Sing a Blind Song

Sometimes I get a little bored, so I ‘Google’ stuff. Today, I checked out songs about blindness sung by blind people. It seems there aren’t that many…Phew!!! Thank god we’re not ALL maudlin. I found a few though, mostly from old black Southern men (Sonny Terry, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Gary Davis and Blind Roger Hayes). Frankly, I’d be mortified if I had  to live with a handle like Blind Helen. It’s bad enough that people refer to me as “Helen With the Dog”. Turns out that blind musicians have better stuff to sing about than their angst about being blind…. love,  bad relationships, the world (Mr. Ray Charles does a great job of ‘What a Wonderful World’)  and the city (Little Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living for the City’). As for all the SONGS with LYRICS which include the word ‘blind’ or blindness’….sheesh! That’s a whole different kettle of fish. Just as our everyday expressions use the words blind to mean that one is unaware, purposefully oblivious, uncaring etc. (“blind as a bat”, “turn a blind eye”, “love is blind”, “blind rage”, “blind leading the blind”…) song lyrics use them similarly and just as regularly.  I’m not claiming that it’s not PC and we should immediately run around tweaking and rewriting  all these songs. It might be an idea to think about language and how we use words. As a word nerd, I love to learn about the origin and history of words. I wonder how it came to be that a physical condition morphed into use as a negative adjective and verb.

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3 responses to “Sing a Blind Song

  1. I did a bit of research on the etymology of the word “blind”. I was always quite the linguist, and developing blindness made me think more about that word in particular. I’m an avid reader of your blog and when I saw this entry I figured that I would share my interpretation.

    I should warn that my writing tends to be a bit scatterbrained, so you may want to slow down the screenreader if you have it up to 9, as I usually do. Certain words I use in this post sound too much alike, and it’s somewhat difficult to discern between the two pronounciations. Then again, I’m a bit hard of hearing, so it may just be me. Furthermore, since I’m from Alabama, you should turn on the “Southern States Drawl” option in your screenreader in order to get the full effect.

    The word “blind” originates from the word “blend”. Back in The Old Dun Days, the word “blend” meant to dazzle or decieve.

    Blend used to have negative connotations, the implication being that you polluted or spoiled something by mixing it together with something else. The “blotting” or “staining” of something that “blend” implied back then was transfered over to the word “blind”. The word “blind” used in reference to one’s mental ability implied that one’s mind was, well, “mixed up”. Examples of this usage seem to predate the modern interpretation of the word “blind”.

    As an example of the archaic form, the quote “Such darkness blinds the sky” (which is from “Metamorphoses”) could be interpreted to mean that the darkness is mixing heterogeneously with the sky — making it impure — rather than the more modern interpretation of the sky being out of view due to the darkness. This interpretation is backed up by the previous line “So whirl the seas, such darkness blinds the sky”. However, that text isn’t exactly the easiest thing to follow.

    Then there’s the word “purblind”, which comes from a blend of the words “pure” and “blind”. This formerly referred to total blindness. That makes sense, as a “pure blend” of something would be an indistinguishable and homogeneous mixture. Somehow, this managed to get reversed in modern times to mean “partially blind”.

    Eventually, the word “blind” gained all the negative connotations of the word “blend”, and the word “blend” developed a few positive connotations of its own. The word “blind” also retained the meaning of being unable to see, and the word “blend” lost this meaning. People’s misconception of blindness didn’t exactly help. Still, the usage of the word blind to refer to a lack of insight predates the usage of the word blind to refer to a lack of eyesight.

    So, to summarize, the word “blind” actually comes from a negative adjective morphed into a word to refer to a physical condition.

    For the opposite effect, there’s the word “dumb”. The word “dumb” was originally used to mean “unable to speak”. It never had a negative connotation in English. However, there’s a German word (spelled D-U-M-M), which is pronounced the same. German immigration then influenced the meaning of this word. Now, instead of refering to the (English) meaning of being unable to speak, it refers to the (German) meaning of lacking intelligence. In the case of the word “dumb”, it is a physical condition morphed into a negative word, to the point where we have to avoid the original meaning. The original word can still be found in old texts.

  2. Thank you A.! Wow. Thank you for sharing this. It’s fascinating. More to the point, I think we should return to the original version and call ourselves ‘Blend’. Forgive the quip, but, “Been there, DUN that, I’m a blend woman!” Think of it…the National Federation of the Blend. The Canadian National Institute for the Blend…The Alliance for Equality of Blend Canadians…yeah, I like it a lot! (Oh, I use ‘Guide’ from Software Express as my screen reader…British with no southern drawl.)

  3. On the other hand, it doesn’t work so well when you insert it into other phrases.

    In modern usage, the sentence “I was blended by the bright light” sounds like light that’s capable of making some form of macabre smoothie, possibly involving laser beams. Likewise for the phrase “Blend Canadians”. Then again, “Canadian Blend” sounds rather appealing, for some reason. Just makes me wonder what would be in a Canadian Blend. Only thing that comes to mind at the moment is maple syrup. Mmm.

    Really, most usage of the word blend invokes the thought of food. The “National Federation of the Blend” sounds like an organization dedicated to guarding some secret recipe. Maybe they’re the ones that guard KFC’s “Special blend of herbs and spices”.

    Still, being thought of as delicious protectors of secret recipes is a lot better than being associated with a lack of intelligence.

    And no southern drawl option? I use several computers simultaneously (work requires me to multitask), so I set them to a seperate voice each. Due to this, I have a bad habit of collecting voices. I have everything from Yankee to Redneck, Japanese, Canadian, French, French-Canadian (that is, Canadien français) and Italian. I also have a Snarky-sounding Brit voice that I use to remind me of appointments and as a talking clock. Then there’s a voice called “shout”, which does what it says on the tin. Handy for alert messages.

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