Book/beech
Posted: 18 February 2014 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I am not qualified to comment on Dave’s exposé of real or imagined relationships between book and beech on the Big List, but here’s an oddity - in modern Swedish, bok means both book and beech…

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Posted: 18 February 2014 09:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s no oddity. Both the English and Swedish words are descended from common Germanic roots. At issue is whether there is a single Germanic root for both book and beech or two similar ones, and if a single root exists, how the separate meanings developed.

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Posted: 18 February 2014 09:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I think it would be odder were it otherwise. What you say fits perfectly into the (rightly, very vague) picture which Dave evokes: the words for “beech” and “book” are similar in several Germanic languages (German and Dutch as well), of which I believe Swedish is one.

In Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese), on the other hand, the words for “book” and “beech” are related to the Latin words liber and fagus respectively.

Dave mentions the hypothetical use of beech bark as an early writing material. I would suggest the wood of the tree as a much more likely candidate: it’s much tougher and more durable than bark, lighter in colour, and (unlike the bark) can readily be given a smooth, flat surface. There is lots of archaeological and literary evidence for the use of wood as a writing material by many cultures. In Roman times, ephemeral writing was often done with a sharp stylus, on wooden tablets covered with a surface layer of wax. The tablets could be cleared by warming, and then cooled, and used again. When they wanted a more durable copy, the Romans would use papyrus, parchment, metal, or stone

http://www.lib.umich.edu/papyrology-collection/ancient-writing-materials-wood

Pipped by Dave (hardly surprising ;-)

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Posted: 18 February 2014 12:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Runes were commonly inscribed into wood, as this recent news item discusses. [Correction: the news items is of an inscription in bone, not wood. My bad. Still, runic inscriptions in wood are known, as “The Husband’s Message” demonstrates.]

The Old English poem in the Exeter Book titled “The Husband’s Message” is about just such a message inscribed on a piece of wood. The poem follows a sequence of riddles in the manuscript and may have been intended as a riddle as well:

Hwæt, þec þonne biddan het    se þisne beam agrof
þæt þu sinchroden    sylf gemunde
on gewitlocan    wordbeotunga
þe git on ærdagum    oft gespræcon

(Lo, he who inscribed this beam commanded me to ask that you, adorned with jewels, yourself remember in your wit-locker the spoken oaths that you two often uttered in earlier days.)

[ Edited: 19 February 2014 08:34 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 19 February 2014 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Dave mentions the hypothetical use of beech bark as an early writing material. I would suggest the wood of the tree as a much more likely candidate

Hypothetical?

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Posted: 19 February 2014 07:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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and (unlike the bark) can readily be given a smooth, flat surface.

Birch bark is relatively easy to strip off and you pound it flat and write on the inner surface which becomes smooth when you pound it. We did it in Boy Scouts. Way easier to process the bark than the actual wood of the tree.

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Posted: 19 February 2014 07:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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oh, I agree entirely - the bark of the birch (betula spp. --- German birke) is a versatile material, which has found numerous valuable uses among many cultures (remember Hiawatha: “give me of thy bark, o birch-tree.... I a light canoe will build me....”). So has the bark of several other species of tree.  The bark of the beech (fagus spp. --- German buche), to which Dave referred, has on the other hand (in contrast to the wood) never been of much practical use to anybody. It doesn’t even always do an adequate job of looking after the tree itself:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beech_bark_disease.

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Posted: 19 February 2014 07:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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But birch and beech are not the same thing.

(pipped by Lionello)

[ Edited: 20 February 2014 07:40 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 20 February 2014 07:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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But birch and beech are not the same thing.

Quite right, and I was too quick on the trigger.

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Posted: 22 February 2014 01:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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In Danish the word bogstaver means letters. First part of the word “bog” derives from the word bøg. Bøg = beech. Second part “staver” means sticks in terms of straight lines as used in the Rune letters. So bogstaver is actually sticks/lines (Runes) carved in beech wood. The straight lines of the Runes must have been easier to carve in a wooden stick than more soft or round figures due the structure or tree rings.

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Posted: 22 February 2014 10:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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The straight lines of the Runes must have been easier to carve in a wooden stick than more soft or round figures

True. This is because wood (not only beechwood, any wood) is composed of cellulose fibres, which are aligned lengthwise in the trunk and branches of the tree. Naturally, with the straight edge of a knife, it’s easier to make straight cuts than curved, whether in line with the fibres, or across them.

I believe that in German, too, letters are called buchstäbe (cf. “staff”, “stave"). This is the first time I’ve seen the word associated in this way with runic characters. Good thinking, Ratatosk, and welcome to wordorigins.org.

Doesn’t bog mean “book” in Danish?

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Posted: 23 February 2014 02:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Yes, interesting post, Ratatosk. Allow me to add my welcome too.

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Posted: 24 February 2014 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Doesn’t bog mean “book” in Danish?

Yes! Bog in Danish is a “book” and the same as German “Buch” and Swedish “bok”.
And your are quite right regarding German Buchstaben and Danish bogstaver

And thank you for your welcome to this forum.

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