Tag Archives: speculoos

scopulous

There’s a link between rocks, looking, and Dutch cookies. I expect you’ll be skeptical, but it’s not just speculation: the path from one to another is scopulous, but the view in the end is spectacular.

Let’s start with the cookies. You may know speculaas; they are those spicy brown cinnamon ginger cookies, also called “windmill cookies,” that are typically shaped like animals or edifices, especially windmills. The Belgian version are called speculoos, and so are the crumbs made from them that are used for various purposes, sort of like delicious food gravel.

There are arguments about exactly why the cookies are named speculaas, but it is known that the spec is the same as in Latin speculum and speculator, which trace farther back to specula, Latin for ‘watchtower’ or ‘lookout’, which comes from the same root as scopulus, ‘crag’ or ‘rock’. Which is the origin of scopulous, meaning ‘rocky’. Promontories and crags are rocky, you see. It’s true that a pebble in your shoe can impede you from getting to the point of one, but if you can scamper up the escarpment you will find that much larger rocks can give much bolder outlooks. One way or another, it’s scopulous all the way.

Is it mere coincidence, or perhaps merging, that brings the spec of looking and the scop also of looking together with this scop as in rock? Nope, it really is that the rock, the headland, gets its name from the eyes in the head, or anyway from what they’re doing. The Latin scopulus came from Greek σκόπελος skopelos, ‘watchtower’ or ‘rock’ or ‘promontory’ or ‘crag’, which most likely came from σκοπέω skopeo, ‘I look’, ‘I contemplate’, ‘I consider’. It comes from the Indo-European *sḱep- root, which is a metathesis of the *speḱ- root. Apparently neither the Proto-Indo-Europeans nor the Ancient Greeks could mind their p’s and k’s. Anyway, an amazing number of words in many languages, including quite a few in English, trace back to these roots, all coming by one path or another from looking: spectrum, spectacle, species, specimen, expect, skeptic, scopophilia, telescope, and so many others.

And if you follow the crumbs to climb the scopulous path to the spectacular promontory from which you can trace your trail back with a telescope, do you get a cookie? I expect you may, if you bring one, but you’ll have to look out for yourself.