Pens and Pencils

The words pen and pencil appear to be related, but are they? Let’s find out.

Pens and Pencils

The word pen, as in a writing implement, comes from Middle English penne (pen, quill, wing, feather), from the Anglo-Norman penne, from Latin penna (wing, feather, quill pen), from Proto-Italic petnā (feather, wing), from Proto-Indo-European *péth₂r̥/pth₂én- (feather, wing), from *peth₂- (to spread out, to fly) [source].

Words from the same roots include petal, petulant, petition, plume, plumage, fathom, feather and helicopter in English, adar (birds) and adain (wing) in Welsh, and Faden (yarn, thread, fathom, suture) in German [source].

The word pen, as in an enclosure for animals, comes from Middle English pen(ne) (enclosure for animals), from Old English penn (enclosure, pen, fold), from Proto-Germanic *pennō/*pannijō (pin, bolt, nail, tack), from Proto-Indo-European *bend- (pointed peg, nail, edge).

The English word pin comes from the same PIE root, as does the Dutch word pin (peg, pin), the German word Pinne (pin, pivot, tiller), and the Swedish word pinne (stick, peg, pin) [source].

The word pencil comes from Anglo-Norman, from the Old French pincel (paintbrush), from the Vulgar Latin *penicellum, from the Latin pēnicillum (a painter’s brush, (style of) painting), a diminutive of pēniculus (brush, sponge), a diminutive of pēnis (tail, penis), from the Proto-Italic *pesnis, from the Proto-Indo-European *pes-ni-s, from *pes- (penis) [source].

Words from the same roots include penicillin in English and other languages, pincel (paintbrush) in Spanish and Portuguese, pinceau (paintbrush) in French and Pinsel (paintbrush) in German [source]. Penicillin and penicillium are apparently so named because the spore of the fungi resemble brushes [source].

Incidentally, the French idiom s’emmêler les pinceaux means to get one’s wires crossed to get things all mixed up, to get in a muddle or to misstep. Literally it means “to get tangled in the paintbrushes” [source].

Sailing Away

While putting together a post on my Celtiadur blog about words for ships and boats in Celtic languages, I realised that words for boats, ships and other nautical things in English come from many different languages. So I thought I’d write a blog post about them.

Laxey / Laksaa

The word boat comes from Middle English bot (boat, the path or course of one’s life), from Old English bāt (boat), from Proto-West Germanic *bait, from Proto-Germanic *baitaz (boat, small ship), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰeyd- (to break, split) [source].

The French word bateau (ship, boat), the Dutch word boot (boat), and the German word Boot (boat) were all borrowed from Middle or Old English.

Words for boat in North Germanic languages, such as Swedish (båt), Danish (båd) and Icelandic (bátur), were borrowed from Old Norse bátr, which was borrowed from Old English bāt (boat) [source].

Some words for boat in Irish (bád), Scottish Gaelic (bàta), Manx (baatey) and Welsh (bad) were also borrowed from Old English or Old Norse [source].

ship-13

The word ship comes from Middle English schip (ship, boat), from Old English scip (ship), from Proto-West Germanic *ship (ship), from Proto-Germanic *skipą (ship), from unknown origins [source].

Ship can be used to refer to a water-borne vessel generally larger than a boat, while boat usually refers to vessels smaller than a ship but larger than a dinghy. Boat also refers to submarines of any size, and lakers (ships used in the Great Lakes trade in North America).

Sunday Sailing.

A dinghy is a small open boat, propelled by oars or paddles, carried as a tender, lifeboat, or pleasure craft on a ship; a sailing dinghy, or an inflatable rubber life raft. It comes from Bengali ডিঙি (ḍiṅi – canoe), probably from Sanskrit द्रोण (droṇa – wooden vessel, bucket, trough), Proto-Indo-Iranian *dráwnam (wooden object), from Proto-Indo-European *dréw-no-m, from *dóru (tree, wood) [source].

A yacht is a sailing boat larger than a dinghy but smaller than a sailing ship, often with a cabin. It can also be a motor-powered private boat. It comes from yeaghe (light, fast sailing ship) from Dutch jacht (yacht, hunt), from jaghtschip (light sailing vessel, fast pirate ship: lit. “pursuit ship”).

Apparently the original Dutch jaghtschip were built to chase pirates and smugglers from the coast. In 1660 the Dutch East India Company presented one to King Charles II, who used it as a pleasure boat. It was then copied by British shipbuilders as a pleasure craft for wealthy gentlemen [source].

Tall Ships 015 Gloriaa_C

Another type of boat is a barque, which is a sailing vessel with three or more masts, with all masts but the sternmost square-rigged. It comes from Middle English barke (boat), from Middle French barque, from Latin barca (baris – a type of flat-bottomed freighter used on the Nile in Ancient Egypt), from Ancient Greek βᾶρις (bâris – Egyptian boat), from Coptic ⲃⲁⲁⲣⲉ (baare – small boat), from Demotic br, from Ancient Egyptian bꜣjr (transport ship, type of fish) [source].

Barge

The word barge (A large flat-bottomed towed or self-propelled boat used mainly for river and canal transport of heavy goods or bulk cargo), comes from the same roots, as does the Spanish barco (boat), the Galician barco (ship, boat, barge) and the Portuguese barco (boat) [source].

Green Canoe

The word canoe (a small long and narrow boat, propelled by one or more people) comes from Spanish canoa (canoe), probably from Taino *kanowa (canoe), from Proto-Arawak *kanawa (caone) [source].

Inuit kayak

Canoes are generally open on top, while kayaks are covered over except for the cockpit where the paddler sits. Kayak comes from Inuktitut ᖃᔭᖅ (qayaq – kayak, man’s boat), from Proto-Eskimo *qayaʁ (kayak) [source].

Umiak

If kayaks are men’s boats, are there women’s boats as well? There are – they are the umiak (a large, open boat made of skins stretched over a wooden frame that is propelled by paddles), from Inuvialuktun ᐅᒥᐊᖅ (umiaq – women’s boat) [source].

Incidentally, navy (a country’s entire sea force, including ships and personnel) comes from Middle English nave (navy), navye, from Old French navie (navy), from Latin nāvigia, from nāvigium (vessel, ship boat, from nāvis (ship, boat, vessel), from Proto-Indo-European *néh₂us (boat). In Old English navy was sciphere (“ship army”) [source].

English words from the same roots include navigate, nave, nautical and astronaut (lit. “star sailor”) [source].

Gadding About

In this post we explore the various meanings and origins of the word gad.

Gadfly

As an exclamation, gad! is a euphemistic alteration of the word God, and is the roughly equivalent of by God!, goodness gracious! and similar exclamations. It also appears in such exclamations as egad!, egads!, gadzooks!, gadsbobs!, gadsbudlikins! and gadsnouns!.

As a verb, to gad means:

  • to move from one location to another in an apparently random and frivolous manner
  • (of cattle) to run with the tail in the air, bent over the back, usually in an attempt to escape the warble fly

This comes from Middle English gadden (to go quickly, hurry, rush about), possibly from gadde. Related words include gadabout (a person who restlessly moves from place to place, seeking amusement or the companionship of others) and gaddish (inclined to gad, or move from place to place frivolously).

As a noun, gad means one who roams about idly, or a gadabout. This version comes from Middle English gade (a fool, simpleton), from Old English gāda (comrade, companion), from Proto-West Germanic *gadō, from Proto-Germanic *gadô/*gagadô (companion, associate), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰedʰ- (to join, unite).

The obsolete English word gadling (a companion in arms, fellow, comrade, a roving vagabond) comes from the same roots, as does the Dutch word gade (spouse), and the German word Gatte (spouse).

In Northern England and Scotland, gad is apparently used to mean a greedy and/or stupid person.

Finally, gad can mean:

  • a goad, a sharp-pointed rod for driving cattle, horses, etc, or one with a whip or thong on the end for the same purpose
  • a rod or stick, such as a fishing rod or a measuring rod
  • a pointed metal tool for breaking or chiselling rock
  • a spike on a gauntlet.

This comes from Middle English gad(de), from Old Norse gaddr (goad, spike), from Proto-Germanic *gazdaz (spike, rod, stake).

Words from the same roots include yard (a unit of length equal to 3 feet, a spar on a sail) in English, and gadd (stinger, sting, tooth) in Swedish.

Also from the same root in the English word gadfly, which refers to certain types of flies that irritate animals by buzzing around them and biting them to suck their blood, and by extension, a person of thing that irritates or instigates, or a person who takes without giving back. It is also a synonym of gadabout.

Sources: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/gad#English
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/gadfly#English
https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary/dictionary
https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=gad

Goose Summer

What links the word gossamer with geese and summer?

Cobweb

Gossamer means:

  • a fine film or strand as of cobwebs, floating in the air or caught on bushes, etc.
  • A soft, sheer fabric
  • Anything delicate, light and flimsy

It comes from the Middle English gossomer (a filmy substance consisting of fine cobwebs, gossamer; a web or filament of gossamer; something light, trivial, or worthless; a trivial wound), which is thought to come from go(o)s (goose, fool, idiot) and somer (summer). It first appeared in writing in about 1300, when it referred to cobwebs or other light things. Before that it may have referred to a period of warm weather in late autumn when geese were eaten, and later became associated with cobwebs as they are somewhat similar to goose down [source].

Related words include:

  • gossamered = cover with gossamer
  • gossamer spider = any small or young spider that spins webs by which to sail in the air.
  • gossamer-thin = light and thin; having a flimsy factual basis; unsubstantiated, hard to believe
  • gossamery = like gossamer; flimsy

A period of warm weather in late autumn is also known as an Indian summer, a term which was first used in North America in the late 18th century. It’s possible that Native Americans called it a form a summer as they harvested some late crops and were preparing for winter during this season, or that it was coined by Europeans and associated with the Native Americans’ activities [source].

Other names for this period include St. Luke’s summer, little summer of St. Luke, all-hallown summer, St. Martin’s summer and Michaelmas summer.

Do you know any other names for this period in English or other languages?

Smiling Hum

One of the Finnish words that I learnt recently and really like is hymy [ˈhymy] which means smile. Apparently it is imitative of the short humming sound associated with smiling. In fact, it’s difficult to say without smiling [source].

Woody smiling

Related words include:

  • hymytä = to smile
  • hymyillä = to smile, beam, smirk, grin
  • hymyilyttää = to make someone smile, to amuse, to feel like smiling
  • hymähtää [ˈhymæht̪æː(ʔ)] = to smile shortly, especially with a short “hm” sound; to scorn, often with ivallisesti (mockingly), to raise a corner of the upper lip slightly, especially in scorn, to sneer
  • hymykuoppa = dimple
  • hymiö [ˈhymiø̞] = emoticon, smiley 🙂
  • hyminä [ˈhyminæ] = a hum
  • hymistä [ˈhymis̠tæ(ʔ)] = to hum
  • hymistellä [ˈhymis̠ˌte̞lːæ(ʔ)] = to hum, to praise

Is hymähtää a particularly Finnish way of smiling?

Are there any other languages in which the words smile and hum are connected?

Incidentally, the English word smile comes from Middle English smilen (to smile), from Old Norse *smíla (to smile), from Proto-Germanic *smīlijaną (to smile), from Proto-Indo-European *smey- (to laugh, be glad, wonder) [source].

In Old English a word for to smile was smearcian, which comes from Proto-Germanic *smarōną (to mock, scoff at, deride), which possibly comes from *smīlijaną (to smile), from Proto-Indo-European *smey- (to laugh, etc) [source].

English words from the same root include smirk, smear, admire, marvel, miracle, and the name Miranda [source].

Attics

The attic in my house is currently being converted into a usable space, so I thought I’d look into the origins of the word attic and related ones.

Attic

An attic is:

  • The space, often unfinished and with sloped walls, directly below the roof in the uppermost part of a house or other building, generally used for storage or habitation.
  • A person’s head or brain (slang)

It comes from the French attique (penthouse flat/apartment; Attic, delicate, elegant), from the Latin atticus (Attic – relating to Athenian culture or architecture), from the Ancient Greek Ἀττικός [at.ti.kós] (Attic, Athenian). Apparently the name is related to the practice of decorating the top storey of building facades in the Attic architectural style [source].

Another word for attic is loft, which used to mean air, sky or the heavens. It comes from the Middle English lofte (air, sky, loft), from the Old English loft, a version of lyft (air, atmosphere, sky), from the Proto-West-Germanic *luftu (roof, air). from the Proto-Germanic *luftuz (roof, firmament, heavens, sky, air) [source].

Words from the same roots include lift and aloft in English, lucht (air) in Dutch and Luft (air) in German.

Attics might also be known as garrets, which comes from the Middle English garett (watchtower, turret, attic), from the Old French garite (watchtower), from guarir (to protect, save, cure, heal), from the Frankish *warjan (to ward off) , from the Proto-West Germanic *warjan (to ward off, defend against), from the Proto-Germanic *warjaną (to ward off, defend against, thwart, stop) from the PIE *wer- (to heed) [source].

Words from the same roots include weir in English, weren (to hold back, keep out, defend oneself) in Dutch, wehren (to fight, defend) in German, guérir (to cure, heal) in French [source].

Are there interesting words for attics in other languages?

Tarn

In the north of England, particularly in Cumbria, the word tarn is used to refer to a small mountain lake. It is also apparently used in the USA, mainly in Montana, to refer to small mountain lakes or ponds.

Little Langdale Tarn
Little Langdale Tarn

According to Wikipedia, “a tarn or corrie loch is a mountain lake, pond or pool, formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier. A moraine may form a natural dam below a tarn.”

Tarn comes from the Middle English terne/tarne (lake, pond, pool), from the Old Norse tjǫrn (small lake, pond, pool), from the Proto-Germanic *ternō (a mountain lake without tributaries, watering hole, small pool), from the Proto-Indo-European *der (to split, separate, tear, crack, shatter) [source].

Words from the same Old Norse root include tjörn (pond) in Icelandic, tjørn (pond) in Faroese, tjärn (small forest lake) in Swedish, and tjern (a small forest or mountain lake) in Danish and Norwegian [source].

English words from the same PIE root include (to) tear, derma (the inner layer of the skin), and dermic (of or relating to the dermis or skin) [source].

Other words from the same PIE root, via Proto-Celtic, include: darn (piece, fragment, patch, part) in Welsh, darn (fragment, part) in Breton, and possibly dréacht (part, portion, draft) in Irish and dreuchd (job, occupation, role, function) in Scottish Gaelic [source].

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Desks, Discs and Discos

What links the words desk, dais, disc, disco, dish and discus?

My studio / office
My desk in my office/studio

The answer is, they share the same roots: the Latin word discus (a discus, quoit, dish-shaped object, disc of a sundial), but arrived in English via different routes [source].

Desk comes from the Middle English deske (a reading desk or lecturn), from the Medieval Latin desca, from the Latin discus [source].

Dais (a raised platform in a room for a high table, a seat of honour, a throne, or other dignified occupancy) comes from the Middle English deis (podium, dais, high table), from the Anglo-Norman deis (dais, high seat/table, table of honour), from the Old French deis/dois, from the Latin discum, the accusative singular of discus [source].

Disc (a thin, flat, circular plate or similar object; a gramophone record) comes from the French disque (disc, discus, record, disk), from the Latin discus [source].

Disco, is an abbreviation of discoteque, which was borrowed from the French discothèque (discotheque, nightclub), from disque (disc, record) and bibliothèque, (library). It originally it meant “a library of discs/records”. Disque comes from the Latin discus [source].

Dish comes from the Middle English disch (dish, plate, bowl, discus), from the Old English disċ (plate, dish), from the Proto-West Germanic *disk (dish) from the Latin discus [source].

Discus comes directly from the Latin discus, from the Ancient Greek δίσκος (dískos – disc, dish, round mirror), the origins of which are uncertain [source].

Disk is used interchangeably with disc, and means more or less the same things. However, it comes straight from the Ancient Greek δίσκος [source].

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Cupboards, Cabinets and Closets

A friend asked me about the difference between cupboards, cabinets and closets, so I thought I’d look into it and write a post about it.

Cupboards

A cupboard is

  • A storage closet either separate from, or built into, a wall.
  • Things displayed on a sideboard; dishware, particularly valuable plate(16th-19th century).
  • A board or table used to openly hold and display silver plate and other dishware; a sideboard; a buffet (14th-18th century).

Note that kitchen cupboards are also known as kitchen cabinets. What do you call them?

It comes from Middle English cuppeborde (sideboard), from cuppe (cup) and bord (board, slab, table) [source].

If something is small, fusty or poorly lit, you could call it “cupboardy” [source].

Japanese Cabinet

A cabinet is

  • A storage closet either separate from, or built into, a wall.
  • A cupboard.
  • A group of advisors to a government or business entity.
  • A group of government ministers responsible for creating government policy and for overseeing government departments.
  • A small chamber or private room (archaic) [source].

Originally it meant a secret storehouse, treasure chamber or case for valuables. It comes from Middle French cabinet (small room), a diminutive of the Old French cabane (cabin) [source], from Old Provençal cabana, from Late Latin capanna/cabanna (hut), which is of uncertain origin [source].

Rudin House, Mary Ellen's clothes

A closet is

  • A small room within a house used to store clothing, food, or other household supplies.
  • A secret or hiding place.
  • A small room or side-room (mainly in Scotland and Ireland)
  • A small room or side-room intended for storing clothes or bedclothes. (in the USA and Philippines)

Obsolete and archaic meanings of closet include:

  • Any private space, (particularly) bowers in the open air.
  • Any private or inner room, (particularly):
    – A private room used by women to groom and dress themselves.
    – A private room used for prayer or other devotions
    – A place of (usually, fanciful) contemplation and theorizing.
    – The private residence or private council chamber of a monarch.
  • A pew or side-chapel reserved for a monarch or other feudal lord.

An American-style closet (as in the photo above) might be called a built-in wardrobe in the UK. What would you call it?

It comes from Old French closet (a small enclosed area, such as a field or paddock), from clos (enclosed outdoor area, such as a field or a paddock), from Latin clausum (enclosed space, enclosure) clausus (shut, closed), from claudō (I shut, close, lock), from Proto-Italic *klaudō (I close), from Proto-Indo-European *kleh₂u- (key, hook, nail) [source].

English words from the same roots include cloister, clove, claustrophobia [source].

In Scotland and Ireland, a word used for cupboards and cabinets is press.

Kissing Day

The 14th February is a special day for some – Valentine’s Day, or in Scottish Gaelic Là nam Pòg (“Kissing Day”), which I think is a fun name for the day. Do any other languages have interesting names for Valentine’s Day?

Act Like You're my Valentine

Apparently the practise of sending loved ones cards on Valentine’s Day became popular in the late 18th / early 19th century, in the UK at least, and really took off after 1840, when postage stamps were invented. In 1868 the chocolate company Cadbury started making heart-shaped boxes of chocolates for Valentine’s Day, and the giving of chocolates quickly became popular on this day [source].

By the way, a nice term of affection I learnt recently in Scots is ma wee scone (my little scone). Have you ever heard or used this or something similar? Have you compared your loved ones to other types of food?

Other Scottish Gaelic terms I’ve learnt recently for special days include Là na Gogaireachd (April Fools’ Day – 1st April) and Oidhche na Taigeise (Burns Night – 25th January), or literally “Night of the Haggis”.

The word gogaireachd means a fool’s errand or the act of making a fool of someone. Là na Gogaireachd is also translated as All Fools ‘Day, Gowk’s Day or Hunt-the-Gowk Day. A gowk is a cuckoo or fool in Scots and northern dialects of English. It also means to make foolish or stupefy, and comes from the Old Norse gaukr (cuckoo), from the Proto-Germanic *gaukaz (cuckoo), from the Proto-Indo-European *gʰegʰuǵʰ- (cuckoo) [source]. April Fools’ Day is also Là nan Amadan (Idiots’ Day) in Scottish Gaelic.

The word taigeis (haggis) was borrowed from the English haggis, which comes from the Late Middle English hagis (haggis), from hag(gen) (to chop, cut, hack), from the Old Norse hǫggva (to hew), or from hakken (to chop, hack dice, mince), from the Old English hēawan (to chop, hew; to dice, mince), both ultimately come from the Proto-Indo-European *kewh₂- (to hew; to beat, strike; to forge) [source].