A fun fact I learned today from the radio show Says You!: the word bugle originally meant ‘buffalo’ (and is from Latin būculus, dim. of bos ‘ox’); the name of the musical instrument is shortened from bugle-horn “A hunting-horn, originally made of the horn of a ‘bugle’ or wild ox.” (Oddly, both the original and the transferred sense are first attested in the same work, the circa-1300 King Alisaunder: line 5112 has “A thousand bugles of Ynde” and line 5282 “Tweye bugle hornes, and a bowe also.” The shortened form shows up not much later: c1340 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 1136 “With bugle to bent felde he buskez.”)


  1. John Emerson says

    Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a wonderful paragraph on the cognates and derivatives of “horn”, though I don’t have it hear.

  2. John Emerson says

    Or here.

  3. There’s also a type of “small, long, cylindrical bead” called bugle.

  4. Sir Gawain was the first busker ?

  5. Probably not; that’s a different verb busk ‘make haste’. The OED (though it says “But perhaps this is a distinct word”) identifies busk ‘entertain in the streets’ with busk ‘cruise as a pirate’.

  6. Siganus Sutor says

    and is from Latin būculus
    Funnily enough, that sounds quite close to Latin bucca (mouth), which, according to the Trésor de la langue française, had an influence on bucina (trumpet), which became buccina before turning into buccin/buccine in French. However, Petit Robert seems to see an ox in it as well: “latin buccina, altération de bucina « cornet de bouvier, trompette », de bos « bœuf » et canere « chanter ».” Another case of “foot & mouth” contamination as it seems.
    Interestingly enough, Dauzat (Dictionnaire étymologique) also has this: “1. Bugle. 1841, Boiste, « clairon à clefs » ; mot anglais, de l’ancien français bugle, bœuf (voir BEUGLER), qui désigna au XIIIe s. un instrument en corne de buffle.” So we’re back to the buffalo… BTW, I’m learning right now that there is a French bugle which came from an English word which in turn came from a French word. Another budget-like aller-retour as it seems.

  7. “Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a wonderful paragraph on the cognates and derivatives of “horn””
    There’s also a whole book on the subject.

  8. The Hopkins passage is available here–one of the best anthologies of linguistic material.

  9. There’s also a whole book on the subject.
    Half a book, technically…

  10. Thanks, Conrad—that Imagining Language book looks interesting indeed.

  11. John Emerson says

    I should just add that William Stafford wrote something about a different kind of word-family in English, families like “slip, slide, slither, slop, slime, sloop” or “niche, nock, nook, nick, notch”. I have no idea where it is.
    That kind of family is characteristic of Arabic — dictionaries are organized around it — but present in English.
    In Chinese word families are complicated because graphic families can indicate ancient phonetic families partly overlapping with present phonetic families. Some of these puns are very deeply rooted in the philosophy, e.g. ming / ling:
    “name, command, fate, investiture; bright [dim!], prominent, penetrating, perspicuous, perspicacious; call, to call.”

  12. David Marjanović says

    families like “slip, slide, slither, slop, slime, sloop” or “niche, nock, nook, nick, notch”.

    My favorites are the shiny bl- words: black, blank*, blue, blond, blind, German Blei “lead”, presumably German blöd “dumb”**, probably bludgeon, German Blech “sheet metal”, blossom, blood, blink, German bloß “bare, only”, German Blick “glance”, German Blitz/Swedish blix “lightning”, German blecken “to bare [one’s teeth]”, German bleich and blass “pale”, blade, I wonder if blow counts, blame probably counts, and maybe block counts, too…
    * Old joke: for linguists, black is white!
    ** Not “mute” but “deeply stupid”.

  13. blame probably counts
    English blame is from Old French blasme (modern blâme), itself from Latin blasphemia which was borrowed from Greek. As such it is unlikely to belong to the Germanic bl- word-family (which may well consist of at least two families).

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