Thursday, 8 November 2012

Hello 'dolly'

The late great Joe Cremona, not Professor of Romance Philology at Cambridge University (but should've been), told me about pupils - the ones in your eyes. As Guy Deutscher said in the The Unfolding of Language, vocabulary is 'a reef of dead metaphors' (and ΜΕΤΆΦΩΡΑ is the word emblazoned on removals trucks in Greece to this day).

What do you see in someone's pupil? - an image of yourself, but tiny. A little person. (And the image of yourself is enhanced if the person into whose eyes you gaze has used belladonna to dilate the pupils; but bella donna, or 'beautiful woman', is another story.) The Latin for 'little girl' is pupilla (French speakers will remember poupée; and the -illa ending is just a diminutive suffix.)

When Dr Cremona told me about this he explained that the same image was not used only in Latin and its descendants; he listed examples from all over the Indo-European world, which I have shamefully forgotten. I think Arabic was one, and probably Farsi... I'm guessing. And to reinforce the lesson he referred to the tool that layers of pavements use - a dolly (shaped like a legless doll, whose arms are the handle and whose torso pounds slabs into place). I had not met this, and looking in various online dictionaries I've only found this - '...4 historical a short wooden pole for stirring clothes in a washtub' - not at all the same tool, but similar in structure.

I was reminded of this during one of the earlier rounds of The Great British Bake-off (no useful link, as the TV series is over). The contestants were required to make a pie, not in a case or tin, but formed* manually using a wooden mould called - no prizes for guessing - a dolly. I was sure there'd be a DVD spin-off; apparently not - but there are more Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood books out there than you could shake a pie-dolly at).


*And on the subject of 'formed', I must write about formaggio and fromage some time.  
Update Done it at last: here it is.

Update 2015.11.08.17:25 – Added this note:
I can't believe I resisted the temptation here to talk about mustelidae. The date explains the omission; I was in the thick of lexicography.

The Raised Faculty Building
see more here)
Taboo is where language meets belief. Depending on how strong the belief is, the care about pussyfooting around it can be huge. Somewhere – possibly  in a lecture note somewhere [well, the note itself is in the loft and the lecture hall {or more probably seminar room} would have been in the Sidgwick Site's Raised Faculty Building] – there is a tribe of hunter-gatherers for whom the word for eye is taboo (for everyone, not just the hunting party) while the men are hunting.

Apropos of that sexism , I can't hear the words men and hunting without thinking of that loathsome song from the end of The Jungle Book:

Father's hunting in the forest  
Mother's cooking in the home. 
I must hone my sexual stereotypes 
Till the day that I am grown
[I may have remembered the third line wrong; the scansion‘s not great.] 
Now we come to those weasels. Dangerous or mischievous animals can acquire taboo-affected words. Bella is obvious as a root of the French bellette. But the word for weasel in Portuguese is doninha, and in Italian is donnola – both meaning little lady.

That example comes from that lecture; this is my speculation it seems to me that there might have been an element of placating the gods of the jungle in the naming of the Boa constrictor: pretty again, and female, though you couldn't call her a little lady. But Etymonline (spoilsport) says the origin of the Latin boa, mentioned in Pliny‘s Natural History, is unknown. Hmmm...

Meanwhile, here's a clue:
Weapon that brusque potter might demand. (8)

Update:2018.05.21.16:45 – Repaired broken link. And here's the answer at last: CLAYMORE

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