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January 24, 2020  |  Friday words #206  |  1949 hit(s)

My wife was reading something about the early Celts and asked me, "What writing system did they have?" Latin alphabet, maybe? As far as I knew, runes were used by the Germanic people but not by Celts.

All of this led to me to discover the word ogham, which is an alphabet in which Old Irish inscriptions were written:

Apparently it's not clear where the alphabet comes from. Some think it might have been adapted from the Latin alphabet, other think it might have come from runes. The early examples that are left are carved in stone and tend to be names. (Isn't that true of most writing systems? They start when someone wants to write "THIS IS MINE".) There's speculation that it might also have been carved into wood, but that would have disappeared by now. The Irish later adapted the Roman alphabet, but apparently there are books from as late as the 1400s that are written using the ogham script.

The most fun thing that I learned from all this is that a person who writes in ogham script or who studies it is an oghamist. Bet that's a great icebreaker at parties. "So, what do you do?" "Well, …"

For origins, I don't normally do names. But Netflix just released a new version of Dracula, and that got me wondering where that name came from. As many people know, Count Dracula is loosely inspired by Vlad III Dracula, a historical ruler from Wallachia (now Romania), where he's a hero.

The Dracula part of the name comes from Romanian. Vlad's father, Vlad II, was also known as Vlad Dracul, which translates as "Vlad the Dragon." In 1431, Vlad the elder was awarded membership in the Order of the Dragon by the king of Hungary, under who he'd served. Vlad the elder eventually became ruler of Wallachia and participated in the complex wars of medieval Eastern Europe, which involved repelling an Ottoman invasion and a bunch of fights with the neighbors.

As Wikipedia says, "Vlad's descendants were known as Drăculești, because they adopted Vlad's sobriquet as their patronymic (Dracula)." Vlad the elder's second son, also Vlad, eventually succeeded to the throne as Vlad III, also known as Vlad Dracula (Vlad [of] Dracul). So there you have the origin of the name.

Many people also have heard that Vlad Dracula was known as "Vlad the Impaler" because he seemed to like using impalement as a form of execution. (Yuck.) I realized that this also comes up in the Dracula story. How can you kill a vampire? By driving a stake through its heart—which is another way of saying that you must impale it. I can't believe this only occurred to me this week.

Not the happiest note to end on, is it. I'll do better next week. In the meantime, why not watch the series on Netflix?

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