or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Feather Boa

The final answer on Thursday night's episode of Jeopardy--I wasn't watching it, I was just waiting for "E.R." to come on--was something about an albatross.

Now, I didn't know what the second half meant, , if anything, but I was pretty sure that the first half had to do with whiteness. That, after all, is what "alb-" virtually always refers to in English (from Latin "albus", "white"). "Alb"? A priest's white garment. "Album"? Originally a blank--which is to say white--tablet. "Albumen"? The white of an egg. "Albedo"? Reflected white light (or the white part of an orange--yes, really). "Albino"? Having unpigmented, and therefore very white, skin and hair. "Albacore"? Well, okay, that one's different: it gets its "al-" from Arabic, as is often the case, and the "-b-" following it is just an accident. (It would have been nice, though, if albacore had been a particularly white tuna.)

"Albatross", as it turns out, is both; it's from Arabic, and it stems from, or at least was influenced by, "white". Its source is the Arabic "al-qadus", "the diver", which originally meant "pelican"; this became "alcatraz" in Spanish and was eventually applied to other sea-birds. (I know next to nothing about Spanish, and it had never even occurred to me that "Alcatraz", the name of one of the most famous prisons in the world, might be an actual word, let alone that it might, ironically, mean a bird.)

As I've mentioned before, sometimes existing words, or words in the process of being invented in English, are influenced by other words, and this appears to be just what happened here; "alcatraz", its first syllable modified by "albus", became "albatross" in English.


A couple of days ago I titled a post "The Shining", and in an amusing coincidence, yesterday Boingboing posted a link to one of the reasons the Internet exists: a fake movie trailer reinventing Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" (the only of his movies worth a damn, in my obviously benighted opinion) as a romantic comedy/drama. It's wizardly. Here's the permalink, here's a New York Times story on the trailer, here's a permalink to two more fake trailers from the same production house ("West Side Story" reimagined as a zombie movie, "Titanic" as a horror flick), and finally, while I'm at it, here's a link to iFilm, which is a good source for this sort of thing, if you can ever find anything; you more or less have to know what you're looking for, or else hope you stumble across interesting things, but man, do they ever have a lot of video!


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