At the Wording Desk
Eggplant or Aubergine as Anti-flatulent Property
Consider the plump purple of the noble aubergine, the British and European name for what we North Americans call eggplant, a dowdy, frumpish name for this fruit of an Old World plant eaten as a vegetable. What a lustrous deep plum its color is, the distilled purple of a night sky on Dream Island. The glossy glitz of aubergine’s shining shimmer makes the tongue anticipate its flavor.
Aubergine goes all the way back to Sanskrit, a classical language of India, where it was called vatinganah which means literally “fart, go away.” From Sanskrit, the word and the fruit were borrowed into Persian as badingan, then into Arabic as al-badhinjan. When the Arabic-speaking Moors first conquered Spain they brought eggplants with them. Some Spaniards borrowing the term thought the Arabic definite article al was part of the word, so it went into the Catalan language as alberginia. The French picked this up as aubergine, and English nabbed the word late in the 1700s. As to the anti-flatulent property of eggplants, eaters vote on both sides of the question. Some say aubergines reduce intestinal gas; others claim their consumption is an invitation to a tooting patootie.
In a delightful explosion of flatulent nomenclature, the word Lycoperdon occurred in my reading this week. A genus of mushroom comprising about 50 species of fungus puffballs of widespread distribution, its botanical name means ‘wolf-fart.’
Greek λύκος lukos or lykos means ‘wolf.’ That root gives rise to words still current in English. The state of being a werewolf is lycanthropy. A werewolf is a lycanthrope, from Greek λυκάνθρωπος lykanthropos ‘werewolf’ = Greek λύκος lukos, lykos ‘wolf’ + ἄνθρωπος human being, man. The second part of the compound stems from the ancient Greek verb πέρδεσθαι perdesthai ‘to fart.’
Who Put The Wer- in Werewolf ?
Incidentally, the morpheme wer- in werewolf does NOT, as one illiterate website contends, mean ‘weird.’ It used to be thought that Old English werewolf contained a common Old English noun wer ‘man,’ cognate with Latin vir ‘man.’ Hence virile and virility. This source is now thought unlikely, due to certain vowel shenanigans which need not detain us here. Suffice it to say, etymologists now suspect that in the English word werewolf we may see the altered remnant of a Viking word, namely, Old Norse *varulfr ‘werewolf’ from Old Norse vargr ‘wolf.’ Note that the Old Norse root word is merely hypothesized, in that no written record of the word’s use is extant.The folklore and superstitious belief in this fairytale is very ancient. As shown above, ancient Romans and Greeks knew it. But a wolf-man or man-wolf or werewolf appears in folk stories all over the world for the last two thousand years.
May 30, 2016
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