Still reading Durrell (and now almost done with Balthazar), I ran across the word parquet used in the French sense of ‘prosecutor’s office’ and decided to look it up in the OED. Much to my surprise, it turns out to be a French diminutive of parc ‘park’; neither the OED nor the French dictionaries I’ve consulted explain the semantic transition. So of course I had to look up park, where I found a far more complicated etymology than I had expected (I’ve pruned some of the more remote twigs of information):

< Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French, French parc large enclosed area of land or woodland where one keeps and raises animals for the hunt (1160-74), enclosed place planted with fruit trees, orchard (c1220-78), mobile enclosure where one keeps livestock when they sleep in the fields, area thus enclosed (1269), large enclosed area of land or woodland maintained for the decoration of a castle or country house, or for pleasure or recreation, etc. (1337), fortified camp (end of the 15th cent. …), collection of vehicles which an army makes use of (1823 …), prob. < post-classical Latin parricus fence (8th cent. in Ripuar. Laws as parracus, but prob. earlier: see below), pen for animals (9th cent.), park, enclosure (12th cent. in a British source; from 13th cent. as parrocus), prob. < an unattested *parra pole, rod (cf. Spanish parra artificially supported vine, Catalan parra (type of) vine, Portuguese parra grapevine leaf; perh. ult. related to the base of Old French barre BAR n.1) + -icus -IC suffix. Cf. post-classical Latin parcus park, enclosure (freq. from 9th cent. in British sources), fence (12th cent. in a British source), pen for animals (freq. from 13th cent. in British sources), Old Occitan, Occitan pargue, parc, Italian parco …, Spanish parque …, Portuguese parque …, German Park (from early 17th cent. in travel writings, after English and French; 15th cent. in Middle High German in sense ‘compound, enclosure’; < French). Cf. PARC n.

  Currency of post-classical Latin parricus earlier than the date of its first recorded attestation is suggested by the probable early West Germanic loan represented by PARROCK n., and also by the widespread currency of reflexes in Gallo-Romance dialects and in northern Italy. Most (although not all) recent commentators have regarded it as less likely that the word is a borrowing from Germanic into Latin (as frequently suggested in the past), on account of: (1) the initial p- (which is very rare in Germanic (see P n.), although it might be explained if the word were an earlier borrowing in Germanic from another language and not an inherited Indo-European word; this might also explain the fact that the word is recorded only in West Germanic); (2) the lack of evidence for a corresponding simplex in Germanic (although see PARROCK n. for discussion of PAR n.2 and PAR v.1); (3) the Latin suffix (although it is uncertain whether the vocalism of the last syllable in the continental West Germanic forms rules out the Germanic suffix -OCK suffix); (4) the possibility of Celtic cognates for the Latin word (although it is unclear what, if any, evidence there is to support the forms posited, e.g. Welsh parr enclosed place, Breton par plot of land); and (5) the possible connection with the base of Old French barre BAR n.1 There is thus no completely convincing argument for either a Latin or a Germanic origin. In favour of a Germanic origin, J. Corominas (Diccionario Crítico Etimológico de la Lengua Castellana (1985) s.v. parra) argues that Occitan parran enclosure, garden (a1168) is likely to be a borrowing from Germanic on formal grounds, and hence that the same is likely to apply for the other Romance words.
  Welsh parc and Irish páirc are either < English or directly < French; Middle Breton, Breton park is < French.

Any other dictionary would replace almost all of that by the statement “There is no convincing argument for either a Latin or a Germanic origin,” but the OED lets you peer into the etymologist’s workshop and (if you are so inclined) decide for yourself where the probabilities lie.


  1. marie-lucie says:

    Was one of the “twigs” you snipped off, “parc” with the meaning “playpen”?
    I never connected “parquet” and “parc” and don’t know why the word “parquet” acquired a judicial meaning, but it is possible that originally the wooden “parquet” did not cover a floor wall-to-wall but only a smaller area – somewhat like the smallish wooden dance floors in some nightclubs. So back to the Petit Robert, which basically agrees about “parquet” and adds precisions (I paraphrase):
    1) “parquet” (a diminutive form of “parc”) = “espace délimité” – an area which is defined (here, by a distinct type of flooring) and possibly confined (by some kind of barrier); more specifically: (1366) an area of a court of justice where judges and lawyers assembled, and later (1549) a room or area reserved for members of the prosecutor’s office, hence also the group of magistrates so involved;
    2) (concrete technical meanings applying to a type of wooden floor or a supporting platform in a boiler room).

  2. So the judicial meaning has a derivation similar to the English “bar” referring to all the barristers or lawyers admitted to practice in a particular jurisdiction, which in turn comes from the “bar” or railing that encloses the area where the a court’s business is transacted — same as the 1366 “parquet” citation above.
    So how come I “park” my car?

  3. marie-lucie says:

    Probably because before it became customary to leave one’s car on the street, the first cars (then very expensive) were “parked” in a garage or other enclosure.
    The French word for “bar” in a judicial sense is “le barreau”, designating the barristers (“avocats au barreau”), while “le parquet” means the prosecutors.

  4. Parquet is a term I came across when translating some documents from DR Congo. I assume it’s moved into the wider reaches of Francophony.
    Michael Pearce’s splendid ‘Mamur Zapt’ series about a Welshman serving as the secret police chief in early 20th century Cairo) regularly mentions the Parquet. The British ran the police and the army, while the French organised the judiciar.

  5. I did check out parque of Valery’s La Jeune Parque (= one of the Latin Fates, e.g. Nona, Decima, and Morta)and it comes from the Latin Parcae. Too bad — what a fun derivation that would have been.,and it come

  6. marie-lucie says:

    Another derivative of “park” is the verb “parquer”, as in “Les Indiens sont encore parqués dans les réserves” (a sentence one comes across in French descriptions of North America). This does not mean that hey are “parked” together with their cars but stuck in reservations like cattle in pens.

  7. David Marjanović says:

    Oh man! That means there’s an ancient German cognate: Pferch, a rather obsolete word denoting some kind of fenced area for livestock. Zusammengepfercht means “squeezed together like sardines”.
    Still, this doesn’t mean it’s not a loan from Vulgar Latin into Proto-West Germanic or something. The High German consonant shift happened late enough, and the vowel steamrollering (all vowels became e or disappeared, unless they escaped) came even later.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    David, that is very interesting. For both form and meaning I agree with you that Pferch could be a loan from Latin parc-us. Are you in a position to follow up the suggestion through other sources? I would be interested to know more about it.

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