Issue 192, page 2

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Words to the Wise

Your Etymological Queries Answered

From Mike and Robin:

My husband and I are horse people, and so we have heard a lot of terms for different colored horses, but never fallow colored.  I looked up the word fallow in my dictionary to see if there was some reference to a color, but I found only the expected reference to dormant fields.  (I also used your search feature.)  So, what color is a fallow-colored horse?  Is it the brown of a field turned but not planted?  Or is it a different term entirely?  Was this term ever in common use as a horse color?  When?

Fallow: It means "of a brown or reddish yellow color, as withered grass or leaves".Fallow deer.  Click to learn more! It has nothing to do with fallow fields, however. Instead, it has more to do with "pale". It dates from the time of Beowulf in Old English, and there are several cognates in other Germanic languages. It is probably also cognate, according to the OED, with Greek palios and Latin pallere "to be pale". Today, if the word is heard at all, it is in fallow-deer, a species of deer (Cervus dama or Dama vulgaris, or Dama dama dama as the website linked to the photo above would have it) named for its color.

In American horse color terms, we imagine that a buckskin/dun might be considered "fallow".  We have not found the term in current use to describe any color.

From Brian Diaz:

I have been seeing the word woman being used as an adjective, such as in this sentence from a recent Associated Press article:

Some political analysts predicted serious harm to Schwarzenegger, whose standing among women voters was poor even before the latest furor.

I was wondering about the grammatical correctness of this usage, as well as how this usage began.  Is female inappropriate to use here?  I appreciate all your help.

According to the OED, it goes back to 1300 when woman friend was used. Whether it is grammatically correct or not depends on your level of curmudgeonliness, perhaps, but English has a long history of using many different nouns as adjectives, not just womanFemale would work, certainly, but it possesses a different nuance.  Such is one of the delights of the English language: synonyms that aren't exactly synonyms!

From Edward P. Tremblay:

How did we come to use the phrase say cheese when taking someone's picture?

Cheese is first recorded as school slang for "smile" (verb and noun) in 1930. By 1956 we find it turning up in Punch in the say cheese sense. Saying the word cheese and overemphasizing the ee does result in a semblance of a smile, which is presumably whence the slang and the photography use ultimately derive.

From Patricia Breden:

I understand that toile is a French word but it is the name of a pattern of material and I would like to learn the meaning of the word.

Today this cloth is white or linen colored with blue, red or black drawings of flowers, people, or scenery. The term originally applied to a dress fabric.  Later it came to refer to fabric that was made at Jouy-en-Josas near Paris. That toile  was originally known as toile de Jouy (1934) and had the characteristic colors and patterns that we associate with toile today.  French took toile from Latin tela "web", presumably in simple allusion to weaving.  The Indo-European root is teks- which also gave us text and tillerToile first appears in the English written record in 1794.

The word text, in case you were wondering, originally referred to a style of hand-writing. Medieval monks who couldn't afford much parchment invented a very economical style of calligraphy in which the letters were crowded so close together that they looked woven. And that's why they called the style textus, Latin for "cloth". After the inevitable erosions of the centuries, it became text - the stuff you're reading .  

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