Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Visigoths Are Not to Blame

June 10th, 2009 · 2 Comments

barbarianbeardWe were elated to arise this morning and discover that the Stanley Cup finals are headed toward a seventh and deciding game. This isnt because we’re huge hockey fans—in fact, we must confess general ignorance when it comes to the fastest game on ice. Having decided to go whole hog in support of Premiership laggard Sunderland these past few years, soccer has replaced hockey as our fourth sport. And the human mind just doesn’t have the capacity to go otaku on any more sports than that.

But we love the Stanley Cup playoffs due to the playoff beard tradition. There’s something wonderfully primal about letting the whiskers flourish while in the midst of a violent struggle for supremacy. And part of the appeal was our long-held belief that beards were first popularized by our barbarian ancestors—we remember learning that the word beard is derived from the Latin word for barbarian. And so whenever we’ve seen the likes of Mike Commodore rocking the facial tuft, we’ve smiled at the thought of such hirsuteness tracing back to the days of Visigoths and Vandals.

But, alas, we seem to have learned a false etymological lesson. It turns out the Romans were fans of beard themselves, and so would never deride an outsider for going the hairy route. A man skilled in Latin and Greek breaks down the whole story:

The Romans adopted the word barbarus directly from Greek barbaros, and applied it by extension to anyone who was not a Greek or Roman, although every Greek worth his salt probably felt in his heart of hearts that the Romans were barbarians, too, just as today supposedly cultivated Europeans look down their noses at upstart, boorish Americans.

The Romans wore beards during certain historical periods and were clean-shaven in others. In general, they wore beards before the second century B.C. and after the 2nd century A.D. Between those two periods, a smooth chin was the rule, although younger, foppish men sometimes went bearded, and poor men often couldn’t afford the two bits for a shave and a haircut.

This revelation is sure to make us reconsider our ZZ Top fandom.

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