The previous post dealt with French-derived cul-de-sac and Spanish culo ‘rear end, rump.’ Both the Spanish and French words evolved from Latin culus, which Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary translated as ‘the posteriors, fundament.’ From French cul came the diminutive culotte ‘breeches, pants.’ English has borrowed that, often in the plural form culottes, to mean ‘a skirt that is split into two loose legs.’ From cul French also created the verb reculer ‘to back up,’ which Spanish has borrowed as recular. English also borrowed the (Old) French verb, turning it into recoil, which therefore has nothing to do with coil, even though many native English speakers probably assume that it does, based perhaps on the way an object like a coiled spring snaps back when released. Whether those same English speakers would recoil in horror at finding out the word’s origin remains an unanswered question.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ceciliag
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 08:07:48

    I have been remiss in visiting you lately. I have pushed follow so that I get a frequent dose of your words. I need me some learnin’! Though I cannot guarantee that my comments will be relevant or reverent for that matter! Feel free to correct my spelling! c


  2. shoreacres
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 21:14:39

    Good grief. Culottes. I’d forgotten them. They were the agreed-upon compromise in the early ’60s when the school dress code didn’t allow slacks or shorts. I found they’re still being marketed for the modest set on sites such as “Christian Culottes”.

    And lo! there’s also the Sans-culottes movement of the French Revolution. Who knew?


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jan 16, 2012 @ 21:30:26

      Yes, culottes are still around, and I saw someone wearing them on television the other day, but I can’t remember who. With or without, I don’t believe the woman was part of any movement.


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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