Anchors, ankles and angles


In the Devon lanes, on family holidays, we sometimes passed the cottage of a man who was a diver: and around his gate and in his garden he had placed an assortment of the anchors he had retrieved from the sea bottom: some of modern appearance, others clearly ancient. Some were of prehistoric design: just a large stone with a hole in it: not ineffectual, it is said, near coasts where the sea bed is of ooze, and the stone will sink in: sometimes too deep to be got out.

Given the location, it would not be surprising if some of those anchors came from Phoenician ships, and if so, it is speculation what the sailors called them. But in European languages, anchor is one of the words that are almost universal, like cat and night: words that have not been replaced by slang words or nicknames.

It is related to other things that are hooked or bent: anchors in later times have worked by hooking the vessel to the seabed. A few other English words derive from this ANC- root, including ankle and angle. Earlier connotations of anguish include a sense of squeezing, closing, tightening or oppressing.

Latin also has a few, such as ancora, angulus, angina, angor, uncus, angustus, ancus, ungulus, unguis, quinancia.

But to look at the words of this family in Greek is to be reminded of the resources of that language, and of the semantic wealth that made it susceptible of science and de rigueur for educated Romans. A few of the many:

γκάλαι: the bent arms or, metaph., anything enfolding

γκάλισμα: something or someone held in the arms

ἄγκαθεν (adverb): in one’s arms

ἄγκιστρον: a fish-hook

ἀγκιστροειδής: hook-shaped

ἀγκιστροπώλης: a seller of fish-hooks

ἄγκος: a bend

ἀγκών: a bend, hollow, angle or bay

ἀγκυλομήτης: crooked of counsel

ἄγκυρα: an anchor

ἀγκυροβολέω: make fast by throwing an anchor

ἀγκύρίζω: catch with a hook


Next post: The Hope and Anchor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *