Tiffany.

I was reading Bailyn’s The Barbarous Years (which I’m afraid is disappointing me in its later chapters) when I ran across a passage describing Massachusetts sumptuary legislation in 1651 which forbade “weomen of the same rancke to weare silke or tiffany hoodes or scarfes.” I asked my wife if she knew of a fabric called “tiffany,” but she didn’t, so I looked it up and found (AHD):

tif·fa·ny (tĭf′ə-nē)
n. pl. tif·fa·nies
    A thin, transparent gauze of silk or cotton muslin.
[Probably from obsolete French tiphanie, Epiphany, from Old French, from Late Latin theophania; see THEOPHANY.]

A great etymology, which it shares with the name Tiffany, which I posted about back in 2003.

Comments

  1. Heh. To save people having to click through, here’s the tweet:

    ‘The Tiffany Problem’ is a term coined by the author Jo Walton to describe the tension between historical fact and the popular perception of history. No one would believe that a woman in the Middle Ages could be named Tiffany, yet it was a real medieval name.

  2. I think I mentioned 16th century surname Velosipedov somewhere.

    Briefly, velosiped is a Russian word meaning bicycle (from French vélocipède – swift+foot in neo-Latin). The word entered Russian language in 19th century after bicycles were invented and imported from France.

    But it is historical fact that there was at least one person in 16th century Russia with surname Velosipedov (literally “of bicycle”, the Biker, so to speak) who served as in the government of Tsar Ivan the Terrible.

    The only explanation of this mystery which does not involve time travel basically postulates that minor bureaucrat Velosipedov was a polyglot who simply translated his surname Bystronogov (of swift foot) into faux Latin.

  3. The question of whether gauze comes from Gaza came up in the Gazpacho discussion.

    For tiffany, lawn, leno and such like, a good resource is Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820. It gives more information than a general lexicographer or encyclopedist would. It came up before, too, in Reading the Unreadable, as one of the resources for Obsolete and unfamiliar words from Wills, Probate Inventories, etc.. The layout is a little primitive, but, hey, free.

  4. A good resource indeed! On tiffany:

    It is usually taken to be short for ‘Epiphany SILK’ or ‘Epiphany MUSLIN’; but as to the reason of the name no evidence has been found. (Perhaps it was a fanciful name, with allusion to the sense ‘manifestation’ or ‘revealing’.)

  5. marie-lucie says:

    French vélocipède – swift+foot in neo-Latin).

    Don’t use this word in France unless you want to make people laugh. It was the name of the early bicycles, and was soon shortened to le vélo which is still much more common in speech than la bicyclette. Nowadays the longer word (if known at all) is only used in the historical context or as a joke.

  6. I did not know that!

  7. Stu Clayton says:

    It would be similarly ridiculous for someone to talk about his “automobile” all the time, instead of “car”. “I’m going out now to wash the automobile”.

  8. Is airplane there yet?

  9. I don’t think so; at least it is preserved in collocations and in writing. ?Automobile manufacturer for car manufacturer sounds archaic, but ?plane manufacturer sounds like a clash of register.

    Speaking of airplanes, here’s a “newsbreak” from the New Yorker, one of the unintentionally funny bits taken from newspapers around the country with which the magazine used to justify its vertical columns, corresponding to the bus plunges used by newspapers. This one is famous because James Thurber said it was his favorite:

    The Departure of Clara Adams
    [From the Burbank Cal. Post]
    Among the first to enter was Mrs. Clara Adams of Tannersville, Pa., lone woman passenger. Slowly her nose was turned around to face in a southwesterly direction, and away from the hangar doors. Then, like some strange beast, she crawled along the grass.

    We no longer refer to airplanes as she.

  10. I don’t think so; at least airplane is preserved in collocations and in writing. ?Automobile manufacturer for car manufacturer sounds archaic to me, but on the other hand ?plane manufacturer sounds like a clash of register.

    Speaking of airplanes, here’s a “newsbreak” from the New Yorker, one of the unintentionally funny bits taken from newspapers around the country with which the magazine used to justify its vertical columns, corresponding to the bus plunges used by newspapers. This one is famous because James Thurber said it was his favorite:

    The Departure of Clara Adams
    [From the Burbank Cal. Post]
    Among the first to enter was Mrs. Clara Adams of Tannersville, Pa., lone woman passenger. Slowly her nose was turned around to face in a southwesterly direction, and away from the hangar doors. Then, like some strange beast, she crawled along the grass.

    We no longer refer to airplanes as she.

  11. David Marjanović says:

    Velo, plural -s, was borrowed into Swiss German (with initial stress, of course, because the Swiss do that) and seems to be universal there; it appears on official signage, and the extrahelvetic Fahrrad does not.

    The Dutch were having none of this and somehow came up with fiets (pl. -en).

  12. “Auto” still survives in such compounds as “auto parts” and “auto insurance.”

  13. While automobile maker is a little stilted, auto maker is still commonplace.

  14. The etymology of fiets was nailed down in 2012, and is almost beyond belief: it is a clipping of a long-obsolete, but recorded, dialectal German word for bicycle, Vize-Pferd ‘vice horse, surrogate horse’. Apparently there is or was a region of German where Vize was usual for an inferior substitute, rather than Ersatz.

    The usual previous etymology derived the word from the name of the bicycle repairer and builder E. C. Viets, but he did not begin his work until 1880, when fiets was already in use. As for the notion that it is a massively compressed form of vélocipède, it’s preposterous. The chain is Vize-Pferd > Fitz > Fiets > Dutch.

    (Fietsen is the expected plural according to the rules for regular Dutch plurals.)

  15. David Marjanović says:

    Wow! That is almost beyond belief.

    Unlike in the US, though, an Ersatz doesn’t have to be inferior, it can just be a replacement. Ersatzteile = “spare parts”.

    Fitz

    No, that would imply a short vowel.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    The rules for regular Dutch plurals are here; 86 was missing at the end of the URL.

  17. “Auto” still survives in such compounds as “auto parts” and “auto insurance.”
    And of course auto-da-fé.

    While most people went with ‘auto’ as a shortening of automobile, Norwegians still call a car a bil (en bil, bilen, bilene). Perhaps it was short for just ‘mobile’. If anyone knows why, ie the history behind en bil, I’d love to know.

  18. That is an amazing etymology.

  19. If anyone knows why, ie the history behind en bil, I’d love to know.

    Surely it’s just a straightforward clipping of automobil.

  20. Trond Engen says:

    Yes. A parallel formation is trikk “tramway” < electric. Also buss < omnibus, but I think that was imported as a ready cut.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    Actually, Vizepferd isn’t that far from the widespread joke term Drahtesel “wire donkey” (ridden by Pedalritter “pedal knight(s)”).

  22. just a straightforward clipping of automobil

    Even in Icelandic: bíll

  23. I wasn’t going to mention, but there is an extremely tasteless Chernobyl joke involving that straightforward clipping

  24. What I mean is why they decided on bil when everyone else was saying auto. Whether anyone knows of a contemporary discussion, a sort of Norwegian William Safire of 1905. But perhaps they just took the precedent of buss and continued it (though the Latin gives only one S to the Clapham omnibus).

  25. Trond Engen says:

    Oh, that! It was famously through a naming competition. Wikipedia informs me that this was held by the Danish daily Politiken in 1902.

  26. I wasn’t going to mention, but there is an extremely tasteless Chernobyl joke involving that straightforward clipping

    All right, now you have to tell (or link to) the joke.

  27. OK, you asked for it:

    Three men meet in a bar. The American introduces himself: “Bill.” The Australian: “Bill.” The Ukrainian: “Bill.”
    The first two exchange glances, but say nothing.
    Then the American picks up his revolver, shoots the cap off his bottle and proudly says: “Buffalo Bill.”
    The Australian picks up his boomerang, gives it a swing across the bar. It does a big circle on its way back knocking the cap off his beer. He proudly says: “Crocodile Bill.”
    The Ukrainian slowly takes off his pants proudly displaying glowing three-headed penis: “Chernobill”

  28. Thanks!

  29. Lars (the original one) says:

    The second s in buss is automatic because the vowel is short. Bus is ‘pranks’ in Swedish (or something close to that).

    Danish does not double consonants at the ends of words, so we have bus regardless.

  30. Original Lars, I didn’t know that about Danish. One day I’m going to read an explanation of Danish pronunciation so I can better understand Danish television.

    Thanks, Trond!

  31. John Cowan, the Vize-pferd etyomology for fiets is disputed. See:
    http://nederl.blogspot.nl/2012/02/ga-toch-fietsen.html

  32. “It would be similarly ridiculous for someone to talk about his “automobile” all the time, instead of “car”.”

    Bad luck, Chuck Berry.

    “minor bureaucrat Velosipedov was a polyglot who simply translated his surname Bystronogov (of swift foot) into faux Latin.”

    Like the mystic Robert Fludd, who signed himself Robertus de Fluctibus.

    “Auto” still survives in such compounds as “auto parts” and “auto insurance. And of course auto-da-fé.”

    Defined as a car which, by all the laws of mechanical engineering, should be an immobile wreck, eppur si muove.

  33. John Cowan, the Vize-pferd etyomology for fiets is disputed. See:
    http://nederl.blogspot.nl/2012/02/ga-toch-fietsen.html

    Here‘s a Google Translate version. Now I don’t know what to think.

  34. John Woldemar Cowan says:

    Evidently I was wrong to say that *Vize-Pferd is documented. I hesitated for a while over “nailed down”, but dammit, it’s so convincing!

  35. Lars (the original one) says:

    I don’t like the argument-by-ridicule style, but they may have a point.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    Now I don’t know what to think.

    In one of the last comments, good evidence is presented that it’s from the surname Fiets as a kind of brand name. (Also spelled Viets, that name is from Vitus.)

  37. Kate Bunting says:

    When I spent a year in Francophone Switzerland as a student, it took me a while to work out that ‘un vélo’ meant a bicycle. We had only been taught the word ‘bicyclette’ at school, but I had heard ‘vélomoteur’ so I thought people were talking about motorbikes.

  38. marie-lucie says:

    Kate: Then you had to learn that a motorbike is une moto, the usual word, shortened from une motocyclette.

    Among the vélomoteurs (motorized bicycles), perhaps the most popular one is la Mobylette (its brand name). My mother’s brother, an engineer, was very involved in its design and development but no one in our family ever owned one.

  39. I was recently in Quebec for a few days and learned (according to one guide I read, anyway) that French Canadians still prefer bicyclette to vélo. Also their STOP signs say ARRET!

    Actually, m-l, I have a question for you. My French is minimal, and one day I was trying to order a turkey sandwich by pointing to the word dinde on the menu and saying it in my best schoolboy accent, rhyming the vowel with pain. But the woman at the counter (who I think was from a Francophone African country) took a while to figure out what I meant, until eventually she said, ‘oh, diende‘, rhyming it with vie. Is that a Quebec variant or was it the woman’s own idiosyncratic French?

  40. David Marjanović says:

    Maybe you heard the normal Quebec version of that vowel, which is the nasal counterpart to é?

  41. marie-lucie says:

    David L: Etienne would be a better source than me, but as far as I know French Canadians are more likely to say un bicycle than une bicyclette, although the feminine word may be the one recommended by the local linguistic authorities as the “standard” French word.

    turkey sandwich : I am surprised that the meat with advertised as (dinde rather than dindon, but that may be another attempt to follow “standard” French (in France, la dinde is the species name, while le dindon is the male only).

    I am not sure what you mean by diende, rhyming it with vie – do you mean you started writing vien but the spellcheck replaced it with vie? In any case I think David M is right, since Québec nasal vowels have been moving higher and more forward , while the nasal vowels in France have been moving in the opposite direction. As for myself (I have a “conservative”, old-fashioned French pronunciation), I would not use quite the same vowel in dinde (or in pin) as in pain, as I mentioned here some time ago. It seems to me that for many Parisians not only are the two identical, but the single vowel is more open and centralized than the ones I grew up saying.

  42. That’s certainly possible. I didn’t ask her to give me a rundown of the standard Quebec vowels (other customers were waiting).

  43. Thank you both. I don’t do IPA, so I was trying to convey that I heard the vowel in her pronunciation of dinde (definitely that word and not dindon) as similar to the vowel in vie. But it could well have been nasalized as David M. suggests.

    I found that my feeble attempts to speak French were well received, but then (except in small out-of-the-way places) people mostly rescued me by switching to English. But it’s clearly a second language there — which shouldn’t have surprised me, except that somehow it did. I have become too provincial after so many years in the US.

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