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6 February, 2021

Adventures in Wikipedia

Kennings are poetic compound-words used in old English and Icelandic literature. Thus, a word for the sea (appearing in The Anglo-Saxon poem, The Wanderer) is "whale road". Compound words are a feature of most Indo-European languages. "Himalaya" means literally "abode of snow". The various kinds of compounds (samasa) were carefully catalogued in Sanskrit, from Tatpurusha to Bahuvrihi. When Homer speaks of "the wine dark sea" (οἶνοψ πόντος) this too is a compound or epithet, rather than a metaphor, as the word "sea" does not appear in the original. The words literally mean wine + faced.

Wikipedia has an interesting article on this particular epithet. Apparently the Greeks had a hard time finding words for dark blue, though it may have been that the wine of Homer's era had a bluer colour than today's.

Other ancient peoples may have had similar difficulty with the colour. In Sanskrit, the word krishna can mean either black or dark blue. This is probably why the god Krishna, a dark-skinned Dravidian deity, is often painted with blue skin. The Hebrew word for blue, kahol has the same origin as kohl, the dark eyeliner that is used across Africa and West and Southern Asia, by both men and women. Muhammad used and recommended it, like fierce Pashtun tribesmen today. Kohl can be made from plant or mineral sources, but all of these are black, rather than blue.

The words that are used for kohl in Pakistan and northern India, like kajol, seem to derive from the same Semitic root. As does the English word alcohol which comes to us through Arabic, though it originally meant powder of the mineral antimony.

Another Sanskrit word for blue, "nila", may be cognate with the name the Greeks and Romans gave the Nile river in Egypt. A samasa epithet for the god Siva is "Nilakantha" (Blue Throat) because his neck turned blue when he quaffed the halahala poison. Or maybe just too much alcohol.

Links blog

✭How did the ‘great god’ get a ‘blue neck’? a bilingual clue to the Indus Script

✭ICC rules it can investigate alleged war crimes in Palestine despite Israeli objections | International criminal court | The Guardian
The international criminal court has announced that it has jurisdiction in Palestine, clearing its chief prosecutor to investigate alleged atrocities despite fierce Israeli objections.

✭Greta Thunberg effigies burned in Delhi after tweets on farmers' protests | India | The Guardian
"Media access to the protest sites has been largely cut off. A journalist was arrested for entering one of the sites over the weekend, and nine Indian journalists are facing charges including sedition and conspiracy over social media posts relating to the protests."