Monday, 19 August 2013

A plague o' both your houses

This sense of  'plague' is derived from the Latin plaga. In Spanish 'a wound' is una llaga – because that's the way they did palatalization in that part of the world: PL- → 'll-'. But in Portugal (which had more than one form of palatalization) one of them is PL- → 'ch-', so that 'wounds' are chagas.

These words have no connexion with plagiarism (well... perhaps not no connexion, but one that –  if it exists (the possibility depends on the putative relatedness of two supposed PIE roots, which is a bit obscure even for me) – is lost in the mists of etymological prehistory. A (Latin) plagiarius was a kidnapper or other underhand operator of some sort). It was Martial (first recorded user of another expression which I forget now, though for some reason wallpaper comes to mi.... got it! 'paper over the cracks') who first used it to refer to the literary sin discussed on the radio  this morning.

'A plague/pox on...' was a popular curse in Shakespeare's time. Some time later (I have a feeling I first met it in Regency Buck [ – in my early teens I was led astray by the literary tastes of my older sister] a cuss-word with similar force was 'Zounds' (which I originally mentally misvocalized to rhyme with 'sounds'). It is derived by attrition from the expression used by Chaucer's Pardoner: By Goddes Wounds; but by the time the Regency Buck got hold of it any explicit reference to God, or even the wounds of Christ, had been ironed out: 'S 'ounds

In the 1970s, the UK committed the act of a plagiarius (keep up...a kidnapper or underhand dealer) in doing the Chagossians out of their birthright so that the Americans could build an airbase within easy range of the Soviet Union). And in 2010 the UK government (the smylere with the knyf under the cloke) established a marine conservation area in the archipelago (butter wouldn't melt...) which – with its no fishing law – would (gosh, fancy that) prevent the islanders from returning.

When that news broke in 2010 I wondered about the name of the archipelago. The colonizing powers (I'm thinking chiefly of Spain and Portugal, who had the appropriate religious background) were wont to name islands with religious references: Trinidad or Dominica , for example, the latter named after the Lord's Day– when Columbus 'discovered' it. Even El Niño refers to a particular Niño, whose official birthday is celebrated at the time of that meteorological phenomenon off the coast of the Spanish-speaking Chile.

So, feverishly I supposed that the Chagos Archipelago must have five islands (one for each hand – or wrist if the preacher was of the hell-fire persuasion – one for each foot, and one for the lance in the side). The atlas disproved this, so I moved on to a more numerous source of wounds: the scourging would have left hundreds of  marks.  But the fever of folk etymology passed: Goddes Wounds were not chagos but chagas. Another fine mess a little learning had gotten me into!

Onwards and upwards: OO...


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Update 2013. Too late

Update: 2013.09.27.12:45
and ‡: Until the end of September 2013, V4.0's there now
Header updated:

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