Sunday, 30 January 2011

Etymological Gems

Following on from previous weeks when I have reproduced the research behind various articles on etymology, I came across the following snippets of information. I have made no notes regarding publication, nor do I remember being asked to write anything or submitting a single paragraph on the subject. I'm now wondering if I have upset an editor by failing to submit anything - in which case I shall probably regret this post!

agate - the English word is from the Latin achates or Greek akhates, both understood as 'the diminutive one'.

amethyst - is from Latin amethystus itself from the Greek amethustos which translates as 'anti-intoxicant', for amethyst was once thought to be a remedy for intoxication.

beryl - can be traced back to Greek beyllos and Sanskrit vaidurya, which is thought to be ultimately from the city of Velur in southern India. The word is also used in Middle Latin berillus, Middle High German berille and French besicles all referring to 'spectacles', all adding support to the idea that beryl was first used for the lens in eyeglasses.

coral - is derived from a Semitic word, seen in Hebrew goral, meaning simply 'pebble'.

cornelian - a variety of chalcedony, derived from Old French cornelle 'cherry' and thus 'cherry-coloured'.

diamond - it may seem strange to suggest this most desirable of gemstones has an idetical etymology to the word 'adamant' yet this is just the case. Diamond came to English from Old French diamant, itself from Latin diamas and Greek adamas meaning 'unbreakable, unyielding'.

garnet - can be traced back to the Old French gernat meaning 'dark red', although it may be even older and share an origin with pomegranate and refer to the shape and colour of the seeds and pulp as being similar.

jade - comes to English from the Spanish (piedra de) ijada meaning '(stone of the) flank', this refers to it being held to be a cure for renal colic.

jet - came to English from Old French jaiet, Latin gagates, and Greek gagates lithos meaning 'the stone of Gages', the name of a town and river in Lycia associated with the stone. It is not used a colour until the fifteenth century.

onyx - is a Latin word derived from the Greek onux 'claw, fingernail'. Hence there is a similarity drawn between the white vein on a pink background found in onyx and the similar marking on a fingernail.

opal - a word which can be traced through Latin opalus and Greek opallios to Sanskrit upala which simply means 'gem, precious stone'.

pearl - there are two equally possible origins for this word, depending upon if this referred to the pearl or to the oyster. If it comes from the pearl, then this would be Vulgar Latin pernula 'sea-mussel' and also used for 'ham' to refer to the shape of the shell. Alternatively it comes from the same source as 'pear', referring to the shape of the pearl.

rhinestone - is literally 'the stone of the Rhine', a literal translation of the French caillou du Rhin and referring to where this artificial gem was first produced near Strasbourg.

ruby - is from Latin rubeus 'red'.

sapphire - another which can be traced back to Sanskrit, here sanipriya meant 'sacred to the planet Saturn'.

topaz - was claimed by Pliny to be named from an island off the coast of Arabia, where it was said to be mined. However most linguists point to Sanskrit tapas meaning 'heat, fire'.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Sporting Etymologies (Part 2)

Following on from last week's look at the etymology of sporting names, here is the second and final part:

pelota - a game of Spanish origins, it is played by hitting a ball against the walls of three-sided court. The name is from the Spanish pella, itself from latin pila, 'ball'.

polo - with its origins in the east it is not surprising to find the word in Tibetan pu lu 'ball', although there is a Tibetan dialect called Balti which has polo as a word for 'ball'.

pool - was an early term used for billiards where these cue sports were played in a room where gamblers 'pooled' their money to bet on horseracing off-track.

racing - as so many sports involve racing it would be wrong to omit a word which came to English from Old Norse ras where 'running' was used in the sense of 'running water' and derived from the Proto-Germanic raes 'to rage'. It is not used as a noun in English before 1510 and for the first time as a verb around 1670.

rounders - the forerunner of baseball which originated in Ireland around the middle of the eighteenth century, the name self-explanatory.

rowing - as with 'racing' the origin of the name is obvious. The word can be traced back through almost every language to the Proto-Indo-European verb ere 'to row', predictably one of the earliest words.

rugby - almost everyone will know the story of the origins of rugby football, where one Matthew Webb Ellis was playing association football on the playing fields of Rugby school when he picked up the ball and ran with it. The sport took the name of the school (not the town) and later the World Cup of Rugby Union was named the Webb Ellis Trophy.

shooting - as with rowing this features a verb which can be traced back through many languages to the Proto-Indo-European skeud 'to chase, to throw, to project'.

skating - the skate was brought to England by the followers of Charles II at the Restoration in the seventeenth century. Hence the term comes from Middle Dutch schaetse, itself from Norman French esache 'stilt, trestle' and first seen as a verb by the end of the seventeenth century.

ski-ing - another winter sport which, as with skate, in English began as a noun. It is derived from Old Norse skith, also the origin of 'skid', and originally referred to 'a snowshoe'.

snooker - was a variation on billiards invented by British officers serving in India towards the end of the nineteenth century. The term is slang, not the modern 'snooker' meaning 'to put in a difficult position' but Victorian slang for 'newly joined cadet'. It is said to have been used for the game for it was so easy to fool the new cadets when teaching them the rules. It is claimed the man who first used the term was a certain Colonel Sir Neville Chamberlain (not the man who later served as prime minister), who was serving in Jubbulpore with the Devonshire Regiment.

soccer - is derived from association football and, contrary to popular belief, was used in Britain many years before a competitive soccer ball had been kicked in the USA.

softball - a variation of baseball played, as the name suggests, with a larger, softer ball to prevent injury. The ball is also pitched using an underarm action and is played on a smaller diamond.

squash - is named from the ball, which does squash more than other balls.

swimming - the verb can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European swem meaning 'to be in motion'. Over the centuries it passed from one language to another where to was used in the sense 'hunt', 'motion', and 'chase' well before it applied solely to movement in water.

tennis - was originally called sphairistike, Greek meaning 'in playing the ball', named by its apparent inventor, Major Walter C. Wingfield and first played in Wales. The original game was played without a racket, tennis probably comes from tenez Old French for 'to receive, to take', which was once called out by the server as a warning to his opponent he was about to serve.

volleyball - clearly named from a volley being used in sporting terms where the ball is played before it hits the ground. The word volley comes from Middle French volee or 'flight'.

wrestling - an ancient sport with a name from the word wrest, itself from Proto-Germanic wraistijanan 'to bend, twist'.

yachting - features a comparatively recent word derived from Dutch jaght schip literally 'chasing ship'.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Sporting etymologies (Part 1)

During England's resounding success in the Ashes I heard 'cricket' pronounced at least three different ways. The English 'cricket' and Geoff Boycott's 'creekitt', while the Australian 'cruckit' sounds more like the sound of the insect of that name.
I had been wondering about the etymology of the word and before long had unearthed the notes for another piece written from some years ago. This not only looked at the etymology of cricket but many other sports and games, reproduced here in alphabetical order.

archery - surely one of the oldest surviving trials of skill, it comes to English from the Latin arcuarius meaning 'of a bow'.

badminton - possibly the name with the best-known etymology, it comes from the Gloucestershire place name of Badminton, ironically more closely associated with equestrian events today. The game itself is held to have originated in ancient Greece, thereafter moving east across China and south to India, where it was known as Battledore and Shuttlecock (the bat and the shuttlecock).

baseball - the name explains the basic premise of the game, hitting a ball and then running around the bases. Considered the 'national sport' in the USA by 1856, its simplicity as a bat and ball game make it difficult to trace. However it does not seem to have been played in the Americas until the arrival of those of European descent, thus the game is a derivative of rounders.

billiards - is ultimately from Old French billard 'bent stick'. This is a clue to its origins for, as with all games played with a cue, it originated as an outdoor lawn game. A reference from 1340 shows a game played outdoors which appears to be reminiscent of both billiards and croquet, while the first indoor billiards table can be traced to the regin of Louis XI of France (1461-83). An engraving from a book published in 1710 shows two men playing billiards, however the 'sticks' depicted are bent and more reminiscent of miniature hockey sticks.

bowling and bowls - two similar sports (indoors and out) clearly associated with 'bowl', the verb describing the action when delivering the ball. Of course this raises the question as to which came first, the answer being uncertain, although we do know these ultimately come from 'ball', itself of Germanic descent from 'sphere, round'.

boxing - another ancient pastime, possibly the original 'sport' for it requires no equipment! The modern name is a Middle English word box, although the origins of this word are unknown.

chess - is derived from the Old French esches which means simply 'checks'.

cricket - and the subject which started the thought processes. Sadly the etymology of the word is completely unknown. Indeed even the earliest written reference, which mentions Prince Edward, son of Edward I, at Newenden in Kent in the year of 1301 playing a game known as creag. Clearly this could be the first syllable of 'cricket' but as we have no notion of what form this game took or what creag is telling us, we are none the wiser.

croquet - is thought to be a dialect form of the French crochet 'a little hook'.

curling - is first mentioned in print in 1620 in Perth, Scotland in the works of Henry Adamson. The noun comes from curl, describing the motion of the stone.

dominoes - the earliest dominoes were carved from ivory with inserts of ebony and clearly not only extremely valuable but also white with black spots, rather than the reverse colouring today. It's name is derived from the similarity to Venetian Carnival masks, these domini being white with black spots. In turn these were named after the French priests whose winter hoods were black on the outside and white inside. The word can be traced back to the Latin dominus 'lord, master'.

fencing - is one of the easiest to understand. It comes from the Old French defens 'defence' and was absorbed into Middle English as fens.

golf - few can not have heard that golf is an acronym standing for "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden", it will come as not surprise to find there is not an element of truth in this suggestion. The origin of the term is uncertain, although there is a reference to a game kolf involving a small ball and a curved bat being played in the Netherlands in 1297.

gymnastics - is ultimately from the Greek gumno 'naked', for ancient Greek competitors were completely naked.

hockey - and the similar hurling are played with a curved stick and a ball. Despite the very different rules the object of both games is ostenibly the same as many other games which date back at least five thousand years - stone tablets depicting very obvious hockey-like games have been unearthed in the ancient city of Ur.

judo - is from the Japanese ju do 'soft way'.

lacrosse - a game originating with the native people of modern Canada, the name was coined by French settlers who called it (le jeu de) la cross '(the game of) the hooked stick'.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Herbs and Spices

Once again I have unearthed the content from an old article. As with a previous post this was written for a, now defunct, culinary magazine. Here the request was for the etymology of the names of herbs and spices - a list which was much longer than I would ever have expected, which is probably a reflection on my limited skills in the kitchen.
Delving into the world of place names I have often come across herbs and spices, particularly when discussing minor names such as those of hamlets and fields. This is by no means surprising for such were used by our ancestors to a much greater degree than we do today. This should come as no surprise for they had a limited selection of vegetables - indeed the leac or 'leek' was also used as a generic term for all vegetables, much as the hoover is used for all vacuum cleaners today.
Of course they were also responsible for their own health. Knowledge of specific treatments for a semmingly endless list of ailments was passed on from generation to generation. Nearly all meant drinking a potion concocted from a number of herbs (with the likely inclusion of less obviously edible vegetation), some of which have been shown to be beneficial treatments by present-day doctors and scientists.
The following list defines the name of each, given in alphabetical order for ease of reference:

allspice - was so-named in 1621 by the English, who thought it resembled a combination of the flavours of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

angelica - is a name which certainly means 'the angelic herb' and was probably known as such for the many uses of its seeds, leaves, roots, and ever stems.

asafoetidea - a strange name which one would normally expect to have been shortened over the centuries it is a combination of Persian asa 'resin' and Latin foetida referring to its pungent, and rather unpleasant, odour. That it hasn't acquired an easier name is probably down to the many different names for this plant. Among the many known are devil's dung, stinking gum, food of the gods, dvil's sweat, the devil's herb, and in France as merde du diable meaning 'devil's shit'.

basil - can be traced back to Greek basilikon meaning 'royal'.

bay - comes through Old French baie and Latin baca meaning 'berry'.

borage - also comes from Old French and bourrache, itself from Arabic abu draq literally meaning 'the father of sweat' and a reference to its use in medicine as a sudorific.

burnet - can again be traced to Old French, this from burnete and descriptive of its brownish-red flowers.

cardamom - comes through Latin cardamomum and Greek kardamon describing the plant as 'cress'.

celery - examination of the leaves of the young celery plant will show why it is from French celeri, Latin selinon, and ultimately Greek selinon meaning 'parsley'.

chives - have a distinct flavour, reminiscent of a mild onion or leek. Hence no surprise to find the English name is derived from Latin cepa meaning 'onion', while the species name comes from prason 'leek'.

cinnamon - is from Phoenician and Hebrew through Greek kinnamomon meaning 'reddish brown', the colour of the bark of these trees.

clove - is named for the shape of its buds, the Latin clavus meaning 'nail'.

coriander - has a long written history which can be traced back to Mycenaean Greek koriadnon and thought to be some reference to Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos in Greek mythology.

cumin - has another long history, Latin cuminum, Greek kuminon, Hebrew kammon, Arabic kammun, Akkadian kamunu and ultimately Sumerian gamun. 'well-smelling'.

dill - unlike many others this is a comparatively recent name, thought to have been brought to Briton by the Saxons or Norsemen and means 'to soothe, lull', thought to describe its use for relief from dyspepsia.

fenugreek - the English name comes from the Latin foenum graecum 'Greek hay', although it resembles clover which is the reason for the Swedish name of bockhomsklover and German Bockshornklee both meaning 'ram's horn clover'.

fennel - comes to English from Latin fenicculum 'hay'. Interestingly to the ancient Greeks it was marathon said to have been named for it being found in the region of Marathon, hence the place name which, in turn, has given us the running event.

garlic - its English name comes from Old English gar leac 'the spear leek' from the shape of its leaves.

ginger - another which can be traced back to antiquity, the original language is unknown but would be related to Sanskrit srngavera and Tamil inji ver 'the horn body' telling us the shape of the root.

horseradish - mentioned in Greek mythology when the oracle at Delphi told Apollo that it was worth its weight in gold, it was certainly in use by the Egyptians four thousand years ago. The etymology of the English name is uncertain, traditionally it is said to be derived from the process of 'hoofing', this involves grinding up the root and blending with vinegar to capture the pungent aroma and taste which is prized, the basic root has no smell and unless blended quickly will lose its desired properties.

lovage - traditionally named from 'love ache', ache being a medieval alternative name for parsley, it is actually derived from the northwestern Italian town of Liguria where it was once grown extensively.

oregano - is the English pronunciation of origano an Italian word from Latin origanum and Greek origanon, 'an acrid herb'.

paprika - the modern word is derived from Hungarian paprika meaning 'pepper'.

parsley - can be traced back to the Greek petroselinon 'rock celery' and thus, as both must refer to the shape of the leaves, describes something which we will never understand as it undoubtedly comes from an unknown language.

pepper - the word can be traced back to Sanskrit pippali meaning 'berry' which the plants to sport at fruiting time.

rosemary - the present English is from the Latin ros marinus 'the dew of the sea' as it is a very hardy plant and requires no more than the water from the dew or sea fogs to survive.

saffron - this comes from Latin safranum and ultimately from the Persian zarparan meaning 'having golden stigmas', something all crocus plants to, the source of the world's most valuable spice.

sage - is from Latin salvia 'the healing plant'.

sesame - can be traced back to several Bronze Age cultures and their languages, both Babylonian and Assyrian referring to it as 'plant oil'.

tamarind - is a Latin version of the Arabic tamar Hind literally 'Indian date'.

tarragon - also known as the dragon herb, the name itself is derived from Arabic tarkhum 'little dragon'.

vanilla - the second most expensive spice after saffron, vanilla was unknown until brought back from the Gulf Coast of Mexico by Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the sixteenth century. This is the origin of the name of the spice referred to as vainilla or 'little pod'.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Take your partners .....

Never having been a dancer in any sense of the word, being asked to write a piece on the etymology of dance names initially left me scratching my head. The telephone call came about following the success of a certain BBC dancing competition in its early years, a reality show I admit I had never seen (and still have not), while my knowledge of dance terminology starts and ends with 'step'.
Of course some terms are obvious, for example barndance is still clearly a dance genre developed at a time when the barn was probably the only building large enough to hold the dance. Other names and associated terminology follows in alphabetical order:

arabesque - as the name suggests 'in the Arabic style' from Italian arabesco.

bebop - from the musical style, itself imitative of its two-beat time.

beguine - a name of French origin understood as 'flirtation'.

bolero - a Spanish term bola meaning 'ball'.

bossa nova - is Portuguese for 'new voice'.

charleston - a dance named after Charleston in South Carolina.

cotillion - a formal dance which is named from the Old French for 'petticoat'.

flamenco - named from the Spanish for 'native of Flanders'.

foxtrot - the succession of slow and quick steps is said to resemble the start/start movements of the ubiquitous mammal.

galliard - is an Old French word meaning 'strength, power', possibly named for its gusto when compared with contemporary sixteenth and seventeenth century dances.

gavotte - named from the Gavot inhabitants of the Alps where the dance originated, itself meaning 'mountaineer'.

landler - is an Austrian dance which originated in the region of Landl, the name being the Anglicised version of the place.

mambo - a name which was taken from Haitian Creole for a voodoo priestess, which seems to be a simple loan word and has no connection with dance.

mazurka - this Polish dance takes its name from the French form of mazurek, a native or inhabitant of Mazovia province.

minuet - an Old French menuet meaning 'small, dainty'.

morris - an English country dance which has its origins in Middle English Moreys 'Moorish' and telling of its origins in North Africa and/or Spain.

one-step - describes the nature of the dance.

paso doble - as with the previous name describes the 'two step' this time in Spanish.

paul jones - from John Paul Jones, a Scots-born US naval hero who died in Paris!

pirouette - to spin on the ball of the foot in ballet, this comes from French pirouet 'a spinning top'.

polka - comes from Czech pulka means 'half step' and describes the skip following the three steps of the dance.

polonaise - is a French word from Medieval Latin Polonia, meaning Poland.

quadrille - is a dance for a minimum of four people and comes from Latin quadra or Spanish cuadra 'square'.

quickstep - is the perfect description of the fast-paced ballroom dance.

rigadoon - is a lively dance said to have been devised by and named after one Monsieur Rigaud, a dancing master from Marseille.

rumba - is a ballroom dance originating among the black culture of Cuba. This is either American Spanish rumbo 'carousel' or European Spanish rumbo 'pomp'.

saltarello - from the Latin saltare 'to leap'.

strathspey - is a lively Scottish reel named after the place name meaning 'the valley of the Spey'.

tango - logically the name is derived from the same place as the dance, a Spanish pronunciation of an Afro-American drum dance brought from somewhere in the Niger-Congo vicinity.

tarantella - a lively whirling dance from southern Italy which was devised as a remedy for tarantism. This condition, so rife in southern Italy from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries it was considered an epidemic, was thought to be a result of a bite from the tarantula, itself characterised by an uncontrollable urge to dance. Hence this is a dance created to alleviate an uncontrollable urge to dance!

turkey trot - the springing walk and up and down shoulder movement is said to be imitative of the turkey.

volta - a dance named from the Italian 'to turn'.

waltz - a Germanic word which can be traced to Middle High German walzen and Old High German walzan both meaning 'to roll'.