The Creative Exploration of Language

Announcing: Don’t Care None

I’m very pleased to announce the publication of my first book, Don’t Care None: A Collection of Uncle Oscar Stories.


The book grew out of a chance encounter with a treasured childhood memory.  I was in a store in a coastal resort town in Maine one summer day and saw a book of Bert and I stories by Marshall Dodge and Robert Bryan for sale.  These stories, particularly in audio form, were a big part of my youth and represent, in my opinion, the pinnacle of Maine storytelling and Down East humor.  Over the years, I lost track of my copies of the old stories and no longer had the tapes I used to listen to (or a tape player for that matter).  I hadn’t thought about Bert and I for years and was delighted to come across these stories again.  So, I made an impulse purchase and walked out of the store with the book and promptly devoured it.

I came away from this experience with two observations.  First, that the Bert and I stories were funny and, at times, profound.  The second observation was that I could see perspectives and currents of thought in the work of Dodge and Bryan that echoed ideas found in a wide variety of sources which I had encountered over the years, from the Mulla Nasrudin stories of the Islamic Sufi Idries Shah, to the traditional tales of the Mad Monk Ji Gong in Chinese literature, various Buddhist teaching stories I picked up from Alan Watts and other sources.

My hope is that Don’t Care None can be enjoyed on the same two levels on which it was written: by losing oneself in the time and place, in the cultural milieu in which it is set, but also by appreciating the larger philosophy that animates Uncle Oscar’s perspective.

As always, thanks for reading,

S.R. Hardy



Örlog has long been one of my favorite words from Old Norse.  It has that bolted-together quality that I love about compound words in the Germanic language family, but it also has an air of mystery about it.  In my opinion, it just looks interesting, even if you don’t know what it means.

But I am interested in meanings and, as it turns out, örlog means fate.  However, the relationship between the words is not direct as it so often is across languages (consider dependent, an English word derived from French and Latin roots, and its German equivalent abhängig, which is constructed in exactly the same manner: de- and ab- both mean “from”, while –pendent and –hängig both mean “hang”).  This implies that the concept of fate was different in Northern Europe as compared to the Classical world centered around the Mediterranean.

Fate ultimately comes from the Latin word fari (“to speak”) via its derivative fatum, which means “that which has been spoken”.  This fits very well with the Classical conception of fate as something has already been determined.  For example, the Fates in both Greek (the Moirai) and Roman (the Parcae) mythology are composed of three goddesses who represent the weaving, measuring and ending / cutting of the “thread” of individual human lives.  The metaphor here is that the Fates have determined what is to happen and made an irrevocable decision in relation to how it should happen.

In Norse mythology there are also three Fates, but they are called the Norns and are connected to the passage of time: Urð (past), Verðandi (present) and Skuld (future).  This metaphor seems different to me: the Norns don’t determine what is to happen or how it should happen, they simply describe how the world works.

A breakdown of Örlog supports this interpretation of the Norse conception of fate.  It is composed of two separate words:

ör– this means “primal” and is cognate with the modern prefix ur- which is found in modern German and, to a lesser extent, English.

log– this means “law” (final “g” in Old Norse tends to turn to “w” in English, as in the Old Norse word útlag, which means outlaw in English).

So, örlog is a “primal law”.  Rather than fate being seen as something that has been determined, the product of a process, as in the Classical conception, the Old Norse word implies that the ancient Scandinavians saw fate a force that drove a continuous process which can be summed up as: life.

In other words, to the Norse, the world just works the way it works and events aren’t foreordained, but rather continuously created according to unalterable laws.



The question of whether there is an etymological connection between the words “new” and “nine” at the Indo-European level has been debated for the better part of a century based on the similarity between the words in a number of European languages and their seemingly common connection to the root for the word “now”.  For example, the new/nine/now complex is neu/neun/nun in German, ny/nio/nu in Swedish, and novus/novem/nunc in Latin, etc.

The existing debate (a short, if technical, summary can be found here) has tended to focus on the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European roots of the words.  This debate is both interesting and valid, but is, in my opinion, incomplete because it fails to take into account the symbolic associations of the words.  I believe that an analysis of these associations as found in mythological contexts and an understanding of how these associations derive from phenomena observable in the natural world supports the idea that they are fundamentally connected.

In a variety of cultures (at least ones with Indo-European languages), the number nine represents wholeness and completeness.  This can be seen in the nine-fold conception of the universe found in Norse and Hindu mythologies (the “nine worlds” and the navagraha or “nine houses, respectively), or the fact that Odin hung on the world tree Yggdrasil for nine nights before acquiring the runes.  Alwyn and Brinley Rees devote a short section (pp. 192-196, part of Chapter 9) of their excellent Celtic Heritage to the prominence of the number nine in Celtic culture.  One of the connections they mention is that the ancient Celts are believed by some to have had a nine day week, which lends credence to the number being associated with a complete cycle.

But why is the number nine traditionally associated with completeness?  I know there is a long tradition in numerology related to the number nine and I don’t discount this out of hand.  To give just three examples: nine is the minimum number needed to construct a magic square; many significant numbers related to the proportions of the earth and the solar system add to nine; and nine is the product of 3 (a number that is considered special in many cultures) multiplied by itself.

However, I think there is an obvious, common sense explanation that may help to explain the origins of the association of the number nine with the concept of “new”: the period of human gestation is nine months, after which, a new life is born.  Viewed from this perspective, when Odin hangs on Yggdrasil for nine “nights”, he is essentially in a period of incubation, at the end of which he is “born” in possession of new, secret knowledge in the form of the runes.  When the fulfillment of nine is reached, something new is born, and what is new is that which is happening now.


Ertu Hagr? New Essay in Eternal Haunted Summer

I had an essay published today in the Winter Solstice issue of Eternal Haunted Summer called “Ertu Hagr?  The Gilded Sow and Esoteric Symbolism in Hreiðar’s Tale” which breaks down the surprising layers of meaning at play in Hreiðar’s Tale.  The phrase translates as “Are you skillful?” and is asked of the titular character, Hreiðar, by King Magnus the Good.  The essay unpacks the different levels of meaning in the question and the resulting answer.

You can read the essay here and my translation of Hreiðar’s Tale here.

Thanks for reading,

S.R. Hardy






New Translation Published: Hreiðar’s Tale

I am excited to announce that I have published a translation of Hreiðar’s Tale, a medieval Icelandic þattr (a short comedic tale) here on Anarcheologos.

The tale comes from Morkinskinna and tells the story of a “holy fool” character from Icelandic literature, Hreiðar Heimski, and his adventures in Norway as he becomes embroiled in a feud between King Magnús the Good and his uncle and co-ruler, King Harald Hardrada.  The tale works on two levels in that it is a conventional story with comedic elements, but the (unknown) author also makes use of esoteric symbolism that adds a layer of meaning that is intriguing.

You can read the story here.   Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Thanks for reading,

S.R. Hardy

The Boys Will Be the Boys

Anyone with knowledge of the history of sports in South Africa and the ways in which it is entangled with its political and social history might be surprised to know that the nicknames for their national Rugby team, the Springboks (Springbokke in Afrikaans, sometimes shortened to Bokke), and their national soccer team, Bafana Bafana (Zulu for “The Boys, the Boys”), are, in essence, the same.

On its surface, this is surprising for a few reasons.  In modern South Africa, Rugby has traditionally been viewed as a “White” sport, while soccer has been considered a “Black” sport.  Despite this apparent difference, both team names suggest a rambunctious, wild, but not lethal, masculinity: the essence of boyhood.  The Zulu term does this directly, while the Afrikaans term needs a bit of interpretation to get there.

How did I find myself in this particular linguistic cul de sac?  It all started when I began using the Duolingo app to learn Irish.  One of the first words that I was given to learn was buachaill, which means “boy.”  I have learned over the years that when assessing a word, one should focus on its core, by which I mean the initial and second consonant sounds, as these are the elements that are most likely to connect to other words in the same language or cognates in other tongues.  Vowels tend to shift frequently and endings tend to be unique to each language group or even each language within a group, so I tend to give the former secondary importance and simply ignore the latter.

So, back to buachaill.  Like many people, I had long ago made the observation that Irish contained a lot of extra letters, both vowels and silent consonants, so my brain automatically focused on the core of the word, bu(a)ch-, and the English word buck sprang to mind, followed by the phrase young buck.  In my experience, this phrase refers to a young man or teenage boy who is acting in an aggressive or cocky manner.  I wondered, of course, if buachaill was connected to buck.

As it turns out, they do seem to be related at the Indo-European level.  Buck goes back the Old English bucc, which means a male deer.  A similar Old English word, bucca, means a male goat.  The fact that a very similar word was used to denote the male version of multiple animals indicates that the root word carried the basic connotation of “male”.

Given the fact that English and German are “cousin” languages that sometimes demonstrate close cognates, but are at other times widely divergent, I like to triangulate my etymological thinking by incorporating Scandinavian into the analysis of Germanic words.  In this case, it worked surprisingly well in that the Swedish word for “boy” is pojke (pronounced like “poika”).  This is an extremely close cognate to bucca if one accounts for two things.  First, Swedish often treats the letter “j” (at least unofficially) like a vowel (see hjärta, “heart” and jord, “earth”) and its function in pojke is to act like the English “i” in forming the “oi” diphthong.  Second, the “b” sound in English and German often becomes a “p” sound in Swedish (see , “at”, cognate with bei in German and by, in the sense of nearness, in English).  Put in phonetic terms, English and German tend to use a voiced bilabial stop where Swedish tends to use a voiceless one.

This is what I love about investigating the roots and origins of words.  Not only do you gain insight into the way related languages developed via subtle phonetic changes, you stumble across pleasing instances of synchronicity that reveal prosaic truths about the world we live in.  In this case, sports teams tend to be given names that evoke energetic, dangerous masculinity and this concept has validity across a wide range of languages and cultures.

If you don’t believe me ask the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the Milwaukee Bucks.

Boor, the Gentleman Farmer of Yesteryear

I have long been interested in the word boor, in terms of its relationship to its obvious cognates, the Dutch boer and the German bauer.  All three words ultimately stem from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic word *buraz, which means “house” or “dwelling.”  This word in turn seems to come from *bhu, which means “to be” or “to become,” with associated meanings related to “growth” or “increase,” which seem to build off the idea of “becoming.”

While the modern Dutch and German words simply mean “farmer,” the English boor has lost this literal sense and now means “rude” or “uncouth.”  While farmers are often characterized as rude and uncouth, I suspect that the transition that the word boor has undergone, whereby it has become a term of disparagement with its literal meaning being overtaken by a word of French origin is a legacy of the Norman invasion and the corruption of the language that followed.  This does in fact seem to be the case, with farmer entering English in the late 14th century and the negative connotations associated with boor in evidence by the 16th century.

While I always find these types of investigations interesting, a chance encounter with the Irish word bóaire allowed me to consider boor from another angle.  Bóaire literally means “cow noble,” being composed of bó (cow or cattle) and aire (noble, from the Sanskrit arya).”  Breaking the word down in this way reveals another level of meaning and makes clear the word’s ancient Indo-European derivation.  A noble is a noble, defined by blood and family, but in an archaic society where wealth is measured in cattle, a “cow noble” is someone who has achieved a high level of social status, a form of nobility, through economic means.  In modern terms, we might call someone like this nouveau riche or, more in keeping with the word’s agricultural theme, a gentleman farmer.



I’ve been working on a translation of the comic tale Hreiðars Þáttr from Old Norse and stumbled on the word þreyta (the letter þ is called “thorn” and is a voiceless dental fricative pronounced like modern English “th” in “think”.  It has a voiced counterpart called “eth” that is written ð and pronounced as “th” in “this”).  I didn’t recognize þreyta and had to look it up, but once I did, I felt dumb; it is a fairly obvious cognate with the English word threat.

As it turns out, threat goes back to the Old English noun threat, which means “pressure,” and the verb form threatian, “to press.”  Knowing that dental fricatives such as “th” often change to or from alveolar plosives such as “t” and “d,” I considered whether I could think of any other words that fit this pattern and quickly came up with tread (tredan in Old English, troða in Old Norse, and treten in German).  While the literal meaning of tread is “to step on” or “to walk on,” the connection with applying pressure to something is obvious.  Throttle is similar in that the three key elements are present and the connection to the theme of applying pressure is obvious.

This pattern seems particularly rich in Old Norse, where the word þreyta means “to wear out or exhaust.”  Þraut means “hardship,” þrátta means “dispute” or “quarrell” and þrúd (as in Þrúdheim, Thor’s hall) means “power” or “might.”  This vein runs so deep in Old Norse that Þra- is a common element of compound words indicating persistence or obstinance (e.g., þrálátr=”stubborn”).

Based on this, it seems that the concept of the application of applying pressure or force is denoted in the Germanic language family by the following series of sounds:

  • voiceless dental fricative (“th” as in “think”) or alveolar plosive (“t” or “d”)
  • alveolar trill (“r”)
  • alveolar plosive (“t” or “d”)

I was able to find an Indo-European connection to this theme quite easily with the IE root tred-, which means “to drill” and is connected widely to various words in the Indian and Slavic branches of the language family.  I don’t know where I fall on the ongoing debate related to sound symbolism in language, but the “genetic” connection within language families seems to be indisputable.


MacGowan, Son (Mac) of the Smith (Go-w/bh/v-an)

Recently I was reading a book by Sir Alex Ferguson, the now retired manager of Manchester United football club, in which I learned that he grew up in an area of Glasgow called Govan.  This name gave me pause.  I know, largely based on researching the roots of my own family, that the west and northwest of Scotland are the areas that were conquered by Irish invaders in the 6th century.  Gaelic language influence is therefore concentrated in these areas of the country.

Considering the likely Gaelic roots of Govan, I made the connection to the last name of one of my favorite singers, Shane MacGowan.  MacGowan was born in England to Irish parents and lived part of his childhood in Ireland, in County Tipperary.  Surely Govan and Gowan come from the same root?  And, assuming they do, what does it mean?

It didn’t take long to find out.  As it turns out, Gowan is derived from the Gaelic word for “smith”.  Examples from modern Celtic languages include gabha in Irish and gofaint in Welsh.  So, the last name MacGowan is occupational in nature (like the English last names Taylor, Smith, Hooper, etc.) and means “Son of the Smith”.

The core element of the Celtic words appears to be gab- or gob-, which correlates with the Indo-European concept of a “lump” or a “piece”.  Example cognates that come to mind here are gabalas in Lithuanian and gabals in Latvian.   There is even a connection with Slavic languages in that the word for “smith” begins with a kow/v– root, with kowal in Polish and kovac in Slovak being prime examples.

The Germanic language family stands in contrast to its cousins, in that it employs a totally different root.  The English word smith is closely cognate with the German schmitt, Dutch smid, Swedish smed, etc.  All of these are derived from the verb “to smite”.  I find this contrast between the concepts underlying the word in each language family to be fascinating.  The focus in the Celtic languages is the material that is being worked, while the Germanic word derives from the action being taken.



From Llyfr to Livre to Leaf

I recall reading some years ago that the Celtic languages are more closely related to Latin and its daughter languages than they are to the Germanic languages.  This may seem at first glance to be a bit counterintuitive, given the fact that the living Celtic languages are clustered in Northwestern Europe and fairly well surrounded (with the exception of Breton) by English.

However, in ancient times the Celtic peoples were close neighbors of the Romans.  The history of Rome is littered with wars against the Celtic peoples to their north and west and it was largely the conquest of the Celtic tribes in places like modern day France that brought the Romans into contact with the Germanic peoples further north.

I recently embarked on an intensive study of Celtic history and myth.  During my reading I came across a number of words that caught my interest for various reasons.  The one that sticks with me the most is the Welsh word for book, llyfr.  When I first encountered this word I immediately noticed its similarity to the French word for book, livre, but for some reason, I did not pursue the line of inquiry any further.

A few months later, I happened to stumble across the Irish equivalent, leabhar (pronounced, I am assured by a native Irish speaker, like “lao-wer”) and fireworks went off in my brain.  I connected the Welsh, French and Irish words to the Spanish word for book, libro, and derivative forms such as the English library, which solidified the word in my mind.

When I say the “word” I don’t mean any of the words I have mentioned above, but rather the triliteral root of l-b/v/f-r.  The different permutations of this “word” show the interrelatedness of and gradual transitions between different languages within the Indo-European language family and serve to drive home the point that the idea that languages are related is a literal, rather than a figurative, concept.

Ultimately, all of these words stem from the Indo-European root of leup- / leub- / leubh-, which is generally found in words having to do with things that are loose (such as lips), things that are peeled off (such as the bark of a tree or a leaf).

It gives me great joy to know that this primeval meaning, this base connection to the idea of something that is loose, a slice of something more substantial, has been carried through to modern times in such a consistent way in a series of related languages.