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This week we'll look at the interesting etymologies behind some words.

redingote
  • for men: a long double-breasted topcoat with full skirt.
    [Wordcrafter note: I believe this can be for women too.]
  • For women: a full-length coat or dress open down the front to show a dress or underdress
      The redingote is a very feminine body-conscious shape, curvy and close to the body until it flares out at the short hem.
      – Boston Globe, Oct. 9, 1990
    This word crossed and re-crossed the English Channel. In 1723, fashion-conscious French took the English term riding coat, giving it a French-style spelling and pronunciation: redingote. Almost seventy years later, English fashionistas took back this word in its Frenchified form.

    By the way, redingote also fits last week's Camouflaged Animals theme:
    dingo – a wild dog, native to Australia

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    Really? Just Frenchified mis-spelling?

    It's quite Pythonic! "Ah doo naht laike yure redingcote, Anglish peeg-dawg!"


    RJA
     
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    redingote

    The etymology in an online French dictionary which I consulted suggests that the current spelling in French is because the word was acquired by hearing it spoken rather than its being read. There are other examples of this, e.g., US soldiers in World War One were called sommes biches (from their usual curse son of a bitch). There's also a humorous scene in Shakespeare's Henry V, III.iv., where the French princess gets an English lesson from her maid, but most of the words sound like different, obscene words in French: e.g., foot, gown.


    Ceci n'est pas un seing.
     
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    Today's word comes from wooden shoes. A sabot is a wooden shoe of the sort you associate with the Dutch, made from a piece of wood shaped and hollowed out to fit the foot.

    As you can imagine, walking in sabots makes a good deal of clatter. The French made sabot into the verb saboter, "to walk noisily," which evolved to mean "to botch up a job, as in 'murdering' a piece of music." Later, French trade unions adopted the word to their tactic of deliberately botching up a job.
      In 1904 and 1905, the chief labor agitators of France felt the need of a weapon less in the nature of a boomerang than a strike, and in order to hit employers without hitting workingmen they advised the latter voluntarily to spoil their work, to turn in work of such inferior quality that it would be unsaleable. Thus they would get their wages, and the employer, instead of getting his profit, would get a dead loss. To those acts was promptly applied the name "sabotage" from the verb "saboter," which meant "to do a thing quickly and poorly; to botch a job." Typical instances of "sabotage" would be the act of a dissatisfied bakery worker putting ground glass in the dough.
      – New York Times, May 17, 1909 (letter to editor; ellipses omitted)
    The word was soon extended from 'botching up one's work' to 'botching up' – destroying – the employer's machinery or the like. As such, it was picked up in English press reports of French labor unrest.

    sabotage – destruction of property to interfere with another's normal operations; more broadly, deliberate subversion
     
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    Today's words were invented on-the-spot by a nine-year-old boy. Kasner & Newman explain in their book Mathematics and the Imagination.
      The name "googol" was invented by a child (Dr. Kasner's nine-year-old nephew) who was asked to think up a name for a very big number, namely, 1 with a hundred zeros after it. … At the same time that he suggested 'googol' he gave a name for a still larger number: 'Googolplex'. … It was first suggested that a googolplex should be 1, followed by writing zeros until you got tired. … but different people get tired at different times and it would never do …
    googol – the number written as 1 followed by a hundred zeros
    googolplex – the number written as 1 followed by a googol of zeros

    Googol” is also used to mean “a very large number or quantity”.
      Peanuts comic strip from the 1960s, Lucy in red and Schroeder in blue:
    • Schroeder, what do you think the odds are that you and I will get married someday?
    • Oh, I’d say about googol” to one.
    • How much is a “googol”?
    • 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
      000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
    • **sigh**

      [Pianist Arthur] Rubinstein put on something of a show, making a grand entrance, lifting his hands high at the keyboard, always conscious of his audience. Rubinstein knew the value of charisma, an element he possessed in googol quantities. In an interview, he once said that the younger generation of pianists played better than he did, “but when they come on stage they might as well be soda jerks.” Nobody ever accused Rubinstein of being a soda jerk. He adored playing in public, and his audiences adored him.
      – Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists: From Mozart to the Present
    In 1997 the developers of a computer tool called BackRub decided to rename it. They were thinking of today’s word when they choose their new name Google (Perhaps you've heard of it?), and today their company headquarters is called the Googleplex.

    The different spelling probably began as a misspelling, but was kept because the domain name was available only when misspelled as google.com. Another story is that Googol was intended but an early investor misspelled it on a check he wrote to them. With check in hand, they feared he might get cold feet if they asked him to correct it, so they simply changed the company name to match his check.

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    demijohn – a large bottle with bulging body and narrow neck (it typically holds 3 - 10 gallons and is encased in wicker, with one or two handles for carrying)
    [From French damejeanne "Lady Jane," probably because its shape suggested a stout woman. I suspect "Dame Jeanne" may be the French equivalent of Jane Doe or John Q. Public. Other languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic) each have a similar word.]
      … a demijohn of rough red wine passed from hand to filthy hand.
      – Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944

      … the man's body was tilted back to balance the weight of the demijohn he held to his lips and his throat jerked regularly as he swallowed. The crowd around his feet were chanting: 'Drink it, down, down, down, down.'
      – Wilbur Smith, When the Lion Feeds
     
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    Recall that in old print-styles the letter s was often stretched tall and thin, and could easily be confused with an f. That may be part of how today's word evolved into a familiar, everyday term.

    étui (or etwee; accent on second syllable) – a small case, usually ornamental, for small articles such as needles, toothpicks, etc.
    A synonym is huswife, related to modern housewife.
      "I can't stand it any longer. I've not had a decent smoke since yesterday noon. Excuse me a moment." And from a buff leather etui monogrammed in silver, he extracted one of his Maria Mancinis [cigars] – lovely specimen from the top of the box, flattened on just one side the way he especially liked it – …
      – Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
    The plural etuis, etwees came to be thought of as a singular noun. (Why? Perhaps because in print the pluralizing s looked much like an f; in fact it was sometimes printed as an f, as estuife, estwefe. With s and f confused the plural estuife seems to end much like the synonym huswife, which is singular.)

    In any event, plural etuis, etwees came to be thought of as a singular noun, spelled etweese. Then the unstressed first syllable dropped off, leaving us with tweese or tweeze, which first meant the case itself, and later the object in that case. The object, the tweeze, became a tweezer and then, probably because it is double-pronged, a tweezers.
     
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    French étui < Old French estui 'prison' (form of estuier 'to guard') < Vulgar Latin *estudio (*estudiare, *estudiavi, *estudiatus) 'to treat carefully' < Latin studium 'study, zeal'.


    Ceci n'est pas un seing.
     
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    ostrakon – Greek for potsherd (related to osteon bone and ostreion oyster)

    By vote, ancient Athenian citizens could temporarily banish, for ten years, any citizen whose power or influence was considered dangerous to the state. The custom was named for the pieces of potsherd used as ballots, and that name has come down to us as today's word.

    ostracize – to exclude from a society or group
      Poor Amber. Still so self-conscious …, still worried that if the girls whom she seeks to impress were aware of her humble beginnings, they might sneer at her, might ostracize her from the in crowd.
      – Jane Green, Swapping Lives
    Other ancient Greek cities had similar practices. In Syracuse they voted on olive leafs, and the practice is called petalism, from Greek for "leaf".
     
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    Interesting, especially in light of lower life-expectancy of the ancients, to hear ten year banishment described as "temporary."


    RJA
     
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