KnICH Magazine - Worlds of Words

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A KnICH Magazine Thread:

Ramifying Etymological Epicentres

Worlds of Words I


Book Words and Related Matters


Here at KnICH Magazine, words are of interest,  particularly their origins.  Much can be gleaned from wandering the pathways of the etymological world, beginning with the fact that "etymology" derives from Ancient Greek, and quite literally means "the study of true or real meanings."  More specifically in its modern sense, "etymology" refers to the study of the origin of words, and their historical roots; very interesting patterns, connections, and stories emerge when we start to consider those beginnings.  In this periodic thread of the KniCH tapestry, we'll take a word or group of words and wander through their histories, back in time to the days of the speakers of the Proto-languages -- those ancestor languages whose rudiments can only be reconstructed through backwards engineering of their descendant tongues.


We'll start today, however, with an easy one; no visits to the Proto-Speakers are needed when we discuss the etymology of the word "KnICH."  It is a construct, constructed in fact by the Editors and Writers of Knich Magazine.  And it is an acronym, composed of the initial letters of "Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour" -- the values that we intend and hope to bring to this enterprise.  KnICH, by the way, rhymes with "which," etc., and the "n" is not silent.  If “KnICH” is thus of very, very, very recent derivation, it is nonetheless good fun to look and see whence it might have come had it not been so.  And in fact, there is a delightful, although completely accidental, resemblance between “KnICH” and the words for “book” in various languages from the Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family: “kniga” in Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, and Bulgarian, “knjiga” in Croatian and Slovene, “kniha” in Czech and Slovak, “ksiazka” in Polish, and so on.  Those words, for their part, descend from a Proto-Slavic root word very similar to those immediately above. (Unfortunately the font used here will not reproduce some letters with their proper accents.)


As for where that Proto-Slavic word comes from, well, that’s an open question. Various theories have it entering the Slavic language branch from Old German or Old Norse or their linguistic predecessors, from Akkadian (an extinct Semitic language spoken in roughly what is now Iraq), or from Chinese -- literally, in other words, from all possible directions.  However, one idea, advanced by Polish linguist Aleksandr Brückner (1856-1939), has it deriving from an earlier Proto-Slavic root meaning “log” or “stump.”   Very interesting, if true, that last theory, because most other Indo-European languages’ words for “book,” especially on the European side of things, are also “tree words” or “plant words” in origin; this makes sense when we consider what books are made of.


Broadly speakng, in English we draw our “book vocabulary” from three different linguistic sources.  The word “book” itself comes from the Germanic stream, from a Proto-Indo-European root “bhago” which is also the source of our word “beech,” as in the tree.  We should not automatically assume, by the way, that “bhago” itself meant “beech,” but it is certainly a tree word of some sort.  English also has words like “library,” coming from the Latin word for book (“liber, libri"); those derive from a Proto-Italic word meaning “bark," and that word in turn came from a Proto-Indo-European root “leub(h),” which likely meant “to peel off.”  That same Proto-Indo-European root wandered down the Germanic path and gave us our word “leaf” in both its botanical and its “book-ish” contexts.  And speaking of leaves, another Proto-Indo-European root, “bhel,” (meaning “to bloom” or “to thrive”) gave French its word for “leaf” (“feuille”), and gave English not only “foliage” but the excellent book word “folio.”  Finally, we have all of those English “biblio” words, including “Bible.”  Those are plant words too, deriving from the Ancient Greek “Byblos” or in the Attic dialect “Biblos”, words that meant not only “book” but also “papyrus” (both the paper itself and the Egyptian plant from which it was manufactured). It is generally held that "byblos" derived from the eponymous Phoenician port city, in what is now Lebanon, whence papyrus was shipped to the city-states of Ancient Greece.


Most of the Indo-European languages from the Eastern end of the family -- from southeastern Turkey  down through the Indian sub-continent is broadly speaking their area -- tend to eschew the plant words when speaking of books.  They draw their book words primarily from two sources, one being the Arabic word for "book," "kitab".  That word's origins have to do with putting things in rows, so the connection to writing is clear, and modern Persian is one Indo-European language that has gone that etymological route.  The other common source is an Old Persian word meaning "skin" (a non-plant reference to bookmaking materials).  That root has given us a Sanskrit word for "book" ( »›◊ˬ€≥⁄ -- "pustika") as well as related words in Bengali, Punjabi, Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu, and others.


That's all for this time -- the next etymological expedition will take place in a week or two, but there will be a lot to read here in the meantime!


***

As a note on sources for all of this, I rely heavily on my own knowledge and on Aunt Google, but if you wish to know more, I would suggest checking out Wiktionary, which includes etymolgical information for a large of languages, as well as the Online Etymological Dictionary for detailed information on English words.  Note that there can be considerable discrepancies in the spellings of some of those vastly ancient root-words, which makes sense when we consider that they have reconstructed from modern evidence.  


Links to the Introduction, other Threads and Land of Furs: First Episodes
Introduction
Girdling
Digging Texts
Ravensaga
Land of Furs

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