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The etymology of English 'black'

From:Danny Wier <dawiertx@...>
Date:Sunday, June 6, 2004, 16:15
One of the Tech words for 'white' just happens to be _bl^ak'_ /bl`ak_>/.
(It's actually the active infinitive 'to make something white'.) Not because
I wanted to make the word sound like its opposite, but because I picked the
Indo-European extended root for this one, which is *bhle/og- 'to shine,
flash, burn'. The basic root is *bhel-.

From this form are also derived words like 'flame' (from Latin), also
'phlegm' and that Texas flower, the phlox (from Greek).

But how did 'white' become 'black'? Probably because 'white' is connected to
'shine', which is connected to 'burn', and when you burn someting it becomes
black, which absorbs all light so it can't shine (the act of shining implies
being able to reflect light). Makes sense, but you still end up with the
opposite of what it originally meant.

From the unextended basic root, we get the word 'blank', and of course
_blanc_ is 'white' in French.

Arabic _lahab_ 'flame' might be related by a stretch of the imagination;
there would've had to have been metathesis, maybe *blh > lhb. I doubt it
seriously. Maybe _balq_ 'mica' might be a better candidate, since mica is a
shiny and smooth mineral.

Anyway, I'm finally taking time today to come up with a decent vocabulary of
'fully-developed' words for Tech; two-consonant roots aren't really that
useful because the inflectional possibilities are limited. These are all
extensions of these roots to three or four consonants, or reduplications of
two-consonant roots. Formation of polysynthetic words result from a main
word (again, an extended root) with suffixed unextended roots, for example:

bl^ak' 'whitening' (gerund)
bl^ak'm@w 'whitening liquid' > 'bleach'
(that's all I can come up with now)

As you can tell, I'm still on the B's. But I just had to stop and tell
another boring etymological story related to English.

~Danny~ Si hoc legere scis, nimium eruditionis habes.


Danny Wier <dawiertx@...>
Emily Zilch <emily0@...>Etymology of English 'black'