Wednesday, 2 April 2014

In the sack

Somebody saw this picture and asked me what the names meant.  At first I was going to say they mean nothing, they're just words that sounded good.  Then I realised that there was some kind of thought behind the name of each boat.
The simplest name to explain is Sirrius of Lady's Bridge.  Lady's Bridge is an album by Richard Hawley.  Sirrius is a track on it.  Well, Serious is a track on it, but whoever heard of a boat called Serious? Whereas, Sirrius . . .  While I was painting the picture I was playing Lady's Bridge all the time.  It has a great feel, great production, full of verve and colour.  This was a painting of that sound, whether it works or not is another matter, but Lady's Bridge was the backdrop and needed to be referenced in the finished work.  No matter how obliquely.

The boats are stylised Galway Hookers, an Irish fishing boat, although the colour scheme of Eoife was based on a MFV that was on the Hamble River for years.  The name is that of a young Irish girl who I met a long time ago.  There were three sisters and a Da' and they came from Tralee.  They were almost cartoon colleens, full of spirit and life. The Da' was a lovely feller by the name of John who could charm the birds out of the trees with a smile. They filled their days in Southampton by going to the Boat Show, getting free entry as International Visitors, though they had no interest in boats and no money to buy. Although they did buy a boat hook which doubled as a water pump that one of the girls would carry around all of the time.  

Shallidh is a Manx word.  I think the pronunciation of the suffix is the same as the gaelic word ceilidh (pronounced Kayley) so it might be pronounced Shall-lee or even shay-ley.    Its meaning is "the twinkling of an eye".  I'm not sure if this means the way an eye sparkles when you fall in love or a very short space of time (it all happened in the twinkling of an eye).  Either way it's a beaut. If it didn't sound like Shirley it would make a great girl's name.  I found it in a Manx Dictionary (Cregeen, 1835) and kept hold of it, hoping to find a home for it some day. 

Another word I found in the Manx Dictionary was sack.  Which means a sack. Cregeen states that this word is the same in all languages and is believed to be antediluvian.  When, as a teenager, I read this I knew the word antediluvian, knew it meant "an ancient and murky period" but Cregeen seemed to be using it to refer to a specific time period so I looked it up.  Antediluvian: before the deluge.  Before the flood.  Before Noah's flood.  I found this a bit staggering.

Later that week I was watching a Swedish art house film, in Swedish, with subtitles.  There was a reference to a bag or sack and the Swedish word was obviously a word that sounded like sack.  Then, not longer after, I was watching a Mexican film (look, I was a thoughtful, introverted teenager exploring the world through the medium of late night obscure subtitled movies).  Guess what, someone used the word sack, might have been talking about a horse's panniers or saddle bags. 

At the next opportunity I went to the library and found that it was kind of true - the word sack was the same in all many languages.  Here's a few examples from Google Translate: Swedish säck; Zulu esakeni; Afrikaans sak; Welsh sak; Dutch zak; Irish sac; Filipino saco; French sac; German sack; Spanish saco; Esperanto sako.  I think I've made my point. 

So could this word, the same in all languages, date back to a time when the human race occupied one small corner of the world and then, as people moved across the continent, it moved too? It isn't impossible.  It made me think about the origins of language.  The first words, I'm sure, would have been gradations of grunts, growls and barks.  Monosyllabic at first, followed eventually by compound words.  The first words would have been for the first things.  The simplest words would be the first words.

A bag, a sack, a carrier is a basic item that would be needed early on. You don't want to have your hands full now, do you.  You want somewhere to keep your arrowheads, your nuts and berries, your house keys.  So if you have a sack, bag or carrier a name is not far behind.  

The 'ck end to words is a very common ending for very basic words - bleuch, cook, duck, euch!  Do I need to go on?  I think its pretty obvious that sack was one of the first words ever used.  Of course it could be argued that all of the examples given above are of languages that have their roots in Latin and Greek so it isn't surprising that they all sound the same and that many other language families don't have this word. 

But that wouldn't be as much fun.  Words be nimble, words be quick, words resemble candlesticks.

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