Daily Archives: November 27, 2008

album

This word, which was quite current 30 years ago, now sounds almost quaint to many people, yet it hasn’t lost its usability. Many a person, of course, will fondly recall youthful listening experiences – with their fathers saying “Al, you bum, put away that Beatles record and get studying!” Other people will think more happily of scrapbooking. Certainly the common collocations are all one or the other: photo, wedding; record, cover, White. Ah, the White Album – not its official name, of course (which is The Beatles, and nothing more), but the name it’s known by. It illustrates this word more perfectly than most, because it’s white. You see, there’s a reason album and albumen look similar: they’re family – them and Dumbledore too: the source is Latin albus, white (Dumbledore’s first name, of course). Albumen is egg white, so that one’s easy. An album – just a neuter version of albus – was first of all a blank (i.e., white) tablet on which public notices were written. From that the word came to be used for such things as autograph books and guest books, and from that scrapbooks. All of these had the book format in common (fortuitously hinted at by the book-spine-like gusset between the l and the b in the word), and so when records were brought out in similar presentations, they, too, were albums (at least since 1957). And now, of course, since nearly all CDs are presented in folding presentations, they also can be albums – though the reference has transferred to the medium itself for some people, leading them to mock one who refers to a CD as an album. But I say the mockers are all bums.