Shaking paillasses

In French une paillasse /pajas/ is a straw mattress, draining board or laboratory bench and un paillasse is a clown. The former is a combination of paille (straw) plus the suffix -asse. Paille comes from the Latin palea, from the Ancient Greek πάλλω (pallo = to shake) because you have to shake the straw to extract the grain. The latter comes from the Italian pagliaccio (clown).

The word paillasse /ˈpalɪas/, meaning a straw mattress, is also used in English and was used in Scots.

Paillasse also appears in des pommes (de terre) paillasses, a potato-based dish which came up in a quiz yesterday.

Sources: Wiktionnaire, OED, Reverso

9 thoughts on “Shaking paillasses

  1. According to my Swedish etymological dictionary, the Italian etymology of the second meaning is identical to the former, because clowns were dressed in some kind of mattress fabric. (Swedish word: pajas)

  2. Paillasse also applies to the preparation area in the kitchen. It’s where you make your culinary experiments … Soon comes the time in the year when paillasses are very busy !

  3. Now I got it. I always wondered why Egyptians call a clown “belyacho” … apparently seems it is from Italian (or a related language).

    Here we call a clown “aragoz” or “?aragoz” … any idea about the origin of this word?

    Note: the Arabic for “clown” is Moharrij [مهرّج] which comes from the root HRJ (a root somehow related to everything has to do with chaos).

  4. I didn’t know about the French double meaning of ‘paillasse’ to mean a ‘clown’ as well? In the dictionary it notes that in American English it is spelt ‘paillasse’ same as the original French while in British English its usual spelling is ‘palliasse’. The dictionary also mentions that the word came into English in the 18th century via Scots.
    The blown sense of paillasse is present in lots of other languages and dialects:
    Basque – pailaso
    Bresciano – paiàso
    Spanish – payaso
    Italian – pagliaccio
    Catalan – pallasso
    Esperanto – pajaco
    Mirandolese – pajas
    Mudnés – paiàz
    Portuguese – palhaço
    Romagnolo – pajàzz
    Roman – pajaccio
    Romanian – paiață
    Sardinian – pulcinella
    Sicilian – pagghiazzu
    Valencian – payasso
    Venetian – pajasso
    German – Bajazzo
    Turkish – palyaço
    and maybe Finnish – pelle?

  5. Forgot to include:
    Greek – παλιάτσος (paliátsos)
    Macedonian – палjачo (palijáčo)
    TJ – I think ‘aragoz’ is probably connected to Turkish ‘karagöz’ – ‘shadow puppets’ or the Turkish version of Mr Punch as in a ‘Punch and Judy Show’.

  6. An interesting coincidence for in Tamil, we say ‘pAy’ (பாய்) for a straw mat which is related to the verb ‘pAy-dal’ (பாய்-தல்) in the sense of ‘extending/spreading’.

    The colloquialism ‘pAy piRANDu-dal’ (பாய் பிறாண்டு-தல் – literally, ‘mat scratching’), is used to denote somebody who’s gone mad or lost their wits!

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