More Untranslatable Words.

We’ve had some good discussions about “untranslatable words” (e.g., 2004, 2005, 2017), even though, as I wrote in the latter post,

I generally find lists of “untranslatable” words irritating; they tend to consist of variations on “comfortable” and “longing” plus a few implausible items alleged to mean, say, “the sensation of dipping your pinky finger into a pond freshly dappled by rain.”

Still, they can be more irritating or less, and this one from the Guardian is better than most, partly because it gives plenty of space for each word, so you can grasp some of the nuances. Of course it includes some of the tiresome usual suspects, like Finnish sisu and Russian toska (why doesn’t anyone ever mention, say, Russian плюсна [plyusná] ‘the part of the foot between the toes and ankle’?), but there are some goodies, like the first one, Spanish sobremesa:

Lunch – and it is more usually lunch than dinner – will long since have yielded to the important act of the sobremesa, that languid time when food gives way to hours of talking, drinking and joking. Coffee and digestivos will have been taken, or perhaps the large gin and tonic that follows a meal rather than precedes it here.

The sobremesa is a digestive period that allows for the slow settling of food, gossip, ideas and conversations. It is also a sybaritic time; a recognition that there is more to life than working long hours and that few pleasures are greater than sharing a table and then chatting nonsense for a hefty portion of what remains of the day.

A delightful word for a delightful practice! German Feierabend is similar, but post-work rather than post-lunch:

Dating back to the 16th century, the term Feierabend, or “celebration evening”, used to denote the evening before a public holiday, but has come to refer to the free time between leaving the office and bedtime on any working day.

The key to understanding Feierabend is that it isn’t time for going to the cinema or gym, but time for doing nothing. In 1880, the cultural historian Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl described the concept as “an atmosphere of carefree wellbeing, of deep inner reconciliation, of the pure and clear quiet of the evening”.

The description of Iranian ta’arof ‘politeness ritual’ is wonderful. And for once the comments are worth reading; people add their own candidates, like:

I always liked the Indonesian phrase on Bali of jam karat – which translates roughly as rubber time. A concept that refers to a sense of flexible meeting, the example I had was waiting for about 90 minutes for a sunrise fishing trip. When the fisherman arrived, 90 minutes late he shrugged and said “jam karat!”

Thanks, AJP and Eric!

Comments

  1. Karat is “rust”, and as jam has the additional meaning of “clock, timepiece”, the phrase jam karat evokes something very different from “rubber time”. The latter is jam karet, which translates not roughly but precisely as “rubber time”.

    The invocation of jam karet can range from almost endearing to homicidally infuriating, depending on context. I’ve sometimes wondered whether Indonesian (together with some regional Indonesian languages) is the only language to express the concept. Surely not?

  2. The interesting thing about тоска is that it exists in lots of other languages (more or less) – ennui, noia, Weltschmerz, accidia – but not in English. Why?

  3. I liked some of the comments.

    [A] combover that is used to cover incipient baldness is called emprunt de force (forced loan) in French.

  4. Also there were some interesting (to me) comments on German dialects and a Wiki link to German Modal Particles here.

    Some German comments by someone called Doctorovitch:

    Servus:
    As far as I know, servus is derived from what still exists in Austria (where Servus is also used extremely often), that is to say, from a greeting that has been reduced to “der Diener” = the servant (Latin servus, though originally it did of course mean slave) from “I am the servant of Your High-Well-Born / Excellency / Serene Highness etc.” (compare to “Your humble and obedient servant”, which was the standard ending of 18th c. letters in both France and Britain if you wrote to someone of equal or superior rank). So it must have originated as a greeting for introducing yourself (in fact making a polite bow is called “einen Diener machen” = “do a servant”) and then gradually morphed into an all-purpose thing.

    Fei:
    To be fair about fei, it must be said that it is exclusively Bavarian; I think not even Austrians use it, whereas non-Bavarian Germans will only employ it when impersonating a Bavarian for comedy purposes (think bigorra for the Irish or the entirely mythical Ei verbibsch! for modern Saxons).
    (Elsewhere it says fei comes from Latin finis.)

    Helice 16h ago
    Funnily my grandmother of the Saxonian part of the family actually used “Ei verbibsch” and I (then a little kid) was ‘bass erstaunt’ what she might have meant. (Due to the Iron curtain, I only met the Saxonian part of the family very rarely, and even nowadays I haven’t seen them more than a handful of times (and my granny died before the wall fell).

    Doctorvitch
    Upper Lusatia [has] Germany’s only tribe that pronounces the letter r as it is done in English.

  5. плюсна [plyusná] ‘the part of the foot between the toes and ankle

    This must be metatarsus. Not instep (the underneath?), which is подъём [podʺjóm]. So I’m told.

    Incidentally, I’m waking up the small quantity of Russian I learned 50 yrs ago at school by watching The Americans, a television spy drama with some spoken Russian and English subtitles. It deploys actual Russians for the acting.

  6. > Russian плюсна [plyusná] ‘the part of the foot between the toes and ankle

    Is that not the instep?

  7. This must be metatarsus.

    Yes, it is, and metatarsus is an English word in that it’s in the dictionary, but if you go out and ask a hundred people what a metatarsus is only one will know, and you should tell that person to stop goofing off and get back to medical school. In Russian, however, плюсна is a perfectly ordinary word.

  8. It seems I was wrong, and плюсна = instep. The top part of the foot, the part covered by shoelaces is the instep. In football there’s something called an instep drive, apparently. And I’d say instep is a perfectly ordinary word, even if I didn’t know its meaning until now.

    I agree about metatarsus. It’s not a word you want to drop into a conversation.

  9. Trond Engen says:

    Jeremy: плюсна [plyusná] ‘the part of the foot between the toes and ankle

    This must be metatarsus. Not instep (the underneath?), which is подъём [podʺjóm]. So I’m told.

    Norw. vrist. Maybe most common these days for “top of the foot” in the football commentators’ term med strak vrist “with straight ancle”, of a technically well executed shot.

  10. Trond most common these days for “top of the foot” in the football commentators’ term med strak vrist

    Ah. I don’t watch foopall in any language, you see.

    But if instep is the top of the foot, then what’s the difference between плюсна [plyusná] and подъём [podʺjóm]?

  11. The instep is not just the top of the foot; it includes the bottom and (especially) the sides between the ball and the ankle. When I played soccer as a kid, we distinguished different parts of the instep. The inside surface of the foot we called the “instep,” but the top of the instep was referred to as the “laces” (indicating a part of the cleat rather than the actual foot).

  12. SFReader says:

    According to Google, situation is exactly in reverse:

    плюсна
    About 49,300 results (0.21 seconds)

    metatarsus
    About 610,000 results (0.21 seconds)

    плюсна is a rare word while metatarsus is much more common (though technical) term

  13. I would be surprised if someone just dropped plusna in Russian conversation and would have thought that the person just left the doctor’s. But it may be just me. schechka, diminutive of scheka, cheek, is used for inside of the foot, but only in soccer, as far as I know.

  14. SFReader beat me to it. But. Google counts is an unreliable source and the correct measure is fraction, not absolute count. Russian internet is obviously much smaller than English one. Google n-grams are surely count mostly medical uses. Still, plusna/noga (foot+leg) ~ 0.5%, plusna/stopa (foot) ~ 3%; metatarsus/foot ~ 0.15%, metatarsus/(foot+leg) ~ 0.1%. But adjectival uses are much more common in English: metatarsal/metatarsus ~ 10, but in Russian plusnevoj cannot be found in Google Books at all.

  15. ‘foot’ is also used in measurements.

    knee/metatarsus = 715,000,000/610,000 = 1172
    колено/плюсна = 12,000,000/49,300 = 243

    Which makes metatarsus about five times rarer in English than плюсна in Russian, mutatis kinda sorta mutandis.

  16. плюсна is a rare word

    Color me informed! But it sounded so Russian, so downhome…

  17. It’s funny their backing up the idea that Feierabend is time for doing nothing (relaxing after work?), rather than going to the cinema or gym, by citing a cultural historian from 1880 (who interprets usage going back how much further?) when going to the cinema or gym was a never-to-near never option. I can attest that it would not be unusual in the least to have someone say that, yes, they could in fact join you at the cinema because they were off for the day, or, had Feierabend. Irrespective of the implications of its historical context, it denotes having got off work.

  18. Regardless of its frequency, it’s amusing that Russian has a single word that means metatarsus / instep, whereas it lacks a single word that means “toe.” Surely, in the ordinary course of a life, one has far more occasion to mention one’s toes than one’s metatarsus? Calling them “foot fingers” (which, granted, Spanish and several other European languages do as well) has always seemed odd to me.

  19. Stu Clayton says:

    Feierabend is the time after you get off work, on a particular day (or any day on which you worked). Freizeit is any and all times when you’re not working. In other words, Feierabend is a temporally restricted subtype of Freizeit.

  20. Not to be confused, of course, with Feyerabend.

  21. George Grady says:

    English must have some of these of its own.

    Like “boop”: to tap someone’s nose affectionately.

  22. My wife often refers to her metatarsals, probably because she has pain in them. On the other hand, when I referred to her metacarpals (which also hurt), she didn’t know the word.

  23. plyusna reminded me of Danish pløs, the flappy part of a shoe underneath the laces (which I’m told EFL-speakers call ‘tongue’) and which roughly covers the metatarsus, I guess. The word looks French in origin.

  24. According to Vasmer, the Russian word (originally плесна) is related to Lithuanian plãsnas, Greek πλάτος, and Latin planta, inter alia.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    Lars: The English “tongue” of a shoe is called in French la languette, a diminutive form of la langue ‘tongue”. Checking with French Wikipedia under chaussure, I saw some words unknown to me but none resembling Russian ‘plyusna’ or Danish ‘pløs’.

    LH: However, the underside of the French foot is called la plante (du pied) and its top side le dessus de pied. The underside of a shoe is la semelle.

  26. For me, plysna is inextricably fused with/into tsevka (No 8).

  27. By which sound law did Greek lose the -n- in platos?

  28. I haven’t checked, but I guess it’s a case of a PIE syllabic “n” becoming Greek /a/.

  29. Lars (the original one) says:

    According to the ODS, pløs is originally of the sides of shoes like this; from a meaning ‘cheek’ derived from a meaning ‘swollen’ from Low German, related to obsolete High German plausen; ultimate meaning may be ‘fluff’ the way birds do with their feathers.

  30. Trond Engen says:

    I actually remember the moment I learned the word pløse f. for tongue of a shoe. I must have been about ten and was in a shoe store trying on a new pair of trainers when the lady helping me told me to straighten pløsa. I didn’t understand which part of the shoe she meant, since I knew the word only as a description of a half-empty leather ball — the kind you can play soccer with in lack of a better one, but which hits you so hard you almost pass out if you try using your head — and I had assumed it really meant some sort of rubber or leather sack for air.

  31. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    It’s interesting when body part words don’t agree between different registers of the same language. E.g. in medical Polish ręka is ‘hand’, dłoń is ‘palm’. In colloquial Polish ręka is ‘arm’ (or ‘hand’ depending on the context), dłoń is ‘hand’.

  32. That’s strange and interesting!

  33. In English, arm usually excludes hand, but leg does not so reliably exclude foot. (Obviously there are counterexamples like lose an arm/leg, which entails the loss of the hand/foot as well.)

  34. Earthtopus says:

    It seems to me that Ru. ‘plyusna’ could be translated by English ‘foot’ in non-technical self-reporting of injuries. If you’d broken/sprained a toe, you’d say so; if you’d broken/sprained your ankle, you’d say so; to say “I broke [a bone in] my foot” or “I sprained my foot” would seem to cover the area in question fairly well.

  35. Trond Engen says:

    Norwegian arm and bein includes hand and fot. Dialectally, fot may mean the whole leg. I don’t think I’ve heard hand for the whole arm.

  36. In English, arm usually excludes hand, but leg does not so reliably exclude foot.

    Really? I would say that it does. Examples?

    It’s interesting when body part words don’t agree between different registers of the same language.

    I am trying to think of some English examples, but the problem is that medical English is pretty Latinised.

    I suppose maybe you could say that colloquial English uses “throat” for “the front side of the neck and all the structures between it and the spine” rather than specifically “the trachea and larynx”, which is what it means in medical terms, as in “ear nose and throat”.

    And “the stomach” means the entire abdominal area to a layman, as in “punched in the stomach”, say, and just the specific organ of digestion to a medic.

  37. “I am trying to think of some English examples”

    In anatomy, the leg is only the part below the knee; the upper part is the thigh.

  38. And what part is the lower leg?

  39. Rodger C says:

    If this is the system I was taught in the US Army Medical Corps, “leg” is the lower leg while “arm,” confusingly, is the upper arm.

  40. Stu Clayton says:

    Trond: Norwegian arm and bein includes hand and fot. Dialectally, fot may mean the whole leg.

    In parts of southern Germany also, in particular around Stuttgart, Fuß can mean the whole leg. I remember this from working there 10 years ago round about. Very strange.

  41. I was thinking of diabetic leg ulcers, which include as a class diabetic foot ulcers. (I’ve had a few of the latter, and they are nasty, although I am a good healer for a diabetic: silvadene cream, advanced wound healing, and in extreme cases Das Boot (pronounced as in English, not as in German) do the job for me.)

    I can understand coopting leg to mean ‘calf-and-shin’, given that we have forearm for the lower arm but no corresponding term for the leg, as foreleg means something different.

    (Prove that a horse has an infinite number of legs. A horse has two legs in the back, and forelegs in the front, which makes six legs altogether. This is an odd number of legs for a mammal to have, but six is an even number. The only number that is both even and odd is infinity, so a horse must have an infinite number of legs. Q.E.D. ObHat: do any native anglophones differentiate between forelegs and four legs?)

  42. “In anatomy, the leg is only the part below the knee; the upper part is the thigh.”

    As used to be the case in normal English:

    SIR ANDREW: Shall we set about some revels?

    SIR TOBY BELCH: What shall we do else? Were we not born under Taurus?

    SIR ANDREW: Taurus! That’s sides and heart.

    SIR TOBY BELCH: No, sir, it is legs and thighs.

    … and is still the case, of course, for poultry.

  43. Bathrobe says:

    ashi in Japanese usually refers to the leg and foot. In some dialects of south China the 脚 jiǎo refers to the leg and foot.

  44. Trond Engen says:

    ajay: … and is still the case, of course, for poultry.

    Poultry and Scandinavians. No. legg means the part between the ankle and the knee. That, and a length between folds on a textile.

  45. Lars (the original one) says:

    And in Danish læggen is only the calf, the shinbone is skinnebenet.

  46. I have known people with Gullah accents time pronounce fore rhotically and four non-.

  47. Are you sure that didn’t have to do with whether the following word began with a vowel or not?

  48. @John Cowan: No, I can’t be certain that it doesn’t depend on first phoneme of the next word. So it is possible that four legs and forelegs might be homophonous. However, pronounced in isolation, fore and four were definitely different.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    Trond: legg means the part between the ankle and the knee. That, and a length between folds on a textile.

    In French the equivalents of these two words are completely different, and it is likely that there has been convergence of two lexemes in Norwegian (or Scandinavian). The equivalent of your “legg” is la jambe, but the word meaning “a length of textile of a certain width” (or something similar) is un lé, which according to the TLFI is from Latin latus (through regular changes). I forget the English equivalent but it is not “leg”,

  50. Another addition to the divergence of technical/popular names for the parts of body: Russian lokot’. In ordinary use means elbow, but in technical usage, part of the arm from elbow to wrist. Also, old unit of measure, but now including the wrist and fingers, that is the same as English ell.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    D.O. old unit of measure, but now including the wrist and fingers, that is the same as English ell.

    I think the unit in question is the cubit, much used in the Bible. In French this is une coudée, from le coude ‘elbow’.

  52. Also, old unit of measure, but now including the wrist and fingers, that is the same as English ell.

    I was surprised by this because I had a vague sense, based on reading TH White, AC Doyle etc, that an ell was much longer than a cubit, closer to a yard.
    And in fact it was; an English ell was a yard and a quarter, according to Wiki, and there were all sorts of other ells of wildly different lengths.

  53. An ell in my understanding is the amount of rope it takes to stretch from the fingers to around the elbow and back, more or less two cubits. In The Lord of the Rings, Sam measures out his rope in this fashion, saying “Five … ten … twenty … thirty ells, more or less.” This ell is a native word, cognate with Latin ulna ‘forearm, elbow’. The Tudors standardized it as 45 inches, which is pretty long.

  54. This ell is a native word, cognate with Latin ulna ‘forearm, elbow’.

    I was surprised to hear a long a in ‘aln’, the Swedish cognate.

  55. See el- ‘elbow, forearm’ in the AHD Indo-European Roots Appendix; confusingly, Old English eln, ‘forearm,’ could also mean ‘cubit.’

  56. The saying “Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile” was apparently originally the more plausible “Give him an inch and he’ll take an ell”. The OED lists to measure with the long/short ell ‘to measure unfairly as a buyer/seller’, and says that the King’s ell ‘Orion’s Belt’ was used in Early Modern Scots (most often called Middle Scots, but it’s 16C). We are also told that the Scotch [sic] ell was 37.2 inches and the Flemish ell a mere 27 inches, suggesting that the latter was a single line from fingers to elbow rather than a full turn of the rope.

  57. @John Cowan: I knew there was a shorter ell; I do not recall whether I ever knew just how much smaller it was, but I figured that it was obtained by looping the rope around the thumb instead of over the extended fingers. And that fits the 37.2 and 27 inch measurements; from the pocket of my thumb to me extended middle finger is a little under 5 inches, and I have fairly small hands for an adult Caucasian male.

  58. “the Flemish ell a mere 27 inches, suggesting that the latter was a single line from fingers to elbow rather than a full turn of the rope”

    I am a reasonably tall adult human and the line from the tip of my middle finger to the point of my elbow is just over 18 inches. If you measure 27 inches from fingers to elbow then you are some sort of giant bat.

  59. dainichi says:

    > I was surprised to hear a long a in ‘aln’, the Swedish cognate.

    The Swedish archaic spelling and (current) Danish spelling “alen” better shows the length.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    27 inches is more likely to be fingertips to shoulder, perhaps over the tip of the elbow.

  61. January First-of-May says:

    Russian actually had two different elbow-ish measures – the other one being the arshin, of 28 inches. Sadly I have forgotten how many inches the lokot’ was (assuming that there even is a standard number).

  62. In parts of southern Germany also, in particular around Stuttgart, Fuß can mean the whole leg

    Also true, according to Herta Müller, of the dialect of the Banat Swabians. I recall a passage from one of her stories where she mentions that „Bein“ was a funny concept she had to learn in school.

  63. Trond Engen says:

    Me: That, and a length between folds on a textile.

    I added this tongue half-in-cheek and forgot to follow up. The words are not the same, although they may ultimately be related. The textile meaning is a neuter word transparently formed from the verb legge “lay”. The “leg” word ON leggr < *lagjaz m. is confined to Germanic (at best) and has no certain etymology, but Bjorvand & Lindeman suggest that its derived from the ablaut grade *lag- of the verb *legjan- “lie”, i.e. the same grade that was used to form the causative *lagijan- “lay”. In its oldest attestations it was common in compounds such as armleggr “upper arm” and handleggr “lower arm”, so they suggest a meaning “limb”. For the semantics they suggest “lying or spanning element” and cite parallels in newer compound formations with -ligger “beam”: It could be another building term applied metaphorically to the human body.

  64. Stu Clayton says:

    M.-L.: … un lé, which according to the TLFI is from Latin latus (through regular changes). I forget the English equivalent but it is not “leg”

    I remember being with my mother a few times when she bought fabric from a bolt. The fabric was carefully unrolled and measured out against a yardstick or equivalent, and cut off to my mother’s specification.

    The length of fabric between two bolt “folds” was completely irrelevant. My mother, and I assume all women who made their own dresses, wanted a certain amount of fabric for the pattern. No more, no less. Yards and inches were their units of measure, not how the fabric was wrapped around the bolt.

    Of course I’m no expert, but I doubt that a small-time buyer has much use for “length between two folds” as a unit of measurement, regardless of whether there is a word for that in English.

    Perhaps knowledge of this “lé” speeded up the process of unrolling (unfurling !) when you needed 10 yards, to get a quick approximation. But the exact length the buyer left the store with had always been measured against a yardstick, not eyeballed. Frugality was the point of it all.

  65. David Marjanović says:

    To be fair about fei, it must be said that it is exclusively Bavarian; I think not even Austrians use it

    Correct. I’m still not sure what exactly it means/how exactly it’s used.

    adjectival uses are much more common in English: metatarsal/metatarsus ~ 10

    Most of these probably aren’t really adjectival, but refer to individual metatarsal bones = metatarsals.

    ‘fluff’ the way birds do with their feathers

    aufplustern, long /uː/

    In anatomy, the leg is only the part below the knee; the upper part is the thigh.

    So what does shank mean? Or is it simply so obsolete even the Army can’t dig it up?

    „Bein“ was a funny concept she had to learn in school

    That’s widespread, then; dialects like mine lack the concepts of “arm” and “leg” – “hand” and “foot” are extended to some degree, but generally the topics are just avoided or worded differently. The word Arm is missing (though Ärmel “sleeve” is not); Bein is moribund – and still means “bone”; /ˈhaksn̩/ (m.), a word with root cognates* all over IE like Latin coxa “hip”, is sometimes used for “leg” or thereabouts, but is rather a dysphemism unless it refers to a cut of pork, namely the thigh, Standard Schweinshaxe (f.).

    I’ve always understood Arm & Bein to include hand & foot; I don’t think I noticed the English equivalents aren’t so equivalent.

    In anatomical French, the bone called ulna elsewhere is usually called cubitus. In (literary but not downright anatomical) German, Elle refers to the same bone as well as to a cubit; the other bone (the radius) is called Speiche, “spoke”.

    *I don’t know what happened to the vowel, which appears to have undergone umlaut.

  66. Lars (the original one) says:

    @m-l: One ‘unrolling’ of a bolt of cloth would not make a good unit of measurement anyway, since the outer windings are much longer than the inner ones. Some I’ve seen look like it’s a factor of two at least.

    (Not to mention that many bolts are wound on a round stick so it would be hard to be consistent in measuring exactly a whole number of rotations. But I assume you were talking about the ones that have a thin board in the middle so they are flat on both sides).

  67. Similar to Croatian – though there are words for “hand” and “foot”, it is more common to refer to arms and legs. Eg when referring to the particular body part on which you would wear gloves and socks, or when saying kicked a ball or caught a ball.

    Also for the “foot” as a measure: although the Anglo-American measurement is invariably translated as “stopa” (foot), it was the case that before metrication, that particular measurement was more commonly known as “noga” (leg) or “cipeliš” (shoe) in Croatian.

  68. Shank is indeed the relevant part of the leg, but colloquially it means ‘knife’ (probably by the intermediate sense ‘long thin part of a tool’) and that’s the meaning that first comes to my mind. There is an old expression “to go by shank’s mare” (or “Shank’s”), meaning ‘to walk’.

  69. Shank is used when describing a cut of meat, but not for people.

  70. In my Galway secondary school in the 80s you’d occasionally hear “to shank it” (“Are you taking the bus or are you shanking it?”). I thought it was a brief local fad, but OED has quotes from 1773. The last one is 1901, though, and they’re all Scottish (“He was michty weel pleased to… shank awa hame to Lempockshaws”), so maybe my classmates reinvented it.

    I occasionally heard “Shank’s mare” from friends too, but probably in allusion to the speech of parents/grandparents.

  71. The colloquial meaning of shank may also have been influenced by shiv, due to the similarity in sound. Both words can be used to mean an improvised knife, particularly when used as a weapon. They are most commonly discussed in the context of prisons.

  72. Lars (the original one) says:

    And shank is cognate to Schenkel which I don’t any of the resident Germans has mentioned?

  73. Trond Engen says:

    Norw. skank is the part of the back leg between the knee and the hock. As a cut of meat it can be very much for people.

  74. David Marjanović says:

    And shank is cognate to Schenkel which I don’t any of the resident Germans has mentioned?

    Sure, except that Schenkel must be a diminutive. It’s obsolete (e.g. Napoleon konnte ein Pferd nicht stark genug zwischen die Schenkel nehmen “N. sat on a horse like a loosely attached sack of potatoes”) outside of the compounds Oberschenkel “thigh” and Unterschenkel “lower leg”, which remain in common use.

  75. Schenkel obsolete? What do they call thighs in Austrian erotic literature? And no German supermarket would be complete without Hähnchenschenkel (chicken legs). Not to mention the use as a term in geometry.

  76. It’s all about the Gegen(d)beispiele (h/t Stu Clayton).

    ObHat: It turns out that Gegend and gegen- have a common origin, a calque of Latin contra. The Latin phrase terra contrata ‘spread-out land, region’ gives us country in English via French.

  77. marie-lucie says:

    JC: The Latin phrase terra contrata ‘spread-out land, region’ gives us country in English via French.

    Very interesting! I had no idea of the Latin original.

    The French word in question is la contrée, a direct descendant of the Latin word. It does not quite mean “country” but rather “countryside”, such as the rural landscape you see from a height. It is not a legal or administrative term.

  78. marie-lucie says:

    Stu: un lé

    Your description of what happens in a fabric store, measuring and cutting the required length of fabric for a specific garment, is exactly what is still done today. But If I were to buy, say, 3 metres of cotton cloth to make a summer dress, I would not call the cut piece of fabric “un lé”, even though it is ‘a length of fabric of uniform or gradual width’. In dressmaking terms, “un lé” is a part of a finished garment.

    Fashions come and go, but sometimes you can still see skirts consisting of vertical strips of fabric, of the same or a different colour, narrower at the waist and gradually widening towards the lowest part. Sometimes these strips consist of men’s ties! which have the required shape. Each of these strips can be called “un lé”. Or suppose a garment is too small for the person who will wear it – such as a dress so beloved by a little girl that she is desperate to wear it again even though it is now too small. In a family with several generations of seamstresses (such as mine), where most female garments were made at home, more fabric was bought than necessary so that dresses and skirts could be enlarged, at least for children. The child is now too large: no problem, you measure and cut enough of the extra fabric (saved for the purpose) for a “lé” to be inserted after making a vertical cut in the back or side of the garment. Then you add fabric at the bottom too. Years ago I had a teacher who claimed that in their youth she and her sisters literally wore the same dresses from 5 to 18 years old! The dresses being enlarged (in length and width) every year or two.

    There is another meaning for “le lé”, which I learned from dictionaries: the path along a canal where horses used to walk while hauling barges against the current (before engines replaced them). These paths were indeed “long strips of even width”.

  79. m-l: I think that what you are describing is called a (side) panel in English sewing vocabulary. If it is a fraction of a circle rather than more or less equal-width, it is a godet, used “to lengthen the free edge [of a skirt or dress], and to make a garment roomier and to add a wavy edge.”

  80. And the other meaning is towpath in English. The word is much more common in Britain than elsewhere, but I think that has more to do with the number of canals criss-crossing the landscape than any real linguistic difference. (The OED has a quote from George Washington using the word.)

  81. Norw. skank is the part of the back leg between the knee and the hock.

    lambalæri

    I wonder what the Norwegian cognate of læri would be.

  82. Lars (the original one) says:

    It’s lår (‘thighs’).

  83. David Marjanović says:

    What do they call thighs in Austrian erotic literature?

    No idea. The word probably occurs there, but I’d consider it too vague to mean specifically “thighs”; that’s Oberschenkel.

    And no German supermarket would be complete without Hähnchenschenkel (chicken legs).

    I’d rather go with Hühnerkeulen here, though that’s more or less specifically the lower leg (drumstick).

    Not to mention the use as a term in geometry.

    Oh yes. Gleichschenk(e)liges Dreieck “isosceles triangle”.

  84. marie-lucie says:

    JC: panel, godet

    Thanks for the additional vocabulary. I know “panel”, which recalls le panneau, something which I think of as wider than le lé which is quite narrow compared to the whole garment, unlike the panneau which is usually a prominent design feature.

    As for “godet”, I don’t know this English word at all. There must be a French equivalent, since I know exactly what you mean from your description. Perhaps un volant plat (lit. a flat flounce).

    But I am surprised at this word, since there is a French word le godet which has a completely different meaning: a small metal cup, higher than wide, used to hold a liquid, for instance for water while painting watercolours. It may have a handle to hook it over something (unlike a tea cup handle). It is not normally intended to drink from.

  85. m-l:

    That meaning exists in English too, though now only in historical contexts. It must be an old borrowing, as it is pronounced either with or without final /t/. It has an English synonym goddard, -art, apparently a misapplication of the French suffix -ard. However, the OED gives no explanation of the semantic transition.

    As for the god- root, it is of Dutch or Low German origin, codde ‘staff, club, cylindrical piece of wood’.

    Brett: Gale and I spent our honeymoon at a B & B called the Golden Pheasant, on the Delaware River north of New Hope, Pennsylvania. The back of the inn opens onto the towpath (so called) of the Delaware Canal, which runs parallel to the river on the western (Pennsylvania) side at that point. So I think the term towpath is still current for anyone living or working near a canal.

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