Story last updated at 12/17/2008 - 4:24 pm
Last week, as I read about the administration's intent to name a "car czar" to help salvage the Big Three automakers, visions of czar-plums danced in my head.
A fancy government job involving cars! To quote an old beer commercial: "Hey guys, it doesn't get any better than this!"
I know I have no more chance of being named car czar than I do of becoming governor of Illinois. Moreover, rescuing Detroit sounds like a high-pressure, time-consuming job.
Maybe it would be more fun to sit around and just look at the word "czar."
In school, we all studied the despotic czars of imperial Russia. They were eradicated by the Bolsheviks, along with good Russian literature and toilet paper.
The Russian emperor was actually a "tsar." We spell it "czar" because an Austrian diplomat wrote it that way in a 16th century book, and it caught on.
The Russians got "tsar" from tsesari. If you squint your eyes a bit, you can see where tsesari - and hence "tsar" and "czar" - came from: Caesar.
That's right; our nation is looking for a "car Caesar." We can thank Gaius Julius Caesar for that. Most sources say the family name "Caesar" means "hairy headed," although, strangely enough, Julius was balding. After his assassination, his successors took on the title of Caesar, even those who were of a different clan.
Classical Latin pronounced that title KY-sar, which sounds just like the word the Germans made of it: "kaiser." Their kaisers lasted only a year longer than the last tsar.
This means that after Caesar uttered his final "Et tu, Brute?" his linguistic genes mutated into "tsar," "czar" and "kaiser." Impressive, but not the end of the story.
According to Eric Partridge's Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, a Spanish town in the Roman Empire was named Caesaris, or Caesar's City. The townspeople translated it to Xeres, then Jerez. Early Modern English turned Jerez into Sherris, which looked plural, so it was shortened to Sherry. That town exported a popular wine: sherry, or "wine of Xeres."
Caesar's middle name gave us the month of July, and his grandnephew Augustus gave us August (and, eventually, Augusta). Caesar salad was named for a Mexican restaurant owner, but where did Caesar (or Cesar) Cardini get his first name? I would think so.
Kaiser rolls resemble the crown of said kaiser. Remember the old Kaiser motorcars, produced by industrialist Henry J. Kaiser? No Caesar, he nonetheless spread his name around. In addition to the Kaiser brand, he made a small car called the Henry J.
Reach Glynn Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org