Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Ash

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Ash

Article excerpt

Home is where the heart is, but some poor languages have no word for 'home'. For them, home is where the hearth is. The Spaniards have a proverb (of course) on the matter: El sol es hogar de los pobres , 'The sun is hearth and home for the poor', since they can afford no other fire than the winter sun. My columnar neighbour, Peter Jones, touches on this hearth in his wonderfully entertaining new book, Quid Pro Quo, What the Romans Really Gave the English Language . I found it fun to turn from one entry to a connecting entry and read it like a game of hare and hounds.

For the Romans, notes Dr Jones, the household deity (lar familiaris ) was worshipped at the religious centre for the family, the hearth, its focus . That word focus is exactly the one the Spanish proverb uses, hogar , except that, by the iron laws of philology, the f has turned into an h , and the c into a g . The French took from Latin focus their own word foyer .

A Greek word for 'burn' aithein comes from the same root as the Latin aedes , 'room, temple'. Though Dr Jones does not say so, since he's writing about Latin, our word ash (the burnt stuff, not the tree) comes from the same Indo-European root. …

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