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.


Anonymous said...

That's really interesting, Ileen. But couldn't the "corn" in Cornish come from the tribe "Cornovii" as well? They might have been an offshoot of the Dumnonii and their territory was called Cornubia (People of the Horn). Or are the Cornovii and the Cornovja the same people?

Just a thought. :)


The Red Witch said...

It's the same thing. It is just a matter of how you prefer to present your latin. Like the letter 'u' doesn't really exist in Classical Latin although the sound does. It is usually represented by a 'v' although the 'v' can also represent a 'w' sound. When latin text is printed today most people who prepare the text make adjustments that you would not find in a Classical book.

Anonymous said...

So the Americans took what had been a generic name for all commonly-grown cereals, and converted it into the name for a specific crop.

The Cornish refer to their 'country' as Kernow (There was a recent article in the Guardian discussing independence for Cornwall - it got thousands of comments, unsurprisingly!)http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/10/cornwall

Tin and copper were big, but alas, no more - the last Cornish tin mine closed down in the early nineties, but there are thousands of old abandoned mine-workings all over the peninsula. So Cornish tin miners migrated all over the world, looking for work (there's a saying that if ever there's a hole in the ground anywhere in the world, you'll find a Cornishman at the bottom of it).

Anonymous said...

As for the latin song, I did translate every word! (correctly too :) - the Beatles have an awful lot of songs on the same subject)

The Red Witch said...

Thanks for the name the Cornish call their land. I wasn't sure if they had one officially. I love that quote though. I am going to have to dig it up and post it somewhere.
Of course the Beatles sang a good deal on one subject. At least they were child friendly lyrics.

Anonymous said...

An interesting piece of writing, thank you! I never knew that when an Englishman goes to Cornwall or Wales, he/she goes practically abroad ;)


The Red Witch said...

Thanks, it's probably not as noticeable as it used to be but the Cornish are seeing how well Welsh or Cymraeg is doing and want the same for themselves.