Sunday, 26 December 2010

Strictly Cash Terms

Recently I came across a word I had (thankfully) never heard before. However it was clear from the adverisement that wonga meant cash, coin of the realm, currency, money. Momentarily baffled as to why such a grotesque noise should ever be considered worthy of use, it did get me thinking of other slang terms for money, some of which I will admit to having used myself, albeit sparingly, I also found many more than I had never encountered.

ackers - used in the United Kingdom it is one of several which was brought back to the homeland from colonial days. It is derived from the Egyptian akka, itself having many uses as a personal name, even a tribal one, yet seems to have its earliest reference as the triangular object on the Great Pyramid of the pharaoh Khuffu or Khuvu.

bob - some will still recall pre-decimal currency in the United Kingdom when pounds were divided into twenty shillings. Most often the shilling was known as a 'bob', which is first recorded in the early nineteenth century, while the origin is obscure.

brass - is one of the most obvious origins, it simply refers to the colour of the coinage.

buck - is in use for the American dollar by 1856. The origin is uncertain but thought to have originated as an abbreviation of 'buckskin', the basic unit of trade between Native Americans and European settlers in the early frontier days.

coppers - as with other names, this is a simple reference to the colour of some of the coins.

deaner - is another term for a shilling, not one I had ever heard before, but is certainly a mis-spelling of 'dinar', from Greek denarius, and seen as currency across North Africa, parts of the Middle East and as far north as Yugoslavia.

dibs - is used for small amounts of money. It is short for dibstones, the pebbles or counters used in the game played with knucklebones.

dough - may be a slang term today, however in the Middle English term dogh, from Germanic dag, did indeed mean 'money'.

folding stuff - one of the less imaginative terms, clearly this only refers to paper money.

fin - is applied to the £5 but the origin is obscure, suggestions of an abbreviation for 'finance' seem contrived.

gelt - is a Yiddish word, from Old High German gelt meaning 'recompense, reward'.

greenback - obviously the colour of the dollar bill.

joey - referred to the old silver threepence, the etymology is unknown but is referred to as such in George Orwell's Keep the Aspidistras Flying.

monkey - is a term for £500, it is held to be derived from the image of the monkey on the Indian 500 rupee note and brought back the Britain by soldiers who had served there.

nicker - a reference to a pound sterling, although the origin is unkown.

pony - as with the term 'monkey' a term brought back from India, this image on the 25 rupee note and describing £25.

quid - is the most commonly used term for a pound (also once used for a guinea). Almost certainly from Latin quid simply 'something'. First known usage is in 1688 when Shadwell writes "Let me equip thee with a quid" showing it must have been in popular use even then.

sou - is from the Old French sou a former French coin of minimal value.

tanner - is another name derived from the days of the British influence in India. At the time a rupee was roughly equal to a shilling, the rupee comprised sixteen annas and thus half a rupee was eight anna. Easy to see how half a shilling could also be seen as 'eight anna' or 'a tanner'.

It is claimed there are only two other subjects which have more slang terms than money - drink I may look at some time in the future (alcoholic, of course), but euphemisms for sex and the various acts is not for blogging.
(I should be able to get at least one book out of it!)

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Shipping Forecast

Listening to Test Match Special on the final day of the 2nd Test of the current Ashes tour, I decided to listen on my old radio rather than tuning in to the digital broadcast. This turned out to be a mistake as when the inevitable victory arrived, the final wicket fell while Radio 4 were broadcasting the Shipping Forecast!

This only detracted marginally from the win, however it did get me thinking about the etymology of these oddly named sea areas used in the Shipping Forecast. The following list is given in the accepted order in which every report is broadcast:

Viking - while there is no doubt the term refers to the Norse lands off which this sea area is found, the origin of the word has always been disputed. The most likely meaning is from vikingr, a noun referring to those who went on expeditions and voyages across and beyond this sea area.

North Utsire - Utsira is a region of Norway, its name comes from Old Norse Sira, the name of the river found here which means 'the strong stream', with the addition of ut giving 'out of Sira'.

South Utsire - as above.

Forties - is an area of the North Sea where the depth is shown on nautical maps as very level and results in a series of depth of forty-something fathoms. It was known as such well before shipping forecast areas were ever devised.

Cromarty - is a Scottish place name, from Gaelic crom bati 'the crooked bay'.

Forth - is one of several areas named from the river estuary found there. The River Forth is not known before the twelfth century, this may be from Old Gaelic foirthe, itself derived from Brythonic voritia meaning 'slow running'. Suggestions that this is related to the Norse fjordr 'fjord' are unlikely.

Tyne - another river name, the northeast Tyne is related to other English river names (Tame, Teme, Tamar, Thames, etc), all of which are thought to mean 'river'. If this seems overly simplistic, remember these people were not as widely travelled as we are today, many would never have seen another river of any reasonable size in their lives. Even today residents of a town rarely refer to the river by name when speaking to one another, merely calling it 'the river'.

Dogger - gets its name from dogge, an old Dutch word for a fishing boat and transferred here for this has been one of the most productive fishing areas in the North Sea. As the name suggests it is a large sandbank and its 6,800 square miles reaches a maximum depth of just 66 feet. The North Sea was once dry land, before the thaw at the end of the last ice age Britain was attached to Europe. This dry region was named Doggerland, named for the sandbank and must be unique in being an area of dry land being named after a fishing boat.

Fisher - as with the previous name is also named for its heavy catch for fishing boats.

German Bight - is used for the western North Sea, 'bight' being used for an indentiation of the coastline from the fifteenth century. The word is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European bheug 'to bend', the word also gave us the name of the early weapon, the bow.

Humber - another area named for the river, in this case more an estuary, is from the Humber which is another ancient name but considered to describe 'the dark river'.

Thames - as discussed under the Tyne, England's greatest river is an ancient name and thus would be most simplistic in describing itself as 'the river'. Effectively this would be describing 'flowing water' as opposed to stagnant pools and thus probably good for drinking.

Dover - as a sea area derives its name from the Straits of Dover, which in turn came from the famous port. The place name comes from Celtic dubras which gave a name to the River Dour and described 'the waters'.

Wight - is clearly named from the Isle of Wight, although the island takes its name from the Solent which is forms two arms to the northeast and northwest and separates it from the mainland. The name is Celtic or earlier and tells of 'the division'.

Portland - from the so-called Isle of Portland, connected to the mainland by a narrow strip, this name is recorded since at least the tenth century and is from old English port land 'the estate of the harbour'

Plymouth - arguably England's most famous port has a name which is easy enough to define, it comes from Old English to describe 'the mouth of the River Plym'. Of course the next question concerns the origin of the river name, which is derived, the process being known as back formation, from another place name. Plympton also stands on the river and tells us it was 'the farmstead of the plum trees'.

Biscay - is clearly the region of the Bay of Biscay. The name is from Basque bizkar meaning 'hill, slope' and referring to a section of the Pyrenees which gave a name to the Vizcaya province around Bilbao.

Trafalgar - a name well known to the British because of the famous battle of 1805, although few are aware of its location. It is named after Cape Trafalgar in southwest of Spain. Indeed the name means 'the western point' and comes from Arabic tarf-el-garb. Stories that the name is Arabic taraf-al-aghar and describing 'the pillar cave' of one of the Pillars of Hercules in Greek mythology are little more than creative etymology.

FitzRoy - was formerly known as Finisterre, an Old French name meaning 'the end of the earth' but was changed in 2002 to avoid confusion with a Spanish forecast area. The modern name comes from Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy (1805-65), who is best known for captaining HMS Beagle on Charles Darwin's famous voyage but who was chosen for to honour the man who founded the UK Meteorogical Office.

Sole - named for the Sole Bank, another of the areas named for its fishing, although whether it was named for the great quantities of sole caught seems unlikely.

Lundy - named for the island of Lundy of the coast of Devon, it is named from the Old Scandinavian lundi ey and describes itself as 'puffin island'.

Fastnet - is another with an Old Scandinavian name, this is after the Fastnet Rock, itself from hvasstann ait 'the sharp tooth islet'.

Irish Sea - one of the most obvious names of all the sea areas.

Shannon - another named after a river, here Ireland's largest river is thought to be from Celtic sen amhan telling of 'the big river'.

Rockall - is a small rocky island in the North Atlantic which was unheard of outside maritime circles until the creation of the sea areas. Its origin is possibly from Gaelic sgeir rocail 'the roaring sea rock', although rocail may also be translated as 'tearing, ripping', either would be a good description of this exposed rock.

Malin - is named from one the northernmost point of the Irish mainland, although it is not a part of Northern Ireland. Malin Head is named for it being 'the headland head'

Hebrides - a name which undoubtedly is of great age, the Greek Pliny gives them as Hebudae in the first century and around AD150 Ptolemy records these as Eboudai. Unfortunately the meaning of this name is unknown, not surprising since they will have been named at some time since they were first occupied, archaeology shows this to be at least 6500BC.

Bailey - is named after the Bailey Bank, another shallow much prized by fishermen.

Fair Isle - is an island known for two reasons, for the knitwear which bears its name, and also as the most remote inhabited island in the United Kingdom. It is not named for its beauty but comes from Old Norse faer and describes 'the sheep island'.

Faeroes - this group of islands shares an origin with Fair Isle, it comes from Old Danish faar oe 'the sheep island'.

Southeast Iceland - the last sea area has one of the most obvious origins, the name of the island is quite literal and named such in 960 when the Viking explorer Floki landed here. Note this was not their first venture here, they had arrived over a century earlier on the opposite coast and had known this place as Snjoland 'snowland'.

Incidentally, these names are always read out in this same order to make it easier for listeners to know when their particular sea area is coming up, clearly quite important for mariners. Perhaps Sally Traffic should take note for few drivers can have avoided trouble spots ahead as a result of her warnings. Inevitably these garbled radio reports are strung together in a single sentence (apparently without any punctuation), while the location is often hidden so well within the report as to make the announcement meaningless and hence a complete waste of air time.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

What's Cooking?

To continue on from previous weeks and etymological themes, another old piece was written for a culinary magazine (sadly no longer in circulation). Here the origins of words (particularly verbs) associated with cooking was the challenge and resulted in the following information.

Baking is to cook in dry heat, although today it is associated solely with cooking of breads, pastries, and cakes. However to bake food must have been the earliest method of controlled cooking, where food wrapped in leaves or similar protection was buried in the ashes and embers of the still-hot open fire. Consequently the term must be very old and probably comes from a Proto-Indo-European root word bakan. Although we shall never know for certain it may well be this represents the original verb 'to cook'.
Both fry and roast, despite being very different words and methods, seem to have a common origin in Proto-Indo-European bher. From this the French derived frire and Latin frigere both meaning 'to fry', while another branch of that language came through Sanskrit bharjanah, Persian birishtan, and Greek phrygein all meaning 'to roast'. It seems unlikely these share a name derived from the vessel in which they were cooked, although this cannot be ruled out entirely.
However we can be certain that grill certainly was derived from the mesh on which the item was placed. Note the English word buccaneer has identical origins. While we association such with the roguish pirate in pursuit of treasures, the word is derived from the French boucanier or 'the user of a boucan. Originally used to describe the French settlers who made a living as hunters and woodsmen in the Spanish West Indies, it was later applied to their method of cooking. It cannot be difficult to see the term barbecue is also related, this is simply the Haitian variation of barbacoa with the same meaning. However the verb 'toast', in the 'brown with heat' sense, has the same origin, coming from Old French toster meaning 'to toast or grill'.
While boiling would have been employed as a means of cooking for many years, the term was brought to England by the Normans in the Old French bolir from Latin bullire. Both originally meant 'to bubble up, seethe' and was probably used in the sense 'to agitate' well before it was applied to cooking terminology. Simmer, ostensibly a gentle boil in culinary terms, comes from simperen which, again, is an emotional reference to feeling 'agitated'. To baste is another from Old French, where basser meant 'to moisten'. Poach is a similar method of cooking in liquid, although it is actually describing the cooking 'in a pocket' from French poche - envisage the white of the egg being the pocket to hold the yolk as it cooks.
Braise is also French, although braiser 'to stew' was not seen in a cooking sense in Britain until the seventeenth century. The etymological trail is complex, yet seems to be identical to 'brew', the process effectively little different. Broil can be traced back to a Proto-Germanic origin and is related to the word for 'broth' and is closely related to 'brew'. Casserole is a comparatively modern creation, the first record of this in English dating from 1706 and referring to a metallic pan until 1958 when the seemingly traditional casserole dish was first seen. The name is French casserole describing 'the sauce pan'.
The word curry is Tamil, first known in the west in the 1680s. It is a Tamil word kari referring initially to the spice and later used to mean 'sauce or relish for rice'. Fricasse sounds very French and for good reason, for it comes from the Middle French fricassee meaning 'to mince and cook in sauce'. While the earlier etymology is unknown it would be most surprising if this did not come from frire 'to fry' with quasser 'to cut up'.
Scramble is an oddity and quite recent. The word is thought to be a mispronunciation of 'scrabble', first known usage of which dates from the 1580s when it is used to mean 'to struggle' or 'scrape quickly'. It is unknown in its most common modern use, that of scrambled eggs, before 1864.
To chip is a modern kitchen expression, it is derived from cipp a noun referring to 'a small piece of wood' and also used a verb to describe how such was produced - exactly as the vegetables are prepared today. Note the original noun came to be used as a verb, while as a culinary expression it was used as a verb before it became the noun describing the famous British fried chip.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

A Case of the Wind

Found the notes from another old piece this week which not only had I forgotten existed but failed to recall anything of the content. Hence reading it seemed a totally new experience for me. The piece was on the etymology of the various winds, commissioned to accompany an article looking at the upcoming Cowes Week and seemed somewhat topical. The winds of the world sort themselves into three groups: the classical, the regional, and those referring to speed and strength.

Of the classic winds, Aquilon is taken from the Roman god of the north wind, while Boreas is the Greek equivalent. Auster is the poetic south wind, it comes from Latin auster and is literally 'the southern wind'. Similarly Natus is from Notus the Greek god who was bringer of the autumnal storms, thus associated with the southern wind. Libeccio is the south or southwesterly wind which may bring a good swell and even quite violent squalls, the name comes from libeccio an Italian word derived from Latin and ultimately Greek meaning 'Libyan'. Zephyr is derived from Zephyrus, as we would expect the light breezes of spring and associated with the west wind. Favonius was the Roman equivalent. To complete the set Eurus is the Greek god of the east wind.

There are also the regional winds, mostly seasonal and having a profound influence on the climate of the region. The Mistral comes off the Mediterranean and heads northeasterly to hit the coasts and France and Spain, although it is felt anywhere from Corsica to the Balearic Islands. Mistral is from the Languedoc dialect and means 'masterly', adirect reference to this cold dry wind's dominance of the climate when it blows.
Monsoon is probably the best known of the regional winds. First used to describe the change in wind direction across the Indian subcontinent which brought very heavy rains from the south, it is now used to describe any seasonal reversal of the normal wind direction anywhere in the world. It was first recorded in English during the British rule in India, however the word is derived from Portuguese moncao, itself from Arabic mawsim, and meaning 'season'. However there may be influences from Dutch monsun and also mausam which is common to several languages in meaning simply 'weather'.
Sirocco is that which is born in the Sahara and can reach hurricane force as it hits North Africa and Europe. The modern Itlaian name is derived from the Greek sirokos and refers to this as 'easterly'. Interestingly in former Yugoslavian states, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic it is described as jugo, from an old Slavic word jug meaning 'southerly' and showing the same point of origin but from different aspects.

Lastly the everyday words used to describe the most violent of winds. Cyclone is an atmospheric disturbance which circulates clockwise in the southern hemisphere but anticlockwise north of the equator. The name is derived from the Greek kuklos meaning simply 'circle'. The most violent tropical cyclones, where winds exceeding force 12 on the Beaufort scale are known as hurricanes. With hurricanes being synonymous with the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, it is no surprise to find the name has come from huracan, from the Carib people who also gave their name to the sea. Across in the Pacific Ocean and China Sea such storms are referred to as typhoons. This is derived from the Cantonese daai fung, seen in Mandarin as da feng, and meaning 'great wind'.
When the storm spins in excess of three hundred miles per hour, particularly in North America, they are referred to as tornadoes. The name comes from two Spanish words, tronada meaning 'thunderstorm' being influenced by tornado 'turned'. Over water it produces a waterspout, an English word which is self-explanatory, while the influence of the sun's heat produces small whirling disturbances known as dustdevils, the dust is often the only sign of such although why 'devils' is unclear.