The last post quoted the first verse of the song “Allá en el rancho grande,” which includes the word calzones, the plural of calzón. The meanings of that and related Spanish words can range (there’s another word from the previous post) a fair amount over the lower half of the human body, and can even mean different things on the same part of a body (especially in different countries), as this list shows:

calzón, calzones: shorts, underpants, panties

calzoncillo(s): shorts, underpants, panties

calza(s): stocking, hose; pants

calzoneta: swimming trunks

calceta: stocking

calcetería: hosiery

calcetín: sock

calzado: footwear, shoes

calzador: shoehorn

calzo: a breakshoe

descalzo: barefoot

To make some sense of this confusion, let’s begin with the Latin noun calx, with stem calc-, which meant ‘heel.’ That gave rise to calceus, which designated a Roman article of clothing that covered the heel, namely ‘a shoe.’ Joan Corominas explains in Breve diccionario de la lengua castellana that when the Romans encountered Germanic tribes, they found that those people dressed differently, and in particular used relatively close-fitting garments that covered their legs. Vulgar Latin created a term for such garments by transforming calceus ‘shoe” into the feminine *calcea, which we could translate generally as ‘stocking, hose,’ and which became Spanish calza.

Corominas goes on to explain that in the Middle Ages the garment in question got longer, eventually covering everything from the ankles to the waist. He adds that in the 16th century that long article of clothing was split into two halves, with the upper half that covered the abdomen and part of the thighs continuing to be called calzas, or also calzones. The lower garment came to be known as calcetas or medias calzas, literally ‘half a pair of calzas.’ Eventually that was shortened to just medias, which continues to be the modern Spanish word for ‘stockings.’ (In a similar upper-lower split, French took to using bas, the cognate of Spanish bajo, for ‘stocking.’)

There are at least three connections to English, none of them everyday words. Going back to Latin, English has borrowed Late Latin calcaneus (sometimes calcaneum) as an anatomical term for what is known in non-technical language as ‘a heel bone.’ As a historical term, English uses French chausses (pronounced showss), which according to the Collins English Dictionary was ‘a tight-fitting medieval garment covering the feet and legs, usually made of chain mail.’ That noun had developed from Old French chauces, plural of chauce ‘leg-covering,’ which had evolved from the same Medieval Latin calcea that became Spanish calza. English also sometimes uses French chaussure as a highfalootin’ way of saying ‘footwear.’

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Pamela Breitberg
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 08:01:41

    So…. Where does the Italian calzone sandwich fit into this?


  2. shoreacres
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 06:56:31

    And now the name of the religious order makes sense: the Discalced Carmelites. From their online sites, it appears they’re wearing shoes these days, but their name keeps the history alive.

    Speaking of – when I was writing my current post, I couldn’t decide whether it should be “barefoot” or “barefooted”. As so often happens, there was a page for just that question. The Ngram viewer that’s linked is such fun – you may know about it already.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Aug 15, 2013 @ 09:23:40

      The Discalced Carmelites are a good connection I should have made, so thanks for mentioning it.

      Past participles are losing out in English. Sometimes they’re replaced by past tenses, as when people say “I should’ve went.” Other times the marker of the past participle gets dropped: iced cream long ago gave way to ice cream, and for many people iced tea is ice tea. It’s common in Austin to see a sign above a supermarket aisle saying can meat or can vegetables. Barefoot rather than barefooted is yet another example.

      Ngram is a good research tool for linguists. I wonder if it can produce a chart showing the frequency with which our e-mail has gotten spied on.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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