The title refers obviously to the Umberto Eco work which anyone who cares about knowledge and its preservation ought to read if only for fun; but the picture refers only to itself. With exegesis from Larry Wall. [Oh, my; give this audience a chance to indulge in linguistic pedantry and, well, you don’t have to ask twice. If you like this kind of stuff, don’t miss the comments.]
[My first published draft credited Calvino instead of Eco for the book, which explains the first comment below.]
The number in this case is part of our address; the previous owner of our house left some massive pieces of driftwood behind; I erected one in our front yard, bolted the number to it, and have been trying to encourage this nice old white rose to to grow for a few years now.
The resulting edifice is not unlike a standing stone, only it’s wood. I wondered what to call it. The only professionally-trained linguists whom I know on a first-name basis are Larry Wall and his wife Gloria, so I wrote them wondering if there were an existing word for megalith-only-wood and if not, what one might reasonably invent. I seem to have lost the email I sent, but I have Larry’s reply, which I reproduce from a 2001 email exchange without permission but probably with his approval:
Tim Bray writes:
: I live in hope of being able to coin a word and get into
: a reputable lexicon anywhere... would anyone chez Wall
: care to venture a suggestion? -Tim
Well, wood/tree in Greek is xulon (where x is a xi, not a chi—see xylem for a related word). Unfortunately, mega-xul (or mega-xyl) is hard to get your mouth around even when you're used to pronouncing “ks” consonant clusters at the beginnings of syllables. The only way to pronounce it as an English speaker is to put the stress on the middle syllable, and then you lose the accessibility of the “mega” morpheme.
You may need to abandon Greek. Glo suggests mega-flotsam or some such. Flotsam is from Old French, so maybe they have something that would stand in for mega. I'm not fluent in Old French. I'm not fluent in any kind of French, except maybe for English.
In German, anything you coin would probably start out gross-, which is pretty gross. But you get things like gross-holz, “big wood”, or gross-treib-holz, “big driftwood”, or gross-zweig, “large twig”.
From Japanese we can coin words like okii-kare-ki, “big dead wood” (if you go with native Japanese syllables) or dai-boku, “big wood”, if you go with borrowed Chinese syllables, which make up at least half of Japanese these days, much like half of English used to be French.
If you go for more humor, “big stick” would be dai-bookire, but getting English speakers to pronounce the long “o” and the final "e" right would be a trick.
Unfortunately, “big driftwood” in Japanese would be dai-hyooryuu-boku, which I can guarantee you is not going to catch on.
For it, that's now.