From Philippe LeDuc:
I love your site, keep up the good work! Being French-Canadian, I'm also
interested in French etymology. For example, concerning issue 123, we have
genou for "knee", génuflexion for "genuflexion/genuflection" and
genuflecteur for the "person who genuflects". I quite enjoyed the explanation for the origin of
pay in pay a visit. In French, we say rendre visite (literally,
"to give back a visit"). Finally, concerning the Indo-European *pleu- words, we have
pleurer (to cry), fleuve (a large river) and its related adjective
fluvial, which I believe is the same in English.
Thanks for those additional
From Dick Timberlake:
My father served in England during WWII, and he told me about
bonnet, windscreen, boot and other over-the-pond automotive terminology.
discovered that boot does mean "motor vehicle's enclosed storage area" in
some dialects of American English. During my high school & college years, I
lived in north Florida and north Georgia. My friends who grew up in those
locales usually used boot, where transplanted Yankees like me said
trunk. Thanks to my dad's information, I understood this dialectal
difference the first time I heard it.
Melanie's 92-year old Texan grandmother
occasionally says boot for "trunk", too.
From Steve Parkes:
Do you remember Dale Robertson in the tv series "Wells Fargo"? Of course
not, you're both too young. Wells Fargo operated a number of stagecoach routes, or so I learned from the show.
(I believe they're still in
business?) The wheels used to go round backwards, as I recall... enough!
the point: the stagecoach had a big box or trunk strapped on the back to
hold passengers' luggage, and this was called the boot, apparently from
the French word boîte, meaning "box".
The stagecoach had plenty of horse-power, but no engine, and so it didn't
have a hood. British cars (with a boot) have the engine beneath the
bonnet, while in the US, it's under the hood. Likewise, bumper/fender,
silencer/muffler. Same meaning, different words - I
wonder why? And over here, a convertible car has a hood to protect the
passengers from the elements; what do you have in the States? And the last
words on the subject - I promise - concern the name of the vehicle itself. I
read in an old book (about 1930-ish?) that there was some debate over what
to call the horseless carriage now it was obviously here to stay. Proposed
designations included auto-car, moto-car (yes, no "r") and
this last presumably meaning "moves itself", or some such: what a silly
word - it'll never catch on!
Yes, Wells-Fargo is still in business as a
bank! The stagecoach lives on as part of their logo.
By the way, American cars have bumpers
and fenders. The bumpers are chrome and run the
horizontal length of the car's front end and back end, while a fender is
the portion of the car that goes around the top part of the wheels.
Steve goes on:
Many people, myself included, believed that $19.95 or £19.19s.11d was a
clever way of making $20 or £20 look less expensive. It seems, though, that
back when the cash register first appeared, it was a cunning plan to prevent
employees stealing from the till. It worked like this: all the goods were priced at a penny or ha'penny below a round number of shillings or pounds;
if you took a fiver from the till, it would be obvious when the till roll was checked against the contents of the cash drawer; whereas, if you'd
accidentally rung up a sale twice, the discrepancy would be an odd number of
shillings and pence. I'm sure it works almost as well in dollars.
Ah, if that is the case (one other reader wrote about
this, but we'll have to see proof before we eat that pudding), the reason
the practice continues is to make prices look less daunting, we expect.
From Walt Doherty:
Specifically on the Latin wording but phonologically English poem.
The quick answer: these are “macaronic verses”. The version I heard/saw was:
Sybili, si ergo
Fortibus es in ero
Nobili, demis trux
Se vatis enim
Two excerpts from the famous (or infamous)
“Mots d'Heures: Gousses, Rames” discovered, edited, and annotated by
Luis D'Antin Van Rooten, (London, Angus and Robertson, 1967.)
From the Library of Congress annotation:
Notes: French verses constructed to reproduce phonetically a selection
of Mother Goose rhymes in English. Includes index.
According to the notation, this is called “Macaronic Verse”.
Eh! dites-le, dites-le
Eh! dites-le, dites-le,
De quatre et méfie de le.
Haine de caoutchouc me Douvres de mou.
Le lit le dos que l'a fait de
Tous s'y sèchent à c'port
Et de digérant, ohé! Ouida, ce pou.
But perhaps the best is:
Reine , reine , gueux éveille.
Gomme à gaine, en horreur, taie...
(The translation given is “Queen, queen! Arouse the
they’re using their girdles, horrors!, as pillowslips”)
Wonderful verses, Walt!
Thank you! We must take issue with calling such poetry "macaronic
verse", however, because macaronic means "mixing
vernacular words with Latin words" OR "involving a mixture of
two or more languages". That's not exactly what is happening in those
poems. We're still looking for the perfect appellation for those
little gems. We imagine that Willard Espy had a name for them.
For those who are
still trying to translate the verses from French,
try reading "Eh! dites-le, dites-le..." as "Hey
diddle-diddle..." and "Reine, reine, gueux éveille..."
as "Rain, rain, go away...".
The discussion of bilingual puns in this week's issue brought to mind an anecdote I ran across somewhere and attempted to verify in the Encyclopedia
Britannica on-line. It concerns Sir Charles James Napier, a British general who in 1843 won some major battles in the Indian province of
Sindh. Britannica will only allow that he "is said" to have telegraphed the following message to the British War Office:
"Peccavi", which means, of course, "I have sinned," or in
this case, "I have Sindh."
How about addressing the topic of false cognates in your most worthy publication
some time? Agatha Christie gave her Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, some wonderful lines by employing false cognates. My favorite is "Sorry to have deranged you." Other examples of false cognates include
embarazada, which means "pregnant", not
"embarrassed"; molestar which means "to
bother", not to force sexual contact; constipado which refers to nasal
Those are actually known as faux amis
friends") in French. And regarding General Napier, you got it all right
except the bit about the telegraph. As the first telegraph
system was built in 1843 in Washington, D.C., there is no no way that
Napier could have telegraphed his message across India.
Instead, he sent the message via courier.
From Bill Hunt:
I have spent many very pleasant hours with your back
issues, may there be many, many more. The mention of "flowing arrows" reminded me of a genealogy book I saw many years ago that said the name
"Flower" was of occupational derivation, being a synonym for "arrow maker". It mentioned that archers had a grim joke of sending their foes
"bouquets" referring to the brightly colored fletching resembling a colorful blossom.
Thanks for another great issue! Truly, the highlight
of my internet week is reading TOWFI.
I am fascinated that you would choose to comment on
geraniums in the newsletter (the week of
May 22), as its name is a source
of great confusion in the botanical world. The plant that we know and love as a geranium is more accurately
called a pelargonium.
As an avid gardener, I find that use of the proper
word pelargonium has increased because the popularity of the "true geraniums" has been growing
and there is corresponding need to differentiate between the two.
correct. As big fans of both geraniums and pelargoniums (and avid
gardeners, in general, like you) we were aware of the distinction.
We've provided an image of each below. We will discuss the etymology of
pelargonium in a future preview newsletter. You can subscribe to
the e-mail newsletter by clicking the "newsletter" link in
Judith's letter, above.