You know, I was just thinking how hard it is to tell a story of history if you’re attempting to leave open possibilities. Like, say I wanted to tell you a story about the Proto Indo European people (or PIEs), but didn’t want to presume too much about a group of people we know little about or your own feelings about various Neolithic cultures in what is now Europe.
I might say something like, after we started walking upright, we spread out over Africa, into central Asia, across Europe, into the Americas, and over to Australia. After some time, a group of us came out of some place–southern Russia, central Asia, northern India–and spread out over a lot of other places, carrying with us ancient versions of many of the words we now use.
The existence of the PIE people has not been verified, but it’s a theory that seems to fit the evidence we have–that many of our modern languages evolved from one now lost proto language, and thus, someone must have spoken that language. This is why languages as seemingly diverse as Sanskrit, Greek, and English all have similar words for father, brother, foot, etc.
So, being a big nerd, I enjoy poking around in the dusty corners of words (ha, as you may have noticed) and, thus, spend a lot of time thinking about the language of the PIE people. Here’s something that has recently amused me: PIE might have a word (there’s definitely a root, but whether it was a whole word, we don’t know) like “gher” which connotes liking or wanting. You can see it in modern words like greedy or yearn or even charisma. Bruce Lincoln thinks “gher” in the PIE world probably meant something closer to greedy or ravenous and that the sound of the word was the sound of the dogs who would scavenge the battlefields for things or dead folks to eat. Gher and grr.
Tee hee. I love words that mean what they sound like or sound like what they mean. Not an onomatopoeia… well, kind of… but grr, the sound the greedy dog makes and gher the greed itself.
Oh, or take barbarian, which is just a person who makes noises that sound like “bar bar,” the Greeks’ way of pointing out that the folks to the north talked funny–maybe like sheep.