I hereby unleash the awesome power of the internet on a puzzle that’s bothered me for more than a dozen years—or, to be more precise, one that bothered me when I first read Charles Doughty’s wonderful Travels in Arabia Deserta, and is bothering me again now that I’m reading it to my wife in the evenings. On p. 352 occurs the following passage:
In the Nefûd, towards El-Hŷza, are certain booming sand-hills, Rowsa, Deffafîat, Subbîa and lrzûm, such as the sand drift of J. Nagûs, by the sea village of Tor in Sinai : the upper sand sliding down under the foot of the passenger, there arises, of the infinite fretting grains, such a giddy loud swelling sound, as when your wetted finger is drawn about the lip of a glass of water, and like that swooning din after the chime of a great bell, or cup of metal. — Nagûs is the name of the sounding-board in the belfry of the Greek monastry, whereupon as the sacristan plays with his hammer, the timber yields a pleasant musical note, which calls forth the formal colieros to their prayers ; another such singing sand drift, El-Howayrîa, is in the cliffs (east of the Mezham,) of Medáin Sâlih.
When I came across that word colieros, of course I checked all the reference sources available to me in the early ’90s, to no avail. When I again encountered it, I thought “Google will clear this up in a jiffy.” Google only turned up one hit, but it was to a selection from Tales of Travel, by Lord Curzon, and I thought “Aha, if anyone will know, it’s Lord Curzon.” Alas, it turned out Curzon was simply quoting this passage of Doughty for its evocation of the “singing sands”; he had nothing to say about colieros. So I turn to you, my readers; surely your collective experience and wisdom will solve the mystery and allow me to erase the question mark that’s been in the margin all these years.
Update. The awesome power of the internet, and more specifically of my readership, has come through once more. The learned EJP, in the comments, suggested what (once it was mentioned) made me slap my head and say “Of course!”: it’s meant for Greek καλόγερος [kalóyeros] ‘monk,’ formerly (and still in katharevousa) spelled καλόγηρος. I’m not sure whether Doughty misremembered the Greek word or whether he was using the i to indicate an “eye” pronunciation (which would give an inaccurate but comprehensible “ka-LYE-er-ohz,” with an anglicized plural), but that’s definitely the explanation.
The relevant OED entry is interesting and confusing:
(kaloje) [a. F. caloyer, ad. It. caloiero (pl. –ieri), ad. late Gr. καλόγηρος, f. καλός beautiful + γηρο-, -γηρος in comb. old, aged, i.e. ‘good in old age, venerable’. The It. caloiero, whence Fr. and Eng. immediately come, has i for palatal γ (= y cons.). The accentuation is shown in Byron quots.]
A Greek monk, esp. of the order of St. Basil.
1615 G. SANDYS Trav. 82 This mountaine is only inhabited by Grecian Monks whom they call Coloieros, vnintermixed with the Laity. 1635 E. PAGITT Christianogr. I. ii. (1636) 47 Dedicated in honor of St. Basil, to the Greeke Caloiers. 1676 F. VERNON in Phil. Trans. XI. 582 Now there is a Convent of Caloieri’s there. 1682 WHELER Journ. Greece II. 194 His usual Habit differeth not from the ordinary Caloyers, or Monks of the Order of St. Basil. Ibid. VI. 450 They consist of above a hundred Caloiroes. Ibid. 479 Here is also a Convent of Caloires, or Greekish Monks. 1812 BYRON Ch. Har. II. xlix, The convent’s white walls glisten fair on high. Here dwells the caloyer, nor rude is he, Nor niggard of his cheer. 1813 — Giaour 786 How name ye yon lone Caloyer? 1884 W. CARR Montenegro 29 The Vladika, the black caloyer of the Czernagora.
Now, the entry form and pronunciation suggest that this should include only examples of the French borrowing pronounced “kah-loh-YAY,” but the Sandys and Vernon quotes, at least, clearly indicate a form derived from Italian or Greek. The OED should either change the entry to explicitly include both or create another into which the latter, and the Doughty, would fit.
Since Lord Curzon has come up, I cannot forbear to quote the quatrain that was appended to him during his days at Oxford and that he was never able to shake:
My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person.
My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim twice a week.