The Creative Exploration of Language


Blank is a straightforward word with a clear definition that everyone understands: empty, void, not filled in, etc.

However, the root of this word is somewhat surprising, and becomes obvious if one changes the ‘k’ at the end of the word to a ‘c’ and arrives at blanc, the French word for white.  This connection is not one of coincidence, as the word has deep roots in both languages, though it seems to originate on the Germanic rather than the Romance side of the linguistic divide.

Blank has cognates, such as blank in German, which mean shining or bright and therefore, by extension, white.

Here we have arrived at what is truly interesting about the word.  What does it mean that blankness connotes whiteness?  There are two interrelated answers to this question.

First, there is a literal interpretation.  As noted at the outset of this post, a common definition of blank is ’empty, not filled in’.  One is reminded of a blank form to be filled out or an exercise where one is asked to ‘fill in the blanks’ where the task at hand is to fill in the empty white spaces provided.  While this is a valid assessment of the word, it is also a limited one as it focuses only on its functional aspect.

The second interpretation is more esoteric and takes into account the importance of the concept of whiteness in Western thought, particularly as it relates to alchemy.  In this philosophical tradition, the albedo or white stage is an intermediate stage between the nigredo (black) and the rubedo (red) that involves a cleansing or purification of the soul, and, following Titus Burckhardt, the resulting state of purity is one whose essential characteristic is openness to influence.

Therefore, to view the quality of blankness in a purely functional and negative manner by characterizing it simply as a lack of something is shortsighted and misses the forest for the trees.  Flipped upside down and viewed positively,  it is clear that the key attribute of a blank is the fact that its emptiness assumes a future fulfillment.  It is not just an empty white space.  It is an empty white space waiting to be filled in.

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