or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Not To The Swift

Here's the first paragraph from Anthony Lane's latest movie review in The New Yorker:

Where would movies be without expatriation? Nothing tests a hero like transplanting him to foreign soil, and there is no guarantee that he will become any more heroic when ripped from the reassurance of home turf. Two new movies, “In Bruges” and “The Band’s Visit,” so perplex their deracinated characters that what we end up with feels less like a narrative and more like a foundation course in floundering.

When you see the word "deracinated", is your first thought, as mine invariably is, that the root of the word is "race"? That it means "having one's racial identity obliterated"? That thought usually lasts about a second, before I remember that "deracinate" instead means literally "to uproot", and slightly more metaphorically means "to alienate from one's usual surroundings or culture".

This is all atangle with some other words: the French word for "root beer" is "racinette", from "racine", "root", derived from "radicina", the Latin diminutive for "radix", which means of course "root". These Latin words in turn gave English such words as "radical" and "radish".

But hang on a minute. Isn't it entirely possible--probable, actually--that the "race" of "deracinate", meaning "root", is in fact the same "race" as in "human race" or the various races of humanity, since those things are where we're rooted historically and biologically? As if when you're deracinated you're plucked from among your race and plunked down among another where you feel like an alien?

You'd think so. I certainly did. But no. The OED traces it back to Italian "razza" (with the same meaning) and then declares the trail cold and dead. I can't believe they're so sure about this, but they know more than I do, so I suppose I have to trust them.

The race that you run, as you can well imagine, is unrelated; it's from Old Norse "rasa", "to rush".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

They don't know more than you do, they just have an interest in maintaining the scholarly status quo, in part due to political pressure. Scholars are one of the most intransigent breeds in existence. They'd rather cleave to "razza", the proximate origin, for all time than consider the perfectly obvious correspondence of Latin -d- and the sound value of -z- in italian ("dz"). In my opinion, though, French "racine" is the likelier candidate -- the word "race" developed around the time books were first printed in Europe, so relying on occurrences in the earliest books is misleading; if we could go back in time and listen to some French gossip about their nobility, we would probably hear them speaking of their "beaux racines", which would, in the French way, eventually be clipped to "race" ("rass-uh"). And there you have it: your roots are your race.

Sunday, July 26, 2009 1:46:00 AM  

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