Issue 199, page 4

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From Michel Desfayes:

May I comment on Fruits of Summer (Issue 198, p. 1) ?

Raspy does not refer to the berry [raspberry] but to the characteristic, raspy aspect of the stems. In reality it's raspbush berry. Another name for it is wood-rasp (Selkirk).

The dialectal names for the gooseberry all point to French groseille: grozel Scot., grizzle Dmf., grozzle Dmf., groset, grozet, grosset, grosert, grossart Scot., Selk., grozart Ayr., gross-berry York., gooseberry Scot., Lanc., Nhp., War., Berk., Huntingdon, Suffolk, Sussex, I.Wight, Dorset, Som. (Wright's English Dialect Dictionary). Many dialectal English plant names are French in origin. In Dorset the raspberry is called framboise, just like French.

Strawberry: Root (s)tr-k spotted (mostly Slavic).

Czech strakoc spotted cow (many Slavic names of spotted birds and animals with root str-k), strakati to colour, Ukrainian strokaty spotted, Serbo-Croatian trakast striated, strokast spotted, German stroh, English straw (from its colour), strawberry a speckled berry, Latin striga, stria streak, Italian striscia streak, French strié, English striated, Albanian lule strydhe strawberry. The French fraise and Italian fragola "strawberry" also derive from a root meaning "spotted".

Your site is rich and fascinating.

Regarding raspberry, we can guess a connection between rasp and the "raspy" or thorny canes of the plant, but it is only a guess without evidence of such a derivation.  

We did indeed mention that French groseille was the source for some of the English words for gooseberry.  Calvert Watkins, in his American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, goes so far as to suggest that gooseberry derives from a Teutonic root, *g(e)r- "curving, crooked", perhaps referring simply to the curved shape of the berries.  Grape and grapple come from this same root, which we discussed in Issue 64.

As for strawberry, you suggest that English straw derives from its color, while Calvert Watkins believes it derives from the Indo-European root *ster- "to spread", with straw meaning, etymologically, "that which is scattered [or spread]".  While the supposed Slavic, Germanic and Romance cognates you mention certainly seem as if they could be related to strawberry, there is simply not enough evidence for this.  Since the Old English form of strawberry suggests that it truly is a compound formed from the Old English forms of straw and berry, the suggestion that the straw portion comes from a root meaning "spotted" is perhaps overly optimistic if we accept Watkins' derivation of straw.

From W.Ravenscroft:

I grew up in England and everyone who had a garden used straw under the leaves and berries to prevent the soil being splashed onto the berries when it rained. The berries grow very close to the soil and easily get lost in the dirt if not protected. Also it was said that the straw helped the berries ripen faster because the straw acted like insulation keeping the ripening fruit warmer.  I have practised this myself and I have seen many others grow them this way too.

From Peter Noone:

I take issue with your definition of strawberries.

Until quite recent times, strawberries were traditionally grown in a raised bed with the plants protected from frost by bundles of STRAW heaped around them.

Hence the name!

Unfortunately, gardening practices, especially modern ones, do not an etymology make.  Strawberries grew wild before being cultivated, and they were likely named as wild plants, so the practice of using straw in cultivating them does not explain their name. 

From Ria Koesters:

In your entry on strawberries you mention the German word Krausbeere as a German translation of "gooseberry".

This must be a pretty rare dialect word, perhaps Bavarian or Austrian. I have never heard it or seen it printed on any products made from gosseberries.

The word that is normally used is Stachelbeere (prickly berry).

Krausbeere may very well be an obsolete or dialectic word.  It was given as an example to compare with cognates in other Germanic languages.

From Ron Vanderwal:

Regarding gooseberries in your issue 198, they are universally referred to as kiwi fruit in Australia and New Zealand (and probably other islands in the Pacific as well). The term appears as an entry in Australia's Macquarie Dictionary. In popular knowledge, they grew so well in Aotearoa New Zealand that they lost their original name in favour of a commercial identity.

Not so. You are thinking of the "Chinese gooseberry" which, despite the gooseberry in its name, is a completely unrelated fruit. In the 1950s New Zealand fruit growers, concerned that an association with Red China might deter U.S. buyers, cunningly renamed the Chinese gooseberry the kiwi fruit.

From James McKenzie:

Your current curmudgeon ought to know that USA Today is not a magazine (check Webster) but a newspaper. One ought not quibble, except with other quibblers. But of course, I hasten to add, I was happy to see the distinction between hurdle and hurtle.

From Dennis West:

I agree that the hurdling/hurtling error is egregious, but people as picky as we curmudgeons should realize that USA Today is a newspaper, not a magazine.

From A Reader:

From Sez You in Issue 198...

From RS&A:

Here and I thought SWAG meant: Scientific Wild Assed Guess

Rather appropriate here, but yet another apocryphal explanation of the origin of the word swag.

Apocryphal or not, I've been working in Software Engineering for 22 years, and since my first day of employment the term SWAG was used for an off-the-top-of-your-head estimate of time and effort for a project - a term everyone knew to mean a Scientific Wild-Ass Guess. By the way, a real estimate takes some amount of preparation, and occurs at or after an estimeeting (contraction of "estimate meeting").

From Kelvin Davies:

I just read your site for the first time today and jolly good it is.

However, I read a discussion about the word SWAG and it seems to me that the various explanations don't cover the use I had always been familiar with.  As a kid growing up in the 1950s in the United Kingdom, swag was always meant to be the loot in a robber's sack.  In comics, burglars etc. would always be seen running away from the scene of a robbery wearing a striped vest and mask and carrying a sack over one shoulder with the word SWAG written on it (known as a Swag Bag).  It is also often used now to mean ill gotten gains.

From Brad Daniels:

SWAG is actually a common acronym in engineering circles, or at least in software development. It's quite distinct from the other uses of "swag". E.g., "I sized the table at 2MB, but that's a bit of a SWAG."  The WAG unquestionably stands for Wild-Assed-Guess, though I've seen both Standard and Scientific for the "S". I've also seen the tamer form "SomeWhat-of-A-Guess", but that's about as accurate as Situation Normal, All Fouled Up.

Thanks for that, gentlemen.  The swag we were discussing is in no way related to this slangy acronym, but it is certainly good to know about it.  Interestingly, Mike has been a software engineer in both the UK and US for many years and has never run across this acronym.

From Ian Rowlands:

I don't know if this will help but I remember reading that at one time the Archbishop of Canterbury ran a string of brothels on the South Bank and the "ladies" were known as Winchester's Geese, after him.

From Peter V. Moor:

During one of Eugen Weber’s “Western Tradition” video lectures he mentions that the brothels of Pompeii were known as nonarii. I think he said it was because they opened their doors at the ninth hour. Could this be the elusive connexion between the brothel and Shakespeare’s nunnery?

It was actually the Bishop of Winchester who owned brothels in Southwark, just outside the City of London on the south bank of the River Thames. The town Winchester being famous for its geese, the ladies who worked in the Bishop of Winchester's establishments were called Winchester geese. In Shakespeare's day the expression to be bitten by a Winchester goose meant "to contract a venereal disease".

It is rather unlikely that a Pompeiian nickname for brothels would make it to English, especially since Pompei was not unearthed until recently (we are not sure if the information on nonarii came to light during excavations at Pompei or was discovered elsewhere).  But it is fascinating, nonetheless!


Or read the last issue to see what all of these people are talking about!

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