Tools: part one


To Ergaleio: sign on a shop in Athens says “The Tool” written out in Greek with tools.


Many, many hand axes have been found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.


Such axes were made by Homo Erectus, the first tool making creature.


These people loved making handaxes. They made them for practical use, yes, but also for the sheer creative joy of it. They made hand axes that were far too large for normal use, just because they liked the form. At least that’s what it looks like from this distance. They made Acheulian hand axes in all sizes and varieties. These were the first tools that are recognizable as such.


This is a hand axe that was found near Gray’s Inn Road, London. It is 350,000 years old.


John Frere (10 August 1740 – 12 July 1807) was an English antiquary and a pioneering discoverer of paleolithic tools in association with large extinct animals such as elephants.

John Frere

He used the Gray’s Inn hand axe and one he found in Hoxne, Suffolk, to illustrate the antiquity of human culture at a time when many people thought the world was 6,000 years old. Actually, many people still do think that the world is 6,000 years old and they carry around misspelled signs to insist upon their belief.


Hand axes were made from flint or any other stone that would take a sharp edge. Flakes were hammered off using another stone, and the flakes themselves were used to make smaller tools such as scrapers and knives.


This is called flint knapping or pressure flaking and it is a technique that can make a tool of great precision and beauty.


About 25,000 years ago, people learned how to control the shape of the flake from the parent block so that long, narrow blades could be made into knives, chisels and gravers.


Maybe those two feet long Acheulian hand axes were made simply as the source for these flake blades.


Bone and antler tools were shaped by abrasion and cutting.


They could be polished with sandstone, so there is ample evidence of several step manufacture here that required planning ahead.

stone lamp

A soft stone could be hollowed out


and a lamp made using animal fat and a wick of twisted vegetable matter.


This is a wooden sickle (Thebes, 1300 BCE) with a flint blade in the shape of a cattle jawbone. Perhaps jawbones were originally used to harvest cereal crops.


The silica in the strong stems of the crop often wore down the flints, leaving behind a deposit or gloss.


A tool kit from 14,000 years ago could contain a sickle for harvesting wild wheat or barley, a cluster of flint spearheads, a flint core for making more spearheads, some smooth stones (maybe slingshots), a large stone for striking flint pieces off the flint core, a cluster of gazelle toe bones which were used to make beads. Leaves and herbs were often carried as medicine.


Remember Ötzi who was found in the ice in Italy near Bolzano?


He is a well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived about 5,000 years ago. The mummy was found in September 1991 in the Ötztal Alps (hence Ötzi) near the Similaun mountain and Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy. He is Europe’s oldest natural human mummy, and has offered an unprecedented view of Chalcolithic Europeans. His body and belongings are displayed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy.


Seventy objects found with Ötzi. They include a cape of woven grass; a bearskin cap; a goat-hide coat; leather leggings and loincloth; shoes with bearskin soles and deerskin uppers, filled with grass; an unfinished longbow, and a deerskin quiver containing 14 arrows (only two of which were finished); a backpack frame of hazel and larchwood; a copper axe with a wooden haft and leather bindings; a dagger with a flint blade and an ashwood shaft in a woven grass sheath; and some containers of sewn birchbark.


The axe’s haft is 60 centimeters (24 in) long and made from carefully worked yew with a right-angled crook at the shoulder, leading to the blade.


The 9.5 centimetres (3.7 in) long axe head (blade) is made of almost pure copper, produced by a combination of casting, cold forging, polishing, and sharpening. It was let into the forked end of the crook and fixed there using birch tar and tight leather lashing. The blade part of the head extends out of the lashing and shows clear signs of having been used to chop and cut. At the time, such an axe would have been a valuable possession, important both as a tool and as a status symbol for the bearer.

otzi knife

Ötzi’s knife measured 5.2 in in total length. The handle was made of ash, the blade was flint and the sheath of woven lime wood bast. A string was attached to the back of the knife.


Ötzi also had a tool designed for flint knapping, also called a retoucher, because one could pressure flake the knife blade or the projectile points with it, and so sharpen them.

Oetzi's pressure flaker 010

It consisted of a piece of lime tree branch, which was pointed on one side. On the pointed side a hole was drilled, into which a bone plug (stag antler) was inserted with which the knapping was done.


A quiver of arrows was also discovered alongside Ötzi. It was made of leather, and held 14 arrows made of viburnum sapwood. Two of the arrows were completed. They had flint tips, held with birch tar and bindings. The other 12 arrows were unfinished. In the quiver several pieces of antler were also discovered.

Ötzi was also carrying an unfinished yew bow. The stave was 72 inches long.


Ötzi also carried two birch bark containers possibly used to carry some other items. They were about 5.9 in to 6.0 inches in diameter and about 7.8 inches in height. They were stitched together using tree fiber. Tests have shown that one of them contained maple leaves as well as spruce needles and charcoal, probably an ember for fire making. The leaves were most likely medicinal.


He had a long belt with a pouch on the side. In the pouch he had several flakes of flint, a 2.8 in long bone awl, and a small drill. The majority of the pouch was filled with tinder fungus. Some traces of iron pyrites were also found, indicating that he was perhaps using a flint and steel method of fire lighting. We will leave Ötzi for now, but I plan to see him when I next pass through Bolzano.


This is a metate, also referred to as a “piedra de moler” (grinding stone), this tool is related in lineage to the molcajete, and was used by the Mayans and Aztecs.

comal y metate

The metate is used to grind corn and for mashing ingredients to make salsas, purees, and chocolate. La mano is the cylindrical part that you hold in your hands.


There is an idiom in Mexican Spanish, Echar comal y metatewhich literally could mean “throw the tortilla oven and the corngrinder,” but it really means what we mean when we say “chew the fat.” It means chismear which is to gossip. It would be natural to do a lot of talking while grinding and baking.


A quern is a hand-mill for grinding corn or other grains. The simplest kind consists of a large stone with a cavity in the upper surface to contain the corn which is then pounded, rather than ground, by a smaller stone.


The more usual form of quern consists of two circular flat stones, the upper one pierced in the centre, and revolving on a wooden pin inserted in the lower. A handle is attached to the outer edge and used to turn the stone while corn is dropped into the central opening.


Millstones come in pairs. The base or bedstone is stationary. Above the bedstone is the turning runner stone which actually does the grinding.


The runner stone spins above the stationary bedstone creating the “scissoring” or grinding action of the stones.


A runner stone is generally slightly concave, while the bedstone is slightly convex. This helps to channel the ground flour to the outer edges of the stones where it can be gathered up.


The runner stone is supported by a cross-shaped metal piece (rind or rynd) fixed to a “mace head” topping the main shaft or spindle leading to the driving mechanism of the mill which can be powered by wind, water, animal, man.


The Greeks invented the two main components of watermills, the waterwheel and toothed gearing, and were the first to operate undershot, overshot and breastshot waterwheel mills.



Undershot water wheel developed for watermilling since the 1st century BCE.

mill overshot


Overshot water wheel used for watermilling also since the 1st century BCE.



Breastshot water wheel used for watermilling since the 3rd century CE.



The first water-driven wheel is probably the Perachora wheel (3rd c. BCE), in Greece.


The earliest written reference is in the technical treatises Pneumatica and Parasceuastica of the Greek engineer Philo of Byzantium(ca. 280?220 BC).


Those portions of Philo of Byzantium’s mechanical treatise which describe water wheels and which have been previously regarded as later Arabic interpolations, actually date back to the Greek 3rd century BCE original.



The sakia gear is, already fully developed, for the first time attested in a 2nd century BCE Hellenistic wall painting in Ptolemaic Egypt.


People needed to clear the land for crops, so you would think that the earliest dwellings would be made of timber.

making sun baked mud bricks-rs

In Mesopotamia, however, the earliest building material was sun-dried brick bricks which before 5,000 BCE were molded by hand and looked like stones or even loaves of bread.


Brick molds were made very early.

20120215-brick making

Mud in almost liquid form was packed down into the molds which were then removed so that the new brick could sit in the hot sun to dry.


Brick molds were used at least as far back as 6,000 BCE in Anatolia (Turkey).


And now I must describe how the soil dug out to make the moat was used, and the method of building the wall. While the digging was going on, the earth that was shoveled out was formed into bricks, which were baked in kilns as soon as sufficient number were made; then using hot bitumen for mortar, the workmen began at revetting the brick each side of the moat, and then went on to erect the actual wall. In both cases they laid rush-mats between every thirty courses of bricks. – Herodotus, i. 179 (of Babylon). The method of making bricks used to take days, but thanks to companies that supply cement brick machine, what used to take days now takes just a few hours.

clay floor

The floor of the dwelling was made of a carefully laid layer of clay and it was soon discovered that clay could be hardened by firing which ushered in the age of pottery.


The earliest cooking vessels were probably made of wood or a hollowed out stone or gourds or shells.


Right up into the 19th century, native Americans like the Miwoks of the San Francisco bay area boiled water in tightly woven baskets for the processing of acorns.


The earliest pottery we know already shows advanced techniques such as the addition of sand or crushed rock to prevent shrinkage during drying and also to prevent breakage.


Potters seldom used just one clay mixture and they paid a great deal of attention, of course, to the properties of the finished product.


People had burnished the walls and floors of their brick and clay houses and they likewise burnished their pottery by rubbing it with a stone.


In the beginning, a base of the pot was molded over a shape of a hemisphere, perhaps the bottom of an old pot, and then rings of clay were added.


The first potter was the sumerian-babylonian Aruru the great, the almighty gentle mother god of the earth and birth, who created humanity from clay. She molded mankind out of clay using a god as pattern and breathed life into him with her divine exhalation. In Sumerian mythology, Aruru (also known as Ninmah, Nintu, Ninhursaga, Belet- ili or Mami) was the almighty mother goddess of the earth and birth.

She created the first man out of clay (adamah = the female soil). She confected seven mother-vessels for women and seven for men. « The shapes of humanity are formed by Aruru » as say the Assyrians.


This is the Sumer tree of life (qaballah). In Sumerian and Babylonian mythology, Adamu was the first man.



The gods tricked Adamu and his descendants out of immortality – not wanting man to be immortal like the gods – by telling him that the magic food of eternal life was poisonous to him, and as such Adamu didn’t eat it and so didn’t become immortal.


The word “ceramics” comes from the Greek keramikos (?????????), meaning “pottery”, which in turn comes from keramos (???????), meaning “potter’s clay.” This is the Ishtar gate which is made of glazed ceramics.


The Ishtar gate is now at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

Ceramic potter's wheel

The potter’s wheel was probably invented in Mesopotamia by the 4th millennium BCE.


The oldest pottery vessels come from East Asia, with finds in China and Japan, then still united by a land bridge, from between 20,000 and 10,000 BCE, although the vessels were simple utilitarian objects. This pottery fragment is from a layer dating approximately 20,000 years old in the Xianrendong cave in south China’s Jiangxi province.


For thousands of years, small ceramic lamps were used to illuminate homes and temples. Hundreds of these lamps have been excavated, most of which are no more than a simple saucer-like vessel. Earlier lamps were wheel-thrown, while later lamps were formed from clay rolled into a sheet and pressed into a mold. Wicks were generally made of flax or hemp and were draped over the edge of the lamp. Olive oil was the preferred fuel, but other vegetable, nut and animal oils were also used.


Corinthian and Attic ware was superior to anything being produced in the west at this time and there are several reasons for this.


The potter’s wheel was no longer low and close to the ground. Now it was a large flywheel raised about a foot and a half and was turned by an assistant seated opposite the potter.


Once the object had been shaped and dried it was put back on the wheel, smoothed and shaved to give it a very fine surface.


The red and black were made by a sophisticated process that involved a very fine clay material and an elaborate sequence of firing.


The clay slip that was used for the black was clay, water and an alkali (probably leach from wood ash). This mixture was allowed to stand so that the crude parts sank to the bottom and only the fine particles were suspended and they were poured off and the water evaporated out. This was then used to paint on the pot or plate.


The object was then put in the kiln and fired to around 1000 degrees centigrade when the openings in the furnace were closed which blackened the entire surface of the pot.


When the kiln had cooled down to 800 degrees or so, the apertures were reopened. The areas that had been painted with the slip stayed black but the unpainted parts slowly lost the black and turned red.


This is all easy to say and very difficult to do. There was a lot of trial and error, and only in recent years have potters been able to duplicate this process.


Pottery was produced in enormous quantities in ancient Rome, mostly for utilitarian purposes. It is found all over the former Roman empire and beyond. Monte Testaccio, a huge waste mound in Rome, was made almost entirely of broken amphorae used for transporting and storing liquids and other products, mostly Spanish olive oil, which was landed nearby and used as the main fuel for lamps, as well as for use in the kitchen and washing in the baths.


The major class of fine Roman pottery is the red-gloss ware often made in Italy and Gaul and widely traded, from the 1st century BCE to the late 2nd century CE, and traditionally known as terra sigillata.


Sigilla is Latin for the little figures that are, for example, in a cameo ring. There was actually a holiday called Sigillaria where people in Rome exchanged these little figures.


Sigilla is the origin of our word “seal,” probably because of the similarity between a cameo ring and a seal ring. The word sigilla is a Latin plural, but the singular sigillum was never used.


This terra sigillata bowl was made in Valladolid, Spain.


The usual way of making relief decoration on the surface of an open terra sigillata vessel was to throw a pottery bowl whose interior profile corresponded with the desired form of the final vessel’s exterior.


The internal surface was then decorated using individual positive stamps (poinçons), usually themselves made of fired clay, or small wheels bearing repeated motifs, such as the ovolo (egg-and-tongue) design that often formed the upper border of the decoration.


Sometimes the maker used a stylus to add details and embellish the work.


When the decoration was complete in intaglio on the interior, the mould was dried and fired in the usual way, and was subsequently used for shaping bowls. As the bowl dried, it shrank sufficiently to remove it from the mould, after which the finishing processes were carried out, such as the shaping or addition of a foot-ring and the finishing of the rim.


The details varied according to the form. The completed bowl could then be slipped, dried again, and fired.


Jugs and jars, were seldom decorated in relief using moulds, though some vessels of this type were made at La Graufesenque by making the upper and lower parts of the vessel separately in moulds and joining them at the point of widest diameter.


Relief-decoration of tall vases or jars was usually achieved by using moulded appliqué motifs (sprigs) and/or barbotine decoration (slip-trailing).


The latter technique was particularly popular at the East Gaulish workshops of Rheinzabern, and was also widely used on other pottery types.


By about 5,000 BCE there were farming villages throughout the Tigris-Euphrates valley, the Levant, Anatolia, mainland Greece and on, perhaps, a few islands in the eastern Mediterranean.


A little after 5,000 BCE in this same area, there came a whole set of technological advances that were to influence the whole life of humankind. People in these early farming communities decorated the walls of their homes. They decorated their tools. They decorated themselves too. There was a sense of liveliness and even of merriment in the culture.

SS46 limonite

The search was on for colors. Yellow ochre or limonite and red ochre or hematite are ores of iron.


Ores of copper are malachite, the green mineral, and the blue mineral, azurite.


Copper occurs as a metal in ore deposits and it was easy to find the green pigment which was used as eye shadow.


Brightly colored minerals, the red and yellow ochres and the blue and green ores of copper were ground to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle and then using animal fat as a binding medium, people began to make rouge and mascara.


Perhaps the search for these colors is what first led people to find out about copper and iron about seven thousand years ago.

copper mirror

Copper was not like other “stones” that people knew. It couldn’t be chipped or flaked but it could be hammered into shape. Only a little bit of hammering, though, would make the copper brittle and it would break. It was soon found that heating the copper to where it was red hot would allow the metal to be hammered some more and then it could be heated again. This process is called annealing. Annealing is the process by which you heat steel to create different metals and can be one common process when it comes to commercial heat treating of different metals. These different metal-altering processes discovered some time ago, are still commonly used today in various industries. Stainless steal is a by-product of steal which is a great example. There are two methods to heat such a solid metal. But which is better and cost-effective? Is it tempering vs annealing? There are only two documented ways to heat such a material.


Copper the metal is rare in ore deposits and the ore deposits themselves are scarce, and could be found mainly in the mountains of eastern Turkey and Syria, in the Zagros mountains (western Iran), in Sinai, in the mountains of the Arabian desert east of the Nile and on Cyrprus whose very name means “copper.”


Copper occurs as native copper in these places and was known to some of the oldest civilizations on record. It has a history of use that is at least 10,000 years old, and estimates of its discovery place it at 9000 BCE.


A copper pendant was found in northern Iraq that dates to 8700 BC. There is evidence that gold and iron from meteors (but not from iron smelting) were the only metals used by humans before copper.


The history of copper metallurgy is thought to have followed the following sequence: 1) hammering and working of naturally occurring copper 2) annealing, 3) smelting, and 4) the lost wax method.


In southeastern Anatolia, all four of these metallurgical techniques appear more or less simultaneously at the beginning of the Neolithic c. 7500 BCE.


Agriculture was independently invented in several parts of the world (including Pakistan, China, and the Americas) and, similarly, copper smelting was invented locally also in several different places.


Smelting was probably discovered independently in China before 2800 BCE, in Central America perhaps around 600 CE, and in West Africa about the 9th or 10th century CE.


Investment casting was invented in 4500–4000 BCE in Southeast Asia. Carbon dating has established copper mining at Alderly Edge in Cheshire UK at 2280 to 1890 BC.


The Bronze Age (bronze is copper with a little bit of tin added) began in southeastern Europe around 3700–3300 BCE, in northwestern Europe about 2500 BCE.


Copper was the metal first used to make tools and weapons. (Remember Ötzi’s axe blade?) Pure copper is, however, soft and not ideally suited to the purpose. It was discovered that, by alloying copper with tin, a much more durable metal could be produced: bronze.


The Bronze Age ended with the beginning of the Iron Age, 2000–1000 BC in the Near East, 600 BC in Northern Europe. The transition between the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age was formerly termed the Chalcolithic period (copper-stone), with copper tools being used with stone tools, but the term has gradually fallen out of favor because in some parts of the world the Calcholithic and Neolithic have the same beginning and end.


Brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, is of much more recent origin. It was known to the Greeks, but became a significant supplement to bronze during the Roman Empire.


Pottery and glass will last through conditions that would soon destroy leather and wood, so we know far more about glass than we do about how leather was used, for example.


Around 2,000 BCE, Egyptian faïence, the oldest glazed soapstone ornaments, was beginning to be replaced by a completely “synthetic” material, glass.


White sand was mixed with natron, a naturally occurring form of sodium carbonate, and shaped and heated so that the whole mass was fused.


Blue glaze was applied to this synthetic core. The fusion of the quartz and soda with the admixture of a little lime to make the concoction stable is pretty much how we still make glass today.


The Mesopotamian makers didn’t even know that they needed to add lime to ensure a stable glass, because the lime was already there in the other raw materials.


The synthetic (glass) core (for taking the blue glaze) could be overheated and molten and many examples have survived where the heating ceased just before the core melted and became a shapeless form.


It is probable that the discovery of glass came from seeing the faïence and core (glass) melt into a blob too many times.


A little before 2,000 BCE, true glasses appeared in Mesopotamia, but the glassmakers weren’t sure at first just what they had.


Instead of molding the new material while it was hot, they treated glass at first as if it were a precious decorative stone and mostly cut and polished it while it was cold.


There were many experiments and we soon see a small amount of lead in the glazes on the faïence.


The effect of lead in a glaze or a glass is to give it a greater clarity and brilliance. Who was the first person to add lead to glass? We don’t know, but she may have been a potter since she would have been used to adding lead to her ceramics glazes. From about 1,500 BCE on, lead is not used as a metal (which is too soft for weapons and too, er, “ugly” for jewelry) but as an ingredient in glass, pottery and even bronzes. Lead is a medium. Only now, in the first decades of the 21st century are we finally ridding ourselves of this very useful but very poisonous material.


Lead, aside from adding brilliance, materially altered the cooling behavior of the glass. Glass without lead will shrink and crack as it cools, but the addition of a large quantity of lead will significantly decrease shrinkage, allowing the maker to, say, apply a glaze to an earthenware surface.


The Mesopotamians probably became fully aware of the benefits of lead a bit before 1,000 BCE. The Gate of Ishtar has that shining, glorious beauty because the ceramic tiles were glazed with lead.


In Egypt and Mesopotamia (which, always remember, is not a culture but a geographical place of many cultures) glassmaking became increasingly sophisticated.


Small glass bottles in both areas were made by dipping a friable core of sand and some organic adhesive into a crucible of molten glass and then the friable core was broken out.


Another way to make a small bottle began with that disposable core and then bits of broken glass and finely ground glass material covered the core. The whole was then inserted into the hot oven for fusion


In both methods the core was extracted at the end of the operation leaving a hollow glass bottle.


Copper ores gave a turquoise hue to the final product, and cobalt blue (another copper ore) gave a darker shade.


Iron ores, as we have seen, provided yellows and reds, and the addition of tinstone resulted in a white, opaque glass.

egypt meso map

Threads of differently colored glass could be roped in delicate patterns on the surface of the new object and, while still hot and plastic, could be rolled gently over the flat surface, making beautiful , fluid patterns that would last forever.

Sadigh Gallery Ancient Roman Glass

The glass unguent bottle was a familiar object in the wealthier homes of Mesopotamia and Egypt.


The small bottles had other uses. In Cyprus, people have found many small glass containers shaped like the dried head of an opium poppy.


Not just any opium poppy, but one that has been slit and bears the scar where the papaverous juice has flowed out to relieve the pains of our passage through this life.


This was the aspirin bottle of that time. Opium was taken, and still is taken, to relieve hangovers, headaches, menstual cramps and a myriad of other ills.


Opium was even used to keep the baby quiet.


Many, many of these scar faced glass bottles have been found in graves to alleviate the longueurs of a passage to another world.

BBHC publicity

Talking of other worlds, I’m going to visit one now and do some playing.

Sam sailing

Bon voyage till next week.




Origin:    1895–1900;     zero + th

Zeroth can be kindergarten. It’s the 0th dimension. The ordinal number before the first.  The zeroth.

January 0th is another name for 31 December.

Clara Bellino and Charlie Watts


Being numbered zero in a series; also : Zero 1 the zeroth power of a number.

Two blondes walked into a bar and started arguing about whether an order-of-magnitude estimate is sometimes also called a zeroth order approximation, and the bartender says, “What is this, some kind of joke?”


Rearrange the letters to spell out an important part of the human body which is even more useful when erect.  PNESI  The people who answer SPINE will be familiar with the zeroth law.

The zeroth law states that if two systems are each in thermal equilibrium with a third system, they are also in thermal equilibrium with each other.


Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.


You’re supposed to respect your elders, but its getting harder and harder for me to find any now.


A and C are in equilibrium following the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics.


Irony is the opposite of wrinkly.


Zero-based numbering is numbering in which the initial element of a sequence is assigned the index 0, rather than the index 1 as is typical in everyday circumstances.


A rabbi was suddenly possessed by a wave of mystical rapture, and threw himself onto the ground before the Ark proclaiming, “Lord, I’m Nothing!”
Seeing this, the cantor felt profoundly moved by similar emotions. He too, threw himself down in front of the Ark, proclaiming, “Lord, I’m Nothing!”
Then, way in the back of the synagogue, the janitor threw himself to the ground, and he too shouted, “Lord, “I’m Nothing.”
The rabbi turns to the cantor and whispers, “Look who thinks he’s Nothing!”


In some cases, an object or value that does not (originally) belong to a given sequence, but which could be naturally placed before its initial element, may be termed the zeroth element.


There is a remote tribe that worships the number zero.   Is nothing sacred?


What do you get when you cross a pigeon and a zero?  A flying none.


In some mathematical contexts, zero-based numbering can be used without confusion, when ordinal forms have well established meaning with an obvious candidate to come before “first”; for instance a “zeroth derivative” of a function is the function itself, obtained by differentiating zero times.


Nothing is better than this.

Zeroth:   The impression that you get from someone before you actually meet them, including impressions made by clothes, style, and rumors.

From what she was wearing and what I heard about her, the zeroth impression I got was that she was a hard case, but when I met her she was intelligent, decent and kind.


Reince Priebus dismissed any controversy over Mitt Romney’s crack about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate as “nothing” and called on the political class to learn to take a joke.


A zeroth law is usually so important that the other laws cannot function without it, yet so obvious that nobody thought it needed stating.


Isaac Asimov’s Zeroth Law of Robotics: A robot may not harm humanity, or through inaction allow humanity to come to harm.


Good luck on that one. That’s a dream, and, I hope, a reality.  It’s only a matter of time before computers surpass us in intelligence and ability. We can only hope that they develop an equal abitlity in ethics and morality, although if they are copying our ethics and morality, we should shudder.


Let us hope that the machines are kinder to us than we have been to each other, although, why should we deserve such treament?

Anyone who has read the slightest amount of our history knows that we have no basis for begging for mercy from a stronger power as computers will be, and sooner than we think.


What may we offer up to the sweet goddess of the universe that she should assure us of any kind treatment whatsoever?  Can you think of anything?


What did 0 say to 8 ?        Nice belt!


How do you insult a mathematician?   You say: “Your brain is smaller than any ε > 0″


Life is complex: it has both real and imaginary components.


Why must President Obama prove who he is and where he was born?   Be honest and give your answer.


If it’s zero degrees outside today and it’s supposed to be twice as cold tomorrow, how cold is it going to be?

There are 10 kinds of mathematicians in the world.  Those who understand binary and those who don’t.


Angles:   I’m not trying to be obtuse, but you’re acute.


I am equivalent to the Empty Set when you aren’t with me.


What is the shortest mathematicians joke?  Let epsilon be smaller than zero.

What caused the Big Bang?  God divided by zero.


A mathematician is a blind person in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there.


A mathematician, a physicist and an engineer were traveling through Scotland on a train when they saw a black sheep. “Aha,” says the engineer, “I see that Scottish sheep are black.”  ”Hmm,” says the physicist, “you mean that some Scottish sheep are black.”  ”No,” says the mathematician, “all we know is that there is at least one sheep in Scotland, and that at least one side of that one sheep is black.”


How are dogs and marine biologists alike?   Dog wag their tails and biologists tag their whales.

Why can’t a gorilla play a guitar?  She’s too sensitive.


She looked at the score and it said “tacet,” so she took it.


How do guitar players generally greet each other?    Hi, I’m better than you.   (That’s supposed to be a joke.)


What happened to the elephant who ran away with the circus?   The police made her bring it back.


A museum visitor was admiring a tyrannosaurus fossil, and asked a nearby museum employee how old it was. “That skeleton is sixty-five million and three years, two months and eighteen days old,” the employee replied. “How can you know that so specifically?” she asked. “Well, when I started working here, I asked a scientist the exact same question, and he said it was sixty-five million years old—and that was three years, two months and eighteen days ago.”

A solar panel and a windmill walked into a bar full of oil men, and were never seen again.

sepia toned windmill

How do you feel about windmills?     Big fan.


What’s worse than raining cats and dogs?   Hailing taxis.


Why did the philharmonic disband?  Too much sax and violins.

Hey, this is in Seine!


Fowl play:     How do you identify a bald eagle?   He has a comb over.



What happened to the lab tech when she fell into the lens grinder?  She made a spectacle of herself.


He stopped her because she was going too slow. “But, officer, the sign said 21.”  ”That’s the highway number, ma’am.”  ”Oh, I’m glad you didn’t see me five minutes ago. I was on 205.”


Nobody is perfect until you fall in love with her.

Who was that piccolo I saw you with last night?   That was no piccolo, that was my fife.


What’s the difference between an electric guitar and a chain saw?   Chainsaws sound better in small ensembles.


These pots were smoked on the kiln floor.


Hey, is that my cheese?   That’s nacho cheese!


She worked hard all of her life to be known, and now she wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.

For every truth there is an ear somewhere to receive it.  For every love there is a heart somewhere to receive it. For every beauty there is an eye somewhere to see it.


Our Lord was a shoving leopard, I mean, a loving shepherd.


Then there was Pam, too smart to be a ham, too beautiful for Sam, could have kissed her, but I missed her, damn!


Ham and Eggs: A day’s work for a chicken, a lifetime commitment for a pig.


English muffins aren’t English, French fries aren’t French. Sweetmeats are sweet, Sweetbreads are meat.

A vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?


String quartet: a good violinist, a bad violinist, an ex-violinist, and someone who hates violinists, all getting together to complain about composers.

Guy can’t find the necktie he needs to get into the club. In desperation he throws a set of jumper cables around his neck.  Bouncer says, “Well, you can come in but don’t start anything.”


You know you’re a roller coaster enthusiast when some guy screams “You S.O.B!” and You instantly think “huh, Son of Beast, where?

Much unnecessary labor is involved in the number of demisemiquavers.  We suggest that many of these could be rounded up to the nearest semiquaver thus saving practice time for the individual player and rehearsal time for the entire ensemble.


Two things necessary to keep a redhead happy.  One is to let her think she is having her own way, and the other is to let her have it.


I hate those little Russian dolls.  They’re so full of themselves.


A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history – with the possible exception of handguns and tequila.

“Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”    – A film company’s verdict on Fred Astaire’s 1928 screen test.


“Brain work will cause women to go bald.”      Berlin professor   1914


I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go read a book


If god had intended us to drink champagne, she would have given us stomachs.


A kiss is persecution for the child, ecstasy for the youth and an homage for the old.

Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in vodka.


I always forget faces, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception.


A kiss is the contraction of mouth due to the expansion of the heart.

Harvard Business School announced that, in recognition of his massive tax cuts coupled with rising costs of war, they were awarding President Bush an Honorary Doctorate in Deep Doo-Doo Economics.

A kiss is a process which builds a solid bond between two dynamic objects.


What do you call bears with no ears?   B.


A Chinese man walks into a shop with a parrot on his shoulder, and the shopkeeper says, “Hey, where’d you get that?” and the parrot says, “In China. They must have a billion of them there.”


Dick Cheney was riding on a camel and he stopped at a small oasis.  He got off the camel, lifted its tail and looked at the camel’s butt.  A guy comes over and says, “What are you doing?” Cheney replies, “About two miles back I heard someone say, ‘Look at the two assholes on that camel.’”


Elephant to naked man:  How can you pick up peanuts with that thing?


Two goats out behind a movie studio eating old movie film:   “Pretty good, huh?” says one to the other.  ”Yeah, but I prefer the book.”


A thief held up a man at gunpoint:  Give me your money.   You cannot do this. I am a congressman.    Thief says:  In that case, give me my money.


Give a man a fish and he will eat for a while.   Teach a man to fish and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.


I love you once, I love you twice, I love you more than beans and rice.

A kiss is the juxtaposition of two orbicularisoris muscles in the state of contraction.


My husband and I married for better or worse.  He couldn’t do better and I couldn’t do worse.


How do you make a hot dog stand?   Steal her chair.


She walked up to the bartender and asked for a double entendre, so he gave her one.


So, why was Wolgang Amadeus Mozart a little scratchy about his chickens?  They kept saying “Bach, bach, bach, bach, BACH!”


The Pennsylvania Game Commission has charged a man with going deer hunting with a handgun in a Wal-Mart parking lot. He is being charged with reckless endangerment, but may plead guilty to the lesser charge of being a redneck.


How many books have you read in your life?   How should I know?  I’m not dead yet.


“The Beatles? They’re on the wane.”         The Duke of Edinburgh in Canada, 1965.       (His Grace was perhaps a few crumbs short of a crouton.)


Ashley Judd announced she will not be running for Senate in Kentucky against Mitch McConnell. And Mitch McConnell announced he will not be co-starring in any romantic comedies.


Remember George Bush’s plan to put a man on Mars?   Why not?  It’s not like we had an enormous debt or failing economy or anything like that.


Collect stacks of paint brochures and hand them out as religious tracts.


A bartender is just a pharmacist with a limited inventory.


The gene pool could use a little chlorine.


VODKA :   It’s not just for breakfast anymore.


Smile. It’s the second best thing you can do with your lips.


I got this ukulele for my husband.      Good trade!


A kiss is the shortest distance between two lips.


Why do elephants drink so much?     To try to forget.


North Korea is now threatening the United States with all-out war. What did Dennis Rodman say to these people? What did he do?


Who wrote Huckleberry Locomotive?   ChooChoo Twain.


They who drink beer will think beer.


Cop:  How high are you?   No, no, officer, it’s Hi! How are you?


What happened when the bomb detecting dog wrote her autobiography?  It shot to the top of the best smeller list.


What’s harder to catch the faster you run?      Your breath.


Come on, feet, start walking.


Why is an elephant big, gray and wrinkly?  Because, if she were small, triangular and plastic she would be a guitar pick.

Melissa Etheridge

I have actually sung onstage with this estimable person.  She’s the one who should have played Janis Joplin in the film, but, alas and alack, it didn’t happen.


Convincing my dog that I really threw the ball is the closest I will get to being a real magician.


A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.


People smile in the same language.


A kiss is the reaction of the interaction between two hearts.


How can you tell the difference between an elephant and a grape?   The grape is purple.

Sam le Gueeque

We’ll see you next week.


How Latin Became French


The Romans left their language behind everywhere they went.  They didn’t force anyone to learn it. Everyone wanted to speak Latin, the language of opportunity and success.


In time, Latin, became Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Romanian.


And also Catalan, Occitan, Provençal, Languedocien, Romanche, Corsican, Wallon, Venetian and Sicilian.


Rome began as a muddy, swampy village surrounded by the brilliant Etruscan civilization on one side and the no less prestigious Greek colonies on the other.


The history of Rome begins like a fairy tale with a prince and a goddess and continues with legendary stories and historical realities.


Aeneas ( Αἰνείας, Aineías, derived from Greek Αἰνή meaning “to praise”), the son of the prince Anchises, and Venus Aphrodite, brings his colony from Troy to Italy, as Virgil tells us in Book One of the Aeneid.


Two newborns, Romulus and Remus, are abandoned along the Tiber and suckled by a she wolf. Romulus kills Remus and becomes the first king of Rome.

The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Giambologna

There is a rape of young women from the nearby Sabine people. The women are kidnapped to populate Rome.


A great sewer (the Cloaca Maxima) is built to drain the marshes and the Forum is created, which becomes the center of Roman life.


There is a revolution (509 BCE) and the monarchy is abolished to make way for the Republic.  The government is headed by two consuls elected by the citizenry and advised by a senate. A constitution based on the separation of powers and checks and balances is developed. Public offices are held for one year, and dates in Roman history are often stated to be when so and so was consul.


The Republic will last for five centuries (from the 6th to the first century BCE) to be succeeded by the Empire which will also last for five centuries until the fall of the Western Empire in 476 CE. The Empire’s beginning is usually dated from the declaration of Julius Caesar as permanent dictator in 44 BCE.


Rome conquered Transalpine Gaul (Provincia Narbonensis now called Provence) in 120 BCE and northern Gaul in 58 – 50 BCE, so the Romans were in Gaul longer than they were anywhere else.


Romans were farmers in the beginning and their language was based in the soil. The verb CERNERE (to see, to discern), for example, originally meant “sift.”


COLERE or INCOLERE which is found in the word “agricola,” farmer, originally meant cultivate, but Caesar uses it in the opening sentence of his book to mean “live” or “inhabit.”

De bello Gallico

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres: unam quarum Belgae incolunt.  All Gaul is divided into three parts: one of which the Belgians inhabit.


The verb PUTARE originally meant prune or trim. Look where it is now: compute, dispute, repute, deputy, putative.


DELIRARE originally meant to leave the LIRA, the furrow.  The word became delirium, delirious, délirer. That’s leaving the furrow with a vengeance.


RIVALIS was an adjective for RIVUS, the bank of a river ( rive gauche).  Two people who shared the water in that river were rivals.


A PAGINA was a grape arbor, a group of vines arranged in a rectangle. Then it became a page of papyrus, a page containing one column of writing.


LIBER (book) originally was the tissue between the bark and the tree. The first books in Europe were written on “beechen” tablets. (Buch in German originally meant the beech tree as does our “book.”)

olive pluck

LEGERE   Cueillir  To pick, pluck, gather, harvest.  This word LEGERE later took on the meaning of levy, draft, and a LEGIO (legion) is called that because the soldiers were levied upon the general population.


The past participle of LEGERE is LECTUS, so all of the elect, lecture, dialect,  select, lectern, collect meanings come from LEGERE also.


LEGERE became the word for “read.” Lire, leer, leggere (Italian).  When you read, you are harvesting words and meanings.


The people in France (Gallia, Gaul) finally spoke Latin, of course, but before they did they loaned some of their words to the Romans. CARRUS (a chariot with four wheels) was Gallic, as was BENNA, a kind of wagon with four wheels, which became benne the word in French for “bucket” or “scoop.”


Other Gallic words brought into Latin were ALAUDA, lark, alouette; BECCUS, beak; CAMBIARE, exchange, barter (which became “buy” in Italian and Spanish).


BRACAE, breeches, britches, pants. The Romans didn’t wear them, but the Celts did. They lived in a colder climate. The word became brache in Italian and bragas in Spanish. In modern French it’s braies.


There were two Latins, the Latin of the intellectuals URBANITAS and the Latin of the streets and fields RUSTICITAS.


The Latin of Cicero (3 January 106 BCE – 7 December 43 BCE) was a dead language even when it was alive. There was an agreement not to change it, and, remarkably, no one changed it for centuries. I can read Latin from the time of Cicero, but can only read my own language, English, in Beowulf , written almost a thousand years later, with great difficulty when I can read it at all.


RUSTICITAS, the Latin language of the people, changed constantly all through Roman history.


The extensive use of elements from vernacular speech by the earliest authors (Plautus, for example) and inscriptions of the Roman Republic make it clear that the original, unwritten language of the Roman monarchy was an only partially deducible predecessor to vulgar Latin.  Very early on, this sermo rusticus (also known as sermo plebeius, sermo vulgaris, sermo cotidianus or just sermo usualis) already had many of the features of French, Spanish, Italian and the rest.


Here are some pairs of words that have the same meaning from upper and lower Latin. Guess which ones came down into French:  AEQUOR and MARE (sea); AGER and CAMPUS (field); CRUOR and SANGUIS (blood); EQUUS and CABALLUS (horse); LETUM and MORS (death); SIDUS and STELLA (star); TELLUS and TERRA (terrain, earth, soil); MAGNUS and GRANDIS (big); FERRE and PORTARE (to carry, to transport).  This would be easier to tell with Spanish or Italian. With French this is a little harder to see because French has changed more than any other Romance language.  In fact, French is the most Germanic of the Romance languages. The very word “France” comes from the Franks, a Germanic tribe.


For the word “house,” the Romans had at least four terms:  DOMUS (domicile) was the house and everything in it.  AEDES (edifice) just meant the building itself.  VILLA denoted a farm or agricultural property, and CASA was a cabin or a (thatched) cottage.  Which term came down into the Romance languages?  The humblest, of course. CASA is exactly the same in Portuguese, Italian and Spanish and in French when you say “chez nous,” you are using the Gallic form of CASA.


When I lived in New York, there was a restaurant around the corner from me called La Chaumière, which is the exact French translation of the Latin CASA.


There are books, or tablets, really, from Roman times where people are taught what and what not to say.


One of the most well known is the Appendix Probi, which reads like a schoolmaster’s spelling correction book. It would be as if today a teacher published a manual with some of the following strictures:  say is not, don’t say ain’t; say You gave it to whom, don’t say You gave it to who; say Where is that? don’t say Where is that at? ; say He and I did it, don’t say Him and me did it; say between her and me, don’t say between her and I.  (I hate to write these and I can feel the pain of the person who wrote the Appendix Probi. It’s a losing battle, and it always was.)


These correction books are a vivid snapshot of a language in evolution.  Say VIR (man) not VYR. Say SPECULUM (mirror) not SPECLUM. Say VINEA (vine) don’t say VINIA.


Say COLUMNA (column) not COLOMNA.  Say NUNQUAM (never) don’t say NUNQUA.  Say HOSTIAE don’t say OSTIAE (proof that the H was already beginning to disappear.)


Città della Pieve         City of the People

Città della pieve

Say RIVUS (bank of a river) not RIUS (“river” in Spanish is “rio.”); Say PLEBES not PLEVIS (b and v were already beginning to be confused. Big Brother played in an Umbrian town called Città della Pieve. Pieve is what PLEBES, people, had become by the time we got there. (The LATIN L became I in Italian. Clara = Chiara.)

ile de la cite

Say CIVITAS (city) not CIVITÀT (ciudad is Spanish for city) and certainly not CITTÀ.  Say AQUA not ACQUA. Say PAUPER MULIER (poor woman, pauvre femme) not PAUPERA MULIER (changing third declension adjectives and pronouns to the first and second declensions).


Île de la Cité WAS Paris for a very long time.  Nôtre Dame was begun in 1163.  In 1963, I stood in a large group of people right about here and we heard and saw a son et lumière presentation of the catheral’s 800 year old history.  In Latin her name would be Nostra Domina.


The accent circonflexe in French very often tells you that an s was there originally: île, hôte, août, hâte, arrêt, bête, fête,  forêt.  Put an s into each of these words and you will see very quickly what they mean.


For a linguist these prescriptive “corrections” are a delight, because in almost every case, what the people are taught NOT to say is what they are actually saying (otherwise why bother to correct them?) and these “mistakes” will be passed down into French and the other daughters of Latin.


Some rules from these early prescriptive wordbooks:  Say AURIS, don’t say ORICLA.  Say FRIGIDA, don’t say FRICDA.  Say CALIDA, don’t say CALDA.  Say MENSA, don’t say MESA. These rules show you what people were saying (and spelling) then.

appendix probi

Guess which forms came down into the Romance Languages?  MESA, you know, if you live in the Southwest of the United States.  ORICLA became oreille, oreja.  FRICDA became froid.  CALDA became chaud.


A thoughtful person might be encouraged here to think of terms and forms that are forbidden in English today, and to consider how our own language is evolving.


Comparatives in Latin:  DOCTUS is wise, knowing, learned.  DOCTIOR is more wise, more knowing, more learned.  DOCTISSIMUS is the most learned.


In French, however, these comparatives were made by using Latin MAGIS (more) and PLUS (plus). More than my own life.  Docte. Plus docte. Le plus docte.


Je n’en ai plus.   I just don’t have any more.  That’s it, I just can’t do any more.


Adverbs:   IN SIMUL ensemble, AB ANTE avant, DE EX dès


When my wife Elise is in Germany, she can be heard to say, “Den Schlüssel der Toilette, bitte?” and the person at the gas station will say, “Der Schlüssel ist hier.”  When Elise asks for the key to the bathroom, she uses the accusative case, because implied in her request is Ich will (I want the key to the bathroom), because “key” is the object of the sentence. The woman answers, “The key is here (der Schlüssel) which is the nominative case because “key” is the subject of the sentence.


German is an inflected language. The words can change form according to what function they perform. It’s the key to another world.


In English we have cases too, although we don’t call them that, and they are mostly seen in pronouns. He goes to the store. “He” is in the nominative case. He took his book. “His” is in the genitive case.  I saw him. “Him” is in the accusative case. He, his, him are all referring to the same person, but the words change according to their function.


So, English is an inflected language too, but not as inflected as German, and neither of them is as inflected as Latin.  You have probably noticed that “whom” is disappearing, so that dative/accusative case will be gone forever when the last person says it.


In Latin, for “Flavia picks a rose,” you can say Rosam Flavia leget. Or you can say Flavia rosam leget. Or you can say Leget Flavia rosam, or even Leget rosam Flavia, or Flavia leget rosam. They all mean Flavia picks a rose and the word order is not important because Flavia is in the nominative case and she is the subject of the sentence. Rosam is in the accusative case, and, wherever rosam is in the sentence, it will always be rose as the object of the sentence.


Similarly, to say “Flavia loves the color of the rose,” you can say Flavia colorem rosae amat, or Rosae colorem Flavia amat, or Colorem rosae Flavia amat or Amat Flavia rosae colorem. They all mean Flavia loves the color of the rose.  This is Classical Latin, the language of Cicero and Caesar.  The word order (syntax) is unimportant because each word has an ending that tells its function. Flavia is the subject of the sentence. Amat is the verb. Colorem is the object. And rosae is the genitive. It means “of the rose” no matter where it is in the sentence.


In the Latin of the street (RUSTICITAS), however, the endings of words, because they were almost always unaccented, began to be lost with people speaking quickly, mumbling, being drunk, being excited, being lazy… the endings dropped away early. So now what happens to the syntax? The order of the words in the sentence becomes more than important; it becomes absolutely necessary to the meaning of the phrase.

pedro y pablo hoy

Paulus Petrum verberat means Paul hits Peter. It’s the same if you say Petrum Paulus verberat, but not if the endings in Paulus and Petrum both become -u as they did early on in street Latin. If Paulus and Petrum become Paulu and Petru, then Paulu has to go first and Petru has to follow the verb for the sentence to be most clear. Paulu verberat Petru. And the -t in verberat was lost early too, so the sentence looks like Paulu verbera Petru.  This is beginning to look a lot like Spanish, French or Italian, isn’t it?


Flavia rosam amat (Flavia loves the rose) now begins to be said Flavia ama rosa, and if you say Flavia loves that rose, the sentence, even in Roman times, can be said Flavia ama(t) (il)la(m) rosa(m). Flavia ama la rosa. Then the sentence looks very much as it would in Spanish or Italian.  Flavia aime la rose, as the people in Gallia would say.


In Classical Latin, murus (wall) is the subject of the sentence (nominative). Muri means “of the wall” or wall’s (genitive). Murum is the wall as the object of the sentence (accusative) and muro means “to the wall” (dative). So, there are four cases, murus, muri, murum, muro.


By the third century BCE, people in the street were saying muro(s), muri, muro, muro, and they weren’t pronouncing the s in the first case, so the word sounded the same in all the cases. We know this because of writing on tombstones, graffiti, and other places where uneducated people would write. And now to emphasize the words they would say THAT wall, rather than just wall. That = ille in Latin, and so they said (Il)le mur. Le mur is the wall in French.


Here is a message on a tombstone, date unknown:  Hic quescunt duas matres, duas filias  numero tres facunt et advenas II parvolas qui suscitabit cuius condicio est. Jul. Herculanus. There is a joke here, “two mothers, two daughters make the number three.”  OK, it’s not a big joke, but it’s on a tombstone, where jokes are in short supply. Let’s be grateful.


There is a later inscription on a tomb in Gallia:  Hic requiiscunt men  bra ad duas frates  Gallo et Fidencio qui fo  erunt fili Magno…  Both of these inscriptions show that the old declension (case) system was disappearing and would soon disappear altogether.


So, now, articles became necessary. In late Latin the definite article (the) was taken from the word for “that” ille, illa. For the indefinite article (a) the word for “one” was used. Unus, una. “The widow” is la vidua and “a widow” is una vidua.    La veuve, une veuve.

mundo en café

Now prepositions become important. They are needed to show the relationships of the words to each other. The dative case is gone, so you have to say “to the wall,” as you do in English. Or “on the table,” or “with the drink.”  The world had changed.  (That’s the world… in the bubbles.)


Frederick the Great of Prussia and Voltaire made a bet who could write the shortest sentence in Latin.  Frederick wrote Eo rus. (I’m going to the country.) Voltaire replied I (Go).


The French philosopher Jacques Derrida received a doctorate honoris causa from Oxford University and he wrote his discours de réception in Latin.


There were several words for “blonde” or “white” in Latin. Our friend Flavia above was so named because she was blonde (FLAVUS yellow). Also ALBUS meant white as did CANDIDUS but the French took their word BLANC from the Germanic languages.  The Romans, too, borrowed “blond” from the Germans very early and Roman women bought great quantities of blonde hair from the north.


There were four or five ways to say “blue” in the mother language:  CAERULEUS denoted the color of a cloudless sky.  CYANEUS was a darker blue. CAESIUS, a gray-blue, a greenish blue, especially used for the color of eyes, and then there was GLAUCUS “between green and pale blue,” and VIOLACEUS, blue tending to violet, but in about the seventh century CE, the French borrowed *blao from the Germanic language.


So, when did French become truly French and not a mélange of Latin and Gallic? One boundary date might be the Oaths of Strasbourg (842 CE) taken by two grandsons of Charlemagne, Louis le Germanique and Charles le Chauve to swear assistance and fealty to each other against their brother Lothaire.


These Oaths were written in the langue romane and the langue germanique. The only copy we have is from a century later, but the document is invaluable for linguists.


Pro deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun saluament d’ist di en auant, in quant Deus sauir et podir me dunat, si saluarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo, et in aiudha et in cadhuna cosa, si cum om per dreit son fradra saluar dift, in o quid il mi altresi fazet, et ab Ludher nul plaid nunquam prindrai qui meon uol cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit.


In today’s French this would be:  Pour l’amour de Dieu et pour le salut commun du peuple chrétien et le nôtre, à partir de ce jour, autant que Dieu m’en donne le savoir et le pouvoir, je soutiendrrai mon frère Charles de mon aide et en toute chose, comme on doit justement soutenir son frère, à condition qu’il m’en fasse autant, et je ne prendrai jamais aucun arrangement avec Lothaire, qui, à ma volonté, soit au détriment de mon frère Charles.


This is the way the Oath reads in la langue germanique:  in godes minna ind in thes christânes folches ind unsêr bêdhero gehaltnissî fon thesemo dage frammordes sô fram sô mir got geuuizci indi mahd furgibit sô haldih thesan mînan bruodher sôso man mit rehtu sînan bruodher scal in thiu thaz er mig sô sama duo indi mit ludheren in nohheiniu thing ne gegango the mînan uillon imo ce scadhen uuerdhên


oba karl then eid then er sînemo bruodher ludhuuuîge gesuor geleistit indi ludhuuuîg mîn hêrro then er imo gesuor forbrihchit ob ih inan es iruuenden ne mag noh ih noh thero nohhein then ih es iruuenden mag uuidhar karle imo ce follusti ne uuirdhit.


In la langue romane, notice that the original is much more concise than the modern French.  This is because of the survival of some cases and other similarities to Latin.

yes languages

The copyist seems to have hesitated over the written form of final unaccented vowels. For aiudha (help) and cadhuna (each), he writes a.


Sometimes a, sometimes e:  fradra, fradre (brother).


Sometimes e. sometimesd o: Karle, Karlo (Charles).


In Latin, the future of LAVARE was lavabo, lavabis. In French (and similarly in the other daughters of Latin) the verb “to have” (avoir) was used to make the future: laver + ai = I will wash; laver + as = you will wash; laver + a = she, he, it will wash; laver + (av)ons = we will wash; laver + (av)ez = you will wash; laver + ont = they will wash.


Sometimes a Latin word would come into French twice, once very early and then another time very late. The same thing happened with English and, in fact, some of the pairs are the same, such as frail and fragile (frêle et fragile)  from FRAGILEM.


SECURITATEM sûreté et sécurité.  FABRICAM came into French early as forge and then later as fabrique. FRIGIDUM froid et frigide. GRACILIS grêle et gracile (slender, slim).  CADENTIAM chance et cadence. POTIONEM poison et potion. MUSCULUM moule (mussel) et muscle. MONASTERIUM moutier (obsolete) et monastère. MINISTERIUM métier et ministère. TABULAM tôle (sheet metal) et table. CLAVICULAM cheville (ankle) et clavicule. AUGUSTUM août et auguste.


Sometime early in the fifth century CE, Egeria, a Spanish nun, set out to visit as many as possible of the places mentioned in the Bible. This was in effect the first of many, many Christian pilgrimages and she decided to write about what she had seen.

4x5 original

The manuscript was discovered at Arezzo in 1887 by Italian scholar Gamurrini. Egeria’s descriptions of the way she was received by local dignitaries in her travels suggest that her standing in the Church was high.


No other author of her time or for long after wrote in such a lively and conversational style. It is like hearing her talk.`She writes in Latin, but it is a Latin far removed from the villas of Cicero and Caesar. Her language, the syntax, the simplicity, the excessive use of definite and indefinite articles, is well on its way to becoming French, Italian, Spanish. She’s chatty.


Cum ergo descendissimus, ut superius dixi, de ecclesia deorsum, ait nobis ipse sanctus presbyter: ecce ista fundamenta in giro colliculo isto, quae videtis, hae sunt de palatio regis Melchisedech…. Nam ecce ista via, quam videtis transire inter fluvium Iordanem et vicum istum, haec est qua via regressus est sanctus Abraam de caede Codollagomor regis gentium revertens in Sodomis, qua ei occurrit sanctus Melchisedech rex Salem.


When we had gone down from the church, as I said above, the holy priest spoke to us: You see those ruins in the fold of that hill, they are of the palace of king Mechisedech…. That path which you see passing between the river Jordan and the village, that is the way by which holy Abraham came back from the slaughter of Codollogomor, king of the peoples returning to Sodom, where holy Melchisedech king of Salem met him.


She continues:   Tunc ego quia retinebam scriptum esse baptizasse sanctum Iohannem in Enon iuxta Salim, requisivi de eo, quam longe esset ipse locus. Tunc ait ille sanctus presbyter: ecce hic est in ducentibus passibus; nam si vis, ecce modo pedibus duco vos ibi. Nam haec aqua tam grandis et tam pura, quam videtis in isto vico, de ipso fonte venit. Tunc ergo gratias ei agere coepi et rogare, ut duceret nos ad locum.


Then because I remembered that it is written that Saint John had been baptizing in Enon near Salem, I asked of him how far away the place was. Then the holy priest said: It is two hundred yards away; if you wish, I will lead you there on foot. The stream which you see in the village, so large and clear, comes from that source. Then I began to thank him and ask that he should take us to the place.


This was a woman who loved to travel and who loved people. Her use of words such as HIC, IPSE, ISTE and ILLE and priest’s use of ECCE are pointing forward to la langue romane.  They are attention getting and attention directing devices that are always a feature of ordinary life. Professors and academics are used to being the center of attention, and listened to, but everyday people have to build a few HEY! moments into their speech even to hope to be heard. HIC, IPSE, ISTE, ILLE, ECCE are all look at me words that call for attention.


Egeria would not have been out of place in Chaucer’s collection of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury a thousand years later.


The Gallia of the Romans began to form her own language(s). The names for them were each based on the word “yes.”  The languages of the former Gallia Narbonensis (Provence) had a word for “yes” that was originally HOC, “this.”  If someone said, “Did you go to the market today,” and you wanted to affirm this, you simply said HOC, this.


In Latin there was no word for “yes.” People simply said “thus,” which was SIC and this evolved into “si.


In the French of today there is this “si,” but it is only used to contradict a negative statement. If she says, “You weren’t at Monterey, were you?”  I can answer, “Si, j’y suis êté.” (Yes, I was there.)


Of course, the Latin SIC (thus) came down into all of the other Romance Languages as the word for “yes.” In Portuguese:   Sim.  Eu gosto muito.  (Yes, I like it a lot.)  Spanish:  Si, señor. Italian: Ma, si, lo sai che sei più bella della Avril Lavigne, davvero eh!  (But, yes, you know it, that you are more beautiful than Avril Lavigne, really, eh?)

Lindsay Duncan plays Servilia of the Junii

In the north of Gallia, which we can almost call France now, the phrase for “yes” was HOC ILLUD, which is something like “this that,” but it meant “yes,” and the language of Gallia Septentrionale, northern France, became known as la langue d’oïl, the language of oui. The language of HOC ILLUD.


In the 9th century romana lingua (the term used in the Oaths of Strasbourg of 842) was the first of the Romance languages to be recognized by its speakers as a distinct language, probably because it was the most different from Latin compared with the other Romance languages.


A good number of the developments that we now consider typical of Walloon, the language spoken in the environs of Belgium, appeared between the 8th and 12th centuries. Walloon “had a clearly defined identity from the beginning of the thirteenth century”. In any case, linguistic texts from the time do not mention the language, even though they mention others in the Oïl family, such as Picard and Lorrain. During the 15th century, scribes in the region called the language “Roman” when they needed to distinguish it. It is not until the beginning of the 16th century that we find the first occurrence of the word “Walloon” in the same linguistic sense that we use it today.


In the south of Gallia, the language was called langue d’oc, the language of HOC, which was how they said “yes” in the South. This speech became known as OCCITAN.


Oc was and still is the southern word for yes, hence the langues d’oc or Occitan languages. The most widely spoken modern Oïl language is French (oïl was pronounced [] or [o.i], which has become [wi], in modern French oui).


Very early on, differences between the languages of the south and north became marked.


These differences still exist today and there have been many movements to make southern dialects (Provençal, languedocien, occitan) into languages in their own right, especially in the 19th century and especially by the writer Frédéric Mistral.


In the South, they said:   cantat   aqua  pratu(m)          In the North, it was  chante  eau  près.


By late- or post-Roman times Vulgar Latin had developed two distinctive terms for signifying assent (yes): hoc ille (“this (is) it”) and hoc (“this”), which became oïl and oc, respectively. Subsequent development changed “oïl” into “oui”, as in modern French. The term langue d’oïl itself was first used in the 12th century, referring to the Old French linguistic grouping noted above.


In the 14th century, the Italian poet Dante mentioned the yes distinctions in his De vulgari eloquentia. He wrote in Medieval Latin: “nam alii oc, alii si, alii vero dicunt oil” (“some say ‘oc’, others say ‘si’, others say ‘oïl’”)—thereby distinguishing at least three classes of Romance languages: oc languages. oui languages and si languages.


This is part of the story of the Prodigal Son in various dialects. Modern French:  Son fils lui dit alors: Mon père, j’ai péché contre le ciel et contre vous; je ne mérite plus d’être appelé votre fils. Mais le père dit aux serviteurs: Allez vite chercher la plus belle robe et l’en revêtez, mettez-lui au doigt un anneau, des souliers aux pieds. Amenez le veau gras et tuez-le, mangeons et faisons liesse.


And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.


And now in Picard, one of the langues d’oïl:  Sin fieu ly dit: Min pere, j’ai grament péché conte I’ciel et conte vous; et jenne su pu dinne d’éte apelai vous fieu. Alor I’pére dit à ses gins: Allez vite qére s’première robe et fourez ly su sin dos; mettez ly un aniau au douet et dés solés à ses pieds. Amenés aveucque I’viau cras et tuélle, mingeons et faigeons bonne torche.


Walloon:   Et I’fils li diha: Pere, j’a pegchi conte lu ci et conte vos: ju n’so nin digne d’ess loumé vos fils. Mais l’pere diha atou ses siervans: appoirto bin vite su pu belle robe et tapo li so l’coir et metto li onne bague et des solés èze pis. Et allézo prinde lu cras vai et sul touo et s’magnans et s’fusans gasse.


Morvandiau (Nièvre):   Et son fiot ly dié: Men père, y ait pécé conte le ciel et conte vous aitout, y n’ mairite pu d’eitre aipelé voute fiot. Anchitot, le père dié ai sas valots; aiportez vias sai premère robbe et vitez ly, boutez ly enne baigue au det et das soulés dans sas piés. Aimouniez aitout le viau gras et l’tuez: mezons et fions fricot.


And now we go to the langues d’oc. Here is the tale in the dialect of Auvergne:   Et son fiot ly dié: Men père, y ait pécé conte le ciel et conte vous aitout, y n’ mairite pu d’eitre aipelé voute fiot. Anchitot, le père dié ai sas valots; aiportez vias sai premère robbe et vitez ly, boutez ly enne baigue au det et das soulés dans sas piés. Aimouniez aitout le viau gras et l’tuez: mezons et fions fricot.


Gascon, the language of Cyrano de Bergerac:   E soun hil qu’eou digouc: Moun pay, qu’ey peccat cost’oou ceo é daouant bous: nou souy pas mes digne deou noum de boste hii. Lou pay que digouc a sous baylets: Biste, biste, pourtat sa pruméro raoubo é boutats l’oc; boutats lou la bago aou dit, e caoussats lou. Amiats lou bedet gras, é tuats lou: minjen é hascan uo gran’ hesto.


Provençal as spoken in Marseille:   Et soun fieou li diguet: Moun païré aï peccat contro lou ciel et contro de vous, noun siou pas digné d’estre appelat vouestre fieou. Alors, lou péro diguet à seis domestiquos: Adduses sa premiero raoubo, et vestisses lou; mettes-li une bague oou det et de souliers eis peds. Adusés lou vedeou gras et tuas lou, man- gens e faguem boumbanco.

Francken, Frans the younger (1581-1642) - Prodigal Son, detail

Franco-Provençal (Swiss, Valais, Saint-Maurice:   Son meniot la y a det: Mon pere y ai petchia devant le chel et devant vo; ye ne sey pas digno ora d’être appèlo voutrom fi. Mais le père a det a son valets: Apporta ley to de suite sa première roba e la fey bota; metté ley ona baga u dey é dé solar è pia; amènà le vè grà é toa lo; mindzin é fézin granta tchiéra.


These languages still exist.


SUBIUNGO is Latin for “I subjoin,” I add to, and the subjunctive mood is so named because it is primarily used in subordinate clauses. Il faut que tu vienne. (You have to come.) If faut que j’y aille. (It’s necessary that I go there.)


In Latin all conjugations and irregular verbs have four tenses of the subjunctive: present, imperfect, perfect and pluperfect. French normally uses only two of these tenses, although Spanish and Italian and the other linguae romanae rusticae positively revel in all tense subjunctive usage. Quisiera un café, por favor. (I would like a coffee, please.)


When I was young and silly, I used to use the imperfect and pluperfect subjunctive just for laughs: J’aimerais que vous me servissiez 100 F de gasoil.


Or:  Madame, réfléchîtes-vous à ma proposition car il faudrait que vous prissiez une décision immédiatement pour que je vous livrasse au plus tôt et que vous fussiez en mesure d’apprécier les services de mon appareil.


At the time I was taking a course in 18th century literature and reading people like  Marivaux, Voltaire and madame de Sévigné, all of whom were comfortable with the all the subjunctives and used them in an often humorous and even schpritzy style.  (Schpritzy = avec esprit.)

Venus and Cupid

J’étudie la carte du Tendre, je participe aux fêtes galantes, je suis l’observateur “statufié” des tableaux de Watteau… et de Boucher.


In Latin, the past tense is called the “perfect,” because it has been thoroughly done, perfected, finished.  I was = fui. You were = fuisti. It was = fuit. In spoken French this perfect past (or passé simple as it is known) is not ordinarily used in speaking, but it is in writing, especially in novels.


There is a French writer named Raymond Queneau. He wrote Zazie dans le métro and many other funny books that play with language.


The first book of his that I read was Exercices de Style where he takes a very simple story and tells it in many different styles: Métaphoriquement, Rétrograde, Surprises, Rêve, Pronostications, Hésitations and so on.


One of the versions of the story is Passé Simple where he uses only that tense. The usual tense for description is the imperfect, so it is strange to read all that Passé Simple.


Ce fut midi. Les voyageurs montèrent dans l’autobus. On fut serré. Un jeune monsieur porta sur sa tête un chapeau entouré d’une tresse, non d’un ruban. Il eut un long cou. Il se plaignit auprès de son voisin des heurts que celui-ci lui infligea. Dès qu’il aperçut une place libre, il se précipita vers elle et s’y assit.


Je l’aperçus plus tard devant la gare Saint-Lazare. Il se vêtit d’un pardessus et un camarade qui se trouva là lui fit cette remarque: il fallut mettre un bouton supplémentaire.


This is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it if you read French, or maybe even if you don’t read French, because it does take that simple tale and tell it over and over again in many different modes, so it is quite educational.


trous de culs

And, speaking of end, here are a couple of trous de culs américains. What they don’t know would fill a number of very large volumes.

the end

sam france

Au revoir.   À la prochaine.