Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch Online.

I was just informed (thanks, Valery!) that if I followed etymonline on Facebook I would know that “he posted today that Wartburg’s Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch is now available/searchable online.” I have now “liked” the FB page, and I pass on to you both the suggestion and the link — I presume there are other people than me out there who 1) are interested in French etymology and 2) didn’t already know.

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says:

    I meet both criteria.
    Vielen Dank.

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    I made a startling French etymological discovery while on holiday near Toulouse just a few weeks ago: “amour”, of all words, is borrowed (the echt Francien form would be “ameur”, which doesn’t have the same connotations at all …)

    The Larousse etymological dictionary says it’s from Occitan, which would make sense as those guys practically invented the concept.

  3. Sure. It was a troubadour (< Occ. trobador, same pronunciation) word.

  4. marie-lucie says:

    The reason that amour was borrowed from Occitan was that ameur at the time was only used for animals!

  5. Really? Then how did they talk about love between people?

  6. marie-lucie says:

    LH, perhaps they only used the verb aimer, not the related noun. But love was not a literary topic in Old French until the troubadours made it so in Occitan and their poems became known in Northern France.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    About Wartburg’s Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, the French linguist Pierre Giraud (and probably others) commented that Wartburg attributed Germanic etymologies to many French words which could be etymologized otherwise. I can’t cite any references but they are probably findable online.

  8. I suspect that the specialization of ameur to mean ‘rut’ came only when amour was already competing with it. The oldest words of French we have are pro Deo amur, after all, from the Stroudsburg Oaths. The German version says in Godes minna, using the German word for ‘higher love’, as distinct from modern Liebe, which covers both territories.

    Languages normally preserve only one noun for what its speakers think of as one thing: absolute synonyms of the type furze, gorse, whin don’t normally exist. If there are two words, one or both will become specialized, or one will be lost. We are more used to absolute synonyms because we have a lot of technical vocabulary and draw it from basically non-native sources, so having both blood pressure meter (English, French, Latin) and sphygomanometer (Greek) seems perfectly plausible — but actually it’s the product of an unusual time, situation, and language.

  9. I suspect that the specialization of ameur to mean ‘rut’ came only when amour was already competing with it.

    That was always my assumption, which is why I was surprised at m-l’s statement.

  10. Stroudsburg? And your link doesn’t work, I’m afraid.

  11. Give me the URL and I’ll fix the link, JC.

  12. “Then how did they talk about love between people?”

    That’s just the point. “They” didn’t talk about it and neither did Mm. and Mme. Coeur-Brise. Cast your mind back to the days before the greeting card industry and balconic pledges of eternal devotion and what you find is unsentimental, procreative rutting amongst all the animals, human included. The syrupy, self-interiorized concept of “love” made no sense in the no-nonsense realm of peasant folks cleaning crap off their wooden shoes. The “talk” of love was an invention of the effete, dispossessed outsider. The culture of romantic “love” would never look back.

  13. Vass you dere, Sharlie?

  14. I meant Strasbourg Oaths, of course. A close friend of mine lived in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania until recently.

    The oldest love-at-first-sight story I know is that of Orpheus and Eurydice.

    As David M has pointed out, some Germanic languages are deficient in abstract nouns anyway: his dialect has no noun meaning ‘love’ (which doesn’t mean the concept can’t be expressed, of course).

  15. Okay, now the link is right, but the </a> is missing!

  16. You closed an i instead of an a.

  17. “The syrupy, self-interiorized concept of “love” made no sense in the no-nonsense realm of peasant folks cleaning crap off their wooden shoes. ”

    And not just peasants. Look at the no-nonsense way marriages are treated in the Niebelungenlied and Beowulf. Remember who these people were; that’s the culture they came out of. The gentry married who their families told them to marry and left to their own devices they seem to have acted on pretty shrewd calculations of cost and benefit.

  18. Yeah, I often do that. A pity that the generic tag-closer from SGML, </>, didn’t carry over to HTML or XML.

  19. Stefan Holm says:

    some Germanic languages are deficient in abstract nouns.

    In Swedish the noun kärlek and the verb älska cover the whole register from Plato to Eros. But there is no ‘decent’ straightforward expression corresponding to English make love or French faire l’amour. Colloquially there of course are ‘thirteen in a dozen’ of them (which we though avoid in public or if there are any microphones or sensible people at sight).

    This has usually been explained by pietistic lutheranism. But in the back of my head I have for long wondered, if it rather isn’t due to the traditionally strong position held by women in the Swedish society. So have we historically never cursed by using sexual terms but instead referred to the devil and the place where he is supposed to dwell. With immigration this has changed and in turn lead to repeated demands, from feminists in particular, to criminalize calling women names from this area of life or express that you e.g. intend to do something inappropriate with somebody’s mother.

  20. Per contra, in some varieties of Spanish the very word madre is taboo all by itself, and one must say su señora madre lit. ‘your lady mother’ to actually refer to someone’s mother.

  21. Sir JCass says:

    I thought it was the peasants who were more likely to marry for love. After all, there was no point arranging marriages to boost wealth or land when neither bride nor groom’s family had any. If you were poor, you might as well marry someone else poor you liked.* For the royals, nobles and (later on) the middle classes, it was a different matter: marriage was a hard-headed political and/or business arrangement. If you wanted love, you had an affair. Medieval French amour courtois was about adultery.

    (*I first saw this idea -which makes sense to me – in a book about feudal Japan. I can’t find the book at the moment, but I did make a note: “the humbler [in status] the samurai was, the better he tended to treat his wife”).

  22. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Stefan Holm:

    C S Lewis in “The Allegory of Love”, re the treatment of women in Norse literature, says something to the effect that they are presented primarily as *people*, who may (or may not) be respected as being brave or wise or saintly, say, just as a man might be; and that while this attitude may well bear fruit in an equal suffrage act or reform of inheritance law, it will not readily lead to the concepts of courtly love.

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    Herodotus, of course, tracks the whole sorry history of conflict between Europe and Asia back to a bizarre case of a man who fell in love with his own wife.

  24. I saw a man, he danced with his wife in Sardis…

  25. David Marjanović says:

    su señora madre

    Literal translations of that phenomenon are obsolete in German, but were compulsory in polite conversation not all that long ago.

    But in the back of my head I have for long wondered, if it rather isn’t due to the traditionally strong position held by women in the Swedish society. So have we historically never cursed by using sexual terms but instead referred to the devil and the place where he is supposed to dwell.

    Well, that was much more widespread… and today, German and Czech curse mostly by referring to excrements and where they come from.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    amour/ameur

    I relied on what I had read in works dealing with the history of French, but that may have been wrong.

    JC: I suspect that the specialization of ameur to mean ‘rut’ came only when amour was already competing with it.

    I checked the TLFI, which does not have an entry for ameur but mentions it under amour. After the pro Deo amur in 842 (when the language can hardly be called French yet, and the transcription of the vowels is not quite definite), the next set of examples starts in the 1200′s, by which time the Occitan influence must already have been felt. But it is interesting that most (not quite all) of the references refer to animals’ (both male and female) urges towards mating and procreation in the spring, and there are also metaphors which apply the word to the state of the soil awaiting seeding. Reading this, it occurred to me that the phrase faire l’amour (no doubt calqued into English “make love”) must have referred originally to behaving like animals rather than giving physical expression to a romantic feeling. Ameur is given as a dialectal form, probably a later one than amour.

    Perhaps Etienne knows more!

  27. marie-lucie says:

    The mating season for animals and birds is called in French la saison des amours.

  28. @marie-lucie:

    > Reading this, it occurred to me that the phrase faire l’amour (no doubt calqued into English “make love”) must have referred originally to behaving like animals rather than giving physical expression to a romantic feeling.

    Perhaps, but the English use of “make love” to mean “have sex” is fairly recent; previously it meant something like “to express one’s love”. (Hence the hilarious phrase “she found […] Mr. Elton actually making violent love to her” in Jane Austen’s Emma, which does not mean what it sounds like.)

  29. Stefan Holm says:

    It certainly looks like there always has been a linguistic ambiguity in separating erotic, romantic and platonic love, at least in Europe. Perhaps that’s why Spinoza called the ultimate state for us to reach amor Dei intellectualis. He obviously found a reason to add ‘intellectual’ to ‘love’. (Besides Latin he knew at least Dutch, Hebrew and Portugese).

    Could this ultimately reflect that we for sure are Homo, (male and female) animals dedicated to sex and romance respectively but also sapiens, wise, capable of ‘making love’ in a sense beyond the affective varieties?

  30. It certainly looks like there always has been a linguistic ambiguity in separating erotic, romantic and platonic love, at least in Europe.

    I don’t think the ambiguity is especially “linguistic”. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the ambiguity is conceptual, linguistic uncertainty being merely a consequence of that ?

    To see the difference: imagine a numerical system for designating the various kinds of love, for example 27 for one kind of love, 33 for another. Their use here is parasitic on the criteria being used, and how the criteria are being used, to distinguish phenomena in order to assign numbers to them. Such a numerical nomenclature for kinds of love would not be “ambiguous”. If anything were ambiguous, it would be the conceptual criteria.

    Now let’s consider something very like such numerical classification systems, namely “scientific” classification systems. Disagreements about the value of a scientific system may occasionally seem to be merely terminological – addressing the linguistic aspects – but they are frequentlyy, hidden within that, disagreements about the concepts, methodologies and models.

    What I could call linguistic ambiguity is, by contrast, a straightforward and uncontentious affair involving double-entendres, parsing alternatives and sloppy formulation – sometimes intentional, sometimes not.

  31. Stefan Holm says:

    Of course you’re right, Stu. I just took it for granted, that words, unless spoken by parrots, reflect concepts in our minds – and in turn, hopefully, something in the physical world. As we percieve it, one might add. In the realm of quantum mechanics, general relativity and string theory with 11 dimensions one can never be sure. The real world is a special case, some wise guy said.

  32. Stefan: I just took it for granted, that words, unless spoken by parrots, reflect concepts in our minds – and in turn, hopefully, something in the physical world.

    I too took that for granted, though I am not so hopeful as you about the physical world (an extravagant notion that doesn’t help to explain or identify anything, as far as I can see). However, since signifiants “refer to” signifiés, to equate the two wouldn’t make sense.

    Languages do not “reflect” concepts in a one-to-one manner. This is demonstrated by the existence of misunderstandings, especially those due to “linguistic ambiguity”. Concepts don’t “reflect” anything, they just point to each other like guilty thieves caught in the act.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    JC: the English use of “make love” to mean “have sex” is fairly recent; previously it meant something like “to express one’s love”

    In English, yes, but according to the examples in the TLFI the French phrase has always referred to sex. But I don’t know how old the phrase is: I was surprised to find that the TLFI’s oldest quotation is from 1818! It must be older than that, but perhaps was not considered fit for literature earlier.

  34. Stefan Holm says:

    Concepts don’t “reflect” anything

    Unless you believe in the supernatural every word and concept must reflect ’something’ in the physical world. Since our brain itself is a physical object even hardwired linguistic concepts à la Chomsky have a physical origin at the end of the day (even if not mediated through our senses)..

    I didn’t talk about real things or concepts being exactly or mechanically manifested in our minds. Perceived through our senses they are processed under influence of our earlier experiences (our brains are associative, not mathematical like computers). That’s one reason behind misunderstandings. As Hat (I think) mentioned recently: energy doesn’t mean the same thing to a healer as to a physicist – but both parties are hopefully aware of that.

    Even in the extreme case that you hallucinate, that’s ultimately a (let be distorted) reflection of ‘something’ physical. It’s not until we reach the quantum world that our associative capability shows insufficient and we have to rely on pure mathematics. You and I can communicate – just because we share a common association between the real world and our linguistic interpretation of it.

  35. the TLFI’s oldest quotation is from 1818

    The TLFI’s scope is specifically 1800-2000; for older references you need to look in Littré, where it is defined as “courtiser, être en commerce amoureux”. The oldest quotation there is “Ah ! lâche, fais l’amour et renonce à l’empire (Racine, Bérén. IV, 4)”, which I suppose does not have the modern sense.

  36. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks, JC, I did not know this restriction about the TLFI, in which older examples are generally given at the bottom of pages.

    All right, I withdraw my suggestion that “faire l’amour” had anything to do with animals” Instead it seems to have started as ‘demonstrate one’s love, engage in a love relationship’.

  37. You and I can communicate – just because we share a common association between the real world and our linguistic interpretation of it.

    It is not necessary to “share a common association” in order to communicate. After all, I have no idea what goes on in your head when you say something, and I don’t need to “know” or speculate about that, as long what you say makes sense to me. I have expectations about what you will say, and you have expectations about how I will respond to what you say, and so on – that’s a basic aspect of communication.

    We clearly don’t agree with each other in this exchange, so to assume a “common association” would be to fly in the face of the facts. There are traditional ingrained ways out of this difficulty, one being to assume that there is a common association, about wich one person is right and the other wrong. But this is moralizing, not an adequate theoretical account of disagreement. Of course there are reasons why moralizing crops up in communications, but I won’t go into that here.

    Our disagreement is further complicated by another fact: that I am arguing there is no “common association” to share. It’s not clear to me what association we could share here as to there being no such association to share.

    It’s true, of course, that many people, myself among them, often imagine communication to be “about” something – at least when we’re communicating, instead of trying to understand what is involved in communication. What I am trying to do resembles what a linguist does when he tries to explain certain linguistic facts to someone who thinks of language as merely a means for talking.

    What can be empirically observed is that each person either “accepts” or “rejects” what the other says, in words indicating that acceptance (words *intended* to signal agreement) or rejection (the opposite). There is no guarantee, however, that the first response of the second speaker will meet the expectations of the first speaker as to that response. The “agreement” the second speaker signals may, because of the way it is formulated, be interpreted by the first speaker as 1) failure of the second speaker to undertand fully, or perhaps 2) disagreement concealed as agreement, or any number of other things.

    All I said, anyway, is that the *notion* of “the physical world” is an extravagance. I did not deny the existence of bees and bonnets.

    I find it quite easy, in a theoretical context, to refrain from appealing to “the physical world” in an argument. “The physical world” is a theoretical notion, in fact a metaphysical notion, that is of absolutely no use in everyday life.

  38. marie-lucie says:

    Stu: You and I can communicate – just because we share a common association between the real world and our linguistic interpretation of it.

    Reading your comment on this, it looks like you stopped reading after “common association”, or at least reacted as if you did. The section “between ….. of it” is a complement of “association”: if we are speaking a common language, such as English, we both associate the same words with our shared perception of the world (or, if you prefer, our shared illusions about it). Of course there are sometimes exceptions and often near-approximations, but this is the way linguistic communication works in general (and if there is a misunderstanding, it can usually be clarified by further communication. But if you speak German and I speak French, we may share a “common perception” (visual, auditory, etc) but we don’t share a “common association” of words with this common perception.

  39. Stefan Holm says:

    Maybe, Stu, we should differ nomina (nouns, pronouns, proper names) and verbs from words of properties (adjectives, adverbs, participles)?

    In the first case we can agree upon what a star, a finger or an idea is or what it means to swim, breathe or descend (independently of our native languages). In the second case it’s trickier to unite upon what is ugly, corageous or interesting. Why?

    Well, if I claim, that a painting by, say, Andy Warhol is ugly and you say it’s beautiful, we’re not actually commenting upon the painting, but upon a state in our own brains. Physically the painting is what it is and can be described most exactly in terms of wavelengths reflected by being lit by light of a specific wavelength cluster. And that information is objective and not a topic for debate.

    What then happens in your and mine brain is a matter of our lifelong experience – and our genetic inheritance. We are an associative creature, not a mathematical one. If we were, every bookmaker on this planet would have to close down.

  40. marie-lucie: it looks like you stopped reading after “common association”, or at least reacted as if you did. … if we are speaking a common language, such as English, we both associate the same words with our shared perception of the world (or, if you prefer, our shared illusions about it) … this is the way linguistic communication works in general (and if there is a misunderstanding, it can usually be clarified by further communication.

    We are now speaking a common language, and yet it seems to me we are not associating the same words with the same things, what you call “our shared perception/illusions of the world”. You claim, on the contrary, that we are even now sharing associations. And yet I disagree. How to explain that ?

    Disagreement, you say, can usually be cleared up – by reference to the shared perceptions/illusions. If that doesn’t work, I must be doing something wrong, as you write: I “must have stopped reading”. Your brief account of agreement leaves disagreement looking like a deficient alternative, and sometimes even a reprehensible one.

    Appeals to the vague notion of “the physical world” are biassed against disagreement. That is why I called the notion extravagant. The extravagance, together with the vagueness, almost encourage charges of negligence in thinking, or of orneriness. That is, in fact, one essential function of the notion in discourse.

  41. Note that I never charge anyone with negligence in thinking, or with orneriness. Why is that, do you think ? Surely not because I am a nice guy ?

  42. I am describing here certain functional aspects of discourse and communication that one perhaps doesn’t usually think about. Communication can be empirically observed to function in certain ways, but that doesn’t imply that this knowledge always has to kept in mind. This knowledge is additional. It does not make communication impossible, but may well influence it.

    Analogously: knowledge of anatomy and physiology does not make bodily activity impossible, but may influence the activities we indulge in. 500 years ago, as such knowledge started to be acquired, many people were frightened and offended by it.

    Another analogy: linguistics knowledge does not make speaking impossible, but may influence what is spoken.

  43. Siganus Sutor says:

    Great, but one needs to have a good grasp of German to make profit of that huge book. :-(

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