Oct 10, 2011


Summary: How is carillon related to clarion? Do these words make beautiful music together? I guess that depends on who's listening ...

Last night, lying in bed and reading, I came across a word that I pretty well figured out by context, but still wanted to look up, because it was new to me. Not only that, it's a word I would categorize as "pretty." After learning the exact meaning, "pretty" really does it justice, I think.

Carillon (KAYR - eh - LON) - (n.) a set of fixed, chromatically tuned bells sounded by hammers that are controlled from a keyboard; also an electronic instrument that imitates the carillon or a musical composition created for the carillon. The etymology of the word carillon is straightforward, but rich—perhaps a little like the instrument, itself. 

Entering English in 1775 from the French (same word, different pronunciation [don't forget to click the link by the word above to hear how it sounds in English today]), it derives from the Old French carignon, meaning "set of four bells." This traces to the Latin for "set of four," quaternionem, which derives from quarter, also Latin and meaning "four times." Carillon's base origin traces back five and a half thousand years—well before such an instrument was ever even in idea form, likely—to the Proto-Indo-European word for four, kwetwer. (Now, that's one I'd categorize as a "funny" word! Say it as fast as you can, and it sounds like a sneeze.)

Researching this all for today's blog post, I wondered if this WOW! Word were any relation to clarion.  The answer is yes—and no: While the two don't share any similar root words, they do follow the same path to the English language, from Latin to Old French to French, then English. Look up the definition, and you'll find even more they share in common. Then check out the history of the carillon, too.

As a sidebar, the book I was reading used this lovely word in a beautiful metaphor. The exact quote is: "While that first gloss had not set off any bells for Alan, Evan-Wentz's translation set off a carillon." [From Destructive Emotions: How Can We Overcome Them? (A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, narrated by Daniel Goldeman, author of Emotional Intelligence)] ... Don't you just think that sentence has a nice ring to it?

© KiKi Productions, Inc. 2011

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