Hmm, does this wood need another lork? No, that’s supposed to be an r, not an o: schorl. But the influence of school may make you want to say the sch as “sk”. This is, however, a word derived from German, not from Dutch, Italian, Latin, or Greek, so the sch is “sh”. That makes it a little less like the last sound you hear as water finishes emptying down a drain. But still, it sure’ll give you a taste of whorl, won’t it? But also an impression of a crush of rock, perhaps – less like coral and more like something you’ll find on a shore.

There used to be a town named Schorl, near the German-Czech border (with a pond, too). The town’s still there, but the name has improved a bit: now it’s Zschorlau – pretty much the same, but prettier. So what is it that made this town eponymous? Something they found in a tin mine: tourmaline.

Well, they didn’t know it was tourmaline. Actually, tourmaline hadn’t been “discovered” yet in medieval Germany. The name tourmaline – note that it, too, has those curly liquid sounds, ironic for a mineral crystal – comes from Sinhala, and names pretty rocks found in Sri Lanka. Who knew that the shiny black rock crystals (very geometric-looking, pretty in their chthonic, gothic way) found in Schorl’s mine were the same thing, generally – crystal silicate compounded with various other elements? The Sri Lankan stuff is just prettier. Well, eventually someone figured it out. Which would be sort of like figuring out that gold and iron were the same thing, because natural deposits of schorl make up about 95% of all natural tourmaline deposits. That sure’ll give you a new perspective! (So will the collocation schorl-schist. Be careful where you say that!)

Speaking of new perspectives, consider the different ways you can say this word, depending on where you’re from. The Oxford pronunciation guide just gives an extended vowel before the /l/; the /r/ is elided. Anyone who trills the /r/ will give quite a different, vibrating result. And for those of us who speak with retroflex /r/s, it has that swallowed sound and gives a bit of extra tongue exercise – say “Are you really sure it’s rural schorl?” a few times and see how you like it. Ah, all those realizations with the same basic material. English rocks!

One response to “schorl

  1. Pingback: schrol | Sesquiotica

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