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carrying on

As we departed on a recent trip to sunny Seattle, we said farewell to our cats then worried about their welfare.  This caused us to ponder the connection between wayfaring and the fare that we paid for our tickets. Then what about the fare we were given in flight (dry-roasted peanuts and a soda)... how do they all fit? Naturally, we always take at least one suitcase of dictionaries as carry-on, so we soon traced all of these to the Old English faran "to go on a journey" or "to get along".

It is the latter meaning, "to get along", which is intended in farewell and welfare but the rest all imply a journey. In Middle English a fare could mean "a journey", "a road", "the track of a hare or rabbit", "a ferry", "a swarm of flies" and, eventually, "the amount of money paid for a journey". To a taxi-driver a fare is "a passenger", a meaning which it has had since at least the 1500s when it applied to passengers of a ferry. Speaking of which, ferry is also related, coming, as it does, from the Indo-European root *per-, "to lead", "pass over" or "pass through".

In Greek, this became poros, "a journey" or "a passage". We have adopted this word (by way of Latin porus) as pore (a kind of tiny passageway) and porous. Less obvious is the -por- in emporium. These days, any large store may lay claim to the title emporium though, strictly speaking, it is a place where traders (Greek emporos - "traveller", "merchant") bring their goods to sell.

Even more peculiar is the story of a cousin of fare, a word which begins as the Middle High German wallevart (-vart = "journeying"). Wallevart, meaning "pilgrimage", passed into Old French, as galvardine , a kind of coarse upper garment worn by pilgrims. It then became garvardina in Italian and, by the 1590s, when Shakespeare wrote it as gaberdine, it meant a kind of overcoat worn by the poor, beggars and, stereotypically, Jewish men. Somewhere along the way, the meaning of gaberdine was transferred from the garment to the cloth. Then, by the beginning of the 20th century, this once coarse material had become a fine worsted twill. Perhaps to distinguish it from its humble forebear, fashion writers began to spell it gabardine.

Fere is an old (yet utterly splendid) word which, though still in the dictionaries, is scarcely used. It means "friend", and is a shortened form of the older y-fere, "one who goes with", from y- ("with") and fere ("farer", "goer"). We can't help seeing the similarity to another (unrelated) Old English word: gangan, meaning "to go". Originally, a gang was a "going" or "journey", now it is group (of workers, friends or thugs) who "go" together.  

The primary meaning of *per- was "to lead" and that is evident in Führer, German for "leader".  The second sense of *per- was "to pass over" and it takes a leap of imagination to see how this might apply to a feather but that is what must have happened. Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, has parnam, (which could mean either "a feather" or "a leaf") and in English the meanings "feather" and "leaf" merge neatly in fern which is, after all, a feathery leaf.

We mentioned that *per- also meant "to pass through". This has given us both fjord and ford. Despite their similar spelling, these two words have come to us by very different routes. The closest English (or perhaps we should say Scottish) relative of fjord is firth whereas ford is more closely related to the Latin words portus, "a harbor" and porta, "a gate". From porta we derive portal, a doorway which may be protected with a porch, a portico or a portcullis, depending on wealth and pretensions.

In addition to port (both "harbor" and the wine) portus has given English a wealth of words including porter, portable and portative.  A portative organ was a (somewhat) portable medieval instrument but, unlike the violin, an organ cannot play portamento (Italian, literally "carrying"), which is a musical term for "gliding between notes". Another "carrying" word is portfolio, from the Italian porta fogli which means "to carry leaves". [We must get one for our fern collection - M&M]

There are deport, disport and sport, importune, opportune and opportunity , comport, purport and portfolio. We have export, import and important (but no exportant).  Then there are transport, airport and report which is where we came in. [Time for a glass of port - M&M]

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