Is it mere rumour that our murmured memories seem more real when immured in the armor of a marmoreal memorial? Are words engraved on a stone, or forms resembled in marble, the Ozymandian azimuth of immortality, or are they just marmalade or Marmite on the toast of eternity?

And do big questions call for big words? Or for hard words? Marmoreal is a fairly large word, but a soft one, two lip-pillows of nasals and three smooth liquids, like the water of the stream of time that wears down even the rocks. A smaller and harder word that means the same (when an adjective) is marble. It has a nasal and two liquids, but you can hear the stop of the /b/ in between the liquids, and it converts them from the murmur of winds and waters to the rumble of boulders and smaller rocks as they tumble from crumbling temples.

How do we come to have these two words? We can blame the French. The original Latin word for “marble” is marmor, from Greek μάρμαρος marmaros. Our word marmoreal is formed directly from the Latin, as we often do it. But marmor became marbre in French, the nasal gaining audibility by hardening to a stop, and in English we made our lives a bit easier again by holding down the tongue tip to an /l/ to stop the rolling /r/.

So we have a word reminiscent of Montreal, which in English has a stop in the middle but in French is much like most of marmoreal. And Mount Royal, with its monuments and its cemeteries and oratory with all their marble, the timeless handcrafts that aim to frame humanity in eternity… is not more eternal than any remote mountain range with its arboreal roamers and its marmots ambling.

Our efforts last, but they did not come first and they will not stay last. Even our immortal words are changed – by nature, because we are part of nature. And so are the stones we move around to mark our moments. We may take it for granite, but even our marmoreal monuments are not more real than memories, for it is only memory that gives them meaning.

One response to “marmoreal

  1. Talking of memory, don’t forget Miss Marmelstein (=marble) from “I can get it for you wholesale”.

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