Date: Sat, 24 Feb 1996 10:21:38 -0500 From: "M. Lynne Murphy" <104LYN[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]MUSE.ARTS.WITS.AC.ZA> Subject: Re: etymology: 'negro', 'necro' > question from hel-l i shudder to imagine who moderates "hel-l" > >I believe 'negro' derives from a Latin root for 'black' and 'necro' > >derives from a Latin root for 'death'. We see 'necrosis' for 'death > >of living tissue' and 'necromancy' for 'divination / magic by use of > >death'. Necrotic tissue is often dark or black as the result of said > >necrosis. Could this be the source of the popular term '"black" > >magic' for some perceived perpetration of evil through magical acts? well, first of all, _necro_ or _nekros_ is greek for 'corpse'. the latin for death is usually _mors_ (and for corpse is _cadaver_). i can't tell from the american heritage whether _nekros_ and _niger_ (latin for 'black') have the same IE source, since it doesn't seem to give a source for _niger_. i don't think this is a linguistic issue, but a more general semiotic kind of thing. there are probably multiple sources of the association of _black_ and evil. the dark is the unknown, we put our dead in the dark (if we bury), we associate dirtiness with darkness, and, as you note, most things turn dark when they rot. of course, black is not universally associated with death (e.g., in japan), but i don't think that the link was an arbitrary one forged by coincidentally similar-sounding words. i'd aver that "black magic" probably takes its metaphor from christian dichotomy of "the light" (christ/holy spirit) and "the darkness" (satan). dark magic serves the prince of darkness (or at least is believed to by christians). it's often claimed that the use of _black_ to mean evil things has its roots in eurocentrism/racism. the OED's first uses of _black_ to mean "evil" occur in the late 16th century, but then the OED's first citations of a lot of stuff aren't til that late just because earlier sources are scarce. certainly the link between darkness and evil has been exploited for racist purposes (i think of _the book of mormon_), but it's less likely, i think, that the 'evil' meaning was caused by european judgments of african "paganism". but, back to _black magic_, the term is often (but certainly not always) used to describe "magic" as performed by black people--as in voudou. from the whitest part of darkest africa, lynne --------------------------------------------------------------------- M. Lynne Murphy 104lyn[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] Department of Linguistics phone: 27(11)716-2340 University of the Witwatersrand fax: 27(11)716-8030 Johannesburg 2050 SOUTH AFRICA