“If it weren’t for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song.”
“Rock” is a word of contradictions; as a noun it can mean steady or unmoving but as a verb it denotes movement. And that movement can be jerky and twisting or smooth and swaying.
When we think of the noun “rock,” we picture a stone mass of mineral matter. The word is derived from the Old English “rocc,” as in “stanrocc,” a stone rock or obelisk (c. 1300).
Aside from actual stone, the word “rock” can be a metaphor. For example, the monolithic, limestone Rock of Gibraltar’s image has been used for decades by Prudential Insurance as a symbol of the stability of the company.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, action star and semi-retired pro-wrestler is so-named for his rock-hard body and his steady strength fending off opponents.
When someone can be depended upon, they are often told, “You are my rock.”
The word “rock” is also sometimes used to denote objects that are not stone but have its shape — a large diamond, crack cocaine, and, dating from 1946, ice cubes (as in having a beverage “on the rocks.”)
In U.S. slang, it can have a somewhat vulgar meaning as well. To “get one’s rocks off” means to experience an orgasm, “rocks” here being testicles, as a pun on medieval “stones.”
Since a rock is inert, it can also be used to denote someone whose brain is inactive (“dumb as a box of rocks”) or has poor judgment (“have rocks in one’s head.”)
The noun “rock” reminds Christians of the Apostle Peter. He was Jesus’s most reliable follower, steady enough that Jesus said, “Upon this rock, I will build my church.” Of course, he used that analogy because the name Peter comes from “petros,” the Greek word for rock and/or “petrus,” the Latin equivalent.
There are a number of English words that derive from “petros.” Petroleum is rock oil. A petroglyph is a prehistoric rock carving. An object that is petrified is turned to stone and a petrified person is unable to move or think.
To my surprise, the word “parsley” comes from the Latin word petroselinum and from Greek petroselinon. It means rock celery.
VERB, MEANING 1:
One meaning of the verb “rock” is smooth swaying, like a baby’s cradle that is rocked to lull the child. Soothing songs (lullabies) often accompany the rocking. “Rock-a Bye Baby” is the American musical standard of child-rearing and various theories exist to explain the origins of the song:
One says it simply describes a mother gently rocking her baby to sleep, as if the baby were riding the treetops during a breeze then lowering the baby to her crib.
Another identifies the rhyme as the first English poem written on American soil, suggesting it dates from the 17th century and that it may have been written by an English immigrant who observed the way native-American women rocked their babies in birch-bark cradles suspended from the branches of trees, allowing the wind to rock the baby to sleep.
One links it to an 18th century legend in Derbyshire, England about the Kenny family who lived in a huge yew tree where a hollowed-out bough served as a cradle.
Yet another theory suggests that the lyrics, like the tune "Lilliburlero" it is sung to, refer to the son of King James II of England, widely believed to be someone else's child smuggled into the birthing room in order to provide a Roman Catholic heir for James. The "wind" may be that Protestant force coming from the Netherlands bringing William of Orange who would depose James. The "cradle" is the royal House of Stuart.
The most depressing theory is based on a 17th century ritual that took place after a newborn baby had died. The mother would hang the child from a basket on a branch in a tree and wait to see if it would come back to life. The line “when the bough breaks the cradle will fall” refers to the fact that the weight of a dead baby was heavy enough to break the branch.
VERB, MEANING 2:
Another meaning of “rock”, dating from the late 13th century, is “to move jerkily.”
It took on a whole new context in 20th century America. The word was used to mean “to move with musical rhythm” in 1922 blues slang and often had sexual overtones (as in the song, “My Man Rocks Me” (with one steady roll).
By 1948 it had come to mean “to dance to popular music with a strong beat.” A popular song then was “We’re gonna rock.”
The term “rock-n-roll” became a slang word for sex in the late 1940s and especially in the early 1950's when the number of young people under 25 in the US driving cars and trucks increased dramatically. More people were having sex in automobiles and when 2 people drove to make-out areas and got it on, the car would then rock back and forth. Thus, many people referred to having sex as rock-n-roll. Because of the sexual reference the term implied, it resulted in one of the early reasons why conservative adults back in those days disapproved of rock-n-roll as a type of main stream music.
Rockabilly was one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music, dating back to the early 1950s in the U.S. especially the South. It blends the sound of country western music with rhythm and blues, leading to what is considered "classic" rock and roll. Some have also described it as a blend of bluegrass with rock and roll. The 1950s were the height of the Rock ’n’ Roll era as many of the songs attest to: “Jailhouse Rock,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Rockin’ Robin,” “Rock and Roll Waltz,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay.”
Rock music has stayed. It has continued to “rock on” in many variations since the early days.
Here are a few examples:
British invasion rock transformed the American music world, starting with the Beatles and soon followed by other British bands. The Beatles were an English rock band formed in 1960. Rooted in skiffle, beat and 1950s rock and roll, they became widely regarded as the foremost and most influential music band in history. They later experimented with several musical styles, ranging from pop ballads and Indian music to psychedelia and hard rock, often incorporating classical elements and unconventional recording techniques in innovative ways.
The 60s also introduced surf music (rock associated with surf culture particularly as found in Southern California), acid or psychedelic rock (associated with the counterculture), blues rock and garage rock (sometimes called '60s punk or garage punk).
Heavy metal rock (or simply metal) developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely with roots in the United Kingdom. The lyrics and performance styles are sometimes associated with aggression and machismo.
The 70s brought Southern California soft rock (or lite rock), British glam rock, hard rock and gothic rock (alternately called goth-rock or goth).
Alternative rock emerged from the independent music underground of the 1980s and became widely popular in the 1990s.
Rock music in its many subgenres still dominates music today and the language of rock and roll has seeped into our culture. The Urban Dictionary defines a “Rockstar” as someone who can stay up and party all night long and then wake up and take care of business in the morning (“rock n’ roll”}.
And, since it’s November, we all need to “Rock the Vote!”