Monday, 16 September 2013

What's in store?

On Saturday I watched The Young Montalbano (and there's 110 minutes of my life that I'll never get back ), towards the end of which (I knew it'd be worth watching the first 100 minutes!) a nun said that a chest was in the magazzino.  The sub-title glossed this as 'store-room' (and s/he probably got it right; the fact that Mary became Mery in the sub-titles suggests that the translator was Italian; or maybe Meri is a current abbreviation for a common Italian name...?)

The Arabic mahzan (there should be a line under the h but life's too short) – meaning 'shed' – gave the standard Italian magazzino. I thought, until I checked on iPlayer, the nun might have used the Sicilian word magasenu but she, like many another speaker of a minority language, had had the local word beaten out of her at school; or maybe she wasn't local. In Spanish – as careful, not to say hypervigilant, readers may remember I explained a while ago – the Moorish invaders weren't native speakers of Arabic, and automatically tacked on a definite article before any noun; so  mahzan became almacén. Magazzino, as I said, was the Italian word; and this gave the French magasin first noted in a 15th-century report, by Émile Maximilien Paul Littré, the 19th-century French lexicographer (whose work was so important that Hachette still keep his  Dictionnaire de la langue française in print today, the Dictionnaire being called affectionately 'le Littré)':
Là estoient les boutiques des marchandises que ils (les Sarrasins) [sic] appellent magasins...

é, quoted in Elcock, The Romance Languages, p.295 in my edition (which isn't the latest, so I hope the link to that secondhand version stays up)
So, when first used in French, it was known to be used by 'les Sarrasins'; the parentheses are round, not square, which suggests the explanation is Littré's and not Elcock's.

It was a military meaning, 'printed list of military stores and information' ... a "storehouse" of information' that gave us our English word 'magazine', meaning a periodical. A gun that can accommodate more bullets than it is firing at one moment has a magazine.

Another perfectly innocent storage word from Arabic has been... bellicosified (don't bother looking that up; it means 'given a martial meaning' ). The word in question derives from what looks to me like a phrase in Arabic: dār as-şinā‘ah (maybe Arabic can create composite nouns by joining smaller words together –  as indeed English does: Etymonline tells me dār means 'house' and as-şinā‘ah means 'art/craft/skill' –  a rather up-market sort of 'workshop'; come to think of it, English has borrowed from French le mot juste, an 'atelier'). 

This spawned various words in Italian and its many dialects. In standard Italian the word is darsena – 'wet dock'. Moving north, the Venetian equivalent was arsenal, which was applied to a complex of naval dockyards and armouries, the Arsenale di Venezia. Various other languages got their foot in the door and borrowed that word, but shorn of its peaceable storage-and-work-related meaning. It wasn't until some workers from the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich formed a football team ('The Gunners') that  swords were beaten into ploughshares and the word was rehabilitated.

More of Arabic anon, inshallah – Arabic for deo volente; (the Spanish 'it is to be hoped' [Ojalá] is a call to Allah). In signing off, I'll just mention a snippet of Arthur Smith I caught on Sunday on Radio 4Extra, who jokingly called Morris Dancing 'the Flamenco of England'. How near the mark he was,  unknowingly, as that link shows:
mid-15c., moreys daunce "Moorish dance," from Flemish mooriske dans...
So there is an association – however fanciful (it seems unlikely that the art forms per se are related) – between Morris Dancing and Flamenco. And to double the coincidence Flamenco means 'Flemish'; there are many links between the Netherlands and Spain, dating from Carlos V (who, my memory of a Spanish History lecture tells me [from nearly 40 years ago, so I'd have to check], spoke no Spanish when he was flown in from The Hague – well not flown exactly, but you get the idea: he wasn't a local [or popular] choice).

Oh Lor', is that the time?


Report from the word-face

I've roughed out the -OU- section. Now it's just a question of shovelling in the HTML (which I already have   ***Update: I already have the HTML, that is. I haven't already done the hack-work***). So V4.0 should be coming soon. Ojalá!

Update 2013.09.18.15:00: clarification of last line, in red

Update: 2018.05.29.12:00 – The Reports from the word face (here and elsewhere passim) refer to various stages along the road to completion of When Vowels Get Together.

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