Printable Version
Pronunciation: gree-o, gree-o Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A West African traveling poet, musician, or storyteller, who maintains the traditional oral history of a tribe. 2. Anyone who perpetuates the oral history of an institution, village, or family.

Notes: Griot is a word that is making a comeback due directly to the electronic storage capacity of computers, especially 'cloud' computers. Several institutions are recording and storing sound recordings of stories directly related to their history. The person in charge of such a project is a griot, pronounced, as in French, with a silent T.

In Play: We need to record the griots of our families, if not for the stories, to preserve the sound of the griot's voice: "Grandpa is the griot of our family; I love to hear him ramble on with stories about our aunts and uncles and other people I know." However, someone should also transcribe the stories of our griots to preserve them the old-fashioned way.

Word History: Today's word is an English tracing of French griot with the same meaning. French obtained the word from Portuguese criado "domestic servant". Criado is a descendant of Latin cretus "(one) brought up or trained", the past participle of creare "to produce, bring up". Latin creare goes back to a Proto-Indo-European word ker- "to grow" with a variant kre- (by metathesis). The original form lies beneath cereal and Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. In its metathesized form, we find it in crescendo, that growth of volume in music, the present participle of Italian crescere "to increase", unchanged from Latin crescere. (Nina Davis, associate professor of economics, Bucknell University,introduced me to this word in an e-mail announcing that Heather Hennigan is Bucknell's griot.)

Dr. Goodword,

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