Via a MetaFilter thread I learned of the existence of Parkour:

Le Parkour (also called Parkour, PK, l’art du déplacement, free-running) is a physical discipline of French origin. It is an art form of human movement, focusing on uninterrupted, efficient forward motion over, under, around and through obstacles (both man-made and natural) in one’s environment. Such movement may come in the form of running, jumping, climbing and other more complex techniques.

It doesn’t interest me as an activity, but the word is notable in that it’s a borrowing from French in nonstandard spelling, something of a rarity. As a result, when you look at it in English it’s not clear how to pronounce it; if it had the standard spelling parcours that wouldn’t be a problem. (Frankly, I find this kind of respelling with k for c pretty ugly, but I guess that’s the point, or part of it. Epater le fuddy-duddy, you know.)
Incidentally, the same MeFi thread introduced me to the word thixotropic; see my first comment therein for more.


  1. In French IRC-speak, as in thousand-year-old epic poetry, “ki” for “qui” is absolutely mundane.

  2. But ugly. (Today, not in thousand-year-old epic poetry.) And I don’t like English IRC-speak either.

  3. Well, finding the construction ugly in IRC but not in thousand-year-old poetry is symptomatic of a prejudice either against IRC or for thousand-year-old poetry. And since the teenagers and the Unix administrators who use IRC are not notably more sensible than the protagonists and writers of the Chanson de Roland, I find that unwarranted, either way 😉
    I was actually with you on that judgement; but IRC speak has grown on me since, as I imagine most æsthetic choices do. Cf. Times or Fraktur vs. Helvetica in the Western world since the creation of the latter. I suppose it’s helped that lots of my immediate circle of friends use IRC, and I’m comfortable with it myself.

  4. I don’t think the ‘c’ got changed to ‘k’ when the word was adopted by English-speakers. When I first became aware of Parkour a few years ago (through a series of Nike commercials featuring David Belle and others) all of the French web sites and groups seemed to use ‘k’ as well.

  5. I thought that’s what I was implying by saying “it’s a borrowing from French in nonstandard spelling.” Sorry if it wasn’t clear.
    Aidan: As someone said, the tragedy of life is that humans get used to anything. I’m sure if I had much to do with IRC I’d accept the respellings too, and I’m sure they’re convenient, but as things stand, I can maintain my fossilized prejudice comfortably.

  6. I wonder if ‘parcourse’ (“An outdoor path or trail with exercise stations along the way provided with instructions and equipment”) is derived from parkour, or vice-versa.

  7. The ink of ballpoint pens is thixotropic, which keeps it from just dribbling out all over the place (except when you put it through the washing machine). Japanese manufacturers may’ve been engaging in some odd ink research in recent years, judging by the competitive field of ultrathin ballpoints– 0.18mm seems to be the current benchmark, in the Uni-Ball Signo Bit.

  8. I don’t know about the word, but the sport (art form?) is beautiful, triumph of coordination.

  9. I for one am considerably prejudiced in favor of thousand-year-old poetry and I’m not afraid to admit it.

  10. John Emerson says

    I wonder whether some of the k-for-c instances in Old French might represent historical or dialectical phonetic differences. I remember seeing the word “fourke” for “fourche” (accents acute), for example.
    It’s only an intuition or speculation, but as of 1200 or so English and French seem to me to have been much closer than they are now. Not only was the French vocabulary in English more evident and closer to the source, but the Frankish (Germanic) element in French is also more evident. Furthermore, since spelling wasn’t standardized in either language, the eye-differences you get from different spelling conventions (queue and cue, for example) weren’t there.

  11. What, a discussion of thixotropy with no mention of ketchup yet?
    Julie L., I use “ballpoint” only for those older-technology, less smooth-writing pens like Bics. The Uniball and Pentel ones are “roller ball”. There’s no logical reason why either term couldn’t apply to either pen, but those seem to be the established categories.

  12. John Emerson says

    Even without thixotropy, for etymological reasons “ketchup” may be too thorny a question for this little blog to take on. I find it reasonable to suspect a Filipino origin,however since tomatoes came from Spanish America, but many disagree.

  13. John Emerson, wasn’t the word “ketchup” used in English quite a while before the stuff was made with tomatoes? I think the earliest uses refer to a sauce made of mushrooms.

  14. John Emerson says

    Many disagree!
    I know there are non-tomato ketchups, but as I remember, the word is agreed to be Asian.

  15. Another term that seems to be coming from France with a ‘k’ is ‘brick’, the North African pastry. Google finds feuilles de brick, bric, brik, and brique; but the first gets the most ghits. Just as LH says above, if this were spelled brique, we’d know to pronounce it ‘breek’.
    I’m no expert, but hot 2006 trends seem to be sous vide cooking and en brick wrapping; not at the same time, of course.
    brick is already a French word from the English ‘brig’; this is the first sense in the Petit Larousse. The more common brique is from the Dutch, just like the equivalent English ‘brick’, which is cognate with all those ‘break’ words. (Except that as an adjective, it only means ‘brick-colored’, not ‘made of brick’.)
    The second brick entry says, “n.m. (de l’ar.) Gallette très fine à base de blé dur. (Cuisine tunisienne.)” So, brick here seems to be from the name of Tunisian dish.
    The round sheets of pastry wrapped in cellophane have a label that appears to actually say ملسوقة (malsouka). They look like bánh tráng, Vietnamese spring roll wrappers, but in wheat instead of rice. And some of these fusion dishes look like some Vietnamese ones (but with meat).
    Searching around, other terms for the dough seem to be warqa and dioul. ورقة is just ‘leaf’ or ‘sheet of paper’; wrq is ‘to grow leaves’. So it’s the same as phyllo < φύλλον. My vocabulary isn’t good enough for dioul (or d’youl). One page I found with a bilingual recipe has dioul in the French, with أوراق in the Arabic. In the accompanying photo they look like samosas, but sweet.
    I have to think that this word is related to, if not the same as, the Turkish börek and Armenian boereg. (And, I’m sure, lots of other parts of the former Ottoman empire whose descendents didn’t emigrate to greater Boston and open restaurants.) Wikipedia tells me that the Turkish word might come from Persian. And בורקס (borekas), the spinach or potato turnovers sold in Kosher falafel places here in the Northeast. סרטי בורקס (sirtei burekas) is a genre of Israeli film of the ’70s about the clash between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. The term is mentioned in a Linguist list posting from a few years ago as a near-calque on “spaghetti western”.
    And I wonder whether it’s just a coincidence that pierogi < пирог ‘pie’ has a roughly similar phonetic shape.

  16. John Emerson says

    Sorry, I’m hungry, I can’t read any more. Comparative pastries and dumplings can be bothersome that way.

  17. I remember seeing the normally-spelt usage “parcours” in American English a couple of decades ago, so I wonder how and why it was re-spelled with a troubaboresque “k” (in French) and re-borrowed (into English) — if that’s a correct conclusion!

  18. nbm: Did it mean the same thing back then?
    It’s been used as a coordinated set of events at neighboring art galleries. Like a highbrow First Friday. More or less a straight borrowing.

  19. From a search of the NYT archives at the library:
    3/28/2004: parkour as new teen craze from France via England.
    5/29/1977: parcours as a ‘fitness path’ from Switzerland. Like those adult jungle gyms in the middle of jogging paths. (There’s one in the park just down the street here in Boston. Didn’t know that’s what it’s called.)

  20. The word pieróg (that’s a singular form, pierogi is plural), in older language piróg, is said to come from Pra-slavonic pir, “a feast, banquet” (the root pi- “to drink”). It was formerly a ritual pie, baked on the biggest religious holidays and given away to beggars and poors, as a kind of oblation for someone’s soul. Of course now there’s nothing left from those rites – maybe this only, that in some (eastern?) regions of Poland (culturally closely connected with Ukraina, Belarus, etc. – so in those countries probably too) pierogi are still one of the important traditional dishes for Christmas dinner. But noone gives them away 🙂
    (This is my first comment on this blog, so excuse me if I write something obvious for the residents. And for my poor English I’m sorry, too.)

  21. I thank you for that most interesting comment, and your English is fine!

  22. Interesting. It sounds unrelated then.
    Oddly enough, in the Wikipedia, although neither the Burek nor the Pierogi articles mention one another, the Bierock one links to them both and suggests that all the names are related. (Based on no more evidence than I offered, really.)
    I am reminded this evening by an ad in the current Flash Art that Anri Sala (the only Albanian video artist I can name; his Dammi I Colori was shown around here last year) has a work entitled Byrek, featuring an old Albanian woman in Brussels making them after his grandmother sent him a letter with her recipe (which was, of course, far too difficult for him to make himself).

  23. Actually, a couple of etymologists (Ramstedt and Räsänen) do derive the Slavic word from Turkic (Chuvash pürek, Crimean Tatar and Chagatai böräk, and so on), but Vasmer dismisses this because the word does not occur in South Slavic; I’m not sure how convincing that is, but I defer to Vasmer, who knows a hell of a lot more than I do.

  24. I learnt of Parkour from a CSI show which featured a group which practiced it. Oneof them unfortunately touched an electrified flagpole, and as they say, ‘the rest is history’. I can look up the particular episode if anyone is interested…

  25. LH, this, right? Cool.

  26. I’m told that the Dutchophones in the Netherlands prefer to write “cultuur” so as not to look too German, whereas their counterparts in Belgium prefer “kultuur” so as not to seem too French.
    As to ketchup, I thought the etymology was undisputed: English

  27. MMcM: Right, and thanks — that’s a great Vasmer interface, and I’ve bookmarked it.

  28. wow im suprised u went on like this about change of c and k and its funny u put evrey puncuation and spelt evrey thing right wat are u all english freaks and free running is the english or american translation of parkour and there called a traceur(somone who studies parkour)
    not a parkourist

  29. The other day in History Today, A History of Börek.

  30. Thanks! The etymological nub:

    Though the Turkic peoples were – and always have been – fiercely proud of their itinerant culture, they could not help envying the comforts of the city, especially the thick oven-baked bread they encountered at market-time. As Charles Perry has noted, they soon gained ‘an obsessive interest’ in making it for themselves. Since they had no ovens of their own, however, they had to emulate its fluffy texture by layering their dough as many times as they could before stuffing it with a savoury filling and frying it.

    It was perhaps from this unusual technique that börek took its name. According to the Austrian Turcologist, Andrea Tietze, ‘börek’ comes from the Persian ‘bûrak’, which referred to any dish made with yufka. This, in turn, probably came from the Turkic root, bur-, meaning ‘to twist’ – an allusion to the way thin sheets of dough had to be manipulated to produce a layered effect.

  31. This reminds me of a little incident that happened here in Brussels. (Background: I was born and raised in the States (somewhere there’s a thread about expats saying that, right?), but have been living in Europe for the last almost 15 years, 8ish of which in Brussels.) Anyway, there was some scaffolding up around our house because we were having the roof fixed, and one evening I heard some noises outside, like someone was messing with the scaffolding. I looked out the window as I started to hear some distinctly American voices, and saw about 3 teenagers trying to climb up the scaffolding (one had already made it up the first tier if I remember rightly). I opened the window and said, “What the hell are you guys doing?” I don’t know if they were surprised to hear American, but the answer from one of them was, quite nonchalantly, “Parkour”.

  32. 8ish of which in Brussels

    I’m getting a whiff of French dont there.

  33. I’m getting a whiff of French dont there.

    Heh, good catch, I tend not to notice there things anymore.
    But it more likely comes from the Italian, which I’m more fluent in than French (that’s a whole ‘nother story…)

    Which brings up another little anecdote: while visiting the parents back home in Massachusetts this summer, I was out shopping with my wife (who’s Italian). The young guy working in the store either overheard us speaking Italian or heard my wife’s accent when speaking English and asked where we were from. When I told him I was actually originally from Massachusetts (but had been in Europe for a good bit), he was like, “yeah, you’ve got an accent, man”.

  34. Ha!

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