EMERY.

Nigel McGilchrist’s LRB review of David Abulafia’s “magisterial” The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean (I confess I’m a sucker for words like “magisterial”) got me so fired up I went to the Amazon page, noticed that the Kindle price was under ten dollars for this $35 book (Amazon’s selling the hardcover for $21.69, but who needs another hardcover cluttering up the place?), and succumbed to the lure of getting it instantly, even though I won’t get around to it for a while. I suspect it will eventually provide me with a number of posts, but the word that inspired me to write this one doesn’t even occur in the book—it’s from a section of McGilchrist’s review where (in the time-honored tradition of scholarly reviewers) he complains about what the book doesn’t cover:

In his discussion of the prehistoric era, Abulafia mentions obsidian, whose importance to early human communities cannot be overestimated, and points out that the training of tool-makers ‘in what seems a deceptively simple craft was no doubt as long and as complex as that of a sushi chef’. Obsidian is cited a dozen times in the first thirty pages, but never so as to explain or to pursue satisfactorily its immense significance. Obsidian is the oldest widely ‘traded’ commodity in Mediterranean history. It occurs naturally and is easily accessible at only two major sites within the sea – the volcanic islands of Lipari near Sicily, and Milos in the Aegean (that is, if we exclude minor sources such as Nisyros and Gialí) – and yet it is found at the lowest levels in archaeological sites all over the Mediterranean from Malta to Crete, and from Lemnos to Egypt. Thanks to its distinguishing characteristics we can recognise the source of the material in each case, and can deduce that from perhaps as early as 8000 BC, obsidian from Milos was being transported around the Aegean islands, presumably in sail-less coracles.

Ninety kilometres to the east of Milos lie the islands of Paros and Naxos, which produce minerals quite different from the sharp, black, volcanic glass of their neighbour. The soft, white, crystalline marble of Paros is still recognised by many artists as the purest and most responsive sculptural marble in the world. Anyone who has visited these islands will have understood the quality of the marble from the soft, translucent pebbles found on their shores, smoothed by centuries of the waves’ slow abrasion. With obsidian the prehistoric islanders could cut the soft marble into shapes, but how was it possible to give the resulting form the soft patina of the stones on the shore? The solution was on their doorstep: a valley in the east of Naxos is one of the major sources in Western Europe of emery: a dull, unprepossessing stone that has the ability to polish and smooth marble without leaving behind any scuffs or colour.
From this trinity of materials Cycladic sculpture was born. Early human trading by boat thus gave rise to the slim white figurines of the Middle Bronze Age, which have been found at so many places on neighbouring islands. They represent the origins of a Western sculptural tradition. And the monumental sculptures undertaken 1500 years later on Naxos, which would lead to all later Greek and Roman and Renaissance sculpture, were also a product of that proximity of marble and emery – this time worked with bronze tools rather than obsidian. To mention Cycladic sculptures, as Abulafia does, without saying how they emerged has little other than documentary value, and the same goes for talking about obsidian without saying what it gave rise to.

Isn’t that fascinating? But it occurred to me to wonder where the word emery comes from, so I looked it up; turns out it’s “from Old French emeri, emeril, from Late Latin smericulum, from Greek smiris.” Nothing astonishing, but I like the way French got rid of the s- and added an e-, which we stress in English, so that the sound of the word is substantially changed. It also pleases me that the soft sound of the English word could be taken to represent the smooth surface produced by emery, whereas the harsh sound of Russian наждак [nazhdák] brings to mind the rough material itself. (The Russian word is from Turkish nаdžаk, or nacak in modern spelling, which apparently means a kind of large ax with a hammer at the back; the semantic transition isn’t self-evident, but they’re both used to cut away material, so it’s not implausible.)

Comments

  1. dearieme says:

    Ah, but can you get your Kindle version signed by the author?

  2. And, speaking of stones, the “em” in “emerald” was once “sm”, too.

  3. marie-lucie says:

    I think I would love to read that book too. The paragraph from the review is most informative.
    I like the way French got rid of the s- and added an e-
    This is putting it backwards. In Late Latin as spoken in Gaul the initial e- was added before the sm- cluster, then later the s placed between a vowel and a consonant in the esm- sequence became weakened to a pronunciation [h] , then the [eh] sequence became a long vowel, and later the short vowel written é.
    The addition of e- before other sC- clusters also occurred in Spanish: this is why we have for instance Lat schola (borrowed into English as school), Sp escuela, Fr école, among many others. English emery was borrowed from French émeri, not from the Latin form. Even though Standard Spanish uses esC-, in some varieties of spoken Spanish this type of sequence is pronounced [ehC] (and similarly with other vowels before sC), so one may hear [ehcuela] and even [ecuela] in casual speech unless a speaker makes a special effort to pronounce the s in escuela.
    These pronunciation changes illustrate the fact that in language families (such as Romance) it is quite common for a sequence of changes to affect related languages at different times, but in the same order.

  4. @dearieme: Ah, but can you get your Kindle version signed by the author?
    Some people might like the idea of obtaining a digital signature by the author. This would not be equivalent to a written signature, however. For one thing, digital certificates cost money and, as things stand at present, are usually “valid” only for a limited time. An author’s signature is forever, I thought – until I rememebered the possibility of a forged signature.
    I searched my soul for evidence that I know the legal meaning of “validity” in an electronic context, and found none. I know only the cryptographic meaning of “valid”. So I rootled in the internet and found an interesting commentary comparing two different meanings of “non-repudiation”: in a cryptographic context, and in common law jurisdictions. The message is that

    inconsistencies .. have arisen between legal and crypto meanings of “non-repudiation” … [L]awmakers around the world are confused by these definitions and are in turn creating fundamental and major problems by not addressing the issue of “trust” at the signer’s end of electronic communication within the electronic commerce environment.

    There is a definitional distinction between the legal use of the term “non-repudiation” and its crypto-technical use. In the legal sense an alleged signatory to a document is always able to repudiate a signature that has been attributed to him or her [4]. The basis for a repudiation of a traditional signature may include:
        The signature is a forgery;
        The signature is not a forgery, but was obtained via:
            Unconscionable conduct by a party to a transaction [5];
            Fraud instigated by a third party [6];
            Undue influence exerted by a third party [7].
    There appears to be a movement within the electronic commerce environment to take away these fundamental rights that exist within common law jurisdictions [8]. The general rule of evidence is that if a person denies a particular signature then it falls upon the relying party to prove that the signature is truly that of the person denying it [9].

  5. That is not the first time I have misspelled “remember” as “rememebered”. I did it once several months ago as a joke, and now it seems to be stuck in my system.

  6. Nazhdak cannot be the only Russian word for ‘emery’, as Mikhail Slonimskii’s 1924 short story ‘The Emery Machine’ is simply ‘Mashina Emery’ in the original. Not that I recall that it actually mentions emery very much… the machine is a utopian figment which, according to the hero, will free the human intellect by absorbing or otherwise diverting emotions.

  7. I didn’t know that ebooks were cheaper. The machines aren’t cheap though.

  8. Nazkdak sounds like an Orcish word…

  9. Nazhdak cannot be the only Russian word for ‘emery’, as Mikhail Slonimskii’s 1924 short story ‘The Emery Machine’ is simply ‘Mashina Emery’ in the original.
    Heh. Don’t feel too bad, now, but Emery machines have nothing to do with emery, they’re hydraulic testing machines. They were named for A. H. Emery of New York, a a civil engineer; the first one was built in 1879. And as far as I can tell, наждак is indeed the one and only word for ‘emery.’

  10. The machines aren’t cheap though.
    No, but they’re getting cheaper (I think I paid $130 or so for mine, and you can now get smaller versions for $70 or so), and they very quickly pay for themselves in saved book costs, at least if you’re me.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    For some time I have been thinking of getting a Kindle or similar machine, and just now I found that a rare book I was looking for (the 1885 German original of “The Tlingit Indians”) was on google with the mention “ebook – free”! It can’t be the only free book available if you have one of those gadgets. Question: is it posssible to print from the text?

  12. Krause is likely to be readable as page images only. The OCR from Fraktur is good, but not that good. Maybe borrow somebody’s Kindle or Nook to see if you’re happy with such a page display at their resolution.

  13. @marie-lucie: Watch out! Different e-readers use different formats, and Google’s e-books are not currently compatible with Kindle. (See http://support.google.com/googleplay/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=179849.) On the other hand, you can read its e-books in your browser, which is not convenient for reading a full book, but is not too bad if you’re looking for something fairly specific inside the book.
    > Question: is it posssible to print from the text?
    Any book that Google makes available as a free e-book, it also makes available as a PDF that you can download; in the case of Die Tlinkit-Indianer, go to http://books.google.com/books?id=J57hAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover, click the button near the top right that looks like a gear-wheel, and choose “Download PDF”.
    And for copy-and-paste convenience, you can browse the book in “Plain text” (also via the gear-wheel button) rather than “Page images” (the default).

  14. Oops, I forgot that this interface doesn’t automatically linkify URLs. For your clicking convenience:
      • support page about how/where you can read Google e-books
      • front page of Die Tlinkit-Indianer, with button for PDF and plain-text tools

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you so much for your advice, Ran! I will try the PDF. I have the English translation but I want to be able to browse and read the original.

  16. It can’t be the only free book available if you have one of those gadgets.
    Absolutely not. There are many, many out-of-copyright books available free; I recently got all three volumes of Ford Madox Ford’s Fifth Queen trilogy free from Amazon (see here: Kindle Edition $0.00).
    Watch out! Different e-readers use different formats, and Google’s e-books are not currently compatible with Kindle.
    But Calibre (free download) will convert files to the Kindle’s .mobi format (as long as they’re not under DRM). It will also store your e-library, allowing you to move books on and off your Kindle (or other device) (again, as long as they’re not under DRM).

  17. @Ran: do you have a subscription to some Google service that allows you to download PDFs ? In my browser no “Download PDF” option appears where you said it should.

  18. Etienne says:

    Marie-Lucie: actually, it isn’t just in “Late Latin as spoken in Gaul”: Late Latin everywhere added /e/ to initial sC clusters. Some kept this (Spanish), some subsequently lost the /s/ (French), some subsequently lost the /e/ (Italian: hence the surface similarity of Latin SCHOLA and Italian SCUOLA is very misleading, as SCUOLA certainly goes back to an earlier */esk(u)ola/).
    SMERICULUM, on the other hand, seems to be a more regional adaptation of Greek SMIRIS: the suffix -CULUM as well as (especially) the shift from /i/ to /e/ in the first syllable both point to the “Late Latin” form being “Italo-Western” originally (basically, Italo-Western is the ancestor of, or set of changes found in, all Modern Romance languages except for Sardinian, Romanian and some Southern Italian varieties).

  19. @H@: There are many, many out-of-copyright books available free; I recently got all three volumes of Ford Madox Ford’s Fifth Queen trilogy free from Amazon (see here: Kindle Edition $0.00).
    This was your answer to marie-lucie’s question about the availability of free books. But when I followed your “here” link, I saw no entry for “Kindle Edition” in the formats table, nor did I find any way to download it in any electronic format.
    I wonder if there is some kind of “consumer intelligence” that I, as a low-level IT worker, just don’t have. The problem may be that I am bored by hardware and software gadgetry. All of my colleagues are fascinated by it, so they learn the ropes while I don’t.
    I can find the resolution to almost any detailed programming issue that turns up during my work, simply by searching the internet for 5-10 minutes. But every time I try to follows links given here about e-books and readers, I don’t find even a trace of what was announced.

  20. Bill Walderman says:

    “Emerald” must be from Greek “smaragdos” through the same process as “emeril,” with assimilation of velar g to apical l.

  21. But when I followed your “here” link, I saw no entry for “Kindle Edition” in the formats table, nor did I find any way to download it in any electronic format.
    Huh. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m in the US, or because Amazon recognized me as a Kindle-owner, or what. Sorry for the déception.

  22. Yes, I suspect the problems are due in part to that: I’m in a furrin country and haven’t registered a Kindle. Another reason is that so much happens and changes within such a short time, that the abilities of different people can diverge dramatically in that time.
    Practical knowledge that zillions of other people pick up by working with some new thing for a year or two – for instance a smartphone – is not available to me at short notice. Similarly, extensive reading of Luhmann for the last few years has put me in outer intelligible space with regard to people who haven’t read him.
    Nobody wants to trade a smartphone for a copy of Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft, and I don’t want to trade down either.

  23. Thanks for enlightening me, Hat! It’s a while since I read that Slonimskii story all the way through… but I’m pretty sure the protagonist really does imagine some kind of fabulous paradigm-busting machine, even if Emery machines were already old… well, hat, at the time of writing.

  24. > But Calibre (free download) will convert files to the Kindle’s .mobi format (as long as they’re not under DRM).
    Y’know, I’d read about that before, but never got around to trying it, and then it slipped my mind. Thanks for the reminder!
    Have you tried it for Google e-books? Do they come out pleasantly readable? It seems strange to me that Google wouldn’t produce a Kindle-compatible version if it can be done in such an automatic fashion.
    > @Ran: do you have a subscription to some Google service that allows you to download PDFs ? In my browser no “Download PDF” option appears where you said it should.
    Nope. I do have a free Google account (for Gmail etc.), but I see the same option even when I’m logged out. Maybe it has to do with my location or something? But even the German page, http://books.google.de/books?id=J57hAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover, gives me that option (as “PDF herunterladen”, between “Erweiterte Buchsuche” and “Nur Text”), so if geography is the cause, then it’s weird that it wouldn’t show that option inside Germany.

  25. “as far as I can tell, наждак is indeed the one and only word for ‘emery.’”
    the webster says there are korund and tochilo in Russian, though they are not exactly the sandpaper kind of emery
    our words are zulguur- from zulgex (to polish) and for the stone biluu,
    nazhdak is used too as a borrowed word from Russian

  26. The abrasive component of emery from Naxos Island is, chemically, corundum (Aluminum oxide, better appreciated when it forms large colored crystals of ruby or saphire). But the Naxos corundum aka Russian nazhdak (unlike syntehtic grinding stones of modern era) has a large admixture of dark magnetite in addition to corundum.
    The noun “nazhdak” is rarely used in Russian. A grinding stone is typically just “brusok” (2nd meaning here), but a derived noun, наждачка, is very commonly for sandpaper (formally “nazhdak paper”)
    Maybe you remember these lines from Kim:
    Отобью свою литовку,
    На брусочке заточу,
    Самогона поллитровку
    На дорогу захвачу :)

  27. Bathrobe says:

    “Erweiterte Buchsuche” and “Nur Text”
    Huh? None of these appear on that page for me. I suspect it’s got something to do with location. China doesn’t seem to be a very good address :)

  28. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: it isn’t just in “Late Latin as spoken in Gaul”: Late Latin everywhere added /e/ to initial sC clusters.
    I knew this happened for sure in Spanish too, as I wrote, but I was not too sure how far East it reached (eg in Italian). I guess there must be good reasons to think that Italian had this too, but a reversal seems strange. I don’t remember reading anything about it, but I am not a Romance specialist.
    The suffix -culu- normally evolved into French -il (and similarly, -cula into -ille). Looking at smericulum, I thought that it should have ended up as émeril not émeri. Sure enough, the TLFI gives this as an older alternate form.
    Since many forms ending in the letters il are pronounced with plain /i/ (like persil ‘parsley’ /persi/, it is not surprising that émeril should have been reinterpreted as émeri, which English borrowed as such (in France, a number of such words, mostly uncommon ones, have now acquired a spelling pronunciation with final /l/).

  29. marie-lucie says:

    Ran, I successfully downloaded the book with PDF! The Fraktur looked a little blurry at first, but after increasing the size a couple of times it was very legible on the screen.
    Thanks also to others who made useful suggestions, I will make notes of them too.

  30. @Ran: here is a “Tlinkit-Indianer at google.books.de” post at my blog with a screenshot of your http://books.google.de/books?id=J57hAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover link (click on the image to zoom in). I accessed it from Cologne through my TMobile (Telekom) provider, so no question arises as to How German Is It. As you see, there is no “PDF herunterladen” option in the menu.

  31. By doing things my way, I found and downloaded a PDF of Krause’s book within 5 minutes. The hosting site is archive.org, but I didn’t start there.
    People have different ways of getting results in the internet, and what may seem intuitive to one person is unintelligible to another. For example, about 1.5 years ago MMcM provided several links that were dead ends for me. When I remarked on this here, he explained that the URLs contain book IDs that have to be tracked down (in some complicated fashion I immediately forgot).
    It would never have occurred to me to analyze URLs as a matter of course, but he seemed to think it was natural. I hardly ever peer at URLs, but instead just follow links.

  32. The Internet Archive also usually runs a .mobi converter, so you can download that directly from them, too. Though in this case I remain suspicious of the OCR quality.

  33. @Ran: It seems strange to me that Google wouldn’t produce a Kindle-compatible version if it can be done in such an automatic fashion.
    Last night I found a Google page describing the various readers they support with appropriate formats – a Sony reader, and other ones I had not heard of. At the end there was a statement that Kindle is not supported “but we are are open to supporting it”. To me, that means money is involved.

  34. The Internet Archive also usually runs a .mobi converter, so you can download that directly from them, too.
    On the left side there, you see a “View the book” table containing blue links. Clicking “PDF (Google.com)” leads to the page Ran linked, where I have no PDF download option.
    However, at the bottom of the “View the book” table is an “All Files: HTTP” link. The page behind it looks like an FTP directory listing. That was my download source.

  35. Mark Etherton says:

    There’s a recording of Professor Abulafia talking about the book here: http://backdoorbroadcasting.net/tag/abulafia-david/

  36. Thanks! Here‘s the direct link; scroll down to find the player. (Warning: talk lasts almost an hour and a half.)

  37. Re: Vasmer’s “nazhdak” entry: For “nacak” hatchet-blade, Turkish Wiktionary claims that it comes from Farsi “nachah”

  38. Note that Kindles can read PDFs, though it’s often useful to turn the Kindle on its side to do so, as it can’t resize them.

  39. Just listened to the entire Abulafia talk, and I think I’m going to start reading the book a lot sooner than I had anticipated. (It also gave me some other books to investigate, like The Bitter Sea.)

  40. Not worth making a post about, but I just realized that Italian ancora is a nice example of ambiguity that disappears in speech: /’ankora/ ‘anchor’ versus /an’kora/ ‘still.’

  41. @marie-lucie, Etienne: Could it be that Italian, like Greek, later lost (kinda) all of her initial unstressed bare vowels? I don’t know Italian, but when I have to read it, one of my rules of thumb is that French é- (s-.

  42. @marie-lucie, Etienne: Could it be that Italian, like Greek, later lost (kinda) all of her initial unstressed bare vowels? I don’t know Italian, but when I have to read it, one of my rules of thumb is that French é- (< EX-) is Italian s-.

  43. Etienne says:

    Minus273: Italian did not lose ALL initial vowels, but it did lose initial unstressed E- in many words, whatever the origin of said E-. Hence the change from Latin SCHOLA to SCUOLA via a form *ESC(U)OLA, or the change from Latin EXTINGUIT to STINGE via a form with initial *EST- (compare the French cognate ÉTEINT, which exemplifies the French é/Italian s- rule you mentioned)

  44. @Etienne: Thanks! Now that we’re on this problem, I also wish to educate myself on another bit: why do we have Italian s- corresponding to dé- in French or dis- in English? Maybe I had the false impression because Italian used EX- to make the verb when English or French used DIS-. Or is that a more general thing?

  45. Etienne says:

    Minus273: I believe that these are etymologically distinct prefixes: but from a practical point of view your impression is quite sound, and it is true that you can treat them as corresponding between the two languagues (cf. French DÉCENTRÉ versus Italian SCENTRATO).

  46. marie-lucie says:

    I did not know about Italian having lost the e in *ESCUOLA, etc, etc, but I agree with the rule of thumb It s- = Fr é or des. There are LOTS of examples of It initial s- = negative prefix.
    Etienne: how is SCENTRATO pronounced? same or different from other SCE- words which do not include the prefix?

  47. Etienne says:

    Marie-Lucie: Different. In SCENTRATO SC- is pronounced as a cluster, SH or S + CH (can’t type IPA from this keyboard), whereas in morphologically simple forms such as SCENDE SC- is simply realized as SH.
    I believe that this is the only instance in Italian spelling where the morphological structure of the word must be analyzed (is initial S- a prefix or not?) in order to establish what the correct pronunciation is.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    Mille grazie, Stefano.

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