I’m reading Sebald‘s The Emigrants (a birthday gift from my wife) and have gotten (along with much literary pleasure — Michael Hulse’s translation reads as if the book was originally written in English, a very rare effect) a couple of new words, both (oddly) on p. 152 of the New Directions paperback. The first is candlewick: “….she in a pink dressing gown that was made of a material found only in the bedrooms of the English lower classes and is unaccountably called candlewick.” The OED has it (s.v. candle-wick), but offers no suggestion as to the origin of the name, so “unaccountably” is the mot juste. The second is passe-partout: “Inscribed on the slightly foxed passe-partout… were the words: Gracie Irlam, Urmston nr Manchester, 17 May 1944.” This, according to the OED, is “an ornamental mat or plate of cardboard or the like, having the centre cut out so as to receive a photograph, drawing, or engraving, to which when framed it serves as a mount or border. Hence passe-partout frame, a frame ready made with such a mount for reception of photographs, etc… A kind of adhesive tape or paper used for framing photographs and for other purposes.” The phrase “slightly foxed” suggests to me that the second of these definitions is meant. I’m guessing that both words are identical in the German original, but I would be grateful if a reader with access to it would let me know.

I would also be grateful if anyone can identify for me the “hollegrasch coins” mentioned on page 199; hollegrasch gets no Google hits (and is not in my coin books), so it may be a typo or it may be an incredibly obscure coin. Whoso knows, let them speak. [It turns out this is the Jewish baby-naming ceremony usually spelled Hollekreisch; see this Wikipedia article.]


  1. http://www.google.com/search?q=holegrasch indicates that a very similar word is a Jewish baby-naming ceremony, if that’s at all helpful.

  2. “He had little interest in the way contemporary writers seemed to find all meaning in personal relationships”.
    Hear, hear! The American writer Barry Lopez has said something to the same effect.

  3. I’m not English, but I am lower-class and I used to have a candlewick bedspread when I was young. I’d always imagined that the tufts looked like trimmed candlewicks – although a quick search on “candlewicking” suggests that the cotton thread used for candlewicks was also used for the tufting technique.

  4. Belated happy birthday, if appropriate.
    It’s a long time since I read this, but I have fished it out. Both words are familiar to me in English. Candlewick as a bedspread, as Geraint says, but I was puzzled by the word passepartout in this meaning for many years too – I used to encounter it in books, like you.
    The German (p. 225 of the first ed. 1992) has Candlewickdecken – I’ve never met it in German, but this is about Manchester.
    auf dem etwas stockfleckigen Passepartout – stockfleckig was new to me and means with patches caused by mould on textiles, paper, wood – pale, brownish or greyish-black spot with a musty smell – foxed, in fact (I had to look up “foxed” too!)
    Candlewick is like candlewick material – fluffy and stranded. Google image search on “candlewick bedspread” gets some pictures, but even the biggest is not ideal.
    Are the hollegrasch coins in italics, or can you give more context? Arithmetically Ishould be looking at p. 299 or thereabouts.

  5. Googling the word with only one ‘l’, as Aidan suggests, brings the following German result:
    “Ganz besondere Festtage waren für Kinder und Heranwachsende die Namensgebung eines Kindes, »Holegrasch« genannt. Etwa vier Wochen nach der Geburt, wenn die Mutter des Kindes in die Synagoge ging und der glückliche Vater vom Vorbeter ein Dankgebet sprechen ließ, fand dann im Hause dieser Familie eine Festlichkeit statt. Eine große Schar Kinder kam da in diesem Haus zusammen, alle miteinander hoben sie das Körbchen oder das Kinderwägelchen mit dem neuen Erdenbürger auf und riefen gemeinsam: »Holegrasch, wie soll’s Bobele heißen?«
    Darauf wurde der Name genannt, und der meist auch anwesende Lehrer sprach vorher und nachher einen Segensspruch. Dann kam der Höhepunkt für uns Kinder. Wir erhielten die ersehnte Tüte mit Konfekt, Obst, mit Nüssen und anderen Leckerbissen.” (Emphasis mine. Excerpt from the 1997 “Jüdisches Leben in Hardheim” exhibition at the Erfatal-Museum in Hardheim, Baden-Würtenberg.).
    If it fits the context, the “coins” in question could be some small change given to the “Kinder” for the occasion. But I could as well be totally wrong and have no way to know.

  6. Baden-Württemberg. Sorry, I’ve been living in France too long already.

  7. That sounds excellent.
    Following that up, maybe there is a link to the pidyon haben ceremony for the first-born, where five silver coins / five shekels are involved and can later be donated to charity – so they are probably not special coins.

  8. Going Dotty in Kansas says

    “Candlewicking” is a term I haven’t heard in some years — it brought back memories of my Italian grandmother, a most accomplished embroiderer and seamstress. She did lacework on the pillow; tatting; crochet; needlepoint; bargello; petit-point; shadow work; cross-stitch; and crewel embroidery. In terms of seaming, she specialized in ruching, buttonholes, and soutache work. (She taught me only only a fraction of what she knew [sadly, I never had the patience to learn more from her, and I’ve had many years to regret my hastiness].) She never did candlewicking, although she told me that it was a technique that was used extensively throughout Colonial New England down to Pennsylvania. The term, she claimed, was derived from the use of fresh candle wicks as thread, and it was a pulled thread (no tufting as in turkey work).

  9. dungbeattle says

    Candlewicke bedspread. My first and last encounter, was Hartford Conn: late 50’s .
    Passepartout, nice frechified down scale [,sounding upscale] of taping pictures [Photos mainly] cheaply tape had the appearance of electricians tape. It held the glass to carboard without paying two arms and legs for a fake oak frame then could be hung from the ceiling skirting.

  10. Thanks, all — my readers are better than Google + reference works combined!

  11. Candlewick
    A type of unbleached muslin cloth made from cotton or wool with a chenille effect formed by heavy plied yarn loops, which are cut to give the fuzzy effect and cut yarn appearance of true chenille yarn. The cloth is used for bedspreads, and housecoats.
    From http://www.halifax-today.co.uk/specialfeatures/triviatrail/mmc136.html
    I’ve learned something from this thread: I’ve worked my way up from lower class, because I used to have a candlewick dressing-gown. I now have one made from towelling, which means I must have climbed the social ladder.
    My guess is that the name comes from association with the appearance of a trimmed candlewick.
    And a belated happy birthday!

  12. All my life (at least some 55 of it), I believed that the Swedish “ljusvekegarn” (candlewick yarn) really was the same stuff that is used in candles. Now I learn from the Swedish Natl. Encyclopedia, that is not, but a coarse cotton knitting yarn, used for babies’ clothes, dusting towels and some home textiles.
    Passepartout is the way we write it in Swedish. I learned it rather early in my life. Many if not most people here know what it means for picture framing.
    Hollegrasch I wouldn’t have guessed. I rather thought that it was some hellish stuff, and that the umlaut had disappeared on the “o”.

  13. In English the word is most often spelled Hollekreisch, though I bet the word was formerly most often written in Hebrew characters.
    Here’s a paragraph about it:
    “Until the Holocaust decimated the Jewish populations there, a cradle ceremony greeted the births of girls and boys in Southern Germany, Bavaria, the Rhineland, and Alsace. Children would surround the baby’s specially-decorated cradle and raise it three times while shouting “Hollekreisch, Hollekreisch! What shall be this child’s name?” (Hollekreisch is a word of uncertain origin.) Several passages would be read from the Torah and the baby’s name would be announced, and then the ritual concluded with cakes and drinks. By the 1650s, urban Jews had ceased the cradle ceremony and it was practiced only in small towns and rural areas, but the custom spread to Alsace and the Rhineland, to southern Holland and to the Jewish communities in what is now Switzerland, and continued until modern times for the naming of girls.”
    This is from
    (Sorry, tinyurl.com seems to be broken.)

  14. Um, I just realized that what I posted is pretty much a direct translation of the German above. Well, maybe it’ll be of help to those that don’t know German, anyway.

  15. Zachary, the alternative spelling you give is quite precious, actually (besides, I was too lazy and/or busy to translate my German quote, and while the description of the ceremony is the same, indeed, your quote adds valuable geographical information).
    It allowed me to find this page on a site about Alsatian Judaism that gives three possible etymologies for the apparently obscure term here spelt Hol Kreich:
    “1. Ce serait une déformation du terme français “haut la crèche” (crèche signifie berceau) parce que l’on soulevait le berceau au moment de proclamer le nom de l’enfant.
    2. “Holle kreichen”, c’est-à-dire crier pour effrayer la Frau Holle, sorcière qui cherche à faire du mal aux petits-enfants.
    3. L’expression ‘hol kreichen que l’on trouve déjà aux 14e et 15e siècles signifie simplement crier, proclamer à haute voix, le nom profane (‘hol) du nouveau-né en opposition au nom kodesh (nom hébreu).”
    [1. French for “cradle up!” – 2. “shouting to scare Frau Holle, the children-harming witch”. – 3. “To proclame the profane name (‘hol, as opposed to kodesh, the Hebrew name) of the newborn”.]
    The article, written by Great Rabbi Max Warschawski, includes one photograph from a 1979 ceremony and an older (18-19th century?) illustration.

  16. Sorry for misspelling your name, Zackary, I probably shouldn’t be typing at almost 3 AM.

  17. Seems Mr Edwards, of Under Milk Wood fame, was not only a draper mad with love but a linguist.
    Mr Edwards: “I am a draper mad with love. I love you more than all the flannelette and calico, candlewick, dimity, crash and merino, tussore, cretonne, crepon, muslin, poplin, ticking and twill in the whole Cloth Hall of the world. I have come to take you away to my Emporium on the hill, where the change hums on wires. Throw away your little bedsocks and your Welsh wool knitted jacket, I will warm the sheets like an electric toaster, I will lie by your side like the Sunday roast.”
    Dylan Thomas

  18. If anyone remembers Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne… it has a character named Jean Passepartout. There is a lovely Australian TV cartoon series based on it–82 episodes no less–details on request. In Russian, паспарту is indeed a “plate of cardboard or the like, having the centre cut out so as to receive a photograph.” Not a very common word, but not esoteric either.

  19. Jimmy,
    Fascinating stuff! Thanks for letting us know. I’m no expert about the Hollekreisch, but I’m dubious about the etymologies that you quote. First,”haut la crèche”: the ceremony didn’t start in French-speaking lands. As for Frau Holle, the kid-harming witch, I haven’t had the pleasure of her acquaintance. Maybe that one is actually true. (If you do show up, Mrs. Holle, stay away from my daughter!) And “khol” (profane): I don’t think Jews use that adjective for names. At least I’ve never heard it.
    You’re the absolute first person ever to misspell my name anywhere! I am shocked, hurt, disappointed and insulted. Also flippant.

  20. Bookchatted last year. (Memory is that Nabokov figured prominently.)

  21. Yes, Nabokov shows up in each of the four sections, which I enjoyed tremendously (I’m a sucker for VV).
    What’s so hard about spelling Zacquarie?

  22. Okay, since we’re off topic already, I wonder if you (LH, or anyone else) knows the Yiddish phrase נח מיט זיבן גרײַזן (Noyekh mit zibn grayzn) — writing the (two-letter) word “Noach” with seven mistakes.
    I’ve met people that can do that. A sort of negative talent.

  23. I didn’t know it, but I like it.

  24. Are “different” spellings of the “same” name really “different” names, or just different spelling conventions and dialect forms. Is my friend Wm. Kwok really **also** Wm. Guo? Do my ex-wife Carol and her sister Carla really have the “same” name? Is Karl really also Carl?
    Can anything be identical to itself? And besides oneself, what else CAN one be identical to?

  25. BableFish translates hollegrasch as “get-put-rapidly” FWIW.

  26. Cavalier and chivalrious are quite different besides being essentially same word

  27. Despite, not besides.

  28. In England, passe partout tape was produced by Samuel Jones & Co of St Neots for many years.
    The trend was in decline from the mid 1960s onwards, and passe partout ceased to be manufactured here c. 1989. The last reels were sold in the early 1990s.

  29. I guess it’s passé.

  30. Mark McCulloh says

    Ah, Sebald’s love of words! With passe partout he is using a word for what we call “matting” in the US. When my wife and I were first decorating our German apartment, we had several pictures framed and discovered that this French word is commonly used in Germany for the cardboard frame placed over the picture or painting before it is placed in the external frame. So this is an example of a word in contemporary use in Sebald’s native country, whereas otherwise he seems to prefer archaic forms. (At the moment the word escapes me, but I remember he never used the contemporary “Balkon” for “balcony”, but always used an out-of-date term seldom heard in Germany even among the older generation.)

  31. Very interesting — thanks!

  32. I have a framed very yellowing 1899 news cutting remembering a cricket match played in 1874 by my great grandfather against Dr WG Grace. Passe-partout tape was the quick and relatively inexpensive method of holding the glass to the board back and was done in the late 1950’s in Northern Rhodesia. The passe-partout is STILL sticking the three together and I wonder just how many modern tapes have this lasting sticky strength? And also that of many slim wooden frames?

  33. American readers may not know that WG Grace is the greatest name in cricket; he practically invented the modern game in the 1860s and ’70s and has his own entry in the Oxford Companion to English Literature (or did in 1932, the date of my first edition): “He was a big heavy man, bluff and downright in manner, but his genuine kindness of heart won him many friends…” It is rumoured that on one occasion he faced a delivery which pitched up rather sharply and went straight through his beard. Thanks for telling us about your doughty passe-partout!

  34. Just reread this post and realized I had totally forgotten the meanings of both candlewick and passe-partout. Sigh.

  35. And I certainly don’t remember making that first comment.

    I went back to my phone flash-cards today after four years of intense use and a six-to-nine-month gap. عقوبت as punishment, penalty, retribution, I knew that! And today I didn’t. طلعت as face, countenance, ditto. Treacherous memory.

  36. Passepartout seems to be one of those French words (like restaurant or étiquette) that have made it to most, if not all, the European languages. Is there a label for these modern Wanderwörter?

    (The silly buggers at the Real Academia insist that Spanish speakers should write it paspartú, but in my experience the term is more often used with the original French spelling; and ngrams is of little use, this being a very low frequency lexical item. Wikipedia reports marialuisa as a synonym, but for the life of me I can’t recall ever encountering it.)

  37. Well, that’s why you post this stuff, so your declining memory can be refreshed from time to time with the blood of forgotten words.

  38. I knew about Jean Passepartout of world-encircling fame for many years before I encountered the picture framing sense. I think it was called something else when I grew up — the earliest citation for that sense in Danish is from 1992, and in the 1970 Fremmedordbog (loan word dictionary) the only sense given is ‘master key’.

  39. David Marjanović says


    Does Danish make the same distinction as German between easily recognizable loans (Fremdwörter) and those recognizable only with extra knowledge (etymology and/or the source languages – Lehnwörter)?

  40. More or less, yes. But while most dictionaries include those fremmedord that have been established in Danish, a fremmedordbog includes many more that are encountered only in specialist literature or have been introduced at one point but since fallen from use.

  41. David Marjanović says

    That’s what a Fremdwörterbuch does, too.

  42. I suspect the whole terminology is a calque from German — arveord, låneord, fremmedord.

  43. David Marjanović says

    Looks like it. Erbwort, Lehnwort, Fremdwort.

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