Saturday, 14 January 2012


OK, I was an odd child. I can remember, when I was just six years old, (we’d moved house, so I can pinpoint my age) lying in bed each morning before I got up and running through the words I knew - in case I forgot them. A task that never finished, of course - but a daily ritual all the same. I’d start by listing the things in each room in the house - and for some reason always got sidetracked by the word ‘table’, repeating the syllables over and over...Tay b’lll Tai bul Ta b’l, until they meant nothing at all. Then, I’d wonder about why sounds meant things... I was frequently late for breakfast... This is a TAY BULL.
Try it - say them, these syllables, say them over and over again. Tay Bull. Tay Bull - soon, the sounds become just themselves in the mouth of an animal who knows nothing but the sound made in that instant.

How on earth did these two sounds come to mean what we had breakfast on? Who decided? Who first stood by a plank in a cave (this is how the child’s thought process went, thanks to some rudimentary history of man...) put some meat or bread down on said plank and announced ‘TAY BULL’? This is a PLANK? Nope, it's the first TAY BULL
OK, I am not six now, but ten times that, and it still intrigues me. Look, forget the fact that we know the word comes from Latin, or whatever - someone was still the first person to link sounds to the thing we use to place stuff so it is not on the floor, a flat surface, plank for playing on, worksurface, eating surface. Ta Bu Lla. Tar Bull Uh.
This is a TA BULL LAH
How the hell did Tar Bull Uh mean that plank they were throwing stones on? And why did the other person nod sagely and say “Yup. Sure is...hey, Barnie, look at this Tar Bull Uh - one day Flintstone Chippendale next cave up will be making those and selling them for a mint...’’

The nerd in me likes looking that sort of stuff up and the etymological dictionary says this of my humble but puzzling word...
TABLE late 12c., "board, slab, plate," from O.Fr. table "board, plank, writing table, picture" (11c.), and late O.E. tabele, from W.Gmc. *tabal (cf. O.H.G. zabel, Ger. Tafel), both from L. tabula "a board, plank, table," originally "small flat slab or piece" usually for inscriptions or for games, of uncertain origin, related to Umbrian tafle "on the board." The sense of "piece of furniture with the flat top and legs" first recorded c.1300 (the usual Latin word for this was mensa; O.E. writers used bord). The meaning "arrangement of numbers or other figures for convenience" is recorded from late 14c. (e.g. table of contents, mid-15c.). Figurative phrase turn the tables (1630s) is from backgammon (in O.E. and M.E. the game was called tables). Table talk is attested from 1560s, translating L. colloquia mensalis. To table-hop is first recorded 1956. The adj. phrase under-the-table "hidden from view" is recorded from 1949; under the table "passed out from excess drinking" is recorded from 1921. Table tennis is recorded from 1887.
table (v.) 

But it doesn’t help, does it? I am still intrigued... and still run words through my head, and my mouth, until they mean nothing but their sounds. If you can do this with Tay Bull, oh lordie, how much faith do you have to have in other people, hoping that these sounds mean the same in their heads as they do in yours...This is a TAY BULL. It was once, etymologically speaking, a PLANK. Indeed, it was...or several...and before that it was a TREE... tuh REE... tuh REE
It’s too big to understand, this meaning stuff.
In conclusion:-
TAY BULL by Flintstone Chippendale.


  1. I love it when words "happen" like that...when you absolutely have to rush to the dictionary to make sure you really do know where the word comes from. That is is so much fun!

  2. Amazing! I have 'table' plus French and Italian translations swimming in my head now. You must have had a very intense childhood! Best, cat

  3. I must have had a strange childhood, too, Vanessa. I also used to have similar thoughts about words. Still do. Happy? Who decided that bubble of joy was called 'happy' or heureux or whatever? (Language skills fizzle out there.) I also noticed from an early age that the more I repeated a word aloud, the stranger it sounded.