Melanie & Mike say...
|the only Weekly Word-origin Webzine
|March 15, 1999
Last week we examined several general fabric-related words, and we discussed two specific types of fabric. We got a glimpse of the varied sources of such words, and this week the variety grows.
Linen is a very old type of cloth which is made from flax. The word linen dates back to Old English linen our earliest record of it is from 700 A.D. This word has not changed in over a millenium! There were cognates in Old Frisian, Old Scandinavian, and Old High German, all of which came from a Proto-Germanic root *linom "flax".
Ramie is the word for a Chinese and East Indian plant, Boehmeria nivea, which has been used in weaving for some time. The word dates back to the early 19th century in English, when it was spelled rami. The English word is an Anglicized rendering of the Malay word for the plant.
Muslin has its roots in the Arab town of Mosul, where the cloth was originally made. The Romance languages all have cognates, as does Greek: musselin. The current form of the word dates in English to the early 17th century. However, Old French had mosulin in the 13th century, but this was applied to "cloth of silk and gold from Mosul, according to Marco Polo.
Speaking of silk, this word is quite old, dating from the time that the Greeks obtained silk from the east. The Greek form was seres, and the Romans borrowed that word along with the adjectival form, sericus. Seres is the name that the Greeks had for the oriental people who first provided them with silk. It is thought that the r may have changed to an l as the word traveled from the Greco-Romans to the Baltic area. There is an Old Slavic form shelku, as well as Old Norse silki and Old English sioloc. No other Germanic language possess this word. Interestingly, silkie is an old Scottish word for seals, so-named because of their silky fur.
Organza, which is a stiff, transparent form of silk, got its name from organzine, a strong, high-quality silk thread. That word comes from Italian organzino (17th century) but the source of the Italian word is not known.
Brocade is, interestingly, related to our broach/brooch. It comes from Spanish brocado, which corresponds to Italian broccato "cloth of gold and silver", but literally broccato is "something bossed or embossed". The Italian form comes originally from the verb broccare "to boss, to stud, to set with great-headed nails", from Italian brocca "a boss or stud". Brocca is cognate with English broach/brooch, which is simply a boss worn on one's clothing . In the latter half of the 16th century, it was noted "Cloth of silke, brocardo, and diver other sortes of marchandise come out of Persia".
Tweed, which many of you probably assumed was named after the River Tweed in the Borders of Scotland, is actually the product of a misunderstanding! This misunderstanding occurred in about 1831, when someone misread the Scottish word tweel "twill" as tweed. It is likely that the river name played some part in the misreading, but the cloth is not named after the river. Exactly who was guilty of this error has not been well determined. However, in 1847, it was written "Narrow cloths, of various kinds, known by the name of Tweeds,..are extensively produced at Galashiels and Jedburgh, but especially the former. They used, also, to be produced in considerable quantities at Hawick".
Think about the word corduroy. If you know any French, you might recognize the elements du and roi in the word: du = of and roi = king. Corde du roi, "the king's cord", was either invented in English to have this meaning, or that meaning was attached to it soon after the word was coined in the 18th century. The phrase corde du roi is not known in French. In fact, a French list of manufactured articles, dating from 1807, includes "kings-cordes", apparently taken from the English word!
Taffeta is an interesting word. It was current in English by the mid-14th century, in the form taffata. Old French had taffeta and tapheta, and the Romance languages all had similar forms. The ultimate source is Persian taftah "silken cloth" OR "linen clothing". It comes from the Persian verb taftan "to shine" or "to twist, to spin".
Next week we weave through more origins for textile words.
From Alejandro Gutierrez :
We should think so! According to one school, earth comes ultimately from the Indo-European root *er-, the verb form of which is *ar "to plough". That root supposedly also gave rise to the proto-Germanic word *ertho, from which German got erde, Dutch got aarde (source of aardvark "earth pig"), and Swedish and Danish got jord. There's also the Greek éraze "on the ground" and Welsh erw "field". All of these words have meanings related to "ground", "soil" and "world".
There is another school, however, which feels the connection to the Indo-European *er- is questionable, especially because the majority of earth cognates are Germanic in origin. This, they claim, suggests a proto-Germanic origin for the word.
From Rebecca T:
Galoot yourself, you old... Oops, sorry, missed the question mark for a moment.
This word for a "stupid" or "tough" or "morally unsound" fellow was first used around 1810 and originally meant a "soldier". Subsequently (1818), it came to mean "sailor" or "marine". While its etymology is not exactly certain, some have suggested that it comes from the Dutch gelubt, "eunuch". Why? Well, your guess is probably as good as ours.
From Joe Scirica:
Funnily enough, both guesses have an element of truth. Such a vehicle was originally called a jitney bus because when it was introduced (around 1900) the standard fare was one nickel and the then current slang for a nickel was a jitney. But why was a nickel called a jitney? One theory is that it comes from jetton (from the French jeton), "a gambling token", but this is not widely accepted.
The Philippines has a kind of bus called a jeepney. This is a portmanteau word formed from jeep + jitney.
From Brandon Dart:
Well, literally, a hackney is a "rental horse" and, just as a hired horse is likely to be tired and worn out, a hackneyed idea is similarly "tired and worn out". As you probably discovered in your research, hackney comes from the Old French haquenée, "an ambling horse or mare, especially for ladies to ride on". Many etymologists have attempted to trace it back further than this but the word has resisted all analysis. Most relate it to the Old Spanish and Portuguese facanea, Spanish hacanea, Italian acchinea and chinea , "a hackney or ambling nag". The French haquenée and its Romanic equivalents had probably some relationship with Old French haque, Old Spanish and Portuguese faca, Spanish haca, all meaning "a nag, a gelding, a hackney".
This is not the entire story, though. It is also possible that the English word hackney "rental horse", might derive from the place-name Hackney (1198, Hakenei, "Haca's Island") where horses were raised for use in London. Hackney is now no longer a separate entity, having being swallowed by London during the 19th century.
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