I will begin by admitting that I can’t grow a beard, no matter how hard I try, so this is a bizarre* choice of blog-post for me.

So, put on your seatbelt for another etymological roller-coaster ride.

As so often with such matters we begin with Latin and the word « barba » which itself has much older Proto-Indo-European origins. It seems it meant ‘of the face’ or ‘on the face’ or ‘in the face’.

So, let’s start with the obvious.

« Barbarossa »: This is a name given to many historical characters meaning « red beard ».

« Barbados »: A Caribbean island named because… beards?!!? In fact, yes, but probably because the native fig tree (Ficus citrifolia) has fruit which looks like it has a beard: from the Portuguese.

Shakespeare used the word « beard » as a verb and a noun meaning a confrontation. « We might have met them dareful, beard to beard »  (Macbeth). In this context he means « face-to-face » meaning direct communication, although with menace.

This seems to be where the facial hair element ends, only 400 years ago. So what next? Or precisely, what before?

As always we find that our etymological journey takes us to unexpected places.

*I hope you noticed I used the word « bizarre » in my opening paragraph. Would you believe it has a connection to the word « beard »?  Indeed it does and has Basque origin. The meaning is the same, meaning strange, and was an adjective to describe bearded Spanish solders who looked different to the men in the Pyrenees.

Then we find:

« Barbarian »: We often think that the uncivilised barbarians were named for the fact they didn’t care to shave their beards, however the etymology says that is not true. The origin of this word is Greek and an antonym for the word « πολίτης » [politēs] which meant « citizen ». The original Ancient Greek is « βάρβαρος » [ˈvar.va.ros] meaning ‘foreigner’ or ‘stranger’. This is why we say « Bla, bla » to mean something incomprehensible.

So, please book a « Bla Bla » Club with me. You don’t need a beard to attend. It is certain I won’t have one.

 

PS: I wonder if a barbeque is so called because it looks different to more traditional ways of cooking. Or maybe I’m reading and thinking a bit too much.

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