Saturday, May 28, 2011

Maya Have This Dance?

A cable program about underwater archeology in Central America used the word cenote [sen-OWE-tee]. It’s the name for a natural underground reservoir of water, such as occurs in the limestone of Yucatan.

The explorers found a pile of rubble in a flooded cavern, and upon closer examination, they found pottery and human bones that made them believe it was a sacrificial site. To me, the most interesting thing is that cenote came from a Mayan word, conot. Very few words in English came from that source, and most of them appear only in archeological contexts.

Aside from cenote, the Oxford English Dictionary lists four other Mayan words. Katun, for instance, was a period of twenty years, each with 360 days, in the calendar of the Mayan Indians. Tzolkin was the cycle of two hundred and sixty days constituting the sacred calendar of the Maya. Yucatec was the Mayan name for the inhabitants of Yucatan and their language. Pokolpok was a ball game played by the Mayans. Some have described it as something like basketball, but a heck of a lot rougher: the losing team was sometimes sacrificed.

NOTE: Words to the Wise received a favorable review in Andrea McDougal’s Word Nerds Rejoice: Top 25 Blogs For Editing Geeks.

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