Terracotta bureaucrats

According to a report I heard on the radio this morning, the British Museum is going to stage a major exhibition of the terracotta warriors who guard the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇), who unified China and was its first emperor from 221-210 BC. The exhibition will include not just some of the warriors, but also terracotta bureaucrats, acrobats and musicians. Apparently the emperor is attend in death by his army plus quite a few other members of his court.

The term ‘terracotta bureaucrat’ is not one you hear everyday and caught my ear.

The word bureaucracy combines bureau, meaning desk or office, with the Greek suffix -kratia, which denotes ‘power of’, and was coined by the French economist Jean Claude Marie Vincent de Gournay (1712-59). The word bureaucrat first appeared in writing in 1842. A bureau was originally a type of cloth used for covering desks and tables. It comes from the Latin Latin burra, wool, shaggy garment; via the Old French burel, coarse woolen cloth.

Terracotta comes from Italian and means ‘baked earth’.

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This entry was posted in French, General, Latin, Words and phrases.

9 Responses to Terracotta bureaucrats

  1. jdotjdot89 says:

    I was going to say before I even read your post that “Terracotta bureaucrats” is a fantastic title, and a good metaphor, too. Something to think about for Language Arts class.

  2. Terracotta bureaucrats? I think we have some of those still “working” today! ;-)

    In all seriousness, though, it doesn’t surprise me to know that they made those…as I recall, civil service as we know it today, with a merit test and everything, first began in China and was taken very seriously.

  3. Alain Vaillancourt says:

    Fireproof bureaucrats! Also, they will not rot if you pour water on them.

    Can’t say the same for their desks though. Even the steel ones have issues because they’re both covered and filled with papers. The situation gets worse these days with the proliferation of computer printers in offices, as they churn out even more papers than the copy machines ever did.

    Things were safer (fire-wise) in the old days, when paper was a costly luxury. Writing implements were costly and fragile too. Quill pens had relatively soft tips which would have worn out too fast if the bureaucrats had written with the paper directly set down on hard wood. Leaving the “bure” or burel on the top of the desk solved the problem, and later on the use of felt became widespread.

  4. BnB says:

    Better “baked earth” than “scorched earth”… :)

  5. David says:

    I am currently reading a book “Mysteries of the Modern World” by John Pinkney and read a story about a plane in South America that just disappered into nowhere. And the last message that the pilot sent to the Airport was “STENDEC”. I was just wondering if anyone had heard of this before or had some idea of what it means. Linguist years ago tried to figure it out, but had no luck.

  6. P Terry Hunt says:

    Some of my colleagues are definitely half-baked!

  7. Ben L. says:

    I understand the first Qin emperor drank a mercury solution to attain immortality. The result? Not unpredictably mercury poisoning- he apparently lost his marbles and became convinced he needed an earthen army (and administration) for his afterlife.

  8. BG says:

    David: The crash site has been found, but the meaning of STENDEC is still being speculated about.

  9. Roland says:

    yes, the evolution of the word “bureau” is interesting about evolution of words!
    1 its means a coarse cloth
    2 the table covered by such cloth
    3 any table used to write on it even without (1)
    4 the room where there is a “bureau” (3) and where one work intellectually read, etc
    5 a building made of such rooms, because it is a siege of any administrative body, etc
    6 an administrative institution (as english “Bureau” I think FBI); and 6bis: the directing elected group of an assembly, association, etc.