WORD For word: Want to be ‘embedded’?
Embedded is a new term in the profession of journalism and it has nothing to do with bed itself. Each civilisation coined its own word for bed and it wasn’t a couch all the time!
These days journalists are all “embedded” in the Iraq war. It means they are accompanying the troops marching on Iraq. Trying to translate embedded into Urdu yields unhappy results, as discovered by Ghazi Salahuddin jocularly on GEO TV: he ended up saying hambistar which already has a meaning: sexually together. Bed is for purposes other than sleeping!
There is a reason why embedded doesn’t mean in bed in English. The word bed itself is derived from a root which means dug out. In the Germanic group of languages in Europe, the primitive man prepared his place of sleeping by digging into the earth.
That is why a flower-bed is called what it is. Embedded means that which is dug into something. The word for bed is derived by the various languages in a very interesting process. English and its related Germanic languages prefer the sense of digging out a nice hollow in the ground for sleeping.
Bed is in fact a dugout, not too different from a grave. No surprise that in Welsh bedd means grave! How would the Welsh look at an embedded journalist?
Funnily, the root (bhodh) that gives us bed also gives us fossil (dug up) and fosse (trench). But in the Romance group the sense has been borrowed from the act of lying down. It started with Greek lekhos and became lectus in Latin, letto in Italian and lit in French.
We know that in Urdu-Hindi the word for lying down and laying down is letna and litana. But we have not derived our word for bed from this verb. Italian letto for bed is very close to our verb, letna. French lit is at the base of English litter, a portable bed.
Some languages have derived bed from the sense of spreading. We have the Urdu word bistar which is really Persian from the Aryan root star (to spread). In Sanskrit vistar means spread. In English we refer to this sense when we say bed-spread.
The word we additionally use for bed is charpai, from Persian, which means four feet, something akin to English four-poster but much more modest. The traditional word which we have more or less given up in favour of charpai is khaat. We use it in uran-khatola (flying bed).
The similarity of khaat with English cot is amazing. But as John Ayto explains, cot meaning small bed in English is of Hindi origin! Cote in English actually means small house and can be seen in cottage and dovecote, etc. Small house in Urdu is kutya!
If our bed is impressive looking we call it palang which means bed and leopard at the same time in Persian. In English the word palanquin (covered litter) is supposed to have come from Southeast Asia through Portuguese, but its similarity with palang is undeniable.
The word palanquin could actually be traced back to Hindi palki which exactly means a covered litter in which the aristocrats travelled in olden times. It conveys the sense of hanging down from an upper rod. Cradle is pangura which is a changed form of palangura, taking us back to Persian palang.
We don’t use the Arabic version of bed although it is available. Bed is faraash which is derived from the root “frsh” meaning to spread. We use farash for floor but use faraash only in the expression sahib faraash (confined to bed) when referring to an ill person. *