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  • High Times: Grimm's Law turns cannabis into hemp in four easy steps

    Jakob Grimm, of Grimm's Law fame, may or may not have rolled his own
    Jakob Grimm, of Grimm's Law fame, may or may not have rolled his own

    With Colorado set to legalize recreational marijuana on January 1, the Denver Post hired a marijuana editor, providing instant fodder for late-night comedians everywhere. But recreational pot is also serious business, and so the editor of Summa Sæculorum, the journal of the Boulder Philological Society, has printed a recipe for residents of Colorado, Washington state, Uruguay, and anyplace else about to legalize marijuana, for using Grimm's Law to turn cannabis into hemp in four easy steps.  

    You don’t need a chem lab, bongs, or rolling paper to get hemp from cannabis, but you will need Grimm’s Law. Students of the history of the English language (a course commonly referred to as HEL, or more euphemistically, ‘h-e-single hockey stick’) routinely plod through Grimm’s Law, a tortuous series of sound changes that occurred in the Germanic languages as their speakers chewed sausage, swilled beer, and watched their words drifting farther and farther from their Proto-Indo-European roots during prehistoric Northern Europe's long, winter nights. Because of Rome's sunny Mediterranean climate and a Roman diet rich in red wine and pasta, Latin was not affected by Grimm’s law, and so its words preserve the sounds of the lighter, Indo-European originals.

    Grimm’s Law is so boring that some students must get high in order to sit through a class on it. (Little do they imagine how their instructors prep in order to lecture on such dry material.) Things must have been even worse for the Germanic tribes, who had to sit in silence for years as the three phases of Grimm's Law played out. A single outburst could have thrown off the whole process, forcing the cyclical language change to start all over again.

    But the following recipe offers an easier—and in most states a more-legal—way to understand Grimm’s Law. 

    As we learned from Harry Potter, the philosopher’s stone changes lead into gold, but Grimm’s Law lets us turn Latin cannabis into English hemp in four easy steps.

    1. First, use Grimm's Law to turn the C in cannabis into the H in hemp.
      Grimm’s Law tells us that the Indo-European sound K, which is spelled in Latin with the letter C, becomes an H-sound in Germanic languages (modern Germanic languages include German, Dutch, Norwegian, English, and several others): 

      Cannabis > Hænəp 

  (hænəp is the Old English word for hemp; we turn hænəp into hemp in step 3)

      (other examples of this: Latin canis and English hound, Latin cornu, as in cornucopia, and English horn, as in horn of plenty)

    2. Now apply Grimm's Law again, turning the B in cannabis into the P in hemp.
      Grimm’s Law also tells us that an Indo-European B-sound, spelled B in Latin, becomes a P-sound in Germanic: 

      cannaBis > hænəP 

      (another example of this: Latin turba and English thorp)

    3. Gently remove the unstressed vowel to turn hænəp into hænp
      Unstressed vowels frequently disappear from words (so, esquire becomes squire, and laboratory becomes 'labratory' or simply, lab). At some point shrouded in history, the unstressed vowel in Old English hænəp, represented by the symbol schwa /ə/ —disappears, producing an intermediate, one-syllable form: 

      hænəp > hænp 

      (Set aside that schwa. You can use it later to add vowels to words that don't have enough, like athelete)

    4. With the ə safely out of the way, turn the N of hænp into the M in hemp
      As soon as you complete step 3, where you removed the unstressed vowel from hænep, let your hænp rest in a cool spot, covered with a damp cloth, for twenty minutes. Because the N-sound is now followed by a P, that N will turn into an M through a process called assimilation (it's important not to peek until this final change is complete):

      Np > heMp 

      (There are lots of examples of N becoming M before sounds like P, B, or even another M: the prefixes in- and en- become im- and em- in words like impossible, embellish, and immoral. If you're worried about the loss of that Latin final S, or or how the A in cannabis changed to the æ in hænəp and then to the E in hemp, don't. As Voltaire put it so succinctly, etymology is a science where the consonants count for very little and the vowels for nothing at all. In fact, Voltaire said this so succinctly that no one has ever been able to find it in his writings.)

      If you've done each of these steps correctly, then the transformation of cannabis into hemp should be complete.  

      Now just heat and eat. 
All good cooks like to sample their recipes and share them with friends. But you won’t be able to do this with either cannabis or hemp until January 1, 2014, and even then you can only do it in Colorado or Washington state (if you have a prescription, you might be able to do it in California), so it’s best to treat this recipe for turning cannabis into hemp as “void where prohibited”).


    Warning from the Boulder Philological Society: Recipe demonstrated by professional philologist on closed course. Do not try this at home.

    Boston Gazette calls for regulation of tea, which it calls a

    Not everyone is pleased that Colorado is legalizing recreational marijuana, though high taxes on the herb are earmarked for the state's schools. That should put students in a better frame of mind when studying Grimm's Law. But the federal government would prefer to continue treating cannabis or hemp as a controlled substance. 240 years ago, in the lead-up to the Revolution, some American patriots suggested banning real tea. An article in the Boston Gazette celebrating the Boston Tea Party, which took place on Dec. 16, 1773, calls for legal action to discourage tea-drinking in the colonies. But that proposal didn't get very far. Despite high taxes and a resentment of England, Americans continued to drink what the Gazette called "this detestable herb." [Boston Gazette, Dec. 20, 1773] 

michaelt4two@gmail.com Dec 14, 2013 9:14 am

Assimilation has occurred in my Cornish surname, Tremberth. The consituents of this name are tre (of tre, pol and pen), an (the indefinite article), and berth (as the original vowel may well  have changed, this could have one of several meanings). The changes are simple: Tre - an - berth changes to Tren - berth by loss of /a/, after which, in  my family's case as recently as the late 19th century, there is a further change, by assimilation, to Trem - berth. My grandfather was recorded as Trenberth in the 1881 census, as Tremberth in 1901.The name has remained largely unmodified in the US

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