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OLD-IRISH-L  January 1999

OLD-IRISH-L January 1999

Subject:

Re: Old Irish Color Usage [fwd]

From:

Dennis King <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scholars and students of Old Irish <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 10 Jan 1999 19:14:13 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (59 lines)

Ar 3:53 PM -0800 1/10/99, scríobh Candon Clannach:

>The GPC doesn't give an etymology, but says it may be comparable to
>Latin _formus_ 'warm,' but this is an old etymology (it can be found in
>_A Concise Comparative Celtic Grammar_.

And in MacBain's etymological dictionary, where he posits it as the
the "warm colour" (rather the opposite of today's symbology).

>If it is borrowed into Welsh it is a late one, otherwise we'd have
>something like **gwrf, **gyrf.

How late, would you say?

>I don't see a need really, to invoke a complicated chain of borrowing as
>this derivation accounts for the facts, and fits within the time table
>of the actual phonological developments of the Celtic languages.

Perhaps you're right.  For the sake of argument, however, I'll persist,
with some cultural considerations.  According to OI legal commentary on
fosterage, only the sons of kings were permitted to wear clothing which
was "corcra" (purple) or "gorm" (blue).  We know that "corcra / corcair
/ corcur" was borrowed from Latin "purpura" in that early period when
Irish still had no 'p' (cf. also "pluma" > "clúm", "planta" > "cland",
etc.)

Fergus Kelly (_Early Irish Farming_) tells us there is evidence that
the purple dye was obtained from shellfish, and assumes that the the
bright blue colour, generally called "gorm", came from woad.  The OI
word for woad is "glaisen", which is a derivative of "glas" (and has
a cognate in the Gaulish word for woad, "glastum").  This would lead
one to suppose that "glas" originally named the colour obtained from
woad, and was later supplanted by "gorm", a new term, just as "corcra"
was a new term.

Here's a possible scenario: the use of murex dye is originally imported
from Britain, along with the term "gwrm", but the Latin term "purpura"
(> corcur) competes with it and displaces it.  But "gorm" has already
come ashore and has an aura of high status and privilege, so it nudges
aside "glas" as the name for the kingly blue dye.  Possible?

Incidentally, the etymology I offered is not my own concoction, but
I am at a loss now to remember where I found it originally.  Lousy
note keeping!  It does appeal to my love of the convoluted... but
I've seen twistier etymologies confirmed.

>Also, the relatedness of _gorm_ & _gwrm_ to OIr. _gor_, W. _go+r_ with
>their meanings of heat and decay fits in quite nicely with idea that it
>applies to the color of growing (and dying, and decaying) plants (not to
>mention the heat generated in compost heaps ;-)

I don't find myself warming to the idea.  (Sorry!)  The semantic bridge
between "warm" and "blue" (or even blue-green, or green) is just not
that apparent to my imagination.

For the AnSax folks on the list: how common was "wurma" as a term for
"purple" when did it flourish?  Or is this a complete hoax?

Dennis King

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