Hornucopia - The Name

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

A Horny Issue

Like the word “harbinger”, the word “cornucopia” always looked wrong to me. It’s symbolised by a horn/horn-shaped object filled with goodies. So surely it should be a hornucopia, yes?

Amber certainly thinks so. When it is mentioned in The Mythic and the Horses of Doom that the group will need to travel to Aedea to obtain a “hornucopia” she seizes upon the word as only a girl-genius can:

‘Well, we have a cornucopia, sometimes called the horn of plenty. I always thought that word was strange. I mean, a cornucopia is an actual horn, so the word ‘hornucopia’ would make far more sense.’ Amber’s voice grew excited. ‘Combined with the uni-horn thing Big Bear mentioned, I’m seeing a pattern forming. I mean, there’s the musical instrument called a cornet. It’s literally a type of horn! Somehow, when certain ideas pass from Aedean fact to our fiction we substitute the word ‘corn’ for the original ‘horn’. Why would we do that? Are we changing the whole syllable or just substituting the letter ‘c’ for ‘h’?’ 

There’s One Horn Every Minute

This is a rare misfire from Amber. All three words above come from Latin – where “cornu” means “horn”. So we have a cornu of plenty (copia), a horse with a single (uni) cornu, and a literal musical cornu. Amber is a know-it-all, literally and figuratively. She taught herself Latin, so she must know the origin of these words. Why does she get this wrong?

Notice how excited she gets when she thinks she’s onto something? We all let our enthusiasm make us miss the obvious. Here, Amber’s need to find a meaning has her making a connection between the worlds where none exists. At least not on the evidence provided.

Not Every Prose Has Its Horn

Amber helms a healthy portion of Horses of Doom. I put her in some challenging situations, even in mortal danger, in order to show her growth as a young woman. Her tendency to over-think, her curiosity overruling common sense, has tragic consequences for others in this book and is the root cause for the plot of Book Three.

This scene was meant to foreshadow that. It was meant to act as a warning to Amber to stop and think, rather than just think. Except I screwed up.

In earlier drafts I had Big Bear bring up her error with the cornu-horn connection several pages later. In French/Catlish, the word for an animal horn is “la corne” so he was perfectly placed to put Amber in her place. But his explanation came at a piece heavy with exposition, so in some or other revision I deleted it, forgetting to remove Amber’s earlier dialogue. There are a lot of details in The Mythic Series and sometimes one or more of the balls I’m juggling hits the floor! 

So I did intend for Amber to get this wrong, but I didn’t intend for it to go unchecked. All that said, I still think “hornucopia” makes far more sense!

Bonus Round

Or, and I’ve only just realised this, did Amber and I get it right? In English we adopted “horn” from German to mean…horn. Why not simply use the Latin original rather than the German import? “Corn(u)” sounds similar to horn, has the same meaning, and was already being used in the words above. “Horn” itself was an unnecessary, surplus addition. So how and why did we adopt it? Was this just the random way in which languages develop, or something else…?