guggul

When you Google, you can find if not a googol then more than a gaggle of words that make you goggle and giggle. Your mind will boggle as, agog, you ogle the ugly but allegedly legible scribblings. It might as well be so much googoo and gaga – do they take you for gullible? Are you being guggled (deceived)?

Some people say the same about Ayurveda, mind you, in which guggul figures significantly. What is guggul? It’s a shrub that grows in Gujarat and Rajasthan; it produces a resin from which is extracted guggulipid (I kid you not), which is said to be beneficial for treating high cholesterol, inhibiting tumour growth, reducing osteoarthritis symptoms, and, in combination with other ingredients, healing hemorrhoids, urinary tract infections, and acne, and helping people lose weight. It’s had clinical trials for treatment of cholesterol, but the results were not so great, so its future as a treatment for that is questionable.

So is its future in general. As it happens, the plant is endangered due to overuse. It’s also used as incense (which smells like myrrh), especially for driving away evil spirits (“Go, ghoulies”) and removing the evil eye. (No news on its effect on nazguls.) Such magic for us muggles! This all gets to sound a bit like Gulliver’s Laputa, doesn’t it? Or, no, not Laputa – Glubbdubdrib. Which reminds me (especially its convocation of b’s and d’s like big-bellied men making conversation) of the name the incense had around the Mediterranean in ancient times: bdellium.

There seems to be one stop too many in bdellium, doesn’t there? Well, it does at least counterbalance these back-of-the-tongue /g/s with the tip and the lips. Not that guggul is entirely at the back of the mouth: the u’s keep it there with the g’s, but in the end it leaps up with the l, which just happens to be a frequent travelling companion of g, a kind of Laurel to its Hardy. The /gl/ onset is a well-established phonaestheme, often heard in words for things wet, bright, or both (gleaming, glistening, gluey, glop); this /g–l/ finish, which has the stop and liquid in separate syllables, has less of a clear pattern, but as you juggle and gurgle it in your mouth, you will find it seems often to show up in words for small, rapid motions (jiggle, wiggle, juggle), and to have a sense of swallowing. (Indeed, guggle the noun refers to the epiglottis or the windpipe, and guggle the verb more commonly refers to a sound like that of liquid pouring from a small-necked bottle.)

The tongue often follows common paths, and – in any given language especially – shuns others. But it can nonetheless put together unexpected bits. It makes me wonder: is language more like Boggle or Lego? Do you mainly follow the bits as you can connect them, or do you pick them from the bucket and stick them together willy-nilly? This issue comes up for phonemes (the set of available distinctive sounds for a language), morphemes (the meaning-bearing bits words are made of, e.g., make+ing=making), lexemes (words, basically), phrases, and of course the semantic components too: how constrained are we when we string them together?

Linguistics is not some kind of jiggery-pokery, though some people (who prefer not to be plagued with facts) might say it is. But there must be limits to what we can say about language with language; that follows from the incompleteness theorems set forth by Kurt Gödel. The nature of the system sets, you might say, a girdle on it.

I know not what this has to say about the science of medicine, and what western medicine can know versus what Ayurveda maintains. I make no claims about the health benefits of guggul, let alone about its apotropaic qualities. But while its set of letters , just slightly unexpected in English, might attract the eyes, its path in the mouth is well worn. I’m sure you said it many times as a baby.

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5 responses to “guggul

  1. Guggul also makes me think of Elisabeth Görgl, one of the best ski racers on the World Cup circuit. A couple of other top racers, Maria Riesch and Lara Gut, have lately been making me think of the song “Du riechst so gut” by Rammstein. (It means “You smell so good,” but I have no idea how they smell. After a race, probably a bit unpretty.) And Lindsey Vonn? Too busy winning everything by massive margins for Rammstein to catch up to her, perhaps…

  2. “When you Google, you can find if not a googol then more than a gaggle of words that make you goggle and giggle. Your mind will boggle as, agog, you ogle the ugly but allegedly legible scribblings. It might as well be so much googoo and gaga – do they take you for gullible? Are you being guggled (deceived)?”

    Dumbfounding!

    I have used never used Guggul in writing, but my acquaintance with it is as old as with my mother tongue!

  3. I continue to enjoy your column with its careful research and wonderful sense of play! Something I have been curious about is the word shampoo. You may have written about it already. What’s interesting to me is that the prescriptivist French adopted the gerund anglicized version “shampooing” for the noun. They dislike polluting French wit English or franglais in general . Did the English introduce the product to them? And why the “ing” ending? It seems strange!

    Thanks, Laura

  4. Pingback: galangal | Sesquiotica

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