|Saturday, February 9, 2002||
THE word alphabet comes from the ancient Greek letters alpha and beta, which in turn are derived from aleph and beth, the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Initially, each letter of the alphabet started life as a picture or drawing. Now, why is A the first letter of the alphabet? For understanding this, a peep into the past becomes necessary. The English alphabet began life in ancient Phoenicia about three thousand years ago. The letter A was called aleph and meant ox. It was represented like a V, with a slanted bar across it, seemingly for the horns of the ox; the Greeks later turned it upside down, which is how we know it today. The ox served the ancient Phoenicians for food and work, shoes and clothing. A herd of cattle meant wealth for them. This could have been the reason that the ox (aleph), A, stands as the first letter.
The alphabet B
originally looked like the primitive, two-chambered house with one
room for men and another for women. Beth meant a tent or house,
addressing man’s next pressing need: shelter. Beth is
preserved in Bethlehem, which means the house of food.
From Old French, Middle English borrowed ancestre, which in turn is derived from the Late Latin antecessor ( from antee, before, and cedo, go — literally, ‘one who goes before or in front’). Thus our ancestors are those who went before us, while a predecessor is one who goes away before you come along. It comes from prae, before, and decedo, go away.
Today’s chauffer had very little to do with driving, if we look at the origin of the word. Chauffer goes back to the Latin calificare, to make hot. Around the year 1900, in the first days of the steam-driven automobile, the French gave the bantering name of chauffer or stoker to the professional who made it go. The old French form chaufer went into English as chaufen, to warm. This gave two new words, chafe, to make warm by rubbing, and chafing-dish, a dish to keep food warm, which can be seen at most gatherings.
The next time you check your budget, think of a French merchant of the Middle Ages dipping into his leather pouch and counting his cash! These people carried their money around in a bougette, little bag, a word that came from the Latin bulga, a leather bag. When a storekeeper made his budget, he opened his bag to count his cash; the whole process came to be called bougette.
Often words, which are derivatives,
deviate from their original base in respect of meaning. For instance,
the Hindi dhan means wealth but dhanya means blessed.
Similarly, mukh is face, and mukhiya, chief.