The Björketorp Runestone & Curse

The Björketorp Runestone is one of many standing stones (menhir) located in Bleking, Sweden and is one of the world’s tallest runestones, measuring 13.7 feet (4.2 m) high. It is part of a stone circle with two other blank standing stones, with several other solitary stones in the surrounding regions. Most scholars date the runestone’s inscription to the 7th century AD. It’s carved with a type of runes that form an intermediate version between the Elder Futhark and the Younger Futhark. The runestone is inscribed on both sides, the shorter message appears to say “I foresee perdition” or “prediction of perdition” and the longer side’s inscription (pictured) translates as:

“I, master of the runes(?) conceal here runes of power. Incessantly (plagued by) maleficence, (doomed to) insidious death (is) he who breaks this (monument). I prophesy destruction / prophecy of destruction.”

Local lore says that the curse came true at one point. Long ago, a man wanted to move the runestone so that he could have more room to farm, so he piled wood around it to attempt to heat the stone and then crack it with water. The weather was calm with no wind at the time, but as soon as he lit the fire a sudden gust came and lit the man’s hair aflame. He dropped to the ground to put it out but his clothes caught fire and the poor man died in agony. The flame around the runestone, however, was miraculously extinguished, as if someone had smothered the fire.

Ik kan niet wachten tot de lente en de zomer. Wakker worden door de zon die op m'n gezicht schijnt. Naar buiten gaan en de warme zonnestralen voelen op m'n bleke huid.
—  Lente/zomer, ik wacht op je.

Dressgate: An Etymologist Weighs In!

You’ve seen the dress.  You see a certain color, your best friend sees a different color.  You’ve heard scientists explain the way light propagates, you’ve heard retinal neuroscientists explain how your eye and brain works.  Now about those words… Few words have more fluid and changeable meanings than words describing color.


The word blue is no exception. Blue entered English around the time of Chaucer from the Old French word blo meaning pale, wan, blond. The Oxford Universal English Dictionary offers livid, leaden colored. The Proto-Indo-European root *blhe- referred to a blond or even yellow color. In related Scandanavian roots the color referred to was black. Our spelling comes from the French influence while the association of blue with constancy could come from the rhyme with true as in true blue, a very old English expression. Some etymological dictionaries offer the Latin flavus (yellow) as having a related root. 


The word black first entered Middle English as a verb, meaning to darken or blacken, probably used to denote the making of shoes or durable goods. This early version was spelled blek, blak pr bleke and came from the Anglo-Saxon root blaek.  Unfortunately, at the same time a similar word entered the language blak or blaek or even blake meaning white or shiny and is the root word for today’s bleak and bleach.  Note, these words do NOT share the same etymology, but do share similar orthography and pronunciation.  Again, early speakers and writers of English had nearly identical words to express both black and white.  


The word white comes from the Old English adjective hwit meaning bright, radiant; clear, fair.  The noun white came from the Proto-Germanic root *hwitaz  (thus the German weiß,) from Proto-Indo-European root word *kweid-o-, meaning white or to shine (giving us other cognates: Sanskrit svetah white; Old Church Slavonic sviteti to shine, Lithuanian šviesti to shine).  From the beginning in most of these Northern European languages the connection to snow and purity was clear: white was uncontaminated with anything, and specifically other colors.  Today we know that white is actually the combination of all colors, and the absence of color.  


Gold is the only color (and element) on this list that has a fairly long and uninterrupted use in its current from.  Early Modern English has settled on gold for some time, from Middle and Old English spellings of gould and goold and even earlier gull, golt, gult.  Gold was probably named for its association with its color, coming from the Anglo Saxon word for yellow as geolu or geolo like blue possibly from the Latin for yellow, helvus.  It is more likely the early European roots came from the Ancient Greek  (chloros) meaning yellowish-green (often the word used to denote green scientifically-chlorophyl, etc.) than  (chrusos) meaning gold.  Of the four colors named here, gold is the most permanent, probably because of its long and early association with the element, long valued in trade and commerce.  What was the difference for Romans between flavus and helvus?  We have no idea, but they did have a word for golden:  aureus.


How can a word mean both what we think it means and its opposite? Part of the difficulty in defining colors is that we all perceive and appreciate colors differently. Blue happens to be my favorite color, but not all blues-I have favorite blues and blues I don’t care for. Yes, I see the dress as black and blue, but not a color of blue I care for.  As a (former) photographer, I can see how people see white and gold.  As an etymologist, well, you see what we are working with here.  Half the words here were once their own antonym.  We have NEVER been able to agree on color!