or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Light Goes On

I'm visiting my mother and stepfather for a week, and today, a lovely sunshiny autumn day right on the intersection of warm and cool, I was out walking the dog wearing the sandals I use when I couldn't be bothered to put on shoes. Naturally, since they live more or less in the middle of nowhere (half an hour outside Penetanguishene, Ontario) on an unpaved road, some grit ended up under the sole of my foot, and as I kicked it loose I said to the dog (who, unshod, didn't care), "I got some sand in my sandal. That's why they call them sandals, of course."

And then I realized that I did not in fact know why they called them sandals. It might have something to do with sand, mightn't it? That's plausible enough. And where did sand get its name, anyway? And what about sandalwood? Was it used to make sandals (or at least their soles) once? (That's also pretty plausible.)

"Sand" itself we got from the Germanic and Nordic languages (not, obviously, French, since their word for sand is "sable", which, amazingly, is not related to English "sable", the fur--that's from Germanic, too, originally). It is extremely old in our language, one of the earliest words, as so many monosyllabic nouns of everyday importance are.

"Sandal", on the other hand, is unrelated; it's from Latin and Greek, "sandalium" and "sandalion" respectively. Before that, nobody knows: it could be Persian.

"Sandalwood", marvellously, is unrelated to both "sandal" and "sand". It instead is intimately related to--and I hardly believed this when I first read it--"candle", from Sanskrit "candana-m", cousin to Latin "candere", "to glow, to shine", whence comes "incandescent" and "candelabra", among others. The sandalwood tree is so called because its wood is use to make incense, which glows when you light it.


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