BLACK AND WHITE



Are you sitting comfortably?
Good. Then let’s begin:
Black meanders all the way
back to the proto-Indo-European
when blac meant colourless, pale, wan,
albino even,
thus into the Romance tongues as:
Blanc, Blanco, Bianca, Bianco, Bianchi,
Blanche – and lest you draw a blank
in Old English blac was fair of hair and skin
(Ælfred the Unready in his “Bæda”
says of someone they “hæfde blæc feax” –
they “have blonde hair”), but contrariwise
is black, and dark, and ink,
from Proto-Germanic *blakkaz
meaning “burnt”, from Proto-Indo-European 
*bhleg – to burn, to flash, to gleam
from base *bhel- “to shine” – hence
the Celtic sun god Belenos, and Bel in Babylonian
is “Lord” (Baal, Beelzebub) and Belarus
is White Russia, and Belle and Bella
mean “Beautiful”: Belladonna.
In Chaucer’s Middle English we find blaec
surviving as Bleak, and Bleach, and Blanch
Are you still with me? Keep up. In the reigns
of James and Elizabeth, blac, blake, bleaken,
blacken – to bleach out, make white
comes to mean besmirch, and blac
becomes the colour of colourless night
and things at their darkest look pretty bleak,
but my advice is not to bet on Chess or Backgammon

and try to avoid being run over on zebra crossings.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

THE DEATH OF MARION DU FRESNE AT THE BAY OF ISLANDS, NEW ZEALAND, 12 JUNE 1772, BY CHARLES MÉRYON (1846-1848)

WHY PETER GILDERDALE CAN GET STUFFED

THE SHOREDITCH EMPIRE 1920