PEDIMENT.

In the Immensikoff thread, iakon mentioned that according to the Online Etymological Dictionary pediment is “apparently a dialectal garbling of pyramid.” If you had asked me where it came from, I would have said “I suppose a Latin pedimentum,” but as it turns out there is no such word in Latin. Here’s the OED’s etymology (updated September 2005):

Origin uncertain; perhaps alteration of pyramid n. (compare pyramid n. 3a), based on a colloquial or regional pronunciation of the word (compare forms s.v.), with assimilation of the final syllable to -ment suffix.
An alternative derivation as an aphetic form of operiment n. ["A covering," from Classical Latin operīmentum covering, cover < operīre to cover] has also been suggested. In quot. 1592 at sense 1aα. ["The Coronices..were corrospondent and agreeing with the faling out of the whol worke, the Stilliced or Perimeter [Margin. A periment in corrupt English]“] the word is considered an alteration of perimeter n.; although supported by an isolated Middle English variant perimentre of perimeter n., the development is unlikely for semantic and phonological reasons.
The β forms [i.e., with ped- rather than per-] show assimilation of the first element to classical Latin ped- , pedi- [...]; compare classical Latin pedāmentum stake or prop for vines and later pedament n., also Italian †pedamento foundation, groundwork, base, footing (1499, 1611 in Florio). The form pedament perhaps shows influence of Italian pedamento; the form piedment probably shows influence of French pied (see pied-à-terre n.).
The association of the first element with Latin ped- also influenced the semantic development (see sense 2). Compare pedestal n.

The first citation after the 1592 alteration of perimeter is from 1601–2 (“and for a periment in the middest of the same wanscott xxs”), and the first with the ped- spelling is from 1664 (J. Evelyn Acct. Archit. in tr. R. Fréart Parallel Antient Archit. 140: “Those Roofs which exalted themselves above the Cornices had usually in face a Triangular plaine or Gabel (that when our Workmen make not so acute and pointed they call a Pedament) which the Antients nam’d Tympanum”).
Such a simple-looking word to conceal such mysteries!

Comments

  1. If you take a look at the Wikipedia articles on ‘pediment’, you’ll find that the almost universal word in Western languages is fronton or something similar.
    The illustrations at the French article also give a much better idea what a pediment (or fronton) actually is.

  2. Wow, that really is almost universal; I had no idea. Even Georgian uses phrontoni. The only exceptions I can see among European languages are Greek αέτωμα, Finnish päätykolmio (‘end-triangle’), and Icelandic bjór (aka gaflbrík or gaflhlað).

  3. Bjór? How the hell does a language end up with a basic-sounding monosyllable for ‘pediment’?

  4. There is also German (Giebel).
    Japanese and Korean have borrowed the English term. Vietnamese and Chinese use descriptive names.

  5. Anent “perimeter”, have you noticed how many people use “parameter” as if they think it means “perimeter”?
    I suppose that we descriptivists will assert that it therefore does mean perimeter.

  6. No, I haven’t, but it doesn’t sound like the sort of error that’s likely to become universal—too many people know and use the correct/traditional form, and it’s an uncommon enough word that it’s likely to continue to be used mainly by people who know the correct form (so that the users of the innovative form will eventually get corrected).

  7. Dearie, I agree that many people use the word “parameter” in a way that can be irritating, in a sort of buzzword way, to those who understand the word in a specific mathematical sense. In this usage, I would say that it sometimes seems to mean something like “maximum” or “limiting value”, but I’m not sure that this stems from confusion with the word “perimeter”.

  8. Could be, Ø, but when someone witters about something being “within the parameter”, what is one to think? But maybe you’re right: someone dim enough to say “within the parameter” is probably too dim to know the word “perimeter” anyway.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    The French word le fronton is self-explanatory (from le front ‘forehead’). It does not have to be a flattened triangle like the one on the Parthenon and similar buildings, it could be the high fake facade on shops, etc seen in movies about the Wile West.
    Is German Giebel the same as Eng gable? In French this is le pignon. The difference with le fronton is that a gable or pignon is the top of the wall above which the two slopes of a roof meet, while le fronton is or at least looks like something added at the top of this wall.

  10. dearieme: Apart from those who use fairly advanced mathematics, or who for the moment are being made to study it, it seems unlikely that much of anyone would have use for the word parameter in the “correct” sense that you and I are thinking of. The same is less true of the word perimeter, because it gets used to refer to geographical boundaries, barbed-wire fences, and such. I doubt that anybody refers to a geographical boundary or a security fence as a parameter.
    And if someone says things like “within the parameter”, it doesn’t mean that they are dim. It most likely means that they have heard other people say “within the parameter”, and that they didn’t learn the mathematical meaning of “parameter” in school.

  11. m-l, there’s no Wikipedia article on ‘pediment’ in German. I got Giebel from Google Translate. And yes, there is a German article on ‘Giebel’, linking to ‘gable’, ‘pignon’, etc.

  12. From looking up “gable”, it seems as if a pediment is simply a decorative type of gable.

  13. Technically, the maximum is a statistical parameter, though it’s a less useful one than the median, mean, or standard deviation.

  14. And if someone says things like “within the parameter”, it doesn’t mean that they are dim. It most likely means that they have heard other people say “within the parameter”, and that they didn’t learn the mathematical meaning of “parameter” in school.
    Exactly. And the mathematical meaning is not the be-all and end-all; scientists have to get used to the fact that the general public takes over their technical terms and uses them in a different sense (cf. “relativity,” “quantum leap,” etc.).

  15. Thanks, Language, for taking my unsatisfactory finding through more satisfying twisting and stretching of the intellect. And thanks to those who added more twists and stretches. ‘Fronton’ and ‘front’ really hit the nail on the head (ahem). The forehead on western commercial building is called a false front and continued in the cities with prefab iron. There was (and maybe is) a wooden one in Vancouver occupied by an artist’s collective that called itself the Western Front, headed by an artist returned from a long residence in Berlin.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    LH: scientists have to get used to the fact that the general public takes over their technical terms and uses them in a different sense (cf. “relativity,” “quantum leap,” etc.).
    I would add passive voice, unfortunately.
    vasha: I think that a pediment is not only decorative but added to the wall. Painting a gable would not make it into a pediment.
    iakon: Where was the Western Front in vancouver? when was it active?

  17. I have no objection to the public’s use of “quantum leap” – it seems to me to be precious to object, because they’ve got the spirit of the thing right.
    Their use of “everything’s relative” is hard to construe.
    Anyway, so what does “parameter” mean now, to a descriptivist?

  18. Trond Engen says:

    Bjór? How the hell does a language end up with a basic-sounding monosyllable for ‘pediment’?
    My ON dictionary glosses bjórr as (in my translation)
    bjórr m. I strong beer (often of imported)
    bjórr m. II 1. triangular piece, e,g in a shoe. 2. “gabel on a house, especially the upper triangular wall. 3. = bjórtjald. Cloth for a gabel wall. 4. triangular piece of land.
    bjórr m. III beaver, beaver fur; byname for hard worker.
    If I may play the rogue semanticist again, I’d say that II and III is the same word and the semantic route is “beaver” -&gt “beaver fur” -&gt “triangular piece of fur” -&gt “triangular piece” -&gt “triangular wall”. There’s a weak link in that the beaver pelts is broad in the back and narrow in front, but not really triangular. I have to assume that it was cut into (near) triangular pieces to be fit together, but I haven’t been able to find anything decisive about it. If I only could think of an example of beaver used to mean something furry and triangular.

  19. m-l, it was an a street I didn’t know, in a part of town with which I was unfamiliar, but I found it (in the company of a Frenchwoman, as it happens) via a telephone directory. So a search in directories (either telephonic or civic) would find it, if my fading recall skills could guess at a time period. Late seventies, late eighties?
    Not very helpfull, I’m afraid.

  20. Late seventies.

  21. Well done, Trond! I’m happy to accept your rogue explanation pending further developments.

  22. Merriam-Webster Online gives this sense of parameter, without comment:
        :
    limit, boundary —usually used in plural <the parameters of science fiction>
    [link]   I think this sense is perfectly standard nowadays, even if it did arise by confusion with a different word.

  23. m-l:
    I googled Western Front and found it is still in existence at the corner of E 8th Ave and Scotia St one block E of Kingsway and one block N of E Broadway. The area of town seemed right so I checked google streetview: unfortunately it’s not the original building, and it may not be the original location.

  24. It was founded in 1973, but the name of the artist I knew is not mentioned.

  25. Trond Engen says:

    marie-lucie: Is German Giebel the same as Eng gable?
    I forgot this. It’s the same word, although in slightly different forms. The Germanic meanings are ranging from “end wall” over “head” to “top”, pointing to something like “scull”. According to B&L it’s cognate with Greek kephale “head” and some Tocharian forms, pointing to PIE *ghebh(V)l- “cranium?”.

  26. > pyramid -> pediment
    This recalls Land of the Pharaohs, in which James Robertson Justice’s flavour of Scots-influenced RP renders “pyramid” as “piddymid”.

  27. Anyway, so what does “parameter” mean now, to a descriptivist?
    That’s a very off-putting way of asking the question, and unclear, too.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks iakon. I was living in the Vancouver area at the time, but I don’t recall hearing about it. Perhaps I simply forgot.

  29. Jonathan D says:

    I find it very unlikely that any common use of parameter(s) has a significant link with perimeter. Once the term moved out of conics to more generally being a variable, parameters could describe all sorts of things. In situations such as control charting limits often became parameters that needed to be set, and so we have “within the parameters”. It seems unremearkable for the phrase to then be used even when it would be more precise to say “within the range described by the parameters”, and take on a life of its own from there.
    Having said that, “within the parameter” (singular) could well be confusion with perimeter – I’ve just never seen it.

  30. Trond: bjórr m. … 4. triangular piece of land. … If I only could think of an example of beaver used to mean something furry and triangular.
    Here you see two furry, triangular items forming the collar of a rabbit fur coat. The literary figure whose dialectal name is Bjórr Rabbit may be the missing link. He lived in a briar patch, which like the fur in question is known to be scratchy.

  31. Trond Engen says:

    Thanks, Stu. There are plenty of examples on the net of furcoats made from triangular cuts, and I found a couple of trapper’s manuals describing the cutting, but I couldn’t find anything suggesting that this may have been more typical for beaver pelts than other types of fur. Maybe it’s just that beaver was the preferred type of pelts for some particular triangular piece at the time and place of the coinage.

  32. Trond Engen says:

    I forgot to edit the URL’s. Sorry about that. I don’t think it matters much, though.

  33. If I only could think of an example of beaver used to mean something furry and triangular
    Trond, you are, of course, being facetious here. Grumbly is the last person to ask about things like that… :)

  34. If I only could think of an example of beaver used to mean something furry and triangular
    Trond, you are, of course, being facetious here. Grumbly is the last person to ask about things like that… :)

  35. And yet I knew what he meant ! One doesn’t have to stoop to conquer this subject, there are books and films aplenty about it.

  36. bjórr m. I strong beer (often of imported)
    I think this is a triangle as well, the red one on bottles of Bass beer, as at the Folies-Bergère in Manet’s painting.

  37. My ON dictionary glosses bjórr as (in my translation)
    bjórr m. I strong beer (often of imported)

    With respect to your ON dictionary, I fear it may be dealing with a false friend here, and “bjórr” very probably doesn’t mean “beer”.
    “Bjórr” looks to have been cognate with Old English “beór”, and the late Christine Fell, Professor of Early English Studies at the University of Nottingham, suggested some 38 years ago, in a paper called “Old English beór“, published in Leeds Studies in English New Series Vol VII, 1974, that “beór” (and by implication “bjórr”) wasn’t “beer” but more likely cider, or perhaps strong mead.

  38. Trond Engen says:

    I certainly won’t argue over beer with a zythophile!
    But I didn’t man to imply a connection with entry I, the “bear” word. My point was the possible connection of entries II and III, and I quoted all three for completeness.

  39. Trond Engen says:

    The “beer” word, I mean. The “bear” word, OTOH, is probably related to ‘beaver’.

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