Friday, March 04, 2011

Thatch and Penfish

A French chaumière, it turns out, is a hut or cabin, specifically a thatched cottage, from chaume, thatch, deriving ultimately from Greek kalamos, reed. (Yes, the same kalamos that becomes Latin calamus, pen, extant in English as “lapsus calami”: a slip of the pen, a typo.) The riddle, then, is “why is a thatched hut like a typo?”

I'm not sure why the pleasure of such simple excursions into etymology is so intense for me. I meet the word chaumière (new to me) and until I can connect it with the words I already know I feel a lack, a yearning. Everything, I feel, should go back to words as simple as “reed” if you follow them back far enough. I think the reason I stalled out on Chinese and Tibetan was that there was no way to trace them back to common ancestors of my own language. It was turtles all the way down, and tonal turtles at that. At the end of the road was not a picture of a shrewd Greek sitting by the riverbank inventing a pen by slicing a reed on the bias: it was a faceless bing, or mao, sung in a tone utterly strange to me. At the lowest stratum, it all dissolved into the chirping of alien birds. Perhaps for some people all foreign languages are like that.

And yes, calamus is related to calamari, because the squid, or by some accounts the squid's beak, reminded some Italian body of a pen -- and of course it squirts ink -- and so he called the squid a “calamaro,” a penfish. And if this doesn't make you wriggle with delight I don't know what I can do for you.

Fourth day back on regimen. As before, one of the first things I'm struck by, when I get my eating under control again, is that I sleep longer and more deeply: I didn't wake till nearly seven this morning. I wonder if the steadier blood sugar accounts for it, or if it's the fact that I only manage to get my eating under control when the other stresses of my life have moderated? Or for some other reason? Whatever the reason, I'm paying off a long-standing sleep deficit, and it feels good, although, as always when I sleep this much, I feel as though the air has thickened and my reflexes have slowed. It's a sensation I don't much like, although it does seem wholesome and restorative: I feel I've temporarily lost my edge. I wonder how people who live this way all the time survive it? Being pitched straight from sleep into the demands of the waking world, I mean. I'd go mad in short order.

No comments: