Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Thoughts

    I have discovered there is a German equivalent to the Oxford English Dictionary and it is nicknamed 'The Grimm" because it was begun by the brothers of fairy tale fame. I happened to be trawling through it and giving myself a headache trying to read the technical German because I am curious as to why, if the English word 'wreath' has a Germanic origin, the Germans have such a different word for the Christmas wreath - kranz.  They are not even remotely similar.
     'The Grimm' states that 'kranz' is a homemade word although, there appears to be an Old Scottish word very similar to it - crance.  Jamieson's Dictionary of the Scottish Language credits the origin of their word to something Teutonic to do with hair although there appears to be a related Old French word - crans, meaning 'hair'.  It is very strange, both dictionaries point to a possible connection to the latin word - corona, meaning 'garland'.
     Wreath is from the OE or Anglo-Saxon as a noun form taken from the verb 'writhe' as something twisted or wound into a circular shape. I wonder why, if both words have a Germanic origin, they are so very different in sound.  The third century writer Tertullian complained that Christians should not be putting them on doors as it amounts to demon worship so the wreath has been around for a while. One has to wonder also why it was associated with Christmas; nobody is very clear on this.  Perhaps it is a remnant of the 'kissing bough' of Saturnalia.
      We now use a mistletoe ball for kissing.  Thanks to The Xmas Files by Patrick Harding, an excellent book on the origins of Christmas customs, the proper way to use the mistletoe is that every time someone kisses under it, they have to remove a berry.  Once all the berries are gone the kissing has to stop and then the mistletoe had to be burned on the Twelfth Night in case anyone kissing under it did not intend to marry.  Now you know.
'The Grimm' is searchable online if you can read German.

Beatles Song of the Week

Saturnalia est,
Et feceratisne quod?
Alius annus finis est,
Et unus novus inceperat.
Saturnalis est,
Spero tu iocum habes.
Tu proximi et tu cari,
Tu seneces et tu parvi.

Habete Saturnalia Beata,
Et Annum Novum Felicem,
Speremus bonum est,
Sine metum. 

Monday, December 15, 2008

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

     It is always interesting to see where people get titles from and this movie title is such an elegant one.  It was taken from a poem by Alexander Pope called Eloisa to Abelard.
     "How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
       The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
      Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
      Each pray'r answered, and each wish resigned."
The poem is based on the letters of Peter Abelard and Heloise from the 12th century.  Heloise had a very hard time forgetting her passion for Abelard and accepting, following Abelard's mutilation and taking monastic vows, that it was over forever.  She took the veil according to his request but she did it out of love for him not because she felt any calling to serve God.
It is perhaps taken as the title for this movie as it is about two lovers who have had their memories erased to forget about each other but find, after their memories were wiped out, that they met again and fell in love.   Their love was fated to be and no amount of wishing it were otherwise could make it so.
       The story of Abelard and Heloise was also snuck into the movie Being John Malkovich.  You would have to know it is them to even notice their presence in the film and in the lewd puppet show.  And if you blink, you would miss the sign that announces that the marionette show is about their love story.  The puppets read the letters out loud and make gestures that eventually become offensive and cause someone to punch the puppeteers lights out. 
This clip has the sequence from 1:52 minutes to 3:27.
      It appears that there has only been one film made of their story and that is Stealing Heaven. Unfortunately it was only released on vhs format and so cannot be purchased except in used copies and certainly cannot be found at Blockbuster.  They might have had trouble with the content anyway since it is a European film and shows explicit love scenes between the two.  Well, after all, it was a hot love story and, to read Heloise's words about it in her letters, the sex was really hot.  I know it might be hard to imagine in the 12th century that people were having hot sex but this was in Paris after all.
     Some kind person has posted some clips from their video of the film so you can see a few minutes of it.  This clip is of their first kiss.  I like the fact that the film makers made Heloise a grown woman rather than a 16 year old girl because I think she was older than that.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Children of the Corn

     When the Anglo Saxons marched in to England, the Celts put up a good fight but they ultimately lost and were pushed back by the invaders into areas like Wales, Scotland and Cornwall.  The Welsh call their land Cymru but the Anglo Saxons named them the wealas, that is 'foreigners' and is the source of the name 'Wales'.  The Cornish were called the corn-wealas or 'corn foreigners', people of the corn.
      There is a problem with this since what we commonly call corn was not supposed to exist in Europe at the time.  It is a crop that was discovered by the Spanish around 1500 called 'maize' and brought back to Europe then.  But yet, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle mentions corn, the Magna Carta mentions corn, even translations of the Bible mention corn.  What were those people eating anyway?  Not corn.
     What we call corn is zea mays or maize.  The word maize comes from the Taino word mahiz that was given a Latin form by the Spaniards. Corn, up until recently meant, "small hard seed or fruit of a plant" more commonly "the fruit of the cereals".  It referred predominantly to whatever was the major local crop.  If people grew wheat, that was their 'corn'.  If people grew a lot of oats, then that was their 'corn'.  Even grapes could be 'corn'.  It explains why the dreaded Corn Laws of England, that helped kill so many Irish by exacerbating the famine, regulated the price of wheat and not maize.
        So then, the Cornish could be the Children of the Corn.  Except that the 'corn' in Cornwall did not come from the local crop.  According to Brewer's Britain and Ireland, the name comes from the Cornovja tribe who ruled the area and may have started with the latin cornu for 'horn'.   Words are so interesting.  It seems the local crop was tin and copper since mining was a big industry on the peninsula since the Bronze Age.
      So the American Mid-West's reputation for scary little children indulging in strange agricultural cults is safe.  They are an American Original.

Beatles Song of the Week

Ama, me ama
Tu scis te amo,
Semper pius ero,
Ergo places,
Me ama.


Aliquam amare,
Aliquam novam,
Aliquam amare, 
Aliquam par tibi.