Chardonnay

The about.com website says that “Chardonnay, America’s number one selling white wine varietal, continues to climb the production ladders to emerge as the most beloved of dry white wines in the U.S.” Another website called Le Chardonnay explains that in the French department of Saône-et-Loire there’s a village named Chardonnay, which is where the wine presumably originated, and that the village’s French name developed from Latin Cardonnacum. The Romans would have named the place after the thistles that grew there, because the Late Latin word for ‘thistle’ was cardo, with stem cardon-. The noun passed through Old Provençal and Old French to become Middle English cardoun. That is now cardoon, the English name for a close relative of the artichoke that the American Heritage Dictionary says is “cultivated for its edible leafstalks and roots.”

The Classical Latin word for ‘thistle’ had been carduus, but Medieval Latin used the simpler cardus, from which Spanish now has cardo. Spanish also has the augmentative cardón and the diminutive cardillo. The Vulgar Latin diminutive *cardunculus led to Spanish forms (some of them dialectal) that include cardoncho, cardoncha, cardencha, cardinche, and cardancho. From the simple cardo came the verb cardar, which shows that people found a use even for so prickly a thing as a thistle. Joan Corominas explains cardar as “‘peinar la lana antes de hilarlo’, lo cual se hacía con la cabeza del cardo o de la cardencha” (“‘to comb wool before spinning it,’ which was done with the head of a cardo or cardencha“). Similarly, Medieval Latin has given English the verb card, along with the identical noun that the 1913 Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defined as ‘an instrument for disentangling and arranging the fibers of cotton, wool, flax, etc.; or for cleaning and smoothing the hair of animals; — usually consisting of bent wire teeth set closely in rows in a thick piece of leather fastened to a back.’ That’s a useful word, but one I’m afraid the language is gradually discarding.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 10:33:02

    Ah, but we’re not discarding the word entirely. Comb through my next post and you’ll find “carding” there, used precisely as the 1913 Webster’s defines it – albeit without a thistle.

    It’s been surprising for me to discover how many people today keep their own animals, carding and spinning the wool into yarn for knitting or weaving. And it’s not just sheep. Llamas, alpacas, even buffalo – all are being utilized. I brought back a hand-woven rug of llama wool from my trip last fall. Apparently the scent is strong or long-lasting. It took a month for the cat to stop acting like I’d tethered an actual llama in the living room.

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Feb 16, 2014 @ 10:51:27

      In looking at carding as an outsider, but still as a native speaker of English, I have the impression that the word card is more alive as a verb than as the name of an implement. Perhaps that discrepancy doesn’t hold for people who actually do carding, given that you can’t card without a card.

      I’ll look forward to combing (well said) through your next post.

      Reply

  2. kathryningrid
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 22:20:21

    Gracious. I would never have made a connection between Chardonnay and cardoon! Intriguing as usual. I grew beautiful cardoons in Tacoma and loved them for their monumental structure and silvery, furry leaves….

    Reply

  3. sippitysup
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 19:48:06

    Proof that words are important (though sometimes confusing). GREG

    Reply

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