CHIFFERI.

As I was passing by our pasta shelf, my eye fell on a box of macaroni that carried, below the legend ELBOWS, the Italian equivalent CHIFFERI. Wondering what this meant other than ‘elbow macaroni’ and wanting to make sure my tentative pronunciation /’kifferi/, with initial stress, was correct, I looked it up; I confirmed the pronunciation but could find nothing more about the word. Having dug around in Google Books, I’ve come up with the answer, and in the best traditions of Languagehat I am sharing it here so future generations will not have to hack their way through the uncharted jungle.
In the first place, unlike other pasta names (e.g., farfalle ‘butterflies’), it does not in fact mean anything other than ‘elbow macaroni.’ According to somebody writing in the Universidad de Chile’s Boletín de filología Vol. 32-34, p. 429, chiffero is the standard Italian equivalent of the Lombard dialect form chifel ‘croissant,’ and according to Giovan Battista Pellegrini, “Noterelle linguistiche bisiacche” in Günter Holtus, Z̆arko Muljac̆ic̆, and Johannes Kramer (eds.), Romania et Slavia Adriatica (Buske Verlag, 1987), p. 229, that is borrowed from the German (Austrian, according to my large German dictionary) Kipfel, also meaning ‘croissant,’ which in turn is from Latin cippus, which according to Robert Sedlaczek, Das österreichische Deutsch: wie wir uns von unserem grossen Nachbarn unterscheiden, p. 197, meant ‘stake, post.’ I’m pleased that Google has allowed me to assemble these obscure sources and present a coherent story, but once again I shake my head at the lack of scholarly attention paid to food and cooking terminology.

Comments

  1. Darn, I was hoping it had something to do with the chifferobe

  2. Here in Vienna it is usually “Kipferl” with an “r”. “-erl” is a common dimunitive suffix in Austrian German – “sackerl”, “schmankerl”, “jauserl”, etc.

  3. You probably didn’t need to expend quite so much effort. Garzanti gives the etymology “Prob. adattamento it. della voce lomb. chìfer ‘chifel’”, and at “chifel”, which it also defines as some sort of croissant, we find the derivation “Dal ted. Kipfel ‘cornetto’, dal lat. ci°ppu(m) ‘cippo, colonnina’”.

  4. “Food”? You mean that stuff you eat while reading the dictionary?

  5. I went from chifferobe to sideboard, which reminded me of credenza. Probably you all know this, but I’ll post it anyway:

    in Italian the name meant belief. In the 16th century the act of credenza was the tasting of food and drinks by a servant for a lord or other important person (such as the pope or a cardinal) in order to test for poison. The name passed then to the room where the act took place, then to the furniture.

  6. J. W. Brewer says:

    Although a credenza is both linguistically and functionally quite similar to a credence (side table near the altar in certain sorts of churches, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credence_table). I do not believe it was ever customary for the acolyte to sample the bread and wine before giving them to the priest for consecration to make sure the elements weren’t poisoned. This makes me at least mildly suspicious about the striking etymology for credenza AJPC found.

  7. J. W. Brewer says:

    I know the word chifferobe, btw, solely from reading To Kill a Mockingbird as a boy. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually say it.

  8. J.W.B.: It’s one of the Southernisms that expats tend to repress, along with initial stress on umbrella and cement. Y’all, on the other hand, they tend to be proud of.

  9. Minor correction: CHIFFERO is the Italian form, and CHIFEL/CHIFER the Lombard dialect form, not vice-versa.

  10. It’s one of the Southernisms
    My grandmother used the term. She was born in Galicia (then Austro-Hungary, now western Ukraine), immigrated to Canada in 1905 and to her last days counted in Yiddish. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone else say chifforobe. (That’s the only spelling acknowledged by the AHD.)

  11. Woops, thanks! I’ll make the correction.

  12. The German wikipedia says the shape of the baked goods imitates the horns of a goat, which could explain a little better the name “stake, post”… If I have understood correctly, the Romans built a wall of sharpened wooden stakes around their outposts and that’s where the Germans took the name to the Yule buck horn pastries… I can imagine a basket filled with rugelach looks like such a wall :-D

  13. initial stress on cement
    How about final stress on concrete, do you know the origin of that? I used to work with someone from New England who did it, but when I asked he just acted bemused that there might be any other pronunciation.

  14. Trond Engen says:

    initial stress on cement
    How about final stress on concrete
    Ah! Structural linguistics.

  15. Well, I’m from New England, too, and I’m the same way: conCRETE is what I’m used to.
    According to the paper OED:
    - “The stress has always been variable”
    - conCRETE is older than CONcrete
    - the latter now appears to be more common in the adjective and universal in the (construction material) noun
    I wonder if there a chance that in the eastern US people started saying conCRETE in order not to sound like the kind of people who say SEEment.

  16. final stress…Structural linguistics
    That reminds me. Since there are at least three structural engineers here, not to mention natural scientists and mathematicians, what’s the etymology of the algebraic symbols in structural engineering? For instance, if I remember right, a load is always “p” and a stress is “f”. Why these particular letters? Are they the initial letters of words from French or German?

  17. I’m a conCRETE sort of fellow too in the adjective, but not in the noun (except, like, the deadjectival noun, like talking of “abstracts and concretes”).
    And by “expats” I mostly mean my North Carolinian wife, though I had other people in mind too.

  18. Learning from OnlEtyDict that the word “chifforobe” dates from around 1917, and from WiPe that Sears advertised one in 1908, I began searching for more info. Among the first few hits for “chifforobe sears 1908″ are documents beginning variously “The foundation from the chifforobe extends back to 1908.” “The cause with the chifforobe goes back to 1908″ “The origin with the chifforobe goes back to 1908.” Can anyone explain this? They go on even more strangely, some of them. Are they all machine-translated form some other language?

  19. This version of the “chifforobe sears 1908″ text seems less garbled, so may be the original text, though not necessarily the original source.

  20. You might like to have a look at this chart to see different chifferi sizes:
    http://www.vignolitrafile.com/cata_pipe.htm
    Smaller ones are called chifferini or chifferetti, bigger ones chifferotti and chifferoni.
    http://www.treccani.it/vocabolario/chiffer

  21. David Marjanović says:

    Um… vanya? Are you still in Vienna?

    Here in Vienna it is usually “Kipferl” with an “r”. “-erl” is a common dimunitive suffix in Austrian German – “[S]ackerl”, “[S]chmankerl”, “[J]auserl”, etc.

    Of course there’s no etymological /r/ in there. The r just signals that the whole thing is pronounced [ɐl].
    And yes, it’s not just Vienna.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    Also Swiss Gipfeli. The /g/ probably means it’s a loan from the north or east (the Swiss have shifted /k/ to [qχ] or [χ] depending on the dialect… I hope this displays correctly).

  23. marie-lucie says:

    chifforobe/chifferobe
    I had never seen or heard such as word in English or French, but I guessed that it must be a blend of chiffonnier and garde-robe, as Wikipedia confirmed (thanks Ben Zimmer). The word must be an English (rather American) coinage, not a French one.
    This obviously hybrid piece of furniture has drawers on one side and a place for hanging clothes on the other. Un chiffonnier (from un chiffon ‘rag’, here referring to miscellaneous pieces of underclothing, ties, handkerchiefs, etc) is a tall, narrow piece of furniture with many drawers. A garde-robe (lit. “keeps-clothes”), usually called in European French une penderie, is mostly a large vertical space for hanging full-length clothes from a bar. It could be a piece of furniture or a walk-in closet. Une armoire could also conceivably have two separate spaces, or just shelves, but any shelves or drawers would be hidden behind the main door or doors, unlike with the chiffonnier.
    I have seen similar hybrids in Canada, usually in secondhand furniture stores or in old hotels. Often the side with the drawers is shorter than the wardrobe side, making the piece look unbalanced. They seem to have been popular in the period between the two world wars.

  24. The OED attributes chifforobe‘s second syllable directly to wardrobe, which is far more common in English than garderobe; the g/w distinction is Parisian/Norman. Ward itself is Germanic, and adopted directly as such into Old Norman, but surfaced as gard in the other Romance languages. Nowadays, garderobe is used only in historical or historical-fictional contexts, and mostly in the sense of ‘privy’.
    Wardrobe has a lot of derived senses in English, including not only ‘privy’ but ‘the excrement of the badger’ (!)

  25. marie-lucie says:

    JC, I guess I wrote a little too fast about the robe part, which is common to the French and English words. Like English wardrobe, French garde-robe now refers mostly to a person’s full set of clothes, as well as remaining a word for the closet or similar space where such clothes are stored.
    Ward itself is Germanic, and adopted directly as such into Old Norman, but surfaced as gard in the other Romance languages
    I guess you are summarizing a more complex evolution. I don’t know about Old Norman, but Old Germanic words starting with [w] were normally borrowed into very late Latin with [gw], written gu- in Romance languages, witness Spanish and Italian guardia ‘guard’, or guerra ‘war’. I once met a Catalan whose last name was Guasp, which I suspect was from a Germanic wasp- word (cf German Wespe). Those languages have preserved [gw] while French has changed it to [g] while preserving the gu spelling before i and e, as in guerre ‘war’, guêpe (from older guespe) ‘wasp’.
    English has some doublets going back to Germanic both directly and through French, eg ward(en)/guard(ian), warranty/guarantee, where the initial gua- reflects the older French pronunciation, not the modern one in either language. Most French words now starting with ga used to have gua, not only garde, gardien and garantie but for instance gagner ‘to win, gain’ from earlier guaagnier (Italian guadagnare).

  26. Trond Engen says:

    I’ve thought of warranty as a loan from Norman, albeit on a Germanic base, since the ending sounds un-Germanic.

  27. Trond Engen says:

    gagner ‘to win, gain’ from earlier guaagnier (Italian guadagnare)
    Nice. Is there a further etymology? *wad(ja)- + *aigVna- “prize-own”?

  28. marie-lucie says:

    TG, there is probably something else going in in warranty/guarantee, eg Latin admixture towards the end of the word, but I don’t know.
    Regrettably, I don’t know either about the Germanic source for guadagnare and guaagnier.

  29. Marie-Lucie: John Cowan is quite correct, Norman French (+ some other Northern varieties) preserved Germanic /w/ in loanwords unchanged: only further South, in Central (Parisian) French was it adapted as /gw/, which subsequently shifted to /g/. Thus, the /w/ to /gw/ change cannot be dated back to Vulgar Latin.
    Most early Germanic loans in more Southern Romance languages (Provencal, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian…) came from Central (Parisian) French. Hence, their having /gw/ for Germanic /w/ may simply be due to their Parisian origin. Of course, the /w/ to /gw/ change may have taken place more than once. Spanish GUADALQUIVIR, from Arabic WAADI AL-KABIIR, is a good example of this.
    As for the English doublets you refer to, I am almost certain that WARRANTY/GUARANTEE is a Norman/Parisian doublet (of Germanic origin of course). Naturally, the /w/-/g/ correspondance will also be found between native (Germanic) English words and (Parisian) French words of Germanic origin.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne, you undoubtedly know best, but I thought it was a given that the change /w/ to /gw/ had occurred in very late Latin, when original Latin /w/ had already become /v/ and therefore no longer existed in Latin (eg uenire, It venire, Sp and Fr venir, with /v/ in Old Spanish). Perhaps I need to read some new sources.
    I am also surprised that Germanic loans even in Portuguese would have come from “Parisian” French! The Wisigoths are supposed to have influenced Spanish rather than French, isn’t that right?
    The change /w/ to /gw/ initially is apparently still going on in some Spanish varieties, eg in (possibly nonstandard Argentinian?) gwevo instead of huevo (where hue = standard [we]).

  31. gagner < guaagnier … Is there a further etymology?
    < Old Low Franconian *waidanjan < waida ‘pasture’ (Ger. Weide, Span. guadañar ‘mow’, maybe Eng. weed). So, profit from land.

  32. Marie-Lucie: My guess is that Northern French preserved /w/ in Germanic loanwords not because they still had original Latin /w/ (as you say, all original /w/ > /v/ long ago), but simply because enough were bilingual in a Germanic language (Norse, English, Flemish, or what not) with /w/ that they could pronounce the phoneme correctly. There must have been at one time a sort of w-Sprachbund covering Welsh, English, and Normand which maintained the phoneme in all three languages long after their nearest relatives had lost it.
    Etienne: There is clear documentary evidence that warranty/guarantee, like wardrobe/garderobe, is indeed a Norman/Parisian borrowing pair. (The -ee ending of guarantee replaced the original -y within English: formerly a guarantee was one who made a guaranty.) Other such pairs are cattle/chattel, catch/chase, leal/loyal, real/royal, glamour/grammar (with a detour through Scots). Ward itself, however, is a native word as against Parisian guard.

  33. Marie-Lucie: probably I should have written “Central” rather than “Parisian” French above, to which should be added Old Provencal. The /w/ to /gw/ change is widespread, but the preservation of /w/ in some Northern French varieties means we cannot really call it a Late Latin treatment: “Late Latin” would normally refer to a pan-Romance change.
    Wisigothic did indeed have some influence upon Spanish and Portuguese, but this is dwarfed by the huge number of Frankish loanwords which entered both languages indirectly, as part of the heavy lexical contribution French and Provencal both made to Ibero-Romance (For example, ESPANA is a native word, but ESPANOL owes its suffix to Provencal). Thus, most words of Germanic origin in Spanish and Portuguese today are ultimately Frankish in origin (leaving aside, perhaps, the recent flood of anglicisms). The same is true of Italian, incidentally: despite the Ostrogoths and the Langobards having ruled parts of Italy, Germanic loanwords of Frankish origin (via French and Provencal) far outnumber words of Ostrogothic or Langobardic origin.
    For more details on the topic, I recommend William Elcock’s THE ROMANCE LANGUAGES: the section on the Germanic influence on Early Romance is excellent.
    John Cowan: Thanks for confirming my hunch above. Now, some nitpicking:
    Old Norse only appeared in Normandy at a much later date. Tellingly, its loans entered (Norman and Parisian) French with /v/ for Germanic /w/: cf. French VAGUE “wave”, from Old Norse VAGR (The English and Old Norse words are cognates, of course). I suspect the /w/ to /v/ change had already taken place in Old Norse before it was transplanted to Normandy.
    Nor can I agree with your claim that Welsh must have been a member of a “w-Sprachbund”. British Celtic *w had become *gw before the fifth/sixth century AD, as is proved by the change having affected Welsh, Breton and Cornish.
    (Because Latin loans also undergo this change (Welsh GWIN from VINUM, “Wine”) it is sometimes claimed British Latin was exceptionally conservative and kept Classical Latin /w/ long after it had become /v/ on the Continent. This is quite silly of course. First, there is no evidence that British Latin was in any way conservative, and second, a British Latin /v/ would likely have been borrowed in British Celtic as /w/, which would subsequently undergo the same change to /gw/ as all /w/ phonemes in the language, whatever their origin).
    Meaning that when, later, Frankish *w was borrowed as such in Northern dialects of Early Old French, *w had already disappeared in Welsh and its close relatives.

  34. ESPANOL owes its suffix to Provencal
    The things I learn around here!

  35. Trond Engen says:

    Joseph B. Voyles has ON /w/ > /v/ at 1100 CE, as one of the very last changes on the way to the attested language, far too late to appear in Norman French. He doesn’t give an argument, though. Of course, sound changes aren’t instantaneous. I seem to remember some other author placing it in the late 900s on Skaldic evidence. I’ll try and find the book.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    There must have been at one time a sort of w-Sprachbund covering Welsh, English, and Normand which maintained the phoneme in all three languages long after their nearest relatives had lost it.

    West Flemish retains it.
    (And while I am at it, Frisian kept /θ/, spelled th, into the 14th or 15th century.)

    The things I learn around here!

    I’ve read about this before. If it were native, it’d be *espano or *españuelo.

  37. David Marjanović says:

    British Celtic *w had become *gw

    Shouldn’t that rather be worded as *w and *gw having been reanalyzed as allophones linked by consonant mutation? – Of course that would make it very easy for loans with /w/ to show up with gw when not preceded by whatever triggered the mutation, without the speakers even noticing that they had changed anything.

    enough were bilingual in a Germanic language (Norse, English, Flemish, or what not) with /w/ that they could pronounce the phoneme correctly

    When the value of “enough” is high enough, this only requires a pretty low value of “bilingual”. Around here, everyone aged 40 or less has Rock as a minimal pair: with [ʀ] or even [r] as the native word for “skirt” (historically also “coat”), with imported [ɹ~ɻ] as the music style. This includes lots of people (roughly those above 30) who can’t say [θ], and, well, almost nobody even tries to get [ð] right.

  38. David: your formulation may be true: I think even Celticists would disagree on the relative chronology here (did *w turn to *gw everywhere, with the resulting phoneme then lenited intervocalically? Or was this lenition already active, and *w only became *gw when it was unlenited?).
    Trond: the more I think about it the more I think that the /w/ to /v/ shift must have taken place in Old Norse before it was transplanted to Normandy. Norman French already had both /v/ (from Latin /w/) and /w/ (from Frankish loans) word-initially: why should native speakers of Norman French have borrowed (to repeat my example) VAGR with initial /v/ (VAGUE) unless the initial phoneme in the Old Norse word was /v/? At this time speakers of Norman French could have reproduced a /w/ or a /v/ with equal ease.
    (Of course, considering its geographical spread at the time, Old Norse may have had some registers/dialects with /v/ and others with /w/.)
    Hat: there is a Spanish Romance scholar who writes in Catalan (his name escapes me at the moment) who has argued that ESPANOL was probably originally an exonym with an ironic or diminutive/pejorative meaning among native Provencal speakers, which native Spanish speakers gradually adopted, taking away its demeaning connotations in the process (the history of the N-word among African Americans offers an interesting parallel). And yes, *espanuelo (with palatal n) is indeed what the native form should have been. Stressed mid-low /o/ turns into /ue/ in Spanish, but remains intact in Old Provencal, whereas Old Provencal eliminates final unstressed
    -o, which Spanish preserves.

  39. Penny says the expected Spanish form is españón. Welsh does have /w/ that’s not from mutated /gw/, though, as no other Celtic language does.

  40. Penny says the expected Spanish form is españón.
    How does that work?

  41. Ya got me, it’s just a throwaway line: the main point he’s making is that español is an occitanism.

  42. Hat, John Cowan: I think I get it. We’re dealing with two different suffixes here, one from (Late) Latin -ONEM, and the other from -OLUM.
    Penny’s *ESPANON is the “expected” Spanish form with the (attested, productively used) Spanish suffix -ON, from -ONEM. *ESPANUELO, on the other hand, is the “expected” Spanish form with what the Old Provencal suffix (-OL, from -OLUM) would have looked like if this same suffix had been a native Spanish one in productive use at the time.

  43. What are other comparable adjectives in -ón?

  44. I’m no Spanish specialist, but I believe -ON in Spanish today is productively used as an augmentative only, with former -ON diminutives having lexicalized: an example of this is TERRON “lump, clod of earth” (cf. TERRON DE AZUCAR “lump of sugar”), which *historically* is the -ON diminutive of TIERRA “earth, ground”. I don’t have any example of adjectives with diminutive -ON, unfortunately (some other reader might have examples and/or insights on the topic. Julia perhaps?)

  45. Yes, I’m familiar with it as an augmentative, but it seemed strange to me in this usage.

  46. Penny says that the productive use of -ón is a combined augmentative and pejorative, as in novelón ‘long boring novel’, caserón ‘large rambling house’, huevón ‘jerk, asshole (literally, someone whose testicles are so large as to be animalistic)’, and ricachón ‘filthy/stinking rich person’ (which includes the neutral augmentative -acho as well).
    Some frozen forms are not pejorative, as hombrón, which can be neutral, ‘large man’, or even ameliorative, ‘a man distinguished for talents, knowledge, and valor’. But I don’t think there are any frozen diminutives in -ón within Spanish itself, as opposed to (perhaps) Iberian Vulgar Latin.

  47. marie-lucie says:

    All those Spanish words are nouns, not adjectives. Others I am thinking on offhand are ladrón ‘thief’ and cincuentón/a ‘fifty-year old man/woman.
    None of the words quoted are comparable to the allegedly expected form *españón which would be based on the name of a country. Are there Spanish words in -ón meaning ‘inhabitant of’? there are a few in French, like berrichon ‘from the province of Berry’, bourguignon ‘from the province of Bourgogne (Burgundy)’.

  48. « España » came from Latin « Hispania » ( land of rabbits, experts say) because of a palatalization of “n” in “ñ” before the diphthong “ia”. “Español”, such as you have said, came from the Provencal. For example, “peseta”, our old (in the future I don’t know) currency, came from the Catalan, as “paella” (the famous dish of rice), and “jamón” (ham) from the French; our own emblematic words are import! “Guerra” is Germanic but also “tregua” (truce) came from Gothic. On this matter, the sound “gw” is in “ga”, “go” and “gu”; however we need to add an “u” to write this sound to “gue” and “gui”; without this “u” these sounds would be as your “h”, like my name.
    As regards augmentatives, the suffix are “-on”, “-ote” and “-azo”. Diminutives are “-ito”, “-ico”, “-illo” and also “-ino” in some places, like Extremadura. Besides, obviously, we change the “-o” by “-a” at the end of words to do feminine genre. Actually not all words with these ends are augmentatives or diminutives, of course. Some words are nouns as “novelón” but others are adjectives as “ricachón” and “huevón”.
    “Terrón”, obviously from “tierra”, is used to mean a little of earth piled up, like when you use a hoe. The resemblance between the sugar piled up with the clod explains this word. Even you use, besides “clod”, “lump” to speak about the two things.

  49. Etienne, I haven’t got anything more to add… In fact I’ve never realized that “terrón” has an augmentative ending but a diminutive meaning. I can only think of one other word similar to “terrón” which is “tapón” (stopper, cork, cap, etc.) that comes from “tapa” and has a “diminutive meaning” (perdón, no sé si estoy diciendo burradas lingüísticas, ya avisé que soy muy ignorante en ese campo).

  50. >Etienne
    It occurs to me some words like the Julia’s example: “ratón” (mouse), that comes from “rata” (rat) but it is not exactly a diminutive. We’d say “ratita, ratilla” for that, and “ratoncito” or “ratoncillo” as diminutives of “ratón”. Also “tablón/tabla” (plank/board), “cajón/caja” (drawer/box).

  51. David Marjanović says:

    ladrón ‘thief’

    Straight from Classical Latin latro “robber”.

    tregua

    *lightbulb moment*
    Truth! :-) Closer in meaning, and just as closely related, is German Treue “fidelity/loyalty”. Gothic, like the North Germanic languages, had a sound shift that changed /wː/ into /ɣʷː/; the West Germanic languages merged /wː/ in various ways with the preceding vowel.

  52. corazon? tiburon

  53. You bet. In Gothic it was triggws, and it’s another of the bits of Gothic in Lest Darkness Fall, along with aiw ‘yes’, nu ‘well’, atta ‘father’, and the famous Ho, frijond, alai skattjans sind waidedjans.
    Note the English triplet truce, truth and troth, the latter mostly in betroth nowadays, which originally meant ‘swear fidelity.

  54. About -ON: it looks like Penny made a mistake: neither Julia nor Jesus have given any example of an adjective in -ON.
    It should be added that the “duality” of the ending (historically both augmentative and diminutive, with Modern Spanish now productively using the former meaning only: thank you, Julia, for confirming that native Spanish speakers do not perceive the link between TERRON and TIERRA) is not a Spanish peculiarity.
    Thus, in French the suffix is no longer productively used in either meaning, but pairs with and without -ON show the same double meaning of the suffix (thus, a CHAÎNON is smaller/more delicate/daintier than a plain CHAÎNE, but a BALLON is bigger than a plain BALLE)
    David, Marie-Lucie: Spanish TREGUA is identifiable as an unambiguous Gothic loan because of its form. French has TRÈVE as its word for “truce”: it comes from Frankish, which, being West Germanic, kept -ww- intact (hence German TREUE). Had Spanish borrowed the word from Old French we’d have expected a form *TREVA.
    Marie-Lucie: you had mentioned that a shift from initial /w/ to /gw/ seems to be “ongoing” in some Spanish varieties, quoting /gwevo/ as the realization of HUEVO. Well, an unpublished dissertation on the Spanish Philippine Creole (Chavacano) of Ternate which I’ve been reading these days indicates that this very change is found in this creole…but *only* in words of Spanish etymology: the author adds that it is likewise found in many American varieties and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish). Since all of these varieties were born in the sixteenth century or thereabouts, I think it is fair to assume that the change in question had taken/was taking place in (colonial) Spanish at that time.

  55. >Etienne
    “…neither Julia nor Jesus have given any example of an adjective in -ON.” I understood that your question was about an adjective diminutive in –on. There are some adjectives in –on , like the aforementioned “ricachón” and “huevón”.

  56. Etienne, please let me explain myself in Spanish:
    En cuanto a “terrón”, sí percibimos la relación entre “terrón” y “tierra” o al menos yo lo percibo. Lo que te decía que nunca había notado era que terrón podía ser un DIMINUTIVO de tierra, con la particularidad de terminar en -ON, dado que los adjetivos terminados en -ON tienen siempre un valor aumentativo.
    En cuanto a los adjetivos y sustantivos, desde el principio en tu pregunta estaba esa confusión que te señaló M-L y por eso no insistí yo en mi respuesta. “Terrón” es un sustantivo, de eso no hay duda, un sustantivo que designa un ente de la realidad más pequeño (o una porción pequeña) de otro ente mayor.
    Veo que el Diccionario de uso del español de María Moliner, designa a palabras como “cabezón” o “panzón” como “nombres calificativos”. Ustedes son los lingüistas y entenderán mejor estas cosas!
    En definitiva como hablante de español, la única palabra que puedo pensar semejante a la mencionada “terrón” es “tapón” (debe haber otras). Ésa también proviene de un ente de mayor tamaño, “tapa”, y designa algo más pequeño, por más que tenga esa terminación -ON, que en la lengua actual se utiliza para dar la idea de algo más grande.
    ¿Pude aclarar algo?

  57. David Marjanović says:

    The (mag)pie thread is closed, so I’ll try to hijack this one. I have no idea about Lest Darkness Fall; I suppose I’ll have to remedy that…

    Not that dw is doing so well in Low Germanic either.

    Oh. I suppose that could explain its disappearance as a category in German.

    dwine ‘pine, waste away’ (of which dwindle was originally a sort of diminutive)

    The German verbs in -eln are fossilized frequentatives. A few have taken on a somewhat diminutive meaning due to reanalysis as the diminutive suffix -(e)l((e)(i)((n))).

    In a rather smaller Dutch dictionary, I find [...] dwang ‘coercion’ (cf. English dwang above)

    German Zwang as expected.

    dwarrelen ‘swirl’

    I suppose German zwirbeln could be related, but “twirl” is a much better match in meaning and fits just as well in sound.

    dwars ‘transverse’

    Extinct in German except for Zwerchfell “diaphragm between chest and belly”.

    dweil ‘cloth’

    Hm. There is a cloth called Zwil(li)ch, but the Duden derives it from “2″ because it’s doubly sewn or something. (Would make sense; “twin” is Zwilling.)

    dwingen ‘compel’

    Again zwingen.

  58. The (mag)pie thread is closed, so I’ll try to hijack this one.
    Yeah, sorry about that, but when the spam is coming so thick and fast that immediately after deleting a batch of comments I find another one already there, I don’t have much choice. Needless to say, I am delighted to have the discussion continue here.

  59. I don’t have much choice.
    Dammit, I missed a perfect opportunity to say I was gezwungen.

  60. Is Zwilch the same as English twill?

  61. marie-lucie says:

    dwars ‘transverse’
    This must be related to thwart, as in a crosspiece in a canoe.

  62. Spanish TREGUA is identifiable as an unambiguous Gothic loan because of its form.
    Or East Germanic, at least. The change /ww/ > /ggw/, called “sharpening”, is one of the shared states between East and North Germanic. Unfortunately, there are also shared states between West and East Germanic. It doesn’t help that almost all the Gothic we have is in an archaic state compared to North and West Germanic.
    David: I was going to write “frequentative” for dwindle, but the OED says “diminutive”. However, Etymonline says both.
    Empty, Marie-Lucie: Right on both counts: dwile = twill (originally Scots), dwars = thwart (not only as in a canoe, but also the verb meaning ‘hinder, prevent’).

  63. David Marjanović says:

    Is Zwilch the same as English twill?

    …Probably. I’ve actually never seen either.

    Or East Germanic, at least.

    If only we had any East Germanic other than Gothic and a few personal names. *wince* *wail*
    Oh, sure, we have a few legal terms from Lombardic. But, at least according to the Pffft, people can’t even agree on whether Lombardic is an East Germanic language or an Old High German dialect!

    It doesn’t help that almost all the Gothic we have is in an archaic state compared to North and West Germanic.

    In other words, we’re lacking comparably old samples of North and West Germanic, so we can’t tell if loss of the features which Gothic alone retains from PIE was a series of innovations of a North + West Germanic branch or a set of areal features that spread by borrowing after the Goths moved off to Romania (…in more than one sense).
    All we can do is count the contradictory innovations, stick with the most parsimonious hypothesis, and ascribe the evidence that contradicts it to borrowing or whatever. Has there ever been a comprehensive count? (It definitely wouldn’t be trivial to catalog all those features.)
    ==================
    The thread on the smell of old Soviet books is now closed, too, so:

    There may also be a feminine form with root stress *láho:- with meanings circling around “shallow water”: ON f. “water close to the beach, tidal plain”, No. dial. “reddish water in a bog”, MHG la: “pond, bog, swampy grassland”. B&L see a possible etymology for the name of the shorebird lo “Charadriidae”

    Oh yeah. Thanks! The MHG one, which I’ve read had /o:/ instead of /a:/*, lives on in a few placenames, like the Laaerberg, the next hill over from the one I’m sitting on here in Vienna. Reportedly, dialectal forms of the Laa- part used to have /g/ and /x/ in free variation.
    * Doesn’t make sense if you look at the modern form, but da was /do:/ in MHG, too.

  64. David Marjanović says:

    A spambot, no doubt, alerted me to the long-dead Starodub thread:

    It’s to avoid Ambiguities like “cold cicada” that the official Common Names of Birds and other Wildlife are nowadays generally Capitalized, as in Red-winged Blackbird

    No, as in Red-winged blackbird. This looks silly enough that pretty much only the ornithologists have adopted this convention. See here for examples by somebody who isn’t an ornithologist but reads and writes a lot about birds in addition to other limbed vertebrates.

  65. From that last link I found The noble tradition of military goats, which I hereby offer to AJP to do with as he wishes. (Sorry about the smell of old Soviet books thread; as you will have guessed, the spammers swamped that one as well—bezek unto their khothar!)

  66. I read this lovely (if rather lengthy and perhaps only peripherally relevant) passage in Rickard’s History of the French Language yesterday:

    In 1565 [humanist Henri] Estienne [...] expressed his conviction that French is superior to Italian, on the grounds that it is ‘demonstrably’ nearer to Greek than any other language, and that Greek is ‘as all men acknowledge’ manifestly superior to all other languages. His attack on the Italianising affectations of courtiers was comparatively mild in this first work. In 1587, however, he inveighed against them with considerable truculence in his Deux dialogues du nouveau langage françois italianizé, et autrement desguizé, principalement entre les courtisans de ce temps.

    ‘Celtophile’, in whom we may see Estienne himself, takes to task his courtier acquaintance ‘Philausone’ (the name means ‘lover of Italy’) for his Italianised jargon, for saying things like j’ay l’usance de spaceger par la strade aprés le past (‘I’m in the habit of talking a walk in the street after dinner’); quelque volte ‘sometimes’; in case ‘at home’; Dieu soit ringratié ‘thank God’; m’incresce fort ‘I’m very sorry’; sa maison est fort discoste ‘his house is a long way off’; ragasch ‘boy’, ‘page’; cattif ‘bad’, and for using se fermer in the sense of ‘to stop’, ‘to come to a halt’.

    Celtophile clearly regards the pronunciation [ɛ] for [wɛ] as an Italianism too, for he attributes to Philausone forms which he spells dret, endret, voudret, alet, francés, while he is careful to attribute to himself the forms which he writes droit, endroit, voudroit, aloit, françois [ɛ] for [wɛ] was certainly a common substitution, but it was not necessarily an Italianism for all that.

    Estienne followed up this onslaught in the following year with his De la precellence du langage françois, in which he demonstrated to his own satisfaction that, judged by such subjective criteria as gravité, gentilesse, bonne grâce, brièveté and richesse, Italian is clearly inferior to French. It is of course not possible to prove the inferiority or superiority of one language to another in this way, or indeed in any other.

    Moreover, Estienne was at fault in making no distinction between affectations of the kind he attributes to Philausone, and quite un-affected loan-words of real practical value — technical terms associated with a host of new concepts, above all relating to military, nautical, financial, architectural and artistic matters. In fact it has been calculated that some 460 Italian words were borrowed in the course of the 16th century, the peak period being 1540-60.

    Of these, a very high proportion have proved their usefulness and are still current, having long since lost all association with Italy or with Italian: they are to all intents and purposes an integral part of the French vocabulary today. Even such common verbs as attaquer, briller, manquer and réussir, which one takes completely for granted today, were borrowed from Italian in the sixteenth century. Architectural terms borrowed from Italian during the same period are antichambre, appartement, arcade, architrave, balcon, balustrade, corniche, façade, frise, médaillon, piédestal, pilastre, site, volute, together with the words architecte and architecture themselves.

    Financial: bilan, escompte, faillite (banqueroute had been borrowed in the fifteenth century). Military: bastion, bataillon, campagne, caporal, cartouche, casemate, cavalerie, cavalier, escorte, fantassin, infanterie, parapet, sentinelle, vedette. Nautical terms include: accoster, bourrasque, boussole, escale, fanal, frégate, gondole, mousse, remorquer. Fine arts: arabesque, artisan, cadre, damasquin, estampe, figurine, galbe, relief. Textiles and clothing: brocart, brocatelle, capuchon, peluche, soutane. Music: cantilène, concert, contrebasse, fugue, madrigal, sérénade, sourdine, théorbe, trio, trombone, villanelle. Food: artichaut (transmitted from Arabic), cervelas, marron, saucisson, semoule, vermicelle. Literary: sonnet, tercet.

    Useful adjectives borrowed at this time include altier, bizarre, brave, brusque, burlesque, fruste, grotesque, jovial, and leste. French also acquired a new suffix from Italian — -esque, at first as an integral part of Italian loan-words, but soon available for use in new French words uninfluenced by Italian in other respects; while the superlative or hyperbolical ending -issime, already present in French as a Latinism, underwent a further slight extension under Italian influence.

    One minor later development is curious enough to be worth mentioning here. The Italian suffix -one was augmentative in force, but on becoming -on in French it came under the attraction of the French diminutive suffix -on.. This explains why vallon, which originally, when borrowed, meant a wide valley, soon came to mean a small valley, a dell; it also explains why carafon, borrowed somewhat later, meant for a time ‘large carafe’ and ‘small carafe’ (it now means only the latter), and why, to this day, medaillon may mean either a large or a small medallion!

    I debated whether to put this comment here or in the more recent malapropisms/mispronunciations thread, but I decided it belongs here: I’ll make a cross-reference (O frabjous day!)

  67. principalemtn

    Arrgh! Pkease fix, O Hat.

  68. Done, and while I was at it I fixed celarly, cocnepts, and aove.

  69. Thanks. Proofreading is so difficult, especially of one’s own work, especially without a preview mode (though I did copy and paste the text into another window to make sure the HTML was right). I put most of my energy into checking the French words that were the evidence rather than the French titles or the English matrix text.

    Pkease fix refers to a common failure mode of the Lear-Siegler ADM-2, an 1970s-era computer terminal, that showed up by causing both the L and K keys to generate k, leading to emails like “My terminak is broken. Pkease fix.” Terminak became a slang term for this type of terminal as a result.

  70. Thanks, I love that sort of thing!

  71. (The explanation, I mean, not the problem.)

  72. David Marjanović says:

    [ɛ] for [wɛ] was certainly a common substitution

    Is that where the modern forms français, voudrait etc. come from?

  73. marie-lucie says:

    David, yes.

    I have not found an explanation of why some forms went to [ɛ] (now written ai) for [wɛ] while others went to [wa] (still written oi). The verbal forms all have suffixes in -ai- (for the imperfect and conditional). With demonyms and ethnonyms, both variants of the suffix are found (though never with the same stem), something which suggests local variation, but apparently not consistently. Examples are anglais ‘English’, portugais ‘Portuguese’, dijonnais ‘from Dijon’, but albigeois ‘Albigensian’, chinois ‘Chinese’, siamois ‘Siamese’. I only know one stem which is found with both suffixes, but it occurs in forms which have become completely differentiated in meaning and usage: français ‘French’ and François ‘Francis’.

  74. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, anglais reminds me: the law that ordered the English colonists in Dublin not to speak Irish begins:

    ITEM ORDINE EST que chescun engleys use la langue engleyse

    When does it date from again? I don’t know how to search for this quickly.

  75. It seems clear that the [wɛ] > [ɛ] change was in progress at the time of standardization in the 17C. “Advanced” speakers had only [ɛ], whereas more conservative speakers had either just [wɛ] or a mixture of [wɛ] and [ɛ], but both groups wrote oi (or oyas in soyez, soyons) in any case. Standardization froze an irregular result into place: Rickard says that [ɛ] < [wɛ] survives mainly in the nationality names and imperfect and conditional verb endings that you you mention, and in craie, monnaie and a few like them (historically croie, monnoie, etc.) The change [wɛ] > [wa] came later, and the change in spelling oi > ai later still.

    Similar effects account for the restoration of /r/ in -ir, -oir, -eur but not -er, -ier (in earlier French all these /r/s had been lost); for profit rather than proufit and per contra troupe rather than troppe (all four of which had been in use earlier); for the restoration from the spelling of the final consonants of fils, net, sens; for the preservation of /ar/ < /er/ in English only in clerk, sergeant, derby, varmint and the words where the spelling now supports it (farm, star etc.); for the near-universal restoration of English aspirate initial /h/ where it had universally been lost; and even for the irregular am, are, is in Standard English, where many dialects have leveled it. Historical linguists are trained to think and say “Dialect mixture” in these cases even when there is no actual evidence for it, but that’s because we tend to underestimate the effects of standardization even on the spoken language.

  76. 1435. Your spelling was a bit off.

  77. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, thanks! 1367, if you read on. :-)

    and in craie, monnaie and a few like them

    Also connaître and thus connaisseur…?

    the near-universal restoration of English aspirate initial /h/ where it had universally been lost

    It hadn’t been lost in Scotland and northern England. Allegedly, Sir Walter Scott made fun of “the eclipsed manner of the Queen’s English”.

    Conversely, the King James Bible consistently uses an, mine etc. before h.

  78. True, O King. I should have said “Standard English and related southern dialects”. And yes, connaître < OF con(n)oistre < L cognōscere.

    The Great Vowel Shift of French is as striking as that of English: of the seven stressed vowels of Proto-Western-Romance, namely /aɛeiɔou/, four (possibly five) diphthongized (OF /e/ < PWR /a/ was apparently originally distinct in quality from unstressed /e/, as it does not rhyme or assonate with it), /u/ became fronted, and only /i/ was left intact. Fortunately for all, the French GVS happened before the orthography was established, and so the spelling reflects it, if not most of the changes that have happened since.

  79. Now I’m trying to imagine reading French if its orthography had been established before the shift. Yikes!

  80. No worse, surely, than Icelandic. See the Strasbourg Oaths:

    Pro Deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun saluament, d’ist di in auant, in quant Deus sauir et podir me dunat, si saluarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo, et in adiudha et in cadhuna cosa si cum om per dreit son fradra saluar dist, in o quid il mi altresi fazet. Et ab Ludher nul plaid nunquam prindrai qui meon uol cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit.

    Si Lodhuuigs sagrament quæ son fradre Karlo iurat, conseruat, et Carlus meos sendra, de suo part, non lostanit, si io returnar non l’int pois, ne io, ne neuls cui eo returnar int pois, in nulla aiudha contra Lodhuuig nun li iu er.

    This is a compromise between Latin orthography and pre-Old French pronunciation, so it’s not quite what an unshifted orthography would be like but it is suggestive.

  81. If that was what French looked like today, you’d have to know to read poblo as /pœpl/ and nostro as /notr/ and Deus as /djø/ and fradre as /frer/, etc., and you think that’s no worse than Icelandic?

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