A regular Thursday feature of "Done With Mirrors."
Perhaps by the time you read this, the indictments
will have been handed down in the CIA leak probe case
is an odd verb, in that it retained its French pronunciation in English even after pedants in Shakespeare's day restored its proper Latin spelling.
The word first appeared in English about 1278, in Anglo-French legal documents, as enditer,
meaning "accuse, indict." It comes from Old French enditer,
which meant "to dictate or inform," which in turn is from Medieval Latin indictare
"to declare, proclaim in writing," a compound from Latin in-
"in" and dictare
"to say, say often, prescribe, compose in words."Dictare
is a frequentive form of dicere
, a basic Latin verb for "to tell, to speak, to say." It is related to dicare
"to proclaim, to dedicate," and their common Proto-Indo-European ancestor is the reconstructed base *deik-,
which meant "to show, to pronounce solemnly," and in derivatives "to point out, to direct (words or objects)."
This Latin word group turns up in a whole range of modern English words, including addict, ditty, condition, contradict, edict, jurisdiction, predict, dictator,
and one that perhaps will be in the news at the end of the CIA leak investigation, verdict.Dictare
retains the oral sense of the root, but a more physical sense is preserved in Latin digitus
"finger," literally "that which points, indicator."
The Proto-Indo-European root has branches in other language families, such as Sanskrit dic-
"point out, show;" Greek deiknynai
"to prove;" and German zeigen
"to show." Its native cousins in English are teach
(Old English tæcan
"to teach, instruct," but mostly "to show"), token
(Old English tacn
"sign, mark"), and Old English teon
"to accuse," a word which, had it survived and had English remained unsullied by Latinisms, might have formed the modern word for what we now call an indictment.
We might instead be reading headlines that say "Rove beteed by special prosecutor." Not that I think that's going to happen or anything.
One of the charges someone is most likely to face in this probe is perjury. Perjury,
meaning "the act of swearing to a statement known to be false," entered English as Anglo-French parjurie
(1292), from Old French parjurie
, from Latin perjurare
This was a compound of the Latin prefix per-
meaning "away, entirely" ad the verb jurare
"to swear." This is the verb form of the Latin noun jus
The reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root of this looks like *yewes-
and among its relations are Irish huisse
"just." Though the root later meant "law," probably it originally was a term of religious cult, perhaps meaning "sacred formula" (cf. Latin iurare
"to pronounce a ritual formula," Vedic yos
"health," Avestan yaoz-da-
"make ritually pure"). In language, if not in life, law and religion are blood brothers.
Again, the Latin word has been productive in English, yielding also the judge
and the grand jury
that are considering the crimes, if any, associated with the CIA leak (and somehow managing to leak their work at the same time, in a delicious irony).Grand jury
is first attested in English in 1433, in the Anglo-French form le graund Jurre
by itself is somewhat older. It comes from Medieval Latin jurata
"an oath, an inquest," the feminine past participle of Latin jurare
"to swear." The defining fact of a jury is a body of persons who have been sworn to some purpose.
As for judge,
it, too, goes back through Latin to an ancient, pre-Latin compound *yewes-dik-,
the second element of which is our recent friend *deik-
"to point out," the source of indict.
Thus a judge is, etymologically, "one who shows (or perhaps 'pronounces') the law."
The Old English word for a judge was domere,
which is related the the important Old English word that has come down as doom
(a Christian usage; the judging sense is better preserved in related deem
). Bad enough to be beteed by a grand jury. Then you have to face the doomer.
Though they've been around for a while now in White Power circles, Prussian Blue
seems only to have come to media attention recently.
Known as "Prussian Blue" — a nod to their German heritage and bright blue eyes — the girls from Bakersfield, Calif., have been performing songs about white nationalism before all-white crowds since they were nine.
The fact that they happen to look like a less skanky version of the Olsen Twins can't have anything to do with the media's abhorred fascination with them, of course.
There's a third reference in Prussian Blue,
which perhaps the singers and their family are as unaware of as ABC seems to be. Prussian Blue, the pigment, was the original source of the deadly poison cyanide.Cyanide
, in fact, was coined in 1826 from Greek kyanos
"dark blue enamel, lapis lazuli" because it first had been obtained by heating the dye pigment powder known as Prussian blue.
Like most images of racial purity, Prussia
falls apart when you hold it up to the light of history. The word comes from Medieval Latin Borussi, Prusi,
Latinized forms of the native name of the Lithuanian people who lived amid the dreary swamps and lakes of the former East Prussia (now divided between Poland and Russia). The Prussians were conquered in the 12th century and exterminated by German crusaders, who replaced them in that land and took their name.
The Lithuanians, deeper in the woods ands separated from the Germans by particularly impassable terrain, survived. Like the ancient Prussians, they, too would have been Indo-Europeans -- Aryans -- but hardly Germanic, and much closer to the Russians and Poles.
In fact, some linguists believe the name Prussia
derives from Slavic *po-Rus
"(The Land) Near the Rusi" (Russians).Prussian blue
(French bleu de Prusse
) was so called for being discovered in Berlin, the Prussian capital, in 1704 by color-maker Heinrich Diesbach. Prussic acid
(French acide prussique
) was discovered in the late 18th century and named in reference to the Prussian blue pigment, to which it is chemically related.
Another Prussian reference in English is in the tree name spruce
, which originally was an adjective, spruse
(1412) "made of spruce wood," literally "from Prussia." This comes from Spruce
(1378), unexplained alterations of Pruce
, the old form of the land-name Prussia
(via French). Spruce
seems to have been a generic term for commodities brought to England by Hanseatic merchants (beer, boards, leather), and the spruce tree was believed to have been native to Prussia.
The verb spruce
has the same origin; it came from an earlier adjective meaning "to make trim or neat," which was abstracted from spruce leather
(1466), which was used to make a popular style of jerkins in the 1400s that was considered smart-looking.
From Prussian Blue to Rosa Parks, who died this week. Parks was most famous for her role in the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott.Bus
is a curious word; it contains nothing of its root, but instead is a Latin grammatical tag that has come to life all on its own, like a dog's tail hanging in the air without the dog.
It is an 1832 abbreviation of the earlier omnibus
(1829), "four-wheeled public vehicle with seats for passengers," which the English got from French (voiture) omnibus
"(carriage) for all, common (conveyance)," from Lain omnibus
"for all," the dative plural of omnis
The first publiuc buses were introduced by Laffitte in Paris, in 1820, and they were an important part of the public transportation revolution of the 1820s. Soon the Compagnie des Omnibus
had 100 horse-drawn buses in its fleet. In 1829, an Englishman named Shillibeer who had been in Paris helping to build the omnibuses decided to set up a similar network in London (based on a smaller bus capable of navigating London's notorious traffic). The bus lines were a great boon to the poor and middling folk in both cites. Leigh Hunt wrote:
By the invention of the omnibus, all the world keeps its own coach, and with what cheapness! No plague with servants, no expense for liveries, n coachmakers' and horsedoctors' bills, no keeping one's fellow creatures waiting for us in the cold nighttime and rain, while the dance is going down the room or another hour is spent bidding goodbye and lingering over the comfortable fire. We have no occasion to think of it at all until we want it, and then it either comes to your own door, or you sally forth, and in a few minutes see it hulling up the street.
The English word bus
, then, is simply a Latin dative plural ending. Thanks to the Civil Rights movement, bus
also acquired a verbal sense of "transport students for the sake of integrating public schools" (first recorded 1961), but the verb sense "clear tables in a restaurant" is older, first attested 1913, and probably is derived from the four-wheeled cart used to carry dishes.
There are buses,
and there are busses,
and often the twain are confused. In fact a Google search for Rosa Parks buss
turns up more than 40,000 hits (though, in fairness, many of them are on non-English sites).Buss
"a kiss" is the much older word, attested from 1570, and like Welsh and Gaelic bus
"kiss, lip," French baiser
"kiss" (from Latin basiare
), Spanish buz
, German dialect buss
it is probably of imitative origin.
Though it now is regarded as a synonym for kiss,
it seems buss
once had a slightly more nuanced sense, at least if Robert Herrick is to be believed:
Kissing and bussing differ both in this,
We busse our wantons, but our wives we kisse.
As for boycott,
it entered the language in 1880, in reference to the Irish Land League ostracism of Capt. Charles C. Boycott
(1832-1897), land agent of Lough-Mask in County Mayo, who refused to lower rents for his tenant farmers. It quickly was adopted by newspapers in languages as far afield as Japanese (boikotto
). The family name is from a place in England.
Syria is in hot water with the U.N. for its role in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister of Lebanon. And, typically, the hot water is draining out of the U.N. as fast as you can say Kofi Annan,
who, no surprise here, seems to have edited the U.N. report on the crime to please the Syrians.
Ah well, assassination and Syria belong together, historically. Assassin
, before it became a general term, referred specifically to a member of a feared militant Muslim sect that dispatched suicide commandos to kill public figures and terrorize private citizens. Sound familiar?
Founded in 1090 by Hasan Ibn al-Sabbah, a cultured and brilliant man of scientific and poetic inclinations (legend says he was a companion of the young Omar Khayyam) born in Persia, who had watched the Sunni dynasty of the Seljuk Turks establish its power over formerly Shi'ite lands in the Middle East. He was an adherent of the newly persecuted doctrine, and he was indignant at the new state of affairs.
He moved to Egypt, then the last bastion of Shi'ite power, but he found the government corrupt and he fell in among fellow Muslim fundamentalists in Cairo and soon they formed a movement to restore Shi'ite political power. As part of their plan, Hasan returned to Persia, where he had the spectacular success (and luck) to capture an all but impregnable fortress called Alamut in the Elbruz Mountains on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. From there, he established and led a Islamic terrorist organization of unrivaled power that struck fear in the hearts of Muslim rulers.
The organization was strictly hierarchical, and married religious indoctrination with militaristic rigor. Members were sent out to kill some chosen victim, usually a prominent person in the Muslim world who was felt to disrespect the purity of the faith or the power of the sect. The killer was to blend in to the local culture, study his victim's ways and habits, then strike him down, but not in secret. The goal instead was to make the killing as public as possible, to spread the terror of the cult, which lesson was enforced by the glad martyrdom of the killer, who was usually himself cut down on the spot after striking his blow.
These killers were called fida'i
, which essentially means "suicide commando," and the plural form of the word, fida'in
was one of the names given to commandos in Saddam's Iraq during the war of 2003.
The willingness and serenity of the fida'in
as they struck a death-blow, and accepted death in return, led observers to conclude they were under the influence of powerful narcotic drugs, hence they were called in Arabic hashishiyyin
"hashish-users," plural of hashishiyy
"powdered hemp," literally "dry herb," from hashsha
"it became dry, it dried up." No one now knows whether it was true or not, but that's what people believed.
Within two years they had "assassinated" key leaders in the Seljuk dynasty and brought it to the point of disintegration. The rest of the planned Shi'ite uprising, however, had been thwarted and Hasan found himself alone. He looked to expand his power base, and Syria, which was then a contested land of shifting powers, beckoned. He sent clerics into Syria, who drew adherents and soon they formed cells, long before Lenin or Osama hit on the notion. They played one power against another, and did dirty work for the Seljuks to keep them at a distance. Soon they were in effective control of Aleppo, the big city in Syria, as well as Damascus, which later was ruled by their militia.
The purists Assassins, however, made common cause with the Crusaders, finding that they and the Christian intruders had the same enemies. The other Muslims, even the Shi'ites, called the hypocrites. The Syrian people and leaders turned on them in huge massacres in 1113, and the sect returned to secrecy and stealth. Hasan, known to European chroniclers as "Old Man of the Mountains" (translating Arabic shaik-al-jibal
), died in 1124, but the sect continued, killing those who resisted or offended them and generally terrorizing the Muslim world for years.
The terrorist sect's name, and its fearsome reputation, returned to Europe with the surviving Crusaders, and as early as c.1237 the word appears in Anglo-Latin documents
Hos tam Saraceni, quam Christiani Assisinos appellant ...
The word came to English via French and/or Italian, where it lost its initial H- sound. The plural suffix -in (as in Bedouin
) was mistaken in Europe for part of the word and retained, even when reference was to a single person. Hashish
itself entered English as a word about 1598.