Every Word Tells a Story 3 - Chocolate, Calligraphy and Catastrophe

Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary

The Art of Memory

The building of wider vocabulary is an active exercise in human memory. How does one remember a word and the context it is used in? Sometimes the meaning of the word itself may not be accurate but the context may be understood. Equally knowing a word does not necessarily assure its contextual usage.

It is impossible to memorise all the words in a language by ‘rote’ learning.

But there is another way. Many scholars of memory have studied the act of knowledge acquisition pre-writing. Long before the advent of papyrus and written alphabet, humanity has been communicating through oral tradition. Long before the internet, mobile phones and global positioning systems people travelled, told tales and passed information in a narrative format.

The oral story teller was skilled at his or her craft. They may embellish a few details. They may exaggerate, spice up the tale, introduce a bit of magic and mythology- anything to sell a story and make it memorable. Sometimes these exaggerated myths remain and the original tale or idea may be lost. However, there is no denying the power of a story to make a piece of knowledge memorable.

Georg Bergman : Der Erzahler ( The Story Teller)
Georg Bergman : Der Erzahler ( The Story Teller)
Bruno Giordano
Bruno Giordano

The Shadow of Ideas

In my quest to bring stories to words, you may encounter many truths and many myths. It may help you to expand and interconnect the word roots to discover meanings to other words or discover new words themselves. This is the kind of learning that excites me, the sheer jumping off from one to the other, marvelling at new ideas, new worlds and new images.

One of the scholars who studied the art of mnemonics and the magic of memory is Giordano Bruno, a 16th century Dominican Monk whose treatises in the art of memory have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. He was one of the first to link memory to images and advised on how to remember passages and words using spatial anchoring. His book De Umbris Idearum ( the Shadow of Ideas) expounds many new ideas on learning.

And one of his ideas is to have a person, a place, a thing, an event to link up to a new word or an idea.

So in our journey through the alphabet we come to ‘C’. There are several ‘C’ words to choose from ( careful!) but I am going with the ones that offer fascinating stories and fascinating roots. We first visit The Aztecs whose Nahuatl language yielded the word that will melt in our mouth, make our brain squirm in ecstasy and has given a lot of pleasure since its invention.

I do indeed, refer to the marvellous Chocolate.

Quetzalcoatl brings cacao
Quetzalcoatl brings cacao
Harvestin Cacoa
Harvestin Cacoa
Ahh chocolate and chilli
Ahh chocolate and chilli

CHOCOLATE


This Aztecs believed Xocolatl was brought down from the heavens by the feathered serpent God Quetzalcoatl in the form of the sacred cacoa tree. The ancient mayans roasted, ground and made a paste of the cacoa beans. This produced a very bitter dark drink that they believed to have aphrodisiac properties. They drank this in copious quantities. To put a little kick to it, they flavoured it with chilli and cornmeal, fermented it and drank it for its health benefits. It was favoured by Aztec royalty and it is believed Montezuma drank several cups a day before proceeding to do his harem duties!

In fact, when Cortez pillaged and ransacked the royal palaces, it wasn’t silver or gold that was found in the royal palaces in copious quantities, it was piles of cacao beans, Montezuma’s own personal stash of brown-viagra!

The word ‘Xococ’ means bitter and ‘atl’ means water or a drink. It remained for many hundreds of years a bitter sugar free drink. It was left to the Europeans to sweeten this bitter drink and introduce it to French and Spanish royalty as a hot drink. For centuries this remained in the drink form.

The chocolate in its current hardened form didn’t arrive until the 18th century when the Industrial revolution brought mills that could squeeze out the cocoa butter and create the hard durable chocolate we all love and adore. The rest as they say is history.

I recently had a chilli flavoured chocolate mousse for dessert. Ahh.. the bitter sweetness fo the chocolate was enhanced by the capsaicin of the chilli peppers. My tastebuds all stood up and sang a celestial chorus! Whether it had Montezuma like effect on me would be telling.

hush!

Coconut Palm
Coconut Palm
El coco
El coco
Coco- nut
Coco- nut

COCONUT


I had always wondered whether the similar sounding coconut had any relation to cocoa. This wasn’t to be. The Portuguese, when they first came across coconut palms in India, thought the three dark spots on the shell and the hairy outer skin resembled ‘el coco’ - a bogeyman.

In Spanish speaking countries parents sing lullabies to their children and tell them to sleep or else ‘el coco’ will come to get them. Vasco Da Gama, after his voyages to India, brought with him the coconut to Europe and the portuguese name ‘coco’ stuck. For years prior to that it was simply known as ‘Nux Indica’ or the 'India nut' which was Marco Polo's original name for it..

So coconut has no roots in cocoa but a hairy, scary bogeyman!

I must admit the one in the photo looks rather cute. Awww. 

Cobalt
Cobalt
Kobold
Kobold

COBALT


Boogeymen, goblins and sprites have existed as long as human imagination itself.

German miners who were mining for silver, attributed the impurities present in the silver ore to the naughty goblin Kobold’ that lived underground according to German myth. They felt ‘Kobold’ was fiercely protective of its silver and corrupted the ore.

When the said impurity in the silver ore was found to be a new element , the scientists named it after the goblin itself 'Kobold’ became ‘cobalt’.

Callisthenics
Callisthenics
Callipygian Venus
Callipygian Venus
My rival in Gluteii : Michelangelo's David
My rival in Gluteii : Michelangelo's David
Kaleidoscope
Kaleidoscope

CALLIGRAPHY



Who doesn’t appreciate the beauty that is Calligraphy. With the advent of computers, mobile phone and other electronic devices of communication and keyboards, the art of writing and penmanship is sadly becoming lost. Gone are the wonderful pleasures of writing a letter with pen and ink.

Although there is a quite a lot of niche interest in Calligraphy one hopes it is not a fading art form.


The Greeks had a word for beauty ‘Kallos’ ( presumably linked to the Sanskrit word ‘Kalyan’ meaning the same). This root has produced many words in English, Calligraphy meaning one of them. As you would have guessed by now, Calligraphy literally means ‘Calli’ – beautiful and ‘graphy’ writing. The latter suffix ‘graph’ or ‘graphy’ also crops up in ‘Biography’ ( writing about one’s life).


However, sticking with ‘Calli’ or ‘Kalli’ you may find Callisthenics, a branch of exercise that gives you ‘beautiful muscles’ ( Calli + sthenos).


I never my thought journey from Calligraphy with the root ‘Kallos’ will give me a new word that I never knew existed but will give me a much more erudite way to describe someone's sexy Gluteii.


Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you ‘Callipygian’ which simply means ‘beautiful/shapely buttocks’. There is a ‘Callipygian Venus’ statue where she lifts her robe to admire the shapely derriere.


For those who favour the male derriere, sadly modesty prevents me from showing my own off but instead I give you the picture of my nearest rival, Michelangelo’s David.


Don’t you agree that ‘Callipygian’ sounds much more civilised than ‘booty’?


Or does it?


You will find the same root in ‘Kaleidoscope’ ( Kal- beautiful, eidos- shape, scope- viewer)

Camera Obscura
Camera Obscura

CAMERA


The word camera comes from Latin meaning a ‘vaulted, closed chamber’. In fact, in legal circles the term ‘in camera’ is still used for closed discussions held in the Judges chamber.

When the original optical device which was the precursor of modern camera was invented, it was called ‘Camera Obscura’ or a ‘Hidden chamber’. The name then stuck through its subsequent incarnations.

Many believe that some Renaissance artists used a ‘Camera Obscura’ to trace their subject’s image and then colour it.

Vasilis Bottas - The Smyrna Catastrophe
Vasilis Bottas - The Smyrna Catastrophe
Catapult
Catapult
Cataract
Cataract

CATASTROPHE


I am not sure if you did, but I certainly didn’t know that ‘apostrophe’ was ‘related to ‘catastrophe’!

They both take their root ‘trophe’ from the Greek ‘strephein’ (to turn). ‘Apostrophe’ means the accent of turning away – a mark showing where a letter has been omitted.

In the same vein, catastrophe means ‘down- turn’ the root katá – indicating ‘down’ perhaps meaning a dramatic ‘down turn ‘ of events. This is the same root as in cataclysm.

katá’ – yields a rich vein to mine. It is the same root that gives us the catapult. In its original form the catapult was an ancient instrument of war used to hurl darts or arrows. It then was used to throw stones and boulders. The current hand held ‘Y’ shaped version didn’t arrive till the 19th century. Catapult comes from katá and pállein to hurl.

Cataract, meaning waterfall, comes from the Greek word katáraktes meaning ‘rushing down’ which doesn’t take much explaining.



Before we get carried away with this logic, I must hastily include catamaran, which has nothing to do with Greeks.

Catamaran
Catamaran
Catamaran
Catamaran

CATAMARAN


This word entered English during the British colonial occupation of India. It comes from South Indian language of Tamil. The Indian peninsula offers thousands of miles of coastline for fishing. The humble fisherfolk of south India, use a crudely made raft by stringing several pieces of wood together and displaying nerve shreddingly great skills in balancing, set out into the sea to fish using these rafts.


These crude boats are called’ Kattu-Maram’ in Tamil which literally means’ Tie- wood (together)’ . These took on twin hulled shapes and entered into the English as Catamaran. If you ever travel to India, you could still see these boats setting out to sea and may be able to hitch a ride if you dare on these glorified surfboards. Don’t forget your life jackets though.

Printing plates
Printing plates
Printing Press
Printing Press

CLICHÉ´

And finally, a word every self respecting writer shudders at. Cliché.

Cliché means the loss of artistic merit from a word or a phrase due to overuse.

No one wants to be a cliché or want to talk or write a cliché. Yet all around us we see clichés alive and well.

The word cliché comes from French clicher. This literally means stereotype.

This has an onomatopoeic origin and is linked to the printing press. When the printing plates ( which repeated the same letter or an image over and over again they made the noise’ clicher, clicher,clicher’. This repetitive pounding meant that the original may become faded and lose its initial attractiveness.

The word came to mean repetition or type over and over again. In modern Engliish this has now taken on the meaning of repetitive strain caused by words and phrases!

TO CUT A LONG STORY SHORT



At the end of the day, to cut a long story short, at this time point in time, you took the words right out of my mouth... a picture is worth a thousand words .. so mark my words.. you can see the light at the end of this tunnel ( or is it a kaleidioscope!?)

Okay, okay I'm sorry to get an attack of Cliché -itis.

I solemnly promise not to succumb to that disease again. Now before I move on to 'D' I must revisit the Callipygean connotations that have been captivating me.

Hmmm.

Have a wonderful New Year!

If you like this do read the other chapters and share with others who you think will love learning new words and new stories.

Thank you for giving me your precious time and do leave comments & suggestions if you can.

Ciao!


Copyright  © Mohan Kumar 2011

More by this Author


Comments 25 comments

FloBe profile image

FloBe 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

I love reading about words and learning new ones...it is one of my goals in the new year actually, to learn new words and expand my vocabulary...so I will watch out for more of your hubs to peak my interest :)


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK Author

I am delighted that this hub goes towards helping your New Year resolution! Thanks for dropping by and check out the other two chapters in this series. And Thanks for the follow, FloBe.


tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 5 years ago

I also enjoyed your hub...I love words, their history and meanings, and word play. Learned alot from this lesson! I enjoyed your use of humor as well! Take care and have a wonderful New Year!


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK Author

Thank you so much , tnderhrt23. Your heart is indeed, tender for appreciating my hub. when you have time do visit the other chapters of this hub.Have a wonderful New Year!


Amy Becherer profile image

Amy Becherer 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

No topic could be of greater interest to anyone who writes than your chosen one. I am constantly amazed at the genius of language, astounded at quotes I read from centuries ago that so artistically, cleverly, and beautifully express an idea. My quest to create wordplay, interest and an uncommon expression of a well known emotion is my motivation for my recent, modest attempt at poetry. This piece is at the heart of writing as words are the paint, the brushes and canvas that create either just another read or a masterpiece. You are an artist, Docmo. Your writing always inspires me.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK Author

Amy, you wield your chosen words with the grace of an artist. Your palette is the rainbow, your poems are your paintings. To say I inspire you is tall praise, one which I am not worthy yet to receive. But why am I smiling in delight? Because your comments make me so happy! From one artist to another, thank you so much.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, I loved this! this is the type of thing I really like, and I also liked your humour about the David statue! can't use yours? shame! ha ha but my favourite is callipygean! fantastic word! ha ha great hub, voted up! cheers nell


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Nell, I am glad you enjoyed this .. you may enjoy the others in this series too.. 5 weeks into the hub page community I am understandably bashful about showing off my toned derrière ;-) maybe.. when I have enough followers so I can afford to lose some!!


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 5 years ago from South Africa

That picture of Georg Bergman - Der Erzahler – could have been of my father and us, his children and family. He was a master Story Teller and actor. We hung on his lips and will always remember the morals of the stories he told us. Thanks for this extremely interesting hub about chocolates, coconut, cobalt, calligraphy, and the bonus, callipygian. You are brilliant, docmo - I will make time to read the others in this series. I love languages and words and wish I had the time to master more than the two languages in my repertoire.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK Author

Martie, The gift of story telling and how it connects us to others both near and far always astounds me. Thank you so much for your comments. Much appreciated!


jantamaya profile image

jantamaya 5 years ago from UK

Your writing is professional, excellent, skilled, and interesting. You write with a subtle sense of humour (American humor :-)). I love to read your writings / surprisingly, I love Mark Twains autobiography almost at the same level = I think this is a compliment to you / And thank you for callipygian (please check it {the photography} e=i). I expect now from my boyfriend to use this nice word instead of this 'ole' overused 'butt'. :)


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK Author

Thank you so much, jantamaya! I am delighted that you like my writing. What a compliment.. I love Mark Twain and his sense of humour. ( my fav: Be careful reading health books, you may die of misprint!- MT) And thanks for the spell check. I am sure your Callipygian curves deserve better words to describe them ;-)


jantamaya profile image

jantamaya 5 years ago from UK

:} :} :} :) :) :) Yes, I love MT. Look at this, "In this Autobiography I shall keep in mind the fact that I am speaking from the grave." Spooky, simply and powerful. I love what he said about health books too :).


kimbles profile image

kimbles 5 years ago from The World

Enjoyed the read and on a side note I was left wanting and wishing....

Wishing and wanting my butt to look like the Callipygian curves image ;-)


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK Author

Thanks! I am sure this butt envy will fade. You may be unfairly critical about your callipygian curves. I am sure they are perfectly serviceable. ; - ) ( serviceable? No pun intended, of course)


richtwf profile image

richtwf 5 years ago

An excellent and very interesting read as always, and one spiced with your sense of humour too!

Great hub my friend and God bless!


annmackiemiller profile image

annmackiemiller 5 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

interesting hub - you've put a lot of work into this and it shows.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK Author

Thanks annmackiemiller, appreciate your visit and follow.


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 5 years ago from India

It's the chocolate that brought me here - you can keep the Callipygian curves! :D

Informative as ever. It's interesting - once you get the hang of this etymology business you can actually guess where a word might have come from!


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Feline Prophet. Its true how it makes it easier to guess word origins - it is exponential. Talking about curves - see if you like the 'story of anatomical terms' hub too.


Purple Perl profile image

Purple Perl 5 years ago from Bangalore,India

Hey Docmo, loved this hub!

Very interesting way of telling stories. Like FP above, it was the chocolate that enticed me here and I am glad I came. Great pics too!

Cheers!


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi :)

I love words and etymology, so I thought that this was great.

Well written & entertaining!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Fantastic Hub on words. Root words are so the way to go, as you said we cannot acquire everything by wrote memory. But prefixes, suffixes, roots and a bit of understanding of how and where we borrowed these words goes a long way. You have great illustrative graphics and pictures too. A thoroughly wonderful read. :)


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 4 years ago from California

Masterful maker of memory, magnificent, marketing magic.:)


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Talk about teaching .. You certainly can enrich a hub with vast knowledge and interest! Great history lessons and word play.. The learning was enjoyable. Voted up.

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