Saturday, 27 September 2014

On the tip of know, flappy thing

The morning after Ed Milliband's speech to the party conference, according to various BBC  news reports, a 'souvenir copy' was on sale to delegates (without a trace of irony). But this copy included the bit that Ed forgot, which makes the word souvenir ironic, given the meaning of the French se souvenir de... : M. Milliband ne s'est pas souvenu de mentionner l'éléphant dans la chambre.

This doesn't bother me unduly, although I'm sure the Tories will make it run and run – run it into the ground. No doubt they'll cite Freud or Schopenhauer or whatever unsuspecting academic they can dragoon into their shoddy mud-slinging offensive: 'He forgot it because it was a Freudian slip: he wanted everyone to forget it'. Well, what if he does value bedpans over the ...ahem bottom line? I'm not sure the memory lapse means he does, but good for him if he thinks compound fractures are more important than compound interest; give me a PM who values carers over bean-counters any day.

But where does souvenir come from? French of course, but where before that? Etymonline dates it to the 12th century.
1775, "a remembrance or memory," from French souvenir (12c.), from Old French noun use of souvenir (v.) "to remember, come to mind," from Latin subvenire "come to mind," from sub- "up from below" (see sub-) + venire "to come" (see venue). Meaning "token of remembrance, memento" is first recorded 1782.
But what happened in those nearly six centuries between 11?? and 1775?

According to Etymonline the story is ... linear: Latin subvenire → Old French noun → French (and thence, presumably, English). What I need to do is explain why I'm not satisfied by Etymonline's simple story.

I have mentioned before a book that really is magisterial – and I'm using the word not in the review writer's coded sense of 'having more than a thousand pages, so not recommended for the beach'. I, as regular readers will know, tend to attach sometimes undue significance to origins. And the origin of magisterial is the Latin magister [='master']. The book is a masterpiece. (There's scope for a digression on 'masterpiece', but I have to check a few facts before I put finger to keyboard.)

The entry for subvenire extends from the foot of the last column on p. 632 to the top of the first on p. 623, but by the magic of digital prestidigit... (no, that doesn't work...) anyway, I've spliced it here:

See quote in situ here, on pages 632-3
The fact that it spans 2 pages, and that subvenire has two meanings, and that the page-break comes at the end of "1." – at least, after the Provençal example there's only bibliographical stuff – led me initially to think that mainstream French was just out of the picture entirely.

The two meanings are (1) 'give assistance' (which presumably explains our 'subvention'), and (2) 'recollect'. My old Latin dictionary (mentioned here) gives some help on what is on the face of it a rather strange derivation: why 'under' (sub) and why 'come' (venire)? It defines it as 'come to mind'. And the sub idea? Watchers of quiz shows will be familar with the  idea of someone recalling something they didn't expect to know: 'Where did you dredge that up from?' asks the host. We're still left with the oddness of the pairing of those two meanings, but each one makes sense.

Anyway, it is only the 'come to the aid of' sense that passed French by. It spawned words in Italian, Afrikaans,(Doh! The abbreviation "afrz" means Alt Französisch, of course)  and Provençal, but not French. (I've never heard Afrikaans being called a Romance language – I guess Meyer-Lübke just had the bit between his teeth).

The other meaning had offspring in Italian, French, and Provençal. (And if Afrikaans qualifies for mention in connection with the first meaning, I must admit to feeling a little hard done by that English doesn't get a mention in connection with the second meaning, for 'souvenir'.)


PS Crumbly story about tax rebate. (7)
Update 2014.12.10.15:15 – The answer to that PS (it took me a while to re-solve it myself): FRIABLE
Update 2015.05.20.15:25 –  Shamefaced correction, in an appropriate colour.

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  over 46,200 views  and over 6,225 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with over 2,300 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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