I had known that J. B. Van Helmont (1577-1644) invented the word gas based on Greek χάος ‘chaos’—it makes sense if you know that in Dutch, the letter g is pronounced kh—but I had no idea he also created blas for “a supposed ‘flatus’ or influence of the stars, producing changes of weather” (OED). You can read all about it, with a funny quote from Richard Franck’s Northern Memoirs, Calculated for the Meridian of Scotland; To Which is Added, The Contemplative and Practical Angler. Writ in the Year 1658, at Mark Liberman’s post at the Log, and the comment thread there brings up the question of the family name Degas, originally De Gas: Ray Girvan points out that “Degas’ paternal grandfather, Rene-Hilaire De Gas, was a baker from Orléans” and the commune Gas “is very close to Orléans.” To which Bryn LaFollette adds:

Well, that leads to the question of where the commune Gas gets its name. There is surprisingly little information on either the French or English Wikipedia pages, nor on any of the easily found pages on les communes de France.

Of course, it may be that there is no known etymology for the name of such an obscure commune, but I’ll bet Brichot would have a theory.


  1. Yes, and compare the sheer Paracelsian oddity of ‘nostoc’, also in the OED.

  2. Here’s the Gas official website – – which has no sign of etymology but does have a list of “Seigneurs de Gas” going back to a Gui de Gas born some time prior to 1220.

  3. Here is the poem I wrote on
    Friday, October 17, 2008
    Best Left Said, As The World Seems Lonelier, and Still
    Humility incarnates
    the Aten
    Humiliation / apple
    dry vowel
    wet sentence
    weaving willow mandala
    dormice station themselves
    a double
    does these things
    in the bardo
    in the life of the bard
    in the drab
    and rabid pregnancy
    imp’s regent noble
    gas; history of
    ‘the liquor of the box’
    original mind
    cannot be concealed
    in vast rotary leaf displays
    of mountain hermit
    ferris wheels
    snow monkeys
    into elegant
    living suits
    of friendship
    snow = noise
    noise = matter
    “What is the matter?”
    [A tornado is also thinking here.]
    so’chu [ah]
    [ah] so’chu
    a thing with thin strings
    lies indiscernible among the trees

  4. Roger Depledge says

    In André Pégorier, Noms de lieux en France – Glossaire de termes dialectaux, the closest term, geographically, to Gas would appear to be Gast, gât: friche, terre stérile, de médiocre valeur (Orléanais).

  5. A. J. P. Crown says

    In the Wiki article on Degas the person who

    “explains that De Gas was the spelling, ‘with some pretentions, used by the artist’s father when he moved to Paris to establish a French branch of his father’s Neopolitan bank.'”

    was called Grace Jean Sutherland Boggs, CC, Ph.D., FRSC.

  6. Occitan gas is, along with gaf, gal, etc., a variant of ga, cognate with French gué (m), “a ford”. From Latin vadum (cf. English wade and possibly wash, Spanish vado) and crossed, says Petit Robert, with Germanic wad. Compare French surnames de Gué, du Gué, etc.

  7. And English wath, in OED: “A ford; a fordable stream”. Obs. exc. dial.; but there is a citation from 1894. Etymology:
    [a. ON. vað neut. (MSw. vaþ, Sw., Da. vad) = OE. wæd (pl. wado), poet. the sea, the waves, MLG. wat (wad-), Du. wad, OHG. wat:—OTeut. *waðo-m:—pre-Teut. *wadho-m = L. vadum; cogn. w. wade v.]

  8. And “Watt,” the land between the mainland and the East Frisian islands in Germany, which is exposed during ebbtides.

  9. We’re definitely in Brichot territory; in fact, in the very passage I quoted here, I find: “Vieux comes as a rule from vadum, and means a passage, as at the place called les Vieux. It is what the English call ford (Oxford, Hereford)…”
    compare the sheer Paracelsian oddity of ‘nostoc’, also in the OED.
    What a word! And the OED says “With the ending, perhaps compare OPODELDOC n.” Opodeldoc!!

  10. A. J. P. Crown says

    I think you get quite a lot of extra points for having the word opodeldoc show up more than once in your blog, Language. Any idea about how to pronounce it, so I’ll be able use it over Christmas? It might be good against hangovers.

  11. A. J. P. Crown says

    (I’m assuming it’s a poddle dock.)

  12. And the Solway Firth was once Sulwath, much of it being fordable at low tide. Which relates distantly to the Dutch “g” which sounds to me like a thousand sea lochs being pronounced.

  13. Any idea about how to pronounce it, so I’ll be able use it over Christmas?
    It’s ahp-ǝ-DELL-dock.

  14. So degas < decanus (cf. dean) is evidently unrelated. Did it lead to a surname too in the south?

  15. From Latin vadum (cf. English wade and possibly wash, Spanish vado) and crossed, says Petit Robert, with Germanic wad.
    This is clearly a variation on the Arabic “wadi”, وادي‎ (a valley that floods during the rainy season), as revealed by the Arabic Etymological Journal of Irreproducible Idiopathic Inferences.

  16. Ha ha, Nijma. Clearly! Yes, I thought about wadi myself.
    Watt, vieux, and firth are all fascinating additions to this wordwhirl. Ford is close to fjord, and a whole spiral arm of words emanating from PIE per-.

  17. I meant to make this clearer: firth (as for the old Sulwath), ford, and fjord are all closely cognate. Add port, fare, German -furt, and a zillion others for more remote connexions through PIE per-.

  18. “Ford” and “Freud” (as in Sigmund) are also cognate, first documented in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

  19. John Emerson says

    Opodeldoc, asafoetida, and treacle seem to belong in a set.

  20. David Marjanović says

    German -furt

    Also exists as a separate word; not confined to place names.

  21. David, I had thought so but did not check.
    Opodeldoc, asafoetida, and treacle seem to belong in a set.
    Hmmm. So then do gow, thebiac, and yen, somewhat differently.
    “Ford” and “Freud” (as in Sigmund) are also cognate,…
    O[de to] Joy! I’ll see your Huxley and raise you one Joyce:
    For opodeldoc, see also opopanax (famous as an ingredient of Molly Bloom’s perfume, cf. μῶλυ, given by Hermes to Odysseus as a sovereign against Circe’s enchantment, and a source of Molly’s name).
    Bloom, in the afterglow of his detached encounter with Gerty MacDowell:

    Why Molly likes opoponax. Suits her with a little jessamine mixed. Her high notes and her low notes. At the dance night she met him, dance of the hours. Heat brought it out. She was wearing her black and it had the perfume of the time before. Good conductor, is it? Or bad? Light too. Suppose there’s some connection. For instance if you go into a cellar where it’s dark. Mysterious thing too. Why did I smell it only now? Took its time in coming like herself, slow but sure.

    See also opobalsamum (citation in OED: “1844 Lingard Anglo-Sax. Ch. (1858) II. x. 113 The ignorance or experience of antiquity had ascribed to the opobalsamum the most salutary virtues”).
    “Why did I smell it only now?” Segue to Proust, now that we play strum of coincidence.

  22. John Emerson says

    And theriac.

  23. Yes, theriac. And I should have spelt mine thebaic. See also thymelic, thurific, theriodic, theandric, thymoleptic, and in the end (alas) thanatic.
    One could go on. Theorically.

  24. A. J. P. Crown says

    Theoretically, a brief history of thyme.

  25. A. J. P. Crown says

    I’m really surprised Marie-Lucie hasn’t come up with a theory of the etymology. I hope her computer hasn’t broken.

  26. Oppodeldoc [sic] is also used as a pseudonym by the narrator of Poe’s superb burlesque The Literary Life of Thingum Bob. Here’s a paper explaining the connections between patent medicine and literature which gives the etymology thus:
    “Opodeldoc does, indeed, date far back, although not to Roman times as the tale implies, for ‘Paracelsus’ or Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, the Swiss-German adept in alchemy and the Kabbala, coined the word as early as 1541. According to Kurt Peters, he composed it out of the italicized syllables in the three following ingredients for his medicinal plaster: ‘oponax, bdellium, and aristolochia'”, with the second d intrusive.
    I’ll add a link to my favorite anecdote about asafoedita.

  27. Hmm, John Cowan. Oponax, opopanax, opoponax? OED has opoponax as a variant of opopanax, which must be regarded as better because of the -panax element being from πάναξ, from which we also get panacea. The first element is ὀπός (“vegetable juice”), which also yields opium. Opoponax is the only form in Ulysses, where it enables a reduplicative pun: ”Big comebig! Pirouette! Leopopold!” But oponax? Hmmm. Late and spurious.

  28. See also this:,M1
    A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Obsolete Phrases, Proverbs, and Ancient Customs, from the Fourteenth Century
    By James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, Lucy Cruikshank
    Published by J. R. Smith, 1850
    Item notes: v. 2 (J-Z)
    Original from the New York Public Library
    Digitized Oct 16, 2007
    (Hey, the whole book can be downloaded!)

  29. Late and spurious without doubt, Noetica, but also a splendid example of haplogy!
    I herewith append the following canonical list of self-describing terms:
    pyalatyalizyation, methatesis / metasethis, redup-reduplication, frikhathive, schwə, positionpost, teefoicink, anology, triephthouong, superlativissimus, diminutivito, ancicipation, rules of redundancy rules, reduced grud: zr grd : e grede : o grod, sekont sount shiftz, ebleut : ümläut, folk-entomology / folk ate-a-mology, frönting, voized, fəˈnɛtʰɪk, voized, suffix-ed, pre-fixed, epenethesis, rhotarism, haspʰiration, gemmination, apfrication, noun, noun phrase, adjectival, adverbially, conjunction and/or disjunction, “This is a complex sentence because it has a subordinate clause”, genitive’s, gloʔʔalization, vowol harmono, to back formate, dithsimilation, anapityxis, execrescence, agglutinatinglanguages, apfricate, -pheresis, aphas…., diephthoung, kpoarticulated stop, compēsatory lengthening, condamination, diäeresis, díäçrît’ǐč, digræph, duplication, duplication, monophtong, nãsąlĩzątĩǫn, lharyngeal, mprenasalization, weagening or lenizhion, relick form, infuckingfixation, sibboleth, pro clitic, derivationalizationalize.

  30. …vowol harmono,…
    Ah John. I guffawed uninhibitedly at that one, for some reason.
    But you left out ell[…]s. Or wait. No. Very smart!
    And of course there are also lipgraphy and dittotography.

  31. John Cowan says


    In 2011 two unopened bottles of perfume were discovered in the bow of the Mary Celestia, a Civil War blockade runner that foundered off Bermuda in 1864. The bottles contained Bouquet Opoponax, one of Piesse and Lubin’s most popular fragrances, and after analysis with a gas chromatograph, Germany’s Drom Fragrances managed to reproduce the scent in 2014. The original is quite light and citrus-y, and apparently did not oxidize or otherwise change much in a century and half.

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