Posts Tagged ‘Old French’

Most of us spend a fair amount of our lives trying to make money so that we can do the things we want to do. The juggling of income and expenditure is typically referred to as a budget. The concept behind working to a budget is stunningly simple and was expressed very well by the Mr. Micawber, a character for the Charles Dickens’ novel, David Copperfield, where he says;

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.

Economists and politicians will spend lots of time trying to make this sound complicated – especially since the former want you to pay them for their services and the latter want you to vote them into power. But so long as what you spend is less than what you earn, you’re good to go. Sure you can borrow money, which feels like extra income, but of course, it isn’t income because you have to pay it back.

So when governments make budgets, all they are doing is telling us all how they intend to use taxes (government income) to keep the country running (government expenditure). In the US, when the opposition parties can’t agree on budgets, it can lead to a shutdown – as happened on 1st October, 2013. And if a government overspends its budget, then they run the risk of losing the next election.

The word budget wasn’t originally anything to do with balancing income and expenditure and it made its way into English via the French bougette, which in turn was a diminutive of the word bouge – a leather bag. It’s transfer to the meaning we all use today came from British parliamentary procedure back in the early 18th century when the Chancellor of the Exchequer would submit a financial plan for the next few years to the members of the House of Commons. He would carry his notes in a small leather bag, the budget, and then “open the budget” to read his statement. In 1771, Horace Walpole wrote in his Memories of George II that;

The time was now come for opening the budget, when it was incumbent on him to state the finances, debts, and calls of Government.

Going back in time a little further, we find that the word budget also referred generally to the contents of a purse or bag. So in 1597, Thomas Morley wrote in his A plaine and easie introduction to practicall musicke that, “You shall have the hardest in all my budget.” And seeing as how a bundle of papers could easily be carried inside a purse, the word became used to refer to newspaper print for periodicals such as The Pall Mall Budget or the Young Folk’s Weekly Budget. This is similar to how we use words such as gazette, record, or chronicle in the names of other newspapers.

The Old French bouge (or sometimes boulge, buche, or buge) can be traced back to the Latin bulga, a leather bag – or even the womb! Note that in Old Irish we also find the words bolg and bolc being used to refer to a leather sack or bag. The word bulge for a protuberance or lump comes from the same root.

Its move to taking on verb characteristics was first noted at the beginning of the 17th century. In the sense of “to draw up or create a budget,” John Taylor wrote in Works (1618) that, “We eate a substantiall dinner, & like miserable Guests we did budget vp the reuersions.” By the 19th century, it was happily being used in the same verb sense as it is today.

It’s also worth noting that up until the late 19th century, the phrase “open one’s budget” was used to mean “speak one’s mind.” In Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey (1847) she wrote;

There’s Matilda..and I must go and open my budget to her.

Related to this sadly obsolete phrase was its similarly defunct counterpart, mumbudget, which means “to keep silent.” Here the addition of mum (to stay silent) creates an opposite of the word budget. It’s a great word and worthy of resurrection!

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Ever one for checking the etymological pulse of the world of pop culture, the word planking has caught my eye by exploding onto the media scene as the latest dangerous craze/fad/gene-pool-thinner. The act itself involves laying face down, like a plank or wood, in weird and/or unusual places, and then taking a picture to be shared across the internet. That’s it!

Now, like all stupid and pointless activities, the reason for it being catapulted into the collective consciousness is that someone has died, and nothing excites the media like Death, except Sex, and if you can link the two, you’re pretty much guaranteed a slot on Fox News. Curiously, many of the news reports refer to the dead man, Australian Acton Beale, as a “victim” of planking, which is an interesting metaphor to use considering that his death was caused by his own recklessness and not some wicked, third-party agent. Of course, one of the first steps to demonizing something is to turn it into a living thing by the metaphorical process of objectification. It also confers onto planking the status of an illness or disease, and therefore reinforcing that it’s a “bad thing.” Ah, how quickly our use of language can shape our perceptions of the world!

Still, if you must do it – and the 100,000 members of the newly swollen Facebook page, Official Planking apparently are at least considering it – there are some rules on how to plank safely:

1. You must always lay face down, ensuring your face remains expressionless for the duration of the Plank.
2. Your legs must remain straight, and together with toes pointed.
3. Your arms must be placed by your side, held straight and fingers pointed.
4. You must make it known that you are Planking. Saying “I am Planking” usually get this across. Sternly announcing it will ensure a good result.
5. Your safety should always be considered. Properly thought through Planking procedures should always go to plan. Never put your self at undue risk.
6. Every Plank that is captured must be named.

Notice that planking is crossing word-class boundaries. In the phrase “I am planking” it is taking on verb characteristics, whereas in “…Planking procedures” is is more adjectival, describing the type of “procedures.” But in the shock headlines where planking is used to refer directly to the activity, it is used as a verbal noun, or what we oldies prefer to call a gerund, if only because the word gerund sounds much more fun, cute, and cuddly than the more clinical, academic verbal noun. On the other hand, the rules above also refer to “the duration of the Plank,” so we now have the word “plank” without the -ing being used as a noun too!

What we need to watch for are references to someone who “planked himself to death” or perhaps “he planks regularly,” where the use of the -ed and -s suffixes establish the verbiness of plank meaning “to lie like a plank in an odd place.” Oh wait, the T-shirt is already here…!

Planking previously had to significant meanings. The first is to refer simply to a collection of planks;

Planks collectively; the planks of a structure; plank-work. Also: a layer or surface made of planks, spec. one forming the outer shell or inner lining of a ship’s hull. (OED)

So you might say something like “I fell through the rotten, loose planking through to the deck below. Or you might just decide to fix the deck.

Another use is in the gerundial form as the “action of providing or covering something with planks,” such as in the sentence “When the planking was completed, he had the laborious job of caulking to do.”

In the US, planking is also the name given to a form of cooking that involves nailing fish or meat to a slab of wood:

Planking‥involves nailing the fish to thick oak boards coated with shortening, propping those boards on racks around a bonfire of logs‥, continually basting with the secret sauce‥and waiting for five hours in the middle of the night until the smoke has thoroughly roasted hundreds of pounds of shad. (Washington Post, 10th June, 2004).

Going back to the day when people wore hats other than backward-facing baseball caps, planking described the process of shaping and hardening a hat on a plan;

Planking,‥the felting of hat bodies by rolling them on a plank, and frequently immersing them in acidulated water. (OED)

Finally, an even more obscure meaning is “the action of levelling land by drawing a plank across it,” which sounds rather similar to the process by which folks who create crop circles work but in a much more artistic fashion.

The word plank appears in Middle English as plakys, planak, planc, and a host of others. It came to the language via Anglo-Norman and Old French roots, and can be traced to be a variant of the Old French planche meaning “little wooden bridge.” Going back a little further , classical Latin has the word planca for “board, plank, or slab.” It’s the notion of stiff, wooden, and slab-like that has lead to the word planking taking on its new connotation.

At the time of writing (19th May, 2011) this definition of the words is so new that even the usually current Urban Dictionary has an older meaning;

When one individual proceeds to lie naked, face to face, on top of another person, in a rigid horizontal state.

Of course, I have taken the opportunity to submit my own entry and I’ll post the results of this in the future. Meanwhile, stay sensible and always practice safe planking.

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Woody Allen once said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve it through not dying.” I’m with Woody on this one. Well, the second part in particular. Which is why I am currently back on the WeightWatchers® diet in an attempt to reverse the results of a recent “Wellness Check.” I purposely have that phrase in quotes because the reality is that a “wellness check” is really an “unwellness” check – it is designed to tell you how sick you are. The check was also linked to a new “Health and Wellness” scheme we’ve recently implemented at my company, the major motivation for joining being that it reduces your health care contributions. Being healthy saves you money. In truth, without that financial incentive, I’d be hurtling towards an untimely end a significant number of years earlier than the traditionally allotted three-score-years-and-ten. Who would have thought that exclusive consumption of dead animals, fermented fruits and grains, and exercise no more strenuous than lifting a six-pack of beer could lead to premature death?

The blood test revealed that I was on the border to becoming a diabetic, on the border to becoming a high cholesterol heart attack victim, and so far over the border as regards my weight that I can legally be classified as an illegal alien in Fatland. But what really sealed the dieting deal for me was my very cool and very expensive Joseph Abboud, single-breasted, pin-striped gray suit. It doesn’t fit.

Just before Christmas, which is always a bad time to think about weight loss in general, I am ashamed to say that my choice of attire for the company party was dictated to by my waistline. In the words of Steely Dan in the classic Deacon Blues;

This is the age of the expanding man
That shape is my shame, there where I used to stand.

There was no way on earth, short of paying for liposuction, that I was going to be able to fasten those pants. None. The shame was further enhanced by the fact that I couldn’t even pull the zip all the way up, let alone fasten the buttons. The effect of my blubber slobbering over the waistband was less of a muffin top than a tsunami of fat that threatened to bury my feet.

The word muffin top has now achieved some legitimacy in that it has recently been added to the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary. Since March 2011, the official definition of a muffin top now includes;

A roll of flesh which hangs visibly over a person’s (esp. a woman’s) tight-fitting waistband.

Prior to this, the original definition has been in existence for almost 100 years;

The top of a muffin; spec. the part which rises above the rim of the tin or cup during baking; (now also) a type of intended to resemble this, baked in a specially designed tin with shallow depressions.

The metaphorical use of this to refer to the all-to-familiar state of sartorial inelegance is obvious. The OED has a written reference dated 2000 but it will have been around longer than this in spoken language.

The word muffin itself can be traced back to 17th century England where it also appears in the forms muffings, moofin, moufin, and mowfinn. The origin is uncertain but Low German had the word muffe meaning “little cake,” and in the 14th century, the Old French word moflet referred to a kind of bread – which, in turn, was used as an adjective meaning “soft” in reference to bread.

By the time the word was common currency in British English in the 17th century, it referred to any type of bread or cake, but it seems that primarily, a muffin was a flat bread that was often cut in half and toasted.

Then it gets more complicated.

There is also a popular British flat bread called a crumpet, which differs from a muffin only marginally. The crumpet mix contains milk and baking soda, and is made to be thinner than a muffin mix, which uses yeast or sourdough. When cooked, the crumpet develops distinctive dimples, the true value of which is that you can cram butter into the holes and therefore increase your cholesterol intake probably by a factor of ten.

In the US, the word became more specifically used to refer to sweet cakes rather than breads, with the originally bread-type muffin being referred to as the English muffin, which is the way it is today. The American muffin is closer to the English bun or cake, baked in a small cup like the American cupcake.

A small, usually sweet sponge cake, baked in a cup-shaped container. Freq. with modifying word indicating the flavour or additional ingredients (1835 definition).

Still with me?

OK, let’s make it a little clearer with pictures. Here’s an English cake or bun, which is an American cupcake:


English Bun, or Cake, or US Cupcake!

And now here is an English muffin, as sold in America.

English muffin in America

Finally an American muffin, which can be bought in the UK as an American muffin! Note the distinctive overhanging muffin top.

American muffin

American Muffin with muffin top

In the busy world of slang, where words are tossed, twisted, tweaked, and thoroughly abused in order to make them work much harder, the word muffin has taken up residency with some vigor. Back in 1830, we find it being used to refer to a fool, but this has since evolved to include the notion of a muffin as a dogsbody or anyone who is overly compliant;

It was already attracting a group of young, eager volunteers like Cornelius—‘muffins’, in the parlance of ‘Primary Colors’—whose job was to perform whatever tasks‥needed doing. (New Yorker, 15 April. 56/2).

In baseball, the word was used to describe someone who would miss catching a ball, although what is worth noting here is that the derivation is not from the bread or cake but from the verb “to muff,” defined by the OED as;

To miss (a catch, a ball), esp. in cricket; to play (a shot, a game, etc.) badly. Also with it: to miss a catch, to play or perform badly.

This meaning appeared first in 1827 in  William Clarke’s Every Night Book, or Life After Dark, where he wrote;

When one of the fancy dies, the survivors say, that he has‥‘mizzled’—‘morrised’—or ‘muffed it’!

Canada provides us with another interpretation of the muffin; a temporary female partner.

At the beginning of the winter season each young man chose ‘a muffin’—a ‘steady date’ for the season—an arrangement terminated by mutual consent in the following spring. (Stephens, G. 1965).

This has become extended to refer to any attractive woman, and more recently – from the early 1980’s at least – it has been further tweaked to become specific to a sexually attractive male in the compound stud muffin.

Its use as slang for the female vagina is, etymologically speaking, also fascinating. In John Farmer’s 1897 book, Merry Songs & Ballads, he quotes a song from 1707 with the splendidly raunchy phrase, “The Muff between her Haunches, Resembl’d‥a Mag-Pye’s Nest.” However, the word muff in comes from the Middle Dutch muffel, meaning “related to fur” and ultimately perhaps from Latin muffula.

The shift to using muffin rather than muff seems, in retrospect, to not be too much of a stretch. It also appears to have been an American creation. Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang traces its use to the 1950’s in the US, but in the UK, there was a popular children’s pupper show called “Muffin the Mule” that ran from 1946 to 1957. It’s unlikely the chappies at the Beeb would have allowed a puppet to be named after a slang term for a vagina![1] So, the chances are that the genitally orientated interpretation is an American 40’s/50’s word.

By now you are probably either confused or hungry. But remember that a Blueberry Streusel Muffin from Starbucks is 10 WeightWatcher Plus Points, which is a sizable hole in my 29-point daily limit, or 360 calories for those of you who are following calorie-control diets. Either way,  you may want to consider something else if you want to avoid turning the blueberry muffin top into your own personal muffin top.

[1] The BBC also ran the animated series, Captain Pugwash, which aired initially from 1957 to 1966. Allegedly, the characters included Master Bates, Seaman Stains, and Roger the Cabin Boy (in UK slang, “to roger” means “to have sex with.”) Sadly this is an urban legend – and I say “sadly” because I do so wish it had been true!

Postscript: 5-15-2011.
My good friend and fellow word lover, Steve Badman, sent me the following correction to my Steely Dan quote:

This is the day of the expanding man
That shape is my shade, there where I used to stand.

He took that straight from the lyrics printed on his physical copy of a 1997 re-issue of Aja on ABC Records. I’m adding this as a postscript rather than simply changing the original quote because I have a thing about creeping Revisionism on the net. I want folks who read this to KNOW that I made a mistake, and they can then speculate as to WHY I did it. Was I negligent in my sources? Have I always had the wrong lyric in my head? Is the erroneous version a result of some unconscious feelings of guilt or anxiety? Whatever it is, simply deleting the error and pretending it didn’t happen strikes me as ethical dubious.

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guy /gaɪ/

Reader Jason recently asked, “What is the root of the word ‘guy‘?” I appreciate punsters and asking “The Word Guy” about “the word ‘guy'” is just too precious!

With this one, I decided to work backwards, starting with the more common meaning of guy as referring simply to a man. It’s older than dude – which I like better – but less Californian. The OED suggests that this sense of the word appeared in the US in the 19th century, with an example from Swell’s Night Guide (1847) that says, “I can’t tonight because I am going to be seduced by some rich, old Guy.” However, by 1863, the word had made its way across the pond to the UK as Charles Reade wrote in his Hard Cash, “I wouldn’t speak to you in the street for fear of disgracing you; I am such a poor little guy to be addressing a gentleman like you.”

But at the beginning of the 1800’s, a guy referred to someone of grotesque appearance, especially in relation to dress. This seems to have originated from the English practice of creating an effigy of Guy Fawkes, a 17th century Restorationist involved in what was called the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Fawkes was a Roman Catholic who, along with a small cabal, wanted to restore a Catholic to the Protestant throne by blowing up the Houses of Parliament while King James I was in attendence. The plot was foiled and Fawkes was executed, although not in the manner actually prescribed. Being guilty of treason, he was supposed to be hung, drawn, and quartered, but he managed to jump off the gallows just as the noose was put on, and he broke his neck, thus avoiding the drawing and quartering.

In remembrance of the defeat of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators, the government instituted what became known as Bonfire Night, a celebration of the deliverance of the Crown. Part of this involved the creation of an effigy of Guy Fawkes (called, not surprisingly, a guy) to burn on a fire. With the addition of fireworks, both public and private, this became an annual event but is now no longer a national activity of any significance.

But the word is much older than 1605 and the name Guy itself is an old one in English history. The ultimate origin seems to be from the word guide, meaning “one who leads.” The Old French verb guider meant “to lead,” and the Italian guido/guida (masculine and feminine forms respectively) refer to leaders. Given that “leaders” tended to be men, the use of the shortened form guy (or gye, gy, guye, or even guie) to mean a male seems to make sense.

In the 17th century, the word guy was used nautically to describe a rope used to guide or steady something being hoisted or lowered. The role was literally a “guide line” and, by extension, became guy-line or guy-rope to describe a piece of line used to keep a tent upright.

The use of guy as a verb dates back to the 14th century and guider. In 1374, Chaucer wrote; “Yow fiers god of arms…Be present and my song contynne and guy.” It also took on the meaning of leading an army or governing a country: “A kyng…moot don his diligence, His peple for to gye by prudence.” (Hoccleve, 1420).

And in the nautical arena, you would guy your your ship at the harbor or guy your sails to keep them under control.

In the mid-19th century, an interesting use of guy sprang up in the world of theatre. The word was used as slang to make something an object of ridicule of derisive wit. In his 1872 Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote, “The Roman street-boy who guyed the gladiators from the gallery.” And even in the 1970’s, Germaine Greer said in The Female Eunuch (1970) that “Vociferous women are guyed in the press.”

Finally, guy has also been used to mean “to go off; to run away.” (OED, Vol. VI, p. 976.)

OK, guys, that’s it for this posting. Keep the requests coming.

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“This Horse pictur’d showes that our Tatter-de-mallian Did ride the French Hackneyes and lye with th’ Italian.”

So wrote Ben Johnson in his 1611 book Introductory Verses in Coryat’s Crudities. It refers to “a person in tattered clothing; a ragged or beggarly fellow; a ragamuffin” (OED, Vol.XVII, p.664). The word is also found written as tatterdemalion or tatterdemallion.

The first part of the word, tatter, seems to derive from the hypothesised Old Norse word *taturr, which appears in Icelandic as toturr, and Norwegian dialects as totra. The Old French variation is taterles meaning “rags.” In fact, all these versions refer to rags, scraps, and jagged items.

The second part is thought to be a derivative of the Old French, maillot, which refers to swaddling clothes or simply long clothes, according to Spiers and Surenne’s 1863 French and English pronouncing dictionary. Thus, you get the whole flavor of someone in tattered and torn clothes.

It isn’t a dead word – just not used very often. It scores an admirable 95,900 ghits and James Joyce was happy to toss it into his Ulysses when he said, “Florry Talbot, a blond feeble goosefat whore in a tatterdemalion gown of mildewed strawberry, lolls spreadeagle in the sofa corner, her limp forearm pendent over the bolster, listening.”

Tatterdemalion is also the name of a Marvel comic character, who, according to Marvel’s official website, “Wears Kevlar body armor underneath his outfit. His outfit is coated with a substance that makes it difficult to hold the Tatterdemalion. He has specially designed gloves treated with solvent which dissolves paper and fabrics.”

The OED offers the word tatterdemalionism as a nonce word, which appeared in print in an 1887 edition of Blackwood Magazine in the sentence, “His coat was out at both elbows – it was a kind of defiant tatterdemalionism that the Colonel liked to hug.” It is certainly noncy (occurring, used, or made only once or for a special occasion) and only scrapes together 131 ghits – many of which are simply spam fillers or references to this particular example.

So next time you’re late for a meeting and rush in looking bedraggles, try confusing your colleagues with “So sorry, please excuse my tatterdemalian appearance.” I dare you.

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