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Every Word Tells a Story 10 - Jade, Jeroboam and Jitterbug
In this ongoing series on word origins and their wonderful stories we come to the Tenth letter of the alphabet. A relatively infrequent visitor in the English Language, it is pronounced 'Jay' . However when it comes to represent the 'y' sound as in 'Hallelujah' it is called a 'yod'.
The letter J has a curious origin. It was originally just a stylish way of writing an extra 'i' in the Roman Numerals. for example 33 (xxxiii) would have been written as xxxiij. Only in the 15th century was the sound 'J' developed and the letter was given a unique identity.
Now what jubilant joys does J words have to offer? As always dear reader, if you have been following this series, you'll know my mind links and leaps through so many areas and so many themes. I find this way of learning entertaining and stimulating every now and then. Here we shall go from an ancient Gemstone, a signature, A Roman God to a bottle of champagne. Now where else can you make such a strange journey?
With so many delights to choose from I am jousting with my own conscience to pick the ones that are justifiable for this jamboree.
Whatever I pick, I shall jink through the journey with jocose merriment but do promise not to throw jabberwockery at you like some juggins.
So come with me and see what jute-bag of tricks this jongleur has to offer!*
* There will a be a quiz at the end to test you on the above J words, smart reader, so pay attention!*
What trades today - in its pure form - at around $3000 an ounce and is considered more precious than Gold or Diamonds?
What naturally occurring resource is more precious than gold and diamond in ancient and modern China? What has been used since pre-historic times in civilizations across the world to carve sculptures, ornaments and weaponry? What trades today - in its pure form - at around $3000 an ounce?
The answer dear reader, is the precious stone Jade.
The name Jade conjures to one's mind ancient and modern images of knives and daggers, necklaces and masks, religious icons all coloured in that characteristic green tinge. However not all Jade is green, some can be whitish yellow (called 'mutton-fat' Jade), white and can even have pink, brown or lavender shades.
Jade is a collective name given to two types of metamorphic rock formations Nephrite and Jadeite. It was a French mineralogist in 19th century who determined that the Jade was indeed a common term for two different materials.
Both the names derived from the ancient medical use of this mineral in helping alleviate problems associated with the kidneys and loins. The Latin name of this stone was lapis nephriticus from which the Spanish derived the name piedra de ijada ( loin stone or kidney stone). When the Conquistadors invaded mesoamerican cultures of Olmec and Maya, they found ornaments carved with this stone in abundance. From ijada came the French term L'ejade.
The harder Jadeite and the softer nephrite both lent themselves to hand carving using Bamboo or even quartz in olden times making them popular to artisans.
Jade has been found in use across the world during prehistoric times- examples have been seen as far back as Neolithic cultures. The Maori in New Zealand, The Olmecs and Mayans in South America, ancient Korean dynasties have all used it. The highest quality Jade has been found in Myanmar ( Burma) from where it is imported into China.
But it is in China that Jade has always been treasured and valued to this day. The Chinese believe that Jade represents virtue and morality and that it brings good health. Jade was an imperial Gem originally only accessible by Royals and higher society.In fact some Royals had commissioned Jade burial suits for their last journey.
Jade remains highly collectible and has a huge market in China.
Contrary to popular myth the declaration was not signed by all at the same time on July 4, 1776. Rather, the signing began in August that year, beginning with John Hancock. The others all started signing this on various days until the complete signatures were obtained by November.
The story of how the name 'John Hancock' became a synonym for one's signature is a fascinating one. A wealthy shipping merchant, John Hancock became a patriot and statesman under the tutelage of Samuel Adams in Massachusetts ( yeah I spelt that right!). Influential in the thirteen colonies, Hancock used his money to support the colonial fight for independence. Throughout the fight, Hancock used his statesmanship, his wealth and his influence to spur on the Congress and Washington's Army. As his wealth came from a shipping business, Hancock had even spent some time in England building a customer base.
The oppressive taxation of the British regime, the fierce attempts to curb a revolution, the repeated conniving by the Empire to tarnish Hancock's reputation ( they seized his sloop Liberty in Boston Harbor and labelled him a smuggler) all further fueled his rebellion to fight for the independence.
It was no surprise that when it finally arrived, the Declaration of Independence was a proud moment for the Patriots. John Hancock was the President of Congress and was at hand to sign the Declaration of Independence first. It is no surprise that as he went first, it made sense for him to sign his flamboyant signature in the middle and in a rather large size as he was the first to go.
Contrary to popular myth the declaration was not signed by all at the same time on July 4, 1776. Rather, the signing began in August that year, beginning with John Hancock ( in the presence of just one man, Charles Thomson, the then secretary of the Congress.) The others all started signing this on various days until the complete signatures were obtained by November. Signing this document was no mean thing, it meant treason and all the brave men could've lost their heads for it. Those who signed the declaration did so in order of their Geographic location beginning with the right side below the main text and then arranged themselves around Hancock's flamboyant signature all the way around to the top left. This explains why the signatures are higher on the left than the right!
The story goes that after brandishing his exuberant signature, Hancock exclaimed "There, John Bull can read that without his spectacles, and may now double his reward of five hundred pounds for my head." ( John Bull being the nickname for the British and their King). This, while it does represent a good story, is unlikely to be true.
The painting of all the founding fathers gathered around the declaration is also a feat of artistic license, according to Historians.
"Janus also has a temple at Rome with double doors, which they call the gates of war; for the temple always stands open in time of war, but is closed when peace has come. The latter was a difficult matter, and it rarely happened, since the realm was always engaged in some war, as its increasing size brought it into collision with the barbarous nations which encompassed it round about." Plutarch, Life of king Numa 20.1-2
The Roman God Janus represents beginnings as well as endings, hence the two faces- one looking forward and one backward. He is the God of transitions and also the one of gateways, doors and thresholds. He looks forward and backward in time.
The origins of the name Janus (or Ianus) have been heavily debated. Some feel it comes from the Indo-European root of *Yana from Sanskrit which is a word - to pass- or -to go- implying a transitional state.
The Romans carved their doorways and gates with a forward/backward looking Janus. There were many rites paying tribute to Janus at the beginning of each year, each month and at the onslaught of the military season.
Unsurprisingly, the beginning of a New Year signified a transition from old to new and the first month was named January.
Any spatial transition from one space to the other was also associated with Janus. Most notably the entrance to Etruria from Rome was named Ianiculum.
There is an arch built in Rome called Ianus Quadrifrons that was built as a triumphal arch with four fronts. Its gates remained shut during war and opened during times of peace
In modern parlance a strange and very rare congenital anomaly due to genetic defects can result in animals being born with two faces. While the medical condition is called Diprosopus, in common parlance a cat that is born with such an anomaly is called a Janus Cat.
What has the first king of Northern Israelites and a bottle of champagne have in common? Well, lets find out.
Jeroboam,( a member of the Tribe of Ephraim) was made a superintendent of the forces by King Solomon himself. Fiercely ambitious and spurred on by the Prophet Ahija, Jeroboam began to make conspiracies to become the king of the Ten tribes of Israel but was forced into exile in Egypt when he was found out.
At Solomon's death, Rehoboam became king but was an ineffectual leader. The people of the ten tribes of Israel rebelled and invited Jeroboam back to overthrow Rehoboam. Thus the former became the King of the Northern Kingdom.
Jeroboam famously was at war with the Southern Kingdom of Judah and he built and fortified the northern and southern extremes of his Kingdom at Dan and Bethel and installed 'Golden Calves' in both these sites, asking the people of Israel to come and pray there instead of Solomon's Temple. Thus he was named in the scriptures as 'Jeroboam-who caused Israel to sin' for the worship of the Golden calves instead of LORD.
Jeroboam was also called a 'man of great worth' as he reclaimed many lands of Israel up to the Dead sea and united the Ten Tribes.
The Champagne makers and wine makers of Bordeaux have been using the name Jeroboam for a four standard bottle size since the 18th century. The practice of seeking Biblical kings names for larger format bottles continued from there to this day.
Below are the list of various sizes and how they equate as a ratio of the standard bottle size of 0.75 litre or 750 mls.
0.25 of a bottle
0.33 of a bottle
2 standard bottles
4 standard bottles
6 standard bottles
8 Standard Bottles
12 Standard Bottles
Mordechai or Salmanazar
16 Standard Bottles
Primat or Goliath
The relentless passage of this heavy chariot causes stampedes and sometimes devotees were crushed under the wheels and may even sacrifice themselves by throwing their bodies under the wheel.
The word Juggernaut originated in English around mid 19th century. It means ' a powerful unstoppable and destructive force'. In another meaning it can also mean something that 'demands blind devotion or merciless sacrifice'. One can us e this word to describe a huge machine or a vehicle, a team of people or a forceful political movement under a powerful leader. The word was used to describe the forceful character of Hyde in Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
The origin of this meaning are from the daunting sight that some of the British observers saw during the Hindu festivities of 'Ratha Yatra' a huge procession involving the three Hindu Deities drawn in a massive wagon from the Jagannath Temple in Puri, India in the Colonial days.
The Sanskrit word 'Jagannath' is one of the many names for the Hindu Deity, Lord Vishnu. It literally means 'Lord of the Universe'. ( 'Jagat' Universe and 'Nath' Lord).
During the festivities of Ratha Yatra, Hundreds of thousands of Hindus visit the temple and the swirling mass of humanity surrounds the chariot and wagon to get a glimpse of the lord. The relentless passage of this heavy chariot causes stampedes and sometimes devotees were crushed under the wheels and may even sacrifice themselves by throwing their bodies under the wheel.
For a casual British observer, this sight of a mammoth wagon bearing down on a crowd as an unstoppable force must have been awe inspiring. Hence the word' Juggernaut' was born.
Jitterbug Instructional Video
The word Jitters is a slang term for alcoholic withdrawal and the uncontrollable shakes that accompany it ...
And finally, let me leave you with a song and a dance. The word Jitterbug or Jitterbugging refers to a swing dancer and the various types of swing dancing that originated in the heyday of dance clubs in the US. The term originated in the mid forties and soon spread across the dance clubs.
The word Jitters is from a slang term for alcoholic withdrawal and the shakes that accompany it ( Delirium Tremens). For the people watching this new wave of uncontrollable dancing, it probably resembled the post- alcohol-shakes!
The various swing dances that originated during this era were a new form of movement, free flowing, energetic, casual and very popular with the youth. Dances such as Lindy Hop, Swing and Jive all come under this category.
Originally popular in the dance clubs it soon spread across the world by American Soldiers stationed all over during the Word War II.
An American TV show called American Bandstand from Philadelphia was broadcast by the ABC - this featured live music, live dancing that was mostly Jitterbugging. this was very popular in the late 1950s.
Musician Cab Calloway featured the words Jitterbug in his 1934 recording "Call of the Jitterbug" and of course many years later, Wham! had a number one hit with 'Wake me up before you go, go" their famous ' Jitterbug' song.
Cab Calloway's Amazing Jumping Jive
The 'J' Quiz
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© 2012 Mohan Kumar