Notwithstanding, as a dog hath a day, so may I perchance have time to declare it in deeds." [Queen Elizabeth, 1550]