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].

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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].

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

Bread rolls

In the UK there are many different regional words for types of bread, particularly for bread rolls, and people tend to be quite attached to their version, believing it to be the one true name for such things. Not all of them refer to exactly the same type of bread product though.

Baps - Scottish Morning Rolls

Whatever you call them, they are small, usually round loaves of bread, and were apparently invented in the south east of England in 1581 [source], although similar small loaves were probably made in other places long before that.

Here are some of the words for bread rolls used in the UK:

  • Scotland: roll, bap, bun, morning roll, softie, buttery, rowie
  • North East England: bun, roll, muffin, batch, breadcake, stottie, oven bottom (bread), tufty bun, scuffler
  • Noth West England: barm, barm cake, bun, tea cake, muffin, nudger
  • Midlands: cob, bap, roll, bun, batch
  • Southern England: roll, bap, bun, cob
  • Wales: roll, bap, cob, batch
  • Northern Ireland: cob, roll, bun, bap

The word roll comes from the Middle English rolle (role), from the Old French rolle / role / roule (roll, scroll), from the Medieval Latin rotulus (a roll, list, catalogue, schedule, record, a paper or parchment rolled up) [source].

The word bun (a small bread roll, often sweetened or spiced), comes from the Middle English bunne (wheat cake, bun), from the Anglo-Norman bugne (bump on the head; fritter), from the Old French bugne, from Frankish *bungjo (little clump), a diminutive of *bungu (lump, clump) [source].

The origins of the word bap, as in a soft bread roll, originally from Scotland, are unknown [source].

A cob is a round, often crusty, roll or loaf of bread, especially in the Midlands of England, is of uncertain origin [source].

A barm (cake) is a small, flat, round individual loaf or roll of bread, and possibly comes from the Irish bairín breac (“speckled loaf” or barmbrack – yeasted bread with sultanas and raisins) [source]. The cake in barm cake was historically used to refer to small types of bread to distinguish them from larger loaves [source].

Barmcake!

A batch, or bread roll, comes from the Middle English ba(c)che, from the Old English bæċ(ċ)e (baking; something baked), from the Proto-Germanic *bakiz (baking), [source].

A stottie (cake) / stotty is a round flat loaf of bread, traditionally pan-fried and popular in Tyneside in the north east of England. The word comes from stot(t) (to bounce), from the Middle Dutch stoten (to push), from the Proto-Germanic *stautaną (to push, jolt, bump) [source].

Traditional Ham, Pease Pudding and Stotties

They are known as oven bottoms or oven bottom bread, as they used to be baked on the bottom of ovens, and typically eaten filled with ham, pease pudding, bacon, eggs and/or sausage. A smaller version, known as a tufty bun, can be found in bakeries in the North East of England [source]

A scuffler is a triangular bread cake originating in the Castleford region of Yorkshire, and the name is thought to come from a local dialect word [source].

A nudger is a long soft bread roll common in Liverpool [source].

A buttery is a type of bread roll from Aberdeen in Scotland, also known as a roll, rowie, rollie, cookie or Aberdeen roll [source].

A teacake is a type of round bread roll found mainly in parts of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumbria. Elsewhere a teacake is a light, sweet, yeast-based bun containing dried fruits, often eaten toasted [source].

In Welsh, bread rolls are known as rholyn bara, rhôl fara, rôl / rol / rowl, bab, wicsan, cwgen, cnap or cnepyn [source]. There may be other regional words as well.

Rhôl/rôl/rol were borrowed from English, and rholyn is a diminutive. Bara (bread) comes from the Proto-Celtic *bargos / *barginā (cake, bread) [source]. Cnap was borrowed from the Old Norse knappr (knob, lump) and cnepyn is a diminutive [source]. Cwgen is a diminutive of cwc, cŵc, cwg (cook), which was borrowed from English.

In Cornish, bread rolls are bara byghan (“small bread”) [source].

In Scottish Gaelic, a bread roll is a bonnach arainbonnach is a bannock or (savoury) cake, and comes from the French beignet (a fritter filled with fruit), from the Frankish *bungjo (lump, bump, swelling), from the Proto-Germanic *bungô / *bunkô (lump, heap, crowd), from the Proto-Indo-European bʰenǵʰ- (thick, dense, fat) [source], which is also the root of the English words bunch and bunion.

Aran (bread, loaf, livelihood, sustenance), comes from the Old Irish arán (bread, loaf), from Proto-Celtic *ar(-akno)- (bread) [source]

See a map showing where these words are used:
http://projects.alc.manchester.ac.uk/ukdialectmaps/lexical-variation/bread/

If you’re from the UK, what do you call a bread roll?

What are such baked goods called elsewhere?

Here’s a song I wrote featuring different types of bread: The Toaster Song

Bed litter

What links litter and beds?

Well, back in about 1300 a litter was a bed. Later on it came to mean a bed-like vehicle carried on the shoulders. By the the 15th it also referred to straw used for bedding, particularly for animals, and then the offspring of an animal born at the same time.

By the 18th century litter could also be “scattered oddments” or “disorderly debris”, and by the 19th century litter was straw bedding for animals and the animal waste in it.

The verb to litter originally meant to provide with bedding, and later came to mean to give birth to, to strew with objects, and to scatter in a disorderly way.

Litter comes from the Anglo-Norman litere (portable bed), from the Old French litiere (litter, stretcher, bier, straw, bedding), from the Medieval Latin lectaria (litter), from the Latin lectus (bed, lounge, sofa, dining-couch), from the Proto-Indo-European *legh- (to lie down, lay).

From the same PIE root we also get such words as the English lie, lay, low, law and lair, the Irish luigh (to lie down) and luí (bed), and the Welsh gwely (bed) and lle (place, location).

Shetland dialect

Sources: Online Etymology Dictionary, Wiktionary

Butterflies and Pavilions

What is the connection between pavilions and butterflies?

Well, the word pavilion comes from the Anglo-Norman pavilloun, from the Latin pāpiliōnem, from pāpiliō (butterfly, moth), probably because a pavilion looks a bit like a butterfly’s wings.

In French the word for butterfly is papillon [pa.pi.jɔ̃], which comes from the same root as pavilion, which is also a French word.

The word papillon also means a ticket, parking ticket; a wing nut or butterfly nut; someone brilliant, versatile and inconstant, or a flyer or tag.

A papillon de nuit (“night butterfly”) is a moth, a nœud papillon (“butterfly knot/bow”) is a bow tie and brasse papillon is butterfly stroke, a style of swimming that seems unnecessarily effortful to me.

A papillon adhésif is a sticky note / Post-it note, papillonnage means flitting about or flitting from one relationship to the next, and papillonner means to flit (about/incessantly).

Are there any interesting butterfly-related expressions in other languages?

Butterfly Pavillion

Sources: Wikitionary, Reverso, bab.la

Sponge Mushrooms

In Swedish, I learned this week, there are two words for mushroom: svamp [svamp] (fungus, mushroom, toadstool, sponge) and champinjon [ɧampɪnˈjuːn] (mushroom) [source].

Svamp comes from the Old Swedish svamper (fungus, mushroom), from Old Norse svampr / svǫppr (sponge, mushroom, ball), from the Proto-Germanic *swammaz / swambaz (sponge, mushroom, fungus, swamp), which is also the root of the English word swamp [source].

The Old English word swamm (mushroom, fungus, sponge), and the Middle English swam (swamp, muddy pool, bog, marsh; fungus, mushroom), come from the same root as well [source].

Mushroom was borrowed from the Anglo-Norman musherum / moscheron (mushroom), from the Old French moisseron (mushroom), possibly from the Old French mosse / moise (moss), from the Frankish *mosa (moss) [source]

Champinjon was borrowed from the French champignon (mushroom, fungus, accelerator), from the Vulgar Latin *campāniolus (grows in the field), from the Late Latin campāneus (pertaining to fields), from Latin campānia (level country), which is also the root of the words campaign and champagne.

Apparently champinjon is used to refer to mushrooms used as food, and was borrowed into Swedish in 1690 [source], while svamp refers to mushrooms and fungi in general.

Svamp

Slimy Islands

For various reasons, I thought I would investigate a few disease-related words to find out where they come from.

Let’s start with virus, which comes from the Latin vīrus (poison, slime, venom), from the Proto-Italic *weisos, from Proto-Indo-European *wisós (fluidity, slime, poison). Virus used to mean venom as well, apparently [source].

Disease comes from the Anglo-Norman desese / disaise, from the Old French desaise (disease, deformity, melancholy), from des- (apart, reversal, removal) and aise (ease – lack of anxiety) [source].

In Middle English words for disease included adle, which comes from the Old English ādl (disease, sickness); and co(a)the, from the Old English coþu (disease). The latter continued to be used in some English dialects as coath (sickness, disease, pestilence) [source]

Pandemic comes from the Ancient Greek πάνδημος (pándēmos – of/belonging to all the people, public) and -ic (of/pertaining to) [source].

Epidemic comes from the French épidémique (epidemic), from the Latin epidemia (epidemic), from Ancient Greek ἐπιδήμιος (epidḗmios), from ἐπί (epí – upon) and δῆμος (dêmos – people) [source].

Isolation comes from the French isolation, from isolé (isolated, placed on an island) [source].

Hope you’re okay and coping with self-isolation, or whatever restrictions are in force / suggested where you are.

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.

Treading in Spinach

Language quiz image

A few posts ago I wrote about an interesting Swedish idiom – trampa i klaveret – to make a social mistake, put one’s foot in it, or literally “to step heavily on the accordion”.

Today I learnt the Danish equivalenttræde i spinaten (“to tread in the spinach”). For example, jeg har virkelig trådt i spinaten (“I have really trod in the spinach”) = I really put my foot in it.

Accoriding to Den Danske Ordbog, træde i spinaten means “utilsigtet sige eller gøre noget dumt” (to accidentally say or do something stupid).

Another version is træde/trampe i spinatbedet (“tread/tramp in the spinach bed”) [source].

Then there’s the spinatfugl or “spinach bird”, which is apparently a person who writes reviews or other cultural material in a newspaper without a journalistic background [source].

Does anybody know why such a person is known as a spinach bird?

The word spinach comes from the Middle English spinach, from Anglo-Norman spinache, from the Old French espinoche, from the Old Occitan espinarc, from the Arabic إِسْفَانَاخ‎ (ʾisfānāḵ), from the Persian اسپناخ‎ (ispanâx).

Apparently spinach cinema refers to “Movies that are not very exciting or interesting, but that one feels one must see because they are educational or otherwise uplifting.” [source]

Are there any interesting spinach or other vegetable-related idioms in other languages?

Furtive ferrets

What do the words furtive and ferret have in common?

ferret

They come from the same root – the Latin word fūr (thief).

Furtive comes from the French furtif (stealthy), from the Latin fūrtīvus (stolen), from fūrtum (theft), from fūr (thief) [source].

Ferret (Mustela putorius furo) comes from the Middle English furet / ferret (ferret), from the Anglo-Norman firet / furet (ferret), a diminutive of the Old French fuiron (weasel, ferret), from the Late Latin furo (cat; robber), a diminutive of the Latin fūr (thief) [source].

Alternatively ferret comes from the Latin furittus (little thief) [source].

The Latin name of the ferret, mustela putorius furo, means something like “stinking robber weasel” [source].

Fūr comes from the Proto-Italic *fōr (thief), from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰṓr (thief), from *bʰer- (to carry) [source], which also the root of words for child in Germanic languages, such as bairn in Scots, barn in Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish, and barn/bern in West Frisian [source].