April Fool’s Day

What the Hispanic world calls Día de los Santos Inocentes and celebrates on the 28th of December has a partial counterpart in what English-speaking countries call April Fool’s Day and celebrate on the 1st of April, which I’d be foolish to deny was yesterday’s date. In both traditions people play pranks on friends and family, newspapers publish articles that are hoaxes, etc., and even I engaged in a little fun with yesterday’s spurious post about a trove of newly found Spanish words.

This gives a cynic the chance to say that April Fool’s Day sounds like just any ordinary day on the Internet, where mistakes, interpretations untethered from facts, and even outright lies abound. In a similar vein, a cynic might also point out that the windbags who inhabit legislatures around the world celebrate a perpetual April Fool’s Day, to which a lexicographer would add that that’s a figurative use of windbag, because the word originally referred to ‘the flexible bag in a set of bagpipes.’ The Spanish word for a windbag in its musical sense is fuelle, a noun whose own original meaning, and still a current one, is ‘bellows.’

For those unfamiliar with a bellows, here’s how Noah Webster defined the device: ‘An instrument, utensil or machine for blowing fire, either in private dwellings or in forges, furnaces and shops. It is so formed as by being dilated and contracted, to inhale air by a lateral orifice which is opened and closed with a valve, and to propel it through a tube upon the fire.’ (English bellows is a singular, but the seemingly plural form comes from the fact that the most common type of bellows has a pair of handles.)

Spanish fuelle evolved from Latin follis, whose specialized meaning of ‘bellows’ developed from the word’s basic sense of ‘a bag, a sack’; another derivative meaning was ‘an inflated ball.’ English started using windbag as a derisive term only in the early 1800s, but Late Latin was way ahead of English when it began employing follis in the same way. That sense of follis accompanied the word when it evolved to Old French fol, the source of English fool. No fooling.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. amerecanard
    Apr 02, 2011 @ 21:08:18

    This is really great! I took Spanish in high school and one semester of Latin in college– now that I’m in law school I’m discovering just how useful an understanding of linguistics is.

    Glad you stumbled on my blog. I hope you can get a laugh or two out of it, even from the posts that don’t have to do with language!


  2. wordconnections
    Apr 03, 2011 @ 02:07:50

    Thanks. I’m glad you appreciate this. I wish more teachers of Spanish would incorporate connections like these in their classes.

    I’m sure your semester of college Latin is coming in handy in law school.


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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