When we see a w in a Spanish word, we know that Spanish borrowed the word from another language. In the case of clown, which my dictionary indicates Spanish pronounces the same as English, the contributing language was indeed English, but clown isn’t native in English, either. The American Heritage Dictionary notes that it comes from a Germanic language and offers Scandinavian klunni ‘clumsy person’ as a possible source. The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that the spellings clowne and cloyne appeared in English in the 1560s, when the word meant ‘rustic, boor, peasant.’ Other possible relatives are Swedish kluns ‘a hard knob; a clumsy fellow,’ Danish klunt ‘log, block,’ and North Frisian klönne ‘clumsy person.’ Whatever the origin of clown, English has derived from it the adjective clownish and the abstract noun clowning. That last, which looks just like a present participle, reminds us that English has a lot of freedom to use a word as different parts of speech, so that clown can be not only a noun but also a verb, in which role it is often followed by around.
© 2013 Steven Schwartzman