MORE ETYMOLOGIES.

More fun from my dictionary editing! To begin with, two pairs of homonyms that one might think had the same Greek origins but that come from words with different vowel lengths:
colon ‘part of the large intestine’ goes back to Greek κόλον [kolon], but colon ‘punctuation mark (:); rhythmical unit’ is from κῶλον [kōlon] ‘limb; part of a strophe.’
coma ‘cloud of gas and dust around a comet; optical aberration’ goes back to Greek κόμη [komē] ‘hair,’ but coma ‘state of unconsciousness’ derives from κῶμα [kōma] ‘deep sleep.’
colporteur ‘peddler’ is straight from an identical French word, but that in turn is from Old French comporteur, someone who “comports” in the etymological sense, carrying things with them (comporter from Latin com-portare ‘carry with’); the American Heritage Dictionary says that it’s “influenced by col, neck, from the idea that peddlers carry their wares on trays suspended from straps around their necks.”
Finally, a funny-sounding word that looks like it should be Latin but in fact has no known etymology: colugo, a kind of flying lemur.
Oh, and I keep forgetting to mention that MMcM at Polyglot Vegetarian, after months of radio silence, has burst out with three new posts, Pineapple, Zapiekanki, and Bhut Jolokia; hie thee thither for more multilingual etymology than you can shake a stick at!

Comments

  1. English ‘much’ and Spanish ‘mucho,’ often assumed to come from the same word, come from different PIE roots, I’ve heard.
    much – PIE *meg- “great.”
    mucho – PIE *mel- “strong, great, numerous”

  2. Cole Porter, on the other hand, came from Peru.

  3. I was going to suggest forming a committee to assign etymologies to words which don’t have them. But then I realized that an an informal volunteer system has been doing this job all too well for centuries. (Is this the surplus of the signifier? I’ve never been able to figure it out.)

  4. Bill Walderman says:

    ‘the American Heritage Dictionary says that it’s “influenced by col, neck, from the idea that peddlers carry their wares on trays suspended from straps around their necks.’
    A French eggcorn?

  5. marie-lucie says:

    The “French eggcorn” may have become standard with that meaning in order to keep the activity of the pedlar distinct from the verb comporter ‘to include’ or se comporter ‘to behave (in a certain way)’.

  6. … And if you think Pineapple is interesting, try Peanut; if you check out M’s links there’s enough obscure information to keep you reading all weekend (in a good way).

  7. Can you tell us what the book is, Hat? Or is that a trade secret? Sounds interesting!

  8. κόμη is Greek for hair? presumably the cloud looks like a covering of hair-from which comet, it seems.
    And the story of the name of constellation Coma Berenices is quite appealing
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coma_Berenices

  9. Can you tell us what the book is, Hat? Or is that a trade secret?
    I’d rather not name the book, but it’s just a new edition of a dictionary that’s been around for a while. Any dictionary that has etymologies makes for an interesting read!

  10. κόμη is Greek for hair?
    Yes, and that definition should have been in the post, so I’ve added it—thanks for reminding me.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    the cloud looks like a covering of hair
    It is rather the “tail” which looks like long hair streaming behind the “head”.

  12. J. Del Col says:

    AKA “mare’s tail” clouds, a type of cirrus presaging rain.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    JDC, would you use this expression in the context of a comet?

  14. Interesting that the wikipedia article quoted shows no knowledge of the literary history of berenice’s hair. The poem by Callimachus about the debacle was considered important enough to become the basis for one of the few direct Latin translations (by Catulllus) of major Greek poems that we have.

  15. I wrote about it here.

  16. Oh, Languagehat, is there anything you haven’t written about??

  17. Yes, yes, my children, I have many marvels yet to share with you!

  18. marie-lucie says:

    the wikipedia article quoted shows no knowledge of the literary history of berenice’s hair
    Some wikipedia articles are translations from each other, but many are not, or perhaps they get to be different because additional writers add different details or rewrite differently from an original article.
    I checked the English, French, Spanish, Italian and German versions by looking up “Berenice’s Hair” and then the list of languages. Only the English version says that Berenice had blond hair, for instance. The other versions, although agreeing on the basic story, are all slightly different in wording or in details. Most of them tell the story at the beginning of the article, but the German version tells it towards the end. On the other hand, only the German version mentions both Callimachus and Catullus (briefly), and only the Spanish version gives a translation of Callimachus’ poem (written from the point of view of the hair).

  19. The Counter-Reformation had problems with pagan women’s hair and Julius Schiller has it as the gruesome (cherub notwithstanding) Flagelli ☧i.

  20. the gruesome (cherub notwithstanding) Flagelli
    It seems slightly hermaphroditic, by pictorial convention. The right breast is flat as on a man, the left breast appears to be female. It’s the left hand that holds the whip, Nietzsche notwithstanding.
    Is ☧i a siglum for pinxit ?

  21. Chi Rho, for Christi (I confess I made it a ligature: he had Χ Ρ Ι). Look at the text on the preceding page.

  22. I see. FLAGELLIXRI Salvatoris in the heading of that page is supposed to be

    Flagelli Christi salvatoris

    as it is farther down. The printer apparently ran out of spacing leads.

  23. I feel a sudden uncontrollable urge to have my carpets cleaned, and we don’t even have any carpets.

  24. (I just deleted a bunch of carpet-related spam, in case anyone is wondering what John is talking about.)

  25. marie-lucie says:

    The cherub’s left hand is not wielding the scourge in a menacing manner, just holding it like a toy while his right arm makes some sort of happy gesture (his expression seems to say “hey, look what I found!”). I don’t find him hermaphroditic: the right breast does not look to me quite like a woman’s but more like a fat baby’s, or something in between (the line looks like it has been corrected), and the left one seems to have been just forgotten by the engraver (or his apprentice working on the minor details). The background figures of constellations seem to be by another hand altogether.

  26. Trond Engen says:

    Is that a flying carpet?

  27. I wrote about it here. Well of course you did, LH. That’s one of the great things about this place.
    I was just commenting on wikipedia’s rigid devotion to a late mythographer, who seems to have introduced the confusion the wikipedia entry natters on about, without any sign that the authors know that the sources of the mythographer are extant. I don’t imagine (and certainly didn’t intend to imply) that you were unaware of the literary history.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    I was unaware of the literary history, so I am glad that Mr Hat mentioned it again.

  29. I always used to drive around with our old parrot. Now I just take the dogs, unless it’s an emergency.

  30. j. del col says:

    Marie-Lucie:
    No, I completely misread the context. Sorry.

  31. Trond Engen says:

    Emergency, as in going to the Polly clinic?

  32. From this comment I deduced the existence of a word “polyclinic”.
    Googling it, I found that it is in fact some kind of clinic or hospital. Who knew? We don’t seem to have that word here.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    In Canada a “clinic” usually specializes in a particular kind of disease or condition, so a “polyclinic” is more comprehensive, but it does not provide all the services of a hospital.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    so a “polyclinic” is more comprehensive

    …and in fact it’s a policlinic, from pólis “city”. Or so I hear.

  35. I saw it spelled both ways. Two dictionary entries with etymology:
    poly- or poli-
    I’d bet on the latter, mainly because it agrees with David (who knows everything), but also because it gives some supporting detail: that poliklinik existed in German in the 1820′s.

  36. They’ve always been kind to parrots in Tyskland.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    In English I have only seen polyclinic, but I am only familiar with the English Canadian context.

  38. Norwegian Blue?

  39. I’ve just realised that Norwegian Blue must have been some kind of play on Danish blue, which was a popular cheese in the sixties (Cleese’s father having changed his name from Cheese).

  40. I’ve just realised that Norwegian Blue must have been some kind of play on Danish blue, which was a popular cheese in the sixties (Cleese’s father having changed his name from Cheese).

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