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The Romance of Words (4th ed.) By Ernest Weekley Characters: 10580

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

A very large number of wares are named from the places from which they come. This is especially common in the case of woven fabrics, and the origin is often obvious, e.g., arras, cashmere (by folk-etymology, kerseymere), damask, holland. The following are perhaps not all so evident-frieze from Friesland[36]; fustian, Old Fr. fustaine (futaine), from Fustat, a suburb of Cairo; muslin, Fr. mousseline, from Mosul in Kurdistan; shalloon from Chalons-sur-Marne; lawn from Laon; jean, formerly jane, from Genoa (French Gênes[37]); cambric from Kamerijk, the Dutch name of Cambrai (cf. the obsolete dornick, from the Dutch name of Tournay); tartan from the Tartars (properly Tatars), used vaguely for Orientals; sarcenet from the Saracens; sendal, ultimately from India (cf. Greco-Lat. sindon, Indian cloth); tabby, Old Fr. atabis, from the name of a suburb of Bagdad, formerly used of a kind of silk, but now of a cat marked something like the material in question.

Brittany used to be famous for hempen fabrics, and the villages of Locrenan and Daoulas gave their names to lockram (see quotation from Coriolanus, p. 42) and dowlas-

Hostess. You owe me money, Sir John; and now you pick a quarrel to beguile me of it: I bought you a dozen of shirts to your back.

Falstaff. Dowlas, filthy dowlas; I have given them away to bakers' wives, and they have made bolters of them.

(1 Henry IV., iii. 3.)

Duffel is a place near Antwerp-

"And let it be of duffil gray,

As warm a cloak as man can sell."

(Wordsworth, Alice Fell.)

and Worstead is in Norfolk. Of other commodities majolica comes from Majorca, called in Spanish Mallorca, and in medieval Latin Majolica; bronze from Brundusium (Brindisi), delf from Delft, the magnet from Magnesia, the shallot, Fr. échalote, in Old French also escalogne, whence archaic Eng. scallion, from Ascalon; the sardine from Sardinia. A milliner, formerly milaner, dealt in goods from Milan. Cravat dates from the Thirty Years' War, in which the Croats, earlier Cravats, played a part. Ermine is in medieval Latin mus Armenius, Armenian mouse, but the name perhaps comes, through Fr. hermine, from Old High Ger. harmo, weasel. Buncombe, more usually bunkum, is the name of a county in North Carolina. To make a speech "for Buncombe" means, in American politics, to show your constituents that you are doing your best for your £400 a year or its American equivalent. Cf. Billingsgate and Limehouse.

The adjective spruce was formerly pruce and meant Prussia. Todd quotes from Holinshed-

"Sir Edward Howard then admirall, and with him Sir Thomas Parre in doubletts of crimsin velvett, etc., were apparelled after the fashion of Prussia or Spruce."

Of similar origin are spruce-leather, spruce-beer, and the spruce-fir, of which Evelyn says-

"Those from Prussia (which we call spruce) and Norway are the best."


Among coins the bezant comes from Byzantium, the florin from Florence, and Shylock's ducat, chiefly a Venetian coin, from the ducato d'Apuglia, the Duchy of Apulia, where it was first coined in the 12th century. The dollar is the Low Ger. daler, for Ger. Taler, originally called a Joachimstaler, from the silver-mine of Joachimstal, "Joachim's dale," in Bohemia. Cotgrave registers a curious Old French perversion jocondale, "a daller, a piece of money worth about 3s. sterl." Some fruits may also be mentioned, e.g., the damson from Damascus, through Old Fr. damaisine, "a damascene or damsen plum" (Cotgrave); the currant from Corinth, and the peach, Fr. pêche, from Vulgar Lat. pessica, for Persica.

A polony was originally a Bolonian sausage, from Bologna. Parchment, Fr. parchemin, is the adjective pergamenus, from Pergamus, in Asia Minor. Spaniel is the Old Fr. espagneul (épagneul), lit. Spanish. We have the adjective Moorish in morris, or morrice, pike-

"He that sets up his rest to do more exploits with his mace than a morris pike."

(Comedy of Errors, iv. 3.)

In morris dance, Fr. danse mauresque, the same adjective is used with something of the vagueness to be noticed in connection with India and Turkey (p. 52). Shakespeare uses the Spanish form-

"I have seen him

Caper upright, like to a wild morisco,

Shaking the bloody darts as he his bells."

(2 Henry VI., iii. 1.)

Other "local" dances are the polka, which means Polish woman, mazurka, woman of Mazuria, and the obsolete polonaise, lit. Polish, cracovienne, from Cracow, and varsovienne, from Warsaw. The tarantella, like the tarantula spider, takes its name from Taranto, in Italy. The tune of the dance is said to have been originally employed as a cure for the lethargy caused by the bite of the spider. Florio has tarantola, "a serpent called an eft or an evet. Some take it to be a flye whose sting is perillous and deadly, and nothing but divers sounds of musicke can cure the patient."

The town of Troyes has given its name to troy weight. The armourers of Bilbao, in Spain, made swords of such perfect temper that they could be bent point to hilt. Hence Falstaff describes himself in the buck-basket as-

"Compassed, like a good bilbo, in the circumference of a peck, hilt to point, heel to head."

(Merry Wives, iii. 5.)

The Andrea Ferrara, or Scottish broadsword, carried by Ferg

us M'Ivor, bears, according to some authorities, the name of an armourer of Ferrara, in Italy. According to others, Andrea dei Ferrari was a sword-maker at Belluno. I have heard it affirmed by a Scottish drill-sergeant that the real name of this genius was Andrew Ferrars,[38] and that he belonged to the same nationality as other great men.


An argosy, formerly also ragusye, was named from the Adriatic port of Ragusa, and a lateen sail is a Latin, i.e. Mediterranean, sail; gamboge is the Fr. Cambodge, Cambodia, and indigo is from Span. indico, Indian. Of wines, malmsey, chiefly remembered in connection with George of Clarence, and malvoisie are doublets, from Monemvasia in the Morea. Port is named from Oporto, i.e. o porto, the harbour (cf. le Havre), and sherry (see p. 116) from Xeres, Lat. C?saris (urbs); cf. Saragossa, from C?sarea Augusta.

But it is possible to be mistaken in connecting countries with products. Brazil wood is not named from the country, but vice-versa. It was known as a dye-wood as early as the 12th century, and the name is found in many of the European languages. The Portuguese navigators found large quantities of it in South America and named the country accordingly. They christened an island Madeira, timber, Lat. materia, for a similar reason. The canary comes from the Canary Islands, but its name is good Latin. The largest of these islands, Canaria, was so called by the Romans from the dogs found there. The guinea-fowl and guinea gold came first from the west coast of Africa, but the guinea-pig is a native of Brazil. The name probably came from the Guinea-men, or slave-ships, which regularly followed a triangular course. They sailed outward to the west coast of Africa with English goods. These they exchanged for slaves, whom they transported to the West Indies, the horrible "middle passage," and finally they sailed homeward with New World produce, including, no doubt, guinea-pigs brought home by sailors. The turkey is also called guinea-fowl in the 17th century, probably to be explained in the same way. The German name for guinea-pig, Meerschweinchen, seems to mean little pig from over the sea.

Guinea was a vague geographical expression in the 17th century, but not so vague as India or Turkey. Indian ink comes from China (Fr. encre de Chine), and Indian corn from America. The names given to the turkey are extraordinary. We are not surprised that, as an American bird, it should be naturally connected with India; cf. West Indies, Red Indian, etc. Turk was in the 16th and 17th centuries a vague term for non-Christians-

"Jews, Turks, infidels, and hereticks."

(Collect for Good Friday.)

and we find also Turkey wheat for maize. The following names for the turkey, given in a Nomenclator in eight languages, published in Germany in 1602, do not exhaust the list:-

German.-Indianisch oder Kalekuttisch[39] oder Welsch[40] Hun.

Dutch.-Calcoensche oft Turckische Henne.

French.-Geline ou poulle d'Inde, ou d'Africque.

Italian.-Gallina d'India.

Spanish.-Pavon (peacock) de las Indias.

English.-Cok off Inde!

No doubt the turkey was confused with other birds, for we find Fr. geline d'Inde before the discovery of America. D'Inde has become dinde, whence a new masculine dindon has been formed.


The early etymologists were fond of identifying foreign wares with place-names. They connected diaper with Ypres, gingham with Guingamp (in Brittany), drugget with Drogheda, and the sedan chair with Sedan. Such guesses are almost always wrong. The origin of diaper is doubtful, that of drugget quite unknown, and gingham is Malay. As far as we know at present, the sedan came from Italy in the 16th century, and it is there, among derivatives of Lat. sedere, to sit, that its origin must be sought, unless indeed the original Sedan was some mute, inglorious Hansom.[41]


[36] Whence also cheval de frise, a contrivance used by the Frieslanders against cavalry. The German name is die spanischen Reiter, explained by Ludwig as "a bar with iron-spikes; cheval de frise, a warlick instrument, to keep off the horse."

[37] The form jeans appears to be usual in America-"His hands were thrust carelessly into the side pockets of a gray jeans coat." (Meredith Nicholson, War of the Carolinas, Ch. 15.)

[38] A Scotch reviewer (Glasgow Herald, 13th April 1912) corrects me here-"His name was certainly not Ferrars, but Ferrier. He was probably an Arbroath man." Some readers may remember that, after General Todleben's brilliant defence of Sebastopol (1854-5), Punch discovered a respectable ancestry for him also. In some lines commencing-

"I ken him weel, the chield was born in Fife,

The bairn of Andrew Drummond and his wife,"

it was shown that the apparently foreign name had been conferred on the gifted child because of the agility with which he used to "toddle ben the hoose."

[39] Calicut, not Calcutta.

[40] See walnut (p. 151).

[41] As the hansom has now become of arch?ological interest only, it may be recorded here that it took its name from that of its inventor-"The Hansom's patent (cab) is especially constructed for getting quickly over the ground" (Pulleyn's Etymological Compendium, 1853). Sic transit!

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