Saturday, March 22, 2003


THE entry of the UN’s Inspector Blix in the theatre of war has coined a new trend-word: blixkrieg. The original word that inspired this one is blitzkrieg, a word that comes from the German language. Literally, blitzkrieg means ‘lightning war’ and was used to refer to the massive surprise attacks by ground and air forces on Poland and many other European countries, 1939 onwards. The shortened version, blitz, was used for the intensive bombing of London between July and December 1940. Blitz is also used humorously for a brief period of any intensely concentrated effort, at work or play.

Abbe, a French word, has a history that goes back to sixteenth-century England. Etymologically, abbe and abbot both come from the Latin abbatem but in French it could be any man of the cloth, who is a Roman Catholic. English uses it specifically, for a French priest. The whole family of words like abbey, abbess and abbacy comes, via Latin and Greek, from the Aramaric abba, meaning father. The English Biblical writers to denote God the Father have used Abba itself.

Describing people
March 1, 2003
A living language
February 15, 2003
The New Year - III
February 1, 2003
The New Year - II
January 18, 2003
The New Year
January 4, 2003
Lively lives
December 21, 2002
Fashion statements
December 7, 2002
Spreading wings
November 23, 2002
Borrowed words
November 9, 2002
Multiple facts
October 26, 2002

In French, charge de affaires literally means someone who has been charged with affairs, that is given the job of looking after matters. French being the traditional international language of diplomacy, in the 1760s charge de affaires was adopted by English to refer to an ambassador’s deputy. Today, it is applied to two distinct types of diplomatic official: one, someone in temporary charge of a diplomatic mission; and two, someone in charge of a diplomatic mission too small in size to warrant an ambassador.

Someone who attends a committee meeting or conference and is delegated to give a report on its proceedings to another body is a rapporteur. This French word is a derivative of the verb rapporter that means ‘give a report on’.

The mistress of a castle is known as chatelaine in French, the word being the female form of chatelain, ‘keeper or governor of the castle’. Chatelaine also refers to a chain worn suspended from the waist by women in earlier times, for holding keys, a purse or a kerchief. In the nineteenth century, English adapted it into ‘the mistress of a household, particularly a grand one’.


The easy and smooth diffusion that takes place among all the languages of the world is always a development to marvel at. Where languages are concerned, no borders or boundaries exist. There is no area that can be called a no-man’s land, neither are there any ideas of possession to hamper the free flow of words. If we were to take just a page out of the rulebook of languages, inspector Blix would be superfluous in our world! The easy cohesion among languages can be clearly seen in a word like afeem. It reached all languages from the source word, the Greek opion. Opion was derived from the Greek opas, which referred to the juice of a plant. It was adopted by Latin as opium, from where it went on to the European languages like English, French and German. The Arabian countries adopted it from Greek and made it afyun where it later acquired the derivatives aphin and afen. Sanskrit picked it up from here, making it afen and ahifen. In Hindi it became afeem, in Marathi apheem or afu and afim in Nepali. In Chinese it exists as a-foo-yung.

This feature was published on March 15, 2003