NOSES, ZAWNS, AND FURRY DANCING

27 July 2011

One of the themes of this blog is that we all have much more in common than any differences there may be. Against the sejunctive ideology shouted by a form of Cornish nationalism, I assert what we all share.

Noses
Recent research suggests that the form of the cavity of the human nose reflects the climate of the ancestral habitat, the keys being temperature and humidity. The research by ML Noback et al is published in the Journal of physical anatomy, August 2011. The Journal is not free online but you can access a report of the article here.

The article is not specific on the point and I have not peered up people’s noses but as far as I can understand most of the people who describe themselves as English and most of the people who describe themselves as Cornish should have the same sort of nasal cavity.

Zawns
Zawn is an English word derived from the Cornish sawn, a fissure in a cliff. The word can probably be tracked back to hypothecated Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *stomen, which refers to orifices in the body. From that we can see Ancient Greek stoma, a mouth, now used by medicine with a slightly different meaning; and, through Latin and old French, modern English stomach. (See the Oxford English Dictionary, available online here with your Cornwall library reader’s card, and this blog. Pokorny’s Indo-European dictionary is here; look up stomen-. Pokorny also gives the Welsh and Breton connections.)

The modern language differences hide the similarities and the common origins of English and Cornish in Indo-European. Babel should not mislead us: in an important way we speak a common language.

Furry dancing
The British Film Institute has just published two disks of films of some British folk customs such as street dancing, street sports, and songs such as Here’s a health to the barley mow. The Padstow oss and notable Helston furry dance are there.

You can read about the disks here and buy the set here.

It is a fascinating and valuable collection of old films about old customs and traditions and shows the differences and similarities across the country. People celebrate light and fertility and vanquish dark and barrenness in a thousand ways but all are related. The ball game of St Ives is a cognate of street ball games and sports all over Britain and elsewhere; Helston’s dancing is part of a family which includes Abbots Bromley and Durham sword dancing and innumerable street dances; spring, May Day, summer, and midwinter festivities are found all over the place.

The disk is only a sample of the vast range of folk customs that are found in Britain. Each place has its own but the underlying similarities are striking. As humans – not as English or Cornish or French or Chinese but as humans – we all experience similarly the fundamental joys and puzzles and terrors of life; we simply put a local hue on them; they spring from the localisation of common human experiences. Local hues matter and we should strive to keep them: I wish to see Lafrowda, just celebrated at St Just, and Obby oss flourish with their local hues – and well dressing in villages in Derbyshire and the Notting Hill festival and celebrations all over our country and our world. We should balance the local and the common; we should not exceptionalise ourselves out of our common human experiences.

Anatomy, words, customs: we are all of the one human race.


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