It’s a jungle out there! Some people are catty, some are squirrelly, and some are dog-tired. This week we’ll present “animal words’, though not necessarily jungle animals.
lionize – to look treat (a person) as a celebrity
From an old fable of a monkey who wanted to pull some roasting chestnuts out of a fire, but didn't want to get burned. He tricked a cat into using its paw to get the nuts. So the cat got the burn and the monkey got the chestnuts. This fable also gives us the expression “pulling his chestnuts out of the fire”.
– David Halberstam, The Fifties
Today’s word, like many this week, is a familiar one presented for its etymology. Did you know it came from an animal?
porcelain – a white vitrified translucent ceramic
It sounds rather pig-like or pork-like, doesn't it? English got it from French, which got it from its Italian name porcellana, which means ‘cowrie shell’. The ceramic has the same smooth shininess as the shell.
But why is the shell so named? Porcellana is from porcella, ‘young sow’. Why? Because the shape of the orifice resembled the vaginas of pigs. I can offer you a picture of the former, but not of the latter!
Why on earth not as I for one am curious
I thought that on a forum like ours, so liberal that it accepts some of my posts that surely would have got me banned elsewhere, it would be A-OK
catspaw – a person used to serve the purposes of another, as a dupe or tool (also, a light breeze that ruffles small areas of a water surface)
From the fable of a monkey who wanted to some chestnuts that were roasting in a fire, but did not want to burn his hand. He got a cat to reach in for them. So the monkey got the chestnuts and the cat got burned.
. . .“How should I know? But to be frank, I don’t believe she did. I think she was just a plain fool. Deacon's catspaw. I'm sure the fellow put her on to find out about the stuff, but I don’t think she was wise to what she was doing."
– Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors
Speaking of tools, in carpentry a catspaw is a small, handy tool used for extracting nails. Let's not get into a discussion of why handy guys like us would need one of those...
Here's apicture of the monkey holding the cat's paw to the fire. Another one of those famous pictures I'd never heard of!
A type of knot, or hitch, is also called a cat's paw.
There is a small group of plants native to Western Australia collectively called the kangaroo paws. Catspaw (or cat's paw] is part of the common name of about 5 of those plants. Here's a picture of Anigozanthos humilis, catspaw, and one of Anigozanthos preissii , Albany catspaw.
Today’s word is very familiar, but I’ll tell an interesting story comparing French and English.
To begin, note that we have familiar words for the male and the female of many common animals. Thus a horse is either a stallion or a mare, a dog is a stud or a bitch, and similarly for pig (boar/sow), a sheep (ram/ewe), a deer (stag/doe), and a chicken (rooster/hen).
In contrast, the word ‘cat’ is male or female, with has no ordinary word to specify a female cat. In recent times a word arose with that female meaning (the word is pussy). And that word later has acquired another meaning, a sexual one, which I need not specify.
Exactly the same thing happened in French, where the word for cat is chat (pronounced ‘shah’, with a silent final -t). There too the word chat means either gender, with no ordinary word to specify a female chat. The French, like the English created one. Their nouns have grammatical gender, and they used their usual gender-forms to convert chat to a feminine form, and to pronounce it. That gave them chatte (pronounced ‘shaht’, with the -tt- pronounced) as their word for ‘female cat’. And French chatte then acquired exactly the same further meaning as the English word pussy.
With that in mind, recall the old Peter Sellers movie A Shot in the Dark, set in France.
The title is a bilingual pun on A Chatte in the Dark!
"A Shot in the Dark" (1964) was followed five years later by another show with a bilingual pun, Oh Calcutta!
Today’s word has a figurative sense that goes well with our recent word catspaw.
literal: a small pampered pet dog
figurative: a person who is completely under the influence of another
– David Baldacci, Stone Cold
In contrast, the word ‘cat’ is male or female, with has no ordinary word to specify a female cat.
Traditionally, these are called epicine nouns. The Romans knew about them, and you'd think the Anglophones would, too.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
CAT -- Computer for Avoidance of Task
In my circles it can be known as computer adapted testing, which is an exam that is tailored to the level of the examinee's ability. These exams require many fewer items to accurately test the knowledge of the test-takers toward a standardized criterion.
Or...computerized axial tomography (e.g., CAT scan), though more recently they are known as CT (computed tomography) scans.
I try not to repeat a prior word-of-the-day. But this one bears a tale worth the retelling for those who not with us when it appeared more than five years.
gallium – one of the chemical elements, with an unusual property. Mercury is the only element which is liquid at room temperature, but gallium is close. Its melting-point (under 86° F.) is so low that it will melt on a warm day, or even when held in the hand. It was discovered is 1875 by the French chemist Paul-Emile LeCoq.
LeCoq claimed that he chose the name gallium in honor of his country France, using its Latin name, Gallia. That’s what he claimed – but his name LeCoq means 'the rooster,' the Latin for which is gallus. Was LeCoq crowing just a bit with that name?
The web indicates that French dictionaries typically cite the 'rooster' etymology, while English language dictionaries give the 'France' etymology. OED, however, weighs in on the 'rooster' side.
You pays yer money, you takes yer choice. I personally don’t buy for a moment the story that Mr. LeCoq innocently did not have “rooster” in mind.This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
We’ll end the week of animal-words with seriously obscure term. The concept, though, is simple.
Jonathan Swift, in Gulliver's Travels, describe- the Lilliputans’ writing: "But their manner of Writing is very peculiar, being neither from the Left to the Right, like the Europeans; nor from the Right to the Left, like the Arabians; nor from up to down, like the Chinese; nor from down to up, like the Cascagians; but aslant from one Corner of the Paper to the other, like Ladies in England."
But there’s another way to proceed. Consider: when you mow a lawn, you don’t cut each row north-to-south. You mow one row north-to-south, then return mowing south-to-north, and continue alternating direction in alternate rows. A farmer plows a field the same way.
And so did ancient farmers, whose plows were drawn by oxen. Thus the Greek term meaning “ox-turning” is used to name this sort of back-and-forth method, as used in writing.
boustrophedon – writing in which the lines run alternately from right to left and from left to right
The ancient Greeks originally wrote right-to-left, as in Hebrew and Arabic; later switched to boustrophedon; and finally settled on left-to-right writing around 500 B.C.
[answer:] Georgian suburban planning created the elegant squares and boulevards of areas such as Mayfair in London. Street numbering could either be alternate (odds on one side, evens on the other), or what is called ”boustrophedon” … running the numbers up one side of the street and back down the other … But in Georgian squares boustrophedon numbering was more logical, that is, starting at 1, then 2, 3, 4, etc around the square, as there was no “opposite side”.
– The Times, Nov. 1, 2007
re: gallium - name chosen by LeCoq: how funny!
I believe it is only now that we perceive a double-entendre there. The Romans referred to the Celts in western Europe as "rooster(s)" (gallus/ galli), and their land, "rooster-land" (gallia). They may have intended it as a slur or joke, or it may have been connected to Celtic animal symbolism. In any event, it stuck. According to this source the animal was a positive religious symbol in the middle ages, and by the Rennaissance became the most common symbol for Frenchmen.This message has been edited. Last edited by: bethree5,
One of London's most famous streets, the Strand is numbered boustrophedon-fashion. Its name indicates that it was once on the riverside, but it became separated by the construction of the Thames Embankment by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in the second half of the 19th century.
I walk along it every weekday on my way to and from work, and found the numbering system confusing at first.
Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
Not half so confusing as the numbering system in Church Road, Partridge Green!
I can't let this opportunity pass. I don't speak French myself, but I've been told that in modern French the proper expression for double meaning or ambiguity is double entente.
It is interesting that the infinitival form of the verb in French has been replaced by a nominalized past passive participial form: entendre 'to understand, sense' < Latin intendo 'to stretch out; urge, aim' (in- intensifying verbal particle + tendo 'to stretch, pitch'; entente 'understanding, sense' < Latin intendita < intentus; English intend, intension, and intense all derive from the same verb. (The dictionary which I consulted suggested that a (quasi-)synonym is ambigu 'ambiguous'; it had been used in this sense as early as 1802.) Gives new meaning to the Franco-Russo-British Triple Entente of the First World War.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
I'm a bit skeptical. I haven't found any sources that connect Latin Gallus "Gaul" with Latin gallus "rooster". There might have been an association made between the two words, but they seem to be ultimately derived from different sources. gallus "rooster" is from PIE *gal- "to call", and Gallus "Gaul" might be of Celtic origin, related to Gaelic.