Back from an absence. Did you miss your words? This week we'll present some with interesting and perhaps unexpected histories.
Our first is a horse named for a dove – in Spanish, a paloma, as in a song you may know:
I'm just a bird in the sky.
Una paloma blanca.
Over the mountains I fly.
No one can take
My freedom away.
palomino – a tan or pale golden horse with a white mane and tail
[from Spanish, "little dove", through American Spanish.
(The dictionaries say "young dove", not "little dove", but I think they are mistaken.)]
. . ."I think you'd better go get the checkbook," I said to my husband. I took the lead rope. "Come on," I said with a smile in my voice. "You're mine now."
– The Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 5, 2009 (ellipses omitted)
In a medieval town, with flimsy buildings in close proximity, an uncontrolled fire could spread disastrously. Many towns required that fires be covered at night, when they were likely to be untended. A church bell would announce the hour at which one was required to cover fire. In Old French "cover fire" is called cuevrefeu (from cuvrir to cover + feu; spellings vary), and English took on that word.
curfew – a requirement to remain indoors at specified hours, typically at night; also, the time at which such a restriction begins
Our quote preserves the earlier sense of the curfew bell. It's from a poem which was one of Queen Victoria's favorites, and I've linked you to an 1883 illustrated edition. I'd like to believe that Her Royal Highness owned this very edition.
With its walls so tall and gloomy, moss-grown walls dark, damp, and cold, —
"I've a lover in the prison, doomed this very night to die
At the ringing of the curfew : and no earthly help is nigh.
Cromwell will not come till sunset;" and her lips grew strangely white,
As she spoke in husky whispers, "Curfew must not ring to-night!"
– Curfew Must Not Ring To-Night, by Rose Hartwick Thorpe (who also authored Remember the Alamo)
Today's word is a multiple oddity. It names a grotesque animal; it says "duck" though the creature is nothing like a duck; it has an odd sound, an interesting etymology, and a weird spelling.
Clams feed by sucking in seawater, from which they extract plankton as their food. Clams that burrow under the seabed for protection, and spend the rest of their lives there, get their seawater through a long neck that stretches up to the top of the seabed. A deeper burrower, of course, of course, needs a long neck, which can be a gross thing resembling a thick floppy hose, among other things. (I'll be delicate.¹)
One large species burrows up to three feet deep, and so you have to dig deep to get it. Its name means "dig deep" in the language of the local Native Americans. The name is pronounced "gooey duck" (!) For unknown reasons, it's spelled quite differently.
geoduck (pronounced gooey duck) – a very large, edible burrowing clam of the Pacific coast of the northwest US
– Smithsonian Magazine, March 2009
A geoduck is a clam as big as a discus with a neck as long as a boarding-house arm reaching for the last pork chop. … The geoduck stuck his long neck into the news last week …
– Tri-City Herald (Pasco, Washington), July 20, 1948
¹ See photo captioned, "for some odd reason, it has reputed powers as an aphrodisiac." This clam is an official mascot for the a local college, whose motto is Let It All Hang Out. It has been known to attack human females, but the victim does not seem unwilling. <wink>This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
I assume that it comes from one of the Salishan languages. One of the tribes in this language group is the Bella Coola.http://www.native-languages.org/nuxalk.htm I've heard geoducks attack them.
I hadn't commented on the poem above for "curfew," but how nice.
Wikipedia says geoduck is derived Lushootseed (a Salishan language) and that "its phonemically counterintuitive spelling is likely the result of poor transcription rather than anything having to do with ducks." Here's how The Word Detective explains its weird pronunciation:
Speaking of (geo)ducks . . .
Those who know French, at least enough to read a fancy menu, know that carnard is French for "duck". But in English it means a hoax.
How did a Gallic duck come to mean an English hoax? The authorities report that the French had a saying, vendre un canard à moitié ("to half-sell a duck"), meaning something like "to fool someone into buying something which is not what he thinks it is". (Reminds me of our "to buy a pig in a poke".) Hence canard came to be a French word for "hoax", and came into English with that meaning.
canard – a hoax; a false report; more specifically: a deliberately false or misleading story, circulated to damage an opponent
– Jeffrey Toobin, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court
Nuxálk is an interesting language. Apparently this is an utterance in that language:
'he had had in his possession a bunchberry plant.'
Where are the vowels?
Where are the vowels?
Hidden and wrapped in geoduck tape? But seriously many of the consonants in that word/sentence are fricatives. Georgian (and some other Caucasian languages) allow for words with few vowels, too. The Abkhaz language supposedly only has one vocalic phoneme, but that is controversial.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
What I mean is if this is a phonetic transcription, which is what I assume because of the square brackets, I would just expect some epenthetic vowels in an utterance that long.
Listening to the this, I'm hearing lots of syllabic consonants, for instance the first m in smsmanu is syllabic I think.This message has been edited. Last edited by: goofy,
Continuing with animal words. Mankind being what it is, it's understandable that there should be many words meaning "dung", but I can't imagine why would anyone would feel a need for a dung-term specific to one particular animal. Yet there are several such words:
crotttels – hare dung
scumber – fox or dog dung
guano – seabird dung
spraints – otter dung [from Old French espraindre, meaning "to squeeze out"]
The connection between "squeeze out" and "dung" is obvious, but I have no idea why it should be particularly applied to an otter. This particular word was recently used in the press, though with a slightly different spelling.
– Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard, Apr. 1, 2009
Maybe they look especially squeezed out, the way cow droppings look variously like chips, flop and patties.
I'll bet they were excited. Biologists love scat. The kids and I once took a day trip with a biologist to the oak savanna of northern California. He gleefully dissected coyote and fox scumbers, as well as feral pig poop (that's gotta have its own name). He was particularly happy about the coyote droppings, as they were composed entirely of the remains of large lubber grasshoppers.
Spoor were important to the Elizabethans and the Tudors, for the hunt.
In addition to those cited, there are boar fiants and bagder werdrobe.
Recall the care with which our ancestors distinguished the animals themselves into "venery" (red deer, hare, bear, wolf) and "chase" (fallow deer, fox, marten. roe).
Continuing the idea of the hunt, there are at least 30 terms from Elizabethan and Tudor use, for how to carve each animal. If site admin. suggests the proper place here, glad to share those.
Unless you have read the exploits of the great linguist Dr. John Dolittle, you are probably unaware of a certain rare and strange animal, never seen in captivity.
sackbut – a Renaissance-era musical instrument: a bass trumpet with a slide like that of a trombone for altering the pitch
[from old French saquier to pull + (probably) bouter to push]
[The old French word saqueboute originally meant "a lance with an iron hook, for pulling men off their horses".]
– Hampshire Chronicle, July 15, 2008 (ellipses omitted)
Today's word, describing hair, is from Latin meaning "cushion stuffing".
tomentose – covered with short, dense, matted hairs.
The word is used almost exclusively as a technical botany word (especially to describe a hairy leaf, as on an African violet). But it seems to me that it perfectly suits a hirsute man, hairy of chest.
For example, here is the late great sportswriter Red Smith, describing part of the crowd assembled for the 1973 Kentucky Derby horserace:
– Red Smith (ellipses omitted), in To the Swift (Joe Drape, editor)
"Cushion stuffing" sounds closer to "bombastic" than hirsute or hypertrichosistic...
Just a few weeks after Wordcraft discusses the many varieties of spoor, the Star Tribune gets into the act: http://www.startribune.com/local/46906792.html
The comments following that story illustrate the general lack of knowledge of some posters. Poop inspection ferrets out possible diseases and digestive problems within not only the zoo animals but the species in general. And I know from experience it's not much fun standing under and trying to keep up with a cotton-top tamarin waiting to catch that individual's poop so it doesn't get mixed with the others in the exhibit.
Sorry, too lazy to edit that long sentence.
Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.