Thursday, 28 July 2016

It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul....

Poster in a shop window
on Holy Island
....Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars,.
It is the causeway.

On the way over to Holy Island last Saturday with a touring party from my choir (at about ⅓ strength – but still a good 30 or 40) I wondered about the derivation of the word causeway.

Well, the way part is fairly obvious; as Etymonline says:

But why cause? The most obvious candidate for radicalism (and I use the word in what regular readers should recognize by now as either creative or wrong, depending on  point of view) – I mean 'being the root' (latin radix = root) – was causa, which gives Catalan, Italian  and Spanish cosa, Portuguese coisa and cousa, French chose ... (plus many other languages and dialects of course).

What might a cause, though, (or a thing, as in all those Romance examples) have to do with a road raised above regularly flooded shallows?  The answer is – not inappropriately  – NOTHING (no thing, geddit?).

There were two distinct meanings of the Latin word calx. Its primary meaning was the English heel – in fact  the word is still used in an anatomical context. But after a fairly promising start in the 18th century its use has became quite infrequent as this usage chart shows:

Word frequency chart here
The other word calx (it's a separate headword in my (19th-century) Latin dictionary (there's a picture of a sadly mistreated end-paper here), although in that Collins entry there's only one headword and the order of priority is  reversed – with heel coming last) is a pebble, or a playing piece in a board game such as draughts/checkers, or limestone. In Vulgar Latin a via calciata was a paved road. This gave rise to the old North French cauciée and ultimately to the Modern French chaussée. On the way, it spawned the Middle English cauceweye, meaning a raised road.

But in Late Latin  there was a new verb, calciare, with the meaning "trample down with the heels", derived from the genitive of calx  –  calcis.  And it's not clear to me whether what was trampled down for a causeway had to be limestone.

Returning to Holy Island, though, the presence of many quarries and kilns in Northumbria indicates a long-standing industry based on limestone. So that causeway may have been both made of limestone and trampled down with the heels. I suspect (OK, it's more of a WAG, or Wild-Assed Guess) that the two meanings of words derived ultimately from Latin calx became inextricably linked  in a way  that is not dissimilar to The R That Came From Nowhere in the word for ink derived from the Greek word borrowed into Latin as encaustum that  just happened to be used in monasteries – in chiostro ("in cloisters"). I wrote at more length about  this supposed derivation here.

On 23 July we sang at St Mary's in Holy Island   – which is linked to the mainland by  a causeway – some wonderful music, and were thanked and congratulated by some American pilgrims, who were walking St Oswald's Way ("Good job!" was the way one of their number put it pumping my hand as though it were a hand-pump). And one of the pieces was Felix Mendelssohn's Verleih uns Frieden, the music for which reminded  me, sometimes, of the more-or-less contemporary hymn "O come and Mourn with Me Awhile" written by Frederick William Faber in 1849. But the tune I remember from a misspent youth isn't the one most readily thrown up by Google searches (St Cross), and things need doing in the garden, so I'll have to save any further investigation/discussion for an update.


PS And here's a clue:
Optimise with heart of new arrangement  to constitute a prime example.  (9)

Update 2016.07.30.12:50 – Added PPS.
While in Holy Island, I (and many other choir members) spent some  time here. Among other slips, whereby hangs a tail, I dropped my National Trust card. This morning I opened an envelope sent by the landlord returning my card. Do stop there if you're passing.

Update 2016.07.30.18:10 – Added clarification in blue.

Update 2016.08.11.20:30 – Added clarification in red (to account for an otherwise unaccountable gear-change).

Update 2017.06.02.14:15 –The answer to that crossword clue (at last ;-): EPITOMISE

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Bon voyage M. Dumollet...

♪♫ ♪ ...À St Malo débarquez sans naufrage 
Bon  voyage M. Dumollet
Et revenez si le pays vous plaît.

A quickie for the Quatorze Juillet

On 8 July 2016, the frigate Hermione sailed out of St Malo ...
("charming walled town city on the Emerald Coast of Brittany", as long-standing readers may recall from this – the blue bit at the end )
...bound for Brest (a little after we steamed out of St Malo – which accounts for a less than memorable photo. There are plenty of better ones here.
The Hermione is a 32-gun Concorde class frigate fitted for 12-pounder guns, completed in Rochefort by the Asselin organisation in 2014. She is a reproduction of the 1779 Hermione, which achieved fame by ferrying General Lafayette to the United States in 1780 to allow him to rejoin the American side in the American Revolutionary War.
Wikipedia entry for French_frigate_Hermione_(2014)
For the week leading up to the Quatorze Juillet there was a festival of world music at St Malo. On the 8th, one of the offerings was from an Argentine group. I imagine they knew of their link to St Malo, but I'll assume you share the ignorance I had until fairly recently

In September 1763 Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville  (later to distinguish himself in that same war) set sail from St Malo on a voyage of discovery (as many ocean voyages were, at the time). In January 1764 he put in at an unclaimed group of islands, which – like so many explorers before and since – he named in a autocentric way (is that a word? Well it is now.) This is a theme I've visited before. here,)

He called the landing point Port Louis after the French king, and he named the islands after his point de départ: Les Îles Malouines. The islands were those known to Les Rozbifs as .... [but no, I know better than to spoon-feed my readers].

In the newspaper article about the festivities marking the end of the festival I saw the name of one of the groups playing at the Fest Noz that night. They were called Startijenn. This word had meant nothing to me until the night before, when I was reading the chapter on Breton in Lingo (a book that I'm deferring judgement on, as it refers to much that I don't know about but is not totally sound on the few things I do know about). 
But an amusing and intriguing feature of the book is that each chapter in this Language Spotter's Guide to Europe concludes with a word that comes from the language covered but has no equivalent in English. For Breton, it is startijenn.
No equivalent, that is, in formal language. But a fairly close gloss is provided by the colloquial kick-start. A startijenn is "a kick of energy, such as you get from a shot of coffee". Gaston Dorren, author of Lingo, calls it "probably derived from English start". I'd say  it's almost certainly cognate, though derived suggests rather more than that. I'll see what the  Romanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch has to say, if anything. 

But that'll have to be in an update.


PS A clue:

Floor-covering including great, if questionable,  book. (5)

2016.07.15.11:30 – Report  on  Romanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch

PPS Sorry – nothing. At a guess, I would suggest that the word is a combination of two roots:
  • Start
    In the words of Etymonline
    ...from PIE root *ster- (1) "stiff." 

    From "move or spring suddenly," sense evolved by late 14c. to "awaken suddenly, flinch or recoil in alarm," and by 1660s to "cause to begin acting or operating." Meaning "begin to move, leave, depart" (without implication of suddenness) is from 1821. 
  • -jenn
    Again from Etymonline, sv genus
    ...from PIE root *gene- "to produce, give birth, beget," with derivatives referring to family and tribal groups. 
    ...Cognates in this highly productive word group include Sanskrit janati "begets, bears," janah "race," janman- "birth, origin,"  jatah "born;" Avestan zizanenti"they bear;" Greek gignesthai "to become, happen," genos "race, kind," gonos "birth, offspring, stock;" Latin gignere "to beget," gnasci "to be born," genius"procreative divinity, inborn tutelary spirit, innate quality," ingenium "inborn character
Update: 2016.07.18 – Added PPPS

PPPS One possible (if linguistically naïve) objection to the derivation suggested in my PPS is that it makes startijenn a mongrel – derived from two sources (a supposed aberration, according to some observers).  But, as I wrote here, it is ridiculous for any language to lay a claim to a word  for all time – it's  a question of where you choose to stop the etymological clock [a metaphor I introduced here].

Television is my stock example of a word derived from two sources – a Greek prefix and a Latinate stem. A purely Greek version would be teleopsy; a purely Latin version would be ultra-vision. Another less obvious example (discussed here) is morganatic, a happy mixture of Germanic and Latin, which is more relevant as it mixes a Germanic stem with a classical affix (as startijenn does, if my guess is right).

And here are a couple more clues:

Arab returning soon, says Cockney (5)
Bloody truncheon here? (5, 5)

Update: 2016.07.2016.16:30 – Added P4S (last one, honest)

P4S Another mongrel that had always confused me until my recent visit to Bretagne is polyvalente – usually seen in the phrase Salle polyvalente; come to think of it, quite possibly some chemicals are polyvalent in English (yup). That word has a Greek prefix and a Latinate stem. In English a hall that can be put to various uses could be described as all-purpose, though in practice I've seldom met it in that context (except in special cases like "all-purpose sports hall"); we usually just say something more homely, such as village hall – although I'm probably betraying my South-Eastern commuter-belt background there. It goes without saying that such a hall is suited (or valid) for a range of purposes

This demonstrates the point first brought to my attention by M. Baring-Gould, that French tends to prefer hi-falutin (though he probably used a more diplomatic term) vocabulary.
The example he gave to class 2Ba...
Oh no, none of this elitist ABC stuff, our classes were named after the first two letters of the teacher's name; it was entirely accidental that the boys who had come up from 1A had a as the teacher's second letter while the boys who had come up from 1C went into class By 
...was carié. English does have the word carious, but the register is different. Dental professionals use it, but not the patient-in-the-chair.
So the words salle polyvalente, common on hitherto baffling signposts everywhere I've been in France, mean (presumably  – I haven't checked, it just seems obvious to me [NOW]) is just an all-purpose hall.

Update 2017.10.01.15:15 – Added P5S   (so P4S  wasn't so final).
P5S: A few clues, the first being topical.
  • I'm upset before one and after her– Harry's peer. (8)
  • This way in Paris – about time! Gasp for a communard. (11)
  • Adjustment to famine's a statement about direction of travel. (9)
And answers:
In PPPS OMANI and BATON ROUGE (where it was relevant at tle time)

    Update 2018.04.14.20:15 – Added P6S

    And here are some clearer photos from AFP.

    Monday, 11 July 2016

    Dangeur! Diphthongues inattendues!

    In Brittany last week, home of NECESSARY BABIES (of which we had some once), and tourist bumph that recommended a visit to St Flavour's (St Saveur), and somewhere where we could see an extraordinary triomphe l'oeil painting (a bit like The Fighting Temeraire, I suppose  –  but it was raining so we didn't find out) I spotted what I assumed was a typo at the foot of a carte de vins. (I still think it was; I'm just covering myself with that assumed):

    Attention: l'abus de l'alcool 
    est dangeureux pour la santé.... etc

    I thought little of it at the time, dismissing it as just another semi-literate typo; or, conceivably – if improbably – there was a thitherto unknown pair of words: dangéreux and dangeureux (the second having some specialist application – perhaps in official pronouncements). More likely, though, as MrsK said at the time, it was just the sort of spelling mistake that people make – even foreigners. (She also questioned my spelling – but I am a forgiving man.)

    The following evening, though, I saw it on another carte de vins – reinforcing, to  my chagrin, the official pronouncement hypothesis. On further reflection I found two other possible explanations, both with an interesting linguistic foundation.

    1. Both cartes took their spelling unquestioningly from an official source (that just happened to have a typo in it). This would be reminiscent of the way students of philology can trace the provenance of a manuscript through their accumulation of  traits in successive generations. I mentioned one such manuscript-based linguistic happenstance in an earlier post about bald owls BATS (not exactly the same, but similarly depending on a chance mistake, concretized in subsequent usage).
    2. A really interesting possibility, based on the phonology of Breton. A glance at  a map of the region will show several examples of place-names (the last refuge  of etymological nuggets) such as Saint Domineuc –

      – with the digraph eu where one would expect an i. Perhaps one could extend this to apply to vowels such as é (also a front vowel – one produced towards the front of the mouth [as opposed to back vowels such as a, o, or u]). Is Breton phonology characterized by a tendency to substitute  eu for a front vowel?

      In that case, the dangeureux typo would be more likely to occur in Brittany than elsewhere in France – a possibility that is intriguing (if unlikely to succumb to further research, given the state of the hedge [which is in urgent need of a haircut]
    Update: 2016.07.11.22:45 – Added clarificatory parenthesis in red.

    PS And a trilingual crossword clue (a  new invention – the clue is followed by its character count and indications of three languages, the first two representing languages used in the clue, and the last indicating the language used in the answer)

    Expression of gratitude interrupted just before the end by article reversing, for example, Ash.
    (8,  Fr – D – Fr)

    Update: 2017.01.06.11:15 –  Added PPS

    PPS: Answer: MERCREDI (Came to me in a boulangerie [with an horaire {mot juste?} showing opening times]).

    Update: 2018.03.31.12:35 –  Added PPPS

    PPPS: Added explanatory parenthesis in blue to PPS. Without it, the detail was pointless – just an old man‘s memory (which it was, of course; but my point was that seeing the word was the stimulus for the cruciverborhoea [and don‘t bother looking that up 😐] )