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Tom’s words

Escapades in etymology

By Tom Chatfield   June 2008

We’ve all heard of the tower of Babel, but what of the origins of linguistic research? Herodotus offers perhaps the first recorded example of this fine art in his tale of the Egyptian king Psammetichus. The king, fascinated by the origins of civilisation, decreed that two “ordinary” children should be raised without any exposure to human language in order to reveal the very first words invented by mankind. Lo and behold, after two years of babble, the children suddenly cried out “Bekos!”, the Phrygian word for bread. Phrygian was thus determined to be the world’s first language.

Nowadays we tell…

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