Every word has a connection, a secret passage that runs off beneath the floorboards to another part of the English language. Take the name of this blog and the Hindu religion and old John Wayne films. All connected, and it’s pretty easy to see why once you know how.
Indigo is bluer than blue (hence the name of the Duke Ellington song “Mood Indigo”). The dye used to be really hard to obtain. Turquoise was difficult enough – it came from Turkey – but the ancient Greeks had to get their indigo dye all the way from India. They called it indikon and all that’s happened in the two thousand years since is that the K has started to be pronounced as a G. If you just make those two sounds in your throat you’ll see how easy it is to shift between them.
So if indigo comes from India, where does India come from? India is just the region of the Indus River. Well, not any more. But once it was. Now the Indus flows almost entirely through Pakistan, from the Himalayas to the province of Sindh.
Notice that Ind in Sindh? You did? You’re getting good at this. You see, the Sanskrit (ancient Indian) word for river was sindhu. So Indus River just means River River in the same way that Sahara Desert means Desert Desert, if you happen to speak Arabic and the Gobi Desert is the Desert Desert if you speak Mongolian and…well you get the picture. You’ve got sindhu and you drop the S to get India and Indigo and if you add an H, if you just add that little aspiration at the beginning, you get…
The religion of the Indians, Hindu, and the language Hindi and so on and so forth and it’s all the same little Ind that you found in the name of this blog. And you add on the Greek nesos, which just means island, and you get the Indian island of Indonesia (same as the multiple islands of Polynesia or the little islands of Micronesia). And if you’re a confused renaissance explorer and you think you’ve found the West Indies then you end up with John Wayne fighting the Red Indians.
But we know that they can’t be red, because they’re indigo – bluer than blue can be.
And the connections keep on going and going and going. All the familiar words of our language, the words that you use every day, they have connection upon connection upon connection. It’s that unstoppable line, that amazing hidden labyrinth, which made me write The Etymologicon. I wanted to run off through the absurd maze and see where it took me. I wanted to find how film buffs were buffalos and brackets are codpieces, by way of Pocahontas. And if that doesn’t make sense, it will very soon.