Exquisite Paper Craft Animations Tell the Stories of Words

The beau­ti­ful Mys­ter­ies of Ver­nac­u­lar is a word-nerd’s delight, a series of ani­ma­tions delv­ing into the ori­gin of words, using exquis­ite paper craft ani­ma­tion to spin an ety­mo­log­i­cal yarn.

The ani­ma­tions are nar­rat­ed in author­i­ta­tive British, giv­ing each sto­ry the feel of the 1970s show, Con­nec­tionsin which sci­ence his­to­ri­an James Burke unwound the links between small moments in his­to­ry and mod­ern life. In this way, Mys­ter­ies of Ver­nac­u­lar, cre­at­ed by Myr­i­a­pod Pro­duc­tions, lays out the con­nec­tions between an ancient word for wolf, a tri­an­gu­lar rake, a frame that held can­dles in funer­als and, final­ly, a car­riage (or car) that con­veys coffins. All of these things come togeth­er to bring us the mod­ern-day word hearse. Watch above.

The words cov­ered so far are not in alpha­bet­i­cal order: assas­sin, clue, hearse and pants. Click on one of the videos for a beau­ti­ful­ly non-lin­ear sto­ry about how words shift and change as human soci­eties do. There are con­nec­tions, of course, between the ear­ly spelling and mean­ing of a word and its cur­rent use, but the jour­ney from one iter­a­tion to anoth­er is the fun part—dotted with side trips through his­to­ry.

The word clue, for exam­ple, was also spelled clew in ancient times and meant, of all things, a ball of yarn. If you know the sto­ry of The­seus, who was deter­mined to slay the Mino­taur at the cen­ter of the labyrinth, you might be able to fig­ure out how a ball of yarn came to refer, more gen­er­al­ly, to some­thing used to solve a rid­dle or prob­lem.

It may inter­est a few of you that the word ver­nac­u­lar has a shad­owy sto­ry of its own to tell. Com­ing from the Latin word for a house slave born in their house of servi­tude, ver­nac­u­lar has come to mean native espe­cial­ly in the con­text of describ­ing a lan­guage. Lin­guis­tic anthro­pol­o­gists, how­ev­er, find the term offen­sive and pre­fer the phrase dialect. 

Accord­ing to Myr­i­a­pod Pro­duc­tions, the Mys­ter­ies of Ver­nac­u­lar “will [ulti­mate­ly] con­tain 26 ety­mo­log­i­cal install­ments, one for each let­ter of the alpha­bet. Each episode takes more than 80 hours to cre­ate between the research, con­struc­tion of the book, and ani­ma­tion.”

Kate Rix is an Oak­land-based writer. See more of her work at .

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