What do Coleridge, Arabic water carriers and the American penal system have in common?

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Image: Pixabay

 

Do you know? No? Well, come with me and let’s walk it through.

I began this post by looking up al words, intending to write a Wednesday Word Tangle about English words with Arabic roots. There are some crackers, too –

alembic, alcove, algebra, alcohol, alchemy, alkali, algorithm.

What a lovely list of interesting words – covering everything from chemistry (itself derived from alchemy), architecture, mathematics, distillation … Clever bunch, those ancient Arabic scholars. Then I stumbled across another word that I hadn’t realised was from Arabic at all and my mind got to drifting as if across a wide ocean …

… this word may derive from the Arabic al-qadus – a ‘machine for drawing water’

… which links to a British / American rock group, famous in the seventies for falling in love with each other, scrapping like Itchy and Scratchy, breaking up, writing heart-breaking songs about the whole affair, then making their now-ex sing them for years afterwards …

… which also links to an American prison situated in San Francisco Bay, now a tourist attraction, but once notorious for holding the most troublesome inmates, including Al Capone, George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly and Robert Stroud – famous for his love of birds …

… which also links to an epic 19th century poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge about a seafarer who meets Death, loses his soul in a game of dice and is cursed to wander the earth, relating his tale of woe to all who will listen

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.

… which also links to a brief sketch by Monty Python, with John Cleese in drag as a terrifyingly aggressive ice cream lady, selling the most unappetising of intermission snacks a cinema could possibly offer

Do you know what it is yet? Then allow me to explain …

Al-qadus relates to the word saqqa – the Arabic word for pelican. The word was jumbled with the Latin for white – albus – and somehow attributed to a totally different seabird – the

ALBATROSS

by English sailors.

The British / American rock band are Fleetwood Mac – they of Tusk, Chains and Go your Own Way fame. They also wrote an instrumental piece named after a sea bird with a giant wingspan …

 

 

The American prison is – of course – Alcatraz, named after the Spanish word for the pelicans that roosted there, derived from the Arabic al-ghattas (any pelicaniform diving bird), another possible root of ALBATROSS.

The poem is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and the seaman in question shoots an ALBATROSS, thus cursing the rest of his crew to endure unpleasant deaths and himself to wearing an unweildy, seabird necklace …

And Monty Python? Watch this.

 

***

With thanks and love as always to Kat, founder of W4W.

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “What do Coleridge, Arabic water carriers and the American penal system have in common?

    1. I had no idea Alcatraz was named after pelicans – and that the word derived from and Arabic one! For some reason, I found that so fascinating, I just had to write a rambling post about it. Thanks for reading, Cynthia 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was interesting. I love learning about words. Some of the smaller ones have long histories and meanings. I remember being enthralled one day reading the definition of “be.”

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks love. 🙂 Made me laugh too. Reminds me of ‘Life of Brian’ when they’re at the amphitheatre and John Cleese is selling weird food – ‘Wolf nipple chips! Get ’em while they’re hot, they’re lovely!’

      Liked by 1 person

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