Daily Archives: September 29, 2010


Silo: it signifies something high or something low, but almost inevitably a cylinder – there’s that clean, cool /s/ and /l/ again, silo, cylinder, silver perhaps? Well, occasionally in colour, but just as likely white, and cool concrete, sticking up above the surroundings l or a hole in the ground o.

What word this word usually comes with will depend on where you’re from. Where I grew up, grain silo was most likely: a place where one stores green feed grains, which are preserved by pressure (but be wary of the silage gas). Other places will more often have missile silo, a presence preserved by pressure of international enmity; for me, that goes against the grain. But either way, concrete silo is also common. (And then there are the silos that are less concrete: the different and non-intercommunicating parts a business may find itself devolving into.)

Ah, these silent silos, in which or from which one may seek asylum… whence get they their word? From Spanish. We have, of course, changed the pronunciation of the first vowel since we first borrowed this word in the 1800s. But the word had been changed before that anyway. It may have come from Latin sirum (accusative form of which the nominative is sirus… seriously!), which in turn came from Greek sirós, which meant “pit to keep corn in”. Or it may have come from a pre-Roman language of the area; there’s a cognate in Basque, zilo, which means “storage cave for grain”.

Ah, these duelling etymologies – in which silo shall we pile it? With a low sigh, sileo… that’s Latin for “I am silent”.