40 Days

I learnt last night that the word quarantine, as in “a restriction on the movement of people and goods which is intended to prevent the spread of disease or pests”, comes from Venetian word meaning forty, quarantina, which comes from quarantina giorni (forty days). Quarantina comes from quaranta (forty), from the Latin quadrāgintā (forty).

During the 14th and 15th centuries there were several outbreaks of the bubonic plague in Europe. At that time there was a practise of requiring ships to wait for a period of time before entering Venice or Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik in Croatia), which was ruled by Venice at the time. Initally the crew and passengers had to wait 30 days on their ships or on nearby islands. This period was extended to 40 days by the Venetian Senate in 1448.

Sources: Wiktionary & Wikipedia

Fish Kettles

If you said that something was “a different kettle of fish” or “another kettle of fish”, you would mean that it’s something else altogether, and very different to what you have been discussing. At least in the UK.

This expression dates from the late 19th century, and is/was most common in Scotland and northern England. Before then, fish kettles featured in the phrase “a pretty kettle of fish”, which means “a muddle or awkward state of affairs”.

A fish kettle (see below) is type of long saucepan used since the 17th century to poach fish, especially large fish like salmon.

Fish Kettle

Appartently in the USA you might say that it’s “quite another story”, “a whole different story”, “a different ball game” or “a horse of a different color. Are there others?

Equivalents of these idioms in French include “c’est une autre paire de manches” (it’s another pair of sleeves”) and “c’est une toute autre histoire” (it’s a whole other story). Do you know of others in French or other languages?

Sources: Reverso, The Phrase Finder

The Secret Language of Basses

I sing bass in several choirs, and quite a few of the bass parts involve us going dm dm dm, or do do do, or something similar. Until recently I thought it was just meaningless sounds we were making, and that maybe the composers / arrangers of the songs just couldn’t be bothered to write words for us basses.

Now I can exclusively reveal here that I have uncovered the Secret Language of Basses. They are not in fact meaningless sounds, but actually hidden messages in Morse Code.

Alternatively they might be in a secret constructed language known only to a few composers.

Fancy some cuddle-me-buff?

According to an episode of the podcast Something Rhymes with Purple, the expression cuddle-me-buff is slang for beer, although why is uncertain.

According to Word and Phrases from the Past, cuddle-me-buff is a Derbyshire dialect terms for an intoxicating liquor.

Another interest word in Derbyshire dialect is swilkerin’, or to drink tea from a saucer [source].

According to QI, cuddle-me-buff is a Yorkshire dialect term for beer.

There are some other more common slang words for intoxicating beverages, such as booze and hoo(t)ch. Do you know others?

Drawing and Dragging

The word withdrawal comes from withdraw, which, according to Wiktionary, means,

  1. To pull back, aside or away
  2. To stop talking to, or interacting with, other people and start thinking thoughts that are not related to what is happening around.
  3. To take back (a comment, etc).

… and a few other things.

It comes from the Middle English word withdrawen (to draw away, to draw back), from with (away, back), and drawen (to draw, drag, pull), which comes from the Old English draġan (to draw, pull, attract), from the Proto-Germanic *draganą (to draw, pull, carry), from the Proto-Indo-European *dʰregʰ- (to pull, draw, drag). The word drag comes from the same root source].

King James' Drawing Room

The term withdrawing room, a room in a house where visitors may be entertained, dates from the 17th century, and was later abbreviated to drawing room. In some households there was a tradition until about the mid-20th century, that after a formal dinner, the ladies would withdraw to the drawing room, while the gentlemen remained in the dinning room to talk about things like politics, perhaps while smoking and drinking port or other beverages. After a respectable interval the gentlemen would join the ladies in the drawing room [source].

The modern equivalent of the drawing room might be called the living room in some houses, or perhaps the lounge. We called it the sitting room in the house I grew up in. What do you call it?

With as a prefix can mean: against or in opposition to, as in withstand. In withhold and withdraw it means back, back around, in reverse” or in return. The are other words with the with prefix, such as withbear (to carry/bear away, gather, endure), withgo (to go against, give up), withgang (to indulge), and withjoin (to rebuke, withold, withstand), but they are obsolete and archaic [source].

Fine Fettles

Are you in fine fettle?

If you’re in fine fettle, you are in a good state or condition, according to dictionary.com. It apparently comes from a Lancashire dialect word meaning “to shape, prepare, fix, arrange”.

Fettle may come from Middle English fetlen (to shape, fix, put, bestow), possibly from the Old English fetian (to fetch, bring to, marry), or from the Old English fetel (belt, girdle).

According to Wiktionary, fettle as a noun means:

  • A state of proper physical condition; kilter or trim.
  • One’s mental state; spirits.
  • Sand used to line a furnace.
  • A person’s mood or state, often assuming the worst (Geordie / Cumbrian dialect): e.g. What’s yer fettle marra?
  • a seam line left by the meeting of mold pieces (in ceramics)
  • The act of fettling (British dialect)

As a verb, fettle means:

  • To sort out, to fix, to mend, to repair (Northern England)
  • To make preparations; to put things in order; to do trifling business
  • To line the hearth of a furnace with sand prior to pouring molten metal.
  • To be upset or in a bad mood (Geordie dialect), e.g. Divint fettle yersel ower that!
  • To remove (as by sanding) the seam lines left by the meeting of two molds (in ceramics)
  • To prepare (archaic)

Fettle is usually used in the phrase ‘in fine fettle’. Have you seen/heard it used with other words or in other contexts?