This amazing granodiorite stele with script in hieroglyphics, demotic and Greek, was discovered 20th August 1799 near the town of Rashid by Pierre-Francois Bouchard, a soldier in Napoleon's army, whilst strengthening the defences at Fort Julien. Following defeat of the French in 1801 the stone was appropriated by the English under the Capitulation of Alexandria and, since 1802, has been on display at the British Museum. Thomas Young began deciphering the hieroglyphs.
During the summer of 1808 the Abbe de Terson, who had made a copy of the stone whilst on a visit to London, allowed Jean-Francois Champollion access. He already had a book of notes and drawings created by Vivant Denon in 1802. The race was on!
Champollion began with the demotic but had difficulty getting any further with the hieroglyphs. Another study published in 1808 by Marie-Alexandre Lenoir frustrated him - he was determined to be the first to crack the 'code' but it took him another 14 years and career as a University professor before his breakthrough in 1822.
The stone is judged to be so important that it has been the subject of debate for over 300 years. As well as the contributions of Young and Champollion there are also constant demands from Egypt for its return.
Writing styles fascinate me. Why do we pick, say, Peter James over James Patterson? Why do many people love J K Rowling and Dan Brown and yet others have issues? I love the Regency period but prefer to watch Jane Austen rather than read her, yet adore Charlotte Bronte and Georgette Heyer.
Whilst reading Thomas Hardy for A level I could never understand why he felt it necessary to spend four pages describing a meadow and yet he is deemed one of our 'classic' authors.
I have dabbled with different styles after learning that authors such as M C Beaton and Elizabeth Peters write under different names for different genres and quite enjoy writing through the eyes of my dog Bentley.... Here is a diary entry from December:
"We've had another busy month - mostly shopping, which Enzo loves. Weird! He goes all waggy-tail and bouncy when we arrive at the garden centre. I wanted to see Santa but they wouldn't let me in sadly. We've chosen baubles, lights and crackers as well as beefy treats that were amazing. Enzo spent all his pocket money and our spare room is off-limits again as he keeps going and shoving his little nose in the bags and having a rummage.
We've got Treacle staying with us today as her Mum is going out. She's a naughty Labrador and steals stuff. Enzo and I just watched as she came with a treat - where did she have it from, we wondered? Had she managed to open the cupboard door? Impressive!"
Try out some different styles; put on another 'hat' whilst writing. It's great fun and you can be anyone you chose to be. Try a Pam Ayres style for poetry or a Danny Bhoy comedy piece, then send some to us and let us have a look.
After an internet glitch yesterday I had a chance to go back and find a few more examples:
Draconian - Sweeping, drastic, harsh or severe powers, usually legal ones. This is named after Drakon the 7th century Athenian legislator and used in England from 1876.
Gibberish - Dr Johnson believed that this word derived from the 11th century Arabian alchemist Geber who had translated into Latin the work of Jabir ibn Hayyan (8th century). Jabir used a mystical jargon as he knew that, if discovered, his writings would have meant the death penalty.
Gordon Bennett - an exclamation popular in the 1980s. James Gordon Bennett II (1841-1918) was the editor-in-chief of the New York Herald who sent Henry Morton Stanley to search for Dr Livingstone in Africa. He was exiled to Paris after a scandal but still managed to operate his paper from there. He spent over 40 million dollars during his lifetime, offered many trophies to stimulate French sport including the Gordon Bennett cup for motor racing, and became 'one of the most picturesque figures of two continents'.
Leotard - named after the tight one-piece garment worn by the French trapeze artist Jules Leotard (1830-70).
OK - the origins are still debated, it could be Greek, Finnish, American Indian, Haitian or from the First World War meaning '0 killed'
After last week's entry I thought I'd look up some of the origins of our words and phrases and discovered a copy of Cassell's Dictionary on my book-shelf. Here are a few of my favourites .....
Barnstorm - The first definition relates to actors. The word originated in the US in the early 19th century when actors actually went about the countryside performing in barns and similar informal venues. Their style was that found in melodramas but it was probably more the makeshift nature of touring which gave it its second definition (used from 1890s) relating to politicians who stomped about seeking votes.
Belt and braces - this applies to a system being used that has a back-up i.e. if one part breaks then another will carry on. The phrase was being used by 1930s by engineers. it was also the name of a British theatre group in the 1970s. An Australian engineer was heard to comment in in 1993 that some of his colleagues would talk of belt, braces and bowyangs too - bowyangs are ties round a workman's trousers to keep out cold and mud.
Berserk - meaning frenziedly mad and deriving from the Berserkers, legendary Norse warriors who fought frenziedly in battle. They wore 'bear-sark' or 'bear-coat' clothing.
Cross the Rubicon - To make a significant decision from which there is no turning back deriving from Julius Caesar's crossing the stream of that name in 49BC passing from Cisalpine Gaul into Italy and so becoming an invader.
During a conversation with a friend over Christmas she said that she had never spoken German as she thought it too difficult a language with many words taking up a whole line and not one meaning 'fluffy'! I decided to have a look and discovered that our English of today is in fact a member of the Germanic branch of Indo-European language family descending from the Angles, Jutes and Saxons that began to arrive on our shores in 449AD. Approximately one third of Anglo-Saxon vocabulary survives into our modern English.
Before that we had the Romans but only about 200 Latin loanwords are inherited from that time. The Celts were the earliest of course, but very few words have lived on. Many of our place names, however, have Celtic origins.
By 597AD the Christian missionaries, led by St Augustine, moved throughout the country. The language of the Church is Latin and many new Latin words were injected into the vocabulary.
The Vikings arrived in 789AD and they brought another 2000 words as well as place names such as Whitby and Grimsby. King Alfred used the English language to develop a sense of identity amongst the people.
The Normans then arrived in 1066 bringing French with them, this was used for over 300 years as the language spoken by the most powerful people. Latin was still the language of the Church but most of the population used English in their everyday lives. Thousands of French words became entrenched in our vocabulary.
During the 100 Years War French was regarded as the language of the enemy and the status of English rose.
Since the Industrial revolution our vocabulary has been hugely expanded by the inclusion of technical and slang words from over 200 years of wonderful discoveries and innovations in the fields of art, theatre and science bringing words from across the globe.