As mentioned in the thread that wouldn’t die (where even as we speak le Cimentier Martien is leading a dubious group of revelers in some sort of catered affair), I am reading Proust to my wife in the evenings, and we recently hit the following in our passage through Mme. Swann’s house (also frequently the scene of dubious gatherings):
But at the same time, to these animated dresses the complication of their trimmings, none of which had any practical utility or served any visible purpose, added something detached, pensive, secret, in harmony with the melancholy which Mme Swann still retained, at least in the shadows under her eyes and the drooping arches of her hands. Beneath the profusion of sapphire charms, enamelled four-leaf clovers, silver medals, gold medallions, turquoise amulets, ruby chains and topaz chestnuts there would be on the dress itself some design carried out in colour which pursued across the surface of an inserted panel a preconceived existence of its own, some row of little satin buttons which buttoned nothing and could not be unbuttoned, a strip of braid that sought to please the eye with the minuteness, the discretion of a delicate reminder; and these, as well as the jewels, gave the impression—having otherwise no possible justification—of disclosing a secret intention, being a pledge of affection, keeping a secret, ministering to a superstition, commemorating a recovery from sickness, a granted wish, a love affair or a philopena.
(It says something about Proust that that is the minimum amount of context needed to understand how he was using the last word. The original French is in the extended entry.) We had no idea what philopena might mean; fortunately, I keep the Cassell Concise Dictionary by the bed, so I was able to learn at once that it was “a game in which two people share the double kernel of a nut, the first being entitled to a forfeit, under certain conditions, on the next meeting with the other sharer; the kernel so shared; the forfeit.” The etymology given was “corr[uption] of G[erman] Vielliebchen, dim[inutive] of viellieb (viel, much, lieb dear).” The next day, I checked with the OED and discovered both the sense and the etymology were more complicated:
[Immediate origin unknown. Cf. French philippine (1869 in the phrase Bonjour, Philippine! (see note below), 1898 denoting the game, c1900 denoting an almond or nut with a double kernel), Dutch filippien (1883 or earlier denoting the game; also in sense ‘nut with a double kernel’; now usu. filippine), Danish filippine (1851 as philipine denoting the game, a1883 in sense ‘nut with a double kernel’; also as philippine (1868-73 or earlier)), Swedish filipin (1881 denoting the game, 1920 in sense ‘almond or nut with a double kernel’), and German Vielliebchen (1822 denoting the game, also denoting an almond or nut with a double kernel; also as Filipchen, Philippinchen (now regional; cf. German regional (Rhineland) Filipche, Filipke, Philippche, etc., (Luxemburg) Philippchen)). The relationship between these words is unclear (see note). Later forms in -paene, -pena, -poena app. show folk-etymological alteration after PHILO- comb. form and POENA n. or its etymon classical Latin poena.
Both the French and German words app. represent folk-etymological alterations, but it is unclear whether the French word was borrowed from the German or vice versa. Luxemburger Wörterbuch (1950) I. 370, s.v. Philippchen, suggests that the German word is ult. < VALENTINE n., via French valentin or its corresponding feminine valentine, which was altered to philippine and thence borrowed into Mosel Franconian dialects of German, and etymological dictionaries of French and German have largely accepted this view. However, there are serious difficulties: the motive for folk-etymological alteration within French is unknown (and without folk-etymological influence, the development of French valentin or valentine into philippine is impossible), and only the sense ‘sweetheart’ or ‘suitor’, not ‘Valentine's Day present’, appears to be recorded for valentin and valentine in French.
The traditional greeting in the German game (see sense 1) is Guten Morgen, Vielliebchen!; in the French game it is Bon jour, Philippine!]
1. A game or custom, originating in Germany, in which a gift or forfeit may be claimed by the first of two people who have shared a nut with two kernels to say ‘philopena’ at their next meeting; an occasion on which this is done; a gift or forfeit claimed in this way. Also: a nut with a double kernel, or a kernel from such a nut.
Now, that’s some hardcore etymology. A rather prim look at the game is displayed in a century-old Sears Roebuck catalog (quoted in David Lewis Cohn’s The Good Old Days: History of American Morals and Manners as Seen through the Sears Roebuck Catalogs), which says:
Another and highly reprehensible way of extorting a gift is to have what is called a philopena with a gentleman. This very silly joke is when a young lady, in cracking almonds, chances to find two kernels in one shell; she shares them with a beau; and whichever calls out ‘philopena’ on their next meeting, is entitled to receive a present from the other; and she is to remind him of it till he remembers to comply. . . .
There is a great want of delicacy and self-respect in philopenaism, and no lady who has a proper sense of her dignity as a lady will engage in anything of the sort.
And Frank R. Stockton’s story “The Philopena” begins by describing a particularly drastic forfeit:
There were once a Prince and a Princess who, when quite young, ate a philopena together. They agreed that the one who, at any hour after sunrise the next day, should accept any thing from the other—the giver at the same time saying “Philopena!”—should be the loser, and that the loser should marry the other.
The original Proust quote:
Mais en même temps à ces robes si vives, la complication des «garnitures» sans utilité pratique, sans raison d’être visible, ajoutait quelque chose de désintéressé, de pensif, de secret, qui s’accordait à la mélancolie que Mme Swann gardait toujours au moins dans la cernure de ses yeux et les phalanges de ses mains. Sous la profusion des porte-bonheur en saphir, des trèfles à quatre feuilles d’émail, des médailles d’argent, des médaillons d’or, des amulettes de turquoise, des chaînettes de rubis, des châtaignes de topaze, il y avait dans la robe elle-même tel dessin colorié poursuivant sur un empiècement rapporté son existence antérieure, telle rangée de petits boutons de satin qui ne boutonnaient rien et ne pouvaient pas se déboutonner, une soutache cherchant à faire plaisir avec la minutie, la discrétion d’un rappel délicat, lesquels, tout autant que les bijoux, avaient l’air — n’ayant sans cela aucune justification possible — de déceler une intention, d’être un gage de tendresse, de retenir une confidence, de répondre à une superstition, de garder le souvenir d’une guérison, d’un vu, d’un amour ou d’une philippine.