Rout and Conversazione.

A passage of linguistic interest from Ford Madox Ford’s Ancient Lights and Certain New Reflections (he is describing the late Victorian period when he was growing up):

Across the front of another confectioner’s near here is painted the inscription, “Routs catered for.” What was a rout? I suppose it was some sort of party, but what did you do when you got there? I remember reading a description by Albert Smith of a conversazione at somebody’s private house, and a conversazione in those days was the most modern form of entertainment. Apparently it consisted in taking a lady’s arm and wandering round among showcases.

There’s a description of a conversazione in one of Trollope’s early novels, and we talked about routs here (I think I would now be more tolerant of translating раут as “rout”). Another passage:

The word “exquisite” has gone almost as completely out of our vocabulary as the words “pot luck.” And for the same reason. We are no longer expected to take pot luck, because our hostess, by means of the telephone, can always get from round the corner some sort of ready-made confection that has only to be stood for ten minutes in a bain-marie to form a course of an indifferent dinner.

It’s interesting that he felt “pot luck” would no longer be understood by young Englishmen circa 1910; I’m pretty sure it’s been in continuous use in America, though it’s now mashed together as “potluck.”

Comments

  1. Would ‘rout’ be /ɹuːt/ or /ɹaʊt/ ?

    And how did UKians and USians end up with a different pronunciation of ‘ route’ ?

  2. I think he’s using “taking pot luck” to mean accepting whatever the host has on hand to serve, not the modern American sense of each guest bringing their own dish to contribute to the meal.

  3. Every year I am invited to a “Research Conversazione” held by a university faculty to show the work of their students. Now I know where the name came from.

  4. I think he’s using “taking pot luck” to mean accepting whatever the host has on hand to serve, not the modern American sense of each guest bringing their own dish to contribute to the meal.

    Is that the modern American sense? Ah well, just another piece of evidence that I’m not modern; to me it still has the original sense. If I said “Come on over to our place if you’re willing to take potluck,” I wouldn’t expect my invitee to bring anything.

  5. I was going to suggest that the shift in meaning might be due to confusion with ‘potlatch’, but the OED thinks it’s more likely the influence went in the other direction.

    Sometimes I learn that some native speaker intuition I have about Russian (despite growing up in the US) is totally off base. This happened when I read the comment thread for the previous ‘rout’ post. I always thought all concrete dams were дамбы, whereas a плотина was first of all a beaver dam but regardless something much more hand-made (probably subconsciously influenced by плот ‘raft’.)

  6. And how did UKians and USians end up with a different pronunciation of ‘ route’ ?

    It’s not that simple. I say /rut/ except when I’m talking about computer routes and routers.

    take pot luck

    I agree that with take, potluck means whatever food the host has on hand. But a potluck supper (or other meal) is one to which each participant brings a dish. The library where Gale works has several each year.

    AHD5 lists both senses, and an extended sense of the first meaning: ‘whatever is available, food or otherwise’. Their example is “The scheduled flight was canceled and passengers had to take potluck on the other airlines.” I haven’t heard this sense, but it seems a reasonable extension. M-w.com has the same three senses.

  7. And how did UKians and USians end up with a different pronunciation of ‘ route’ ?

    It’s not that simple. I say /rut/ except when I’m talking about computer routes and routers.

    It’s even more complicated: I’m Br.Eng so say ‘root’ for the navigation sense. And I’m in IT so I used to used to say ‘rooter’ for the network device. But now I’m in NZ that pronunciation isn’t understood, so I say ‘rowter’. I put that down to US dominance in IT. (Probably ‘rooter’ wouldn’t be understood in the UK either these days.) For the navigation sense, NZ’ers say ‘root’ whereas Australians say ‘rowt’.

    There’s a word rout for a) a disorderly retreat of troops, b) cutting a groove in wood with a router (something like a plane). For those I’ve always said ‘rowt’/’er’. (Oh, there’s a bunch of other rare/archaic/regional senses for rout.)

    route is from Old French rute (presumably Modern French rue from Latin rupta (via) broken (way); presumably same root (ha!) as rupture.

    Makes sense: hiking in NZ distinguishes a track which has well-formed footing vs a route which is just broken country, possibly with waymarks.

    So if BrE is echoing French, why isn’t AmE?

  8. Always thought that ‘route’ in IT was conditioned by ‘root’ also being a common term of art there. For me the verb is always ROWT but the noun is ROOT when it refers to a physical path (AmEng).

  9. Br. English IT person. A router is still a rooter.

  10. When reading about a ‘rout’ (as a social event) in fiction set in the early 19th century, though I know perfectly well what it means I’ve always had a mental picture of a disorderly scramble.

  11. J.W. Brewer says:

    Don’t know if there are stats on what percentage use which, but it’s not clear to me that more total AmEng speakers use homophonous-with-rout than homophonous-with-root for the “get your kicks on __ 66” core sense. The latter (which is what my own idiolect has) is probably higher-prestige in much of America, at least to judge by my 8th grade English teacher who viewed the former as the sort of vulgar dialect error that needed to be stigmatized to the same degree as warsh-for-wash or wooder-for-water. AmEng may differ from BrEng in that both pronunciations are common, but that doesn’t mean the one that sounds odd to BrEng ears is *the* American pronunciation.

  12. J.W. Brewer says:

    For “rout” as an early 19th century social event, see also “levee,” in the sense of some sort of posh reception rather than an embankment with the function of keeping the Mississippi from flooding the bottomlands, which is perhaps equally weird to the modern reader’s eye.

  13. The matter is further complicated by the fact that in some parts of America, “root” rhymes with “foot,” but “route” doesn’t.

  14. @AntC, it appears that modern French “rue” is from Latin “ruga” (“wrinkle”). Modern French “route” is from Latin “(via) rupta”.

  15. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    For the navigation sense, NZ’ers say ‘root’ whereas Australians say ‘rowt’.
    Makes sense. In Australia, ‘root’ is a vulgar slang term.

  16. see also “levee,” in the sense of some sort of posh reception rather than an embankment with the function of keeping the Mississippi from flooding the bottomlands

    Hence the disappointment of the young man who attended the Baptist party; he drove his Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry. And to make matters worse he could hear a much more enjoyable party going on next door.

  17. Prufrax, ‘A router is still a rooter.’ –It is, but the tool you cut mouldings/moldings with is definitely a rowter. Is this a different word, like pigs routing or rooting?

  18. “So if BrE is echoing French, why isn’t AmE?”

    The same as with initial -h or the meaning of “c*nt”?

    “For the navigation sense, NZ’ers say ‘root’ whereas Australians say ‘rowt’.
    Makes sense. In Australia, ‘root’ is a vulgar slang term.”

    In some varieties of AmE it’s what pigs do digging for roots and the vowels in the two words follow the standard rule as in bath/bathe; grass/graze; etc.

  19. @ ajay: A new interpretation of that never-ending font of interpretations! Thanks for that!

  20. Seconded!

  21. And I’m in IT so I used to used to say ‘rooter’ for the network device. But now I’m in NZ that pronunciation isn’t understood, so I say ‘rowter’. I put that down to US dominance in IT.

    I in turn as an Easterner put it down to Californian dominance in IT.

  22. Given how much “American Pie” is loaded with double meanings, I wonder whether that one, although far-fetched, might have been intentional.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    In some varieties of AmE it’s what pigs do digging for roots and the vowels in the two words follow the standard rule as in bath/bathe; grass/graze; etc.

    Fascinating.

  24. Makes sense. In Australia, ‘root’ is a vulgar slang term.”

    It would make sense, but it’s not my experience. My Australian English definitely has route rhyming with boot if computers are not involved, and the out version is rare enough to seem very strange.

  25. David Marjanović says:
  26. Well, not so much on the etymology of potlatch as on the fact that it’s a verb in Chinook Jargon and not a noun. AHD has the etymology (from a Nootka verb).

  27. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks LH for the AHD reference. The original word may be a verb in CJ, at least in the context given, but in languages of the area it is quite common for a given lexeme to be used as either a verb or a noun (like some English words!). This particular word and the custom it refers to both spread in the general cultural area, with adaptations both linguistic and cultural.

  28. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    In some varieties of AmE it’s what pigs do digging for roots and the vowels in the two words follow the standard rule as in bath/bathe; grass/graze; etc.
    To use the reformed spelling system recently mentioned by John Cowan, there’s a distinction between ‘root’ and ‘roote’ among some Americans?

    [@Jonathan D: thanks for the clarification.]

  29. The idea that potlatch comes from Nuuchahnulth p’ačitl doesn’t sound right. The sound mismatch is too great. I do know that p’a- is a root meaning ‘to give gifts in potlatch’, historically meaning ‘to scatter small things’, and that -čiƛ is a perfective suffix. I don’t know what -ƛač or whatever means. In Sapir’s Nootka Texts there are a number of words refering to giving potlatch that start with p’aƛ…, so the medial -tl- is original. (Nuuchahnulth grammar is complicated and documentation is not easily obtainable.)

  30. AntC says: For the navigation sense, NZ’ers say ‘root’ whereas Australians say ‘rowt’.

    In Australia, “rout” as in “a major defeat” is always /ɹaʊt/.
    On the other hand, “route” as in a “bus route” is always /ɹuːt/.

    When it comes to computers, a “router” is pronounced with /aʊ/. Probably because of American influence, but also because a “rooter” is something entirely different.

  31. January First-of-May says:

    For what it’s worth, the Russian for a computer router is роутер (as opposed to either *рутер, corresponding to “rooter”, or *раутер, corresponding to “rowter”).

    It’s probably just a spelling-based loan, however.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Y, thank you. Do you know the dissertation on Kyoquot morphology (K being a Nootka variety) by Suzanne Rose, UVic early 1980’s?

  33. Graham Asher says:

    One interesting data point: don’t the Beach Boys use /ru:t/ in Surfin USA? In this part:

    We’ll all be planning out a route
    We’re gonna take real soon
    We’re waxing down our surfboards
    We can’t wait for June

    And by the way, there are two computer uses of ‘route’; one involves paths taken by data, the other paths taken by vehicles or people when calculated by satellite navigation systems. In my experience (mainly in computerised vehicle routing) both are pronounced /ru:t/ here in the UK and /raut/ in America.

  34. m.-l., I have seen the reference, but I don’t have it. I used Davidson’s 2002 dissertation.

    I see that there’s a comprehensive dictionary by John Stonham online, but most of it is blocked for some reason; that would probably have been the easiest source.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    Y, My knowledge of Nuuchahnutl etc is rather skimpy. I only know Rose’s work, because we were both at UVic at the same time. She started and finished her program earlier than I did, and her dissertation was one of the works I was assigned to read for my comprehensive exam. She was a brilliant student and I was very impressed with her work. John Stonham came somewhat later, and I don’t know anyone after that. As my area of specialization was in a different area, I did not try to keep up with Nuuchahnutl scholarship.

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