Visiting the Blackwing website, a series of testimonials caught my eye. Author. Illustrator. Woodworker. Luthier. As if I hadn’t exhibited my geek credentials enough by shopping for pencils on a Sunday morning, I was now down an etymology rabbit hole.

A luthier is a maker of stringed instruments such as violins and guitars. Today’s modern definition is broader than its historical meaning of one who makes lutes. Both lutes and luthiers trace their English origin to the French words.

The history further back, though, gets murkier. The lute is most associated with the 12th and 13th century in Europe, buts its origins can be traced back to 2500-3100 BC. Yes, that makes it a 5,000 year old instrument, which also makes it the same age as what we consider written languages. Depending, of course, on what you consider written languages, since pictorial languages go back much further.

Lute can best be traced to the Arabic word al-‘ud, meaning “the wood” and referring to the Arabian lute. And, yes, we mangled the spelling as the word moved into the European languages. Variations of the word can be found in most modern languages referring to stringed musical instruments.

As a side note, the Latin lutum refers to mud or clay and is the basis of the other definition of lute meaning the material used to fill a joint in stonework or seal a porous surface. It also refers to the rubber ring that you find in Mason jars. Despite the identical spelling, the word has a totally different meaning and origin.

Now you know the origin of the word luthier. And you know the weird places my mind goes. Now back to pencil purchasing.

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