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Root Words

There’s a small subset of people out there who like to think about where words come from. “Etymologists” is one word for them, while “Nerds” could be another. Regardless of your preferred term though: if you’re the kind of person who likes to learn things (and that’s about all we can ask of our intended readership), then read on to find out about Latin roots, burned-up shellfish, and what nineteenth century composer Francis Johnson called “the black liquor with which men write.”

Our company name, Verbal Ink, is fairly simple to understand as a transcription and translation company. But those words have come a long way over last handful of millenniums. If you've ever noticed that “verb” and “word' sound a lot alike, that's because they both come from the Latin "verbum." Over the years, the English language managed to turn "verbum" into "word." At the same time, Danish managed to turn the same word into the much more colorful "udsagnsord," while in German, it became the unappetizing-sounding "aussagewort." If you're ever tempted to ignore the differences between cultures on the same continent, just keep this bit of linguistic history in mind.

“Ink,” meanwhile, dates back even earlier to the Greek "enkaustos," roughly translated as “burned-in”. (This is the same word from which we get “caustic,” incidentally). As the cultural use for putting pen to paper evolved, the “enk” from "enkaustos" was eventually used as a shorthand term for the substance that Romans used to sign their documents – ground-up shellfish, heated into a liquid using fire, and from this practice came a linguistic association between “ink” and “burn” that we haven't lost today.

Thankfully, ink has seen a number of innovations – it's vegetarian, smells better, and now, it's even digital. But even with centuries of history being oversimplified, we can still get an idea of the way language preserves our history, whether we know it or not!