Bird Talk

The word inauguration seems an appropriate one to investigate today. According to Wiktionary, it means “The act of inaugurating, or inducting into office with solemnity; investiture by appropriate ceremonies.” or “The formal beginning or initiation of any movement, enterprise, event etc.”.

Inauguration comes from the Middle French inauguration (installation, consecration), from the Latin Latin inaugurātiō (consecration or installment under good omens), from the Latin inaugurāre (to take auspices, take omens from the flights of birds, divine, consecate, install), from in (in, on) and augurō (to prophesy, interpret omens), from augur (augur, soothsayer) [source].

The origins of augur are uncertain – it might come from avis (bird) and garrire (to talk). As augury involved observing the flight of birds and divining omens from it, this makes sense. Alternatively it might come from the Old Latin *augus (increase) [source].

Incidentally, a soothsayer – one who predicts the future using magic, intuition or intelligence – originally meant one who tells the truth. It comes from sooth an old word for truth, augury, blandishment or reality, and sayer, one who says or makes announcements or a crier [source].

Almost, Nearly, Not Quite

One of the words that came up in the French Conversation Group last night was faillir [fa.jiʁ], which means to almost do something or to fail.

Presque ...

Whether you almost do something or fail to do it is really a matter of perspective – the end result is the same. Yesterday, for example, I almost made another episode of the Radio Omniglot podcast. I recorded about 15-20 minutes of it several times, decided it wasn’t good enough, then got distracted with other things, as often happens. I can talk about language-related topics at the drop of a hat until the cows come home, but actually making my ramblings into a reasonably coherent podcast is a different kettle of fish. The editing always takes quite a while, and I usually find something else to do instead.

Today I told myself that I would make the podcast first thing, before checking emails, or getting distracted by other things. Several hours later I still haven’t produced the podcast, but I have learnt some more Swedish and Danish, answered some emails and written this.

Anyway, back to faillir – appears in expressions like:

  • faillir faire = to almost/nearly do
  • J’ai failli tomber = I almost/nearly fell
  • J’ai failli lui dire = I almost/nearly told him
  • J’ai failli l’oublier = I almost forgot about it
  • faillir à qch = to fall short of sth
  • faillir à sa tâche = to fall short of one’s tsak
  • faillir à son devoir = to fall short of one’s duty
  • Il ne faut pas faillir à notre devoir = We must not falter in our duty now
  • J’ai un plan astucieux qui ne peut faillir = I have a cunning plan that cannot fail
  • avoir failli faire qch = to narrowly miss doing sth

Related words include:

  • failli(e) = bankrupt, insolvent
  • la faillite = bankruptcy, collapse (political)
  • une entreprise en faillite = a bankrupt business
  • être en faillite = to be bankrupt
  • faire en faillite = to go bankrupt, fail, go broke, go bust
  • la ferme a failli faire en faillite = the farm almost went bankrupt
  • il faut qu’il faille faire en faillite = he must almost go bankrupt
  • faille = flaw, loophole, weak spot, fault
  • faille fiscale = tax loophole
  • faille spatio-temporelle = time warp

Faillir comes from the Middle French faillir (to fail), from the Old French falir, from the Vulgar Latin *fallīre, from the Latin fallere (to deceive, disappoint, cheat), from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰāl- (to lie, deceive). The English word fail comes from the same root, via the Middle English failen, and the Anglo-Norman faillir (to fail).

Another way to say that you almost did something is J’ai presque fait qch, for example, Il est presque tombé and Il a failli tomber both mean ‘He almost fell’. In the case of the latter, the impression I get is that he was expected to fall, but didn’t, while in the case of the former, there seems to be no expectation that he would fall. Is that right?

Sources: Reverso, Wiktionary, bab.la

Are you sitting comfortably?

One of the words that came up this week in the French Conversation Group I’m part of was chaire [ʃɛʁ], which means chair (a professorship), pulpit, rostrum or throne.

Here are some examples of how it’s used:

  • chaire épiscopale = bishop’s throne
  • chaire pontificale = papal throne
  • être titulaire d’une chaire = to have a personal chair / to be a professor
  • sans chaire = untenured

Source: Reverso

Chaire comes from the Middle French chaire (chair (item of furniture)), from the Old French chaiere, chaere, from the Latin cathedra (armchair, ceremonial chair, the office or rank of teacher or bishop), from Ancient Greek καθέδρα (kathédra – seat; chair; rower’s seat; posterior, bottom; base of a column; sitting posture; teacher’s / professor’s chair; imperial throne), from κατά (katá – down) and ἕδρα (hédra – seat) [source].

The English words chair and chaise come from the same root, via the Old French chaiere, chaere [source].

Cathedral comes from the the Late Latin ecclesia cathedralis (church of a bishop’s seat), from the Latin cathedra [source].

Cathedrale de Metz

Sit comes from the Old English sittan (to sit), from the Proto-Germanic *sitjaną (to sit), from the Proto-Indo-European *sed- (to sit), which is also the root of the Ancient Greek word ἕδρα (seat) [source].

Other words from the same root include:

  • Bengali: কেদারা [ˈke.d̪ä.ɾäˑ] = chair
  • Irish: cathaoir = chair; seat, throne; stool, stump (of tree)
  • Italian: cattedra = desk (of a teacher); teaching post; throne (of a bishop): chair, professorship, chair (archaic)
  • Portuguese: cadeira = chair, subject, stall, post, hip
  • Scottish Gaelic: cathair = chair, seat, bench throne; town, city
  • Spanish: cadera = hip
  • Welsh: cadair = chair, seat; (bishop’s) throne; cathedral; professorship

Source: Wiktionary

Outlaws and Brigands

Here are a few words that might be relevant today, if you happen to be in the UK:

Election – the choice of a leader or representative by popular vote, comes from the Anglo-Norman eleccioun, from the Latin ēlectiō (choice, option), from ēligō (I pluck out, I choose).

Vote – a formalized choice on matters of administration or other democratic activities, comes from the Latin vōtum (prayer, votive offering, wish, longing), from voveō (to vow, promise solemnity, dedicate, wish), from Proto-Indo-European *h₁wegʷʰ- (to promise, vow, praise).

Ballot – originally, a small ball placed in a container to cast a vote; now, a piece of paper or card used for this purpose, or some other means used to signify a vote. It comes from Italian ballotta (ballot, shot, ball, boiled chestnut), a diminutive of balla (bale, bundle).

Poll – a collection of votes, from the Middle English pol(le) (scalp, pate), probably from the Middle Dutch pol / pōle / polle (top, summit; head), from Proto-Germanic *pullaz (round object, head, top), from Proto-Indo-European *bolno-, *bōwl- (orb, round object, bubble), from *bew- (to blow, swell). The meaning of a “collection of votes” was first recorded in 1625, and came from the notion of counting heads.

Labour – comes from the Middle English labouren, from Old French laborer (to work, labour), from Latin laborare (to labor, strive, exert oneself, suffer), from labor (labor, toil, work, exertion).

Liberal – comes from Old French liberal (appropriate for a free person, generous, giving), from the Latin līberālis (befitting a freeman), from līber (free).

Conservative – comes from the Middle French conservatif (conservative), from Latin cōnservō (to preserve, conserve), from con- (with) and servō (to save, rescue, preserve, retain, watch).

Tory – comes from the Middle Irish tóraidhe, (outlaw, robber or brigand), from tóir (pursuit) [More details].

Source: Wiktionary.

Procastination

Procrastinate Now! (or tomorrow, or whenever you feel like it)

Procrastination – “the act of postponing, delaying or putting off, especially habitually or intentionally.” From the Middle French procrastination, from the Latin prōcrāstinātiō (a putting off until tomorrow), from prōcrāstinō (procrastinate), from prō (of) + crāstinus (tomorrow), from crās (tomorrow) [source].

Crās comes from the Proto-Italic *krās, and is probably from the Proto-Indo-European *ḱerh₂- (head, top), which is the root of words for head, horn, cow and others in various Indo-European languages
[source].

Crās became crai in Italian, crás in Portuguese and cras in Sardinian. These all mean tomorrow, but only the Sardinian one is still used. Tomorrow is domani in Italian – from the Late Latin dē māne (of the early morning), amanhã in Portuguese – from Vulgar Latin *ad maneana (at morning). The French demain (tomorrow), and the Romanian dimineață (morning), come from the same root as the Italian domani.

The antonym of procrastination is precrastination / pre-crastination, or “the completion of a task too quickly or too early, when taking more time would result in a better outcome” [source]. It was coined by David Rosenbaum in an article he wrote in 2014: Pre-crastination: hastening subgoal completion at the expense of extra physical effort. [More information].

I have a tendency to procrastinate, and often put off things that don’t seem important or urgent. For example, there’s a pile of papers on my desk that could do with filing, and I might just get round to it one of these days. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t though.

Sometimes, when I’m in a getting-things-done-mood, I go round doing all the things I’ve been putting off for days/week/months/years. Or at least as many of them as I can before I get distracted by something more interesting.

Some things I put off and do something easier instead – writing this blog post, for example, rather than recording the next episode of my podcast, or doing some language lessons rather than practising one of my instruments.

I precrastinate as well, but wasn’t aware of it. Or at least I didn’t have a word for this practice until now.

Are you a procrastinator, and/or a precrastinator?

What task / jobs / activities do you tend to put off?

What things to you prefer to do instead?

Patois

One of the things we talked about last night at the French conversation group was patois, specifically Jamaican (Jimiekn / Patwah).

In French patois means

“Système linguistique essentiellement oral, utilisé sur une aire réduite et dans une communauté déterminée (généralement rurale), et perçu par ses utilisateurs comme inférieur à la langue officielle.” [source]

or

“an essentially oral linguistic system, used in a small area and in a particular community (usually rural), and perceived by its users as inferior to the official language.”

In English patois means “an unwritten regional dialect of a language, esp. of French, usually considered substandard; the jargon of particular group.” [source].

Another definition of patois from Wiktionary is:

1. A regional dialect of a language (especially French); usually considered substandard.
2. Any of various French or Occitan dialects spoken in France.
3. Creole French in the Caribbean (especially in Dominica, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti).
4. Jamaican Patois, a Jamaican Creole language primarily based on English and African languages but also has influences from Spanish, Portuguese and Hindi.
5. Jargon or cant.

It comes from the Middle French patois (local dialect), from the Old French patois (incomprehensible speech, rude language), from the Old French patoier (to gesticulate, handle clumsily, paw), from pate (paw), from Vulgar Latin *patta (paw, foot), from the Frankish *patta (paw, sole of the foot), from the Proto-Germanic *pat-, *paþa- (to walk, tread, go, step), of uncertain origin [source].

Patois was first used in written French in 1643 to refer to non-standard varities of French, and to regional languages such as Picard, Occitan, Franco-Provençal and Catalan. Such varities and languages were assumed to be backward, countrified, and unlettered. Use of the word was banned by king Louis XIV in 1700.

There is no standard linguistic definition of patois, and to a linguist it can refer to pidgins, creoles, dialects, or vernaculars [source].

Are there similar words in other languages?

Bamboozling Baboons!

This week I learnt a couple of interesting French words – embabouiner [ɑ̃.ba.bwi.ne] (to flatter, butter up) and embobiner [ɑ̃.bɔ.bi.ne] (to bamboozle).

Embabouiner combines the prefix em- and suffix -er with babouin (baboon), so you are making a baboon of someone when you flatter them [source].

Babouin comes from the Middle French babouyne, baboin, from Old French babouin, from baboue (grimace, muzzle), which is related to German dialectal word Bäppe (lips, muzzle) [source].

Baboons.

Embobiner means to get round (someone), to pull to wool over someone’s eyes, to bamboozle or to outfox. It can also mean to wind up, reel up/in or wrap up. It combines the same prefix and suffix as embabouiner with bobine (bobbin, reel, spool, drum), so you are winding someone on a bobbin when you bamboozle them [source].

Bobine probably comes from the Latin word balbus, (stammering, stuttering, lisping, fumbling) and is immitative of the noise of a bobbin [source].

The English word bamboozle comes from the 17th century slang word bam (to trick, to con), from the noun bam (fraudster, cheat), possibly from the French embobiner [source].