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