Throwing yourself around the dance floor

The mention of a dance floor makes us think of the Spanish verb bailar ‘to dance.’ The corresponding noun is baile, which is a cognate of the French bal that English has borrowed as ball, as in the kind of fancy-dress ball that Cinderella went to and that she fled from when her coach turned back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight.

The Spanish and French words ultimately trace back to ballre, a Late Latin recasting of the Greek verb ballizein. Going farther back, we find that the original root is Indo-European *gwel-, which meant ‘to throw,’ so the Greeks did indeed conceive of dancing as a way of throwing one’s body about. If that sounds crude, we can balance it with the more refined balet/ballet; Spanish and English borrowed that term from French, but French had taken it from Italian balletto, a diminutive of the ballo that is a cognate of Spanish baile and French bal.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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