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Every Word Tells a Story 2 - Bibliophiles, Biscuits and Buccaneers

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

Oxford English Dictionary

Oxford English Dictionary

The Matthew Effect

The pursuit of a better vocabulary is a rewarding one. The more words we know, the more we enjoy reading and the more we read. This upward spiral of reading means we learn even more words and so forth. Those with poor vocabulary don’t enjoy reading and this means they learn even less, causing a further diminished vocabulary.

In short, ‘the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer’

This is referred to in human development as the ‘Matthew Effect’. This principle was coined by Keith E. Stanovich who is a research chair in Applied cognitive Science. He has done extensive research into reading and what it does for the mind. His widely lauded book, ‘What Intelligence Tests Miss’ won the Grawemeyer Award for Education in 2010. The concept takes it's name from a Biblical parable.

Those familiar with the Bible may recall the parable told by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 25:29

‘For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath’

Although it is likely the Lord is neither talking about money nor vocabulary and perhaps hinting at 'faith' in the above passage.

Matthew with angel

Matthew with angel

Rich get Richer...

The ‘active vocabulary’ required to read is only around 2000 words ( or word families) as it covers over 95% of the written text.

But there is pleasure in knowing more, learning many new words and using them. The ‘reading’ vocabulary in turn influences the thinking vocabulary.

In my pursuit to not only know knew words, but also to know where they come from, how they germinated and what stories they can tell us, I would like to present you a selection beginning with ‘B’

And what a selection it is. For we go from the dry desert sands of ancient Egypt to the wild, wet and windy Caribbean in our quest. We encounter the incredible influence of the papyrus plant in our modern day reading and writing. We will learn about the crunchy ‘biscuit’ and the succulent pleasures of a spit-roasted meat. We go from blank sheets learn to boycott ignorance and favour intelligence.

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Come then, our first stop is the ancient Mediterranean port of Byblos and the role it played in coining the very name of the Holy Book.

Port of Byblos

Port of Byblos


The word bibliophile literally means a lover of books. I have always been curious about the word ‘Biblio’ which is a root that means a ‘book’.

The ancient Phoenician city of ‘Gebal’ was better known to the Greeks as ‘Byblos’. This was because this port was where the Egyptian papyrus (whose bark is called Bublos) was imported to Greece. Byblos attracts enormous interest from archaeologists as is has been found to be inhabited since 5000 B.C. Successive layers of sediments left behind by human habitation make it a rich archive of history and civilisation.

Papyrus was the choice of writing material in ancient Egypt from very early on until it gained as rival in parchment made from animal skin. In Europe, due to the moister climes, parchment and vellum took favour from papyrus although its use continued until around 12th century. Eventually paper was introduced in a more cheaply produced form and carried over the ancient name in its current form.

As the earliest books were made from Papyrus- in Greek the name ‘byblos’ became the ‘book’. Thus the English word ‘Bible’ literally means ‘The Book’.



Of love and affection...

The word ‘Phile’ also comes from ancient Greek as one of the four words for love. Now you may be curious about what are the other types of love according to the Grecian Scholars:

Agápe This term for love or affection also is used in modern Greek. ‘ I love you’ in Greek is ‘s’agapo’ as anyone who has listened to nay Greek Music will attest for many a song contains the magical phrase’ s’agapo’.

Éros This is passionate and intimate love love, and forms the root for ‘Erotic’. Plato in his writings, doesn’t refer to the physical side of attraction and Erotic relationship and thus we refer to love or relationship without the physical attraction or intimacy as ‘Platonic’!

Philia this is brotherly love, virtuous love for the community, people, objects and concepts. This was coined by Aristotle.

Storge is affection and love for family members

The root 'Philia' or ' Phile' crops up in several words and means 'love of', ' a strong preference to' or ' is attracted to'... for example you could have a ' Anglophile' - a lover of all things English, a 'Francophile' - to French and so on. In medicine you have ' Haemophilia' and 'Necrophilia' the former meaning ' a tendency towards bleeding' and the latter meaning 'abnormal attraction to the dead'.

So there you have it. The love for books gives us the root words that have such a rich tapestry of learning. From writing materials to the concepts of love and affection.




We have all travelled by bus. Little did I know, the term bus comes all the way from the Latin term meaning ‘all of us’.

‘Omnibus’ is a dative plural form of ‘Omnis’ meaning all. The French borrowed this for their carriages calling them ‘voiture omnibus ’ or carriage for everyone. This eventually shrunk to ‘omnibus’ and then to ‘bus’.






We all love biscuits. Their crunchy goodness and sinful pleasures has been comforting to humanity for decades. Before I go any further, let me clarify something. The term ‘biscuit’ in America is used more to indicate a soft, raised cake made from dough like a scone and the ‘European’ biscuit is called a cookie or a ‘cracker’.

I remember my very first time in US of A, lovingly looking at a breakfast menu in a local diner and being asked whether I would like some biscuits with my eggs, bacon and Hash. Strange, I thought, why would I want biscuit with my breakfast? Perhaps a biscotti with my coffee, or a cookie with my hot chocolate but not with my egg and bacon, thank you. Only after casting my eye on the others plates I came to realise what it was referring to.

Biscuit owes its name to the Romans. It comes from two roots’ bis’ meaning twice and ‘coquere’ meaning cooked. So biscuit is simply, ‘Twice cooked’. This may refer to the habit of cooking it first and then returning it to the oven for a bit of extra crunchiness and crisper outside.

So while the rest of the world still uses ‘biscuit’ to mean the ‘twice cooked’ crunchy dry product. In American English it has become used for ‘once cooked’ soft bread product. I am not going to take sides here but you can all fight this one out as to who is right!

Me, I ‘d happily eat both, as long as they taste nice, are fresh and I have something to dunk ‘em in.




BRIDGE ( Card Game)

The card game of ‘Bridge’ belongs to the Whist family. There are many theories to where it originates from. One thing is certain, that it has nothing to do with a Bridge.

It comes from the Turkish terms ‘bir’ and ‘uch’ meaning ’1’ and ‘3’ . This game from an ancient form of a card game called Khedive, was ( and is) very popular in Turkey and was eventually introduced to the modern world.

So ‘Bir-uch’ became ‘Bridge’!

Boycott leaving Ireland

Boycott leaving Ireland

Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-97)

Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-97)


The word that has come to mean 'an organised campaign of avoidance and ostracism', 'to renounce and refuse to do something', strangely owes its name to it’s first victim, a British Estate Manager, Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott ( 1832- 1897) , was tasked with managing land in County Mayo in Ireland.

The Irish Land League, an organisation set up in 1879 to rebel against the feudal overlords and asking for agrarian reforms, reduced rentals and better wages, set about an organised campaign of not working for those who did not agree with its aims and objectives. In the early 1880s one of the first to suffer from their campaign was good ol’ Captain Boycott and the print media quickly picked this term up to mean what it means today.

While he did suffer from this campaign and had to leave Ireland with impunity, Captain Boycott would perhaps have taken comfort in the fact that he has joined the pantheon of those that have given their names to an item, an illness, a procedure, or a concept etc.. Such words are known as Eponyms( ( giving- names).

Can you think of other Eponyms?

Did you know that the words Jacuzzi, Dahlia, Chauvinism, Nicotine, Caesarean, Sideburns are all eponyms?

Isn’t it the ultimate from of self actualisation, to become a word!

I would love to become a word, but hopefully a nice, good. word and not something like 'Crap' named after Thomas Crapper who invented a line in flushing toilets!

Conan the Barbarian

Conan the Barbarian

A funny musical tribute to the barbarian


The word Barbarian has an interesting origin. It comes from ancient Greek 'Barbaros ' meaning foreigner. The term is an onamatopoeic coinage from 'bar bar' which is the Greek ( borrowed from Sanskrit barbarus - means stammering) for 'blah -blah' or 'unable to speak intelligibly'.

To the cultured Greek ears, any foreign language sounded vulgar or unintelligible. This led to calling those people with a foreign tongue or language as 'barbaros' which then gave way to 'barbarous' meaning foreign or 'vulgar', violent' and ultimately' barbarian'.

Perhaps in our times it was made more famous by Robert E. Howard who created the Hyperborean ' Conan the Barbarian' originally in a series of stories that were eventually adapted to comics. The film version starring Arnold Shwarzenegger enjoyed good success and a sequel. It is currently being remade starring Jason Momoa - an equally physically imposing actor who has starred in Stargate : Atlantis.






Ah, the summer pleasures of having a barbecue with your friends and family. The cooking smells from a nice hot grill where marinated meats may sizzle away in the sunshine. The chilled beer and wine and copious lemonade. Barbecue is now a universal pleasure come rain or shine.

The origin of the word goes to West Indies and more specifically Haiti. Linguists think etymologically the word barbecue stems from ‘barbacoa ’ - a Haitian word for spit roasting meats on wooden racks- it was the French who colonised these parts and borrowed the word for their own hot racks( careful!) and spread throughout the world as Barbecue. Fondly known by Aussies as ‘Barbie’.

While this is the attribution given to the word, there are many crazy theories floating around, unclear of their origin but amusing nonetheless. One version says the word come from the French habit of spit roasting the whole pig- from head ( or beard) to tail- or ‘Barbe- a- Queue’ in French!



Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!


We stay in West Indies for this one, and more importantly we stay with the barbecues. I never knew the two words were so closely related. Apparently the French invaders to the Caribbean, saw the local woodsmen, spit roast their meat and smoke it over a wooden rack. (remember Barbacoa from the last section). The process ‘ Bacoa’ became ‘Boucan’ in the mouths of French settlers.

They referred to these wild natives of West Indies as ‘Boucanier ’ or those who dreid meat on a wooden frame over a fire. Soon the British encouraged the locals to take on wild ways, to sabotage French and Spanish Galleons for a share of the booty. So the ‘boucaniers’ became ‘buccaneers’ or Pirates of the Caribbean.

The image of the Jolly Roger and the unwashed lawlessness of the buccaneers becomes somewhat less terror inducing when you realise they were named after a cooking style!

There is a fire burning against the chill, meat is slowly tenderising on the hot grill, there is plenty of hearty ale and perhaps a tad more rum than is healthy. Let’s all raise our tankard and sing together the rather ghoulish yet rousing version of Fifteen men in a Dead man’s chest. Ooh aargh me hearties!

Fifteen men in a dead man’s chest

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

Drink and the devil has done with the rest

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!"

See you at C

With that I conclude the bombastic boisterousness of the B words. I am sure you will join me at C like those buccaneers. Bye for now, Brigands!

© 2010 Mohan Kumar


Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 06, 2011:

I know! If you thought Biscuits were yummy then you're definitely going to like the chocolate bit of the 'C' hub! Thanks Feline Prophet!

Feline Prophet on February 06, 2011:

First of all, let me say how happy I am to see 'civilisation' spelt with an 's' instead of 'z'! Makes me feel right at home. :D

Wonderful hub - so full of delectable bits of information! And I'm not just talking about the food. :)

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on December 28, 2010:

I love feeding hungry minds! Thank you again richie.

richtwf on December 28, 2010:

Excellent and wonderful words of wisdom my friend. You always deliver something appetising and tasty for our hungry minds to snack and feast upon!

Cheers my friend and God bless!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on December 28, 2010:

I love hugs! A big hug right back atcha for being so kind and taking the time to read my stuff. Happy New Year to you, Denise, you are a darling.x

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on December 27, 2010:

I'm going to stretch my arms way out to the sides and wrap them around you in a huge hug. Thanks for the great hub. Clever and interesting all wrapped in one. Happy New Year to you.

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