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Despite the heat-wave we've been sprucing up the garden this week. If we were flamboyant we might say that our hair was bleached blond by flaming Phoebus' effulgent blaze. Perhaps that's not our usual style but flamboyant, bleach, blond, flame, Phoebus (Greek sun god), effulgent and blaze and are all derived from the Indo-European root word *bhel-, meaning "to shine".

Bleach is the same word as bleak which originally meant "pale", "wan" or "deficient in color". They both belong to the a group of words which includes French blanc ("white") from which we get blank (literally "[left] white"), to blanch ("to whiten"), to blench ("to turn white") and blancmange ("white food"). Somewhat surprisingly, other colors beside white are in this group. Blue, for example, comes from the Old English blaw which may have meant "grayish" and was cognate with the Latin flavus, "yellow". Some have even suggested that black is somehow related through Old English blaec ("shining") though this is unlikely. One genuine, if odd, member of the family is blemish - to blemish originally meant "to make pale". 

Speaking of blank, have you ever though about its connection to blanket? Interpreted literally, aA flamingo.  Click to see more images. blanket is "a small, white [something]".  Which is to say that, judging by its name alone, its essential quality is that it is white, and that it is small. The notion of "cloth" is not in there at all. And blancmange... one could scarcely imagine a more boring dessert, how unlike the exciting flambé, yet both blanc (French "white") and flamber (French "to singe") are descendants of *bhel-.

As we were saying, it's been pretty hot, even around our pond where we've planted ornamental Phalaris grass. This plant shares a name with the coot, a bird of ponds and streams, which is called phalaris ("having a bright spot") in Greek. Coots have bony, white foreheads giving the impression that they are bald - hence the expression as bald as a coot. Phalaris comes from *bhel-, as does Phlox (Greek for "flame"), another common garden plant.  Since we mentioned it, flame is yet another relative and so is flamingo, a "flaming" bird. That reminds us... we have to get some pink, plastic flamingoes for the front lawn.

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Last Updated 08/17/02 11:32 AM