Malaise and Pooter.

Jennie Erin Smith‘s TLS review (freely accessible) of Frederik Sjöberg’s The Fly Trap, besides being fun to read (see excerpt below), taught me two new words. The review begins: “Malaise traps are tent-like contraptions that intercept flying insects with mesh and, taking advantage of their urge to fly up towards the light when faced with an obstacle, shuttle them upwards into a poison-filled chamber.” I thought malaise was a pretty euphemistic description of what the insects experienced as a result of the trap, but as I read on I saw that the word was consistently spelled with a capital M and realized it was a proper name — the name, in fact, of the book’s subject, René Malaise. (There’s a good illustration of the trap at the Wikipedia page.) And several sentences later Smith writes: “Sjöberg collected his hoverflies with a net and a pooter, a flexible tube used to suck up insects by mouth into a container.” Pooter! What a word! (Later on, she writes: “He has suffered ‘every conceivable insinuation and witticism’ with regard to his pooter, the portable insect-sucking tube, but even he will concede its resemblance to an opium pipe.”) The OED says:

Etymology: Apparently < the name of F. W. Poos (1891–1987), U.S. entomologist who first used the device + –er suffix, with insertion of –t-, apparently for euphony.
[…]
1939 Amateur Entomologist Sept. 33 A coleopterist’s sucking tube (a pooter) is useful when collecting large numbers.
[…]

So both words seem to be eponyms. As for Malaise, he had quite a life:

Malaise was born in 1892 in Stockholm, the son of a French chef, and, like naturalists everywhere, began collecting as a child – plants, then butterflies, then, as he got more serious, sawflies. After the end of the First World War, Malaise left his famous journalist girlfriend, Ester Blenda Nordström, and joined his zoologist friend Sten Bergman and three others on a lavishly funded collecting expedition to the Kamchatka Peninsula, the lobe of terrain in easternmost Russia that dangles over Japan. The Kamchatka expedition lasted three years, officially, and Bergman secured his fame with a dramatic account of it. Malaise, though, chose to stay in Kamchatka, inured to homesickness and civil war, surviving in the backwoods on a primitive bread boiled in bear fat while continuing to collect his flies. In 1923, he experienced a series of extraordinary earthquakes. The first came in the winter, while he was sleeping in a yurt in the woods. The trees bowed, there was a terrible roaring noise, and a tsunami drove a giant wall of ice inland, razing the coastal fringe of forest. The aftershocks continued for weeks. In August of that year, Malaise was making a supply run to Tokyo when the ground dropped out beneath him, collapsing the roof and floor of his hotel at once, and triggering deadly fires. It was the Great Kanto Earthquake, one of the worst in Japan’s history. Malaise sailed from Tokyo as the city burned. […]

In Sweden, where he took refuge after the quakes, Malaise was reunited with Nordström, who was brilliant, charming and probably lesbian; she followed him back to Kamchatka, married him, and wrote a book about the place which never once mentioned her husband. Malaise returned to Stockholm again after the marriage dissolved, and developed a prototype of his trap, which he demonstrated there and in London. Oddly, few were impressed. Malaise himself was undeterred. He married again, this time an adventurous schoolteacher happy to accompany him on a dangerous expedition to Burma. In Rangoon with his new wife, he had his first traps sewn by tailors. The traps proved frighteningly effective: the Malaises returned with more than 100,000 insects, which museums were still sorting at the time of Sjöberg’s writing.

He went on to become an Atlantis crank, unfortunately, but he “never grew bitter and never lost his optimism, even in the face of ridicule.”

Comments

  1. Poot is familiar to me as a euphemism for fart (verb); Gale tells me that her mother used to ask her “Did you poot”? Personally it strikes me as easily confusable with poop, but googling poot produces as its first hit a toy that makes a farting noise.

    The Wikipedia article shows a picture of a giant pooter with a vacuum motor on the user’s back.

  2. Back in the day, a pooter was the kind of low-tech equipment an Irish school could afford for its biology lab. Still no guarantee you’d catch anything interesting in the hedge beside the sports ground.

  3. I don’t know. Realizing you’re trapped, trying to rise in order to escape, and then discovering that what’s up there is toxic–sounds pretty much like the regular old kind of malaise to me.

  4. Ken Miner says:

    Malaise seems an odd name until you realize that many Germans are named Krankheit (cf. Walter Cronkite and other variations).Why only in Europe? I can’t think of an English equivalent.

  5. Realizing you’re trapped, trying to rise in order to escape, and then discovering that what’s up there is toxic–sounds pretty much like the regular old kind of malaise to me.

    Different idiolects, I guess. My usage correlates more with the AHD’s definition:

    1. A vague feeling of bodily discomfort, as at the beginning of an illness.
    2. A general sense of depression or unease

    To me, that’s very different from “OH NO I’M GONNA DIE!”

  6. Malaise seems an odd name until you realize that many Germans are named Krankheit (cf. Walter Cronkite and other variations).Why only in Europe? I can’t think of an English equivalent.

    Lexilogos says:

    Malaise C’est en Alsace et dans les Vosges que le nom est le plus répandu, il est également porté en Belgique. C’est en principe le contraire du mot “aise”, souvent employé comme toponyme pour désigner une mauvaise terre, mais qui a pu aussi désigner celui qui était dans la gêne physique ou matérielle, tout comme le nom Malaisé. Formes similaires : Malais, Mallais (14), Malaisse (59), Malaize (08, 51), Mallaize (Lorraine). Dérivés : Malaisy (68), Malaizet (02), Malaizier (Franche-Comté), Malésieu, Malésieux, Malézieu, Malézieux (Nord, Picardie), Mallaizée (52), Mallaisy (08), Mallézet (02).

  7. @Ken Miner: “Sick” is a known English surname, although it appears to be unrelated to the modern English word (and the German version “Sieck” seems to be much more common).

    The French teacher at my high school was Mademoiselle Krank, which the German teacher across the hall made into a running joke for his classes. (Unfortunately, most of my funny memories involving the language teachers at my old school have a nasty edge now. There was one Spanish teacher who was a real cut-up, but years later, he turned out to be molesting some of his students.)

  8. Poot is familiar to me as a euphemism for fart (verb)

    ‘Tis said that the Pet Milkcompany had great difficulty selling its products in Quebec because the noun pet carries that meaning, if not in “Parisian’ French, then at least in the Quebec variety; cf. pétillant, as in sparkling wine. Péter is the verb.

  9. Oops. I messed up the URL. Here it is without embellishment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pet,_Inc.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    Un pet means ‘a fart’ in all varieties of French I know of. Using “PET” as the name of any company or product, especially one connected with food, would be certain to be totally counterproductive.

    When Pierre Elliott Trudeau became well-known in Canadian politics (before he became prime minister), some people thought that his initials P.E.T. would make a nice, convenient bilingual abbreviation – until they were made to realize the effect this letter combination would have in Quebec.

  11. Ken Miner says:

    @Lexilogos, Brett: Merci et thanks. I remembered right after I posted that family names can end up with meanings far from their origins. Probably my own name originally had nothing to do with mining.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    Never heard of anyone named Krankheit…

    the German version “Sieck”

    Sometimes spelled Sick (as in Bastian the Prescriptivist), with the thrice-accursed northern Dehnungs-C as in Buddenbrock.

  13. La Horde Listener says:

    “…surviving in the backwoods on a primitive bread boiled in bear fat…” Doughnuts! < In ten years or so that ought to become the next new swear word / interjection.

  14. Greg Pandatshang says:

    But has there ever been a General Malaise in any nation’s army?

    I don’t suppose there are very many if any people with the last names Punishment or O’Truth, so there have been any Corporals the former or Colonels the latter. On the other hand, I’m sure many last names would be funny on a major.

  15. Trond Engen says:
  16. It’s been suggested that the US decided not to call its five-star general rank “Field Marshall” because its first recipient, George Marshall, would have been Marshal Marshall.

    And don’t forget Cardinal Sin.

  17. And of course Major Major Major Major.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    Doctor Doctor Willard Bliss

    Mind blown.

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