Thursday, January 30, 2020

Wooden Phone

I love word origins. Not sure why, but I'm always interested in how words are built from Latin, Greek, or other languages. It fascinates me.

When I was learning Korean in the military, I got very interested when they started explaining that a lot of Korean words come from Chinese and there are Chinese characters associated with them.  But the Koreans pronounce them differently than the Chinese do. And so do the Japanese pronounce them differently from the Chinese and the Koreans.

For example, this is the Chinese character for "beautiful" or "beauty" (context matters in Chinese):
It's made up of two other Chinese characters, one I recognize is "big" (the bottom one.) I think the top one might be "sheep." So a big sheep is beautiful. (The smaller characters in a Chinese character are called "radicals.") I guess if you live in an agrarian society, a big sheep might be beautiful.

Koreans pronounce it as "mi" (or "me"). In Chinese it's pronounced "may." (I'm trying to Anglicize what I hear, so bear with me). And in Japanese it's pronounced "bi." But it means pretty much the same thing in each language ("beautiful").

Boy, am I off my subject.

A while back I was watching Jeopardy (as I do most every weekday) and they had a question about an instrument with metal bars that you hit with a mallet. And I said "what is a xylophone" because I often call out answers. But the right answer was "glockenspiel." Then I got thinking, xylophones have wooden bars that you hit. And (since I have a Bachelor of Science in Forest Resources), I know that "xylum" refers to trees. So I googled xylophone and, sure enough, it is a combination of the Greek words "xylon" meaning wood and "phone" meaning sound. So xylophone means "wood sound" in Greek.

Another thing I love to do is learn new things. And I did!

Are you fascinated by words and their origins? Let me know in the comments below.

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