Friday, 18 February 2011

The word, black

Blacken the word:
The word black comes from Old English blæc ("black, dark", also, "ink"), from Proto-Germanic *blakkaz ("burned"), from Proto-Indo-European *bhleg- ("to burn, gleam, shine, flash"), from base *bhel- ("to shine"), related to Old Saxon blak ("ink"), Old High German blah ("black"), Old Norse blakkr ("dark"), Dutch blaken ("to burn"), and Swedish bläck ("ink"). More distant cognates include Latin flagrare ("to blaze, glow, burn"), and Ancient Greek phlegein ("to burn, scorch"). Black supplanted the wonted Old English word sweart ("black, dark"), which survives as swart, swarth, and swarthy (compare German schwarz and Dutch zwart, "black").
My favourite is: bhleg. We should bring that one back. (Though 'blah' is also cool). The lovely paradox that the word black comes from a root that means 'burn, gleam, shine, flash'. Of course, burnt things are often black; but burning things are black in a rather more complex, interesting way. Or, to put it another way: it's always night -- or we wouldn't need light.

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