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Once upon a time I was a high school student, who chose as her foreign language the fine and elegant French.  Because these courses are all about being practical and conversational, I focused on learning numbers, names of random household objects, days of the week, and names of countries.  These are the intriguing parts of language, probably the least relevant to the distinctions among the tongues.  Days of the week, months of the year, and names of places are some of the most fascinating studies in history and myth, and the migrating peoples.  Here in the United States, we call the “Fatherland,” that great military empire of the 19th and 20th centuries, boasting Kaisers and Fuhrers, Germany.  The Germans themselves call their empire Deutschland.  And upon learning French, I discovered that the passionately peaceful peasants (except during anarchic revolutions) named Germany, Allemagne. 

 

Usually my little brain is creatively making associations and speculations about where words came from, but here I was stuck.  Names and titles are interesting things, because they are only rarely required to have a relationship to definitions.  For example, in studying the etymologies of country names, I came across several (20th century inventions, mostly) whose names meant “land of the free.”  Others seem arbitrary – or even derogatory, bestowed on the people by hostile neighbors. 

 

Join me, then, as we briefly navigate the history of the world as told by the naming of nations.  Let’s begin our tour with Germany. 

 

German is first attested in writings of Julias Caesar, probably the name of an individual tribe.  Speculation on the roots of the word range from a Celtic word for “to shout” or the Germanic gar, meaning “spear.”  Part of the problem is that Germany is an empire, a collection of tribes, so that there is wide selection of names that accurately apply to large swaths of the German countryside.  English (which has had its own fair share of invading languages and kings) formerly used the French (Allemagne, “land of all the men” i.e. “our many tribes” used to denote foreigners – compare to the words alien and else.) and the German (Deutschland – “land of the people”) to refer to the country.  I cannot find out when we started calling the land Germany almost universally, but neither can I discover when the Deutschland came into use, or Allemagne.  Since they all come from ancient tribal names, none is more correct than the other – except that we might want to give precedence to what people choose to call themselves.

 

Dutch, whose name is obviously of the same root as Deutschland, is first recorded in official correspondence from Charlemagne’s reign, when it referred to Germans in general.  It means “belonging to the people” from the root þeod “people, race, nation,” actually sharing a root with another word for Germans, Teutonic (Proto-Indo-European *teuta– “people” or in Old Prussian, tauto “country”). 

 

Interestingly enough, the Polish word for Germany is Nemetsy/Niemcy which means “land of the mute.”  Mute is the way some people described others who couldn’t speak the common language.  It’s rather ethnocentric, but goes to illustrate what I was saying about getting a name from a neighbor.  (It has been suggested that the word barbarian, baby, babble, and infant all come from that same general idea: they’re talking, but we can’t understand them.  And this whole language problem is indivisible from that Biblical account of Babel.  Imagine a decade or so after the tower project was interrupted by the confusion of languages.  One forcibly-separated tribe runs into another with a speech frustratingly meaningless to the first, and they both look at each other and recite a place name, Babel.  That’s the word for it.  History explains; this is why.  How often do you get why’s in these strange questions of etymology?) 

 

Welsh is another name for a country, granted by its Saxon (another occasional word for Germany or Germans) neighbors.  It was used long ago to mean “Celtic” or simply “foreign.”  G’s and W’s are interchangeable due to accents and evolution of languages, so Welsh is actually quite close to Gael and Gaul.  The Welsh have their own name for themselves – or at least they did back when people cared about languages and less about this up and coming global society.  Cymru is that little country on the British Isles, meaning “compatriots.”  Cambria and Cumberland are derived from this name.  The Welsh were kinder to the Germanic invaders, and generally referred to them by their own name, Saxon (adapted to sound Gaelic).  Or this might have been a bitter term of respect, since the tribe seems to have been named for swords, Saxon having the same root (most likely) as saw.  Saxon is a word that shows up almost everywhere, including in those English counties Essex, Sussex, and the Gaelic term for a foreign ruler, Sassenach. 

 

Another pretty word referring to the Gaels is Brythons.  Great Britain and British are the common forms of this name today.  There is a dialect called Breton (which is really beautiful if you ever get to hear it spoken or sung).  Before Christ, Greek records describe the peoples with the term Prittanoi, “tattooed people.”  It only came into official use as a name for England when King James I  (who was definitely the Scottish King, and got the British crown after Elizabeth was done with it by reason of being a distant cousin of that childless queen – and if you think how we got names of countries is complicated, take a look at the ancestry of the famous King James!) called his country that at his coronation.  It was made official 100 years later when Scotland (more properly British by racial descent) was joined to England.   

 

Scotland’s name is so old that we aren’t sure what it means.  The English called the inhabitants of Ireland Scottas, and that was an idea they picked up from the Romans (Latin).  Speculation born purely out of the similar sound says that the term may have come from an Irish insult, “a term of scorn,” scuit.  But I have no idea what that word means.  In Gaelic Scotland is Alba, from the Indo-European for “white,” supposedly referring to the white chalk around Dover or some association with mountains (similarity to Alps).  In Latin Scotland was also called Caledonia, which is “good waters” in Greek.  (Apparently the Greeks and Romans hung out a little more than the Greeks and the Persians, despite each being successive empires of the known world.) 

 

I’ve mentioned the Irish a couple times.  Their etymology is pretty simple.  It comes from Erin, a word referring to fertility of land, and animals and people.  Whether the goddess Eire got her name from this word or vice versa, she was the goddess of fertility in the pagan mythology of the Gaels. 

  

Another country whose name is most likely from a god is Egypt, which supposedly means “temple of the soul of Ptah” (this is Egyptian, and was their name for the city of Memphis), although some say it comes from the Greek, “land below the Aegean sea” which in its Latin form is Aegyptus.  In the Bible the country is named for its founder, Mizraim, who was one of the sons of Ham, the son of Noah.  In Hebrew the word has meaning, “straits or narrow places,” referring to the distribution of civilization along the Nile.  Other Arabic definitions of this word mean “city” or “to settle or found.”  In Coptic, Egypt is Kême “black land” describing the mud after summer floods contrasted with the “red land” of the desert.  (You gotta hear this.  Desert is from the Ancient Egyptian, dsrt.  They should know.) 

 

Ethiopia is a word originally Greek, aithein “to burn” and ops “face.” It was talking about the skin color of the inhabitants.  (However, some sources attribute the name to another descendant of Noah, Ityopp’is, who is supposedly a son of Cush – I don’t know which one from Gen. 10:7 is meant.  But in the Bible, Cush is the name for Ethiopia).  A few hundred years ago, Ethiopia was Abyssinia, derived from the Arabic, meaning “mixed.”  There was actually a mixture of ethnic groups inhabiting that country. 

 

Other biblical places and their name origins are:

            Jordan, named for the river, “descend” of Hebrew and Canaanite origin. 

            Iran means “land of the Aryans” or “land of the free.”  Arya comes from the Proto-Indo-European with a definition of “noble, free.”  In the Bible it is called Persia, which has the same root as paradise, “garden.” 

            Iraq means “between the rivers.”  In the Bible it was Babylon “gate of the gods” in usage, but derived from Babel. 

            Palestine is the Roman name for Israel, literally “land of the Philistines,” and intended as a jibe at the Jews.  Philistine itself is from a Semitic root meaning “invader.”  The Philistines were Phoenician high-tech seafarers who settled on the coast and oppressed Israel living inland. 

 

Spain actually gets its name from the Phoenicians as well, since they had quite the colony and port in Spain.  The Phoenicians called it “isle of hyraxes,” mistaking the abundant hares for the African hyraxes.  The word has changed very little since then.  It began as Î-šəpānîm, was modified to Hispania for Latin, and comes to us today via the French Spagne as Spain. 

 

France is named for a weapon, and actually for a Germanic tribe (who else – named for a weapon?), the Franks.  A frankon was a spear.  Frank became associated with freedom when they ruled over the Gauls.  By contrast, then, to the Gauls, who were essentially slaves, the Franks were free.  Interesting, however, that the people owning and earning the name are not at all the majority of the people traditionally associated with the country of France.  Neither, for that matter, is France typically associated with freedom or weapons. 

 

Italy means “son of a bull god.”  And this one you just can’t skip.  Vatican City comes from a word meaning “to prophesy,” but in a completely pagan way.  The city is built on an old street that used to host fortune tellers and sooth-sayers (obviously before the Christianization of Rome). 

 

Finally, two more interesting names.  One is Siam, which got its name from Myanmar/Burma, its neighbor.  Siam means “land of Gold.”  Siam was changed to Thailand in the first half of the 20th century.  Pakistan is the other interesting name.  Like the demographics of the country itself, the name is a compilation, an acronym made up by Choudhary Rahmat Ali in 1934 well before the region became a country in 1956.  It stands for Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Balochistan.”  

 

You may have noticed that Pakistan has occasional identity crises, and suffers from severe division.  The USA is in a similar situation, but we have heretofore handled our cultural differences considerably better than Pakistan (our primary blemish being the Civil War over 100 years ago). 

 

“Out of the many, one” is a hard thing to achieve.  In honor of the attempt, I close with the much more widely known etymology of the United States of America.  United and States being self-evident, America is the feminine form of Amerigo, the name of a conceited cartographer who made made his name so prominent on his maps that the people, knowing no better, assumed the new world was named Amerigo.  And so it is. 

 

Thank you to the following resources, from which I got almost all of this information:

http://www.teachersparadise.com/ency/en/wikipedia/l/li/list_of_country_name_etymologies.html

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php

http://www.wikipedia.com/

http://www.dictionary.com

http://www.encyclopedia.com

http://www.interestingunusualfacts.com/2008/09/unusualfactsinterestingcountryplaces.html

God’s Word for Windows

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Two Spaniards took a break from the sauna-like heat of the borderlands between Arabic-influenced Moorlands, and fiercely Roman Catholic Spain, to play a game of chess on the shaded veranda.  Both men were enthusiasts for the game that by this time was popular on three continents and most of the classical “known world.”  Time was short this afternoon, with demands of the plantation promising interruption of the historically slow-paced, strategic game.  Rather than pausing their game, both were interested in options to shorten their match. 
 
In other parts of Europe, more liberal rules were proposed as solutions to the same problem.  However, these serious players, comfortable with the legal moves of the present game, had a different idea.  They could introduce dice to the first game in history that was played entirely without chance. 
 
Philosophers and aficionados of the game appreciated the raw intellect of chess.  Human minds and wills warred with each other, ignoring fate, defying the existence of fate, and asserting a freedom.  Unlike other popular games in each country prior to the introduction of chess, there was no element of chance.  The game always began the same way, with the same rules to each player.  Then it proceeded matching man to man, mind to mind. 
 
So why would any serious chess players submit their glorification of the human mind to dice?  The answer may have been that they were not creative enough to try modifying rules to shorten their game.  They may have liked the challenge afforded by the limitation on their control of the game (dice were used to regulate which piece had to be moved each turn).  Or, the first answer that occurred to me, it’s fair.  
 
A skilled player might approve the challenge of thriving under such constraint.  The common man would submit to his lot in the game, as he seemed to do in life.  Do you see the distinction?  We all have the choice between being dominated by the circumstances of our life, and responding to the circumstances in a strategic way.  Profoundly connected to this option is our decision to endure all of life in the sinful nature bestowed upon us as heirs of Adam, and God’s offer to be saved.  God offers the power we were without, to live and to resist sin.  This is relational, the mystery of the Holy Spirit indwelling a disciple of Christ in a way that affects his choices. 
 
But that isn’t what made me stop to write.  A simple solution to a fundamental question about the story The Immortal Game’s historian told of Europe provides an apt illustration of the very God whose sovereign rule of fate has drawn so much attack.  Why would two competitors of chess introduce dice into the game of sublime skill?  I for one hate games that are entirely chance, and am immensely frustrated by those games which are mostly chance.  Take Yahtzee.  The substance of the game is five dice.  I cannot control the outcome of each roll, but I am required to choose after each roll which dice to set aside, for what purpose.  At the end of each turn I make a decision where to fill in points.  With hindsight one sees that any number of decisions could have been wrong.  I had nothing, so I zeroed the coveted 50 point Yahtzee, only to roll five of a kind my succeeding turn.  This is too frustrating for me. 
 
For me, chess is humiliating.  I’m not good at it, and unless my challenger is an amateur, I lose.  But I would rather, if a loss is to be credited to my name, have earned it entirely myself.  So what strange Spaniard (it was a Spaniard quoted explaining the use of dice with chess) pair sat at their board and decided to inflict chance upon themselves?  Even if one man suggested it, why would the other agree? 
 
The answer that struck me was fairness.  Neither player was controlling the dice.  Each submitted equally to the fate of the roll.  Were there other fair rule changes that could have sped up the game?  Yes.  So my answer doesn’t entirely explain the emergence of dice with chess. 
 
However, think about the fairness of dice.  If any of you have played Yahtzee, or some other dice- or card- dependent game, no doubt you sensed at some point that the fair chance of the dice had dealt you an unjust blow.  The outcome of a game did not rest on your choices or your merits.  Winning by chance was occasionally unjust.  The better player could lose.  Do we really want fair?  The same fate to everyone?  Each person equally born, equally bred, equally fed?  Storms of the same number, death at the same age?  
 
See, God isn’t about fairness.  He is about justice.  And justice means when something is earned, it is granted.  The marvel of Christianity is that Jesus became the propitiation, complete substitution, for our sins so that He might be just toward Himself and justifier toward us.  What we earned, death, was executed. 
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:  Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;  To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” – Romans 3:24-26
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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You know if you’ve been reading since I started, or if you’ve known me even longer than that, that this post is not new material. But I know my readers don’t click on links, especially inter-Lady of Longbourn links, so I am making this very easy for you and reposting my inimitable Thanksgiving delight:

Turk – Middle English, from French Turc, from Middle Latin Turcus, from Byzantine Greek Tourkos, Persian turk, a national name, of unknown origin. Said to mean “strength” in Turkish. Young Turk was a member of an early 20c. political group in the Ottoman Empire that sought rejuvenation of the Turkish nation.

turkey – 1541, “guinea fowl” (numida meleagris), imported from Madacascar via Turkey, by Near East traders known as turkey merchants. The larger North American bird (meleagris gallopavo) was domesticated by the Aztecs, introduced to Spain by conquistadors (1523) and thence to wider Europe, by way of Africa and Turkey (Indian corn was originally turkey corn or turkey wheat in Eng. for the same reason). The word turkey was first applied to it in Eng. 1555 because it was identified with or treated as a species of the guinea fowl. The New World bird itself reputedly reached England by 1524 (when Henry VIII dined on it at court). Turkeys raised by the Pilgrims were probably stock brought from England. By 1575, turkey was becoming the usual main course at an English Christmas. Meaning “inferior show, failure,” is 1927 in show business slang, probably from the image of the turkey as a stupid bird.

“My dad was asking, so I looked it up. The reason we have a bird and a country with the same name (and the slang use for a stupid or goofy person), Turkey, is as follows:

1. Turkey is named, obviously, for the Turks, and Turk is a Persian word that referred to a nation somewhere when Persia was still a big thing. In Turkish, the word “turk” came to mean strength.

2. Turkeys are native to two parts of the world: Madagascar and the Americas. Way before America was discovered by Columbus, merchants imported turkeys from Madagascar to Europe, by way of Turkey (which wasn’t called Turkey then). Since the Turks were the salesmen in the middle of the trade route, the birds came to be named after them. Aztecs in America also bred turkeys.

3. Once America began to be colonized, esp. by the Spanish in the south, conquistadors sent turkeys over to Europe. The name “turkey” wasn’t applied to them until after this, and the name originated in Europe, where people figured out the two species were similar.

4. One website I encountered suggested three other ideas for where turkeys got their names, but I found them unscientific. Since they were still entertaining, I’ll give them to you.

  • You have probably heard that American Indians were called that because Columbus landed here and thought he’d reached India. Thinking this, and seeing the plumage of native wild turkeys, Columbus may have named them the word for peacock in the tongue of India (where peacocks were found), which is “tuka”. Sounds similar, almost, but it doesn’t convince me.
  • Native Americans (before they knew they were supposed to be Indians) called the birds “firkee” which, as I’m sure you can hear in your head, sounds a whole lot like “turkey” basically, just change one letter, and that has happened converting English to English, let alone foreign languages. Actually, if you go to Africa, our translations of the words we hear there can be quite different from others who visited. It depends on the ear gene you inherited or something. = )
  • When turkeys are afraid, they make a sound as they run, not a gobble, but “turk, turk, turk.” This does not mean that the Ottomans are chasing them. That’s just what they say. Hmm. Maybe that’s where the Turks got their name, though? I won’t go there, at least not yet. Ok, I’ll make up a story that will be found in #5.

5. There once was a man from the region east of Anatolia, which was east of Greece. I think it was also west of Persia and south of Russian and north of Africa and southwest of… never mind. He liked to travel, so he sold all he had, took his three sons, and sailed to a little island SOUTH, called Madagascar (actually, I don’t know if that was it’s name then, but since you probably don’t know what its name was then, it would be useless for me to waste time finding out and using it, since you wouldn’t know what I’m talking about. On a similar note, Anatolia is the region known in the Bible as Asia Minor and on your most modern map as Turkey). While he was vacationing there on the beach, he feasted on a native bird similar to the pheasant. It was so delicious, that he wanted to take some home. So when he finally got tired of all the sun and cannibals, he and his two sons (guess where the other one went) packed up along with some of the birds and sailed home. He threw a coming home party, and all of his neighbors loved the poultry he fed them. They wanted to know what it was and how to get some. This man from the region east of Anatolia was poor after being gone so long without working, so he decided this would make a good business. A sign was soon seen in front of his house reading (in what language, I’ve no idea; it probably doesn’t exist anymore) “Poultry for sail. Taking orders.” (ok, so he couldn’t spell sale, but he wasn’t in the sign making business, so it didn’t matter.) All of his neighbors signed up for at least a week’s worth, and prepaid him. His sons went with him to brave the cannibals and collect a supply of birds to bring home. The first trip was successful, and eventually they made friends with the natives, who agreed to breed the birds for him in recompense for the loss of his third son. It became quite a thriving business, and a few of the enterprising neighbors also got involved. They built boats and began shipping the birds also. The delicacy became famous all over the known world, even Persia. To get the birds up to Persia, the men from the region east of Anatolia herded them north and east. Birds are frightened easily, and herders scared them into running the direction (hopefully) they wanted them to go. Coming into Persia, they always had a big welcome, because the noise of the birds could be heard miles or at least yards, meters, cubits or whatever they used back then away. People who were especially fond of the meat would chant as the herders entered the city, “Turk, turk, turk!” Later when these men no longer herded birds, but men instead, the Persians ran in fear, screaming, “turk, turk…” The men took up the name, and it came to be a chant of their strength. Back home, they reminded themselves of their strength (for pride accompanies power) by calling themselves Turks. The birds they kept and sold couldn’t keep their name of turk, since it meant strength now and the birds were stupid, not strong. They were called turkey. This term was also used as a nickname for those among the Turks whose behavior resembled the turkey’s. In Europe the names caught on, and they passed it to America, where a bigger version of the bird was bred by scalpers, not cannibals.

*I must inform you that although some parts of this story are factual, a whole lot is fictional. Please do not include any of the information found in #5 for a scientific report or to attempt to astound your friends with your incredible knowledge. = )”

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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