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Posts Tagged ‘words the French gave us’

Hello,

I hope you’re enjoying Christmas Eve. Preparations are well underway here at Wordfoolery HQ and the festive spirit has inspired me to explore the word tinsel today.

Tinsel edged noticeboard, with thanks to my daughter

I was surprised to find that tinsel can be a noun, adjective, and verb. The noun relates to threads, sheets, or strips of metal (or plastic) used to create a sparkling appearance in decorations and fabrics. The version I’m most familiar is the festoon of tinsel, a sparkling feather boa, slung around Christmas trees. Personally I prefer decorative ribbons on our tree, so the annual tinsel explosion happens in my daughter’s room instead.

Tinsel as an adjective describes anything which is like tinsel, or is gaudy. Tinsel as a verb is the act of interweaving or adorning with tinsel. I assume this means if you drape your tree in tinsel you are tinseling when you do it.

Tinsel is a surprisingly old word. Its first usage was as early as 1538. It entered Middle English as tyneseyle which was a cloth interwoven with metallic thread and the word probably came from Anglo-French tencelé which itself came from the verb estenceler – to sparkle.

The king of England at the time was the Tudor monarch Henry VIII. He’d buried three wives by that point and had a fondness for rich fabrics like cloth of gold so we may have him to thank for the fashion for tinsel as courtiers would copy his style.

By the 1650s the idea of tinsel had become associated with things which were showy but ultimately of little worth. Again this fall in tinsel’s reputation may be related to politics as by 1650 England had been rocked by Cromwell and the Roundheads. Charles II sat on the throne but had been forced to curtail some of the more over the top aspects of his court fashions for fear of following his father to the chopping block.

The use of Tinsel Town to describe Hollywood dates to 1972. Although it also describes my daughter’s bedroom at this time of year.

Happy Christmas, and until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is chicanery (pronunciation here). Chicanery means to achieve your goal via subterfuge. It’s not a word you hear that often now, even though it is certainly something that still happens, with sad regularity.

The word history of chicanery is enshrouded in enough mystery to suggest subterfuge. It entered English in the early 1600s in a legal context. It referred to quibbling and sophistry and came from the similar French word chicanerie and the Middle French verb chicaner (to quibble or to pettifog). How it reached French is a little more debatable. It may be from the Middle Low German schikken (to arrange) or may even be from a golf-like game once played in the Languedoc region of the south of France. Perhaps early French lawyers liked to quibble over points of law as they got in a round before court?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is nonchalance, which turned up on a list of “favourite words” on the internet recently and reminded me that I rather like the concept of a nonchalant saunter.

First up, what does nonchalance mean? It’s a state of casualness or cool indifference. If you’re strolling along without a care in the world, you’re being nonchalant.

Words the French Gave Us

Nonchalant is a gift to English from the French, but first we have to go back a bit further. The Latin verb calere means “to be hot”. The medieval French took that idea of heat into their language as chaloir (and present participle chalant) but twisted the meaning to be less about heat and more about being concerned. Both those uses in French have effectively died out now, so don’t trot them out on your holidays.

Allegedly chaland in French has the same root and means “customer or client” but Google Translate has that as meaning barge and my old French-English dictionary agrees, so perhaps the customer meaning is an old one. Hard to see how barges relate to heat or concern.

Anyhow, the version of calere which persisted in French was nonchaloir which meant “being indifferent to or having no concern for”. That gave them nonchalant and nonchalant transferred, with the same meaning, to English in 1734 and hasn’t left since.

Anybody who has visited France will know that they do a rather good line in the old nonchalant gallic shrug, so we shouldn’t be surprised at the word’s root.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and nonchalant shrugging,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

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Hello,

This week’s word is champion. If you’ve ever read or watched the “Game of Thrones” series by GRR Martin you’ll be familiar with nobles in trouble invoking the right to Trial By Combat and that’s where the champion enters the story.

In medieval times a king could only fight their peer, another king. Unless they met on the battlefield this was an unlikely event as the monarchs had to be protected at all costs. Instead the king would nominate a champion to meet any challenge on his behalf.

My Champion is Ready for Combat

 

Champion entered English during the 1200s but there are earlier mentions and given the prevalence of French as the language of nobility at the time it is unsurprising to find champion’s roots in French soil, with a light dusting of compost from Latin.

In Old French a champion was a combatant in single combat on the champ (field) and came from the Latin word campus which means field of combat and makes me wonder what transpires on university campuses.

Related words to champion are the French words for countryside (campagne) and mushrooms (champignon) which make sense in relation to fields, but the one I like is scamp – one who flees the field.

The British monarchy retains the concept of a Royal Champion since 1066A.D. This noble, whose family was given lands as a reward for the work, had to ride up and down before coronations asking if anybody objected. This tradition persists but without the horse these days. The current Royal Champion is also a chartered accountant.

The idea of a champion being a superior sporting star dates from the 1700s.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. My CampNaNoWriMo 2018 project is coming along well. I’m editing my middle grade adventure book “Red Sails” and enjoying the company of other dedicated writers in the “Editors Unite!” camp cabin.

 

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Hello,

This week’s word is curfew thanks to my son’s history book.

Curfew entered English during the Middle Ages and it originated in French. The phrase “couvre feu” means “cover fire” and it evolved into the Middle English word curfue, and later to curfew.

At the time the majority of buildings in villages and towns were built of wood, the exceptions being churches and the lord’s manor house or castle. The gaps between buildings were narrow so if a fire caught hold you could easily have half the town burned to a cinder before the bucket line got into gear.

One way to lessen this danger was to limit the times when people could have an active fire in their hearth. The church bell rang around sunset to indicate curfeu, time to cover over (bank) your fire for the night. The town bailiff would enforce the rule by taking a stroll around town, which I suspect may have led to the phrase “no smoke without fire”.

The idea of curfew being a time at which you must return to your dwelling didn’t arise until the 1800s and is now mostly associated with teenagers and the declaration of martial law.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (a.k.a. @Wordfoolery)

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