Monday, December 30, 2013

Nothing But the Tooth

Among the gifts beneath your Christmas tree there may have been (if you were very good or, barring that, very rich) an electronic Bluetooth device.  Bluetooth is the name of a wireless technology for exchanging data over short distances.  Its uses include connecting mobile phones to car stereo systems or to headsets, wireless operation by a computer of a mouse or a printer, and intercom systems. And you thought I didn’t know anything about electronics—ha!

Now what does a tooth that’s colored blue have to do with all this high-tech magic? It turns out that it’s named for the tenth-century Danish king Harald Bluetooth (Blåtand in Old Norse), who united ornery Danish and Norwegian tribes into a single kingdom.  The technology was invented in 1997 by an engineer who was reading a novel about Harald, and he thought “Bluetooth” was a good name for his invention since it united communications protocols into a single standard, just as the old Scandinavian king united warring factions. Sounds like a stretch to me, but OK.  The Bluetooth logo is a rune that includes Harald’s initials.

Why Harald was known by the epithet “Bluetooth” is not clear. People in the 10th century had a bad habit of not writing down explanations.  Blue originally meant “dark,” not necessarily the specific color we associate with the word today, so possibly Harald had a rotten tooth that had turned dark in color.  Others say Harald loved blueberries and ate so many that they stained some of his teeth, or that he was always clad in blue garments, a traditional royal color.  Yet another theory is that “tooth” has nothing to do with oral hardware, but is a corruption of the English word thegn, meaning “chieftain,” and “bluetooth” meant that Harald was a dark-complexioned king.

In any event, Bluetooth should not be confused with “Blu-Ray,” which has no “e,” even though it derives from “blue-violet,” the spectrum of the laser ray used in an optical disc format to record high-definition video.  The “e” was omitted so the term “Blu-Ray” could be trademarked.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou always omits “e’s” when he uses his decrepit old L. C. Smith typewriter, which has a broken “e”-key that he is too indolent to have repaired.  See for yourself in the following “e”-less verse:

            Mary had a tiny lamb,
            Its wool was soft as snow,
            And if Mary should go out,
            That lamb would also go.

            Mary’s lamb to school did stray,
            Against all laws, alas!
            Boys and girls did laugh and play
            To find a lamb in class!  

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