Category Archives: word tasting notes

focal

It’s all a matter of how you see it. In what context you see it. From what distance. And how much it contrasts with what’s around it.

This is the word of my life: focal. More than almost any other word.

No, wait. These are the words of my life: focal and focal.

Focal, in English (and French and Spanish and Portuguese), means ‘of or relating to focus’. It comes from Latin focalis.

Focal, in Irish, means ‘word’. Is é focal an focal i gcóir focail. (‘Word is the word for a word.’) It looks like it could come from Latin vocalis (source of English vocal), but it doesn’t – although it is distantly related. It comes from a Proto-Celtic word that traces back to a Proto-Indo-European root for ‘voice’, wṓkʷs. Along with the Latin vox set, that root also led to the Irish word fuaim, ‘sound, noise’, and to many words in many other Indo-European languages, such as German erwähnen ‘mention’ and Dutch gewagen ‘report’. Continue reading

Dublin

Dublin. Dubh linn.

Dubh, say it to rhyme with “groove,” means ‘dark’ or ‘black’.

Linn, almost rhymes with “sing” but is really like a slice out of “well in your soul,” means ‘pool’.

Linn, said no differently, also means ‘a span of time’. Also means ‘with us’. And so can mean ‘belonging to us’. Continue reading

Cork

A cork is an important thing. You don’t taste the cork itself – you don’t want to taste it! – but it keeps what’s in the bottle fresh. You have to get past the stopper and taste what you can pour out.

The word cork, once you open up the etymology, comes from Latin cortex, meaning ‘bark’, a tree’s interface with the outer world, because corks are made from the bark of the cork oak. Cortex is also the word for the skin of your brain, its involuted outer layer, the part that is so important in consciousness and memory, your awareness of your interfaces with the outer world.

Cork, the city in Ireland, is not named after cork bark. Its Irish name is Corcaigh – pronounced like “corky” in most of Ireland but a bit closer to “corkage” in Cork’s own region. It means ‘swamp’ or ‘marsh’ – well, it’s the dative form, so it means ‘to the swamp’. Which sounds like an instruction to go find a wet place. Continue reading

Killarney

Sometimes memory and experience sanctify small details, even the dark and spiky ones. A little thing can make a big difference, and a gap may be a high point.

After we left Dingle in the late afternoon, we headed to Killarney for our overnight stay. A friend of mine had assured me that if I had time to kill or just wanted to take it slow, Killarney would be the place. Continue reading

Moher

When people come to Ireland, they see the towns, of course. Dublin, naturally. Galway or Cork, perhaps. A few others. But many people want to see more. In particular, they want to see Moher.

What is Moher? The mother of all cliffs – all Irish cliffs, anyway. The western edge of the emerald isle, breaking off and tumbling into the sea. Up top it may be coated with a mossy mohair of grass that has moo-ers for mowers, but the drop-off gets to 214 metres (702 feet), straight into the waters of the Atlantic. And of course someone (named O’Brien) built a stone tower on top of the highest point just to get a better view. Or to impress people. Continue reading

Galway

I’ve just gotten back from a week in Ireland with Aina, in case you were wondering where I’d gotten to. We saw a lot of the country and I took a lot of pictures. And the first county and city we unpacked our bags in was Galway. Continue reading

simulacrum

The very appearance of this word gives the impression of erudition. It may have an almost-complete lack at its heart, braced between mu (either Zen emptiness or Greek microscopy) and um (hesitation, inchoate incoherence), but it opens with si, an eternal ‘yes’ or an eternal ‘if’ or both. And it presents itself as Latin, a dead language that is the badge of a live intellect… or an undead one, anyway. Continue reading