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Unemployment link to ink shock

01:00 Wed 23rd Jan 2002 |

Q. Why is this such a burning question, then

A. Because the word ink, via the Old French enque (Modern French encre) and the Late Latin encaustum, can be traced back to the Greek egkauston, which was the word for 'purple ink'. This, in turn derived from enkaustikos, 'burnt in' from the verb egkaiein.

Q. Don't get it. What's ink got to do with burning

A. There was a belief in the early days of ink and papyrus, that the pigmented fluid actually 'burned' an impression into the substrate. Hence... There is also a connection in the fact that the earliest inks - first used around 2500 BC - were made of lampblack ground with a solution of glue, moulded into sticks and allowed to dry.

Q. Lampblack

A. A finely powdered black soot deposited after incomplete combustion of carbonaceous materials. Before use the sticks were mixed with water and applied to the papyrus with brushes, sticks and - after their invention in Greece - nibbed pens.

Though, if all this is just too exciting, perhaps you should put your feet up and calm down.

Q. Calm down Why

A. Because, by an interesting fork in the linguistic road, the word ink is also a relative of the word calm.

Q. How so

A. The Late Latin cauma - from the Greek kauma, which is also related to the verb egkaiein - referred to the heat of the sun and so, eventually, became associated with the hottest part of the day when the flocks - and the shepherds - had to rest. This was the period of cauma or calm.

Q. All very georgic indeed. But what has all this to do with unemployment - other than the shepherds having a siesta, of course

A. The French verb ch�mer, 'to rest' or 'take time off work', also goes back to cauma, and from ch�mer you get ch�mage, the French word for unemployment.

For more on Phrases & Sayings click here

By Simon Smith

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