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Every Word Tells a Story 13 - Museum, Miniatures and Mausoleum

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.

Hieroglyph for Water

Hieroglyph for Water


In our continuing etymological adventures we finally arrive at my favourite midpoint, M. ( Yes I admit I am partial to the letter as my name begins with an M).

M has had an interesting journey. It started as the Egyptian hieroglyph for water. It is thought to have then been borrowed by the Semitic alphabet as 'Mem' - their word for water. This was also adopted by the Phoenicians. It then arrived in the Greek alphabet as 'Mu'. ( μ).

Curiously and perhaps confusingly this bilabial nasal consonant was also described as a vowel in words ending in -sm. ( Phantasm, Spasm).

However, nowadays, it is agreed that 'M' is a syllabic consonant in words ending in -ism such as Prism and Schism.

Spot the Water hieroglyphs!

Spot the Water hieroglyphs!

Library of Alexandria , part of the Mouseion of Alexandria, Egypt.

Library of Alexandria , part of the Mouseion of Alexandria, Egypt.

The earliest reference to a Musaeum is the Mouseion of Philosophy and Research at the ancient city of Alexandria that was built by the Ptolemaic dynasty. The Library of Alexandria was part of this this great centre of study devoted to the sciences and art where many ancient scholars congregated. One of the greatest tragedies of the ancient world was the fire that destroyed this library and the thousands of papyrus scrolls collected within.


You can see the hieroglyphic 'm' is several segments on the plaque above. The above slab of Egyptian goodness can be found in the Louvre, which, incidentally brings us to the wonders of the Museum. Many of you would have visited a museum.You may even have wondered where the word 'Museum' comes from. Well, wonder no more.

The origins are from the Greek 'Mouseion' meaning the 'seat of the Muses'. It literally meant a temple dedicated to the Muses. As the muses inspire the study of science, arts and literature th 'mouseion' was a place of study. Somewhere in the 17th century the word transmogrified into Latin 'Museum' and alluded to place where collections of literary, art or scientific articles were assembled for public contemplation and study.

A Museum is a haven of learning, a symbol of culture and collective memory. Museums help to seek out, assemble, preserve and exhibit articles of immense scientific, cultural, educational and historical significance. They represent the ultimate desire of our species to learn and to self actualise. Take yourself and your offspring to one if you haven't been recently - it will always be a journey of discovery that will blow your mind.

The British Museum

The British Museum

Top Ten Museums of the World by Visitor Numbers ( 2016)

RankingMuseumLocationVisitors/ Year


The Louvre

Paris, France

8.6 million


National Museum of China

Beijng, China

7.3 million


National Museum of Natural History

Washington D.C., USA

6.9 million


National Air and Space Museum

Washington D.C., USA

6.9 million


British Museum

London, UK

6.8 million


The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York City, USA

6.5 million


Vatican Museums

Vatican City, Vatican

6.0 million


Shanghai Science and Technology Museum

Shanghai, China

5.9 million


National Gallery

London, UK

5.9 million


National Palace Museum

Taipei, Taiwan

5.3 million

Apollo surrounded by all his nine Muses - Simon Vouet

Apollo surrounded by all his nine Muses - Simon Vouet

Mnemosyne by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Mnemosyne by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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"As for the Mousai (Muses) . . . the majority of the writers of myths and those who enjoy the greatest reputation say that they were daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory); but a few poets, among whose number is Alkman [lyric poet C7th B.C.] state that they were daughters of Ouranos (Uranus, Sky) and Ge (Gaea, Earth). Writers similarly disagree also concerning the number of the Mousai; for some say they are but three, and others that they are nine, but the number nine has prevailed since it rests upon the authority of the most distinguished men, such as Homer and Hesiod and others like them." - Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 7. 1 (Greek historian C1st B.C.)


Who are these muses that give us the word Museum?

The Muses are the personification of knowledge- of arts, science, music and literature.

In ancient times, there were only three muses - Melétē ( Practice) , Aoidḗ ( Song) and Mnḗmē ( Memory). These three are known as the ancient muses or 'Titanical muses' and were worshipped on Mount Helicon.

In Hellenistic period, the muses multiplied to nine and were categorised and assigned names and functions. As with most Greek deities, they sprang from the loin of Zeus, who was nothing short of prolific in producing offspring. Many historians describe the nine muses as daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne - the Goddess of memory. However, some older myths depict them as the product of the Sky ( Uranus) and Earth ( Gaia).

The muses are also considered in some myths as water nymphs created when the springs of Helicon burst forth as the winged horse Pegasus touched his hooves on the grounds of Helicon. Hence you can se the muses sometimes depicted with Pegasus. another tradition is to depict Apollo with the muses - as he is known as their leader.

The nine muses are Calliope ( Epic Poetry) , Clio ( History), Euterpe ( Lyrical Poetry), Erato ( Love Poetry), Melpomene ( Tragedy), Polyhymnia ( Hymns), Terpsichore (Dance), Thalia (Comedy) and Urania ( Astronomy).

As most of classical learning was memorised in meter form before the arrival of prose, the muses represented metrical speech or ' Mousike'.

This rhyming speech or 'Mousike' became the English word Music.

The Nine Muses

NameAspectSymbol/ Emblem


Epic Poetry

Writing Tablet, Stylus, Lyre



Scrolls, Books


Lyrical Poetry, Song, Music

Panpipes, Flute ( Aulos)


Love Poetry

Cithara - a type of Lyre



Mask of tragedy, Sword



Grapes, Veil



Lyre. Plectrum



Mask of Comedy, Shepherd's Crook



Globe and Compass


Delicious Mango Salsa Recipe


2 large mangos, diced
1-2 green chilli or jalapeno, finely diced
1/3 cup red onion, finely diced
1 small handful cilantro, finely chopped
1 lime, juiced

A pinch of sea salt to taste


Combine all ingredients, mix, and serve. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 3-5 days.


Growing up in India, the aroma of a ripe mango still lingers in my olfactory memory as the smell of summer. The mango is a tropical fruit belonging to the Mangifera family originating from south east asia and now cultivated worldwide. The commonest species is Mangifera Indica and it is the national fruit of India, Pakistan and Philippines.

It is also one of the words that originate from my mother tongue Tamil ( Tamilnadu) and its sister language Malayalam ( Kerala). The Tamil word Manga was borrowed by the Portugese and then got anglicised as Mango.

The flavourful mango is high in Vitamin C and Folic Acid. Interestingly pregnant women describe a craving for mango in India - perhaps it is an evolutionary protection as folic acid helps protect the foetus from nervous system deformities such as spina bifida.

The mango peel and pulp also contain high levels of beta carotene and flavonols.

Mango Tree - Mangifera Indica

Mango Tree - Mangifera Indica

Words in English from Tamil Language

Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world. Tamil inscriptions date back to 500 BC and have even been found in Egypt as evidence that the Tamils from southern India traded with the classical kingdoms. over 70 million speakers around the world speak Tamil.

Ancient Tamil Literature has survived in Southern India - the oldest of which dates back to 1st century BC.

Mango isn't the only word that has been borrowed into English from Tamil - here is a list of other words that originate from Tamil roots.

Some English Words with Tamil Origin

* Source: Oxford English dictionary (OED)

English Word Tamil originTamil meaning


Aanai Kondran (ஆனை கொன்றன் )

Elephant Killer ( tamil labourers worked in Portuguese South America)


Vettrilai (வெற்றிலை)

வெற்று (vettru, "nothing") + இலை (ilai, "leaf"


Kasu (காசு)

Money, Coins


Kattumaram (கட்டுமரம்)

"kattu"=tied up, "maram"=wood


Suruttu (சுருட்டு)



Kayiru ( கயிறு)



Kanji (கஞ்சி)

Water with rice, porridge


Coolie (கூலி)



Kopparai (கொப்பரை )

Coconut Husk


Kurundham (குருந்தம்)



Kattil (கட்டில்)



Kari (கறி)



Kidangu ( கிடங்கு)

Store Room


Inji (இஞ்சி)

Ginger root


Sakkarai (சக்கரை)

Cane Sugar


Maalaitheevu (மாலத்தீவு )

Maalai மால (garland) and Theevu தீவு (island


Manga (மாங்காய்)

Mango fruit


Murungai (முருங்கை)

Moringa oleifera ( Drumstick Tree)


Milagu Thanni (மிளகுத்தண்ணி)

Pepper Water

Orange* ( Persian: nārang )

Narthangai / Narangai ((நார்த்தங்காய்)

Citron, Citrus Fruit


Pagavadi ( பகாவடி)

House belonging to a deity


Panai Maram (பனை மரம்)

Palm Tree


Paraiyar ( பறையர்)

Untouchable, Ostracised


Patchai Ilai (பச்சை இலை)

Green Leaf


Arisi (அரிசி) to Latin oryza

Rice grain, Paddy

Serendip (Old name for Sri Lanka) from which comes Serendipity

Cheran theevu ( சேரன்தீவு)

Cheran's Island


Tamizh (தமிழ்)

Tamil Language


Thekku (தேக்கு)

Teak wood


Vetti Veru (வெட்டிவேர்)

Aromatic Troipcal Grass (Vetiveria zizanioides)




Niccolo  Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.

Niccolo Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.


My humble attempts at attributing English words to Tamil come from an etymological enthusiasm for the language rather than a cunning deceit. Talking of unscrupulous, deceitful or cunning behaviour the word that sums them all up is 'Machiavellian'.

The honour of becoming such admonishing adjective lies with the Florentine Statesman Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527). Machiavelli was born in Florence and raised in politically unsettling times. The Church waged frequent wars with the Italian city states. Allegiances changed like the shifting sands, lands were annexed and mercenaries flourished. Chaos and intrigue reigned supreme.

One could argue Machiavelli was merely a product of his times. His much read and frequently reviled book is the work ll Principe ( The Prince) . The central concept of his tenet was that ' the end justifies the mean' and he outlined political maxims for the ascendancy of the 'new prince'. He advised brute force, corruption and coercion to establish power. The book was promptly banned by the Church and placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum - an index of prohibited books.

This notorious work gained him fame beyond his lifetime by turning his name into the adjective' Machiavellian'.

It is not clear if Machiavelli did wholeheartedly support such deceit and coercion or was merely highlighting the world as it was. Some scholars feel he may be perhaps actually promoting Republican ideals by falsely glorifying tyrannical actions. As in his other work Discourses on Livy, he promotes Republican ideals.

Misunderstood or not, he has achieved etymological immortality.

Illuminated Manuscript

Illuminated Manuscript

Lead Tetroxide ( Minium)  Pb2+2Pb4+O4

Lead Tetroxide ( Minium) Pb2+2Pb4+O4

To Miniate

To Miniate



Everybody who is familiar with the word Miniature will perhaps consider it as an extension of the prefix Mini- as in small scale. Miniature is generally used to describe a small scale work of art. You may be surprised know that this is simply an etymological misunderstanding.

The root of the word Miniature comes from the Latin word Minium. This is the name of the naturally occurring mineral of lead tetroxide, also known as red lead. In Medieval times the intensely calligraphic manuscripts were illuminated with the use of colourful inks. The red ink that was used to illustrate the small scale art within the manuscript was from the pigment extracted from red lead.

The act of highlighting the letters and art using the red or vermillion pigment was to 'Miniate' and the resultant small pieces of art called 'Miniatures'.

This has understandably led to the false etymology that led to the word Miniature to mean 'small scale art' .

The word Miniate now describes the art of illustrating letters and manuscripts using highly coloured pigments and inks and not just the red pigment.

Minium itself was from the name of the river Minius in Iberia, known to the Imperial romans as a site where they could find cinnabar. The word Minium was applied to the red pigment that coated the cinnabar crystals after extraction.

Minius is one of the longest rivers in Galicia, known now as Minho or Miño. The Romans called it the 'red river'.

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

Statue of Mausolos at the British Museum

Statue of Mausolos at the British Museum

The Masonic House of the Temple of the Scottish Rite, Washington, D.C.,  by architect John Russell Pope,, was inspired by the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.

The Masonic House of the Temple of the Scottish Rite, Washington, D.C., by architect John Russell Pope,, was inspired by the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.


The name Mausoleum now means an elaborate tomb. The very first time this was applied to a tomb is to one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.

The elaborate tomb was an architectural marvel constructed around 350 BC at Halicarnassus . This city was within a small kingdom under the Achaemenid Empire on the western coast of Asia Minor. It was built in memory of their King Mausolos, who died leaving his sister-wife ( Yes, they kept it in the family) Artemisia as the ruler. She decided to build a tomb worthy of his memory and commissioned the greatest Greek architects of that time Satyros and Pythius of Priene. The tomb was over 148 feet tall and rectangular in shape. It was built with gleaming white marble and was decorated with elaborate sculptures on each side by four different sculptors of that period Leocharus, Bryaxis, Scopas of Paros and Timotheus. The roof held a large brass chariot drawn by four horses.

The people marvelled at such a feat of architecture. As it was built in memory of Mausolos, it was named the Mausoleum. such was the splendour of the tomb that the word has become synonymous with all tombs.

Sadly the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus was destroyed by a series of earthquakes between the 12th and 14th century. All that remains now is the rubble and a few columns in the city of Bodrum, Turkey.

Some of the artifacts from the tomb are held in the British museum. The marble from the ruins was used to fortify the fort at Bodrum by Crusaders.

The influence of the Mausoleum is not lost on architects of our era. Several modern buildings such as the Masonic House of the Temple of the Scottish Rite, Washington, DC, and the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne among others were all inspired by the Mausoleum.



First knonw use of the word Maelstrom in English, by Edgar Allan Poe.

First knonw use of the word Maelstrom in English, by Edgar Allan Poe.


We conclude with the tumultous whirlpool of swirling water, the Maesltrom. One of the examples of Scandinavian words borrowed into English, the original Maelstrom refers to the Moskstraumen swirling body of water off the coast of Norway near the Lofoten islands. this is in fact the second strongest whirlpools in the world.

The strongest known maelstrom is Salstraumen close the Arctic Circle near the Norwegian city of Bodø. The third most powerful maelstrom is The Corryvreckan. It is situated on a narrow strait between the islands of Jura and Scarba, on the northern side of the Gulf of Corryvreckan, Scotland.

The word Maelstrom itself is from the Nordic malström and the Dutch maalstroom, from malen (to grind) and stroom (stream). This refers to the grinding motion of the whirlpool akin to the mill.

The rod first appeared in the English language from none other than our melancholy gothic maestro, Edgar Allan Poe in his short work, A Descent into Maelstrom.

Ancient Map of the Maesltrom off Norway complete with marauding sea monsters

Ancient Map of the Maesltrom off Norway complete with marauding sea monsters

Odysseus sailing between Scylla and Charybdis

Odysseus sailing between Scylla and Charybdis

Scylla and Charybdis

Those who have benefited from a classical education may recall that Odysseus had to navigate his ship between the twin dangers of Scylla ( A formidable rock shoal with monsters) and Charybdis ( a Whirlpool of destructive force).

This unenviable task has come to mean between two equally destructive choices. As in 'Between rock and a hard place'. Between a 'Scylla and Charybdis' means the same, only you sound smarter.

The Salstraumen Whirlpool

Samuel A Maverick, A Texas Rancher who gave the word Maverick to English language by refusing to brand his cattle.

Samuel A Maverick, A Texas Rancher who gave the word Maverick to English language by refusing to brand his cattle.


I always considered myself a Maverick. An independent minded original. A trendsetter. An outsider and a non conformist. ( I could also more likely to be delusional).

The word Maverick originated due to the eponymous actions of a Texas Rancher Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803–70). This non conformist refused to brand his cattle. Originally the name Maverick was used to refer to an unbranded cow. Subsequently this resulted in his name being synonymous with rule breakers and unorthodox thinkers.

Samuel Maverick served as the Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, in 1839. Also served as a Delegate to the Texas Republic Constitutional Convention in 1836, and Member of the Texas State Legislature in 1845.

I shall leave you with a maverick mindset and much magnificent musings. The journey through M concludes here, but who knows what wonderful marvels 'N' will bring. I promise not to keep you waiting long. thank you for your patience and persistent readership. I appreciate it very, very, much.

Alphabet art by Jason Wright - name the 'M' animals and plants within

Alphabet art by Jason Wright - name the 'M' animals and plants within

© 2016 Mohan Kumar


Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on October 20, 2016:

Thank you Shawna, its good to see you here. The Muses as depicted by that artist do indeed have the same face.

It's good to be back.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on October 20, 2016:

Fascinating stuff, Doc! Is is my imagination or do all the nine muses have the same face? It looks that way to me.

Thanks for the education. It's great to see you back!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on October 19, 2016:

Great to see you here too - really glad you enjoyed this. Thank you.

Randi Benlulu from Mesa, AZ on October 18, 2016:

Wow! So impressive! You have put so much interesting information here. I had no idea! Love this and how much I've learned from it! I'd say welcome back but I've been gone too. So instead....geeat to see you here again!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on October 17, 2016:

Oh mah Daisy, as missed you mah baby! Mah cute lit'l sugar plum. - Pig Sty

It's like I never left. Good to be back Thanks, Paula.

Suzie from Carson City on October 17, 2016:

Huh?? Did someone say, "DOCMO??" Oh mah Lord Pig Sty! Ah had no idee-er that you was so dang smart an all that! Ah have fallen in love with you all over again! Oh mah man...sing to to me in all those fancy langwedges! I ain't never leavin yo cute butt never agin! Daisy

Welcome home! We MISSED you!.....Paula :)

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on October 17, 2016:

Aww Sunshine. It's good to be back. Hope all is well. I missed y'all. I missed the sunshine smile.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on October 17, 2016:

Not delusional, you are indeed a maverick. This collection of information is magnificent. And you have been missed. :)

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on October 15, 2016:

Thank you Dianna. Appreciate your visit and comment. Good to be back.

Dianna Mendez on October 14, 2016:

It is good to read another one of your interesting articles, Doc. Inserting the mango trivia as clever. I will have to try the recipe. I now know what a maelstrom is and to avoid them!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on October 09, 2016:

Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated. As Tamil is one of oldest surviving languages ( gors back further than 500 BC) there is evidence that words like mango and cash were absorbed into English, Portugese or French when they colonised India. compared to Tamil English is a very young language that has grown through adopting and assimilating words from every other language ...

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on October 09, 2016:

This is a very interesting article and quite informative. I love all the images, too, you have spent a lot of time in research for some of the material. However, I think that some of the words that you list as having a Tamil origin may be the other way around: that they may have been adapted from English into the Tamil language. Words such as 'cash' and 'mango', for instance originally came to the English language from the French, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Never-the-less, I really enjoyed your article and all the work you must have put into it.

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