Monday, October 25, 2010

Lighten Up!

I recently read The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  It’s a fascinating book about the influence of improbable and unpredictable events.  I recommend it.  The author is from Lebanon which he frequently refers to as “the Levant”.  I’d never heard that term before, but when I looked it up, I realized that I regularly used a lot of words related to it. 

Our ancient root for this word family is legwh meaning light, to have little weight.  (The other word "light", as in illumination, comes from the IE root leuk from which we get lux, lucid, and leukemia - too many white, or light colored, blood cells.)  Before we get to Levant, let’s look at some other words flowing downstream from legwh.

If something is light, it is easy to elevate.  If it’s not light enough, you can always use a lever.  If a conversation is getting heavy, you can always try a little levity to lighten the mood.  If you relieve someone of their cash, their wallet is lighter.  If you like your dinner rolls fluffy and light, you’d better use the proper leavening agent.  It turns out that even lung is related because a lung is light, right?  It’s full of air, after all.  And my personal favorite, leprechaun, is related – a wee leprechaun is light, smaller than “normal” people.

Now, the Levant.  Look back at my post on “star” and other things to the “east”.  Remember that Austria is to the east (of most of Europe) and that’s where the sun rises - lifts up as if it were very light.  The Levant literally means “the rising place” – the place where the sun rises.  While Austria got its name from a compass point, Levant is related to what happens in the east.  By the way, in Germany, the Levant is called Morgenland - the morning land.