Sunday, January 24, 2016

Christopher Stevens's "Written In Stone"

Christopher Stevens is a writer and journalist. His runaway bestselling mnemonics book Thirty Days Has September hit the number-one reference book spot on Amazon. Stevens worked at the Observer for fifteen years before moving to the Daily Mail. He lives in London.

Stevens applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Written in Stone: A Journey Through the Stone Age and the Origins of Modern Language, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The Romans referred to both coal and charcoal as carbo, from [the proto Indo-European word] kar [meaning hard or strong]. Carbunculus meant a small lump of coal, and that brings us to diamonds and all other gemstones: a carbuncle stone is any gem with a fiery colour. Hard red spots or pimples in the face, often caused by excessive boozing, are also called carbuncles.
There, on page 99 of Written In Stone, is one of the typical sets of connections between words which sound similar yet seem at first to have quite different meanings – the carbuncle that is a gemstone (like the one in the Sherlock Holmes story of the goose that swallowed a sapphire, "The Blue Carbuncle") and the carbuncle that is a hard, almost luminous boil on the face or the bottom.

Carbuncle sounds like carbon, because it comes from the same root – kar, in a language at least 6,000 years old, developed by the earliest farmers who lived on the steppes of what is now Ukraine and southern Russia.

Their language of evocative, often onomatopoeic syllables, single sounds that fitted together like Lego building blocks, was so effective and adaptable that it evolved into dozens of modern-day tongues, right across Europe and south as far as India and Vietnam.

My book examines about 100 of those syllables, and explores how they bind today's English words into families. The word for 'no' was ne – which is why all our negative words begin with an N, like none, no-one, nobody, nothing, not, never and so on.

Kar, as found on page 99, split into several families. For instance, because it could signify strong as well as hard, it formed the English suffix '-cracy' – as in democracy, bureaucracy and autocracy, meaning literally strength through the people, through officialdom and through dictatorship.

But in northern Europe, the 'k' sound was softened to an aspirate, and kar became har – giving us hard, harsh and hearth... where the Romans burned their carbunculi.
Visit Christopher Stevens's website.

--Marshal Zeringue