Tents and Tenants

Are the words tent and tenant related? Let’s find out.


A tent is a portable shelter made of fabric or other material stretched over a supporting framework of poles and usually stabilized or secured to the ground with cords and stakes [source].

It comes from the Middle English tente (tent, abode, dwelling place, pavilion) [source, from the Old French tente (tent, temporary hut or other similar building), from Vulgar Latin *tenta (tent), from tentus (stretched, extended, distended), from tendō (to stretch, distend, extend), from Proto-Italic *tendō (I stretch), from the Proto-Indo-European *ten- (to stretch, extend) [source].

A tenant is one that pays rent to use or occupy land, a building, or other property owned by another; a dweller in a place; an occupant [source].

It comes from the Middle English tenaunt (tenant – one who holds real property from another by feudal obligation or payment of rent) [source], from Anglo-Norman tenaunt (tenant), from Old French tenant (holder, possessor [of land or property], tenant, owner), from tenir (to hold), from Latin teneō (I hold, have, grasp), from Proto-Italic *tenēō (I hold), from the Proto-Indo-European *ten- (to stretch, extend) [source].

So they do come from the same PIE root, via different routes. Other words from the same PIE root include tenor, tone, tonic, tune, sustain and content [source].

Incidentally, in Old English the word for tent was teld, from the Proto-Germanic *teldą (tent, drape), which became teld (tent, castle, fort, hut) in Middle English, and teld (tent, to lodge in a tent, to pitch a tent), and tilt (a canvas covering for carts, boats, etc, tent) in Modern English, although these words are no longer used [source].


Tilt, which means to slope or incline (smth), to slant, to be at an angle, to charge (at sb) with a lance, to joust, etc, comes from different roots. Apparently it came to be associated with jousting as the cloth barrier that separated combantants in a joust is called a tilt [source].

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].

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.


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.

Seeding Discord

Yesterday I learnt an interesting phrase in French – semer la zizanie, which means to stir up ill-feeling, to mess around/about, to drive a wedge (between) or to wreak/raise havoc [source].

J. Zizanie des marais P8100001 2

The word semer means to sow, spread, scatter, lose or shake off. You can also semer le doute (cast doubts), semer la panique (spread panic) or semer la discorde (sow/seed discord, foster division) [source].

It comes from the Latin sēmināre (to sow), from sēminō (I plant, sow), from sēmen (seed, graft, offspring, cause), from the Proto-Italic *sēmen (seed), from the Proto-Indo-European *séh₁mn̥ (seed), from seh₁- (to sow, plant). English words from the same roots include season, seed, seminar and sow [source].

Zizanie means discord or ill-feeling, and comes from the Latin zīzania (tares, cockle), from zizā̆nium (tares, cockle, darnel, jealousy, discord), from the Ancient Greek ζῐζᾰ́νῐον (zizánion – darnel, ryegrass), from the Aramaic זזניא‎, from the Sumerian 𒍣𒍝𒀭 (zizān – wheat) [source].

Words from the same roots include زِوَان‎ (ziwān – darnel, ryegrass) in Arabic, zizzania (darnel, tare, discord) in Italian, and cizaña (darnel, tare, dissension, enmity) [source].

Tare is a vetch or any of the tufted grasses of genus Lolium [source]. Darnel is a species of ryegrass of the genus Lolium temulentum [source], and cockle is another name for the same plant [source].

Incidentally, the word wreak, which only appears in the phrase to wreak havoc (to cause damage, disruption or destruction), and a few other phrases, means to cause harm, afflict, inflict, harm, injure; to chasten, chastise, punish, smite, and used to mean to inflict or take vengeance on, or to take vengeance for [source].

Distreetly Discrete

The words discrete and discreet are both pronounced in the same way – [dɪsˈkɹiːt] – but have different meanings, or in other words, are homophones. Until yesterday, I didn’t realise that they were discrete words.

Discretely Discreet

discrete means

1. apart or detached from others; separate; distinct
2. consisting of or characterized by distinct or individual parts; discontinuous. [source]

It also has specific meanings in mathematics that I won’t go into here.

discreet means

1. judicious in one’s conduct or speech, especially with regard to respecting privacy or maintaining silence about something of a delicate nature; prudent; circumspect.
2. showing prudence and circumspection; decorous
3. modestly unobtrusive; unostentatious [source]

discrete comes from the Old French discret (different), from the Latin discrētus (separate, differentiated), from discernō (I separate, set apart, divide, part), from dis- (asunder, in pieces, apart, in two) and cernō (I distinguish, divide, separate), from the Proto-Italic *krinō, from the Proto-Indo-European *krey- (to sieve) [source].

discreet comes from the same source, via the Middle English word discrete, which meant wise, morally discerning, prudent, polite, and also separate or distinct [source]. The two words separated during the Middle English period and acquired discrete meanings [source].

The word discern (to detect with the senses, perceive, distinguish) comes from the same roots [source].

Indiscrete and indiscreet are also discrete words. The former means not divided into discrete parts, while the latter means lacking prudence, revealing secrets, or tactless [source].

They both come from the Latin indiscretus (unseparated, undivided, indistinguisable), from in- (un-, non-, not) and discrētus (see above) [source].

So let’s not be indiscreet about discreetly keeping these words discrete.

Good Pickaxes

In French when you make a good guess or choice, you are said to be making une bonne pioche or literally “a good pickaxe” [source].

Claes Oldenburg

The word pioche [pjɔʃ] means pickaxe, and also a stock or pile of undealt cards in a card game, and chance or luck. It comes from pic (woodpecker, pick), from the Vulgar Latin *piccus (sharp point, peak, spike, pike), from the Latin pīcus (woodpecker, griffin), from the Proto-Italic *pikos, from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)peyk- (woodpecker; magpie), or from the Vulgar Latin *pīcca (pickaxe, pike), possibly from the Frankish *pikkōn (to peck, strike), from the Proto-Germanic *pikkōną (to pick, peck) [source].

Here are some examples of how pioche and related words are used:

  • faire une mauvaise pioche = to pick the wrong card
  • manche de pioche = pickaxe handle
  • pioche de jardinage = garden hoe
  • piocher = to dig up, to take from the pile, to take a card
  • piocher dans = to dip into
  • piocher pour qch = to cram for sth

Are there any interesting equivalents of this phrase in other languages, or any pickaxe-related phrases?

Enlisted Fathers

As today is St Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d look into the origins of the name Patrick.

Happy St Patrick's Day / Lá ḟéile Pádraig sona ḋuit! / Dydd Gwyl Padrig Hapus

Patrick comes from the Latin name Patricius, which comes from the word patricius (patrician, noble), from patrēs cōnscrīptī (Roman senators, or literally “enlisted fathers”) [source].

patrēs is the plural of pater (father, head of household, parent, forefather, priest), which comes from the Proto-Italic *patēr (father), from the Proto-Indo-European *ph₂tḗr (father), from *peh₂- (to protect, shepherd) and‎ *-tḗr (agent suffix) [source].

Another word that comes from pater is patronus, which in the magical world of Harry Potter is a spirit guardian that can be summoned with the charm Expecto Patronum [source]. This is genunine Latin and means “I await my protector” [source].

cōnscrīptī is the plural of cōnscrīptus (senator, counsel(l)or; enrolled, enlisted, composed), which comes from conscrībō (I enroll, enlist, draw up, compose), from con- (with), and‎ scrībō (I write) [source].

The English word conscript (One who is compulsorily enrolled, often into a military service) comes from the same Latin root [source].

Stellar Stars


Here’s an interesting question that I was sent to me by email:
I am curious as to why some of the languages that developed from Latin had to put an extra ‘e’ at the start of some of their words.

Here are some examples:

Latin Italian French Spanish English
stēlla stella étoile estrella star
status stato état estado state
spero speranza espère esperanza hope
spōnsa sposa épouse esposa wife

It looks as if the Gauls, and the people living in the Iberian peninsula, couldn’t cope with the st- and sp- beginnings, and had to stick an ‘e’ on the front. Is this because words in the Celtic languages they spoke didn’t have such beginnings? I can’t find any similar words in modern Welsh.

Incidentally, the words for hope have a cognate in English – esperance, which is a old word for hope or expectation [source], and the ones for wife have a cognate in spouse (husband, wife).

Let’s look at the origins of some of these words to see how they have changed over time.

The Latin word stēlla (star), comes from the Proto-Italic *stērolā (star), from Proto-Indo-European *h₂stḗr (star). This became estoile/esteile/estelle in Old French, and estoile in Middle French. It was (e)strela in Old Portuguese and estrella in Old Spanish So the extra e has been there for a while [source].

In Proto-Celtic the word for star was *sterā, from the same PIE root as the Latin stēlla. This became *ster in Proto-Brythonic, Old Breton and Old Cornish, and ster in modern Breton and Cornish. So at least some speakers of Celtic languages could cope with the initial st-. In Old Welsh it was *ser, in Middle Welsh it was ser / syr, and in modern Welsh it’s sêr. It was also borrowed into Old Irish as ser [source].

The Latin word status means state, status, condition, position, place or rank. It became estat in Old French, from which we get the English word estate. Meanwhile in Old Spanish it was (e)strela, and in Old Portuguese it was estado [source].

It was borrowed into Old Irish as stad (stop, stay, delay), which is the same in modern Irish [source]. Proto-Brythonic borrowed it as *ɨstad from the Vulgar Latin *istatus, this became (y)stad / (y)stât in Middle Welsh and ystad (state, condition, situation) in modern Welsh [source].

Do any of you have any thoughts on this question?

What the Deuce‽

The expression “What the deuce‽” can be used to express surprise, shock or bafflement. It’s an example of a minced oath in which deuce is used in place of devil [source].

If you run like the deuce, you are running very quickly and wildly, or like the devil, or maybe like you’re being pursued by the devil.

Apparently deuce was first used in the 17th century exclamations and was associated with bad luck or mischief, because when playing dice, deuce (two) is the lowest and most unlucky throw. The connection with the devil developed later [source].


Deuce also appears in the phrase there will be the deuce to pay (there will be a huge amount of trouble).

In card games deuce refers to a card with two pips. In baseball a deuce is a curveball. In tennis it refers to a tied game where either player can win by scoring two consecutive points, and in Canadian slang it refers to a two-year prison sentence.

It comes from the Middle English dewes (two), via Anglo-Norman from the Old French deus (two), from the Latin duo, from the Proto-Italic *duō (two), from the Proto-Indo-European *dwóh₁ (two) [source].

Deuce might also be linked to or come from the Late Latin dusius (phantom, specter), which comes from the Gaulish *dusios (incubus, monster), probably from Proto-Indo-European *dʰeus- (spirit) [source].

Alternatively it might be linked to the Old French deus (God), from the Latin deus (god, deity), from the Old Latin deivos, from the Proto-Italic *deiwos, from Proto-Indo-European *deywós, from *dyew- (sky, heaven) [source].

Other Anglo-Norman numbers that are/were used in cards, dice and other games include ace (one), trey (three), cater (four), cinque (five), sice (six) [source].

Flaming Llamas!

In Spanish the word llama has several different meanings. As well as being a domesticated South American camelid of the genus Lama glama, it also a flame, and means “he/she/it calls”, or in other words the third person singular present tense form of the verb llamar (to summon, call, knock, ring). Each version of llama comes from a different root [source].

The animal llama [ˈʎama] comes from the the Quechua word llama. Other members of the genus lama include:

  • alpaca [alˈpaka] (Vicugna pacos) comes from the Aymara word allpaqa
  • guanaco [ɡwaˈnako] (Lama guanicoe) comes from the Quechua word wanaku
  • vicuña [biˈkuɲa] (Lama vicugna / Vicugna vicugna) comes from wik’uña


The flaming version of llama, which is pronounced [ˈʝama/ˈɟ͡ʝa.ma], is an alternative version of flama (flame), and comes from the Latin flamma (flame, fire), from the Proto-Italic *flagmā, from Proto-Indo-European *bʰlē- (to shimmer, gleam, shine) [source].

Junior Jarl squad

Some English words from the same root include flame, flambé and flagrant.

Llamar [ʝaˈmaɾ/ɟ͡ʝaˈmaɾ] (to summon, call, etc) comes from the Old Spanish lamar, from the Latin clāmāre, from clamō (cry out, clamer, yell, shout), from the Proto-Indo-European *kelh₁- (to shout) [source].

Words from the same root include acclaim, claim, clamour, council and haul [source].

When I see words beginning with a double l, which are quite common in Spanish, I have to stop myself giving them a Welsh pronounciation [ɬ]. There is in fact a Welsh word which resembles llamallamu, which means to jump, leap, bound, spring. It comes from the Proto-Celtic word *lanxsman (jump), from the Proto-Indo-European *h₁lengʷʰ- (light; move lightly) [source]. The Welsh for llama is lama, by the way.