Normandy

On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, let’s look at the word Normandía/Normandy. It’s the name of the region in northwest France where the ancestors of the normandos/Normans settled in the second half of the 9th century. And who were those ancestors? Etymologically, Norman is just ‘north man.’ In particular, the north in question was Scandinavia, so the invading North men were Vikings. Once again etymology gives an insight into history.

For a more common Spanish word in which Germanic man appears, you can check out a post from 2014. And we should add that Spanish acquired norte via Old French from Old English.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

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Galardón

Galardón may deserve a galardón, i.e. ‘a reward, a recompense,’ for having changed so much from its ultimate source. Formerly gualardón, the word was borrowed, or more accurately garbled, from a Germanic form like *withralaun, which meant ‘recompense.’ To find the corresponding English term, we begin with the Old High German cognate widarlōn, a compound of widar ‘back, against,’ and lōn ‘reward.’ The first part is a cognate of native English with, which preserves its original sense in verbs like withhold and withstand and in a statement like “He got so angry at his boss that he fought with him.” Medieval Latin adopted the Old High German term as widerdōnum, with the change from l to d due to influence from Latin dōnum ‘gift.’ Old French borrowed the Latin word and ended up phonetically simplifying it to guerdon, which then passed into English. Granted, guerdon is an uncommon word and rarely found outside old or old-fashioned writing.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Careening from carena to keel

When posting about an American snout butterfly recently, I gave its scientific name: Libythaena carinenta. Later I wondered whether that species name might have been based on Latin carīna, meaning ‘keel.’ I still don’t know the answer, but I separately assumed Spanish would have inherited the Latin noun, and in fact it did, in the slightly different form carena. However, Spanish carena doesn’t mean ‘the keel itself of a ship’ but rather, in a definition from the DRAE, ‘parte sumergida del casco de un buque,’ the submerged part of a ship’s hull.’ It can also mean ‘the repair of a ship’s hull to make it watertight.’

That Spanish carena looks a lot like English careen is not just a coincidence. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the English word comes from the French phrase (en) carène ‘(on) the keel,’ whose main word came from carene, which Old French had borrowed from Old Italian carena, from the original Latin carīna. Careen originated as a nautical term with the sense ‘to incline to one side, or lie over, as a ship when sailing on a wind.’ Another nautical sense is ‘to cause (a vessel) to lean over so that she floats on one side, leaving the other side out of water and accessible for repairs below the water line.’ From the first nautical meaning came the regular English senses ‘to lurch or sway violently from side to side’ and ‘to move swiftly in a controlled or an uncontrolled way.’

If Spanish carena doesn’t mean ‘keel’ per se, how does Spanish say that? The word happens to be quilla, which might make you think Spanish had borrowed the term from English. Actually Spanish took it from French quille. It turns out that both the English and French versions trace back to the Old Norse word for ‘keel,’ kjölr. Those Vikings careened from place to place, no question about it.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

ardido

Spanish has two words ardido. One is the past participle of arder ‘to burn.’ English speakers recognize it in the adjective ardent, which has a figurative sense. A similar metaphor has led Spanish ardido to be used in some countries to mean ‘burning with anger,’ in other words ‘angry, enraged.’ The present participle ardiente that corresponds to English ardent also appears in a figurative sense in aguardiente, literally ‘burning water,’ but actually ‘brandy.’ Compare the firewater that arose in the vocabulary of the Algonquian Indians once they were exposed to Europeans’ alcoholic beverages.

The other Spanish ardido means ‘brave, bold, daring,’ and not because the person being described that way has drunk too much firewater. No, this ardido came into Spanish from a word in a Germanic language related to native English hard. The ‘bold’ sense is clearer in English hardy. Perhaps surprisingly, given how similar-looking hard and hardy are, the latter is not native English but was borrowed from Old French, which had taken the word from a Germanic source. Closely related to this Spanish ardido is the noun ardid, which originally meant ‘a risky venture’ but now has the sense of ‘a ruse, a trick.’

Going back to the ‘burning’ ardido, we note that Spanish arder ‘to burn’ developed from the synonymous Latin ārdēre. The root of the past participle ārsus led to the Late Latin noun ārsiōn-, which via Anglo-Norman has become English arson. If there ever was a cognate of that in Spanish, it has apparently long since burned out.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

braise

The English verb braise means, in the definition of Merriam-Webster, ‘to cook slowly in fat and a small amount of liquid in a closed pot.’ English acquired the word from the similar French verb braiser, which comes from the noun braise that means ‘glowing ember.’ People have used coal and charcoal as heat sources to cook in various ways, so it’s not clear how braiser came to designate only one method. In any case, Spanish speakers will recognize French braise as the cognate of the synonymous Spanish brasa. The French and Spanish nouns are ultimately of Germanic origin. Beyond that, the American Heritage Dictionary follows the trail back to the prolific Indo-European root bhreu- that meant ‘to boil, bubble, effervesce, burn’ and that had derivatives referring, somewhat paradoxically, to both cooking and brewing.

From brasa Spanish has the brasero that the DRAE defines as a ‘ recipiente de metal, ancho y hondo, ordinariamente circular, con borde, en el cual se echan o se hacen brasas para calentarse.’ English calls that a brazier or brasier.

©2018 Steven Schwartzman

Skink

The verb skink has largely disappeared from English. Here it is in Chaucer: “Bacchus the wine them skinketh all about.” In a play in the 1600s James Shirley wrote of “Such wine as Ganymede doth skink to Jove.” Those two examples appeared in the 1913 Webster’s Dictionary, which gave this definition: ‘To draw or serve, as drink.’ The word seems to have survived in Scottish English, with the Online Scots Dictionary defining the verb as: ‘To pour liquid from one vessel or from a spoon or ladle into another in small quantities, to mix liquids in that way.’ Here’s the etymology given in Wiktionary: ‘From Old English scencan or Old Norse skenkja, from Proto-Germanic *skankijaną. Cognate with German schenken (“to give as a present”), Dutch schenken (“to pour, give as a present”).’ The skink that is a type of lizard is an unrelated word.

At this point you’re probably wondering what the connection to Spanish could be. It turns out that the Gothic cognate of the verb, *skankjan, got borrowed into Spanish as escanciar, which the DRAE defines as: ‘Echar o servir una bebida, especialmente vino, sidra u otro licor’ [‘to pour or serve a drink, especially wine, cider, or other alcoholic beverage’]. A person who performs that function is an escanciador (and formerly an escanciano). The abstract noun escancia designates the ‘acción y efecto de escanciar.’

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Putting up with throwing down the etymological gauntlet

A gauntlet (also spelled gantlet) is literally ‘a small glove,’ though the sense in English was originally (and still historically) ‘a part of a suit of armor that covers the forearm.’ In modern English a gauntlet can be any sort of ‘protective glove.’ English took the word from Old French gantelet, a diminutive of gant. That noun, along with the synonymous Spanish guante, ultimately traces back to a Frankish original presumed to have been *want. We should mention that Spanish also borrowed from French the guantelete that designates part of a suit of armor. We should point out in addition that the English gauntlet that appears in the phrase run the gauntlet is an unrelated word.

My guess is that even native Spanish speakers probably don’t connect guante with the aguantar that means ‘to put up with, to bear,’ yet there is a connection. Spanish borrowed aguantar from Italian agguantare, a verb coined to express the notion of grabbing on to something while wearing gloves for protection. The semantics then shifted metaphorically through ‘get a hold of’ and ‘deal with’ to the current senses of ‘bear, put up with.’

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

What’s good for the goose is good for the ganso.

If English goose and Spanish ganso mean the same thing and look alike, it’s no coincidence. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Spanish acquired ganso from a Germanic source akin to Old High German gans, a cognate of English goose. The English word used to have an n in it, and still does in the masculine version, gander.

Long after Spanish borrowed ganso from Germanic, the borrowing may have gone the other way. It’s conjectured that the slang English term gonzo ultimately traces back to ganso following the semantic line that allows English to refer to someone as a silly goose. If you’re not familiar with gonzo, the Collins English Dictionary defines it as:

1. wild or crazy
2. (of journalism) explicitly including the writer’s feelings at the time of witnessing the events or undergoing the experiences written about.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

mitón

In Spanish a mitón is ‘a type of glove that leaves the extremities of the fingers exposed.’ Gloves of that sort are helpful for people who want some protection from the elements but who need to maintain the dexterity that fingertips provide. (One sort of wearer that comes to mind is a nature photographer in winter.)

The fact that a mitón is a kind of glove makes an English speaker think of the word mitten, even if a mitten fully covers a hand. Might there nevertheless be a connection between the two words? It turns out that Spanish took its word straight from French miton (French stresses an isolated word on its last syllable, by the way), so we have turn Gallic for a bit. French miton was based on the Old French mite that meant ‘glove’ and that generated, with a different suffix, the mitaine that means the same as Spanish mitón. English borrowed mitaine as mitten, whose sense shifted to that of a glove that still dealt with different parts of the hand in distinct ways, but now with the distinction being between the thumb and the other four fingers collectively.

Many etymologists assume that the French mite which by itself and through its derivatives referred to gloves is the same mite that French-speaking children use as an alternate name for a cat, the idea being that a glove or mitten is as soft as a cat’s fur.

English mitt, by the way, arose as a shortened form of mitten.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

A foxy plant

The German noun Fuchs** means the same as its native English cognate fox. Just as Fox serves as a family name in English, Fuchs does in German, and it so happens that the genus of plants called Fuchsia was named after the German botanist Leonhart Fuchs, who lived from 1501 to 1566. Because some of those plants produce flowers of a vivid reddish purple, that hue has been given the name fucsia/fuchsia. As far as I know, Spanish speakers don’t mess up their word for that color, but English speakers have mispronounced fuchsia for so long that the standard pronunciation has become fyoo-shuh. As a result of that pronunciation,  fuchsia is high on the list of the most often misspelled English words, with *fuschia probably appearing more often than the correct fuchsia.

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** German still capitalizes its nouns, as English once did.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.

©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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