Hausa: Chadic language, native to northern Nigeria (roughly from Kaduna northwards and some 200 km east of Kano westwards) and neighboring parts of Niger. Also widespread as a second language, there and elsewhere, and as a lingua franca across West Africa. Written in Arabic script before the 20th century, now largely in Roman.
Excerpted from: Marshall, P.H., ed. The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Linguistics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
“Art Brut: A term coined by French artist Jean Dubuffet to characterize spontaneous and rough artistic expression of children, prisoners, and the insane. Dubuffet’s collection of art brut inspired him to reclaim untrained and marginal artistic elements in his own work. See naïve art and ‘outsider’ art.”
Excerpted from: Diamond, David G. The Bulfinch Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms. Boston: Little Brown, 1992.
“Where in literature did Merlin the sorcerer first appear? In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain [Historia Regum Britanniae] (1137). This Latin prose work by the English chronicler also helped build the legend of Merlin’s protégé King Arthur.”
Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.
“By giving each letter a number from its order in the alphabet you can deconstruct the name ‘Bach’ as follows: 2 for the B, 1 for the A, 3 for the C, 8 for the H—which makes 14. A pleasing mirror, or reversal, of this number can also be formed from ‘J.S. Bach’—which gives 41. This pseudo-science of substituting numbers for letters is known as gematria, (or abjad in Arabic) and has innumerable variations depending on whether or not you include vowels or which language you translate back to or transcribe into. It has often appealed to creative minds and may have been behind Bach’s playful manipulation of the number 14, achieved by itself (in the fourteen canons of the Goldberg Variations for instance) or in pairs of sevens that occur throughout his work.
Gematria is a very ancient tradition, particularly in the Near East, where it has often had official sanction, with poetic inscriptions commissioned by rulers to reveal the date of the publication of a book or the construction of a building. There are examples dating back to Sargon II of Assyria (in the eighth century BC). In the first century AD gematria became a recognized tool of Jewish hermeneutical scholarship and it was tradition respected by many of the Ottoman Sultans. It seems only to have taken root in the imagination of Western Europe, however, in the seventeenth century.”
Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.