Sometime around the year 1240AD, the French scholar Bartholomeus Anglicus (aka Bartholomew the Englishman) wrote what some might call one of the first general encyclopedias. It was called De Proprietatibus Rerum, meaning “On the Properties of Things.” I couldn’t find it online, but here you can see the titles of its 19 ambitious books covering god, the body, daily life, the sciences, and basically anything and everything known.
As you can tell from its title, the book was written in Latin, so our target word was not yet brought into English. That happened a century and a half later (~1398AD), when the British writer John Travisa translated Anglicu’ swork into English. Travisa is noted, by the way, in Wiki bio as the “the 18th most frequently cited author in the Oxford English Dictionary and the third most frequently cited source for the first evidence of a words.”
As we ring out the bells, as it were, in celebration of Travisa’s critical role in the development of English, we can perhaps use some tintinnabulous language. The original word he brought into English was tintinnabulum, a word for a small tinkling bell. The passage from Anglicus’ book read:
Tintinnabulum is the belle that is often hangyd abowte the neckes of houndes & fete of foules and byrdes.
And from there, we built out quite a number of tintinn- family members over the centuries. They include:
- tintinnabulant: an adjective for jingling;
- tintinnabular, tintinnabulary, and tintinnabulatory: adjectives for things pertaining to bells or bell-ringing;
- tintinnabulate: an adjective meaning bell-shaped, or a verb for ringing bells;
- tintinnabulation: the sound of bell ringing (used once by Poe — the “tintinabulation [Poe’s spelling] that so musically swells From the bells”);
- tintinnabule: a bell;
- tintinnabulism: the practice of bell ringing, practiced by tintinnabulists; and finally
- tintinnabulous: today’s focus word, meaning pertaining to bell ringing.
Reading all of this, part of me wonders whether the curious double-tin aspect of this word might be related to the famous Rin Tin Tin’s name. I looked up its origin, and it ultimately refers to the names of two small good-luck charm dolls (named Nénette and Rintintin) worn by WWI soldiers in France.
So, it’s doubtful. Yet, it’s such an unusual, distinct sound … I still wonder if there’s not some deeper etymological connection. After all, even as tintinnabulum was brought into English in 1398, Anglicus’ encyclopedia made it into French much earlier, first translated into French in 1372. And Anglicus was French, as well. I realize that’s all reaching, of course.
And that’s it for today. I’ll leave off with a tintinnabular thought from John Donne from his 1624 work Devotions upon Emergent Occasions:
Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine[Pg 109] own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains three blogs — Hawthorne Crow, Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine, and Wonderful Words, Defined — and contributes to various Medium pubs. Connect at JPDbooks.com, Amazon, FB, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest screwball literary novel, CHROO, is a guaranteed good time.