Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 55.djvu/83

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

THE INTERPRETATION OF NATURE.

73

ency is at work in the widespread lingual habit of naming things after parts of the body, as in the case of "door," called the "eye of the house" by the native of Banks' Island; of "son-tree," the term applied by the Siamese to "fruit"; of the Malay's use of the noun "child" for "lock"; of "house-belly," the African Mandingo's equivalent for "in the house"; and of "hair," often used for "leaf" or "feather" in many Melanesian languages.[1] In more modern forms of speech the process is suggested by such expressions as the head of a bridge, the eye of a needle, the mouth of a river, the neck of an estuary, the trunk and arms of a tree, the lungs of a bellows, the bones of an umbrella, the nose of a promontory, the ears of a book, the fingers of a clock, the legs of a table, the veins of marble, the foot of a mountain. Then there are analogies based on the activities of the human body, for when we describe things as standing, sitting, or lying; as rising, falling, running, or climbing—when we use expressions like "striking clock," "dancing light," "sleeping lake," "yawning precipice," "laughing skies," "babbling brooks," "raging billows," we are applying to the objects named terms originally used to describe our own acts. The sense of hearing, again, is utilized in such expressions as taube Nuss ("with nothing in the shell") and taube Kohlen ("those which have burned out"). So the defect of blindness is objectified in the cæcum vallum of Roman speech, in ciego, said in Spanish of cheese that "has no eyes," and in the blinder Schuss of the Germans, whose more familiar Augenhlick everybody recalls. Not less suggestive are the numerous expressions which project conceptions of life and death into the environment, such as the caput mortuum (tête morte) of chemistry, eau vive (Quellwasser), "dead water" (turn of the tide), todte Farbe and lebhafte Farbe, vivus lapis (firestone), "quicksand" and "quicksilver," the "dead of night," "dead weight," a "dead level," and todtes Kapital. Nor must we forget that the reading of vitality into inorganic objects, common enough among savages, has by no means disappeared from civilized races. Dr. Stanley Hall's inquiries have shown that out of forty-eight children just attaining school age, twenty believed the moon and stars to be alive, fifteen thought a doll and sixteen thought flowers would suffer pain if burned. One pupil described the crescent moon as "half stuck" or "half buttoned" into the sky; the spluttering of coals in a fire was called "barking" by a girl four years and a half old. Miss Ingelow says that when over two years old, and for about a year after, she had the habit of attributing intelligence not only to all living creatures, but even to stones and manufactured articles.

This projection of words originally descriptive of the human body


  1. Codrington. The Melanesian Languages.