Thursday, February 16, 2012

Off to See the Archipelago

I’m reliably informed—having to be because I’m but a tourist in the Greek language—first that archon means “chief” and pelagos means “sea,” hence archipelago is The Chief Sea. But, second, I learned that the ancient Greeks didn’t call it that. They called the Aegean Aigaion pelagos.  Ernest Klein, who wrote an authoritative etymology of the English Language, but titled Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, noticed that archipelago comes into English by way of Italian—and reasoned, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary (‘tis a forest of big words, this thicket), that archipelago is a “mistake.” Some careless mediaeval copyist saw Aigaion, couldn’t quite make it out, and reasonably concluded he was reading archon. Silver linings everywhere. Such mistakes make for the bemusement of old men who, instead of blogging while the wife is packing, should be loading that vehicle for departure to the Florida Keys—also now labeled an archipelago. Huh? Yes. Because the Aegean Sea, you see, if filled with little islands. And therefore every sea filled with little islands is now an archipelago. In language, as in all things, the survivors do the naming.

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