Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Famous, Blue Teeth

I love words and brand names and anything that sounds like an urban legend, yet I'd never looked into the history of the term Bluetooth until friend/associate/fellow conspirator Katie brought to my attention where this term came from.

Bluetooth, which now serves as a catchall descriptor for all manner of wireless technology, came into the worldwide lexicon as a result of either a historically-minded techno geek or a technologically-minded history geek. It takes its name from Harald I of Denmark, in honor of his unification of dissonant Danish tribes, as Wikipedia puts it. Similarly, Bluetooth technology aims to do the same with modern communications. How amazing: A cool-sounding brand name with a sensible origin rooted in a figure historical but nonetheless obscure (at least to those who didn't grow up learning Scandinavian history). My first reaction, of course, was that that this must be a folk etymology, because things that sound too-cool-to-be-true often are.

Nope. It's legit.

Harald existed. Born in 920 BCE to Gorm the Old and Thyra Dannebod — and yes, this is some Lord of the Rings shit right here — Harald was known to his subjects as Harald Blåtand, which could be translated as "Harald Bluetooth" but, according to a Snopes message board thread, could also be "Harald the great man," "Harald the black man," "Harald the great chief" or "Harald the black chief," depending on who you ask. (BTW, "Greatman," "Blackman," "Greatchief" and "Blackchief" don't make such snappy brand names.) But none of these alternate translations explain how this Blåtand nickname got attached to Harald. Theories abound online — there's everything from a janky, rotten tooth to a predilection for blueberries — but I have yet to find a definitive answer. If you know, please don't hesitate to tell me.

I realize this very story has probably been reported to death on techie and word nerd blogs worldwide, but the history was just too weird for me to ignore, even if I technically ignored it for an entire month after Katie sent it to me. (Hi Katie!)

Personally, I would like to think that Harald's chompers remained blue only because his servants feared the man strong enough to unify warring viking tribes and therefore would not dare to point out that he had some blue crap in his teeth.

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