Splogs, Abjads, and Con Nags

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November 23, 2020 by libroshombre

            Intriguing words popped up this week, namely “splog,” “lox,” “abjad,” and “nom sang.”  My mom sprang splog on us at our weekly family Zoom session, something new to the rest of us.  Though not accepted in any major dictionaries, WordSpy.com defines it as “a fake blog containing links to sites affiliated with the blogger with the intent of boosting the search engine rankings and ad impressions for those sites.”  And speaking of new terms, “The Pandemic Is Changing the English Language,” a recent CNN.com report, stated that the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary (“the most extensive and complete record of the language and its history”) normally updates their word collection electronically in March, June, September, and December, such is the rapid evolutionary nature of our tongue.  However, this year the OED has already issued two extra updates, in late spring and July, to accommodate all the “new” words associated with Covid-19.  In fact, they admit that the only truly new word they’ve added is “Covid-19,” with the others being science-related, such as “hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine,” resurrected obscure and older terms, like “Zoom,” or new word blends of existing words, like “contract tracer,” “frontliner.”

            “Lox” is a whole other kettle of fish, being the subject of “The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years,” an online article by Sevindj Nurkiyazova, who cites New York University linguistics professor Gregory Guy, “The pronunciation in the Proto-Indo-European was probably ‘lox,’ and that’s exactly how it’s pronounced in English.  Then it meant salmon, and now it specifically means ‘smoked salmon.’”  The Indo-European language family was first identified as such in 1813 by Thomas Young, whose 2006 biography is titled “The Last Person Who Knew Everything: Thomas Young, the Anonymous Polymath Who Proved Newton Wrong, Explained How We See, Cured the Sick, and Deciphered the Rosetta Stone, Among Other Feats of Genius.”  Once ranging from Hittite, Latin, Old Irish, Prussian, ancient Greek, and Sanskrit, modern Indo-European languages include the Romance languages, English, Russian, Hindi, Persian, and over 400 others that are spoken by half the world’s population.

            Proto-Indo-European is the mother language they all evolved from.  Tracing modern words back to their Proto-Indo-European roots has allowed researchers to determine where those speakers lived.  “In reconstructed Indo-European, there were words for bear, honey, oak tree, and snow, and, which is also important, no words for palm tree, elephant, lion, or zebra.  Based on evidence like that, linguists reconstructed where their homeland was.  The only possible location turned out to be in a narrow band between Eastern Europe and the Black Sea, where animals, trees, and insects matched the ancient Indo-European words.”

            Sogdian is an extinct Indo-European language I learned about in Jack Weatherford’s “Genghis Khan and the Search for God,” a fascinating book in its own right, revealing him to be much more a great man rather than merely a terror.  Sogdia was a Bronze Age Iranian civilization, famous for their wide-ranging traders, that was conquered by Alexander the Great in 328 BCE.  Sogdians wrote in a runic script using an “abjad” writing system “in which each symbol or glyph stands for a consonant, in effect leaving it to readers to infer or otherwise supply an appropriate vowel,” according to Wikipedia.  “Abjad” comes from the first four letters of the Arabic alphabet, that correspond to “a,” “b,” “j,” and “d.”

            The Sogdians, like other steppe rulers, left stone inscriptions, usually political or religious edicts and exhortations, across Central Asia.  Genghis did the same with his Great Law: “everyone should abide by his own religion and follow his own creed.”  Everyone in the Mongol Empire was free to practice their own religion, and any infringers of others’ religious rights were smacked down hard, for Genghis certainly had his cruel, unforgiving side, as well as religious curiosity.  Throughout his extensive conquests, Genghis ordered all the conquered nations’ religious leaders to come before him and debate the practices and merits of their beliefs.  From that he came to believe that “all forms of worship tended toward the same goals and spoke to the same divine presence … they simply varied in the means they used to teach their form of morality. There was one universal religion, but it found different forms of expression.”  In Mongolian, Genghis’ extensive inscription stones were called “nom sang,” or “library,” and it remains the modern Mongolian term for “library.”

The French scholar Francois Petis de la Croix wrote about this in his biography of Genghis in 1710.  Thomas Jefferson purchased multiple copies, including one he gave to the Library of Congress, and actually donated his personal library to replace the Congressional library destroyed by the British in 1812.  Jefferson’s reading about Genghis’ Great Law strongly influenced his efforts to ensure that, as our nation was being created, in America church and state are clearly divided.  From that ideal sprang the American public library, where all the world’s religions are considered and treated respectfully, and where all words are included in a full set of the Oxford English Dictionary ($1,215 on Amazon) for free.

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