Saturday, January 06, 2007

Kind of Like "Bob Loblaw"

Continuing the name etymology kick that seems to be dominating my mental processes in this new year, I thought I’d give a few sentences discussing the oddness of the town I live in being called “Santa Barbara.” Named for Saint Barbara — the patroness of artillery gunners, mathematicians, stonecutters and anybody whose job puts them in danger of suffering a sudden or violent death — the town’s name literally translates to “holy foreigner.” Though common now as a woman’s name, “Barbara” is just the feminine form of the Latin adjective barbarus, which means “foreign.” It shares roots with the same Greek root that also gives us the word “barbarian,” if that helps to put the etymology in some context.

In Greece, however, the root barbaros meant more specifically “non-Greek” or “not speaking Greek as a first language.” It seems to share an older connection with the Hindi word Barbara, meaning “stammering.” Thus, it’s often imagined that this ancient word part, barbar, could be onomatopoeia imitating the language of foreigners, much in the way English speakers today use “blah blah blah” to express the noise of unintelligible, droning conversation.

So, technically, I live in Holy Blah-Blah-Blah.

1 comment:

  1. Most holy IS blah blah blah. One time I heard the radio refer to us as Santa Barbarians, and it made me laugh, and wonder a bit about the etymological connections. I use that phrase a lot now.