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Title: The Romance of Words (4th ed.)

Author: Ernest  Weekley

Release Date: December 21, 2007 [EBook #23958]

Language: English

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Transcriber's Note

Unique page headings have been retained, and appear in the left-hand margin prior to the relevant paragraph.

Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Significant amendments have been listed at the end of the text.

Greek text appears as originally printed, but with a mouse-hover transliteration, ναυσία.



"Mr Weekley inspires confidence by his scholarly method of handling a subject which has been left, for the most part, to the amateur or the crank."—Spectator. Third Edition. 6s. net.


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The abridgment has not involved any diminution in the vocabulary; in fact, many new words such as copec, fascist, insulin, rodeo, etc., are here registered for the first time. Large Crown 8vo. 7s. 6d. net.


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"Vous savez le latin, sans doute?"—
"Oui, mais faites comme si je ne le savais pas."
(Molière, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, ii. 6.)


First EditionMarch 1912
ReprintedJune 1912
Second Edition, Revised and EnlargedNovember 1913
Third EditionMay 1917
Fourth EditionJanuary 1922
ReprintedFebruary 1925
ReprintedJanuary 1927



A long and somewhat varied experience in language teaching has convinced me that there are still, in spite of the march of science, many people who are capable of getting intellectual pleasure from word-history. I hope that to such people this little book, the amusement of occasional leisure, will not be unwelcome. It differs, I believe, from any other popular book on language in that it deals essentially with the origins of words, and makes no attempt to enforce a moral. My aim has been to select especially the unexpected in etymology, "things not generally known," such as the fact that Tammany was an Indian chief, that assegai occurs in Chaucer, that jilt is identical with Juliet, that brazil wood is not named from Brazil, that to curry favour means to comb down a horse of a particular colour, and so forth. The treatment is made as simple as possible, a bowing acquaintance with Latin and French being all that is assumed, though words from many other languages are necessarily included. In the case of each word I have traced the history just so far back as it is likely to be of interest to the reader who is not a philological specialist.

I have endeavoured to state each proposition in its simplest terms, without enumerating all the reservations and indirect factors which belong to the history of almost every word.

The chapter headings only indicate in a general way the division of the subject matter, the arrangement of[vi] which has been determined rather by the natural association which exists between words. The quotations are, with few exceptions, drawn from my own reading. They come from very varied sources, but archaic words are exemplified, when possible, from authors easily accessible, generally Shakespeare or Milton, or, for revived archaisms, Scott. In illustrating obsolete meanings I have made much use of the earliest dictionaries[1] available.

It seemed undesirable to load a small work of this kind with references. The writer on word-lore must of necessity build on what has already been done, happy if he can add a few bricks to the edifice. But philologists will recognise that this book is not, in the etymological sense, a mere compilation,[2] and that a considerable portion of the information it contains is here printed for the first time in a form accessible to the general reader.[3] Chapter VII., on Semantics, is, so far as I know, the first attempt at a simple treatment of a science which is now admitted to an equality with phonetics, and which to most people is much more interesting.

Throughout I have used the New English Dictionary, in the etymological part of which I have for some years had a humble share, for purposes of verification. Without the materials furnished by the historical method of that great national work, which is now complete from A to R, this book would not have been attempted. For words in S to Z, I have referred chiefly to Professor Skeat's Etymological Dictionary (4th ed., Oxford, 1910).[vii]

It is not many years since what passed for etymology in this country was merely a congeries of wild guesses and manufactured anecdotes. The persistence with which these crop up in the daily paper and the class-room must be my excuse for "slaying the slain" in Chapter XIII. Some readers may regret the disappearance of these fables, but a little study will convince them that in the life of words, as in that of men, truth is stranger than fiction.

Ernest Weekley.

Nottingham, January 1912.


On its first publication this little book was very kindly treated by both reviewers and readers. The only criticism of any importance was directed against its conciseness. There seemed to be a consensus of expert opinion that, the book being intended for the non-specialist, the compression was a little too severe, and likely sometimes to lead to misunderstanding. I have tried to remedy this defect in the present edition, both by giving fuller explanations and by supplying further quotations in illustration of the less common words and uses. No absolutely new matter is introduced, but a number of fresh words have been added as examples of points already noticed. The general arrangement of the book remains unchanged, except that a few paragraphs have been shifted to what seemed more natural positions.[viii]

Friendly correspondents in all parts of the world, to many of whom I must apologise for my failure to answer their letters, have sent me information of interest and value. In some cases I have been able to make use of such information for this edition. Many readers have called my attention to local and American survivals of words and meanings described as obsolete. This is a subject on which a great deal could be written, but it lies outside the plan of this book, which does not aspire to do more than furnish some instruction or entertainment to those who are interested in the curiosities of etymology.

Ernest Weekley.


It is just five years since this little book was first submitted to the toleration of word-lovers, a class much more numerous than the author had suspected. The second edition, revised and slightly enlarged, appeared in 1913. Since then the text has once more been subjected to a searching revision, and it is hoped that the book now contains no statement which is not in accord with common sense and the present state of philological knowledge. Only those who have experience of such work know how easy it is to stray unconsciously from the exact truth in publishing the results of etymological research. Moreover, new light is constantly being thrown on old problems, and theories long triumphant have occasionally to yield to fresh[ix] evidence. To take an example from this volume, the traditional derivation of trousers from French trousse is now shown by the New English Dictionary to be chronologically improbable. That great and cautious work unhesitatingly describes hatchment as a corruption of achievement, but Professor Derocquigny, of Lille, has shown (Modern Language Review, January 1913) that this etymology is "preposterous," hachement being a good old French word which in 16th century English was ignorantly confused with achievement. Apart from these two etymologies,[4] the only essential alterations have been made in the chapter on Surnames (p. 170), further research in medieval records having convinced the author that most of what has been written about "corrupted" surnames is nonsense, and that no nickname is too fantastic to be genuine.[5] Two slight contemplated alterations have not been carried out. The adjective applied (p. 156) to a contemporary ruler seemed to need reconsideration, but the author was baffled by the embarras du choix. A word mentioned on p. 48 might gracefully have been omitted, but it is likely that the illustrious man alluded to would, if the page should ever accidentally meet his eye, only chuckle at the thought of time's revenges.

In the interval since the last edition of the Romance of Words the greatest Romance of Deeds in our story has been written in the blood of our noblest and best.[x] Only a sense of proportion withholds the author from dedicating this new edition to the glorious memory of his many old pupils dead on the field of honour. Nothing in the modest success of the book has given him so much pleasure as the fact, to which his correspondence bears witness, that his little contribution to word-lore has helped to amuse the convalescence of more than one stricken fighting-man.

Ernest Weekley.

Nottingham, March 1917.


In preparing a new edition of this little book, ten years after its first appearance, I have corrected a few slight inaccuracies which had been overlooked in earlier revisions, and modified or expanded some statements which were not quite consonant with the present state of etymological knowledge. In word-lore, as in other sciences, it is seldom safe to lay down the law without a little conscientious "hedging." The only two considerable alterations have to do with the word snickersnee, the history of which is now clearly traced, and the name Bendigo. It is rather strange that no reader or reviewer has ever put me right on the subject of this Nottingham worthy, for the facts are plainly stated in the Dictionary of National Biography.

Ernest Weekley.

Nottingham, January 1922.


[1] For a list of these see p. xii.

[2] Compilatio, "pillage, polling, robbing" (Cooper).

[3] Among words on which the reader will find either entirely new information or a modification of generally accepted views are akimbo, anlace, branks, caulk, cockney, felon (a whitlow), foil, kestrel, lugger, mulligrubs, mystery (a craft), oriel, patch, petronel, salet, sentry, sullen, tret, etc.

[4] In spite of the fact that the New English Dictionary now finds shark applied to the fish some years before the first record of shark, a sharper, parasite, I adhere to my belief that the latter is the earlier sense. The new example quoted, from a Tudor "broadside," is more suggestive of a sailor's apt nickname than of zoological nomenclature—"There is no proper name for it that I knowe, but that sertayne men of Captayne Haukinses doth call it a sharke" (1569).

[5] See the author's Surnames (John Murray, 1916), especially pp. 177-83.



I.Our Vocabulary1
II.Wanderings of Words17
III.Words of Popular Manufacture29
IV.Words and Places47
V.Phonetic Accidents54
VI.Words and Meanings72
XII.Family Names169
XIII.Etymological Fact and Fiction184


The following dictionaries are quoted without further reference:—

Palsgrave, French and English (1530).
Cooper, Latin and English (1573).
Percyvall, Spanish and English (1591).
Florio, Italian and English (1598).
Cotgrave, French and English (1611).
Torriano, Italian and English (1659).
Hexham, Dutch and English (1660).
Ludwig, German and English (1716).





The bulk of our literary language is Latin, and consists of words either borrowed directly or taken from "learned" French forms. The every-day vocabulary of the less educated is of Old English, commonly called Anglo-Saxon, origin; and from the same source comes what we may call the machinery of the language, i.e., its inflexions, numerals, pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions. Along with Anglo-Saxon, we find a considerable number of words from the related Norse languages, this element being naturally strongest in the dialects of the north and east of England. The third great element of our working vocabulary is furnished by Old French, i.e., the language naturally developed from the spoken Latin of the Roman soldiers and colonists, generally called Vulgar Latin. To its composite character English owes its unequalled richness in expression. For most ideas we have three separate terms, or groups of terms, which, often starting from the same metaphor, serve to express different shades of meaning. Thus a deed done with malice prepense (an Old French compound from Lat. pensare, to weigh), is deliberate or pondered, both Latin words which mean literally[2] "weighed"; but the four words convey four distinct shades of meaning. The Gk. sympathy is Lat. compassion, rendered in English by fellow-feeling.

Sometimes a native word has been completely supplanted by a loan word, e.g., Anglo-Sax. here, army (cf. Ger. Heer), gave way to Old Fr. (h)ost (p. 158). This in its turn was replaced by army, Fr. armée, which, like its Spanish doublet armada, is really a feminine past participle with some word for host, band, etc., understood. Here has survived in Hereford, harbour (p. 164), harbinger (p. 90), etc., and in the verb harry (cf. Ger. verheeren, to harry).

Or a native word may persist in some special sense, e.g., weed, a general term for garment in Shakespeare—

"And there the snake throws her enamel'd skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in."

(Midsummer Night's Dream, ii. 2.)

survives in "widow's weeds." Chare, a turn of work—

"the maid that milks
And does the meanest chares."

(Antony and Cleopatra, iv. 15.)

has given us charwoman, and persists as American chore

"Sharlee was ... concluding the post-prandial chores."

(H. S. Harrison, Queed, Ch. 17.)

Sake, cognate with Ger. Sache, thing, cause, and originally meaning a contention at law, has been replaced by cause, except in phrases beginning with the preposition for. See also bead (p. 74). Unkempt, uncombed, and uncouth, unknown, are fossil remains of obsolete verb forms.

In addition to these main constituents of our language, we have borrowed words, sometimes in[3] considerable numbers, sometimes singly and accidentally, from almost every tongue known to mankind, and every year sees new words added to our vocabulary. The following chapters deal especially with words borrowed from Old French and from the other Romance languages, their origins and journeyings, and the various accidents that have befallen them in English. It is in such words as these that the romance of language is best exemplified, because we can usually trace their history from Latin to modern English, while the earlier history of Anglo-Saxon words is a matter for the philologist.


Words borrowed directly from Latin or Greek lack this intermediate experience, though the study of their original meanings is full of surprises. This, however, is merely a question of opening a Latin or Greek dictionary, if we have not time for the moment's reflexion which would serve the same purpose. Thus, to take a dozen examples at random, to abominate[6] is to turn shuddering from the evil omen, a generous man is a man of "race" (genus), an innuendo can be conveyed "by nodding," to insult is to "jump on," a legend is something "to be read," a manual is a "hand-book," an obligation is essentially "binding," to relent is to "go slow," rivals are people living by the same "stream"[7] (rivus), a salary is an allowance for "salt" (sal), a supercilious man is fond of lifting his "eyebrows" (supercilium), and a trivial matter is so commonplace that it can be picked up at the meeting of "three ways" (trivium). Dexterity implies skill with the "right" hand (dexter), while sinister preserves the superstition of the ill-omened "left."


It may be remarked here that the number of Latin words used in their unaltered form in every-day English is larger than is generally realised. Besides such phrases as bona-fide, post-mortem, viva-voce, or such abbreviations as A.M., ante meridiem, D.V., Deo volente, and L. s. d., for libræ, solidi, denarii, we have, without including scientific terms, many Latin nouns, e.g., animal, genius, index, odium, omen, premium, radius, scintilla, stimulus, tribunal, and adjectives, e.g., complex, lucifer, miser, pauper, maximum, senior, and the ungrammatical bonus. The Lat. veto, I forbid, has been worked hard of late. The stage has given us exit, he goes out, and the Universities exeat, let him go out, while law language contains a number of Latin verb forms, e.g., affidavit (late Latin), he has testified, caveat, let him beware, cognovit, he has recognised—

"You gave them a cognovit for the amount of your costs after the trial, I'm told."

(Pickwick, Ch. 46.)

due to the initial words of certain documents. Similarly item, also, is the first word in each paragraph of an inventory. With this we may compare the purview of a statute, from the Old Fr. pourveu (pourvu), provided, with which it used to begin. A tenet is what one "holds." Fiat means "let it be done." When Mr Weller lamented—

"Oh, Sammy, Sammy, vy worn't there a alleybi?"

(Pickwick, Ch. 34.)

it is safe to say that he was not consciously using the Latin adverb alibi, elsewhere, nor is the printer who puts in a viz. always aware that this is an old abbreviation for videlicet, i.e., videre licet, it is permissible to see. A nostrum is "our" unfailing remedy, and tandem, at length, instead of side by side, is a university joke.[5]


Sometimes we have inflected forms of Latin words. A rebus[8] is a word or phrase represented "by things." Requiem, accusative of requies, rest, is the first word of the introit used in the mass for the dead—

"Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,"

while dirge is the Latin imperative dirige, from the antiphon in the same service—

"Dirige, Domine meus, in conspectu tuo viam meam."

The spelling dirige was once common—

"Also I byqwethe to eche of the paryshe prystys beying at my dyryge and masse xiid."

(Will of John Perfay, of Bury St. Edmunds, 1509.)

Query was formerly written quære, seek, and plaudit is for plaudite, clap your hands, the appeal of the Roman actors to the audience at the conclusion of the play—

"Nunc, spectatores, Iovis summi causa clare plaudite."

(Plautus, Amphitruo.)

Debenture is for debentur, there are owing. Dominie is the Latin vocative domine, formerly used by schoolboys in addressing their master, while pandy, a stroke on the hand with a cane, is from pande palmam, hold out your hand. Parse is the Lat. pars, occurring in the question Quæ pars orationis? What part of speech? Omnibus, for all, is a dative plural. Limbo is the ablative of Lat. limbus, an edge, hem, in the phrase "in limbo patrum," where limbus is used for the abode of the Old Testament saints on the verge of Hades. It is already jocular in Shakespeare—

"I have some of 'em in limbo patrum, and there they are like to dance these three days."

(Henry VIII., v. 3.)


Folio, quarto, etc., are ablatives, from the phrases in folio, in quarto, etc., still used in French. Premises, earlier premisses, is a slightly disguised Lat. præmissas, the aforesaid, lit. sent before, used in deeds to avoid repeating the full description of a property. It is thus the same word as logical premisses, or assumptions. Quorum is from a legal formula giving a list of persons "of whom" a certain number must be present. A teetotum is so called because it has, or once had, on one of its sides, a T standing for totum, all. It was also called simply a totum. The other three sides also bore letters to indicate what share, if any, of the stake they represented. Cotgrave has totum (toton), "a kind of game with a whirle-bone." In spite of the interesting anecdote about the temperance orator with an impediment in his speech, it was probably teetotum that suggested teetotaller.

We have also a few words straight from Greek, e.g., analysis, aroma, atlas, the world-sustaining demi-god whose picture used to decorate map-books, colon, comma, dogma, epitome, miasma, nausea, Gk. ναυσία, lit. sea-sickness, nectar, whence the fruit called a nectarine

"Nectarine fruits which the compliant boughs
Yielded them, sidelong as they sat recline."

(Paradise Lost, iv. 332.)

pathos, python, pyx, synopsis, etc.; but most of our Greek words have passed through French via Latin, or are newly manufactured scientific terms, often most unscientifically constructed.

Gamut contains the Gk. gamma and the Latin conjunction ut. Guy d'Arezzo, who flourished in the 11th century, is said to have introduced the method of indicating the notes by the letters a to g. For the note below a he used the Gk. gamma. To him is attributed[7] also the series of monosyllables by which the notes are also indicated. They are supposed to be taken from a Latin hymn to St John—

Ut queant laxis resonare fibris
Mira gestorum famuli tuorum
Solve polluti labii reatum
Sancte Iohannes.

Do is sometimes substituted for ut in French, and always in modern English.


In considering the Old French element in English, one has to bear in mind a few elementary philological facts. Nearly all French nouns and adjectives are derived from the accusative. I give, for simplicity, the nominative, adding the stem in the case of imparisyllabic words. The foundation of French is Vulgar Latin, which differs considerably from that we study at school. I only give Vulgar Latin forms where it cannot be avoided. For instance, in dealing with culverin (p. 38), I connect Fr. couleuvre, adder, with Lat. cólŭber, a snake. Every Romance philologist knows that it must represent Vulgar Lat. *colóbra; but this form, which, being conjectural, is marked with an asterisk, had better be forgotten by the general reader.

Our modern English words often preserve a French form which no longer exists, or they are taken from dialects, especially those of Normandy and Picardy, which differ greatly from that of Paris. The word caudle illustrates both these points. It is the same word as modern Fr. chaudeau, "a caudle; or, warme broth" (Cotgrave), but it preserves the Old French[9] -el for -eau, and the Picard c- for ch-. An uncomfortable bridle which used to be employed to silence scolds was[8] called the branks. It is a Scottish word, originally applied to a bridle improvised from a halter with a wooden "cheek" each side to prevent it from slipping—

"And then its shanks,
They were as thin, as sharp and sma'
As cheeks o' branks."

(Burns, Death and Doctor Hornbook, vii. 4.)

These cheeks correspond to the two parallel levers called the "branches" of a bridle, and brank is the Norman branque, branch. All the meanings of patch answer to those of Fr. pièce. It comes from the Old French dialect form peche, as match comes from mèche, and cratch, a manger, from crèche, of German origin, and ultimately the same word as crib. Cratch is now replaced, except in dialect, by manger, Fr. mangeoire, from manger, to eat, but it was the regular word in Mid. English—

"Sche childide her firste born sone, and wlappide him in clothis, and puttide in a cracche."

(Wyclif, Luke, ii. 7.)

Pew is from Old Fr. puy, a stage, eminence, Lat. podium, which survives in Puy de Dôme, the mountain in Auvergne on which Pascal made his experiments with the barometer. Dupuy is a common family name in France, but the Depews of the West Indies have kept the older pronunciation.

Many Old French words which live on in England are obsolete in France. Chime is Old Fr. chimbe from Greco-Lat. cymbalum. Minsheu (1617) derived dismal from Lat. dies mali, evil days. This, says Trench, "is exactly one of those plausible etymologies which one learns after a while to reject with contempt." But Minsheu is substantially right, if we substitute Old Fr. dis mal, which is found as early as 1256. Old Fr.[9] di, a day, also survives in the names of the days of the week, lundi, etc. In remainder and remnant we have the infinitive and present participle of an obsolete Old French verb derived from Lat. remanēre. Manor and power are also Old French infinitives, the first now only used as a noun (manoir), the second represented by pouvoir. Misnomer is the Anglo-French infinitive, "to misname."


In some cases we have preserved meanings now obsolete in French. Trump, in cards, is Fr. triomphe, "the card game called ruffe, or trump; also, the ruffe, or trump at it" (Cotgrave), but the modern French word for trump is atout, to all. Rappee is for obsolete Fr. (tabac) râpé, pulverised, rasped. Fr. talon, heel, from Vulgar Lat. *talo, talon-, for talus, was applied by falconers to the heel claw of the hawk. This meaning, obsolete in French, has persisted in English. The mizen mast is the rearmost of three, but the Fr. mât de misaine is the fore-mast, and both come from Ital. mezzana middle, "also the poop or mizensail[10] in a ship" (Torriano).

As in the case of Latin, we have some inflected French forms in English. Lampoon is from the archaic Fr. lampon, "a drunken song" (Miège, French Dict., 1688). This is coined from the imperative lampons, let us drink, regularly used as a refrain in seditious and satirical songs. For the formation we may compare[10] American vamose, to skedaddle, from Span. vamos, let us go. The military revelly is the French imperative réveillez, wake up, but in the French army it is called the diane. The gist of a matter is the point in which its importance really "lies." Ci-gît, for Old Fr. ci-gist, Lat. jacet, here lies, is seen on old tombstones. Tennis, says Minsheu, is so called from Fr. tenez, hold, "which word the Frenchmen, the onely tennis-players, use to speake when they strike the ball." This etymology, for a long time regarded as a wild guess, has been shewn by recent research to be most probably correct. The game is of French origin, and it was played by French knights in Italy a century before we find it alluded to by Gower (c. 1400). Erasmus tells us that the server called out accipe, to which his opponent replied mitte, and as French, and not Latin, was certainly the language of the earliest tennis-players, we may infer that the spectators named the game from the foreign word with which each service began. In French the game is called paume, palm of the hand; cf. fives, also a slang name for the hand. The archaic assoil

"And the holy man he assoil'd us, and sadly we sail'd away."

(Tennyson, Voyage of Maeldune, xi. 12.)

is the present subjunctive of the Old Fr. asoldre (absoudre), to absolve, used in the stereotyped phrase Dieus asoile, may God absolve.

A linguistic invasion such as that of English by Old French is almost unparalleled. We have instances of the expulsion of one tongue by another, e.g., of the Celtic dialects of Gaul by Latin and of those of Britain by Anglo-Saxon. But a real blending of two languages can only occur when a large section of the population is bilingual for centuries. This, as we know, was the[11] case in England. The Norman dialect, already familiar through inevitable intercourse, was transplanted to England in 1066. It developed further on its own lines into Anglo-Norman, and then, mixed with other French dialects, for not all the invaders were Normans, and political events brought various French provinces into relation with England, it produced Anglo-French, a somewhat barbarous tongue which was the official language till 1362, and with which our legal jargon is saturated. We find in Anglo-French many words which are unrecorded in continental Old French, among them one which we like to think of as essentially English, viz., dueté, duty, an abstract formed from the past participle of Fr. devoir. This verb has also given us endeavour, due to the phrase se mettre en devoir

"Je me suis en debvoir mis pour moderer sa cholere tyrannicque."[11]

(Rabelais, i. 29.)


No dictionary can keep up with the growth of a language. The New English Dictionary had done the letter C before the cinematograph arrived, but got it in under K. Words of this kind are manufactured in such numbers that the lexicographer is inclined to wait and see whether they will catch on. In such cases it is hard to prophesy. The population of this country may be divided into those people who have been operated for appendicitis and those who are going to be. Yet this word was considered too rare and obscure for insertion in the first volume of the New English Dictionary (1888), the greatest word-book that has ever been projected. Sabotage looks, unfortunately, as if it had come to stay. It is a derivative of saboter, to scamp work, from sabot, a wooden shoe, used contemptuously of an[12] inferior article. The great French dictionaries do not know it in its latest sense of malicious damage done by strikers, and the New English Dictionary, which finished Sa- in the year 1912, just missed it. Hooligan is not recorded by the New English Dictionary. The original Hooligans were a spirited Irish family of that name whose proceedings enlivened the drab monotony of life in Southwark towards the end of the 19th century. The word is younger than the Australian larrikin, of doubtful origin (see p. 190), but older than Fr. apache. The adoption of the Red Indian name Apache for a modern Parisian bravo is a curious parallel to the 18th-century use of Mohock (Mohawk) for an aristocratic London ruffler.

Heckle is first recorded in its political sense for 1880. The New English Dictionary quotes it from Punch in connection with the Fourth Party. In Scottish, however, it is old in this sense, so that it is an example of a dialect word that has risen late in life. Its southern form hatchell is common in Mid. English in its proper sense of "teasing" hemp or flax, and the metaphor is exactly the same. Tease, earlier toose, means to pluck or pull to pieces, hence the name teasel for the thistle used by wool-carders. The older form is seen in the derivative tousle, the family name Tozer, and the dog's name Towser. Feckless, a common Scottish word, was hardly literary English before Carlyle. It is now quite familiar—

"Thriftless, shiftless, feckless."

(Mr Lloyd George, 1st Nov. 1911.)

There is a certain appropriateness in the fact that almost the first writer to use it was James I. It is for effectless. I never heard of a week-end till I paid a visit to Lancashire in 1883. It has long since invaded the whole island. An old geezer has a modern sound, but[13] it is the medieval guiser, guisard, mummer, which has persisted in dialect and re-entered the language.


The fortunes of a word are sometimes determined by accident. Glamour (see p. 145) was popularised by Scott, who found it in old ballad literature. Grail, the holy dish at the Last Supper, would be much less familiar but for Tennyson. Mascot, from a Provençal word meaning sorcerer, dates from Audran's operetta La Mascotte (1880). Jingo first appears in conjurors' jargon of the 17th century. It has been conjectured to represent Basque jinko, God, picked up by sailors. If this is the case, it is probably the only pure Basque word in English. The Ingoldsby derivation from St Gengulphus—

"Sometimes styled 'The Living Jingo,' from the great tenaciousness of vitality exhibited by his severed members,"

is of course a joke. In 1878, when war with Russia seemed imminent, a music-hall singer, the Great Macdermott, delighted large audiences with—

"We don't want to fight, but, by Jingo, if we do,
We've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money too."

Hence the name jingo applied to that ultra-patriotic section of the population which, in war-time, attends to the shouting.[12] Fr. chauvin, a jingo, is the name of a real Napoleonic veteran introduced into Scribe's play Le Soldat Laboureur. Barracking is known to us only through the visits of English cricket teams to Australia. It is said to come from a native Australian word meaning derision. The American caucus was first applied (1878) by Lord Beaconsfield to the Birmingham Six Hundred. In 18th-century American it means[14] meeting or discussion. It is probably connected with a North American Indian (Algonkin) word meaning counsellor, an etymology supported by that of pow-wow, a palaver or confab, which is the Algonkin for a medicine-man. With these words may be mentioned Tammany, now used of a famous political body, but, in the 18th century, of a society named after the "tutelar saint" of Pennsylvania. The original Tammany was an Indian chief with whom William Penn negotiated for grants of land about the end of the 17th century. Littoral first became familiar in connection with Italy's ill-starred Abyssinian adventure, and hinterland marked the appearance of Germany as a colonial power—

"'Let us glance a moment,' said Mr Queed, 'at Man, as we see him first emerging from the dark hinterlands of history.'"

(H. S. Harrison, Queed, Ch. 17.)


Sometimes the blunder of a great writer has enriched the language. Scott's bartisan

"Its varying circle did combine
Bulwark, and bartisan, and line
And bastion, tower ..."

(Marmion, vi. 2.)

is a mistake for bratticing, timber-work, a word of obscure origin of which several corruptions are found in early Scottish. It is rather a favourite with writers of "sword and feather" novels. Other sham antiques are slug-horn, Chatterton's absurd perversion of the Gaelic slogan, war-cry, copied by Browning—

"Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.'"

and Scott's extraordinary misuse of warison, security, a doublet of garrison, as though it meant "war sound"—

"Or straight they sound their warison,
And storm and spoil thy garrison."

(Lay, iv. 21.)


Scott also gave currency to niddering, a coward—

"Faithless, mansworn,[13] and niddering."

(Ivanhoe, Ch. 42.)

which has been copied by Lytton and Kingsley, and elaborated into nidderling by Mr Crockett. It is a misprint in an early edition of William of Malmesbury for niding or nithing, cognate with Ger. Neid, envy. This word, says Camden, is mightier than Abracadabra,[14] since—

"It hath levied armies and subdued rebellious enemies. For when there was a dangerous rebellion against King William Rufus, and Rochester Castle, then the most important and strongest fort of this realm, was stoutly kept against him, after that he had but proclaimed that his subjects should repair thither to his camp, upon no other penalty, but that whosoever should refuse to come should be reputed a niding, they swarmed to him immediately from all sides in such numbers that he had in a few days an infinite army, and the rebels therewith were so terrified that they forthwith yielded."

(Remains concerning Britain.)

Derring-do is used several times by Spenser, who explains it as "manhood and chevalrie." It is due to his misunderstanding of a passage in Lidgate, in which it is an imitation of Chaucer, complicated by a misprint. Scott took it from Spenser—

"'Singular,' he again muttered to himself, 'if there be two who can do a deed of such derring-do.'"

(Ivanhoe, Ch. 29.)

and from him it passed to Bulwer Lytton and later writers.[16]

Such words as these, the illegitimate offspring of genius, are to be distinguished from the "ghost-words" which dimly haunt the dictionaries without ever having lived (see p. 201). Speaking generally, we may say that no word is ever created de novo. The names invented for commercial purposes are not exceptions to this law. Bovril is compounded of Lat. bos, ox, and vril,[15] the mysterious power which plays so important a part in Lytton's Coming Race, while Tono-Bungay suggests tonic. The only exception to this is gas, the arbitrary coinage of the Belgian chemist Van Helmont in the 17th century. But even this is hardly a new creation, because we have Van Helmont's own statement that the word chaos was vaguely present to his mind. Chortle has, however, secured a limited currency, and is admitted by the New English Dictionary

"O frabjous day! Callooh! callay!
He chortled in his joy."

(Through the Looking-Glass.)

and, though an accurate account of the boojum is lacking, most people know it to be a dangerous variety of snark.


[6] Abominable is regularly spelt abhominable in late Old French and Mid. English, as though meaning "inhuman," Lat. homo, homin-, a man.

[7] This etymology is doubted by some authorities.

[8] But the word comes to us from French. In the 16th century such puzzles were called rébus de Picardie, because of their popularity in that province.

[9] For simplicity the term Old French is used here to include all words not in modern use. Where a modern form exists it is given in parentheses.

[10] The name was thus applied to a sail before it was given to a mast. Although the Italian word means "middle," it is perhaps, in this particular sense, a popular corruption of an Arabic word of quite different meaning. The discussion of so difficult a problem is rather out of place in a book intended for the general reader, but I cannot refrain from giving a most interesting note which I owe to Mr W. B. Whall, Master Mariner, the author of Shakespeare's Sea Terms Explained—"The sail was (until c. 1780) lateen, i.e., triangular, like the sail of a galley. The Saracens, or Moors, were the great galley sailors of the Mediterranean, and mizen comes from Arab., miezên, balance. The mizen is, even now, a sail that 'balances,' and the reef in a mizen is still called the 'balance' reef."

[11] "I have endeavoured to moderate his tyrannical choler" (Urquhart's Translation, 1653).

[12] The credit of first using the word in the political sense is claimed both for George Jacob Holyoake and Professor Minto.

[13] From Anglo-Sax. mān, deceit, cognate with the first syllable of Ger. Meineid, perjury.

[14] This word, which looks like an unsuccessful palindrome, belongs to the language of medieval magic. It seems to be artificially elaborated from ἀβραξάς, a word of Persian origin used by a sect of Greek gnostics. Its letters make up the magic number 365, supposed to represent the number of spirits subject to the supreme being.

[15] In coining vril Lytton probably had in mind Lat. vis, vires, power, or the adjective virilis.




In assigning to a word a foreign origin, it is necessary to show how contact between the two languages has taken place, or the particular reasons which have brought about the borrowing. A Chinese word cannot suddenly make its appearance in Anglo-Saxon, though it may quite well do so in modern English. No nautical terms have reached us from the coast of Bohemia (Winter's Tale, iii. 3), nor is the vocabulary of the wine trade enriched by Icelandic words. Although we have words from all the languages of Europe, our direct borrowings from some of them have been small. The majority of High German words in English have passed through Old French, and we have taken little from modern German. On the other hand, commerce has introduced a great many words from the old Low German dialects of the North Sea and the Baltic.

The Dutch[16] element in English supplies a useful object lesson on the way in which the borrowing of words naturally takes place. As a great naval power, the Dutch have contributed to our nautical vocabulary a number of words, many of which are easily recognised as near relations; such are boom (beam), skipper[18] (shipper), orlop (over leap), the name given to a deck which "over-runs" the ship's hold. Yacht, properly a "hunting" ship, is cognate with Ger. Jagd, hunting, but has no English kin. Hexham has jaght, "zee-roovers schip, pinace, or pirats ship." The modern Dutch spelling is jacht. We should expect to find art terms from the country of Hobbema, Rubens, Vandyke, etc. See easel (p. 39), etch (p. 133), lay-figure (p. 166), sketch (p. 22). Landscape, earlier landskip, has the suffix which in English would be -ship. In the 16th century Camden speaks of "a landskip, as they call it." The Low Countries were for two centuries the cock-pit of Europe, and many military terms were brought back to England by Dugald Dalgetty and the armies which "swore terribly in Flanders." Such are cashier (p. 157), forlorn hope (p. 129), tattoo (p. 162). Other interesting military words are leaguer (lair), recently re-introduced from South Africa as laager, and furlough. The latter word, formerly pronounced to rime with cough, is from Du. verlof (for leave); cf. archaic Ger. Verlaub, now replaced by Urlaub. Knapsack,[17] a food sack, comes from colloquial Du. knap, food, or what the Notts colliers call snap. We also find it called a snapsack. Both knap and snap contain the idea of "crunching"—

"I would she (Report) were as lying a gossip in that as ever knapped ginger."

(Merchant of Venice, iii. 1.)

Roster (roaster) is the Dutch for gridiron, the allusion being to the parallel lines of the list or plan; for a somewhat similar metaphor cf. cancel (p. 88). The pleasant fiction that—

"The children of Holland take pleasure in making
What the children of England take pleasure in breaking,"

confirms the derivation of toy from Du. tuig, implement,[19] thing, stuff, etc., a word, like its German cognate Zeug, with an infinity of meanings. We now limit toy to the special sense represented by Du. speel-tuig, play-thing.


Our vocabulary dealing with war and fortification is chiefly French, but most of the French terms come from Italian. Addison wrote an article in No. 165 of the Spectator ridiculing the Frenchified character of the military language of his time, and, in the 16th century, Henri Estienne, patriot, printer, and philologist, lamented that future historians would believe, from the vocabulary employed, that France had learnt the art of war from Italy. As a matter of fact she did. The earliest writers on the new tactics necessitated by villainous saltpetre were Italians trained in condottiere warfare. They were followed by the great French theorists and engineers of the 16th and 17th centuries, who naturally adopted a large number of Italian terms which thus passed later into English.

A considerable number of Spanish and Portuguese words have reached us in a very roundabout way (see pp. 23-7). This is not surprising when we consider how in the 15th and 16th centuries the world was dotted with settlements due to the Portuguese and Spanish adventurers who had a hundred years' start of our own.

There are very few Celtic words either in English or French. In each country the result of conquest was, from the point of view of language, complete. A few words from the Celtic languages have percolated into English in comparatively recent times, but many terms which we associate with the picturesque Highlanders are not Gaelic at all.[18] Tartan comes through French from the Tartars (see p. 47); kilt is a Scandinavian[20] verb, "to tuck up," and dirk,[19] of unknown origin, first appears about 1600. For trews see p. 117.

A very interesting part of our vocabulary, the canting, or rogues', language, dates mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries, and includes contributions from most of the European languages, together with a large Romany element. The early dictionary makers paid great attention to this aspect of the language. Elisha Coles, who published a fairly complete English dictionary in 1676, says in his preface, "'Tis no disparagement to understand the canting terms: it may chance to save your throat from being cut, or (at least), your pocket from being pick'd."

Words often go long journeys. Boss is in English a comparatively modern Americanism. But, like many American words, it belongs to the language of the Dutch settlers who founded New Amsterdam (New York). It is Du. baas, master, which has thus crossed the Atlantic twice on its way from Holland to England. A number of Dutch words became familiar to us about the year 1900 in consequence of the South African war. One of them, slim, 'cute, seems to have been definitely adopted. It is cognate with Ger. schlimm, bad, and Eng. slim, slender, and the latter word has for centuries been used in the Eastern counties in the very sense in which it has now been re-introduced.

Apricot is a much travelled word. It comes to us from Fr. abricot, while the Shakespearean apricock

"Feed him with apricocks and dewberries."

(Midsummer Night's Dream, iii. 1.)

represents the Spanish or Portuguese form. Ger. Aprikose comes, via Dutch, from the French plural.[21] The word was adopted into the Romance languages from Arab. al-barquq, where al is the definite article (cf. examples on p. 115), while barquq comes, through medieval Greek, from Vulgar Lat. præcoquum, for præcox, early-ripe. Thus the word first crossed the Adriatic, passed on to Asia Minor or the North coast of Africa, and then travelling along the Mediterranean re-entered Southern Europe.


Many other Arabic trade words have a similar history. Carat comes to us, through French, from Italian carato, "a waight or degree called a caract" (Florio). The Italian word is from Arabic, but the Arabic form is a corruption of Gk. κεράτιον, fruit of the locust tree, lit. little horn, also used of a small weight. The verb to garble, now used only of confusing or falsifying,[20] meant originally to sort or sift, especially spices—

"Garbler of spices is an officer of great antiquity in the city of London, who may enter into any shop, warehouse, etc., to view and search drugs, spices, etc., and to garble the same and make them clean."

(Cowel's Interpreter.)

It represents Span. garbellar, from garbello, a sieve. This comes from Arab. ghirbāl, a sieve, borrowed from Lat. cribellum, diminutive of cribrum. Quintal, an old word for hundred-weight, looks as if it had something to do with five. Fr. and Span. quintal are from Arab. qintar, hundred-weight, which is Lat. centenarium (whence directly Ger. Zentner, hundred-weight). The French word passed into Dutch, and gave, with a diminutive ending, kindekijn, now replaced by kinnetje, a firkin.[21] We have adopted it as kilderkin, but have[22] doubled its capacity. With these examples of words that have passed through Arabic may be mentioned talisman, not a very old word in Europe, from Arab. tilsam, magic picture, ultimately from Gk. τελεῖν, to initiate into mysteries, lit. to accomplish, and effendi, a Turkish corruption of Gk. αὐθέντης, a master, whence Lat. authentic.

Hussar seems to be a late Latin word which passed into Greece and then entered Central Europe via the Balkans. It comes into 16th-century German from Hungar. huszar, freebooter. This is from a Serbian word which means also pirate. It represents medieval Gk. κουρσάριος, a transliteration of Vulgar Lat. cursarius, from currere, to run, which occurs also with the sense of pirate in medieval Latin. Hussar is thus a doublet of corsair. The immediate source of sketch is Du. schets, "draught of any picture" (Hexham), from Ital. schizzo, "an ingrosement or first rough draught of anything" (Florio), whence also Fr. esquisse and Ger. Skizze. The Italian word represents Greco-Lat. schedium, an extempore effort.

Assassin and slave are of historic interest. Assassin, though not very old in English, dates from the Crusades. Its oldest European form is Ital. assassino, and it was adopted into French in the 16th century. Henri Estienne, whose fiery patriotism entered even into philological questions, reproaches his countrymen for using foreign terms. They should only adopt, he says, Italian words which express Italian qualities hitherto unknown to the French, such as assassin, charlatan, poltron! Assassin is really a plural, from the hachaschin, eaters of the drug haschish, who executed the decrees of the Old Man of the Mountains. It was one of these who stabbed Edward Longshanks at Acre. The first slaves were captive Slavonians. We[23] find the word in most of the European languages. The fact that none of the Western tribes of the race called themselves Slavs or Slavonians shows that the word could not have entered Europe via Germany, where the Slavs were called Wends. It must have come from the Byzantine empire via Italy.

Some Spanish words have also come to us by the indirect route. The cocoa which is grateful and comforting was formerly spelt cacao, as in French and German. It is a Mexican word. The cocoa of cocoa-nut is for coco, a Spanish baby-word for an ugly face or bogie-man. The black marks at one end of the nut give it, especially before the removal of the fibrous husk, some resemblance to a ferocious face. Stevens (1706) explains coco as "the word us'd to fright children; as we say the Bulbeggar."


Mustang seems to represent two words, mestengo y mostrenco, "a straier" (Percyvall). The first appears to be connected with mesta, "a monthly fair among herdsmen; also, the laws to be observed by all that keep or deal in cattle" (Stevens), and the second with mostrar, to show, the finder being expected to advertise a stray. The original mustangs were of course descended from the strayed horses of the Spanish conquistadors. Ranch, Span. rancho, a row (of huts), is a doublet of rank, from Fr. rang, Old Fr. reng, Old High Ger. hring, a ring. Thus what is now usually straight was once circular, the ground idea of arrangement surviving. Another doublet is Fr. harangue, due to the French inability to pronounce hr- (see p. 55), a speech delivered in the ring. Cf. also Ital. aringo, "a riding or carreering place, a liste for horses, or feates of armes: a declamation, an oration, a noise, a common loud speech" (Florio), in which the "ring" idea is also prominent.[24]

Other "cow-boy" words of Spanish origin are the less familiar cinch, girth of a horse, Span. cincha, from Lat. cingula, also used metaphorically—

"The state of the elements enabled Mother Nature 'to get a cinch' on an honourable æstheticism."

(Snaith, Mrs Fitz, Ch. 1.)

and the formidable riding-whip called a quirt, Span. cuerda, cord—

"Whooping and swearing as they plied the quirt."

(Masefield, Rosas.)

Stories of Californian life often mention Span. reata, a tethering rope, from the verb reatar, to bind together, Lat. re-aptare. Combined with the definite article (la reata) it has given lariat, a familiar word in literature of the Buffalo Bill character. Lasso, Span. lazo, Lat. laqueus, snare, is a doublet of Eng. lace.

When, in the Song of Hiawatha

"Gitche Manito, the mighty,
Smoked the calumet, the Peace-pipe,
As a signal to the nations,"

he was using an implement with a French name. Calumet is an Old Norman word for chalumeau, reed, pipe, a diminutive from Lat. calamus. It was naturally applied by early French voyagers to the "long reed for a pipe-stem." Eng. shawm is the same word without the diminutive ending. Another Old French word, once common in English, but now found only in dialect, is felon, a whitlow. It is used more than once by Mr Hardy—

"I've been visiting to Bath because I had a felon on my thumb."

(Far from the Madding Crowd, Ch. 33.)

This is still an every-day word in Canada and the United States. It is a metaphorical use of felon, a fell[25] villain. A whitlow was called in Latin furunculus, "a little theefe; a sore in the bodie called a fellon" (Cooper), whence Fr. furoncle, or froncle, "the hot and hard bumpe, or swelling, tearmed, a fellon" (Cotgrave). Another Latin name for it was tagax, "a felon on a man's finger" (Cooper), lit. thievish. One of its Spanish names is padrastro, lit. step-father. I am told that an "agnail" was formerly called a "step-mother" in Yorkshire. This is a good example of the semantic method in etymology (see pp. 99-104).


Some of the above instances show how near to home we can often track a word which at first sight appears to belong to another continent. This is still more strikingly exemplified in the case of Portuguese words, which have an almost uncanny way of pretending to be African or Indian. Some readers will, I think, be surprised to hear that assegai occurs in Chaucer, though in a form not easily recognisable. It is a Berber word which passed through Spanish and Portuguese into French and English. We find Fr. archegaie in the 14th century, azagaie in Rabelais, and the modern form zagaie in Cotgrave, who describes it as "a fashion of slender, long, and long-headed pike, used by the Moorish horsemen." In Mid. English l'archegaie was corrupted by folk-etymology (see p. 115) into lancegay, launcegay, the form used by Chaucer—

"He worth upon his stede gray,
And in his hond a launcegay,
A long swerd by his syde."

(Sir Thopas, l. 40.)

The use of this weapon was prohibited by statute in 1406, hence the early disappearance of the word.

Another "Zulu" word which has travelled a long way is kraal. This is a contracted Dutch form from[26] Port. curral, a sheepfold (cf. Span. corral, a pen, enclosure). Both assegai and kraal were taken to South East Africa by the Portuguese and then adopted by the Boers and Kafirs.[22] Sjambok occurs in 17th-century accounts of India in the form chawbuck. It is a Persian word, spelt chabouk by Moore, in Lalla Rookh. It was adopted by the Portuguese as chabuco, "in the Portuguese India, a whip or scourge"[23] (Vieyra, Port. Dict., 1794). Fetish, an African idol, first occurs in the records of the early navigators, collected and published by Hakluyt and Purchas. It is the Port. feitiço, Lat. factitius, artificial, applied by the Portuguese explorers to the graven images of the heathen. The corresponding Old Fr. faitis is rather a complimentary adjective, and everyone remembers the lady in Chaucer who spoke French fairly and fetousli. Palaver, also a travellers' word from the African coast, is Port. palavra, word, speech, Greco-Lat. parabola. It is thus a doublet of parole and parable, and is related to parley. Ayah, an Indian nurse, is Port. aia, nurse, of unknown origin. Caste is Port. casta, pure, and a doublet of chaste. Tank, an Anglo-Indian word of which the meaning has narrowed in this country, is Port. tanque, a pool or cistern, Lat. stagnum, whence Old Fr. estang (étang) and provincial Eng. stank, a dam, or a pond banked round. Cobra is the Portuguese for snake, cognate with Fr. couleuvre, Lat. coluber (see p. 7). We use it as an abbreviation for cobra de capello, hooded snake, the second part of which is identical with Fr. chapeau and cognate with cape, chapel (p. 152), chaplet, a garland,[27] and chaperon, a "protecting" hood. From still further afield than India comes joss, a Chinese god, a corruption of Port. deos, Lat. deus. Even mandarin comes from Portuguese, and not Chinese, but it is an Eastern word, ultimately of Sanskrit origin.


The word gorilla is perhaps African, but more than two thousand years separate its first appearance from its present use. In the 5th or 6th century, B.C., a Carthaginian navigator named Hanno sailed beyond the Pillars of Hercules along the west coast of Africa. He probably followed very much the same route as Sir Richard Dalyngridge and Saxon Hugh when they voyaged with Witta the Viking. He wrote in Punic a record of his adventures, which was received with the incredulity usually accorded to travellers' tales. Among the wonders he encountered were some hairy savages called gorillas. His work was translated into Greek and later on into several European languages, so that the word became familiar to naturalists. In 1847 it was applied to the giant ape, which had recently been described by explorers.

The origin of the word silk is a curious problem. It is usually explained as from Greco-Lat. sericum, a name derived from an Eastern people called the Seres, presumably the Chinese. It appears in Anglo-Saxon as seolc. Now, at that early period, words of Latin origin came to us by the overland route and left traces of their passage. But all the Romance languages use for silk a name derived from Lat. sæta, bristle, and this name has penetrated even into German (Seide) and Dutch (zijde). The derivatives of sericum stand for another material, serge. Nor can it be assumed that the r of the Latin word would have become in English always l and never r. There are races which cannot sound the letter r, but we are not one of them. As the[28] word silk is found also in Old Norse, Swedish, Danish, and Old Slavonian, the natural inference is that it must have reached us along the north of Europe, and, if derived from sericum, it must, in the course of its travels, have passed through a dialect which had no r.


[16] This includes Flemish, spoken in a large part of Belgium and in the North East of France.

[17] Haversack, oat-sack, comes through French from German.

[18] This applies also to some of the clan names, e.g., Macpherson, son of the parson, Macnab, son of the abbot.

[19] My own conviction is that it is identical with Dan. dirik, dirk, a pick-lock. See Dietrich (p. 42). An implement used for opening an enemy may well have been named in this way. Cf. Du. opsteeker (up sticker), "a pick-lock, a great knife, or a dagger" (Sewel, 1727).

[20] "It was a wholly garbled version of what never took place" (Mr Birrell, in the House, 26th Oct. 1911). The bull appears to be a laudable concession to Irish national feeling.

[21] Formerly ferdekin, a derivative of Du. vierde, fourth; cf. farthing, a little fourth.

[22] Kafir (Arab.) means infidel.

[23] Eng. chawbuck is used in connection with the punishment we call the bastinado. This is a corruption of Span. bastonada, "a stroke with a club or staff" (Stevens, 1706). On the other hand, we extend the meaning of drub, the Arabic word for bastinado, to a beating of any kind.




In a sense, all nomenclature, apart from purely scientific language, is popular. But real meanings are often so rapidly obscured that words become mere labels, and cease to call up the image or the poetic idea with which they were first associated. To take a simple instance, how many people realise that the daisy is the "day's eye"?—

"Wele by reson men it calle may
The dayeseye or ellis the 'eye of day.'"

(Chaucer, Legend of Good Women, Prol., l. 184.)

In studying that part of our vocabulary which especially illustrates the tendencies shown in popular name-giving, one is struck by the keen observation and imaginative power shown by our far-off ancestors, and the lack of these qualities in later ages.

Perhaps in no part of the language does this appear so clearly as in the names of plants and flowers. The most primitive way of naming a flower is from some observed resemblance, and it is curious to notice the parallelism of this process in various languages. Thus our crowfoot, crane's bill, larkspur, monkshood, snapdragon, are in German Hahnenfuss (cock's foot), Storchschnabel (stork's bill), Rittersporn (knight's spur), Eisenhut[30] (iron hat), Löwenmaul (lion's mouth). I have purposely chosen instances in which the correspondence is not absolute, because examples like Löwenzahn (lion's tooth), dandelion (Fr. dent de lion) may be suspected of being mere translations. I give the names in most general use, but the provincial variants are numerous, though usually of the same type. The French names of the flowers mentioned are still more like the English. The more learned words which sometimes replace the above are, though now felt as mere symbols, of similar origin, e.g., geranium and pelargonium, used for the cultivated crane's bill, are derived from the Greek for crane and stork respectively. So also in chelidonium, whence our celandine or swallow-wort, we have the Greek for swallow.

In the English names of plants we observe various tendencies of the popular imagination. We have the crudeness of cowslip for earlier cowslop, cow-dung, and many old names of unquotable coarseness, the quaintness of Sweet William, lords and ladies, bachelors' buttons, dead men's fingers, and the exquisite poetry of forget-me-not, heart's ease, love in a mist, traveller's joy. There is also a special group named from medicinal properties, such as feverfew, a doublet of febrifuge, and tansy, Fr. tanaisie, from Greco-Lat. athanasia, immortality. We may compare the learned saxifrage, stone-breaker, of which the Spanish doublet is sassafras. The German name is Steinbrech.

There must have been a time when a simple instinct for poetry was possessed by all nations, as it still is by uncivilised races and children. Among European nations this instinct appears to be dead for ever. We can name neither a mountain nor a flower. Our Mount Costigan, Mount Perry, Mount William cut a sorry figure beside the peaks of the Bernese Oberland,[31] the Monk, the Maiden, the Storm Pike, the Dark Eagle Pike.[24] Occasionally a race which is accidentally brought into closer contact with nature may have a happy inspiration, such as the Drakensberg (dragon's mountain) or Weenen[25] (weeping) of the old voortrekkers. But the Cliff of the Falling Flowers, the name of a precipice over which the Korean queens cast themselves to escape dishonour, represents an imaginative realm which is closed to us.[26] The botanist who describes a new flower hastens to join the company of Messrs Dahl, Fuchs, Lobel, Magnol and Wistar, while fresh varieties are used to immortalise a florist and his family.


The names of fruits, perhaps because they lend themselves less easily to imaginative treatment, are even duller than modern names of flowers. The only English names are the apple and the berry. New fruits either retained their foreign names (cherry, peach, pear, quince) or were violently converted into apples or berries, usually the former. This practice is common to the European languages, the apple being regarded as the typical fruit. Thus the orange is usually called in North Germany Apfelsine, apple of China, with which we may compare our "China orange." In South Germany it was called Pomeranze (now used especially of the Seville orange), from Ital. pomo, apple, arancia, orange. Fr. orange is folk-etymology (or, gold) for *arange, from Arab. narandj, whence Span. naranja. Melon is simply the Greek for "apple," and has also given us marmalade, which comes, through French, from Port. marmelada, quince jam, a derivative of Greco-Lat.[32] melimelum, quince, lit. honey-apple. Pine-apple meant "fir-cone" as late as the 17th century, as Fr. pomme de pin still does.[27] The fruit was named from its shape, which closely resembles that of a fir-cone. Pomegranate means "apple with seeds." We also find the apricot, lemon (pomcitron), peach, and quince all described as apples.

At least one fruit, the greengage, is named from a person, Sir William Gage, a gentleman of Suffolk, who popularised its cultivation early in the 18th century. It happens that the French name of the fruit, reine-claude (pronounced glaude), is also personal, from the wife of Francis I.

Animal nomenclature shows some strange vagaries. The resemblance of the hippopotamus, lit. river-horse, to the horse, hardly extends beyond their common possession of four legs.[28] The lion would hardly recognise himself in the ant-lion or the sea-lion, still less in the chameleon, lit. earth-lion, the first element of which occurs also in camomile, earth-apple. The guinea-pig is not a pig, nor does it come from Guinea (see p. 51). Porcupine means "spiny pig." It has an extraordinary number of early variants, and Shakespeare wrote it porpentine. One Mid. English form was porkpoint. The French name has hesitated between spine and spike. The modern form is porc-épic, but Palsgrave has "porkepyn a beest, porc espin." Porpoise is from Old Fr. porpeis, for porc peis (Lat. porcus piscis), pig-fish. The modern French name is marsouin, from Ger. Meerschwein, sea-pig; cf.[33] the name sea-hog, formerly used in English. Old Fr. peis survives also in grampus, Anglo-Fr. grampais for grand peis, big fish, but the usual Old French word is craspeis or graspeis, fat fish.

The caterpillar seems to have suggested in turn a cat and a dog. Our word is corrupted by folk-etymology from Old Fr. chatepeleuse, "a corne-devouring mite, or weevell" (Cotgrave). This probably means "woolly cat," just as a common species is popularly called woolly bear, but it was understood as being connected with the French verb peler, "to pill, pare, barke, unrinde, unskin" (Cotgrave). The modern French name for the caterpillar is chenille, a derivative of chien, dog. It has also been applied to a fabric of a woolly nature; cf. the botanical catkin, which is in French chaton, kitten.


Some animals bear nicknames. Dotterel means "dotard," and dodo is from the Port. doudo, mad. Ferret is from Fr. furet, a diminutive from Lat. fur, thief. Shark was used of a sharper or greedy parasite before it was applied to the fish. This, in the records of the Elizabethan voyagers, is more often called by its Spanish name tiburon, whence Cape Tiburon, in Haiti. The origin of shark is unknown, but it appears to be identical with shirk, for which we find earlier sherk. We find Ital. scrocco (whence Fr. escroc), Ger. Schurke, Du. schurk, rascal, all rendered "shark" in early dictionaries, but the relationship of these words is not clear. The palmer, i.e. pilgrim, worm is so called from his wandering habits. Ortolan, the name given by Tudor cooks to the garden bunting, means "gardener" (Lat. hortus, garden). It comes to us through French from Ital. ortolano, "a gardener, an orchard keeper. Also a kinde of daintie birde in Italie, some take it to be the linnet" (Florio). We may compare Fr. bouvreuil, bull-finch, a diminutive of bouvier, ox-herd. This is[34] called in German Dompfaffe, a contemptuous name for a cathedral canon. Fr. moineau, sparrow, is a diminutive of moine, monk. The wagtail is called in French lavandière, laundress, from the up and down motion of its tail suggesting the washerwoman's beetle, and bergeronnette, little shepherdess, from its habit of following the sheep. Adjutant, the nickname of the solemn Indian stork, is clearly due to Mr Atkins, and the secretary bird is so named because some of his head feathers suggest a quill pen behind an ear.

The converse process of people being nicknamed from animals is also common and the metaphor is usually pretty obvious. An interesting case is shrew, a libel on a very inoffensive little animal, the shrew-mouse, Anglo-Sax. scrēawa. Cooper describes mus araneus as "a kinde of mise called a shrew, which if he go over a beastes backe he shall be lame in the chyne; if he byte it swelleth to the heart and the beast dyeth." This "information" is derived from Pliny, but the superstition is found in Greek. The epithet was, up to Shakespeare's time, applied indifferently to both sexes. From shrew is derived shrewd, earlier shrewed,[29] the meaning of which has become much milder than when Henry VIII. said to Cranmer—

"The common voice I see is verified
Of thee which says, 'Do my lord of Canterbury
A shrewd turn, and he's your friend for ever.'"

(Henry VIII., v. 2.)

The title Dauphin, lit. dolphin, commemorates the absorption into the French monarchy, in 1349, of the lordship of Dauphiné, the cognisance of which was three dolphins.

The application of animals' names to diseases is a[35] familiar phenomenon, e.g., cancer (and canker), crab, and lupus, wolf. To this class belongs mulligrubs, for which we find in the 17th century also mouldy grubs. Its oldest meaning is stomach-ache, still given in Hotten's Slang Dictionary (1864). Mully is still used in dialect for mouldy, earthy, and grub was once the regular word for worm. The Latin name for the same discomfort was verminatio, from vermis, a worm. For the later transition of meaning we may compare megrims, from Fr. migraine, head-ache, Greco-Lat. hemicrania, lit. half-skull, because supposed to affect one side only of the head.

A good many names of plants and animals have a religious origin. Hollyhock is for holy hock, from Anglo-Sax. hoc, mallow: for the pronunciation cf. holiday. Halibut means holy butt, the latter word being an old name for flat fish; for this form of holy cf. halidom. Lady in names of flowers such as lady's bedstraw, lady's garter, lady's slipper, is for Our Lady. So also in lady-bird, called in French bête à bon Dieu and in German Marienkäfer, Mary's beetle. Here may be mentioned samphire, from Old Fr. herbe de Saint Pierre, "sampire, crestmarin" (Cotgrave). The filbert, earlier philibert, is named from St Philibert, the nut being ripe by St Philibert's day (22nd Aug.). We may compare Ger. Lambertsnuss, filbert, originally "Lombard nut," but popularly associated with St Lambert's day (17th Sept.).


The application of baptismal names to animals is a very general practice, though the reason for the selection of the particular name is not always clear. The most famous of such names is Renard the Fox. The Old French for fox is goupil, a derivative of Lat. vulpes, fox. The hero of the great beast epic of the Middle Ages is Renard le goupil, and the fact that renard now completely supplanted goupil shows how popular the Renard[36] legends must have been. Renard is from Old High Ger. regin-hart, strong in counsel; cf. our names Reginald and Reynold, and Scot. Ronald, of Norse origin. From the same source come Chantecler, lit. sing-clear, the cock, and Partlet, the hen, while Bruin, the bear, lit. "brown," is from the Dutch version of the epic. In the Low German version, Reinke de Vos, the ape's name is Moneke, a diminutive corresponding to Ital. monicchio, "a pugge, a munkie, an ape" (Florio), the earlier history of which is much disputed. The cat was called Tibert or Theobald

Mercutio. "Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk?"
Tybalt. "What wouldst thou have with me?"
Mercutio. "Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives."

(Romeo and Juliet, iii. 1.)

The fact that the donkey was at one time regularly called Cuddy made Cuthbert for a long period unpopular as a baptismal name. He is now often called Neddy. The hare was called Wat (Walter) in Tudor times. In the Roman de Renard he is Couard, whence coward, a derivative of Old Fr. coue (queue), tail, from Lat. cauda. The idea is that of the tail between the legs, so that the name is etymologically not very appropriate to the hare. Parrot, for earlier perrot, means "little Peter." The extension Poll parrot is thus a kind of hermaphrodite. Fr. pierrot is still used for the sparrow. The family name Perrot is sometimes a nickname, "the chatterer," but can also mean literally "little Peter," just as Emmot means "little Emma," and Marriot "little Mary." Petrel is of cognate origin, with an allusion to St Peter's walking upon the sea; cf. its German name, Sankt Peters Vogel. Sailors call the petrel Mother Carey's chicken, probably a nautical corruption[37] of some old Spanish or Italian name. But, in spite of ingenious guesses, this lady's genealogy remains as obscure as that of Davy Jones or the Jolly Roger.


Robin has practically replaced red-breast. The martin is in French martinet, and the name may have been given in allusion to the southward flight of this swallow about Martinmas; but the king-fisher, not a migrant bird, is called martin-pêcheur, formerly also martinet pêcheur or oiseau de Saint-Martin, so that martin may be due to some other association. Sometimes the double name survives. We no longer say Philip sparrow, but Jack ass, Jack daw, Jenny wren, Tom tit (see p. 123), and the inclusive Dicky bird, are still familiar. With these we may compare Hob (i.e. Robert) goblin. Madge owl, or simply Madge, was once common. For Mag pie we find also various diminutives—

"Augurs, and understood relations, have
By magot-pies, and choughs, and rooks, brought forth
The secret'st man of blood."

(Macbeth, iii. 4.)

Cotgrave has pie, "a pye, pyannat, meggatapie." In Old French it was also called jaquette, "a proper name for a woman; also, a piannat, or megatapie" (Cotgrave).

The connection of this word, Fr. pie, Lat. pica, with the comestible pie is uncertain, but it seems likely that the magpie's habit of collecting miscellaneous trifles caused its name to be given to a dish of uncertain constituents. It is a curious coincidence that the obsolete chuet or chewet meant both a round pie and a jackdaw.[30] It is uncertain in which of the two senses Prince Hal[38] applies the name to Falstaff (1 Henry IV., v. 1). It comes from Fr. chouette, screech-owl, which formerly meant also "a chough, daw, jack-daw" (Cotgrave).

A piebald horse is one balled like a magpie. Ball is a Celtic word for a white mark, especially on the forehead; hence the tavern sign of the Baldfaced Stag. Our adjective bald is thus a past participle.

Things are often named from animals. Crane, kite, donkey-engine, monkey-wrench, pig-iron, etc., are simple cases. The crane picture is so striking that we are not surprised to find it literally reproduced in many other languages. The toy called a kite is in French cerf volant, flying stag, a name also applied to the stag-beetle, and in Ger. Drachen, dragon. It is natural that terrifying names should have been given to early fire-arms. Many of these, e.g., basilisk, serpent, falconet, saker (from Fr. sacre, a kind of hawk), are obsolete—

"The cannon, blunderbuss, and saker,
He was th' inventor of and maker."

(Hudibras, i. 2.)

More familiar is culverin, Fr. couleuvrine, a derivative of couleuvre, adder, Lat. coluber

"And thou hast talk'd
Of sallies and retires, of trenches, tents,
Of palisadoes, frontiers, parapets,
Of basilisks, of cannon, culverin."

(1 Henry IV., ii. 3.)

One name for a hand-gun was dragon, whence our dragoon, originally applied to a kind of mounted infantry or carbineers. Musket, like saker (v.s.), was the name of a hawk. Mistress Ford uses it playfully to her page—

"How now, my eyas[31]-musket, what news with you?"

(Merry Wives, iii. 3.)


But the hawk was so nicknamed from its small size. Fr. mousquet, now replaced in the hawk sense by émouchet, is from Ital. moschetto, a diminutive from Lat. musca, fly. Thus mosquito (Spanish) and musket are doublets.

Porcelain comes, through French, from Ital. porcellana, "a kinde of fine earth called porcelane, whereof they make fine china dishes, called porcellan dishes" (Florio). This is, however, a transferred meaning, porcellana being the name of a particularly glossy shell called the "Venus shell." It is a derivative of Lat. porcus, pig. Easel comes, with many other painters' terms, from Holland. It is Du. ezel, ass, which, like Ger. Esel, comes from Lat. asinus. For its metaphorical application we may compare Fr. chevalet, easel, lit. "little horse," and Eng. "clothes-horse."


Objects often bear the names of individuals. Such are albert chain, brougham, victoria, wellington boot. Some elderly people can remember ladies wearing a red blouse called a garibaldi.[32] Sometimes an inventor is immortalised, e.g., mackintosh and shrapnel, both due to 19th-century inventors. The more recent maxim is named from one who, according to the late Lord Salisbury, has saved many of his fellow-men from dying of old age. Other benefactors are commemorated in derringer, first recorded in Bret Harte, and bowie, which occurs in Dickens' American Notes. Sandwich and spencer are coupled in an old rime—

"Two noble earls, whom, if I quote,
Some folks might call me sinner;
The one invented half a coat,
The other half a dinner."

An Earl Spencer (1782-1845) made a short overcoat fashionable for some time. An Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792) invented a form of light refreshment which enabled him to take a meal without leaving the gaming table. It does not appear that Billy Cock is to be classed with the above, or with Chesterfield, Chippendale & Co. The New English Dictionary quotes (from 1721) a description of the Oxford "blood" in his "bully-cocked hat," worn aggressively on one side. Pinchbeck was a London watchmaker (fl. c. 1700), and doily is from Doyley, a linen-draper of the same period. Etienne de Silhouette was French finance minister in 1759, but the application of his name to a black profile portrait is variously explained. Negus was first brewed in Queen Anne's reign by Colonel Francis Negus.

The first orrery was constructed by the Earl of Orrery (c. 1700). Galvani and Volta were Italian scientists of the 18th century. Mesmer was a German physician of the same period. Nicotine is named from Jean Nicot, French ambassador at Lisbon, who sent some tobacco plants to Catherine de Médicis in 1560. He also compiled the first Old French dictionary. The gallows-shaped contrivance called a derrick perpetuates the name of a famous hangman who officiated in London about 1600. It is a Dutch name, identical with Dietrich, Theodoric, and Dirk (Hatteraick). Conversely the Fr. potence, gallows, meant originally a bracket or support, Lat. potentia, power. The origin of darbies, handcuffs, is unknown, but the line—

"To bind such babes in father Derbies bands,"

(Gascoigne, The Steel Glass, 1576.)

suggests connection with some eminent gaoler or thief-taker.


Occasionally a verb is formed from a proper name.[41] On the model of tantalise, from the punishment of Tantalus, we have bowdlerise, from Bowdler, who published an expurgated "family Shakespeare" in 1818; cf. macadamise. Burke and boycott commemorate a scoundrel and a victim. The latter word, from the treatment of Captain Boycott of Co. Mayo in 1880, seems to have supplied a want, for Fr. boycotter and Ger. boycottieren have become every-day words. Burke was hanged at Edinburgh in 1829 for murdering people by suffocation in order to dispose of their bodies to medical schools. We now use the verb only of "stifling" discussion, but in the Ingoldsby Legends it still has the original sense—

"But, when beat on his knees,
That confounded De Guise
Came behind with the 'fogle' that caused all this breeze,
Whipp'd it tight round his neck, and, when backward he'd jerk'd him,
The rest of the rascals jump'd on him and Burk'd him."

(The Tragedy.)

Jarvey, the slang name for a hackney coachman, especially in Ireland, was in the 18th century Jervis or Jarvis, but history is silent as to this modern Jehu. A pasquinade was originally an anonymous lampoon affixed to a statue of a gladiator which still stands in Rome. The statue is said to have been nicknamed from a scandal-loving cobbler named Pasquino. Florio has pasquino, "a statue in Rome on whom all libels, railings, detractions, and satirical invectives are fathered." Pamphlet is an extended use of Old Fr. Pamphilet, the name of a Latin poem by one Pamphilus which was popular in the Middle Ages. The suffix -et was often used in this way, e.g., the translation of Æsop's fables by Marie de France was called Ysopet, and Cato's moral maxims had the title Catonet, or Parvus[42] Cato. Modern Fr. pamphlet, borrowed back from English, has always the sense of polemical writing. In Eng. libel, lit. "little book," we see a similar restriction of meaning. A three-quarter portrait of fixed dimensions is called a kitcat

"It is not easy to see why he should have chosen to produce a replica, or rather a kitcat."

(Journal of Education, Oct. 1911.)

The name comes from the portraits of members of the Kitcat Club, painted by Kneller. Kit Kat, Christopher Kat, was a pastrycook at whose shop the club used to dine.

Implements and domestic objects sometimes bear christian names. We may mention spinning-jenny, and the innumerable meanings of jack. Davit, earlier daviot, is a diminutive of David. Fr. davier, formerly daviet, is used of several mechanical contrivances, including a pick-lock. A kind of davit is called in German Jütte, a diminutive of Judith. The implement by which the burglar earns his daily bread is now called a jemmy, but in the 17th century we also find bess and betty. The French name is rossignol, nightingale. The German burglar calls it Dietrich, Peterchen, or Klaus, and the contracted forms of the first name, dyrk and dirk, have passed into Swedish and Danish with the same meaning. In Italian a pick-lock is called grimaldello, a diminutive of the name Grimaldo.


A kitchen wench was once called a malkin

"The kitchen malkin pins
Her richest lockram[33] 'bout her reechy neck,
Clamb'ring the walls to eye him."

(Coriolanus, ii. 1.)

This is a diminutive of Matilda or Mary, possibly of[43] both. Grimalkin, applied to a fiend in the shape of a cat, is perhaps for gray malkin

"I come, Graymalkin."

(Macbeth, i. 1.)

The name malkin was transferred from the maid to the mop. Cotgrave has escouillon (écouvillon), "a wispe, or dish-clowt; a maukin, or drag, to cleanse, or sweepe an oven." Écouvillon is a derivative of Lat. scopa, broom. Now another French word, which means both "kitchen servant" and "dish-clout," is souillon, from souiller, to soil. What share each of these words has in Eng. scullion is hard to say. The only thing certain is that scullion is not originally related to scullery, Old Fr. escuelerie, a collective from Old Fr. escuelle (écuelle), dish, Lat. scutella.

A doll was formerly called a baby or puppet. It is the abbreviation of Dorothy, for we find it called a doroty in Scottish. We may compare Fr. marionnette, a double diminutive of Mary, explained by Cotgrave as "little Marian or Mal; also, a puppet." Little Mary, in another sense, has been recently, but perhaps definitely, adopted into our language. Another old name for doll is mammet. Capulet uses it contemptuously to his daughter—

"And then to have a wretched puling fool,
A whining mammet, in her fortune's tender,
To answer: 'I'll not wed,'—'I cannot love.'"

(Romeo and Juliet, iii. 5.)

Its earlier form is maumet, meaning "idol," and it is a contraction of Mahomet.

The derivation of jug is not capable of proof, but a 17th-century etymologist regards it as identical with the female name Jug,[34] for Joan or Jane. This is[44] supported by the fact that jack was used in a similar sense—

"That there's wrath and despair in the jolly black-jack,
And the seven deadly sins in a flagon of sack."

(Lady of the Lake, vi. 5.)

We may also compare toby jug and demi-john. The latter word is in French dame-jeanne, but both forms are possibly due to folk-etymology. A coat of mail was called in English a jack and in French jaque, "a jack, or coat of maile" (Cotgrave); hence the diminutive jacket. The German miners gave to an ore which they considered useless the name kobalt, from kobold, a goblin, gnome. This has given Eng. cobalt. Much later is the similarly formed nickel, a diminutive of Nicholas. It comes to us from Sweden, but appears earliest in the German compound Kupfernickel, copper nickel. Apparently nickel here means something like goblin; cf. Old Nick and, probably, the dickens

"I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had him of.—What do you call your knight's name, sirrah?"

(Merry Wives, iii. 2.)

Pantaloons come, via France, from Venice. A great many Venetians bore the name of Pantaleone, one of their favourite saints. Hence the application of the name to the characteristic Venetian hose. The "lean and slippered pantaloon" was originally one of the stock characters of the old Italian comedy. Torriano has pantalone, "a pantalone, a covetous and yet amorous old dotard, properly applyed in comedies unto a Venetian." Knickerbockers take their name from Diedrich Knickerbocker, the pseudonym under which Washington Irving wrote his History of Old New York, in which the early Dutch inhabitants are depicted in baggy knee-breeches.


Certain christian names are curiously associated[45] with stupidity. In modern English we speak of a silly Johnny, while the Germans say ein dummer Peter, or Michel, and French uses Colas (Nicolas), Nicodème and Claude, the reason for the selection of the name not always being known. English has, or had, in the sense of "fool," the words ninny, nickum, noddy, zany. Ninny is for Innocent, "Innocent, Ninny, a proper name for a man" (Cotgrave). With this we may compare French benêt (i.e. Benedict), "a simple, plaine, doltish fellow; a noddy peake, a ninny hammer, a peagoose, a coxe, a silly companion" (Cotgrave). Nickum and noddy are probably for Nicodemus or Nicholas, both of which are used in French for a fool—

"'But there's another chance for you,' said Mr Boffin, smiling still. 'Do you like the name of Nicodemus? Think it over. Nick or Noddy.'"

(Our Mutual Friend, Ch. 5.)

Noddy-peak, ninny-hammer, nickumpoop, now nincompoop, seem to be arbitrary elaborations. Zany, formerly a conjuror's assistant, is zanni (see p. 143), an Italian diminutive of Giovanni, John. With the degeneration of Innocent and Benedict we may compare Fr. crétin, idiot, an Alpine patois form of chrétien, Christian, and Eng. silly, which once meant blessed, a sense preserved by its German cognate selig. Dunce is a libel on the disciples of the great medieval schoolman John Duns Scotus, born at Duns in Berwickshire.

Dandy is Scottish for Andrew, e.g., Dandie Dinmont (Guy Mannering). Dago, now usually applied to Italians, was used by the Elizabethans, in its original form Diego, of the Spaniards. The derivation of guy and bobby (peeler) is well known. Jockey is a diminutive of the north country Jock, for Jack. The history of jackanapes is obscure. The earliest record of the name is in a satirical song on the unpopular William de la Pole,[46] Duke of Suffolk, who was beheaded at sea in 1450. He is called Jack Napes, the allusion being apparently to his badge, an ape's clog and chain. But there also seems to be association with Naples; cf. fustian-anapes for Naples fustian. A poem of the 15th century mentions among our imports from Italy—

"Apes and japes and marmusettes tayled."

Jilt was once a stronger epithet than at present. It is for earlier jillet, which is a diminutive of Jill, the companion of Jack. Jill, again, is short for Gillian, i.e. Juliana, so that jilt is a doublet of Shakespeare's sweetest heroine. Termagant, like shrew (p. 34), was formerly used of both sexes, e.g., by Sir John Falstaff—

"'Twas time to counterfeit, or that hot termagant Scot (Douglas) had paid me scot and lot too."

(1 Henry IV., v. 4.)

In its oldest sense of a Saracen god it regularly occurs with Mahound (Mahomet)—

"Marsilies fait porter un livre avant:
La lei i fut Mahum e Tervagan."[35]

(Chanson de Roland, l. 610.)

Ariosto has Trivigante. Being introduced into the medieval drama, the name became synonymous with a stage fury—

"I would have such a fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant."

(Hamlet, iii. 2.)

The origin of the word is unknown, but its sense development is strangely different from that of Mahomet (p. 43).


[24] But Finsteraarhorn is perhaps from the river Aar, not from Aar, eagle.

[25] A place where a number of settlers were massacred by the Zulus.

[26] "Two mountains near Dublin, which we, keeping in the grocery line, have called the Great and the Little Sugarloaf, are named in Irish the Golden Spears."—(Trench, On the Study of Words.)

[27] The French name for the fruit is ananas, a Brazilian word. A vegetarian friend of the writer, misled by the superficial likeness of this word to banana, once petrified a Belgian waiter by ordering half a dozen for his lunch.

[28] A reader calls my attention to the fact that, when the hippopotamus is almost completely submerged, the pointed ears, prominent eyes, and large nostrils are grotesquely suggestive of a horse's head. This I have recently verified at the Zoo.

[29] For the rather illogical formation, cf. dogged from dog.

[30] Connection has even been suggested between haggis and Fr. agasse, "a pie, piannet, or magatapie" (Cotgrave). Haggis, now regarded as Scottish, was once a common word in English. Palsgrave has haggas, a podyng, "caliette (caillette) de mouton," i.e., sheep's stomach.

[31] For eyas see p. 114.

[32] To the same period belongs the colour magenta, from the victory of the French over the Austrians at Magenta in 1859.

[33] For lockram, see p. 48.

[34] Jehannette, "Jug, or Jinny" (Cotgrave). For strange perversions of baptismal names see Chap. XII. It is possible that the rather uncommon family name Juggins is of the same origin.

[35] "Marsil has a book brought forward: the law of Mahomet and Termagant was in it."




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 Châlons-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[50] 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 Fergus 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[51] 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. Cæsaris (urbs); cf. Saragossa, from Cæsarea Augusta.

But it is possible to be mistaken in connecting countries with products. Brazil wood is not named from the country, but vice-versâ. 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.[52]

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[53] 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 archæological 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!




The history of a word has to be studied from the double point of view of sound and sense, or, to use more technical terms, phonetics and semantics. In the logical order of things it seems natural to deal first with the less interesting aspect, phonetics, the physical processes by which sounds are gradually transformed. Speaking generally, it may be said that phonetic changes are governed by the law of least resistance, a sound which presents difficulty being gradually and unconsciously modified by a whole community or race. With the general principles of phonetics I do not propose to deal, but a few simple examples will serve to illustrate the one great law on which this science is based.

The population of this country is educationally divided by the letter h into three classes, which we may describe as the confident, the anxious, and the indifferent. The same division existed in imperial Rome, where educated people sounded the aspirate, which completely disappeared from the every-day language of the lower classes, the so-called Vulgar Latin, from which the Romance languages are descended, so far as their working vocabulary is concerned. The anxious class was also represented. A Latin[55] epigrammatist[42] remarks that since Arrius, prophetic name, has visited the Ionic islands, they will probably be henceforth known as the Hionic islands. To the disappearance of the h from Vulgar Latin is due the fact that the Romance languages have no aspirate. French still writes the initial h in some words by etymological reaction, e.g., homme for Old Fr. ome, and also at one time really had an aspirate in the case of words of Germanic origin, e.g., la honte, shame. But this h is no longer sounded, although it still, by tradition, prevents elision and liaison, mistakes in which are regarded much in the same way as a misplaced aspirate in English. The "educated" h of modern English is largely an artificial restoration; cf. the modern hotel-keeper with the older word ostler (see p. 164), or the family name Armitage with the restored hermitage.


We have dropped the k sound in initial kn, as in knave, still sounded in Ger. Knabe, boy. French gets over the difficulty by inserting a vowel between the two consonants, e.g., canif is a Germanic word cognate with Eng. knife. This is a common device in French when a word of Germanic origin begins with two consonants. Cf. Fr. dérive, drift, Eng. drive; Fr. varech, sea-weed, Eng. wrack. Harangue, formerly harengue, is Old High Ger. hring, Eng. ring, the allusion being to the circle formed by the audience. Fr. chenapan, rogue, is Ger. Schnapphahn, robber, lit. fowl-stealer. The shallop that "flitteth silken-sail'd, skimming down to Camelot," is Fr. chaloupe, probably identical with Du. sloep, sloop.

The general dislike that French has for a double[56] consonant sound at the beginning of a word appears also in the transformation of all Latin words which began with sc, sp, st, e.g., scola > escole (école), spongia > esponge (éponge), stabulum > estable (étable). English words derived from French generally show the older form, but without the initial vowel, school, sponge, stable.

The above are very simple examples of sound change. There are certain less regular changes, which appear to work in a more arbitrary fashion and bring about more picturesque results. Three of the most important of these are assimilation, dissimilation, and metathesis.

Assimilation is the tendency of a sound to imitate its neighbour. The tree called the lime was formerly the line, and earlier still the lind. We see the older form in linden and in such place-names as Lyndhurst, lime wood. Line often occurred in such compounds as line-bark, line-bast, line-wood, where the second component began with a lip consonant. The n became also a lip consonant because it was easier to pronounce, and by the 17th century we generally find lime instead of line. We have a similar change in Lombard for Ger. lang-bart, long-beard, or, according to some, long-axe. For Liverpool we find also Litherpool in early records. If the reader attempts to pronounce both names rapidly, he will be able to form his own opinion as to whether it is more natural for Liverpool to become Litherpool or vice-versâ, a vexed question with philologists. Fr. vélin, a derivative of Old Fr. veel (veau), calf, and venin, Lat. venenum, have given Eng. vellum and venom, the final consonant being in each case assimilated[43] to the initial labial. So also mushroom, Fr. mousseron, from mousse, moss.


Vulgar Lat. circare (from circa, around) gave Old Fr. cerchier, Eng. search. In modern Fr. chercher the initial consonant has been influenced by the medial ch. The m of the curious word ampersand, variously spelt, is due to the neighbouring p. It is applied to the sign &. I thought it obsolete till I came across it on successive days in two contemporary writers—

"One of my mother's chief cares was to teach me my letters, which I learnt from big A to Ampersand in the old hornbook at Lantrig."

(Quiller-Couch, Dead Man's Rock, Ch. 2.)

"Tommy knew all about the work. Knew every letter in it from A to Emperzan."

(Pett Ridge, In the Wars.)

Children used to repeat the alphabet thus—"A per se A, B per se B," and so on to "and per se and." The symbol & is an abbreviation of Lat. et, written &.


Dissimilation is the opposite process. The archaic word pomander

"I have sold all my trumpery; not a counterfeit stone, not a riband, glass, pomander, brooch, ... to keep my pack from fasting."

(Winter's Tale, iv. 3.)

was formerly spelt pomeamber. It comes from Old Fr. pome ambre, apple of amber, a ball of perfume once carried by the delicate. In this case one of the two lip consonants has been dissimilated. A like change has occurred in Fr. nappe, cloth, from Lat. mappa, whence our napkin, apron (p. 113), and the family name Napier.

The sounds most frequently affected by dissimilation are those represented by the letters l, n, and r. Fr. gonfalon is for older gonfanon. Chaucer uses the older form, Milton the newer—

"Ten thousand thousand ensigns high advanc'd,
Standards and gonfalons, 'twixt van and rear,
Stream in the air."

(Paradise Lost, v. 589.)


Gonfanon is of Germanic origin. It means literally "battle-flag," and the second element is cognate with English fane or vane (Ger. Fahne). Eng. pilgrim and Fr. pèlerin, from Lat. peregrinus, illustrate the change from r to l, while the word frail, an osier basket for figs, is due to a change from l to r, which goes back to Roman times. A grammarian of imperial Rome named Probus compiled, about the 3rd or 4th century, A.D., a list of cautions as to mispronunciation. In this list we find "flagellum, non fragellum." In the sense of switch, twig, fragellum gave Old Fr. freel, basket made of twigs, whence Eng. frail; while the correct flagellum gave Old Fr. fleel (fléau), whence Eng. flail. A Vulgar Lat. *mora, mulberry, from Lat. morus, mulberry tree, has given Fr. mûre. The r of berry has brought about dissimilation in Eng. mulberry and Ger. Maulbeere. Colonel has the spelling of Fr. colonel, but its pronunciation points rather to the dissimilated Spanish form coronel which is common in Elizabethan English. Cotgrave has colonel, "a colonell, or coronell; the commander of a regiment."

The female name Annabel is a dissimilation of Amabel, whence Mabel. By confusion with the popular medieval name Orable, Lat. orabilis, Annabel has become Arabel or Arabella. Our level is Old Fr. livel, Vulgar Lat. *libellum, for libella, a plummet, diminutive of libra, scales. Old Fr. livel became by dissimilation nivel, now niveau. Many conjectures have been made as to the etymology of oriel. It is from Old Fr. oriol, a recess, or sanctum, which first occurs in an Anglo-Norman poem of the 12th century on Becket. This is from a Late Latin diminutive aulæolum, a small chapel or shrine, which was dissimilated into auræolum.

Sometimes dissimilation leads to the disappearance of a consonant, e.g., Eng. feeble, Fr. faible, represents[59] Lat. flebilis, lamentable, from flere, to weep. Fugleman was once flugelman, from Ger. Flügelmann, wing man, i.e., a tall soldier on the wing who exaggerated the movements of musketry drill for the guidance of the rest.


Metathesis is the transposition of two sounds. A simple case is our trouble, Fr. troubler, from Lat. turbulare. Maggot is for Mid. Eng. maddok, a diminutive of Anglo-Sax. maþa; cf. Ger. Made, maggot. Kittle, in the phrase "kittle cattle," is identical with tickle; cf. Ger. kitzeln, to tickle. One theory for the origin of tankard is that it stands for *cantar, from Lat. cantharus, with which it corresponds exactly in meaning; e.g., cantharus, "a pot, a jugge, a tankerd" (Cooper); cantharo, a "tankard or jug that houldeth much" (Florio); canthare, "a great jugge, or tankard" (Cotgrave). The metathesis may be due to association with the name Tankard (Tancred).

Wattle and wallet are used indifferently in Mid. English for a little bag. Shakespeare no doubt had in mind the wattles of a cock or turkey when he made Gonzalo speak of mountaineers—

"Dew-lapp'd like bulls, whose throats had hanging at them
Wallets of flesh."

(Tempest, iii. 3.)

Fr. moustique is for earlier mousquite, from Span. mosquito, a diminutive from Lat. musca, a fly. Tinsel is Fr. étincelle, spark, earlier estincele, which supposes a Lat. *stincilla for scintilla. The old word anlace, dagger, common in Mid. English and revived by Byron and Scott—

"His harp in silken scarf was slung,
And by his side an anlace hung."

(Rokeby, v. 15.)

has provoked many guesses. Its oldest form, anelas, is a metathesis of the common Old Fr. alenas, dagger. This is formed from alêne, of Germanic origin, cognate[60] with awl; cf. cutlass, Fr. coutelas (p. 126). Beverage is from Old Fr. bevrage, or beuvrage, now breuvage, Vulgar Lat. *biberaticum, from bibere, to drink. Here, as in the case of level (p. 58), and search (p. 57), English preserves the older form. In Martello tower, from a fort taken by the British (1794) in Mortella, i.e., Myrtle, Bay, Corsica, we have vowel metathesis.

It goes without saying that such linguistic phenomena are often observed in the case of children and uneducated people. Not long ago the writer was urged by a gardener to embellish his garden with a ruskit arch. When metathesis extends beyond one word we have what is known as a Spoonerism, the original type of which is said to be—

"Kinquerings congs their titles take."

We have seen (p. 57) that the letters l, n, r are particularly subject to dissimilation and metathesis. But we sometimes find them alternating without apparent reason. Thus banister is a modern form for the correct baluster.[44] This was not at first applied to the rail, but to the bulging colonnettes on which it rests. Fr. balustre comes, through Italian, from Greco-Lat. balaustium, a pomegranate flower, the shape of which resembles the supports of a balustrade. Cotgrave explains balustres as "ballisters; little, round and short pillars, ranked on the outside of cloisters, terraces, galleries, etc." Glamour is a doublet of grammar (see p. 145), and flounce was formerly frounce, from Fr. froncer, now only used of "knitting" the brows—

"Till civil-suited morn appear,
Not trickt and frounc't as she was wont
With the Attic boy to hunt."

(Penseroso, l. 123.)


Fr. flibustier, whence our filibuster, was earlier fribustier, a corruption of Du. vrijbuiter, whence directly the Eng. freebooter.[45]


All words tend in popular usage to undergo a certain amount of shrinkage. The reduction of Lat. digitale, from digitus, finger, to Fr. , thimble (little thumb) is a striking example. The strong tonic accent of English, which is usually on the first, or root, syllable, brings about a kind of telescoping which makes us very unintelligible to foreigners. This is seen in the pronunciation of names such as Cholmondeley and Marjoribanks. Bethlehem hospital, for lunatics, becomes bedlam; Mary Magdalene, taken as a type of tearful repentance, gives us maudlin, now generally used of the lachrymose stage of intoxication. Sacristan is contracted into sexton. Fr. paralysie becomes palsy, and hydropisie becomes dropsy. The fuller form of the word usually persists in the literary language, or is artificially introduced at a later period, so that we get such doublets as proctor and procurator.

In the case of French words which have a prefix, this prefix is very frequently dropped in English, e.g., raiment for arrayment; while suffixes, or final syllables, often disappear, e.g., treasure trove, for Old Fr. trové (trouvé), or become assimilated to some familiar English ending, e.g., parish, Fr. paroisse, skirmish, Fr. escarmouche; cartridge, Fr. cartouche, partridge, Fr. perdrix. A good example of such shrinkage is the word vamp, part of a shoe, Old Fr. avant-pie (pied), which became Mid. Eng. vampey, and then lost its final syllable. We may[62] compare vambrace, armour for the forearm, Fr. avant-bras, vanguard, Fr. avant-garde, often reduced to van

"Go, charge Agrippa
Plant those that have revolted in the van;
That Antony may seem to spend his fury
Upon himself."

(Antony and Cleopatra, iv. 6.)

and the obsolete vaunt-courier, forerunner—

"You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts."

(Lear, iii. 2.)

When the initial vowel is a-, its loss may have been helped by confusion with the indefinite article. Thus for anatomy we find atomy, for a skeleton or scarecrow figure, applied by Mistress Quickly to the constable (2 Henry IV., v. 4). Peal is for appeal, call; mend for amend, lone for alone, i.e., all one. Peach, used by Falstaff—

"If I be ta'en, I'll peach for this."

(1 Henry IV., ii. 2.)

is for older appeach, related to impeach. Size, in all its senses, is for assize, Fr. assise, with a general meaning of allowance or assessment, from Fr. asseoir, to put, lay. Sizars at Cambridge are properly students in receipt of certain allowances called sizings. With painters' size we may compare Ital. assisa, "size that painters use" (Florio). We use the form assize in speaking of the "sitting" of the judges, but those most familiar with this tribunal speak of being tried at the 'sizes. The obsolete word cate, on which Petruchio plays—

"For dainties are all cates—and therefore, Kate,
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation."

(Taming of the Shrew, ii. 1.)

is for earlier acate, an Old French dialect form corresponding to modern Fr. achat, purchase. The man[63] entrusted with purchasing was called an acatour or catour (whence the name Cator), later cater, now extended to caterer, like fruiterer for fruiter, poulterer for poulter and upholsterer for upholdster or upholder.[46]

Limbeck has been squeezed out by the orthodox alembic

"Memory the warder of the brain,
Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason
A limbeck only."

(Macbeth, i. 7.)

and prentice has given way to apprentice. Tire and attire both survive, and maze persists by the side of amaze with the special sense which I have heard a Notts collier express by puzzle-garden (cf. Ger. Irrgarten). Binnacle is a corruption, perhaps due to association with bin, of earlier bittacle, from Lat. habitaculum, a little dwelling. It may have come to us through Fr. habitacle or Port. bitacola, "the bittacle, a frame of timber in the steerage, where the compass is placed on board a ship" (Vieyra, Port. Dict., 1794). As King of Scotland, King George has a household official known as the limner, or painter. For limner[47] we find in the 15th century lumner and luminour, which is aphetic for alluminour, or enlumineur. Cotgrave, s.v. enlumineur de livres, says, "we call one that coloureth, or painteth upon, paper, or parchment, an alluminer."


But confusion with the article is not necessary in order to bring about aphesis. It occurs regularly in[64] the case of words beginning with esc, esp, est, borrowed from Old French (see p. 56). Thus we have squire from escuyer (êcuyer), skew from Old Fr. eschuer, to dodge, "eschew," ultimately cognate with Eng. shy, spice from espice (épice), sprite from esprit, stage from estage (étage), etc. In some cases we have the fuller form also, e.g., esquire, eschew; cf. sample and example. Fender, whether before a fireplace or slung outside a ship, is for defender; fence is always for defence, either in the sense of a barrier or in allusion to the noble art of self-defence.[48] The tender of a ship or of a locomotive is the attender, and taint is aphetic for attaint, Fr. atteinte, touch—

"I will not poison thee with my attaint."

(Lucrece, l. 1072.)

Puzzle was in Mid. Eng. opposaile, i.e., something put before one. We still speak of "a poser."

Spital, for hospital, survives in Spitalfields, and Spittlegate at Grantham and elsewhere. Crew is for accrewe (Holinshed). It meant properly a reinforcement, lit. on-growth, from Fr. accroître, to accrue. In recruit, we have a later instance of the same idea. Fr. recrue, recruit, from recroître, to grow again, is still feminine, like many other military terms which were originally abstract or collective. Cotgrave has recreuë, "a supplie, or filling up of a defective company of souldiers, etc." We have possum for opossum, and coon for racoon, and this for arrahacoune, which I find in a 16th-century[65] record of travel; cf. American skeeter for mosquito. In these two cases we perhaps have also the deliberate intention to shorten (see p. 66), as also in the obsolete Australian tench, for the aphetic 'tentiary, i.e., penitentiary. With this we may compare 'tec for detective.


Drawing-room is for withdrawing room, and only the final t of saint is left in Tooley St., famed for its three tailors, formerly Saint Olave Street, and tawdry. This latter word is well known to be derived from Saint Audrey's fair. It was not originally depreciatory—

"Come, you promised me a tawdry lace, and a pair of sweet gloves."

(Winter's Tale, iv. 3.)

and the full form is recorded by Palsgrave, who has Seynt Andries (read Audrie's) lace, "cordon." The verb vie comes from Old Fr. envier, to challenge, Lat. invitare, whence the phrase à l'envi l'un de l'autre, "in emulation one of the other" (Cotgrave); cf. gin (trap), Fr. engin, Lat. ingenium. The prefix dis or des is lost in Spencer (see p. 165), spite, splay, sport, stain, etc.

In drat, formerly 'od rot, zounds for God's wounds, 'sdeath, odsbodikins, etc., there is probably a deliberate avoidance of profanity. The same intention appears in Gogs

"'Ay, by gogs-wouns!' quoth he; and swore so loud,
That, all amaz'd, the priest let fall the book."

(Taming of the Shrew, iii. 2.)

Cf. Fr. parbleu for par Dieu, and Ger. Potz for Gottes.

This English tendency to aphesis is satirised in a French song of the 14th century, intentionally written in bad French. Thus, in the line—

"Or sont il vint le tans que Glais voura vauchier."[49]

Glais is for Anglais and vauchier is for chevauchier[66] (chevaucher), to ride on a foray. The literary language runs counter to this instinct, though Shakespeare wrote haviour for behaviour and longing for belonging, while such forms as billiments for habiliments and sparagus for asparagus are regular up to the 18th century. Children keep up the national practice when they say member for remember and zamine for examine. It is quite certain that baccy and tater would be recognised literary forms if America had been discovered two centuries sooner or printing invented two centuries later.

Many words are shortened, not by natural and gradual shrinkage, but by deliberate laziness. The national distaste for many syllables appears in wire for telegram, the Artful Dodger's wipe for the clumsy pocket handkerchief, soccer for association, and such portmanteau words as squarson, an individual who is at once squire and parson, or Bakerloo for Baker St. and Waterloo.

The simplest way of reducing a word is to take the first syllable and make it a symbol for the rest. Of comparatively modern formation are pub and Zoo, with which we may compare Bart's, for Saint Bartholomew's, Cri, Pav, "half a mo'" bike, and even paj, for pageant.


This method of shortening words was very popular in the 17th century, from which period date cit(izen), mob(ile vulgus), the fickle crowd, and, pun(digrion). We often find the fuller mobile used for mob. The origin of pundigrion is uncertain. It may be an illiterate attempt at Ital. puntiglio, which, like Fr. pointe, was used of a verbal quibble or fine distinction. Most of these clipped forms are easily identified, e.g., cab(riolet), gent(leman), hack(ney), vet(erinary surgeon). Cad is for Scot. caddie, errand boy, now familiar in connection with golf, and caddie is from Fr. cadet, younger. The word had not always the very strong meaning we now[67] associate with it. Among Sketches by Boz is one entitled—

"The last Cab driver and the first Omnibus Cad,"

where cad means conductor. On tick, for on ticket, is found in the 17th century. We may compare the more modern biz and spec. Brig is for brigantine, Ital. brigantino, "a kinde of pinnasse or small barke called a brigantine" (Florio). The original meaning is pirate ship; cf. brigand. Wag has improved in meaning. It is for older waghalter. Cotgrave has baboin (babouin), "a trifling, busie, or crafty knave; a crackrope, waghalter, etc." The older sense survives in the phrase "to play the wag," i.e. truant. For the "rope" figure we may compare Scot. hempie, a minx, and obsolete Ital. cavestrolo, a diminutive from Lat. capistrum, halter, explained by Florio as "a wag, a haltersacke." Modern Ital. capestro is used in the same sense. Crack-rope is shortened to crack. Justice Shallow remembered Falstaff breaking Skogan's head—

"When he was a crack, not thus high."

(2 Henry IV., iii. 2.)

Chap is for chapman, once in general use for a merchant and still a common family name. It is cognate with cheap, chaffer, and Ger. kaufen, to buy, and probably comes from Lat. caupo, tavern keeper. We have the Dutch form in horse-coper, and also in the word coopering, the illicit sale of spirits by Dutch boats to North Sea fishermen.[50] Merchant was used by the Elizabethans in the same way as our chap. Thus the Countess of Auvergne calls Talbot a "riddling merchant"[68] (1 Henry VI., ii. 3). We may also compare Scot. callant, lad, from the Picard form of Fr. chaland, customer—

"He had seen many a braw callant, far less than Guse Gibbie, fight brawly under Montrose."

(Old Mortality, Ch. 1.)

and our own expression "a rum customer," reduced in America to "a rum cuss." Hock, for Hochheimer, wine from Hochheim, occurs as early as Beaumont and Fletcher; and rum, spirit, is for earlier rumbullion, of obscure origin. Gin is for geneva, a corruption of Fr. genièvre, Lat. juniperus, with the berries of which it is flavoured. The history of grog is more complicated. The stuff called grogram, earlier grograyne, is from Fr. gros grain, coarse grain. Admiral Vernon (18th century) was called by the sailors "Old Grog" from his habit of wearing grogram breeches. When he issued orders that the regular allowance of rum was henceforth to be diluted with water, the sailors promptly baptized the mixture with his nickname.


Sometimes the two first syllables survive. We have navvy for navigator, brandy for brandywine, from Du. brandewyn, lit. burnt wine, and whisky for usquebaugh, Gaelic uisge-beatha, water of life (cf. eau-de-vie), so that the literal meaning of whisky is very innocent. It has a doublet in the river-name Usk. Before the 18th century usquebaugh is the regular form. In the following passage the Irish variety is referred to—

"The prime is usquebaugh, which cannot be made anywhere in that perfection; and whereas we drink it here in aqua vitæ measures, it goes down there by beer-glassfuls, being more natural to the nation."

(Howell, 1634.)

Canter is for Canterbury gallop, the pace of pilgrims[69] riding to the shrine of St Thomas. John Dennis, known as Dennis the Critic, says of Pope—

"Boileau's Pegasus has all his paces. The Pegasus of Pope, like a Kentish post-horse, is always on the Canterbury."

(On the Preliminaries to the Dunciad.)

In bugle, for bugle-horn, lit. wild-ox-horn, Old Fr. bugle, Lat. buculus, a diminutive of bos, ox, we have perhaps rather an ellipsis, like waterproof (coat), than a clipped form—

"Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet 'tis early morn:
Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle-horn."

(Locksley Hall.)

Patter is no doubt for paternoster

"Fitz-Eustace, you, with Lady Clare,
May bid your beads and patter prayer."

(Marmion, vi. 27.)

and the use of the word marble for a toy sometimes made of that stone makes it very probable that the alley, most precious of marbles, is short for alabaster.

Less frequently the final syllable is selected, e.g., bus for omnibus, loo for lanterloo, variously spelt in the 17th and 18th centuries—

"Ev'n mighty Pam,[51] that Kings and Queens o'erthrew,
And mow'd down armies in the fights of lu."

(Rape of the Lock, iii. 62.)

Fr. lanturelu was originally the meaningless refrain or "tol de rol" of a popular song in Richelieu's time. Van is for caravan, a Persian word, properly a company of merchants or ships travelling together, "also of late corruptly used with us for a kind of waggon to carry passengers to and from London" (Blount, Glossographia, 1674). Wig is for periwig, a corruption of Fr. perruque, of obscure origin. With the 17th century 'varsity, for university, we may compare Sam Weller's 'Tizer, for Morning Advertiser.[70]

Christian names are treated in the same way. Alexander gives Alec and Sandy, Herbert, 'Erb or Bert. Ib (see p. 172) was once common for Isabella, while the modern language prefers Bella; Maud for Matilda is a telescoped form of Old Fr. Maheut, while 'Tilda is perhaps due to unconscious aphesis, like Denry

"She saved a certain amount of time every day by addressing her son as Denry, instead of Edward Henry."

(Arnold Bennett, The Card, Ch. 1.)

Among conscious word-formations may be classed many reduplicated forms, whether riming, as hurly-burly, or alliterative, as tittle-tattle, though reduplication belongs to the natural speech of children, and, in at least one case, Fr. tante, from ante-ante, Lat. amita, the baby word has prevailed. In a reduplicated form only one half as a rule needs to be explained. Thus seesaw is from saw, the motion suggesting two sawyers at work on a log. Zigzag, from French, and Ger. zickzack are of unknown origin. Shilly-shally is for shill I, shall I? Namby-pamby commemorates the poet Ambrose Philips, who was thus nicknamed by Pope and his friends. The weapon called a snickersnee

"'First let me say my catechism,
Which my poor mammy taught to me.'
'Make haste, make haste,' says guzzling Jimmy,
While Jack pulled out his snickersnee."

(Thackeray, Little Billee, l. 21.)

is of Dutch origin and means something like "cut and thrust." It is usually mentioned in connection with the Hollanders—

"Among other customs they have in that town, one is, that none must carry a pointed knife about him; which makes the Hollander, who is us'd to snik and snee, to leave his horn-sheath and knife a ship-board when he comes ashore."

(Howell, Letter from Florence, 1621.)


Here the reduplication is only apparent, for the older form was to stick or snee, representing the Dutch verbs steken, to thrust, snijden or snijen, to cut. The initial of the first verb has been assimilated to that of the second—

"It is our countrie custome onely to stick or snee."

(Glapthorne, The Hollander.)

Reduplication is responsible for pickaback, earlier pickpack, from pack, bundle. The modern form is due to popular association with back.


Occasionally we have what is apparently the arbitrary prefixing of a consonant, e.g., spruce for pruce (p. 48). Dapple gray corresponds so exactly to Fr. gris pommelé, Mid. Eng. pomeli gris, Ger. apfelgrau, and Ital. pomellato, "spotted, bespeckled, pide, dapple-graie, or fleabitten, the colour of a horse" (Florio), that it is hard not to believe in an unrecorded *apple-gray, especially as we have daffodil for earlier affodil, i.e., asphodel. Cotgrave has asphodile (asphodèle), "the daffadill, affodill, or asphodill, flower." The playful elaboration daffadowndilly is as old as Spenser.



"Nec sibi postilla metuebant talia verba,
Cum subito adfertur nuntius horribilis,
Ionios fluctus, postquam illuc Arrius isset,
Iam non Ionios esse, sed Hionios."

(Catullus, 84.)

[43] Apart from assimilation, there is a tendency in English to substitute -m for -n, e.g. grogram for grogran (see p. 68). In the family name Hansom, for Hanson, we have dissimilation of n (see p. 57).

[44] Cf. the similar change in the family name Banister (p. 179).

[45] It may be noted here that a buccaneer was not originally a pirate, but a man whose business was the smoking of beef in the West Indies. The name comes from a native word boucan, adopted into French, and explained by Cotgrave as a "woodden-gridiron whereon the cannibals broile pieces of men, and other flesh."

[46] Upholsterer has become specialised in sense; cf. undertaker (of funerals), and stationer, properly a tradesman with a station or stall. Costermonger illustrates the converse process. It meant originally a dealer in costards, i.e. apples. The French costermonger has the more appropriate name of marchand des quatre saisons.

[47] English i sometimes occurs as an attempt at the French and Celtic u; cf. brisk from brusque, periwig (p. 69), and whisky (p. 68).

[48] Our ancestors appear to have been essentially pacific. With fence, for defence, we may compare Ger. schirmen, to fence, from Schirm, screen (cf. Regenschirm, umbrella), which, passing through Italian and French, has given us skirmish, scrimmage, scaramouch (see p. 142), and Shakespearean scrimer, fencer (Hamlet, iv. 7). So also Ger. Gewehr, weapon, is cognate with Eng. weir, and means defence—

"Cet animal est très méchant;
Quand on l'attaque, il se défend."

[49] "Now the time has come when the English will wish to ride."

[50] Cf. also Dan. Kjöbenhavn (Copenhagen), the merchants' haven, the numerous Swedish place-names ending in -köping, e.g. Jönköping, and our own Chippings, or market-towns.

[51] The knave of clubs. The name was also given to Lord Palmerston.




We have all noticed the fantastic way in which ideas are linked together in our thoughts. One thing suggests another with which it is accidentally associated in memory, the second suggests a third, and, in the course even of a few seconds, we find that we have travelled from one subject to another so remote that it requires an effort to reconstruct the series of links which connects them. The same thing happens with words. A large number of words, despite great changes of sense, retain the fundamental meaning of the original, but in many cases this is quite lost. A truer image than that of the linked chain would be that of a sphere giving off in various directions a number of rays each of which may form the nucleus of a fresh sphere. Or we may say that at each link of the chain there is a possibility of another chain branching off in a direction of its own. In Cotgrave's time to garble (see p. 21) and to canvass, i.e. sift through canvas, meant the same thing. Yet how different is their later sense development.


There is a word ban, found in Old High German and Anglo-Saxon, and meaning, as far back as it can be traced, a proclamation containing a threat, hence a command or prohibition. We have it in banish, to put under the ban. The proclamation idea survives in the banns of marriage and in Fr. arrière-ban, "a proclamation,[73] whereby those that hold authority of the king in mesne tenure, are summoned to assemble, and serve him in his warres" (Cotgrave). This is folk-etymology for Old Fr. arban, Old High Ger. hari-ban, army summons. Slanting off from the primitive idea of proclamation is that of rule or authority. The French for outskirts is banlieue, properly the "circuit of a league, or thereabouts" (Cotgrave) over which the local authority extended. All public institutions within such a radius were associated with ban, e.g., un four, un moulin à ban, "a comon oven or mill whereat all men may, and every tenant and vassall must, bake, and grind" (Cotgrave). The French adjective banal, used in this connection, gradually developed from the meaning of "common" that of "common-place," in which sense it is now familiar in English.[52]

Bureau, a desk, was borrowed from French in the 17th century. In modern French it means not only the desk, but also the office itself and the authority exercised by the office. Hence our familiar bureaucracy, likely to become increasingly familiar. The desk was so called because covered with bureau, Old Fr. burel, "a thicke course cloath, of a brown russet, or darke mingled, colour" (Cotgrave), whence Mid. Eng. borel, rustic, clownish, lit. roughly clad, which occurs as late as Spenser—

"How be I am but rude and borrel,
Yet nearer ways I know."

(Shepherd's Calendar, July, l. 95.)

With this we may compare the metaphorical use of home-spun

"What hempen home-spuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of the fairy queen?"

(Midsummer Night's Dream, iii. 1.)


The source of Old Fr. burel is perhaps Lat. burrus, fiery, from Gk. πῦρ, fire.

Romance was originally an adverb. To write in the vulgar tongue, instead of in classical Latin, was called romanice scribere, Old Fr. romanz escrire. When romanz became felt as a noun, it developed a "singular" roman or romant, the latter of which gave the archaic Eng. romaunt. The most famous of Old French romances are the epic poems called Chansons de geste, songs of exploits, geste coming from the Lat. gesta, deeds. Eng. gest or jest is common in the 16th and 17th centuries in the sense of act, deed, and jest-book meant a story-book. As the favourite story-books were merry tales, the word gradually acquired its present meaning.

A part of our Anglo-Saxon church vocabulary was supplanted by Latin or French words. Thus Anglo-Sax. ge-bed, prayer, was gradually expelled by Old Fr. preiere (prière), Lat. precaria. It has survived in beadsman

"The beadsman, after thousand aves told,
For aye unsought-for slept among his ashes cold."

(Keats, Eve of St Agnes.)

beadroll, and bead, now applied only to the humble device employed in counting prayers.

Not only the Romance languages, but also German and Dutch, adopted, with the Roman character, Lat. scribere, to write. English, on the contrary, preserved the native to write, i.e. to scratch (runes), giving to scribere only a limited sense, to shrive. The curious change of meaning was perhaps due to the fact that the priestly absolution was felt as having the validity of a "written" law or enactment.


The meaning which we generally give to pudding is comparatively modern. The older sense appears in black pudding, a sausage made of pig's blood. This[75] is also the meaning of Fr. boudin, whence pudding comes. A still older meaning of both words is intestine, a sense still common in dialect. The derivation of the word is obscure, but it is probably related to Fr. bouder, to pout, whence boudoir, lit. a sulking-room.

A hearse, now the vehicle in which a coffin is carried, is used by Shakespeare for a coffin or tomb. Its earlier meaning is a framework to support candles, usually put round the coffin at a funeral. This framework was so named from some resemblance to a harrow,[53] Fr. herse, Lat. hirpex, hirpic-, a rake.

Treacle is a stock example of great change of meaning. It is used in Coverdale's Bible (1535) for the "balm in Gilead" of the Authorised Version

"There is no more triacle at Galaad."[54]

(Jeremiah, vii. 22.)

Old Fr. triacle is from Greco-Lat. theriaca, a remedy against poison or snake-bite (θήρ, a wild beast). In Mid. English and later it was used of a sovereign remedy. It has, like sirup (p. 146), acquired its present meaning via the apothecary's shop.

A stickler is now a man who is fussy about small points of etiquette or procedure. In Shakespeare he is one who parts combatants—

"The dragon wing of night o'erspreads the earth,
And, stickler-like, the armies separates."

(Troilus and Cressida, v. 8.)

An earlier sense is that of seeing fair-play. The word has been popularly associated with the stick, or staff, used by the umpires in duels, and Torriano gives[76] stickler as one of the meanings of bastoniere, a verger or mace-bearer. But it probably comes from Mid. Eng. stightlen, to arrange, keep order (see p. 172, n. 2).

Infantry comes, through French, from Italian. It means a collection of "infants" or juniors, so called by contrast with the proved veterans who composed the cavalry.

The pastern of a horse, defined by Dr Johnson as the knee, from "ignorance, madam, pure ignorance," still means in Cotgrave and Florio "shackle." Florio even recognises a verb to pastern, e.g., pastoiare, "to fetter, to clog, to shackle, to pastern, to give (gyve)." It comes from Old Fr. pasturon (paturon), a derivative of pasture, such shackles being used to prevent grazing horses from straying. Pester (p. 167) is connected with it. The modern Fr. paturon has changed its meaning in the same way.

To rummage means in the Elizabethan navigators to stow goods in a hold. A rummager was what we call a stevedore.[55] Rummage is Old Fr. arrumage (arrimage), from arrumer, to stow, the middle syllable of which is probably cognate with English room; cf. arranger, to put in "rank."

The Christmas waits were originally watchmen, Anglo-Fr. waite, Old Fr. gaite, from the Old High German form of modern Ger. Wacht, watch. Modern French still has the verb guetter, to lie in wait for, and guet, the watch. Minstrel comes from an Old French derivative of Lat. minister, servant. Modern Fr. ménétrier is only used of a country fiddler who attends village weddings.

The lumber-room is supposed to be for Lombard room, i.e., the room in which pawnbrokers used to store[77] pledged property. The Lombards introduced into this country the three balls, said to be taken from the arms of the Medici family.


Livery is correctly explained by the poet Spenser—

"What livery is, we by common use in England know well enough, namely, that it is allowance of horse-meat, as they commonly use the word in stabling; as, to keep horses at livery; the which word, I guess, is derived of livering or delivering forth their nightly food. So in great houses, the livery is said to be served up for all night, that is, their evening allowance for drink; and livery is also called the upper weed (see p. 2) which a serving-man wears; so called, as I suppose, for that it was delivered and taken from him at pleasure."

(View of the State of Ireland.)

This passage explains also livery stable.[56] Our word comes from Fr. livrée, the feminine past participle of livrer, from Lat. liberare, to deliver.

Pedigree was in Mid. English pedegrew, petigrew, etc. It represents Old Fr. pie (pied) de grue, crane's foot, from the shape of a sign used in showing lines of descent in genealogical charts. The older form survives in the family name Pettigrew. Here it is a nickname, like Pettifer (pied de fer), iron-foot; cf. Sheepshanks.

Fairy is a collective, Fr. féerie, its modern use being perhaps due to its occurrence in such phrases as Faerie Queen, i.e., Queen of Fairyland. Cf. paynim, used by some poets for pagan, but really a doublet of paganism, occurring in paynim host, paynim knight, etc. The correct name for the individual fairy is fay, Fr. fée, Vulgar Lat. *fata, connected with fatum, fate. This appears in Ital. fata, "a fairie, a witch, an enchantres, an elfe" (Florio). The fata morgana, the mirage sometimes[78] seen in the Strait of Messina, is attributed to the fairy Morgana of Tasso, the Morgan le Fay of our own Arthurian legends.

Many people must have wondered at some time why the clubs and spades on cards are so called. The latter figure, it is true, bears some resemblance to a spade, but no giant of fiction is depicted with a club with a triple head. The explanation is that we have adopted the French pattern, carreau (see p. 161), diamond, cœur, heart, pique, pike, spear-head, trèfle, trefoil, clover-leaf, but have given to the two latter the names used in the Italian and Spanish pattern, which, instead of the pike and trefoil, has the sword (Ital. spada) and mace (Ital. bastone). Etymologically both spades are identical, the origin being Greco-Lat. spatha, the name of a number of blade-shaped objects; cf. the diminutive spatula.

Wafer, in both its senses, is related to Ger. Wabe, honeycomb. We find Anglo-Fr. wafre in the sense of a thin cake, perhaps stamped with a honeycomb pattern. The cognate Fr. gaufre is the name of a similar cake, which not only has the honeycomb pattern, but is also largely composed of honey. Hence our verb to goffer, to give a cellular appearance to a frill.


The meanings of adjectives are especially subject to change. Quaint now conveys the idea of what is unusual, and, as early as the 17th century, we find it explained as "strange, unknown." This is the exact opposite of its original meaning, Old Fr. cointe, Lat. cognitus; cf. acquaint, Old Fr. acointier, to make known. It is possible to trace roughly the process by which this remarkable volte-face has been brought about. The intermediate sense of trim or pretty is common in Shakespeare—

"For a fine, quaint, graceful, and excellent fashion, yours is worth ten on't."

(Much Ado, iii. 4.)


We apply restive to a horse that will not stand still. It means properly a horse that will not do anything else. Fr. rétif, Old Fr. restif, from rester, to remain, Lat. re-stare, has kept more of the original sense of stubbornness. Scot. reest, reist, means to stand stock-still—

"Certain it was that Shagram reisted, and I ken Martin thinks he saw something."

(Monastery, Ch. 4.)

Dryden even uses restive in the sense of sluggish—

"So James the drowsy genius wakes
Of Britain, long entranced in charms,
Restive, and slumbering on its arms."

(Threnodia Augustalis.)

Reasty, used of meat that has "stood" too long, is the same word (cf. testy, Old Fr. testif, heady), and rusty bacon is probably folk-etymology for reasty bacon—

"And then came haltyng Jone,
And brought a gambone
Of bakon that was reasty."

(Skelton, Elynour Rummyng.)

Sterling has an obscure history. It is from Old Fr. esterlin, a coin which etymologists of an earlier age connected with the Easterlings, or Hanse merchants, who formed one of the great mercantile communities of the Middle Ages; and perhaps some such association is responsible for the meaning that sterling has acquired; but chronology shows this traditional etymology to be impossible. We find unus sterlingus in a medieval Latin document of 1184, and the Old Fr. esterlin occurs in Wace's Roman de Rou (Romaunt of Rollo the Sea King), which was written before 1175. Hence it is conjectured that the original coin was named from the star which appears on some Norman pennies.[80]

When Horatio says—

"It is a nipping and an eager air."

(Hamlet, i. 4.)

we are reminded that eager is identical with the second part of vin-egar, Fr. aigre, sour, Lat. acer, keen. It seems hardly possible to explain the modern sense of nice, which in the course of its history has traversed nearly the whole diatonic scale between "rotten" and "ripping." In Mid. English and Old French it means foolish. Cotgrave explains it by "lither, lazie, sloathful, idle; faint, slack; dull, simple," and Shakespeare uses it in a great variety of meanings. It is supposed to come from Lat. nescius, ignorant. The transition from fond, foolish, which survives in "fond hopes," to fond, loving, is easy. French fou is used in exactly the same way. Cf. also to dote on, i.e., to be foolish about. Puny is Fr. puîné, from puis né, later born, junior, whence the puisne justices. Milton uses it of a minor—

"He must appear in print like a puny with his guardian."


Petty, Fr. petit, was similarly used for a small boy.

In some cases a complimentary adjective loses its true meaning and takes on a contemptuous or ironic sense. None of us care to be called bland, and to describe a man as worthy is to apologise for his existence. We may compare Fr. bonhomme, which now means generally an old fool, and bonne femme, good-wife, goody. Dapper, the Dutch for brave (cf. Ger. tapfer), and pert, Mid. Eng. apert, representing in meaning Lat. expertus, have changed much since Milton wrote of—

"The pert fairies and the dapper elves."

(Comus, l. 118.)

Pert seems in fact to have acquired the meaning of its opposite malapert, though the older sense of brisk, sprightly, survives in dialect[81]

"He looks spry and peart for once."

(Phillpotts, American Prisoner, Ch. 3.)

Smug, cognate with Ger. schmuck, trim, elegant, beautiful, has its original sense in Shakespeare—

"And here the smug and silver Trent shall run
In a new channel, fair and evenly."

(1 Henry IV., iii. 1.)

The degeneration of an adjective is sometimes due to its employment for euphemistic purposes. The favourite substitute for fat is stout, properly strong,[57] dauntless, etc., cognate with Ger. stolz, proud. Precisely the same euphemism appears in French, e.g., "une dame un peu forte." Ugly is replaced in English by plain, and in American by homely

"She is not so handsome as these, maybe, but her homeliness is not actually alarming."

(Max Adeler, Mr Skinner's Night in the Underworld.)

In the case of this word, as in many others, the American use preserves a meaning which was once common in English. Kersey's Dictionary (1720) explains homely as "ugly, disagreeable, course (coarse), mean."


Change of meaning may be brought about by association. A miniature is a small portrait, and we even use the word as an adjective meaning small, on a reduced scale. But the true sense of miniature is something painted in minium, red lead. Florio explains miniatura as "a limning (see p. 63), a painting with vermilion." Such paintings were usually small, hence the later meaning. The word was first applied to the ornamental red initial capitals in manuscripts. Vignette still means technically in French an interlaced vine-pattern[82] on a frontispiece.[58] Cotgrave has vignettes, "vignets; branches, or branch-like borders, or flourishes in painting, or ingravery."

The degeneration in the meaning of a noun may be partly due to frequent association with disparaging adjectives. Thus hussy, i.e. housewife, quean,[59] woman, wench, child, have absorbed such adjectives as impudent, idle, light, saucy, etc. Shakespeare uses quean only three times, and these three include "cozening quean" (Merry Wives, iv. 2) and "scolding quean" (All's Well, ii. 2). With wench, still used without any disparaging sense by country folk, we may compare Fr. garce, lass, and Ger. Dirne, maid-servant, both of which are now insulting epithets, but, in the older language, could be applied to Joan of Arc and the Virgin Mary respectively. Garce was replaced by fille, which has acquired in its turn a meaning so offensive that it has now given way to jeune fille. Minx, earlier minkes, is probably the Low Ger. minsk, Ger. Mensch, lit. human, but used also in the sense of "wench." For the consonantal change cf. hunks, Dan. hundsk, stingy, lit. doggish. These examples show that the indignant "Who are you calling a woman?" is, philologically, in all likelihood a case of intelligent anticipation.


Adjectives are affected in their turn by being regularly coupled with certain nouns. A buxom help-mate was once obedient, the word being cognate with Ger. biegsam, flexible, yielding—

"The place where thou and Death
Shall dwell at ease, and up and down unseen
Wing silently the buxom air."

(Paradise Lost, ii. 840.)


An obedient nature is "buxom, blithe and debonair," qualities which affect the physique and result in heartiness of aspect and a comely plumpness. An arch damsel is etymologically akin to an archbishop, both descending from the Greek prefix ἀρχι, from ἀρχή, a beginning, first cause. Shakespeare uses arch as a noun—

"The noble duke my master,
My worthy arch and patron comes to-night."

(Lear, ii. 1.)

Occurring chiefly in such phrases as arch enemy, arch heretic, arch hypocrite, arch rogue, it acquired a depreciatory sense, which has now become so weakened that archness is not altogether an unpleasing attribute. We may compare the cognate German prefix Erz. Ludwig has, as successive entries, Ertz-dieb, "an arch-thief, an arrant thief," and Ertz-engel, "an arch-angel." The meaning of arrant is almost entirely due to association with "thief." It means lit. wandering, vagabond, so that the arrant thief is nearly related to the knight errant, and to the Justices in eyre, Old Fr. eire, Lat. iter, a way, journey. Fr. errer, to wander, stray, is compounded of Vulgar Lat. iterare, to journey, and Lat. errare, to stray, and it would be difficult to calculate how much of each enters into the composition of le Juif errant.

As I have suggested above, association accounts to some extent for changes of meaning, but the process is in reality more complex, and usually a number of factors are working together or in opposition to each other. A low word may gradually acquire right of citizenship. "That article blackguardly called pluck" (Scott) is now much respected. It is the same word as pluck, the heart, liver, and lungs of an animal—

"During the Crimean war, plucky, signifying courageous, seemed likely to become a favourite term in Mayfair, even among the ladies."

(Hotten's Slang Dictionary, 1864.)


Having become respectable, it is now replaced in sporting circles by the more emphatic guts, which reproduces the original metaphor. A word may die out in its general sense, surviving only in some special meaning. Thus the poetic sward, scarcely used except with "green," meant originally the skin or crust of anything. It is cognate with Ger. Schwarte, "the sward, or rind, of a thing" (Ludwig), which now means especially bacon-rind. Related words may meet with very different fates in kindred languages. Eng. knight is cognate with Ger. Knecht, servant, which had, in Mid. High German, a wide range of meanings, including "warrior, hero." There is no more complimentary epithet than knightly, while Ger. knechtisch means servile. The degeneration of words like boor,[60] churl, farmer, is a familiar phenomenon (cf. villain, p. 150). The same thing has happened to blackguard, the modern meaning of which bears hardly on a humble but useful class. The name black guard was given collectively to the kitchen detachment of a great man's retinue. The scavenger has also come down in the world, rather an unusual phenomenon in the case of official titles. The medieval scavager[61] was an important official who seems to have been originally a kind of inspector of customs. He was called in Anglo-French scawageour, from the noun scawage, showing. The Old French dialect verb escauwer is of Germanic origin and cognate with Eng. show and Ger. schauen, to look. The cheater, now usually cheat, probably deserved his fate. The escheators looked after escheats, i.e., estates or property that lapsed and were forfeited. The origin of[85] the word is Old Fr. escheoir (échoir), to fall due, Vulgar Lat. ex *cadēre for cadĕre. Their reputation was unsavoury, and cheat has already its present meaning in Shakespeare. He also plays on the double meaning—

"I will be cheater to them both, and they shall be exchequers to me."

(Merry Wives, i. 3.)


Beldam implies "hag" as early as Shakespeare, but he also uses it in its proper sense of "grandmother," e.g., Hotspur refers to "old beldam earth" and "our grandam earth" in the same speech (1 Henry IV., iii. 1), and Milton speaks of "beldam nature"—

"Then sing of secret things that came to pass
When Beldam Nature in her cradle was."

(Vacation Exercise, l. 46.)

It is of course from belle-dame, used in Mid. English for grandmother, as belsire was for grandfather. Hence it is a doublet of belladonna. The masculine belsire survives as a family name, Belcher[62]; and to Jim Belcher, most gentlemanly of prize-fighters, we owe the belcher handkerchief, which had large white spots with a dark blue dot in the centre of each on a medium blue ground. It was also known to the "fancy" as a "bird's-eye wipe."


[52] Archaic Eng. bannal already existed in the technical sense.

[53] This is the usual explanation. But Fr. herse also acquired the meaning "portcullis," the pointed bars of which were naturally likened to the blades of a harrow; and it seems possible that it is to this later sense that we owe the older English meaning of hearse (see p. 154).

[54] "Numquid resina non est in Galaad?" (Vulgate.)

[55] A Spanish word, Lat. stipator, "one that stoppeth chinkes" (Cooper). It came to England in connection with the wool trade.

[56] In "livery and bait" there is pleonasm. Bait, connected with bite, is the same word as in bear-baiting and fishermen's bait. We have it also, via Old French, in abet, whence the aphetic bet, originally to egg on.

[57] Hence the use of stout for a "strong" beer. Porter was once the favourite tap of porters, and a mixture of stout and ale, now known as cooper, was especially relished by the brewery cooper.

[58] Folk-etymology for frontispice, Lat. frontispicium, front view.

[59] Related to, but not identical with, queen.

[60] The older meaning of boor survives in the compound neighbour, i.e., nigh boor, the farmer near at hand. Du. boer is of course the same word.

[61] English regularly inserts n in words thus formed; cf. harbinger, messenger, passenger, pottinger, etc.

[62] Other forms of the same name are Bowser and Bewsher. The form Belcher is Picard—

"On assomma la pauvre bête.
Un manant lui coupa le pied droit et la tête.
Le seigneur du village à sa porte les mit;
Et ce dicton picard à l'entour fut écrit:
'Biaux chires leups, n'écoutez mie
Mère tenchent (grondant) chen fieux (son fils) qui crie.'"

(La Fontaine, Fables, iv. 16.)




The convenient name semantics has been applied of late to the science of meanings, as distinguished from phonetics, the science of sound. The comparative study of languages enables us to observe and codify the general laws which govern sense development, and to understand why meanings become extended or restricted. One phenomenon which seems to occur normally in language results from what we may call the simplicity of the olden times. Thus the whole vocabulary which is etymologically related to writing and books has developed from an old Germanic verb that means to scratch and the Germanic name for the beech. Our earliest books were wooden tablets on which inscriptions were scratched. The word book itself comes from Anglo-Sax. bōc, beech; cf. Ger. Buchstabe, letter, lit. beech-stave. Lat. liber, book, whence a large family of words in the Romance languages, means the inner bark of a tree, and bible is ultimately from Greek βύβλος, the inner rind of the papyrus, the Egyptian rush from which paper was made.[63]

The earliest measurements were calculated from the human body. All European languages use the foot, and[87] we still measure horses by hands, while span survives in table-books. Cubit is Latin for elbow, the first part of which is the same as ell, cognate with Lat. ulna, also used in both senses. Fr. brasse, fathom, is Lat. brachia, the two arms, and pouce, thumb, means inch. A further set of measures are represented by simple devices: a yard[64] is a small "stick," and the rod, pole, or perch (cf. perch for birds, Fr. perche, pole) which gives charm to our arithmetic is a larger one. A furlong is a furrow-long. For weights common objects were used, e.g., a grain, or a scruple, Lat. scrupulus, "a little sharpe stone falling sometime into a man's shooe" (Cooper), for very small things, a stone for heavier goods. Gk. δραχμά, whence our dram, means a handful. Our decimal system is due to our possession of ten digits, or fingers, and calculation comes from Lat. calculus, a pebble.


A modern Chancellor of the Exchequer, considering his budget, is not so near the reality of things as his medieval predecessor, who literally sat in his counting-house, counting up his money. For the exchequer, named from the Old Fr. eschequier (échiquier), chess-board, was once the board marked out in squares on which the treasurer reckoned up with counters the king's taxes. This Old Fr. eschequier, which has also given chequer, is a derivative of Old Fr. eschec (échec), check. Thus "check trousers" and a "chequered career" are both directly related to an eastern potentate (see chess, p. 120.). The[88] chancellor himself was originally a kind of door-keeper in charge of a chancel, a latticed barrier which we now know in church architecture only. Chancel is derived, through Fr. chancel or cancel, from Lat. cancellus, a cross-bar, occurring more usually in the plural in the sense of lattice, grating. We still cancel a document by drawing such a pattern on it. In German cancellus has given Kanzel, pulpit. The budget, now a document in which millions are mere items, was the chancellor's little bag or purse—

"If tinkers may have leave to live,
And bear the sow-skin budget,
Then my account I well may give,
And in the stocks avouch it."

(Winter's Tale, iv. 2.)

Fr. bougette, from which it is borrowed, is a diminutive of bouge, a leathern bag, which comes from Lat. bulga, "a male or bouget of leather; a purse; a bagge" (Cooper). Modern French has borrowed back our budget, together with several other words dealing with business and finance.

Among the most important servants of the exchequer were the controllers. We now call them officially comptroller, through a mistaken association with Fr. compte, account. The controller had charge of the counter-rolls (cf. counterfoil), from Old Fr. contre-rolle, "the copy of a role (of accounts, etc.), a paralell of the same quality and content, with the originall" (Cotgrave). In French contrôle has preserved the sense of supervision or verification which it has lost in ordinary English.

A very ancient functionary of the exchequer, the tally-cutter, was abolished in the reign of George III. Tallies (Fr. tailler, to cut) were sticks "scored" across in such a way that the notches could be compared for[89] purposes of verification. Jack Cade preferred those good old ways—

"Our fore-fathers had no other books but the score and the tally; thou hast caused books to be used."

(2 Henry VI., iv. 7.)

This rudimentary method of calculation was still in use in the Kentish hop-gardens within fairly recent times; and some of us can remember very old gentlemen asking us, after a cricket match, how many "notches" we had "scored"—

"The scorers were prepared to notch the runs."

(Pickwick, Ch. 7.)

This use of score, for a reckoning in general, or for twenty, occurs in Anglo-Saxon, but the word is Scandinavian. The words score and tally, originally of identical meaning, were soon differentiated, a common phenomenon in such cases. For the exchequer tally was substituted an "indented cheque receipt." An indenture, chiefly familiar to us in connection with apprenticeship, was a duplicate document of which the "indented" or toothed edges had to correspond like the notches of the score or tally. Cheque, earlier check, is identical with check, rebuff. The metaphor is from the game of chess (see p. 120), to check a man's accounts involving a sort of control, or pulling up short, if necessary. A cheque is a method of payment which makes "checking" easy. The modern spelling is due to popular association with exchequer, which is etymologically right, though the words have reached their modern functions by very different paths.


The development of the meaning of chancellor can be paralleled in the case of many other functionaries, once humble but now important. The titles of two great medieval officers, the constable and the marshal, mean[90] the same thing. Constable, Old Fr. conestable (connétable), is Lat. comes stabuli, stable fellow. Marshal, the first element of which is cognate with mare, while the second corresponds to modern Ger. Schalk, rascal, expresses the same idea in German. Both constable and marshal are now used of very high positions, but Policeman X. and the farrier-marshal, or shoeing-smith, of a troop of cavalry, remind them of the base degrees by which they did ascend. The Marshalsea where Little Dorrit lived is for marshalsy, marshals' office, etc. The steward, or sty-ward, looked after his master's pigs. He rose in importance until, by the marriage of Marjorie Bruce to Walter the Stewart of Scotland, he founded the most picturesque of royal houses. The chamberlain, as his name suggests, attended to the royal comforts long before he became a judge of wholesome literature.

All these names now stand for a great number of functions of varying importance. Other titles which are equally vague are sergeant (see p. 148) and usher, Old Fr. uissier[65] (huissier), lit. door-keeper, Lat. ostiarius, a porter. Another official was the harbinger, who survives only in poetry. He was a forerunner, or vauntcourier, who preceded the great man to secure him "harbourage" for the night, and his name comes from Old Fr. herberger (héberger), to shelter (see p. 164). As late as the reign of Charles II. we read that—

"On the removal of the court to pass the summer at Winchester, Bishop Ken's house, which he held in the right of his prebend, was marked by the harbinger for the use of Mrs Eleanor Gwyn; but he refused to grant her admittance, and she was forced to seek for lodgings in another place."

(Hawkins, Life of Bishop Ken.)



One of the most interesting branches of semantics, and the most useful to the etymologist, deals with the study of parallel metaphors in different languages. We have seen (p. 29) how, for instance, the names of flowers show that the same likeness has been observed by various races. The spice called clove and the clove-pink both belong to Lat. clavus, a nail. The German for pink is Nelke, a Low German diminutive, nail-kin, of Nagel, nail. The spice, or Gewürznelke, is called in South Germany Nägele, little nail. A clove of garlic is quite a separate word; but, as it has some interesting cognates, it may be mentioned here. It is so called because the bulb cleaves naturally into segments.[66] The German name is Knoblauch, for Mid. High Ger. klobe-louch, clove-leek, by dissimilation of one l. The Dutch doublet is kloof, a chasm, gully, familiar in South Africa.

Fr. poison, Lat. potio, potion-, a drink, and Ger. Gift, poison, lit. gift, seem to date from treacherous times. On the other hand, Ger. Geschenk, a present, means something poured out (see nuncheon, p. 124), while a tip is in French pourboire and in German Trinkgeld, even when accepted by a lifelong abstainer. In English we "ride a hobby," i.e., a hobby-horse, or wooden horse. German has the same metaphor, "ein Steckenpferd reiten," and French says "enfourcher un dada," i.e., to bestride a gee-gee. Hobby, for Mid. Eng. hobin, a nag, was a proper name for a horse. Like Dobbin and Robin, it belongs to the numerous progeny of Robert.

In some cases the reason for a metaphor is not quite clear to the modern mind. The bloodthirsty weasel is called in French belette,[67] little beauty, in Italian[92] donnola, in Portuguese doninha, little lady, in Spanish comadreja, gossip (Fr. commère, Scot. cummer, p. 94), in Bavarian Schöntierlein, beautiful little animal, in Danish kjönne, beautiful, and in older English fairy.[68] From Lat. medius we get mediastinus, "a drugge (drudge) or lubber to doe all vile service in the house; a kitching slave" (Cooper). Why this drudge should have a name implying a middle position I cannot say; but to-day in the North of England a maid-of-all-work is called a tweeny (between maid).

A stock semantic parallel occurs in the relation between age and respectability. All of us, as soon as we get to reasonable maturity, lay great stress on the importance of deference to "elders." It follows naturally that many titles of more or less dignity should be evolved from this idea of seniority. The Eng. alderman is obvious. Priest, Old Fr. prestre[69] (prêtre), from Gk. πρεσβύτερος, comparative of πρέσβυς, old, is not so obvious. In the Romance languages we have a whole group of words, e.g., Fr. sire, sieur, seigneur, Ital. signor, Span. señor, with their compounds monsieur, messer, etc., all representing either senior or seniorem. Ger. Eltern, parents, is the plural comparative of alt, old, and the first element of seneschal (see marshal, p. 90) is cognate with Lat. senex. From Fr. sire comes Eng. sir, and from this was formed the adjective sirly,[70] now spelt surly, which in Shakespeare still means haughty, arrogant—

"See how the surly Warwick mans the wall."

(3 Henry VI., v. 1.)



A list, in the sense of enumeration, is a "strip." The cognate German word is Leiste, border. We have the original meaning in "list slippers." Fr. bordereau, a list, which became very familiar in connection with the Dreyfus case, is a diminutive of bord, edge. Label is the same word as Old Fr. lambel (lambeau), rag. Scroll is an alteration, perhaps due to roll, of Mid. Eng. scrow or escrow, from Old Fr. escroue,[71] rag, shred. Docket, earlier dogget, is from an old Italian diminutive of doga, cask-stave, which meant a bendlet in heraldry. Schedule is a diminutive of Lat. scheda, "a scrowe" (Cooper), properly a strip of papyrus. Ger. Zettel, bill, ticket, is the same word. Thus all these words, more or less kindred in meaning, can be reduced to the primitive notion of strip or scrap.

Farce, from French, means stuffing. The verb to farce, which represents Lat. farcire, survives in the perverted force-meat. A parallel is satire, from Lat. satura (lanx), a full dish, hence a medley. Somewhat similar is the modern meaning of magazine, a "store-house" of amusement or information.

The closest form of intimacy is represented by community of board and lodging, or, in older phraseology, "bed and board." Companion, with its related words, belongs to Vulgar Lat. *companio, companion-, bread-sharer. The same idea is represented by the pleonastic Eng. messmate, the second part of which, mate, is related to meat. Mess, food, Old Fr. mes (mets), Lat. missum, is in modern English only military or naval, but was once the usual name for a dish of food—

"Herbs and other country messes
Which the neat-handed Phillis dresses."

(Allegro, l. 85.)

With mate we may compare Fr. matelot, earlier matenot,[94] representing Du. maat, meat, and genoot, a companion. The latter word is cognate with Ger. Genosse, a companion, from geniessen, to enjoy or use together. In early Dutch we find also mattegenoet, through popular association with matte, hammock, one hammock serving, by a Box and Cox arrangement, for two sailors.

Comrade is from Fr. camarade, and this from Span. camarada, originally a "room-full," called in the French army une chambrée. This corresponds to Ger. Geselle, comrade, from Saal, room. The reduction of the collective to the individual is paralleled by Ger. Bursche, fellow, from Mid. High Ger. burse, college hostel; cf. Frauenzimmer, wench, lit. women's room. It can hardly be doubted that chum is a corrupted clip from chamber-fellow.[72] It is thus explained in a Dictionary of the Canting Crew (1690), within a few years of its earliest recorded occurrence, and the reader will remember Mr Pickwick's introduction to the chummage system in the Fleet (Ch. 42).


English gossip, earlier god-sib, related in God, a sponsor, soon developed the subsidiary meanings of boon companion, crony, tippler, babbler, etc., all of which are represented in Shakespeare. The case of Fr. compère and commère, godfather and godmother, is[95] similar. Cotgrave explains commérage as "gossiping; the acquaintance, affinity, or league that growes betweene women by christning a child together, or one for another." Ger. Gevatter, godfather, has also acquired the sense of Fr. bonhomme (p. 80), Eng. daddy. From commère comes Scot. cummer or kimmer

"A canty quean was Kate, and a special cummer of my ain."

(Monastery, Ch. 8.)

While christenings led to cheerful garrulity, the wilder fun of weddings has given the Fr. faire la noce, to go on the spree. In Ger. Hochzeit, wedding, lit. high time, we have a converse development of meaning.

Parallel sense development in different languages sometimes gives us a glimpse of the life of our ancestors. Our verb to curry (leather) comes from Old Fr. corréer[73] (courroyer), to make ready, put in order, which represents a theoretical *con-red-are, the root syllable of which is Germanic and cognate with our ready. Ger. gerben, to tan, Old High Ger. garawen, to make ready, is a derivative of gar, ready, complete, now used only as an adverb meaning "quite," but cognate with our yare

"Our ship—
Which, but three glasses since, we gave out split—
Is tight, and yare, and bravely rigg'd."

(Tempest, v. 1.)

Both curry and gerben must have acquired their restricted meaning at a time when there was literally nothing like leather.

Even in slang we find the same parallelism exemplified. We call an old-fashioned watch a turnip. In German it is called Zwiebel, onion, and in French oignon. Eng. greenhorn likens an inexperienced person to an[96] animal whose horns have just begun to sprout. In Ger. Gelbschnabel, yellow-bill, and Fr. bec-jaune, we have the metaphor of the fledgling. Ludwig explains Gelbschnabel by "chitty-face," chit, cognate with kit-ten, being a general term in Mid. English for a young animal. From bec-jaune we have archaic Scot. beejam, university freshman. Cotgrave spells the French word bejaune, and gives, as he usually does for such words,[74] a very full gloss, which happens, by exception, to be quotable—

"A novice; a late prentice to, or young beginner in, a trade, or art; also, a simple, ignorant, unexperienced, asse; a rude, unfashioned, home-bred hoydon; a sot, ninny, doult, noddy; one that's blankt, and hath nought to say, when he hath most need to speake."

The Englishman intimates that a thing has ceased to please by saying that he is "fed up" with it. The Frenchman says, "J'en ai soupé." Both these metaphors are quite modern, but they express in flippant form the same figure of physical satiety which is as old as language. Padding is a comparatively new word in connection with literary composition, but it reproduces, with a slightly different meaning, the figure expressed by bombast, lit. wadding, a derivative of Greco-Lat. bombyx, originally "silk-worm," whence also bombasine. We may compare also "fustian eloquence"—

"And he, whose fustian's so sublimely bad,
It is not poetry, but prose run mad."

(Pope, Prologue to the Satires, l. 187.)


And a very similar image is found in the Latin poet Ausonius—

"At nos illepidum, rudem libellum,
Burras, quisquilias ineptiasque
Credemus gremio cui fovendum?"

(Drepanio Filio.)

Even to "take the cake" is paralleled by the Gk. λαβεῖν τὸν πυραμοῦντα, to be awarded the cake of roasted wheat and honey which was originally the prize of him who best kept awake during a night-watch.

In the proverbial expressions which contain the concentrated wisdom of the ages we sometimes find exact correspondences. Thus "to look a gift-horse in the mouth" is literally reproduced in French and German. Sometimes the symbols vary, e.g., the risk one is exposed to in acquiring goods without examination is called by us "buying a pig in a poke."[75] French and German substitute the cat. We say that "a cat may look at a king." The French dramatis personæ are a dog and a bishop. The "bird in hand" which we regard as the equivalent of two in the bush is in German compared advantageously with ten on the roof.


Every language has an immense number of metaphors to describe the various stages of intoxication. We, as a seafaring nation, have naturally a set of such metaphors taken from nautical English. In French and German the state of being "half-seas over" or "three sheets in the wind," and the practice of "splicing the main-brace" are expressed by various land metaphors. But the more obvious nautical figures are common property. We speak of being stranded; French says "échouer (to run ashore) dans une entreprise," and German uses scheitern, to strand, split on a rock, in the same way.[98]

Finally, we observe the same principle in euphemism, or that form of speech which avoids calling things by their names. Euphemism is the result of various human instincts which range from religious reverence down to common decency. There is, however, a special type of euphemism which may be described as the delicacy of the partially educated. It is a matter of common observation that for educated people a spade is a spade, while the more outspoken class prefers to call it a decorated shovel. Between these two classes come those delicate beings whose work in life is—

"le retranchement de ces syllabes sales
Qui dans les plus beaux mots produisent des scandales;
Ces jouets éternels des sots de tous les temps;
Ces fades lieux-communs de nos méchants plaisants;
Ces sources d'un amas d'équivoques infâmes,
Dont on vient faire insulte à la pudeur des femmes."

(Molière, Les Femmes savantes, iii. 2.)

In the United States refined society has succeeded in banning as improper the word leg, which must now be replaced by limb, even when the possessor is a boiled fowl, and this refinement is not unknown in England. The coloured ladies of Barbados appear to have been equally sensitive—

"Fate had placed me opposite to a fine turkey. I asked my partner if I should have the pleasure of helping her to a piece of the breast. She looked at me indignantly, and said, 'Curse your impudence, sar; I wonder where you larn manners. Sar, I take a lilly turkey bosom, if you please.'"

(Peter Simple, Ch. 31.)

This tendency shows itself especially in connection with the more intimate garments and articles intended for personal use. We have the absurd name pocket handkerchief, i.e., pocket hand-cover-head, for a comparatively modern convenience, the earlier names of which have more of the directness of the Artful Dodger's[99] "wipe." Ben Jonson calls it a muckinder. In 1829 the use of the word mouchoir in a French adaptation of Othello caused a riot at the Comédie Française. History repeats itself, for, in 1907, a play by J. M. Synge was produced in Dublin, but—

"The audience broke up in disorder at the word shift."

(Academy, 14th Oct. 1911.)

This is all the more ludicrous when we reflect that shift, i.e. change of raiment, is itself an early euphemism for smock; cf. Ital. mutande, "thinne under-breeches" (Florio), from a country and century not usually regarded as prudish. The fact is that, just as the low word, when once accepted, loses its primitive vigour (see pluck, p. 83), the euphemism is, by inevitable association, doomed from its very birth.


I will now give a few examples of the way in which the study of semantics helps the etymologist. The antlers of a deer are properly the lowest branches of the horns, what we now call brow-antlers. The word comes from Old Fr. antoilliers, which answers phonetically to a conjectured Lat. *ante-oculares, from oculus, eye. This conjecture is confirmed by the Ger. Augensprosse, brow-antler, lit. eye-sprout.

Eng. plover, from Fr. pluvier, could come from a Vulgar Lat. *pluviarius, belonging to rain. The German name Regenpfeifer, lit. rain-piper, shows this to be correct. It does not matter, etymologically, whether the bird really has any connection with rain, for rustic observation, interesting as it is, is essentially unscientific. The honeysuckle is useless to the bee. The slow-worm, which appears to be for slay-worm, strike-serpent,[76] is[100] perfectly harmless, and the toad, though ugly, is not venomous, nor does he bear a jewel in his head.

Kestrel, a kind of hawk, represents Old Fr. quercerelle (crécerelle), "a kastrell" (Cotgrave). Crécerelle is a diminutive of crécelle, a rattle, used in Old French especially of the leper's rattle or clapper, with which he warned people away from his neighbourhood. It is connected with Lat. crepare, to resound. The Latin name for the kestrel is tinnunculus, lit. a little ringer, derived from the verb tinnire, to clink, jingle, "tintinnabulate." Cooper tells us that "they use to set them (kestrels) in pigeon houses, to make doves to love the place, bicause they feare away other haukes with their ringing voyce." This information is obtained from the Latin agriculturist Columella. This parallel makes it clear that Fr. crécerelle, kestrel, is a metaphorical application of the same word, meaning a leper's "clicket."

The curious word akimbo occurs first in Mid. English in the form in kenebowe. In half a dozen languages we find this attitude expressed by the figure of a jug-handle, or, as it used to be called, a pot-ear. The oldest equivalent is Lat. ansatus, used by Plautus, from ansa, a jug-handle. Ansatus homo is explained by Cooper as "a man with his arms on kenbow." Archaic French for to stand with arms akimbo is "faire le pot a deux anses," and the same striking image occurs in German, Dutch, and Spanish. Hence it seems a plausible conjecture that kenebowe means "jug-handle." This is confirmed by the fact that Dryden translates ansa, "the eare or handle of a cuppe or pot" (Cooper), by "kimbo handle" (Vergil, Ecl. iii. 44). Eng. bow, meaning anything bent, is used in many connections for handle. The first element may be can, applied to every description of vessel in earlier English, as it still is in Scottish, or it may be some Scandinavian word. In fact the[101] whole compound may be Scandinavian. Thomas' Latin Dictionary (1644) explains ansatus homo as "one that in bragging manner strowteth up and down with his armes a-canne-bow."


Demure has been explained as from Mid. Eng. mure, ripe, mature, with prefixed de. But demure is the older word of the two, and while the loss of the atonic first syllable is normal in English (p. 61), it would be hard to find a case in which a meaningless prefix has been added. Nor does the meaning of demure approximate very closely to that of ripe. It now has a suggestion of slyness, but in Milton's time meant sedate—

"Come, pensive nun, devout and pure,
Sober, stedfast, and demure."

(Penseroso, l. 31.)

and its oldest meaning is calm, settled, used of the sea. When we consider that it is nearly equivalent to staid, earlier stayed, and compare the equivalent terms in other languages, e.g., Lat. sedatus, Fr. rassis, Ger. gesetzt, etc., it seems likely that it is formed from the Old Norman demurer (demeurer), to "stay," just as stale is formed from Old Fr. estaler (étaler), to display on a stall, or trove, in "treasure trove," from Old Fr. trover (trouver).

The origin of lugger is unknown, but the word is recorded a century later than lugsail, whence it is probably derived. The explanation of lugsail as a sail that is lugged seems to be a piece of folk-etymology. The French for lugsail is voile de fortune, and a still earlier name, which occurs also in Tudor English, is bonaventure, i.e., good luck. Hence it is not unreasonable to conjecture that lugsail stands for *luck-sail, just as the name Higson stands for Hickson (see p. 172).[102]

The pips on cards or dice have nothing to do with apple pips. The oldest spelling is peeps. In the Germanic languages they are called "eyes," and in the Romance languages "points"; and the Romance derivatives of Lat. punctus, point, also mean "peep of day." Hence the peeps are connected with the verb to peep.

The game called dominoes is French, and the name is taken from the phrase faire domino, to win the game. Domino, a hooded cloak worn by priests in winter, is an Italian word, apparently connected with Lat. dominus. French also has, in various games, the phrase faire capot, with a meaning like that of faire domino. Capot, related to Eng. cap and Fr. chapeau, means properly a hooded cloak. The two metaphors are quite parallel, but it is impossible to say what was the original idea. Perhaps it was that of extinguishing the opponent by putting, as it were, his head in a bag.

The card game called gleek is often mentioned in Tudor literature. It is derived from Old Fr. glic, used by Rabelais, and the word is very common in the works of the more disreputable French poets of the 15th century. According to French archaeologists the game was also called bonheur, chance, fortune, and hasard. Hence glic represents in all probability Ger. Glück, luck.[77] The Old French form ghelicque would correspond to Mid. High Ger. gelücke. The history of tennis (p. 10) and trump (p. 9) shows that it is not necessary to find the German word recorded in the same sense.


The word sentry, which occurs in English only, has no connection at all with sentinel, the earliest form of which is Ital. sentinella, of unknown origin. The older lexicographers obscured the etymology of sentry, which is really quite simple, by always attempting to treat it[103] along with sentinel. It is a common phenomenon in military language that the abstract name of an action is applied to the building or station in which the action is performed, then to the group of men thus employed, and finally to the individual soldier. Thus Lat. custodia means (1) guardianship, (2) a ward-room, watch-tower, (3) the watch collectively, (4) a watchman. Fr. vigie, the look-out man on board ship, can be traced back in a similar series of meanings to Lat. vigilia, watching.[78] A sentry, now a single soldier, was formerly a band of soldiers—

"What strength, what art can then
Suffice, or what evasion bear him safe
Through the strict senteries and stations thick
Of angels watching round?"

(Paradise Lost, ii. 410.)

and earlier still a watch-tower, e.g., Cotgrave explains Old Fr. eschauguette (échauguette) as "a sentrie, watch-tower, beacon." The purely abstract sense survives in the phrase "to keep sentry" i.e. guard—

"Here toils, and Death, and Death's half-brother, Sleep,
Forms terrible to view their centry[79] keep."

(Dryden, Æneid, vi. 277.)

It is a contracted form of sanctuary. In the 17th century it is a pretty familiar word in this sense.[79] The earliest example I have come across is in Nashe—

"He hath no way now to slyppe out of my hands, but to take sentrie in the Hospital of Warwick."

(First Part of Pasquil's Apologie, 1590.)

Fr. guérite, a sentry box, can be traced back in the[104] same way to Old Fr. garir (guérir), to save. Cotgrave explains it as "a place of refuge, and of safe retyrall," also "a sentrie, or little lodge for a sentinell, built on high." It is to this latter sense that we owe Eng. garret. In medieval French guérite means refuge, sanctuary—

"Ceste roche est Ihesucrist meismes qui est li refuges et la garite aus humbles."[80]

If French had not borrowed sentinelle from Italian, guérite would probably now mean "sentry"; cf. the history of vigie (p. 103), or of vedette, a cavalry sentry, but originally "a prying or peeping hole" (Florio), from Ital. vedere, to see.


[63] Parchment (see p. 49) was invented as a substitute when the supply of papyrus failed.

[64] The "stick" meaning survives in the yards of a ship. Yard was once the general word for rod, wand. Thus the "cheating yardwand" of Tennyson's "smooth-faced snubnosed rogue" (Maud, I. i. 16) is a pleonasm of the same type as greyhound (p. 135). Yard, an enclosure, is a separate word, related to garden. The doublet garth, used in the Eastern counties, is of Scandinavian origin—

"I climb'd to the top of the garth, and stood by the road at the gate."

(Tennyson, The Grandmother, l. 38.)

[65] As Old Fr. uissier has given usher, I would suggest that the family names Lush and Lusher, which Bardsley (Dict. of English Surnames) gives up, are for Old Fr. l'uis (cf. Laporte) and l'uissier. In modern French Lhuissier is not an uncommon name.

[66] The onion, Fr. oignon, Lat. unio, union-, is so named because successive skins form an harmonious one-ness. It is a doublet of union.

[67] Perhaps a diminutive of Cymric bele, marten, but felt as from Fr. belle.

[68] Dozens of similar names for the weasel could be collected from the European languages and dialects. It is probable that these complimentary names were propitiatory, the weasel being an animal regarded with superstitious dread.

[69] Cf. Prester John, the fabulous priest monarch of Ethiopia.

[70] Cf. lordly, princely, etc., and Ger. herrisch, imperious, from Herr, sir.

[71] Modern Fr. écrou is used only in the sense of prison register.

[72] The vowel is not so great a difficulty as it might appear, and we actually have the same change in comrade itself, formerly pronounced cumrade. In the London pronunciation the u of such words as but, cup, hurry, etc., represents roughly a continental short a. This fact, familiar to phoneticians but disbelieved by others, is one of the first peculiarities noted by foreigners beginning to learn English. It is quite possible that chum is an accidental spelling for *cham, just as we write bungalow for bangla (Bengal), pundit for pandit, and Punjaub for Panjab, five rivers, whence also probably the liquid called punch, from its five ingredients. Cf. also American to slug, i.e. to slog, which appears to represent Du. slag, blow—"That was for slugging the guard" (Kipling, An Error in the Fourth Dimension)—and the adjective bluff, from obsolete Du. blaf, broad-faced.

[73] Array, Old Fr. arréer, is related.

[74] This is a characteristic of the old dictionary makers. The gem of my collection is Ludwig's gloss for Lümmel, "a long lubber, a lazy lubber, a slouch, a lordant, a lordane, a looby, a booby, a tony, a fop, a dunce, a simpleton, a wise-acre, a sot, a logger-head, a block-head, a nickampoop, a lingerer, a drowsy or dreaming lusk, a pill-garlick, a slowback, a lathback, a pitiful sneaking fellow, a lungis, a tall slim fellow, a slim longback, a great he-fellow, a lubberly fellow, a lozel, an awkward fellow."

[75] Poke, sack, is still common in dialect, e.g. in the Kentish hop-gardens. It is a doublet of pouch, and its diminutive is pocket.

[76] The meaning of worm has degenerated since the days of the Lindwurm, the dragon slain by Siegfried. The Norse form survives in Great Orme's Head, the dragon's head.

[77] Some derive it from Ger. gleich, like, used of a "flush."

[78] This is why so many French military terms are feminine, e.g., recrue, sentinelle, vedette, etc.

[79] Skinner's Etymologicon (1671) has the two entries, centry pro sanctuary and centry v. sentinel. The spellings centry and centinel, which were common when the words still had a collective sense, are perhaps due to some fancied connection with century, a hundred soldiers.

[80] "This rock is Jesus Christ himself, who is the refuge and sanctuary of the humble."




Every expression that we employ, apart from those that are connected with the most rudimentary objects and actions, is a metaphor, though the original meaning is dulled by constant use. Thus, in the above sentence, expression means what is "squeezed out," to employ is to "twine in" like a basket maker, to connect is to "weave together," rudimentary means "in the rough state," and an object is something "thrown in our way." A classification of the metaphors in use in the European languages would show that a large number of the most obvious kind, i.e. of those which "come to meet" one, are common property, while others would reflect the most striking habits and pursuits of the various races. It would probably be found that in the common stock of simple metaphor the most important contribution would come from agriculture, while in English the nautical element would occur to an extent quite unparalleled in other European languages.[81] A curious agricultural[106] metaphor which, though of Old French origin, now appears to be peculiar to English, is to rehearse, lit. to harrow over again (see hearse, p. 75).

Some metaphors are easy to track. It does not require much philological knowledge to see that astonish, astound, and stun all contain the idea of "thunder-striking," Vulgar Lat. *ex-tonare. To embarrass is obviously connected with bar, and to interfere is to "strike between," Old Fr. entreferir. This word was especially used in the 16th century of a horse knocking its legs together in trotting, "to interfeere, as a horse" (Cotgrave). When we speak of a prentice-hand, sound journeyman work, and a masterpiece, we revive the medieval classification of artisans into learners, qualified workmen, and those who, by the presentation to their guild of a finished piece of work, were recognised as past (passed) masters.

But many of our metaphors are drawn from pursuits with which we are no longer familiar, or from arts and sciences no longer practised. Disaster, ill-starred, and such adjectives as jovial, mercurial, are reminiscent of astrology. To bring a thing to the test is to put it in the alchemist's or metallurgist's test or trying-pot (cf. test-tube), Old Fr. test (têt). This is related to Old Fr. teste (tête) head, from Lat. testa, tile, pot, etc., used in Roman slang for caput. Shakespeare has the complete metaphor—

"Let there be some more test made of my metal,[82]
Before so noble and so great a figure
Be stamp'd upon it."

(Measure for Measure, i. 1.)


The old butchers' shops which adjoin Nottingham Market Place are still called the Shambles. The word[107] is similarly used at Carlisle, and probably elsewhere; but to most people it is familiar only in the metaphorical sense of place of slaughter, generally regarded as a singular. Thus Denys of Burgundy says—

"The beasts are in the shambles."

(Cloister and Hearth, Ch. 33.)

etymologically misusing the word, which does not mean slaughter-house, but the bench on which meat is exposed for sale. It is a very early loan from Lat. scamnum, a bench or form, also explained by Cooper as "a step or grice (see p. 118) to get up to bedde." The same diminutive form occurs in Fr. escabeau, an office stool, and Ger. Schemel, a stool.

Fusty, earlier foisty, is no longer used in its proper sense. It comes from Old Fr. fusté, "fusty; tasting of the caske, smelling of the vessell wherein it hath been kept" (Cotgrave), a derivative of Old Fr. fust (fût) a cask.[83]

The smith's art has given us brand-new, often corrupted into bran-new. Shakespeare uses fire-new

"You should then have accosted her; and with some excellent jests, fire-new from the mint, you should have banged the youth into dumbness."

(Twelfth Night, iii. 2.)

Modern German has funkelnagelneu, spark nail new; but in older German we find also spanneu, splinterneu, chip new, splinter new; which shows the origin of our spick and span (new), i.e., spike and chip new. French has tout battant neuf, beating new, i.e., fresh from the anvil.

Many old hunting terms survive as metaphors. To[108] be at bay, Fr. aux abois, is to be facing the baying hounds. The fundamental meaning of Old Fr. abaier (aboyer), of obscure origin, is perhaps to gape at.[84] Thus a right or estate which is in abeyance is one regarded with open-mouthed expectancy. The toils are Fr. toiles, lit. cloths, Lat. tela, the nets put round a thicket to prevent the game from escaping. To "beat about the bush" seems to be a mixture of two metaphors which are quite unlike in meaning. To "beat the bush" was the office of the beaters, who started the game for others, hence an old proverb, "I will not beat the bush that another may have the birds." To "go about the bush" would seem to have been used originally of a hesitating hound. The two expressions have coalesced to express the idea for which French says "y aller par quatre chemins." Crestfallen and white feather belong to the old sport of cock-fighting. Jeopardy is Old Fr. jeu parti, a divided game, hence an equal encounter. To run full tilt is a jousting phrase. To pounce upon is to seize in the pounces, the old word for a hawk's claws. The ultimate source is Lat. pungere, to prick, pierce. A goldsmith's punch was also called a pounce, hence the verb to pounce, to make patterns on metal. The northern past participle pouncet[85] occurs in pouncet-box, a metal perforated globe for scents—

"And 'twixt his finger and his thumb he held
A pouncet-box, which ever and anon
He gave his nose, and took't away again."

(1 Henry IV., i. 3.)

To the language of hawking belongs also haggard. Cotgrave defines faulcon (faucon) hagard, as "a faulcon[109] that preyed for her selfe long before she was taken." Hence the sense of wild, untameable. The original meaning is hedge-hawk, the first syllable representing Old High Ger. hag, hedge. Hag, a witch, is of cognate origin.


The antiquity of dicing appears in the history of Ger. gefallen, to please, originally used of the "fall" of the dice. In Mid. High German it is always used with wohl, well, or übel, ill; e.g., es gefällt mir wohl, it "falls out" well for me. There can be no reasonable doubt that the deuce! is a dicer's exclamation at making the lowest throw, two, Fr. deux. We still use deuce for the two in cards, and German has Daus in both senses. Tennis has given us bandy, Fr. bander, "to bandie, at tennis" (Cotgrave). We now only bandy words or reproaches, but Juliet understood the word in its literal sense—

"Had she affections and warm youthful blood,
She'd be as swift in motion as a ball;
My words would bandy her to my sweet love,
And his to me."

(Romeo and Juliet, ii. 5.)

Fowling has given us cajole, decoy, and trepan. Fr. cajoler, which formerly meant to chatter like a jay in a cage, has in modern French assumed the meaning of enjôler, earlier engeoler, "to incage, or ingaole" (Cotgrave), hence to entice. Fr. geôle, gaol, represents Vulgar Lat. *caveola. Decoy, earlier also coy, is Du. kooi, cage. The later form is perhaps due to duck-coy. Du. kooi is also of Latin origin. It comes, like Fr. cage, from Vulgar Lat. *cavea, and has a doublet kevie, whence Scot. cavie, a hen-coop. Trepan was formerly trapan, and belongs to trap

"Some by the nose with fumes trapan 'em,
As Dunstan did the devil's grannam."

(Hudibras, ii. 3.)


It is now equivalent to kidnap, i.e. to nab kids (children), once a lucrative pursuit. The surgical trepan is a different word altogether, and belongs to Greco-Lat. trypanon, an auger, piercer. To allure is to bring to the lure, or bait. To the same group of metaphors belongs inveigle, which corresponds, with altered prefix, to Fr. aveugler, to blind, Vulgar Lat. *ab-oculare.[86] A distant relative of this word is ogle, which is of Low German origin; cf. Ger. liebäugeln "to ogle, to smicker, to look amorously, to cast sheeps-eyes, to cast amorous looks" (Ludwig).

The archaic verb to cozen is a metaphor of quite another kind. Every young noble who did the grand tour in the 16th and 17th centuries spent some time at Naples, "where he may improve his knowledge in horsemanship" (Howell, Instructions for Forreine Travell, 1642). Now the Italian horse-dealers were so notorious that Dekker, writing about 1600, describes a swindling "horse-courser" as a "meere jadish Non-politane," a play on Neapolitan. The Italian name is cozzone, "a horse-courser, a horse-breaker, a craftie knave" (Florio), whence the verb cozzonare, "to have perfect skill in all cosenages" (Torriano). The essential idea of to cozen in the Elizabethans is that of selling faulty goods in a bad light, a device said to be practised by some horse-dealers. At any rate the words for horse-dealer in all languages, from the Lat. mango to the Amer. horse-swapper, mean swindler and worse things. Cozen is a favourite word with the Elizabethan dramatists, because it enables them to bring off one of those stock puns that make one feel "The less Shakespeare he"[111]

"Cousins, indeed; and by their uncle cozen'd
Of comfort, kingdom, kindred, freedom, life."

(Richard III., iv. 4.)

In the Merry Wives of Windsor (iv. 5) there is a lot of word-play on "cousins-german" and "German cozeners." An exact parallel to the history of cozen is furnished by the verb to jockey, from jockey, in its older sense of horse-dealer.


Scion is a metaphor from the garden. It is Fr. scion, "a scion; a young and tender plant; a shoot, sprig, or twig" (Cotgrave). Ger. Sprössling, sproutling, is also used of an "offshoot" from a "stock." We have a similar metaphor in the word imp. We now graft trees, a misspelling of older graffe, Fr. greffe, Greco-Lat. graphium, a pencil, from the shape of the slip. But the older word was imp, which we find also used of inserting a new feather into the wing or tail of a hawk, or fitting a small bell-rope to a larger one. The art of grafting was learnt from the Romans, who had a post-classical verb imputare,[87] to graft, which has given Eng. imp, Ger. impfen, Fr. enter, and is represented in most other European languages. Imp was used like scion, but degenerated in meaning. In Shakespeare it has already the somewhat contemptuous shade of meaning which we find in Ger. Sprössling, and is only used by comic characters. Thus Pistol addresses Prince Hal—

"The heavens thee guard and keep, most royal imp of fame."

(2 Henry IV., v. 5.)

But Thomas Cromwell, in his last letter to Henry VIII., speaks of—

"That most noble imp, the prince's grace, your most dear son."

The special sense of "young devil" appears to be due[112] to the frequent occurrence of such phrases as "imps (children) of Satan," "the devil and his imps," etc. Ger. impfen also means to vaccinate. Our earlier term inoculate[88] originally meant to graft, and, in fact, engraft was also used in this sense.

Zest is quite obsolete in its original meaning of a piece of orange peel used to give piquancy to wine. It is a French word of unknown origin, properly applied to the inner skin of fruit and nuts. Cotgrave explains it as "the thick skinne, or filme whereby the kernell of a wallnut is divided."


[81] It would be interesting to trace the rise and spread of nautical metaphor in English. We have a good example of the transition from the bucolic to the nautical in the expression "To lose the ship for a ha'porth of tar." Few people who use this metaphor know that ship is here the dialect pronunciation of sheep; cf. Ship Street, at Oxford (and elsewhere), for Sheep Street. Tar was, and is, used as a medicine for sheep, but in this particular case the allusion seems to be rather to the marking of sheep with tar; cf. "tarred with the same brush," i.e., members of the same flock.

[82] See mettle, p. 144.

[83] Lat. fustis, a staff, cudgel, gave also Old Fr. fust, a kind of boat, whence obsolete Eng. foist in the same sense. Both meanings seem to go back to a time when casks and boats were "dug out" instead of being built up.

[84] Related are bouche béante, or bée, mouth agape; bâiller, to yawn; and badaud, "a gaping hoydon" (Cotgrave, badault).

[85] Cf. the Stickit Minister.

[86] Or perhaps *alboculare, as albus oculus, lit. white eye, is used of blindness in an early Vulgar Latin glossary.

[87] Of uncertain origin. Lat. putare, to cut (cf. amputate), or Gk. ἔμφυτος, implanted?

[88] From oculus, eye, in the sense of bud.




The sound, spelling, and even the meaning of a word are often perverted by influences to which the collective name of folk-etymology has been given. I here use the term to include all phenomena which are due to any kind of misunderstanding of a word. A word beginning with n sometimes loses this sound through its being confused with the n of the indefinite article an. Thus an adder and an auger are for a nadder (cf. Ger. Natter) and a nauger, Mid. Eng. navegor, properly an instrument for piercing the nave of a wheel. Apron was in Mid. English naprun, from Old Fr. naperon, a derivative of nappe, cloth. The aitch-bone was formerly the nache-bone, from Old Fr. nache, buttock, Vulgar Lat. *natica for nates. Nache is still used by French butchers. Humble-pie is a popular perversion of umble-pie, i.e., a pie made from the umbles, or inferior parts of the stag. But umble is for earlier numble, Old Fr. nomble, formed, with dissimilation, from Lat. lumbulus, diminutive of lumbus, loin; cf. niveau (p. 58). Thus humble-pie has etymologically no connection with humility. Umpire represents Old Fr. non per (pair), not equal, the umpire being a third person called in when arbitrators could not agree. This appears clearly in the following extract from a medieval letter—

"And if so be that the said arbitrators may not accord before the said feast of Allhalowes, then the said parties be[114] the advise abovesaid are agreed to abide the award and ordinance of an noumper to be chosen be the said arbitrators."

(Plumpton Correspondence, 1431.)

For the sense we may compare Span. tercero, "the third, a broaker, a mediator" (Percyvall). An eyas falcon is for a neyas falcon, Fr. niais, foolish, lit. nestling, related to nid, nest. Rosenkrantz uses it in the literal sense—

"But there is, sir, an aiery of children, little eyases, that cry out on the top of question, and are most tyranically clapped for't."

(Hamlet, ii. 2.)

Somewhat similar is the loss in French of initial a in la boutique for l'aboutique, Greco-Lat. apotheca, and la Pouille for l'Apouille, Apulia, or of the initial l in ounce, a kind of tiger-cat, from Fr. once, earlier lonce, "the ounce, a ravenous beast" (Cotgrave), taken as l'once. It is almost a doublet of lynx.

The opposite has happened in the case of a newt for an ewt and a nick-name for an eke-name. Eke, also, occurs in the first stanza of John Gilpin. It is cognate with Ger. auch, also, and Lat. augere, to increase. Nuncle, the customary address of a court fool to his superiors—

"How now, nuncle! Would I had two coxcombs and two daughters."

(Lear, i. 4.)

is for mine uncle. We also find naunt. Nonce occurs properly only in the phrase for the nonce, which is for earlier for then ones, where then is the dative of the definite article. Family names like Nash, Nokes are aphetic for atten ash, at the ash, atten oakes, at the oaks. The creation of such forms was perhaps helped by our tendency to use initial n in Christian names, e.g., Ned for Edward, Noll for Oliver, Nell for Ellen.[115]


Agglutination of the definite article is common in French, e.g., lingot, ingot, lierre, ivy, for l'ierre, Lat. hedera, and the dialect lévier, sink, for évier, Lat. aquarium, whence Eng. ewer. The derivation of Fr. landier, andiron, is unknown, but the iron of the English word is due to folk-etymology. Such agglutination occurs often in family names such as Langlois, lit. the Englishman, Lhuissier, the usher (see p. 90), and some of these have passed into English, e.g., Levick for l'évêque, the bishop.

The two words alarm and alert include the Italian definite article. The first is Ital. all'arme, to arms, for a le arme, and the second is all'erta for alla (a la) erta, the last word representing Lat. erecta. With rolled r, alarm becomes alarum, whence the aphetic larum

"Then we shall hear their larum, and they ours."

(Coriolanus, i. 4.)

Ger. Lärm, noise, is the same word. In Luther's time we also find Allerm.

We have the Arabic definite article in a great many words borrowed from Spanish. Alcalde, or alcade, and alguazil, common in Elizabethan literature, are two old friends from the Arabian Nights, the cadi and the wazir, or vizier. The Arabic article also occurs in acton, Old Fr. auqueton, now hoqueton, for al qutn (cotton), because originally used of a wadded coat—

"But Cranstoun's lance, of more avail,
Pierced through, like silk, the Borderer's mail;
Through shield, and jack, and acton past,
Deep in his bosom broke at last."

(Scott, Lay, iii. 6.)

In alligator, Span. el lagarto, the lizard, from Lat. lacertus, we have the Spanish definite article. See also lariat, p. 24.[116]

A foreign word ending in a sibilant is sometimes mistaken for a plural. Thus Old Fr. assets (assez), enough, Lat. ad satis, has given Eng. assets, plural, with a barbarous, but useful, singular asset. Cherry is for cheris, from a dialect form of Fr. cerise, and sherry for sherris, from Xeres in Spain (see p. 51). Falstaff opines that—

"A good sherris-sack[89] hath a twofold operation in it."

(2 Henry IV., iv. 3.)

Pea is a false singular from older pease, Lat. pisum. Perhaps the frequent occurrence of pease-soup, not to be distinguished from pea-soup, is partly responsible for this mistake. Marquee, a large tent, is from Fr. marquise. With this we may class the heathen Chinee and the Portugee. Milton wrote correctly of—

"The barren plains
Of Sericana, where Chineses drive
With sails and wind their cany waggons light."

(Paradise Lost, iii. 438.)

It has been ingeniously suggested that Yankee has been derived in the same way from Du. Jan Kees, John Cornelius, supposed to have been a nickname for early Dutch colonists. It is more probably the Dutch dim. Janke, i.e. Johnny. The vulgarism shay for chaise[90] is of similar formation. Corp, for corpse, is also used provincially. Kickshaws is really a singular from Fr. quelque chose

"Art thou good at these kickshawses, knight?"

(Twelfth Night, i. 3.)

Cotgrave spells it quelkchoses (s.v. fricandeau).[117]


Skate has a curious history. It is a false singular from Du. schaats. This is from escache, an Old French dialect form of échasse, stilt, which was used in the Middle Ages for a wooden leg. It is of German origin, and is related to shank. Cf., for the sense development, Eng. patten, from Fr. patin, a derivative of patte, foot, cognate with paw. Skates are still called pattens by the fenmen of Cambridgeshire. We also had formerly a doublet from Old Fr. escache directly, but in the older sense, for Cotgrave has eschasses (échasses), "stilts, or scatches to go on." Row, a disturbance, belongs to rouse, a jollification—

"The king doth wake to-night and takes his rouse."

(Hamlet, i. 4.)

of uncertain origin, but probably aphetic for carouse, drink carouse being wrongly separated as drink a rouse. The bird called a wheatear was formerly called wheatears, a corruption of a name best explained by its French equivalent cul blanc, "the bird called a whittaile" (Cotgrave). We may compare the bird-name redstart, where start means rump.

Conversely a word used in the plural is sometimes regarded as a singular, the result being a double plural. Many Latin neuter plurals were adopted into French as feminine singulars, e.g., cornua, corne, horn; labra, lèvre, lip; vela, voile, sail. It is obvious that this is most likely to occur in the case of plurals which are used for a pair, or set, of things, and thus have a kind of collective sense. Breeches or breeks is a double plural, Anglo-Sax. brēc being already the plural of brōc. In Mid. English we still find breche or breke used of this garment. Trousers was earlier trouses, plural of trouse, now trews, and was used especially of Irish native costume. The latest researches throw doubt on the[118] identity of these words with Fr. trousse, a page's short breeches. The etymology which now finds most favour is Irish and Gaelic triubhas, from Late Lat. tubracci or tribracci, which is supposed to be a corrupted compound from tibia, leg, shank, and braccæ, breeches. Bodice is for bodies, as pence is for pennies. Cotgrave explains corset by "a paire of bodies for a woman," and the plural sense occurs as late as Harrison Ainsworth—

"A pair of bodice of the cumbrous form in vogue at the beginning of the last century."

(Jack Sheppard, Ch. 1.)

Trace, of a horse, is the Old Fr. plural trais[91] (traits) of trait, "a teame-trace" (Cotgrave). Apprentice is the plural of Fr. apprenti, formerly apprentif, a derivative of apprendre, to learn, hence a disciple. Invoice is the plural of the obsolete invoy, from Fr. envoi, sending.

In the Grecian steps, at Lincoln, we have a popular corruption of the common Mid. Eng. and Tudor grece, grese, plural of Old Fr. gré, step, from Lat. gradus. Shakespeare spells it grize

"Let me speak like yourself; and lay a sentence,
Which, as a grize, or step, may help these lovers
Into your favour."

(Othello, i. 3.)


Scot. brose, or brewis, was in Mid. Eng. browes, from Old Fr. brouez, plural of brouet, a word cognate with our broth. From this association comes perhaps the use of broth as a plural in some of our dialects. Porridge, not originally limited to oatmeal, seems to be combined from pottage and Mid. Eng. porrets, plural of porret, leek,[119] a diminutive from Lat. porrum. Porridge is sometimes used as a plural in Scottish—

"They're fine, halesome food, they're grand food, parritch."

(Kidnapped, Ch. 3.)

and in the northern counties of England people speak of taking "a few" porridge, or broth. Baize, now generally green, is for earlier bayes, the plural of the adjective bay, now used only of horses; cf. Du. baai, baize. The origin of the adjective bay, Fr. bai, forms of which occur in all the Romance languages, is Lat. badius, "of bay colour, bayarde" (Cooper). Hence the name Bayard, applied to FitzJames' horse in The Lady of the Lake (v. 18), and earlier to the steed that carried the four sons of Aymon. Quince is the plural of quin, from the Norman form of Old Fr. coin (coing), which is derived from Gk. κυδώνιον. Truce is the plural of Mid. Eng. trewe (lit. truth, faith) with the same meaning. Already in Anglo-Saxon it is found in the plural, probably as rendering Lat. induciæ. Lettuce, Mid. Eng. letows, seems also to be a plural, from Fr. laitue, Lat. lactuca.

Earnest in the sense of pledge—

"And, for an earnest of a greater honour,
He bade me, from him, call thee Thane of Cawdor."

(Macbeth, i. 3.)

has nothing to do with the adjective earnest. It is the Mid. Eng. ernes, earlier erles, which survives as arles in some of our dialects. The verb to earl is still used in Cumberland of "enlisting" a servant with a shilling in the open market. The Old French word was arres or erres, now written learnedly arrhes, a plural from Lat. arrha, "an earnest penny, earnest money" (Cooper). The existence of Mid. Eng. erles shows that there must have been also an Old French diminutive form. For the apparently arbitrary change[120] of l to n we may compare banister for baluster (see p. 60).

The jesses of a hawk—

"If I do prove her haggard,[92]
Though that her jesses were my dear heart-strings,
I'd whistle her off, and let her down the wind,
To prey at fortune."

(Othello, iii. 3.)

were the thongs by which it was held or "thrown" into the air. Jess is the Old Fr. jes, the plural of jet, from jeter, to throw. In Colman's Elder Brother we read of a gentleman who lounged and chatted, "not minding time a souse," where souse is the plural of Fr. sou, halfpenny. From Fr. muer, to moult, Lat. mutare, we get Fr. mue, moulting, later applied to the coop or pen in which moulting falcons were confined, whence the phrase "to mew (up)"—

"More pity, that the eagles should be mew'd,
While kites and buzzards prey at liberty."

(Richard III., i. 1.)

When, in 1534, the royal mews, or hawk-houses, near Charing Cross were rebuilt as stables, the word acquired its present meaning.

Chess, Old Fr. esches (échecs), is the plural of check, Fr. échec, from Persian shāh, king. By analogy with the "game of kings," the name jeu des dames was given in French to draughts, still called dams in Scotland. Draught, from draw, meant in Mid. English a "move" at chess. The etymology of tweezers can best be made clear by starting from French étui, a case, of doubtful origin. This became in English etwee, or twee, e.g., Cotgrave explains estui (étui) as "a sheath, case, or box to put things in; and (more particularly) a case of little instruments, as sizzars, bodkin, penknife,[121] etc., now commonly termed an ettwee." Such a case generally opens book-fashion, each half being fitted with instruments. Accordingly we find it called a surgeon's "pair of twees," or simply tweese, and later a "pair of tweeses." The implement was named from the case (cf. Fr. boussole, p. 127), and became tweezers by association with pincers (Fr. pinces), scissors, etc.


The form of a word is often affected by association with some other word with which it is instinctively coupled. Thus larboard, for Mid. Eng. ladeboard, i.e. loading side, is due to starboard, steering side. Bridal, for bride-ale, from the liquid consumed at marriage festivities, is due to analogy with betrothal, espousal, etc. A 16th-century Puritan records with satisfaction the disappearance of—

"Church-ales, helpe-ales, and soule-ales, called also dirge-ales, and heathenish rioting at bride-ales."

(Harrison, Description of England, 1577.)

Rampart is from Old Fr. rempar, a verbal noun from remparer, to repair; cf. Ital. riparo, "a rampire, a fort, a banke" (Florio). By analogy with Old Fr. boulevart (boulevard), of German origin and identical with our bulwark,[93] rempar became rempart. The older English form occurs in the obsolete rampier or rampire, which survive in the dialect ramper, embankment, causeway. For the spelling rampire we may compare umpire (p. 113). The apple called a jenneting, sometimes "explained" as for June-eating, was once spelt geniton, no doubt for Fr. jeanneton, a diminutive of Jean. It is called in French pomme de Saint-Jean, and in German Johannisapfel, because ripe about St John's Day (June 24).[122] The modern form is due to such apple names as golding, sweeting, codlin, pippin.

In the records of medieval London we frequently come across the distinction made between people who lived "in the city," Anglo-Fr. deinz (dans) la cité, and "outside the city," Anglo-Fr. fors (hors) la cité. The former were called deinzein, whence our denizen, and the latter forein.[94] The Anglo-French form of modern Fr. citoyen was citein, which became citizen by analogy with denizen. The following passage from a medieval London by-law shows how rigid was the division between "denizen" and "foreign" traders—

"Item, qe nulle pulletere deinzeyn n'estoise a Carfeux del Ledenhalle deins mesoun ne dehors, ove conilles, volatilie, n'autre pulletrie pur vendre ... issint qe les forreins pulleters, ove lour pulletrie, estoisent par eux mesmes, et vendent lour pulletrie sur le cornere de Ledenhalle, sanz ceo qe ascuns pulletere deinzein viegne ou medle en vent ou en achate ove eux, ne entre eux."[95]

(Liber Albus.)

Even words which have opposite meanings may affect each other by association. Thus Lat. reddere, to give back, became Vulgar Lat. *rendere by analogy with prendere (prehendere), to take away; hence Fr. rendre. Our word grief, from Fr. grief, is derived[123] from a Vulgar Lat. *grĕvis, heavy (for grăvis), which is due to lĕvis, light.


The plural of titmouse is now usually titmice, by analogy with mouse, mice, with which it has no connection. The second part of the word is Anglo-Sax. māse, used of several small birds. It is cognate with Ger. Meise, titmouse, and Fr. mésange, "a titmouse, or tittling" (Cotgrave). Tit, of Norse origin, is applied to various small animals, and occurs also as a prefix in titbit or tidbit. Cf. tomtit (p. 37).

The Spanish word salva, "a taste, a salutation" (Percyvall), was used of the pregustation of a great man's food or drink. We have given the name to the tray or dish from which the "assay" was made, but, by analogy with platter, trencher, we spell it salver. In another sense, that of a "salutation" in the form of a volley of shot, we have corrupted it into salvo. With the use of Span. salva we may compare that of Ital. credenza, lit. faith, "the taste or assaie of a princes meate and drinke" (Florio), whence Fr. crédence, side-board, used in English only in the ecclesiastical compound credence table, and Ger. credenzen, to pour out.

In spoken English the ending -ew, -ue, of French origin, has been often changed to -ee, -ey. Thus pedigree was formerly pedigrew (see p. 77). The fencing term veney

"I bruised my shin the other day with playing at sword and dagger with a master of fence—three veneys for a dish of stewed prunes."

(Merry Wives, i. 1.)

also spelt venew, is from Fr. venue, "a venny in fencing" (Cotgrave). Carew has become Carey, and Beaulieu, in Hampshire, is called Bewley. Under the influence of these double forms we sometimes get the opposite change, e.g., purlieu, now generally used of the outskirts[124] of a town, is for purley, a strip of disforested woodland. This is a contraction of Anglo-Fr. pour-allée, used to translate the legal Lat. perambulatio, a going through. A change of venue[96] is sometimes made when it seems likely that an accused person, or a football team, will not get justice from a local jury. This venue is in law Latin vicinetum, neighbourhood, which gave Anglo-Fr. visné, and this, perhaps by confusion with the venire facias, or jury summons, became venew, venue.

In the preceding examples the form has been chiefly affected. In the word luncheon both form and meaning have been influenced by the obsolete nuncheon, a meal at noon, Mid. Eng. none-chenche, for *none-schenche, noon draught, from Anglo-Sax. scencan,[97] to pour. Drinking seems to have been regarded as more important than eating, for in some counties we find this nuncheon replaced by bever, the Anglo-French infinitive from Lat. bibere, to drink. Lunch, a piece or hunk, especially of bread, also used in the sense of a "snack" (cf. Scot. "piece"), was extended to luncheon by analogy with nuncheon, which it has now replaced—

"So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon,
Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon."

(Browning, Pied Piper of Hamelin.)


The term folk-etymology is often applied in a narrower sense to the corruption of words through a mistaken idea of their etymology or origin. The tendency of the uneducated is to distort an unfamiliar or unintelligible word into some form which suggests a meaning. Some cases may have originated in a kind[125] of heavy jocularity, as in sparrow-grass for asparagus or sparagus (see p. 66), or Rogue Riderhood's Alfred David for affidavit

"'Is that your name?' asked Lightwood. 'My name?' returned the man. 'No; I want to take a Alfred David.'"

(Our Mutual Friend, Ch. 12.)

In others there has been a wrong association of ideas, e.g., the primrose, rosemary, and tuberose have none of them originally any connection with the rose. Primrose was earlier primerole, an Old French derivative of Latin primula; rosemary, French romarin, is from Lat. ros marinus, sea-dew; tuberose is the Latin adjective tuberosus, bulbous, tuberous. Or attempts are made at translation, such as Sam Weller's Have his carcase for Habeas Corpus, or the curious names which country folk give to such complaints as bronchitis, erysipelas, etc. To this class belongs Private Mulvaney's perversion of locomotor ataxy

"'They call ut Locomotus attacks us,' he sez, 'bekaze,' sez he, 'it attacks us like a locomotive.'"

(Love o' Women.)

Our language is, owing to our borrowing habits, particularly rich in these gems. Examples familiar to everybody are crayfish from Fr. écrevisse, gilly-flower from Fr. giroflée, shame-faced for shamefast. Other words in which the second element has been altered are causeway, earlier causey, from the Picard form of Fr. chaussée, Lat. (via) calciata, i.e., made with lime, calx; penthouse, for pentice, Fr. appentis, "the penthouse of a house" (Cotgrave), a derivative of Old Fr. appendre, to hang to. Fr. hangar, a shed, now introduced into English by aviators as unnecessarily as garage by motorists, may also contain the same idea of "hanging."

In hiccough, for earlier hickup, an onomatopœic word, the spelling, suggested by cough, has not[126] affected the pronunciation. Surcease is Fr. sursis, past participle of surseoir, "to surcease, pawse, intermit, leave off, give over, delay or stay for a time" (Cotgrave), Lat. supersedere. Taffrail has been confused with rail, its older form being tafferel, from Du. tafereel, diminutive of tafel, picture, from Lat. tabula. It meant originally the flat part of the stern of a ship ornamented with carvings or pictures. This is called tableau in nautical French. Fr. coutelas, an augmentative of Old Fr. coutel (couteau), knife, gave Eng. cutlass, which has no more etymological connection with "cutting" than a cutler, Fr. coutelier, or a cutlet, Fr. côtelette, little rib, Lat. costa. Cutlas was popularly corrupted into curtal-axe, the form used by Rosalind—

"A gallant curtal-axe upon my thigh,
A boar-spear in my hand."

(As You Like It, i. 3.)

We have a similar corruption in pick-axe, Mid. Eng. pikeys, Old Fr. piquois, picquois, "a pickax" (Cotgrave), from the verb piquer. The word posthumous has changed its meaning through folk-etymology. It represents the Latin superlative postumus, latest born. By association with humus, ground, earth, it came to be used of a child born, or a work published, after its author's death, a meaning which the derivatives of postumus have in all the Romance languages.

The first part of the word has been distorted in pursy, short-winded—

"And pursy insolence shall break his wind
With fear and horrid flight."

(Timon of Athens, v. 5.)

Fr. poussif, from Lat. pulsus, throbbing. It was formerly used also in connection with horses—

"You must warrant this horse clear of the glanders, and pursyness."

(The Gentleman's Dictionary, 1705.)



Arquebus, Fr. arquebuse, is a doublet of hackbut, Old Fr. haquebute, "an haquebut, or arquebuse; a caliver" (Cotgrave). The corruption is due to arcus, bow. Both arquebus and hackbut are common in Scott—

"His arms were halbert, axe, or spear,
A cross-bow there, a hackbut here,
A dagger-knife, and brand."

(Marmion, v. 3.)

The origin is Du. haakbus, hook-gun, the second element of which appears in blunderbuss. The first part of this word has undergone so many popular transformations that it is difficult to say which was the original form. Ludwig has Donner-büchs, Blunder-büchs, oder Muszketon, "a thunder-box; a blunder-buss; a musketoon; a wide-mouthed brass-gun, carrying about twenty pistol bullets at once." It was also called in German Plantier-büchs, from plantieren, to plant, set up, because fired from a rest. Du. bus, like Ger. Büchse, means both "box" and "gun." In the bushes, or axle-boxes, of a cart-wheel, we have the same word. The ultimate origin is Greek πύξος, the box-tree, whence also the learned word pyx. Fr. boîte, box, is cognate, and Fr. boussole, mariners' compass, is from the Italian diminutive bossola, "a boxe that mariners keepe their compasse in. Also taken for the compasse" (Florio).

Scissors were formerly cizars (cf. Fr. ciseaux), connected with Lat. cædere, to cut. The modern spelling is due to association with Lat. scissor, a cutter, tailor, from scindere, to cut. Runagate is well known to be a corrupt doublet of renegade, one who has "denied" his faith. Recreant, the present participle of Old Fr. recreire, Vulgar Lat. *recredere, to change one's faith, contains very much the same idea; cf. miscreant, lit. unbeliever. Jaunty, spelt janty by[128] Wycherley and genty by Burns, is Fr. gentil, wrongly brought into connection with jaunt.

In some cases of folk-etymology it is difficult to see to what idea the corruption is due.[98] The mollusc called a periwinkle was in Anglo-Saxon pinewincla, which still survives in dialect as pennywinkle. It appears to have been influenced by the plant-name periwinkle, which is itself a corruption of Mid. Eng. pervenke, from Lat. pervinca; cf. Fr. pervenche. The material called lutestring was formerly lustring, Fr. lustrine, from its glossiness. A wiseacre is "one that knows or tells truth; we commonly use it in malam partem for a fool" (Blount, Glossographia, 1674). This comes, through Dutch, from Ger. Weissager, commonly understood as wise-sayer, but really unconnected with sagen, to say. The Old High Ger. wīzago, prophet, is cognate with Eng. witty. The military and naval word ensign is in Shakespeare corrupted, in both its meanings, into ancient. Thus Falstaff describes his tatterdemalion recruits as—

"Ten times more dishonourable ragged than an old-faced ancient."

(1 Henry IV., iv. 2.)

while Ancient Pistol is familiar to every reader. A cordwainer, from Old Fr. cordouanier, "a shoomaker, a cordwainer" (Cotgrave), worked with cordouan, "Cordovan leather; which is properly a goat's skin tanned." The modern French form cordonnier is due to association with cordon, a thong, bootlace, etc. Witch-elm has nothing to do with witches. It is for older weech-elm, wiche-elm, and belongs to Anglo-Sax. wīcan,[129] to bend. Service-tree is a meaningless corruption of Mid. Eng. serves, an early loan word from Lat. sorbus.

In the case of a double-barrelled word, folk-etymology usually affects one half only, e.g., verdigris is for Fr. vert-de-gris, for Old Fr. vert de Grece, Greek green. The reason for the name is unknown. Cotgrave calls it "Spanish green." Mid. English had the more correct vertegresse and verte Grece (Promptorium Parvulorum, 1440). The cavalry trumpet-call boot and saddle is for Fr. boute-selle, lit. "put saddle." Court card is for coat card, a name given to these cards from the dresses depicted on them. Florio has carta di figura, "a cote carde." The card game called Pope Joan would appear to be in some way corrupted from nain jaune, lit. "yellow dwarf," its French name.


But occasionally the results of folk-etymology are literally preposterous.[99] The Fr. choucroute is from sūrkrūt, a dialect pronunciation of Ger. Sauer-kraut, sour cabbage, so that the first syllable, meaning "sour," has actually been corrupted so as to mean "cabbage." Another example, which I have never seen quoted, is the name of a beech-wood near the little town of Remilly in Lorraine. The trees of this wood are very old and curiously twisted, and they are called in French les jolis fous, where fou (Lat. fagus) is the Old French for "beech" (fouet, whip, is its diminutive). This is rendered in German as tolle Buchen, mad beeches, the fou having been misunderstood as referring to the fantastic appearance of the trees.

Forlorn hope is sometimes used metaphorically as though the hope were of the kind that springs eternal in[130] the human breast. In military language it now means the leaders of a storming party—

"The forlorn hope of each attack consisted of a sergeant and twelve Europeans."

(Wellington's Despatches, 1799.)

but was earlier used of soldiers in any way exposed to special danger. Cotgrave has enfans perdus, "perdus; or the forlorne hope of a campe (are commonly gentlemen of companies)." It is from obsolete Du. verloren hoop, where hoop, cognate with Eng. heap, is used for a band or company. In 16th-century German we find ein verlorener Haufe. Both the Dutch and German expressions are obsolete in this sense.

The military phrase to run the gauntlet has no connection with gauntlet, glove. The older form gantlope

"Some said he ought to be tied neck and heels; others that he deserved to run the gantlope."

(Tom Jones, vii. 1.)

It is a punishment of Swedish origin from the period of the Thirty Years' War. The Swedish form is gatlopp, in which gat is cognate with Eng. gate, in its northern sense of "street," and lopp with Eng. leap and Ger. laufen, to run.

The press-gang had originally nothing to do with "pressing." When soldiers or seamen were engaged, they received earnest money called prest-money, i.e., an advance on "loan," Old Fr. prest (prêt), and the engagement was called presting or impresting. Florio explains soldato (see p. 154), lit. "paid," by "prest with paie as soldiers are." The popular corruption to press took place naturally as the method of enlistment became more "pressing."

The black art is a translation of Old Fr. nigromance, "nigromancie, conjuring, the black art" (Cotgrave); but this is folk-etymology for nécromantie, Greco-Lat. necromantia, divination by means of the dead. The popular[131] form négromancie still survives in French. To curry favour is a corruption of Mid. Eng. "to curry favel." The expression is translated from French. Palsgrave has curryfavell, a flatterer, "estrille faveau," estriller (étriller) meaning "to curry (a horse)." Faveau, earlier fauvel, is the name of a horse in the famous Roman de Fauvel, a satirical Old French poem of the early 14th century. He symbolises worldly vanity carefully tended by all classes of society. The name is a diminutive of Fr. fauve, tawny, cognate with Eng. fallow (deer). (See also p. 192, n.)

A very curious case of folk-etymology is seen in the old superstition of the hand of glory. This is understood to be a skeleton hand from the gallows which will point out hidden treasure—

"Now mount who list,
And close by the wrist
Sever me quickly the Dead Man's fist."

(Ingoldsby, The Hand of Glory.)

It is simply a translation of Fr. main de gloire. But the French expression is a popular corruption of mandragore, from Lat. mandragora, the mandragore, or mandrake, to the forked roots of which a similar virtue was attributed, especially if the plant were obtained from the foot of the gallows.


Akin to folk-etymology is contamination, i.e., the welding of two words into one. This can often be noticed in children, whose linguistic instincts are those of primitive races. I have heard a child, on her first visit to the Zoo, express great eagerness to see the canimals (camels × animals), which, by the way, turned out to be the giraffes. A small boy who learnt English and German simultaneously evolved, at the age of two, the word spam (sponge × Ger. Schwamm). In a college in the English midlands, a student named Constantine, who sat next to a student named Turpin, once heard[132] himself startlingly addressed by a lecturer as Turpentine. People who inhabit the frontier of two languages, and in fact all who are in any degree bilingual, must inevitably form such composites occasionally. The h aspirate of Fr. haut, Lat. altus, high, can only be explained by the influence of Old High Ger. hōh (hoch). The poetic word glaive cannot be derived from Lat. gladius, sword, which has given Fr. glai, an archaic name for the gladiolus. We must invoke the help of a Gaulish word cladebo, sword, which is related to Gaelic clay-more, big sword. It has been said that in this word the swords of Cæsar and Vercingetorix still cross each other. In Old French we find oreste, a storm, combined from orage and tempeste (tempête). Fr. orteil, toe, represents the mixture of Lat. articulus, a little joint, with Gaulish ordag. A battledore was in Mid. English a washing beetle, which is in Provençal batedor, lit. beater. Hence it seems that this is one of the very few Provençal words which passed directly into English during the period of our occupation of Guienne. It has been contaminated by the cognate beetle.

Cannibal is from Span. canibal, earlier caribal, i.e. Carib, the n being perhaps due to contamination with Span. canino, canine, voracious. It can hardly be doubted that this word suggested Shakespeare's Caliban. Seraglio is due to confusion between the Turkish word serai, a palace, and Ital. serraglio, "an inclosure, a close, a padocke, a parke, a cloister or secluse" (Florio), which belongs to Lat. sera, a bolt or bar.

Anecdotage is a deliberate coinage ascribed to John Wilkes—

"When a man fell into his anecdotage, it was a sign for him to retire from the world."

(Disraeli, Lothair, Ch. 28.)


In some cases it is impossible to estimate the[133] different elements in a word. Arbour certainly owes its modern spelling to Lat. arbor, a tree, but it represents also Mid. Eng. herbere, erbere, which comes, through French, from Lat. *herbarium. But this can only mean herb-garden, so that the sense development of the word must have been affected by harbour, properly "army-shelter," ultimately identical with Fr. auberge (p. 164). When Dryden wrote—

"Tardy of aid, unseal thy heavy eyes,
Awake, and with the dawning day arise."

(The Cock and the Fox, 247.)

he was expressing a composite idea made up from the verb seal, Old Fr. seeler (sceller), Lat. sigillare, and seel, Old Fr. ciller, Vulgar Lat. *ciliare, from cilium, eye-brow. The latter verb, meaning to sew together the eyelids of a young falcon, was once a common word—

"Come, seeling night,
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day."

(Macbeth, iii. 2.)

The verb fret is Anglo-Sax. fretan, to eat away (cf. Ger. fressen). Fret is also used of interlaced bars in heraldry, in which sense it corresponds to Fr. frette with the same meaning; for this word, which also means ferrule, a Vulgar Lat. *ferritta (ferrum, iron) has been suggested. When Hamlet speaks of—

"This majestical roof fretted with golden fire,"

(Hamlet, ii. 3.)

is he thinking of frets in heraldry, or of fretwork, or are these two of one origin? Why should fret, in this sense, not come from fret, to eat away, since fretwork may be described as the "eating away" of part of the material? Cf. etch, which comes, through Dutch, from Ger. ätzen, the factitive of essen, to eat. But the German for fretwork is durchbrochene Arbeit, "broken-through"[134] work, and Old Fr. fret or frait, Lat. fractus, means "broken." Who shall decide how much our fretwork owes to each of these possible etymons?

That form of taxation called excise, which dates from the time of Charles I., has always been unpopular. Andrew Marvell says that Excise

"With hundred rows of teeth the shark exceeds,
And on all trades like cassowar she feeds."

Dr Johnson defines it as "a hateful tax levied upon commodities, and adjudged not by the common judges of property, but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid," an outburst which Lord Mansfield considered "actionable." The name, like the tax, came from the Netherlands, where it was called accijs

"'Twere cheap living here, were it not for the monstrous excises which are impos'd upon all sorts of commodities, both for belly and back."

(Howell, Letter from Amsterdam, 1619.)

In modern Dutch it has become accijns, through confusion with cijns, tax (Lat. census; cf. Ger. Zins, interest). But the Dutch word is from Fr. accise, which appears in medieval Latin as accisia, as though connected with "cutting" (cf. tallage, from Fr. tailler, to cut), or with the "incidence" of the tax. It is perhaps a perversion of Ital. assisa, "an imposition, or taxe, or assesment" (Torriano); but there is also an Old Fr. aceis which must be related to Latin census.

When folk-etymology and contamination work together, the result is sometimes bewildering. Thus equerry represents an older querry or quirry, still usual in the 18th century. Among my books is—

"The Compleat Horseman, or Perfect Farrier, written in French by the Sieur de Solleysell, Querry to the Present King of France" (1702).

The modern spelling is due to popular association with[135] Lat. equus. But this querry is identical with French écurie, stable, just as in Scottish the post often means the postman. And écurie, older escurie, is from Old High Ger. scura[100] (Scheuer, barn). The word used in modern French in the sense of our equerry is écuyer, older escuier, Lat. scutarius, shield-bearer, whence our word esquire. This écuyer is in French naturally confused with écurie, so that Cotgrave defines escuyrie as "the stable of a prince, or nobleman; also, a querry-ship; or the duties, or offices belonging thereto; also (in old authors) a squire's place; or, the dignity, title, estate of an esquire."


Ignorance of the true meaning of a word often leads to pleonasm. Thus greyhound means hound-hound, the first syllable representing Icel. grey, a dog. Peajacket is explanatory of Du. pij, earlier pye, "py-gown, or rough gown, as souldiers and seamen wear" (Hexham). On Greenhow Hill means "on green hill hill," and Buckhurst Holt Wood means "beech wood wood wood," an explanatory word being added as its predecessor became obsolete. The second part of salt-cellar is not the same word as in wine-cellar. It comes from Fr. salière, "a salt-seller" (Cotgrave), so that the salt is unnecessary. We speak pleonastically of "dishevelled hair," while Old Fr. deschevelé, lit. dis-haired, now replaced by échevelé, can only be applied to a person, e.g., une femme toute deschevelée, "discheveled, with all her haire disorderly falling about her eares" (Cotgrave). The word cheer meant in Mid. English "face." Its French original chère scarcely survives except in the phrase faire bonne chère, lit. "make a good face," a meaning preserved in "to be of good cheer." In both languages the meaning has been[136] transferred to the more substantial blessings which the pleasant countenance seems to promise, and also to the felicity resulting from good treatment. The true meaning of the word is so lost that we can speak of a "cheerful face," i.e., a face full of face.


But there are many words whose changes of form cannot be altogether explained by any of the influences that have been discussed in this and the preceding chapters. Why should cervelas, "a large kind of sausage, well season'd, and eaten cold in slices" (Kersey's Eng. Dict., 1720), now be saveloy? We might invoke the initial letters of sausage to account for part of the change, but the oy remains a mystery. Cervelas, earlier cervelat, comes through French from Ital. cervellato, "a kinde of dry sausage" (Florio), said to have been originally made from pig's brains. For hatchment we find in the 16th century achement, and even achievement. It is archaic Fr. hachement, the ornamental crest of a helmet, etc., probably derived from Old Fr. achemer, variant of acesmer, to adorn. Hence both the French and English forms have an unexplained h-, the earlier achement being nearer the original. French omelette has a bewildering history, but we can trace it almost to its present form. To begin with, an omelet, in spite of proverbs, is not necessarily associated with eggs. The origin is to be found in Lat. lamella, a thin plate,[101] which gave Old Fr. lamelle. Then la lamelle was taken as l'alamelle, and the new alamelle or alemelle became, with change of suffix, alemette. By metathesis (see p. 59) this gave[137] amelette, still in dialect use, for which modern French has substituted omelette. The o then remains unexplained, unless we admit the influence of the old form œuf-mollet, a product of folk-etymology.

Counterpane represents Old Fr. coute-pointe, now corruptly courte-pointe, from Lat. culcita puncta, lit. "stitched quilt"; cf. Ger. Steppdecke, counterpane, from steppen, to stitch. In Old French we also find the corrupt form contrepointe which gave Eng. counterpoint

"In ivory coffers I have stuff'd my crowns;
In cypress chests my arras, counterpoints,
Costly apparel, tents and canopies."

(Taming of the Shrew, ii. 1.)

in modern English replaced by counterpane. Mid. English has also the more correct form quilt-point, from the Old Norman cuilte (pur)pointe, which occurs in a 12th-century poem on St Thomas of Canterbury. The hooped petticoat called a farthingale was spelt by Shakespeare fardingale and by Cotgrave vardingall. This is Old Fr. verdugalle, of Spanish origin and derived from Span. verdugo, a (green) wand, because the circumference was stiffened with flexible switches before the application of whalebone or steel to this purpose. The crinoline, as its name implies, was originally strengthened with horse-hair, Lat. crinis, hair. To return to the farthingale, the insertion of an n before g is common in English (see p. 84, n. 2), but the change of the initial consonant is baffling. The modern Fr. vertugadin is also a corrupt form. Isinglass seems to be an arbitrary perversion of obsolete Du. huyzenblas (huisblad), sturgeon bladder; cf. the cognate Ger. Hausenblase.

Few words have suffered so many distortions as liquorice. The original is Greco-Lat. glycyrrhiza,[138] lit. "sweet root," corrupted into late Lat. liquiritia, whence Fr. réglisse, Ital. legorizia, regolizia, and Ger. Lakritze. The Mid. English form licoris would appear to have been influenced by orris, a plant which also has a sweet root, while the modern spelling is perhaps due to liquor.


[89] Sack, earlier also seck, is Fr. sec, dry, which, with spurious t, has also given Ger. Sekt, now used for champagne.

[90] Fr. chaise, chair, for older chaire, now used only of a pulpit or professorial chair, Lat. cathedra, is due to an affected pronunciation that prevailed in Paris in the 16th century.

[91] The fact that in Old French the final consonant of the singular disappeared in the plural form helped to bring about such misunderstandings.

[92] For haggard see p. 108.

[93] In Old French confusion sometimes arose with regard to final consonants, because of their disappearance in the plural (see p. 118, n.). In gerfaut, gerfalcon, for Old Fr. gerfauc, the less familiar final -c was, as in boulevart, replaced by the more usual -t.

[94] An unoriginal g occurs in many English words derived from French, e.g., foreign, sovereign, older sovran, sprightly for spritely, i.e., sprite-like, delight, from Old Fr. delit, which belongs to Lat. delectare.

[95] "Also, that no 'denizen' poulterer shall stand at the 'Carfax' of Leadenhall in a house or without, with rabbits, fowls, or other poultry to sell ... and that the 'foreign' poulterers, with their poultry, shall stand by themselves, and sell their poultry at the corner of Leadenhall, without any 'denizen' poulterer coming or meddling in sale or purchase with them, or among them."

The word carfax, once the usual name for a "cross-way," survives at Oxford and Exeter. It is a plural, from Fr. carrefour, Vulgar Lat. *quadrifurcum (for furca), four-fork.

[96] This word is getting overworked, e.g., "The Derbyshire Golf Club links were yesterday the venue of a 72-hole match" (Nottingham Guardian, 21st Nov. 1911).

[97] Cf. Ger. schenken, to pour, and the Tudor word skinker, a drawer, waiter (1 Henry IV., ii. 4).

[98] Perhaps it is the mere instinct to make an unfamiliar word "look like something." Thus Fr. beaupré, from Eng. bowsprit, cannot conceivably have been associated with a fair meadow; and accomplice, for complice, Lat. complex, complic-, can hardly have been confused with accomplish.

[99] Lat. præposterus, from præ, before, and posterus, behind.

[100] This etymology is, however, now regarded as doubtful, and it seems likely that Old Fr. escurie is really derived from escuyer. If so, there is no question of contamination.

[101] We have a parallel in Fr. flan, Eng. flawn, Ger. Fladen, etc., a kind of omelet, ultimately related to Eng. flat

"The feast was over, the board was clear'd,
The flawns and the custards had all disappear'd."

(Ingoldsby, Jackdaw of Rheims.)

Cotgrave has flans, "flawnes, custards, eggepies; also, round planchets, or plates of metall."




The largest class of doublets is formed by those words of Latin origin which have been introduced into the language in two forms, the popular form through Anglo-Saxon or Old French, and the learned through modern French or directly from Latin. Obvious examples are caitiff, captive; chieftain, captain; frail, fragile. Lat. discus, a plate, quoit, gave Anglo-Sax. disc, whence Eng. dish. In Old French it became deis (dais), Eng. dais, and in Ital. desco, "a deske, a table, a boord, a counting boord" (Florio), whence our desk. We have also the learned disc or disk, so that the one Latin word has supplied us with four vocables, differentiated in meaning, but each having the fundamental sense of a flat surface.

Dainty, from Old Fr. deintié, is a doublet of dignity. Ague is properly an adjective equivalent to acute, as in Fr. fièvre aigue. The paladins were the twelve peers of Charlemagne's palace, and a Count Palatine is a later name for something of the same kind. One of the most famous bearers of the title, Prince Rupert, is usually called in contemporary records the Palsgrave, from Ger. Pfalzgraf, lit. palace count, Ger. Pfalz being a very early loan from Lat. palatium. Trivet, Lat. tripes, triped-, dates back to Anglo-Saxon, its "rightness" being[140] due to the fact that a three-legged stool stands firm on any surface. In the learned doublets tripod and tripos we have the Greek form. Spice, Old Fr. espice (épice), is a doublet of species. The medieval merchants recognised four "kinds" of spice, viz., saffron, cloves, cinnamon, nutmegs.

Coffin is the learned doublet of coffer, Fr. coffre, from Lat. cophinus. It was originally used of a basket or case of any kind, and even of a pie-crust—

"Why, thou say'st true; it is a paltry cap;
A custard-coffin, a bauble, a silken pie."

(Taming of the Shrew, iv. 3.)

Its present meaning is an attempt at avoiding the mention of the inevitable, a natural human weakness which has popularised in America the horrible word casket in this sense. The Greeks, fearing death less than do the moderns, called a coffin plainly σαρκοφάγος, flesh-eater, whence indirectly Fr. cercueil and Ger. Sarg.

The homely mangle, which comes to us from Dutch, is a doublet of the warlike engine called a mangonel

"You may win the wall in spite both of bow and mangonel."

(Ivanhoe, Ch. 27.)

which is Old French. The source is Greco-Lat. manganum, apparatus, whence Ital. mangano, with both meanings. The verb mangle, to mutilate, is unrelated.


Sullen, earlier soleyn, is a popular doublet of solemn, in its secondary meaning of glum or morose. In the early Latin-English dictionaries solemn, soleyn, and sullen are used indifferently to explain such words as acerbus, agelastus, vultuosus. Shakespeare speaks of "customary suits of solemn black" (Hamlet, i. 2), but makes Bolingbroke say—

"Come, mourn with me for that I do lament,
And put on sullen black incontinent."

(Richard II., v. 6.)


while the "solemn curfew" (Tempest, v. 1) is described by Milton as "swinging slow with sullen roar" (Penseroso, l. 76). The meaning of antic, a doublet of antique, has changed considerably, but the process is easy to follow. From meaning simply ancient it acquired the sense of quaint or odd, and was applied to grotesque[102] work in art or to a fantastic disguise. Then it came to mean buffoon, in which sense Shakespeare applies it to grim death—

"For within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
Keeps death his court; and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state, and grinning at his pomp."

(Richard II., iii. 2.)

and lastly the meaning was transferred to the capers of the buffoon. From Old High Ger. faltan (falten), to fold, and stuol (Stuhl), chair, we get Fr. fauteuil. Medieval Latin constructed the compound faldestolium, whence our ecclesiastical faldstool, a litany desk. Revel is from Old Fr. reveler, Lat. rebellare, so that it is a doublet of rebel. Holyoak's Latin Dictionary (1612) has revells or routs, "concursus populi illegitimus." Its sense development, from a riotous concourse to a festive gathering, has perhaps been affected by Fr. réveiller, to wake, whence réveillon, a Christmas Eve supper, or "wake." Cf. Ital. vegghia, "a watch, a wake, a revelling a nights" (Florio).

The very important word money has acquired its meaning by one of those accidents which are so common in word-history. The Roman mint was attached to the temple of Juno Moneta, i.e., the admonisher, from monēre, and this name was transferred to the building. The Romans introduced moneta, in the course of their[142] conquests, into French (monnaie), German (Münze), and English (mint). The French and German words still have three meanings, viz., mint, coin, change. We have borrowed the French word and given it the general sense represented in French by argent, lit. silver. The Ger. Geld, money, has no connection with gold, but is cognate with Eng. yield, as in "the yield of an investment," of which we preserve the old form in wergild, payment for having killed a man (Anglo-Sax. wer). To return to moneta, we have a third form of the word in moidore

"And fair rose-nobles and broad moidores
The waiter pulls out of their pockets by scores."

(Ingoldsby, The Hand of Glory.)

from Port. moeda de ouro, money of gold.

Sometimes the same word reaches us through different languages. Thus charge is French and cargo is Spanish, both belonging to a Vulgar Lat. *carricare from carrus, vehicle. In old commercial records we often find the Anglo-Norman form cark, a load, burden, which survives now only in a metaphorical sense, e.g. carking, i.e. burdensome, care. Lat. domina has given us through French both dame and dam,[103] and through Spanish duenna; while Ital. donna occurs in the compound madonna and the donah of the East End costermonger. Lat. datum, given, becomes Fr. and Eng. die (plural dice). Its Italian doublet is dado, originally cubical pedestal, hence part of wall representing continuous pedestal. Scrimmage and skirmish are variant spellings of Fr. escarmouche, from Ital. scaramuccia, of German origin (see p. 64, n.). But we have also, more immediately from Italian, the form scaramouch. Blount's Glossographia[143] (1674) mentions Scaramoche, "a famous Italian Zani (see p. 45), or mimick, who acted here in England, 1673." Scaramouch was one of the stock characters of the old Italian comedy, which still exists as the harlequinade of the Christmas pantomime, and of which some traces survive in the Punch and Judy show. He was represented as a cowardly braggart dressed in black. The golfer's stance is a doublet of the poet's stanza, both of them belonging to Lat. stare, to stand. Stance is Old French and stanza is Italian, "a stance or staffe of verses or songs" (Florio). A stanza is then properly a pause or resting place, just as a verse, Lat. versus, is a "turning" to the beginning of the next line.


Different French dialects have supplied us with many doublets. Old Fr. chacier (chasser), Vulgar Lat. *captiare, for captare, a frequentative of capere, to take, was in Picard cachier. This has given Eng. catch, which is thus a doublet of chase. In cater (see p. 63) we have the Picard form of Fr. acheter, but the true French form survives in the family name Chater.[104] In late Latin the neuter adjective capitale, capital, was used of property. This has given, through Old Fr. chatel, our chattel, while the doublet catel has given cattle, now limited to what was once the most important form of property. Fr. cheptel is still used of cattle farmed out on a kind of profit-sharing system. This restriction of the meaning of cattle is paralleled by Scot. avers, farm beasts, from Old Fr. aver[105] (avoir), property, goods. The history of the word fee, Anglo-Sax. feoh, cattle, cognate with Lat. pecus, whence pecunia, money, also takes us back to the times when a man's wealth was estimated by his flocks and herds; but, in this case, the sense development is exactly reversed.


Fr. jumeau, twin, was earlier gemeau, still used by Corneille, and earlier still gemel, Lat. gemellus, diminutive of geminus, twin. From one form we have the gimbals, or twin pivots, which keep the compass horizontal. Shakespeare uses it of clockwork—

"I think, by some odd gimmals, or device,
Their arms are set like clocks, still to strike on."

(1 Henry VI., i. 2.)

and also speaks of a gimmal bit (Henry V., iv. 2). In the 17th century we find numerous allusions to gimmal rings (variously spelt). The toothsome jumble, known to the Midlands as "brandy-snap," is the same word, this delicacy having apparently at one time been made in links. We may compare the obsolete Ital. stortelli, lit. "little twists," explained by Torriano as "winding simnels, wreathed jumbals."

An accident of spelling may disguise the origin and meaning of a word. Tret is Fr. trait, in Old French also tret, Lat. tractus, pull (of the scale). It was usually an allowance of four pounds in a hundred and four, which was supposed to be equal to the sum of the "turns of the scale" which would be in the purchaser's favour if the goods were weighed in small quantities. Trait is still so used in modern French.


A difference in spelling, originally accidental, but perpetuated by an apparent difference of meaning, is seen in flour, flower; metal, mettle. Flour is the flower, i.e. the finest part, of meal, Fr. fleur de farine, "flower, or the finest meale" (Cotgrave). In the Nottingham Guardian (29th Aug. 1911) I read that—

"Mrs Kernahan is among the increasing number of persons who do not discriminate between metal and mettle, and writes 'Margaret was on her metal.'"


It might be added that this author is in the excellent company of Shakespeare—

"See whe'r their basest metal be not mov'd."

(Julius Cæsar, i. 1.)

There is no more etymological difference between metal and mettle than between the "temper" of a cook and that of a sword-blade.

Parson is a doublet of person, the priest perhaps being taken as "representing" the Church, for Lat. persona, an actor's mask, from per, through, and sonare, to sound,[106] was also used of a costumed character or dramatis persona. Mask, which ultimately belongs to an Arabic word meaning buffoon, has had a sense development exactly opposite to that of person, its modern meaning corresponding to the Lat. persona from which the latter started. Parson shows the popular pronunciation of er, now modified by the influence of traditional spelling. We still have it in Berkeley, clerk, Derby, sergeant, as we formerly did in merchant. Proper names, in which the orthography depends on the "taste and fancy of the speller," or the phonetic theories of the old parish clerk, are often more in accordance with the pronunciation, e.g., Barclay, Clark, Darby, Sargent, Marchant. Posy, in both its senses, is a contraction of poesy, the flowers of a nosegay expressing by their arrangement a sentiment like that engraved on a ring. The latter use is perhaps obsolete—

"A hoop of gold, a paltry ring
That she did give me; whose posy was
For all the world like cutler's poetry
Upon a knife: 'Love me and leave me not.'"

(Merchant of Venice, v. 1.)

The poetic word glamour is the same as grammar,[146] which had in the Middle Ages the sense of mysterious learning. From the same source we have the French corruption grimoire, "a booke of conjuring" (Cotgrave). Glamour and gramarye were both revived by Scott—

"A moment then the volume spread,
And one short spell therein he read;
It had much of glamour might."

(Lay of the Last Minstrel, iii. 9.)

"And how he sought her castle high,
That morn, by help of gramarye."

(Ibid., v. 27.)

For the change of r to l we have the parallel of flounce for older frounce (p. 60). Quire is the same word as quair, in the "King's Quair" i.e. book. Its Mid. English form is quayer, Old Fr. quaer, caer (cahier), Vulgar Lat. *quaternum, for quaternio, "a quier with foure sheetes" (Cooper).


Oriental words have sometimes come into the language by very diverse routes. Sirup, or syrup, sherbet, and (rum)-shrub are of identical origin, ultimately Arabic. Sirup, which comes through Spanish and French, was once used, like treacle (p. 75), of medicinal compounds—

"Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou ow'dst yesterday."

(Othello, iii. 3.)

Sherbet and shrub are directly borrowed through the medium of travellers—

"'I smoke on srub and water, myself,' said Mr Omer."

(David Copperfield, Ch. 30.)

Sepoy, used of Indian soldiers in the English service, is the same as spahi, the French name for the Algerian[147] cavalry. Both come ultimately from a Persian adjective meaning "military," and the French form was at one time used also in English in speaking of Oriental soldiery—

"The Janizaries and Spahies came in a tumultuary manner to the Seraglio."

(Howell, Familiar Letters, 1623.)

Tulip is from Fr. tulipe, formerly tulipan, "the delicate flower called a tulipa, tulipie, or Dalmatian cap" (Cotgrave). It is a doublet of turban. The German Tulpe was also earlier Tulipan.

The humblest of medieval coins was the maravedi, which came from Spain at an early date, though not early enough for Robin Hood to have said to Isaac of York—

"I will strip thee of every maravedi thou hast in the world."

(Ivanhoe, Ch. 33.)

The name is due to the Moorish dynasty of the Almaravides or Marabouts. This Arabic name, which means hermit, was given also to a kind of stork, the marabout, on account of the solitary and sober habits which have earned in India for a somewhat similar bird the name adjutant (p. 34).

Cipher and zero do not look like doublets, but both of them come from the same Arabic word. The medieval Lat. zephyrum connects the two forms. Crimson and carmine, both of them ultimately from Old Spanish, are not quite doublets, but both belong to kermes, the cochineal insect, of Arabic origin.

The relationship between cipher and zero is perhaps better disguised than that between furnish and veneer, though this is by no means obvious. Veneer, spelt fineer by Smollett, is Ger. fournieren, borrowed from Fr.[148] fournir[107] and specialised in meaning. Ebers' German Dict. (1796) has furnieren, "to inlay with several sorts of wood, to veneer."

The doublets selected for discussion among the hundreds which exist in the language reveal many etymological relationships which would hardly be suspected at first sight. Many other words might be quoted which are almost doublets. Thus sergeant, Fr. sergent, Lat. serviens, servient-, is almost a doublet of servant, the present participle of Fr. servir. The fabric called drill or drilling is from Ger. Drillich, "tick, linnen-cloth woven of three threads" (Ludwig). This is an adaptation of Lat. trilix, trilic-, which, through Fr. treillis, has given Eng. trellis. We may compare the older twill, of Anglo-Saxon origin, cognate with Ger. Zwilch or Zwillich, "linnen woven with a double thread" (Ludwig). Robe, from French, is cognate with rob, and with Ger. Raub, booty, the conqueror decking himself in the spoils of the conquered. Musk is a doublet of meg in nutmeg, Fr. noix muscade. In Mid. English we find note-mugge, and Cotgrave has the diminutive muguette, "a nutmeg"; cf. modern Fr. muguet, the lily of the valley. Fr. dîner and déjeuner both represent Vulgar Lat. *dis-junare, to break fast, from jejunus, fasting. The difference of form is due to the shifting of the accent in the Latin conjugation, e.g., dis-junáre gives Old Fr. disner (dîner), while dis-júnat gives Old Fr. desjune (déjeune).


Admiral, earlier amiral, comes through French from the Arab. amir, an emir. Its Old French forms are numerous, and the one which has survived in English may be taken as an abbreviation of Arab. amir al bahr emir on the sea. Greco-Lat. pandura, a stringed instrument,[149] has produced an extraordinary number of corruptions, among which some philologists rank mandoline. Eng. bandore, now obsolete, was once a fairly common word, and from it, or from some cognate Romance form, comes the negro corruption banjo

"'What is this, mamma? it is not a guitar, is it?' 'No, my dear, it is called a banjore; it is an African instrument, of which the negroes are particularly fond.'"

(Miss Edgeworth, Belinda, Ch. 18.)

Florio has pandora, pandura, "a musical instrument with three strings, a kit, a croude,[108] a rebecke." Kit, used by Dickens—

"He had a little fiddle, which at school we used to call a kit, under his left arm."

(Bleak House, Ch. 14.)

seems to be a clipped form from Old French dialect quiterne, for guiterne, Greco-Lat. cithara. Cotgrave explains mandore as a "kitt, small gitterne." The doublet guitar is from Spanish.

The two pretty words dimity and samite

"An arm
Rose up from out the bosom of the lake,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
Holding the sword."

(Tennyson, Morte d'Arthur, l. 29.)

are both connected with Gk. μίτος, thread. Dimity is the plural, dimiti, of Ital. dimito, "a kind of course cotton or flanell" (Florio), from Greco-Lat. dimitus, double thread (cf. twill, p. 148). Samite, Old Fr. samit, whence Ger. Samt, velvet, is in medieval Latin hexamitus, six-thread; this is Byzantine Gk. ἑξάμιτον, whence also Old Slavonic aksamitu. The Italian form is sciamito, "a kind of sleave, feret, or filosello silke" (Florio). The word feret used here by Florio is from Ital. fioretto, little[150] flower. It was also called floret silk. Florio explains the plural fioretti as "a kind of course silke called f[l]oret or ferret silke," and Cotgrave has fleuret, "course silke, floret silke." This doublet of floweret is not obsolete in the sense of tape—

"'Twas so fram'd and express'd no tribunal could shake it,
And firm as red wax and black ferret could make it."

(Ingoldsby, The Housewarming.)

Parish and diocese are closely related, parish, Fr. paroisse, representing Greco-Lat. par-oikia (οἶκος, a house), and diocese coming through Old French from Greco-Lat. di-oikesis. Skirt is the Scandinavian doublet of shirt from Vulgar Lat. ex-curtus, which has also given us short. The form without the prefix appears in Fr. court, Ger. kurz, and the English diminutive kirtle

"What stuff wilt have a kirtle of?"

(2 Henry IV., ii. 4.)

These are all very early loan words.


A new drawing-room game for amateur philologists would be to trace relationships between words which have no apparent connection. In discussing, a few years ago, a lurid book on the "Mysteries of Modern London," Punch remarked that the existence of a villa seemed to be proof presumptive of that of a villain. This is etymologically true. An Old French vilain, "a villaine, slave, bondman, servile tenant" (Cotgrave), was a peasant attached to his lord's ville or domain, Lat. villa. For the degeneration in meaning we may compare Eng. boor and churl (p. 84), and Fr. manant, a clodhopper, lit. a dweller (see manor, p. 9). A butcher, Fr. boucher, must originally have dealt in goat's flesh, Fr. bouc, goat; cf. Ital. beccaio, butcher, and becco, goat. Hence butcher and buck are related. The extension of meaning of broker, an Anglo-Norman form of brocheur,[151] shows the importance of the wine trade in the Middle Ages. A broker was at first[109] one who "broached" casks with a broche, which means in modern French both brooch and spit. The essential part of a brooch is the pin or spike.

When Kent says that Cornwall and Regan—

"Summon'd up their meiny, straight took horse."

(Lear, ii. 4.)

he is using a common Mid. English and Tudor word which comes, through Old Fr. maisniee, from Vulgar Lat. *mansionata, a houseful. A menial is a member of such a body. An Italian cognate is masnadiere, "a ruffler, a swashbuckler, a swaggerer, a high way theefe, a hackster" (Florio). Those inclined to moralise may see in these words a proof that the arrogance of the great man's flunkey was curbed in England earlier than in Italy. Old Fr. maisniee is now replaced by ménage, Vulgar Lat. *mansionaticum. A derivative of this word is ménagerie, first applied to the collection of household animals, but now to a "wild beast show."

A bonfire was formerly a bone-fire. We find bane-fire, "ignis ossium," in a Latin dictionary of 1483, and Cooper explains pyra by "bone-fire, wherein men's bodyes were burned." Apparently the word is due to the practice of burning the dead after a victory. Hexham has bone-fire, "een been-vier, dat is, als men victorie brandt." Walnut is related to Wales, Cornwall, the Walloons, Wallachia and Sir William Wallace. It means "foreign" nut. This very wide spread wal is supposed to represent the Celtic tribal name Volcæ. It was applied by the English to the Celts, and by the Germans to the French and Italians, especially the[152] latter, whence the earlier Ger. welsche Nuss, for Walnuss. The German Swiss use it of the French Swiss, hence the canton Wallis or Valais. The Old French name for the walnut is noix gauge, Lat. Gallica. The relation of umbrella to umber is pretty obvious. The former is Italian—

"A little shadow, a little round thing that women bare in their hands to shadow them. Also a broad brimd hat to keepe off heate and rayne. Also a kinde of round thing like a round skreene that gentlemen use in Italie in time of sommer or when it is very hote, to keepe the sunne from them when they are riding by the way."


Umber is Fr. terre d'ombre, shadow earth—

"I'll put myself in poor and mean attire,
And with a kind of umber smirch my face."

(As You Like It, i. 3.)

Ballad, originally a dancing song, Prov. ballada, is a doublet of ballet, and thus related to ball. We find a late Lat. ballare, to dance, in Saint Augustine, but the history of this group of words is obscure. The sense development of carol is very like that of ballad. It is from Old Fr. carolle, "a kinde of dance wherein many may dance together; also, a carroll, or Christmas song" (Cotgrave). The form corolla is found in Provençal, and carolle in Old French is commonly used, like Ger. Kranz, garland, and Lat. corona, of a social or festive ring of people. Hence it seems a reasonable conjecture that the origin of the word is Lat. corolla, a little garland.


Many "chapel" people would be shocked to know that chapel means properly the sanctuary in which a saint's relics are deposited. The name was first applied to the chapel in which was preserved the cape or cloak of St Martin of Tours. The doublet capel survives in Capel Court, near the Exchange. Ger. Kapelle also means orchestra or military band. Tocsin is literally[153] "touch sign." Fr. toquer, to tap, beat, cognate with touch, survives in "tuck of drum" and tucket

"Then let the trumpets sound
The tucket sonance and the note to mount."

(Henry V., iv. 2.)

while sinet, the diminutive of Old Fr. sin, sign, has given sennet, common in the stage directions of Elizabethan plays in a sense very similar to that of tucket.

Junket is from Old Fr. joncade, "a certaine spoone-meat, made of creame, rose-water, and sugar" (Cotgrave), Ital. giuncata, "a kinde of fresh cheese and creame, so called bicause it is brought to market upon rushes; also a junket" (Florio). It is thus related to jonquil, which comes, through French, from Span. junquillo, a diminutive from Lat. juncus, rush. The plant is named from its rush-like leaves. Ditto, Italian, lit. "said," and ditty, Old Fr. dité, are both past participles,[110] from the Latin verbs dico and dicto respectively. The nave of a church is from Fr. nef, still occasionally used in poetry in its original sense of ship, Lat. navis. It is thus related to navy, Old Fr. navie, a derivative of navis. Similarly Ger. Schiff is used in the sense of nave, though the metaphor is variously explained.

The old word cole, cabbage, its north country and Scottish equivalent kail, Fr. chou (Old Fr. chol), and Ger. Kohl, are all from Lat. caulis, cabbage; cf. cauliflower. We have the Dutch form in colza, which comes, through French, from Du. kool-zaad, cabbage seed. Cabbage itself is Fr. caboche, a Picard derivative of Lat. caput, head. In modern French caboche corresponds to our vulgar "chump." A goshawk is a goose hawk, so called from its preying on poultry. Merino is related to mayor, which comes, through French, from Lat. maior,[154] greater. Span. merino, Vulgar Lat. *majorinus, means both a magistrate and a superintendent of sheep-walks. From the latter meaning comes that of "sheepe driven from the winter pastures to the sommer pastures, or the wooll of those sheepe" (Percyvall). Portcullis is from Old Fr. porte coulisse, sliding door. Fr. coulisse is still used of many sliding contrivances, especially in connection with stage scenery, but in the portcullis sense it is replaced by herse (see p. 75), except in the language of heraldry. The masculine form coulis means a clear broth, or cullis, as it was called in English up to the 18th century. This suggests colander, which, like portcullis, belongs to Lat. colare, "to streine" (Cooper), whence Fr. couler, to flow.

Solder, formerly spelt sowder or sodder, and still so pronounced by the plumber, represents Fr. soudure, from the verb souder; cf. batter from Old Fr. batture, fritter from Fr. friture, and tenter (hooks)[111] from Fr. tenture. Fr. souder is from Lat. solidare, to consolidate. Fr. sou, formerly sol, a halfpenny, comes, like Ital. soldo, from Lat. solidus, the meaning of which appears also in the Italian participle soldato, a soldier, lit. a paid man. This Italian word has passed into French and German, displacing the older cognates soudard and Söldner, which now have a depreciatory sense. Eng. soldier is of Old French origin. It is represented in medieval Latin by sol[i]darius, glossed sowdeor in a vocabulary of the 15th century. As in solder, the l has been re-introduced by learned influence, but the vulgar sodger is nearer the original pronunciation.


[102] I.e., grotto painting, Ital. grottesca, "a kinde of rugged unpolished painters worke, anticke worke" (Florio).

[103] See p. 120. The aristocracy of the horse is still testified to by the use of sire and dam for his parents.

[104] Sometimes this name is for cheater, escheatour (p. 84).

[105] Cf. avoirdupois, earlier avers de pois (poids), goods sold by weight.

[106] It is possible that this is a case of early folk-etymology and that persona is an Etruscan word.

[107] This is the accepted etymology; but it is more probable that furnieren comes from Fr. vernir, to varnish.

[108] See Crowther, p. 176.

[109] But the early use of the word in the sense of middle-man points to contamination with some other word of different meaning.

[110] But the usual Italian past participle of dire is detto.

[111] Hooks used for stretching cloth.




Modern English contains some six or seven hundred pairs or sets of homonyms, i.e., of words identical in sound and spelling but differing in meaning and origin. The New English Dictionary recognises provisionally nine separate nouns rack. The subject is a difficult one to deal with, because one word sometimes develops such apparently different meanings that the original identity becomes obscured, and even, as we have seen in the case of flour and mettle (p. 144), a difference of spelling may result. When Denys of Burgundy said to the physician—

"Go to! He was no fool who first called you leeches."

(Cloister and Hearth, Ch. 26.)

he was unaware that both leeches represent Anglo-Sax. læce, healer. On the other hand, a resemblance of form may bring about a contamination of meaning. The verb to gloss, or gloze, means simply to explain or translate, from Greco-Lat. glossa, tongue; but, under the influence of the unrelated gloss, superficial lustre, it has acquired the sense of specious interpretation.

That part of a helmet called the beaver

"I saw young Harry, with his beaver on,
His cuisses on his thigh, gallantly arm'd,
Rise from the ground like feather'd Mercury."

(1 Henry IV., iv. 1.)


has, of course, no connection with the animal whose fur has been used for some centuries for expensive hats. It comes from Old Fr. bavière, a child's bib, now replaced by bavette, from baver, to slobber.

It may be noted en passant that many of the revived medieval words which sound so picturesque in Scott are of very prosaic origin. Thus the basnet

"My basnet to a prentice cap,
Lord Surrey's o'er the Till."

(Marmion, vi. 21.)

or close-fitting steel cap worn under the ornamental helmet, is Fr. bassinet, a little basin. It was also called a kettle hat, or pot. Another obsolete name given to a steel cap was a privy pallet, from Fr. palette, a barber's bowl, a "helmet of Mambrino." To a brilliant living monarch we owe the phrase "mailed fist," a translation of Ger. gepanzerte Faust. Panzer, a cuirass, is etymologically a pauncher, or defence for the paunch. We may compare an article of female apparel, which took its name from a more polite name for this part of the anatomy, and which Shakespeare uses even in the sense of Panzer. Imogen, taking the papers from her bosom, says—

"What is here?
The scriptures of the loyal Leonatus,
All turn'd to heresy? Away, away,
Corrupters of my faith! You shall no more
Be stomachers to my heart."

(Cymbeline, iii. 4.)


Sometimes homonyms seem to be due to the lowest type of folk-etymology, the instinct for making an unfamiliar word "look like something" (see p. 128, n.). To this instinct we owe the nautical companion (p. 165). Trepan, for trapan, to entrap, cannot have been confused with the surgical trepan (p. 109), although it has[157] been assimilated to it. The compound in which the victims of "Chinese slavery" languished is the Malay kampong, an enclosure.

The scent called bergamot takes its name from Bergamo, in Italy, whence also Shakespeare's bergomask dance—

"Will it please you to see the epilogue, or hear a Bergomask dance between two of our company?"

(Midsummer Night's Dream, v. 1.)

but the bergamot pear is derived from Turkish beg armudi, prince's pear. With beg, prince, cf. bey and begum. The burden of a song is from Fr. bourdon, "a drone, or dorre-bee; also, the humming, or buzzing, of bees; also, the drone of a bag-pipe" (Cotgrave). It is of doubtful origin, but is not related to burden, a load, which is connected with the verb to bear.

To cashier, i.e., break, a soldier, is from Du. casseeren, which is borrowed from Fr. casser, to break, Lat. quassare, frequentative of quatere, to shatter. In the 16th and 17th centuries we also find cass and cash, which come immediately from French, and are thus doublets of quash. Cotgrave has casser, "to casse, cassere, discharge." The past participle of the obsolete verb to cass is still in military use—

"But the colonel said he must go, and he (the drum horse) was cast in due form and replaced by a washy, bay beast, as ugly as a mule."

(Kipling, The Rout of the White Hussars.)

The other cashier is of Italian origin. He takes charge of the cash, which formerly meant "counting-house," and earlier still "safe," from Ital. cassa, "a merchant's cashe, or counter" (Florio). This comes from Lat. capsa, a coffer, so that cash is a doublet of case, Fr. caisse. The goldsmith's term chase is for enchase, Fr. enchâsser, "to enchace, or set, in gold, etc." (Cotgrave),[158] from châsse, coffer, shrine, also from Lat. capsa. From the same word comes (window) sash.

Gammon, from Mid. Eng. gamen, now reduced to game, survives as a slang word and also in the compound backgammon. In a gammon of bacon we have the Picard form of Fr. jambon, a ham, an augmentative of jambe, leg. Cotgrave has jambon, "a gammon." Gambit is related, from Ital. gambetto, "a tripping up of one's heels" (Torriano). A game leg is in dialect a gammy leg. This is Old Fr. gambi, "bent, crooked, bowed" (Cotgrave), which is still used in some French dialects in the sense of lame. It comes from the same Celtic root as jambe.

Host, an army, now used only poetically or metaphorically, is from Old Fr. ost, army, Lat. hostis, enemy. The host who receives us is Old Fr. oste (hôte), Lat. hospes, hospit-, guest. These two hosts are, however, ultimately related. It is curious that, while modern Fr. hôte (hospes) means both "host" and "guest," the other host (hostis) is, very far back, a doublet of guest, the ground meaning of both being "stranger." "It is remarkable in what opposite directions the Germans and Romans have developed the meaning of the old hereditary name for 'stranger.' To the Roman the stranger becomes an enemy; among the Germans he enjoys the greatest privileges, a striking confirmation of what Tacitus tells us in his Germania."[112] In a dog kennel we have the Norman form of Fr. chenil, related to chien; but kennel, a gutter—

"Go, hop me over every kennel home."

(Taming of the Shrew, iv. 3.)

is a doublet of channel and canal.


"Oh villain! thou stolest a cup of sack eighteen years ago, and wert taken with the manner."

(1 Henry IV., ii. 4.)


says Prince Hal to Bardolph. In the old editions this is spelt manour or mainour and means "in the act." It is an Anglo-French doublet of manœuvre, late Lat. manu-opera, handiwork, and is thus related to its homonym manner, Fr. manière, from manier, to handle. Another doublet of manœuvre is manure, now a euphemism for dung, but formerly used of the act of tillage—

"The manuring hand of the tiller shall root up all that burdens the soil."

(Milton, Reason of Church Government.)

Inure is similarly formed from Old Fr. enœuvrer, literally "to work in," hence to accustom to toil.

John Gilpin's "good friend the calender," i.e. the cloth-presser, has nothing to do with the calendar which indicates the calends of the month, nor with the calender, or Persian monk, of the Arabian Nights, whom Mr Pecksniff described as a "one-eyed almanack"—

"'A one-eyed calender, I think, sir,' faltered Tom.

"'They are pretty nearly the same thing, I believe,' said Mr Pecksniff, smiling compassionately; 'or they used to be in my time.'"

(Martin Chuzzlewit, Ch. 6.)

The verb to calender, to press and gloss cloth, etc., is from Old Fr. calendrer (calandrer), "to sleeke, smooth, plane, or polish, linnen cloth, etc." (Cotgrave). This word is generally considered to be related to cylinder, a conjecture which is supported by obsolete Fr. calende, used of the "rollers" by means of which heavy stones are moved.

A craft, or association of masters, was once called a mistery (for mastery or maistrie), usually misspelt mystery by association with a word of quite different origin and meaning. This accidental resemblance is often played on—


"Painting, sir, I have heard say, is a mystery; but what mystery there should be in hanging, if I should be hanged, I cannot imagine."

(Measure for Measure, iv. 2.)

For the pronunciation, cf. mister, for master, and mistress.[113] The French for "mistery" is métier, earlier mestier, "a trade, occupation, misterie, handicraft" (Cotgrave), from Old Fr. maistier, Lat. magisterium. In its other senses Fr. métier represents Lat. ministerium, service.

Pawn, a pledge, is from Old Fr. pan, with the same meaning. The origin of this word, cognates of which occur in the Germanic languages, is unknown. The pawn at chess is Fr. pion, a pawn, formerly also a foot-soldier, used contemptuously in modern French for a junior assistant master. This represents a Vulgar Lat. *pedo, pedon-, from pes, foot; cf. Span. peon, "a footeman, a pawne at chesse, a pioner, or laborer" (Percyvall). In German the pawn is called Bauer, peasant, a name also given to the knave in the game of euchre, whence American bower[114]

"At last he put down a right bower[115]
Which the same Nye had dealt unto me."

(Bret Harte, The Heathen Chinee.)


When Jack Bunce says—

"If they hurt but one hair of Cleveland's head, there will be the devil to pay, and no pitch hot."

(Pirate, Ch. 36.)

he is using a nautical term which has no connection with Fr. payer. To pay, i.e. to pitch (a ship), is from Old Fr. peier or poier, Lat. picare, from pix, pitch. Fr. limon, a lime, has given Eng. lemon,[116] but "lemon sole" is from Fr. limande, a flat-fish, dab. A quarry from which stone[161] is obtained was formerly quarrer, Old Fr. quarrière (carrière), a derivative of Lat. quadrus; cf. quadratarius, "a squarer of marble" (Cooper). The quarry of the hunter has changed its form and meaning. In Mid. English we find quarré and quirré, from Old Fr. cuirée, now curée, "a (dog's) reward; the hounds' fees of, or part in, the game they have killed" (Cotgrave). The Old French form means "skinful" (cf. poignée, fistful), the hounds' reward being spread on the skin of the slain animal. It is thus related to cuirass, originally used of leathern armour. In Shakespeare quarry usually means a heap of dead game—

"Would the nobility lay aside their ruth,
And let me use my sword, I'd make a quarry
With thousands of these quarter'd slaves, as high
As I could pick my lance."

(Coriolanus, i. 1.)

In modern English it is applied rather to the animal pursued. Related to the first quarry is quarrel, the square-headed bolt shot from a crossbow—

"It is reported by William Brito that the arcubalista or arbalist was first shewed to the French by our king Richard the First, who was shortly after slain by a quarrel thereof."

(Camden, Remains concerning Britain.[117])

It comes from Old Fr. carrel, of which the modern form, carreau, is used of many four-sided objects, e.g., a square tile, the diamond at cards, a pane of glass. In the last sense both quarrel and quarry are still used by glaziers.[162]

In a "school of porpoises" we have a Dutch word for crowd. The older spelling is scull

"And there they fly, or die, like scaled sculls,
Before the belching whale."

(Troilus and Cressida, v. 5.)

A sorrel horse and the plant called sorrel are both French words of German origin. The adjective, used in venery of a buck of the third year, is a diminutive of Old Fr. sor, which survives in hareng saur, red herring, and is perhaps cognate with Eng. sear

"The sere, the yellow leaf."

(Macbeth, v. 3.)

The plant name is related to sour. Its modern French form surelle occurs now only in dialect, having been superseded by oseille, which appears to be due to the mixture of two words meaning sour, sharp, viz., Vulgar Lat. *acetula and Greco-Lat. oxalis.

The verb tattoo, to adorn the skin with patterns, is Polynesian. The military tattoo is Dutch. It was earlier tap-to, and was the signal for closing the "taps," or taverns. The first recorded occurrence of the word is in Colonel Hutchinson's orders to the garrison of Nottingham, the original of which hangs in the Nottingham City Library—

"If any-one shall bee found tiplinge or drinkinge in any taverne, inne, or alehouse after the houre of nyne of the clock at night, when the tap-too beates, he shall pay 2s. 6d." (1644.)

Cf. Ger. Zapfenstreich, lit. tap-stroke, the name of a play which was produced some years ago in London under the title "Lights Out." Ludwig explains Zapfenschlag or Zapfenstreich as "die Zeit da die Soldaten aus den Schencken heimgehen müssen, the taptow."[163]

Tassel, in "tassel gentle"—

"O, for a falconer's voice,
To lure this tassel-gentle back again."

(Romeo and Juliet, ii. 2.)

is for tercel or tiercel, the male hawk, "so tearmed, because he is, commonly, a third part less than the female" (Cotgrave, s.v. tiercelet). The true reason for the name is doubtful. The pendent ornament called a tassel is a diminutive of Mid. Eng. tasse, a heap, bunch, Fr. tas. Tent wine is Span. vino tinto, i.e., coloured—

"Of this last there's little comes over right, therefore the vintners make Tent (which is a name for all wines in Spain, except white) to supply the place of it."

(Howell, Familiar Letters, 1634.)

The other tent is from the Old French past participle of tendre, to stretch.

The Shakesperian utterance

"Rather than so, come, fate, into the list,
And champion me to the utterance."

(Macbeth, iii. 1.)

is the Fr. outrance, in combat à outrance, i.e., to the extreme, which belongs to Lat. ultra. It is quite unconnected with the verb to utter, from out.


We have seen how, in the case of some homonyms, confusion arises, and a popular connection is established, between words which are quite unrelated. The same sort of association often springs up between words which, without being homonyms, have some accidental resemblance in form or meaning, or in both. Such association may bring about curious changes in sound and sense. Touchy, which now conveys the idea of sensitiveness to touch, is corrupted from tetchy

"Tetchy and wayward was thy infancy."

(Richard III., iv. 4.)

The original meaning was something like "infected, tainted," from Old Fr. teche (tache), a spot. The word[164] surround has completely changed its meaning through association with round. It comes from Old Fr. suronder, to overflow, Lat. super-undare, and its meaning and origin were quite clear to the 16th-century lexicographers. Thus Cooper has inundo, "to overflowe, to surround." A French bishop carries a crosse, and an archbishop a croix. These words are of separate origin. From crosse, which does not mean "cross," comes our derivative crosier, carried by both bishops and archbishops. It is etymologically identical, as its shape suggests, with the shepherd's crook, and the bat used in playing lacrosse.

The prophecy of the pessimistic ostler that, owing to motor-cars—

"'Osses soon will all be in the circusses,
And if you want an ostler, try the work'uses."

(E. V. Lucas.)

shows by what association the meaning of ostler, Old Fr. hostelier (hôtelier), has changed. A belfry has nothing to do with bells. Old Fr. berfroi (beffroi) was a tower used in warfare. It comes from two German words represented by modern bergen, to hide, guard, and Friede, peace, so that it means "guard-peace." The triumph of the form belfry is due to association with bell, but the l is originally due to dissimilation, since we find belfroi also in Old French. The same dissimilation is seen in Fr. auberge, inn, Prov. alberga, which comes from Old High Ger. hari, an army, and bergen; cf. our harbour (p. 2) and harbinger (p. 90). Scabbard is from Old Fr. escauberc, earlier escalberc, by dissimilation for escarberc, from Old High Ger. scār, a blade (cf. ploughshare), and bergen. Cf. hauberk, guard-neck, from Ger. Hals,[118] neck.



The buttery is not so named from butter, but from bottles. It is for butlery, as chancery (see p. 88) is for chancelry. It is not, of course, now limited to bottles, any more than the pantry to bread or the larder to bacon, Fr. lard, Lat. laridum. The spence, aphetic for dispense, is now known only in dialect—

"I am gaun to eat my dinner quietly in the spence."

(Old Mortality, Ch. 3.)

but has given us the name Spencer. The still-room maid is not extinct, but I doubt whether the distilling of strong waters is now carried on in the region over which she presides. A journeyman has nothing to do with journeys in the modern sense of the word, but works à la journée, by the day. Cf. Fr. journalier, "a journey man; one that workes by the day" (Cotgrave), and Ger. Tagelöhner, literally "day-wager." On the other hand, a day-woman (Love's Labour's Lost, i. 2) is an explanatory pleonasm (cf. greyhound, p. 135) for the old word day, servant, milkmaid, etc., whence the common surname Day and the derivative dairy.

A briar pipe is made, not from briar, but from the root of heather, Fr. bruyère, of Celtic origin. A catchpole did not catch polls, i.e. heads, nor did he catch people with a pole, although a very ingenious implement, exhibited in the Tower of London Armoury, is catalogued as a catchpole. The word corresponds to a French compound chasse-poule, catch-hen, in Picard cache-pole, the official's chief duty being to collect dues, or, in default, poultry. For pole, from Fr. poule, cf. polecat, also an enemy of fowls. The companion-ladder on ship-board is a product of folk-etymology. It leads to the kampanje, the Dutch for cabin. This may belong, like cabin, to a late Lat. capanna, hut, which has a very numerous progeny. Kajuit, another Dutch word for cabin, earlier kajute, has given us cuddy.[166]

A carousal is now regarded as a carouse, but the two are quite separate, or, rather, there are two distinct words carousal. One of them is from Fr. carrousel, a word of Italian origin, meaning a pageant or carnival with chariot races and tilting. This word, obsolete in this sense, is sometimes spelt el and accented on the last syllable—

"Before the crystal palace, where he dwells,
The armed angels hold their carousels."

(Andrew Marvell, Lachrymæ Musarum.)

Ger. Karussell means a roundabout at a fair. Our carousal, if it is the same word, has been affected in sound and meaning by carouse. This comes, probably through French, from Ger. garaus, quite out, in the phrase garaus trinken, i.e., to drink bumpers—

"The queen carouses to thy fortune, Hamlet."

(Hamlet, v. 2.)

Rabelais says that he is not one of those—

"Qui, par force, par oultraige et violence, contraignent les compaignons trinquer voyre carous et alluz[119] qui pis est."

(Pantagruel, iii., Prologue.)

The spelling garous, and even garaus, is found in 17th-century English.


It is perhaps unnecessary to say that a maul-stick, Dutch maal-stok, paint-stick, has nothing to do with the verb to maul, formerly to mall,[120] i.e., to hammer. Nor is the painter's lay-figure connected with our verb to lay. It is also, like so many art terms, of Dutch origin, the lay representing Du. lid, limb, cognate with Ger. Glied.[121] The German for lay-figure is Gliederpuppe,[167] joint-doll. Sewel's Dutch Dict. (1766) has leeman, or ledeman, "a statue, with pliant limbs for the use of a painter." A footpad is not a rubber-soled highwayman, but a pad, or robber, who does his work on foot. He was also called a padder

"'Ye crack-rope padder, born beggar, and bred thief!' replied the hag."

(Heart of Midlothian, Ch. 29.)

i.e., one who takes to the "road," from Du. pad, path. Pad, an ambling nag, a "roadster," is the same word.

Pen comes, through Old French, from Lat. penna, "a penne, quil, or fether" (Cooper), while pencil is from Old Fr. pincel (pinceau), a painter's brush, from Lat. penicillus, a little tail. The modern meaning of pencil, which still meant painter's brush in the 18th century, is due to association with pen. The older sense survives in optics and in the expression "pencilled eyebrows." The ferrule of a walking-stick is a distinct word from ferule, an aid to education. The latter is Lat. ferula, "an herbe like big fenell, and maye be called fenell giant. Also a rodde, sticke, or paulmer, wherewith children are striken and corrected in schooles; a cane, a reede, a walking staffe" (Cooper). Ferrule is a perversion of earlier virrel, virrol, Fr. virole, "an iron ring put about the end of a staffe, etc., to strengthen it, and keep it from riving" (Cotgrave).

The modern meaning of pester is due to a wrong association with pest. Its earlier meaning is to hamper or entangle—

"Confined and pestered in this pinfold here."

(Comus, l. 7.)

It was formerly impester, from Old Fr. empestrer (empêtrer), "to pester, intricate, intangle, trouble, incumber" (Cotgrave), originally to "hobble" a grazing horse with pasterns, or shackles (see pastern, p. 76).[168]

Mosaic work is not connected with Moses, but with the muses and museum. It comes, through French, from Ital. mosaico, "a kinde of curious stone worke, of divers colours, checkie worke" (Florio), which is Vulgar Lat. musaicum opus. Sorrow and sorry are quite unrelated. Sorrow is from Anglo-Sax. sorg, sorh, cognate with Ger. Sorge, anxiety. Sorry, Mid. Eng. sori, is a derivative of sore, cognate with Ger. sehr, very, lit. "painfully"; cf. English "sore afraid," or the modern "awfully nice," which is in South Germany arg nett, "vexatiously nice."

It is probable that vagabond, Lat. vagabundus, has no etymological connection with vagrant, which appears to come from Old Fr. waucrant, present participle of waucrer, a common verb in the Picard dialect, perhaps related to Eng. walk. Cotgrave spells it vaucrer, "to range, roame, vagary, wander, idly (idle) it up and down." Cotgrave also attributes to it the special meaning of a ship sailing "whither wind and tide will carry it," the precise sense in which it is used in the 13th-century romance of Aucassin et Nicolette.

Other examples of mistaken association are scullion and scullery (p. 43), and sentry and sentinel (p. 102). Many years ago Punch had a picture by Du Maurier called the "Vikings of Whitby," followed by a companion picture, the "Viqueens." The word is not vi-king but vik-ing, the first syllable probably representing an Old Norse form of Anglo-Sax. wīc, encampment.


[112] Kluge, Etymologisches Wörterbuch.

[113] Now abbreviated to miss in a special sense.

[114] The Bowery of New York was formerly a homestead.

[115] Knave of trumps.

[116] In modern French the lemon is called citron and the citron cédrat.

[117] In the chapter on "Artillery." So also, in the Authorised Version—"Jonathan gave his artillery (his bow and arrows) unto his lad, and said unto him, 'Go, carry them into the city.'" (1 Samuel, xx. 40.) It is curious that the words artillery and gun both belong to the pre-gunpowder period.

[118] Hence, or rather from Du. hals, the hawse-holes, the "throat" through which the cable runs.

[119] Ger. all aus, all out.

[120] Hence the Mall and Pall-Mall, where games like croquet were played.

[121] The g- represents the Old High German prefix gi-, ge-. Cf. Eng. luck and Ger. Glück.




In the study of family names we come across very much the same phenomena as in dealing with other words. They are subject to the same phonetic accidents and to the distortions of folk-etymology, being "altered strangely to significative words by the common sort, who desire to make all to be significative" (Camden, Remains concerning Britain). Doublets and homonyms are of frequent occurrence, and the origin of some names is obscured by the well-meaning efforts of early philologists. It might be expected that a family name would by its very nature tend to preserve its original form. This is, however, not the case. In old parish registers one often finds on one page two or three different spellings for the same name, and there are said to be a hundred and thirty variants of Mainwaring.[122] The telescoped pronunciation of long names such as Cholmondeley, Daventry, Marjoribanks, Strachan, is a familiar phenomenon, and very often the shorter form persists separately, e.g., Posnett and Poslett occur often in Westmoreland for Postlethwaite; Beecham exists by the side of Beauchamp; Saint Clair and Saint Maur are usually reduced to Sinclair and Seymour;[170] Boon[123] and Moon disguise the aristocratic Bohun and Mohun. In a story by Mr Wells, Miss Winchelsea's Heart, the name Snooks is gradually improved to Sevenoaks, from which in all probability it originally came, via Senoaks; cf. sennight for seven-night, and such names as Fiveash, Twelvetrees, etc. Folk-etymology converts Arblaster, the cross-bowman, into Alabaster, Thurgod into Thoroughgood, and the Cornish Hannibal into Honeyball. Beaufoy is a grammatical monstrosity. Its older form is Beaufou, fine beech (see p. 129), with an ambiguous second syllable. Malthus looks like Latin, but is identical with Malthouse, just as Bellows is for Bellhouse, Loftus for Lofthouse, and Bacchus, fined for intoxication, Jan. 5, 1911, for Bakehouse. But many odd names which are often explained as corruptions may also have their face-value. The first Gotobed was a sluggard, Godbehere was fond of this pious form of greeting, and Goodbeer purveyed sound liquor. With Toogood, perhaps ironical, we may compare Fr. Troplong, and with Goodenough a lady named Belle-assez, often mentioned in the Pipe Rolls. Physick occurs as a medieval nickname.

Family names fall into four great classes, which are, in descending order of size, local, baptismal, functional, and nicknames. But we have a great many homonyms, names capable of two or more explanations. Thus Bell may be for Fr. le bel or from a shop-sign, Collet a diminutive of Nicholas or an aphetic form of acolyte. Dennis is usually for Dionysius, but sometimes for le Danois, the Dane; Gillott, and all family names beginning with Gill-, may be from Gillian (see p. 46), or from Fr. Guillaume. A famous member of the latter family was Guillotin, the humanitarian doctor who urged the abolition of clumsy methods of decapitation.[171] His name is a double diminutive, like Fr. diablotin, goblin. Leggatt is a variant of Lidgate, swing gate, and of Legate. Lovell is an affectionate diminutive or is for Old Fr. louvel, little wolf. It was also in Mid. English a dog's name, hence the force of the rime—

"The Rat (Ratcliffe), the Cat (Catesby), and Lovell, our dog, Rule all England under the Hog." (1484.)

It has a doublet Lowell. The name Turney, well known in Nottingham, is from the town of Tournay, or is aphetic for attorney. In the following paragraphs I generally give only one source for each name, but it should be understood that in many cases two or more are possible. The forms also vary.


Baptismal names often give surnames without any suffix. Sometimes these are slightly disguised, e.g., Cobbett (Cuthbert), Garrett (Gerard), Hammond, Fr. Hamon (Hamo), Hibbert (Hubert), Jessop (Joseph), Neil (Nigel), Custance (Constance); or they preserve a name no longer given baptismally, e.g., Aldridge (Alderic), Bardell (Bardolph), Goodeve (Godiva), Goodlake (Guthlac), Goodrich (Goderic), Harvey[124] (Hervey, Fr. Hervé), Mayhew (Old Fr. Mahieu, Matthew). With the help of diminutive suffixes we get Atkin (Adam), Bodkin (Baldwin), Larkin (Lawrence), Perkin, Parkin (Peter), Hackett (Haco), Huggin, Hutchin, Hewett, Hewlett, Howitt (Hugh), Philpot (Philip), Tibbet (Theobald or Isabella), Tillet (Matilda), Wilmot (William), Wyatt (Guy), Gilbey,[172] Gibbon (Gilbert), etc., with numerous variants and further derivatives. The changes that can be rung on one favourite name are bewildering, e.g., from Robert we have Rob, Dob, Hob, and Bob; the first three with a numerous progeny, while Bob, now the favourite abbreviation, came into use too late to found a large dynasty. From Richard we have Richards and Richardson, and from its three abbreviations Rick, Dick, Hick, with their variants Rich, Digg, Hig, Hitch, one of the largest families of surnames in the language.[125] As the preceding examples show, family names are frequently derived from the mother. Other examples, which are not quite obvious, are Betts (Beatrice), Sisson (Cecilia), Moxon and Padgett (Margaret, Moggy, Madge, Padge), Parnell (Petronilla), Ibbotson (Ib, Isabella), Tillotson (Matilda). One group of surnames is derived from baptismal names given according to the season of the Church. Such are Pentecost, Pascal, whence Cornish Pascoe, Nowell, and Middlemas, a corruption of Michaelmas.[126] With these may be grouped Loveday, a day appointed for reconciliations.


Surnames derived from place of residence often contain a preposition, e.g., Atwood, Underhill, and sometimes the article as well, e.g., Atterbury, Bythesea. In Surtees, on the Tees, we have a French preposition and an English river name. Sometimes they preserve a word otherwise obsolete. Barton, a farmyard, originally a barley-field, has given its name to about thirty places in England, and thus, directly or indirectly, to[173] many families. Bristow preserves what was once the regular pronunciation of Bristol. The famous north country name Peel means castle, as still in the Isle of Man. It is Old Fr. pel (pal), stake, and the name was originally given to a wooden hill-fort or stockade.

Many places which have given family names have themselves disappeared from the map, while others, now of great importance, are of too recent growth to have been used in this way. Many of our family names are taken from those of continental towns, especially French and Flemish. Camden says, "Neither is there any village in Normandy that gave not denomination to some family in England." Such are Bullen or Boleyn (Boulogne), Cullen (Cologne), Challis (Calais), Challen (Châlon), Chaworth (Cahors), Bridges[127] (Bruges), Druce (Dreux), Gaunt (Gand, Ghent), Lubbock (Lübeck), Luck (Luick, Liège), Mann (le Mans), Malins (Malines, Mechlin), Nugent (Nogent), Hawtrey (Hauterive), and Dampier (Dampierre). To decide which is the particular Hauterive or Dampierre in question is the work of the genealogist. Dampierre (Dominus Petrus) means Saint Peter. In some cases these names have been simplified, e.g., Camden notes that Conyers, from Coigniers, lit. quince-trees, becomes Quince.

French provinces have given us Burgoyne, Champain. Gascoyne or Gaskin, and Mayne, and adjectives formed from names of countries, provinces and towns survive in Allman (Allemand), Brabazon (le Brabançon, the Brabanter), Brett (le Bret or le Breton[128]), Pickard (le Picard), Poidevin[129] (le Poitevin), Mansell, Old Fr. Mancel (le Manceau, inhabitant of Maine or le Mans), Hanway[174] and Hannay (le Hannuyer, the Hainaulter), Loring (le Lorrain), assimilated to Fleming, Champneys (le Champenois), with which we may compare Cornwallis, from the Old French adjective cornwaleis, man of Cornwall. To these may be added Pollock, which occasionally means the Pole, or Polack

"Why then the Polack never will defend it."

(Hamlet, iv. 4.)

Janaway, the Genoese, and Haunce, from the famous Hanse confederation. Morris means sometimes Moorish (see p. 49), and Norris, besides having the meaning seen in its contracted form nurse, Fr. nourrice, may stand for le Noreis, the Northerner. We still have a Norroy king-at-arms, lit. north king, who holds office north of the Trent.

In some cases the territorial de remains, e.g., Dolman is sometimes the same as Dalmain, d'Allemagne, Daubeney is d'Aubigné, Danvers is d'Anvers (Antwerp), Devereux is d'Évreux, a town which takes its name from the Eburovices, and Disney is d'Isigny. With these may be mentioned Dubberley, Fr. du Boulay, of the birch wood, and Dawnay, from Old Fr. aunai,[130] a grove of alders. The last governor of the Bastille was the Marquis de Launay (l'aunai). There is a large group of such words in French, coming from Latin collectives in -etum; d'Aubray is from Lat. arboretum, and has given also the dissimilated form Darblay, famous in English literature. Other examples are Chesney, Chaney, etc., the oak-grove,[131] Pomeroy, the apple-garden.

Names of French origin are particularly subject to[175] corruption and folk-etymology. We have the classic example of Tess Durbeyfield.[132] Camden, in his Remains concerning Britain, gives, among other curious instances, Troublefield for Turberville. Greenfield is usually literal (cf. Whitfield, Whittaker, Greenacre, etc.), but occasionally for Grenville. Summerfield is for Somerville. The notorious Dangerfield was of Norman ancestry, from Angerville. Mullins looks a very English name, but it is from Fr. moulin, mill, as Musters is from Old Fr. moustier, monastery. Phillimore is a corruption of Finnemore, Fr. fin amour.


When we come to names which indicate office or trade, we have to distinguish between those that are practically nicknames, such as King, Duke, Bishop, Cæsar[133] (Julius Cæsar was a famous cricketer of the old school), and those that are to be taken literally. Many callings now obsolete have left traces in our surnames. The very common name Chapman reminds us that this was once the general term for a dealer (see p. 67), one who spends his time in chaffering or "chopping and changing." The grocer, or engrosser, i.e., the man who bought wholesale, Fr. en gros,[134] came too late to supplant the family name Spicer. Bailey, Old Fr. bailif (bailli), represents all sorts of officials from a Scotch magistrate to a man in possession. Bayliss seems to be formed from it like Williams from William. Chaucer, Old Fr.[176] chaucier, now replaced by chaussetier, "a hosier, or hose-maker" (Cotgrave), is probably obsolete as an English surname. Mr Homer's ancestors made helmets, Fr. heaume. Jenner is for engenour, engineer (see gin, p. 65). In Ferrier traditional spelling seems to have triumphed over popular pronunciation (farrier), but the latter appears in Farrar. Chaucer's somonour survives as Sumner. Ark was once a general name for a bin, hence the name Arkwright. Nottingham still has a Fletcher Gate, Lister Gate, and Pilcher Gate. It is not surprising that the trade of fletcher, Old Fr. fleschier (Fléchier), arrow-maker, should be obsolete. The Fletchers have absorbed also the fleshers, i.e. butchers, which explains why they so greatly outnumber the Bowyers (see p. 178), Boyers, etc. Lister, earlier littester, gave way to dighester, whence the name Dexter, well known in Nottingham, and this is now replaced by dyer. A Pilcher made pilches, or mantles; cf. the cognate Fr. name Pelissier, a maker of pelisses.[135] Kiddier was once equivalent to pedlar, from kid, a basket. Sailors still speak of the bread-kid. For the name Wait, see p. 76. The ancestor of the Poyser family made scales (poises), or was in charge of a public balance. Faulkner, falconer, Foster, Forster, forester, and Warner, warrener, go together. With the contraction of Warner we may compare Marner, mariner. Crowther means fiddler. The obsolete crowd, a fiddle, is of Celtic origin. It gave Old Fr. rote, the name of the instrument played by the medieval minstrels—

"Saxon minstrels and Welsh bards were extracting mistuned dirges from their harps, crowds, and rotes."

(Ivanhoe, Ch. 41.)

Kemp is an old English word for warrior, champion.[177] It represents, like Ger. kämpfen, to fight, a very early loan from Lat. campus, in the sense of battle-field.


Pinder, the man in charge of the pound or pinfold, was the name of a famous wicket-keeper of the last century. The still more famous cricketing name of Trumper means one who blows the trump. Cf. Horner and Corner, which have, however, alternative origins, a maker of horn cups and a coroner[136] respectively. A dealer in shalloon (see p. 47) was a Chaloner or Chawner. Parminter, a tailor, is as obsolete as its Old French original parmentier, a maker of parements, deckings, from parer, Lat. parare, to prepare. A member of the Parmentier family popularised the cultivation of the potato in France just before the Revolution, hence potage Parmentier, potato soup. The white tawer still plies his trade, but is hardly recognisable in Whittier. Massinger is a corruption of messenger. The Todhunter, or fox-hunter, used to get twelve pence per fox-head from the parish warden. Coltman is simple, but Runciman, the man in charge of the runcies or rouncies, is less obvious. Rouncy, a nag, is a common word in Mid. English. It comes from Old Fr. roncin (roussin), and is probably a derivative of Ger. Ross, horse. The Spanish form is rocin, "a horse or jade" (Minsheu, 1623), whence Don Quixote's charger Rocin-ante, "a jade formerly."

A park keeper is no longer called a Parker, nor a maker of palings and palisades a Palliser. An English sea-king has immortalised the trade of the Frobisher, or furbisher, and a famous bishop bore the appropriate name of Latimer, for Latiner. With this we may compare Lorimer, for loriner, harness-maker, a derivative, through Old French, of Lat. lorum, "a thong of leather; a coller or other thing, wherewith beastes are bounden[178] or tyed; the reyne of a brydle" (Cooper). The Loriners still figure among the London City Livery Companies, as do also the Bowyers, Broderers, Fletchers (see p. 176), Horners (see p. 177), Pattenmakers, Poulters and Upholders (see p. 63). Scriven, Old Fr. escrivain (écrivain), is now usually extended to Scrivener. For Cator see p. 63. In some of the above cases the name may have descended from a female, as we have not usually a separate word for women carrying on trades generally practised by men. In French there is a feminine form for nearly every occupation, hence such names as Labouchère, the lady butcher, or the butcher's wife.

The meaning of occupative names is not always on the surface. It would, for instance, be rash to form hasty conclusions as to the pursuits of Richard Kisser, whose name occurs in medieval London records. He probably made cuisses,[137] thigh armour, Fr. cuisse, thigh, Lat. coxa. A Barker employed bark for tanning purposes. Booker is a doublet of Butcher. A Cleaver was, in most cases, a mace-bearer, Old Fr. clavier (Clavier is a common family name in France) from Lat. clava, a club. He may, however, have sometimes been a porter, as Old Fr. clavier also means key-bearer, Lat. clavis, a key. A Croker, or Crocker, sold crocks, i.e., pottery. A Lander, or Launder, was a washer-man, Fr. lavandier. A Sloper made "slops," i.e., loose upper garments, overalls. A Reeder or Reader thatched with reeds. A Walker walked, but within a circumscribed space. He was also called a Fuller, Fr. fouler, to trample, or a Tucker, from a verb which perhaps meant once to "tug" or "twitch." In the following passage some manuscripts have toukere for walkere

"And his clothis ben maad schyninge and white ful moche as snow, and which maner clothis a fullere, or walkere of cloth, may not make white on erthe."

(Wyclif, Mark, ix. 2.)


The fuller is still called Walker in Germany. Banister is a corruption of balestier, a cross-bow man; cf. banister for baluster (p. 60).

Some of the occupative names in -ward and -herd are rather deceptive. Hayward means hedge[138] guard. Howard is phonetically the Old French name Huard, but also often represents Hayward, Hereward, and the local Haworth, Howarth. For the social elevation of the sty-ward, see p. 90. Durward is door-ward. The simple Ward, replaced in its general sense by warden, warder, etc., is one of our commonest surnames. Similarly Herd, replaced by herdsman, is borne as a surname by one who, if he attains not to the first three, is usually held more honourable than the thirty. The hog-herd survives as Hoggart; Seward is sometimes for sow-herd; Calvert represents calf-herd, and Stoddart stot-herd, i.e., bullock-herd:—

"'Shentlemans!' cried Andie, 'Shentlemans, ye hielant stot! If God would give ye the grace to see yersel' the way that ithers see ye, ye would throw your denner up.'"

(Catriona, Ch. 15.)

Lambert is in some cases lamb-herd, and Nutter is in all probability a perversion of neat-herd, through the North Country and Scot. nowt-herd. It is a common surname in Lancashire, and Alice Nutter was one of the Lancashire Witches.


In a sense all personal names are nicknames (see p. 114), since they all give that additional information which enables us to distinguish one person from another. The practice of giving nicknames suggested by appearance, physique, or habits is common to the European languages; but, on the whole, our nicknames compare very unfavourably with those of savage nations. We cannot imagine an English swain calling his lady-love[180] "Laughing Water." From Roman times onward, European nicknames are in their general character obvious and prosaic, and very many of them are the reverse of complimentary. The most objectionable have either disappeared,[139] or the original meaning has become so obscured as to cease to give offence to the possessor. When a man had any choice in the matter, he naturally preferred not to perpetuate a grotesque name conferred on some ancestor. Medieval names were conferred on the individual, and did not become definitely hereditary till the Reformation. In later times names could only be changed by form of law. It is thus that Bugg became Norfolk Howard, a considerable transformation inspired by a natural instinct to "avoid the opinion of baseness," as Camden puts it. We no longer connect Gosse with goose, nor Pennefather with a miser. Cotgrave has pinse-maille (pince-maille), "a pinch peny, scrape-good, nigard, miser, penie-father." In Purcell we lose Old Fr. pourcel (pourceau), little pig, Fitch no longer means a pole-cat, nor Brock a badger. On the other hand, we generally regard Gosling as a nickname, while it is more often a variant of Jocelyn.

Names descriptive of appearance or habits often correspond pretty closely with those that are found in French. In some cases they are probably mere translations. Examples are: Merryweather (Bontemps), Drinkwater (Boileau[140]), Armstrong (Fortinbras), Lilywhite[181] (Blanchefleur). Among colour names we have Black, Brown, White, and Grey, but seem to miss red. The explanation is that for this colour we have adopted the Northern form Reid (Read, Reed), or such French names as Rudge (rouge), Rouse (roux), Russell (Rousseau). With the last of these, Old Fr. roussel, cf. Brunel and Morel. Fr. blond has given Blount, Blunt, and the diminutive Blundell, which exist by the side of the fine old English name Fairfax, from Mid. Eng. fax, hair. Several other French adjectives has given us surnames, e.g., Boon (bon), Bonner (débonnaire), Grant (grand), Curtis (courtois), Power (pauvre), etc. Payn is the French adjective païen, pagan, Lat. paganus, in early use as a personal name.


But many apparent nicknames are products of folk-etymology. Coward is for cowherd, Salmon for Salomon, Bone for Boon (v.s.), Dedman is a corruption of Debenham. Playfair means play-fellow, from an old word connected with the verb to fare, to journey. Patch may sometimes have meant a jester, from his parti-coloured garments, but is more often a variant of Pash, Pask, a baptismal name given to children christened at Easter, Old Fr. Pasque (Pâque). Easter eggs are still called pash, pace, or paste eggs in the north of England. Blood is a Welsh name, son of Lud; cf. Bevan, Bowen, etc. Coffin is Fr. Chauvin, a derivative of Lat. calvus, bald. It has a variant Caffyn, the name of a famous cricketer. Dance, for Dans, is related to Daniel as Wills is to William. In the same way Pearce comes from Peter or Pierre. The older form of the name Pearce was borne by the most famous of ploughmen, as it still is by the most famous of soapmakers. Names such as Bull, Peacock, Greenman, are sometimes from shop or tavern signs. It is noteworthy that, as a surname, we often find the old form Pocock. The Green Man, still[182] a common tavern sign, represented a kind of "wild man of the woods"; cf. the Ger. sign Zum wilden Mann.

In these remarks on surnames I have only tried to show in general terms how they come into existence, "hoping to incur no offence herein with any person, when I protest in all sincerity, that I purpose nothing less than to wrong any whosoever" (Camden). Many names are susceptible of alternative explanations, and it requires a genealogist, and generally some imagination, to decide to which particular source a given family can be traced. The two arguments sometimes drawn from armorial bearings and medieval Latin forms are worthless. Names existed before escutcheons and devices, and these are often mere puns, e.g., the Onslow family, of local origin, from Onslow in Shropshire, has adopted the excellent motto festina lente, "on slow." The famous name Sacheverell is latinised as De Saltu Capellæ, of the kid's leap. This agrees with the oldest form Sau-cheverell, which is probably from a French place called Sault-Chevreuil du Tronchet (Manche). The fact that Napier of Merchiston had for his device n'a pier, no equal, does not make it any the less true that his ancestors were, like Perkin Warbeck's parents, "really, respectable people" (see p. 57).

Dr Brewer, in his Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, says of his own name—

"This name, which exists in France as Bruhière and Brugière, is not derived from the Saxon briwan (to brew), but the French bruyère (heath), and is about tantamount to the German Plantagenet (broom plant)."

A "German" Plantagenet should overawe even a Norfolk Howard. A more interesting identification, and a true one, is that of the name of the great engineer Telford, a corruption of Telfer, with Taillefer, the "iron cleaver."[183]


A curious feature in nomenclature is the local character of some nicknames. We have an instance of this in the Notts name Daft[141]

"A Daft might have played in the Notts County Eleven in 1273 as well as in 1886."


The only occurrence of the name in the Hundred Rolls for the year 1273 is in the county of Notts.


[122] This is probably the record for a proper name, but does not by any means equal that of the word cushion, of the plural of which about four hundred variants are found in old wills and inventories.

[123] Another origin of this name is Fr. le bon.

[124] "The last two centuries have seen the practice made popular of using surnames for baptismal names. Thus the late Bishop of Carlisle was Harvey Goodwin, although for several centuries Harvey has been obsolete as a personal name" (Bardsley). Camden already complains that "surnames of honourable and worshipful families are given now to mean men's children for christian names." Forty years ago there was hardly a more popular name than Percy, while at the present day the admonition, "Be'ave yerself, 'Oward," is familiar to the attentive ear.

[125] It is even possible that Hood, Hudson, sometimes belong here, as Hud appears to have been used as a North Country alternative for Richard, though it is hard to see why. For proofs see Bardsley, Dict. of English Surnames, s.v. Hudd.

[126] Such a corruption, though difficult to explain phonetically, is not without example in uneducated or childish speech. Cf. tiddlebat or tittlebat, for stickleback. In stickler (p. 76) we have the opposite change.

[127] Of course also of English origin.

[128] Hence also the name Britton.

[129] Whence the perversion Portwine, examples of which occur in the London Directory.

[130] Old Fr. vernai, whence our Verney, Varney, has the same meaning; cf. Duverney, the name of a famous dancer. Old Fr. verne, alder, is of Celtic origin.

[131] Cf. Chenevix, old oak, a name introduced by the Huguenots.

[132] Other examples quoted by Mr Hardy are Priddle, from Paridelle, and Debbyhouse—"The Debbyhouses who now be carters were once the de Bayeux family" (Tess of the d'Urbervilles, v. 35).

[133] These names are supposed to have been generally conferred in consequence of characters represented in public performances and processions. In some cases they imply that the bearer was in the employment of the dignitary. We find them in other languages, e.g., Fr. Leroy, Leduc, Lévêque; Ger. König, Herzog, Bischof. Lévêque has given Eng. Levick, Vick, and (Trotty) Veck.

[134] Gross, twelve dozen, seems to be of Germanic origin, the duodecimal hundred, Ger. Grosshundert, being Norse or Gothic. But Ger. Grosshundert means 120 only.

[135] Surplice, Old Fr. surpelis, is a compound of the same word. It was worn "over fur" in unheated medieval churches.

[136] Another, and commoner, source of the name is from residence at a "corner."

[137] See quotation from Henry IV. (p. 155).

[138] The obsolete hay, hedge, is also a common surname, Hay, Haig, Haigh, etc.

[139] The following occur in the index to Bardsley's English Surnames:—Blackinthemouth, Blubber, Calvesmawe, Cleanhog, Crookbone, Damned-Barebones, Drunkard, Felon, Greenhorn, Halfpenny, Hatechrist, Hogsflesh, Killhog, Leper, Mad, Measle, Milksop, Outlaw, Peckcheese, Peppercorn, Poorfish, Pudding, Ragman, Scorchbeef, Sourale, Sparewater, Sweatinbed, Twopenny, Widehose. Some of these are still found.

[140] Cf. also Ital. Bevilacqua.

[141] This word has degenerated. It is a doublet of deft.




Romance and Germanic etymology dates from the middle of the 19th century, and is associated especially with the names of two great Germans, Friedrich Diez, who published his Wörterbuch der romanischen Sprachen in 1853, and Jakob Grimm, whose Deutsches Wörterbuch dates from 1852. These two men applied in their respective fields of investigation the principles of comparative philology, and reduced to a science what had previously been an amusement for the learned or the ignorant.


Men have always been fascinated by word-lore. The Greeks and Romans played with etymology in a somewhat metaphysical fashion, a famous example of which is the derivation of lucus a non lucendo. Medieval writers delight in giving amazing information as to the origin of the words they use. Their method, which may be called learned folk-etymology, consists in attempting to resolve an unfamiliar word into elements which give a possible interpretation of its meaning. Thus Philippe de Thaün, who wrote a kind of verse encyclopedia at the beginning of the 12th century, derives the French names of the days of the week as follows: lundi, day of light (lumière), mardi, day of toil or martyrdom (martyre), mercredi, day of market (marché), jeudi, day[185] of joy (joie), vendredi, day of truth (vérité), samedi, day of sowing (semence). Here we perhaps have, not so much complete ignorance, as the desire to be edifying, which is characteristic of the medieval etymologists.

Playful or punning etymology also appears very early. Wace, whose Roman de Rou dates from about the middle of the 12th century, gives the correct origin of the word Norman

"Justez (put) ensemble north et man
Et ensemble dites northman."

But he also records the libellous theory that Normendie comes from north mendie (begs). We cannot always say whether an early etymology is serious or not, but many theories which were undoubtedly meant for jokes have been quite innocently accepted by comparatively modern writers.[142]

The philologists of the Renaissance period were often very learned men, but they had no knowledge of the phonetic laws by which sound change is governed. Nor were they aware of the existence of Vulgar Latin, which is, to a much greater extent than classical Latin, the parent of the Romance languages. Sometimes a philologist had a pet theory which the facts were made to fit. Hellenists like Henri Estienne believed in the[186] Greek origin of the French language, and Périon even derived maison from the Gk. οἶκον (οἶκος, a house) by the simple method of prefixing an m. At other periods there have been Celtomaniacs, i.e., scholars who insisted on the Celtic origin of French.

The first English etymological dictionary which aims at something like completeness is the Guide into the Tongues of John Minsheu, published in 1617. This attempts to deal not only with English, but with ten other languages. It contains a great deal of learning, much valuable information for the student of Tudor literature, and some amazing etymologies. "To purloine,[143] or get privily away," is, says Minsheu, "a metaphor from those that picke the fat of the loines." Parmaceti, a corruption of spermaceti

"And telling me, the sovereign'st thing on earth
Was parmaceti for an inward bruise."

(1 Henry IV., i. 3.)

he derives from Parma, which has given its name to parmesan cheese. On the word cockney[144] he waxes anecdotic, always a fatal thing in an etymologist—

"Cockney, or cockny, applied only to one borne within the sound of Bow-bell, that is, within the City of London, which tearme came first out of this tale: That a cittizens sonne riding with his father out of London into the country, and being a novice and meerely ignorant how corne or cattell increased, asked, when he heard a horse neigh, what the horse did; his father answered, the horse doth neigh; riding farther he heard a cocke crow, and said, doth the cocke neigh too?"


Molière often makes fun of the etymologists of his time and has rather unfairly caricatured, as Vadius in[187] Les Femmes savantes, the great scholar Gilles Ménage, whose Dictionnaire étymologique, published in 1650, was long a standard work. Molière's mockery and the fantastic nature of some of Ménage's etymologies have combined to make him a butt for the ignorant, but it may be doubted whether any modern scholar, using the same implements, could have done better work. For Ménage the one source of the Romance languages was classical Latin, and every word had to be traced to a Latin word of suitable form or sense. Thus Fr. haricot[145] is connected by him with Lat. faba, a bean, via the conjectural "forms" *fabarius, *fabaricus, *fabaricotus, *faricotus, *haricotus, a method to which no problem is insoluble.[146] He suggests that Fr. geindre, or gindre,[147] baker's man, comes from Lat. gener, son-in-law, because the baker's man always marries the baker's daughter; but this practice, common though it may be, is not of sufficiently unfailing regularity to constitute a philological law. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the derivation of Span. alfana,[148] a mare, from Lat. equus, a horse, which inspired a well-known epigram—

"Alfana vient d'equus, sans doute,
Mais il faut avouer aussi
Qu'en venant de là jusqu'ici
Il a bien changé sur la route."

These examples show that respect for Ménage need not prevent his work from being a source of innocent merriment. But the above epigram loses some of[188] its point for modern philologists, to whom equations that look equally fantastic, e.g. Eng. wheel and Gk. κύκλος,[149] are matters of elementary knowledge. On the other hand, a close resemblance between words of languages that are not nearly related is proof presumptive, and almost positive, that the words are quite unconnected. The resemblance between Eng. nut and Ger. Nuss is the resemblance of first cousins, but the resemblance of both to Lat. nux is accidental. Even in the case of languages that are near akin, it is not safe to jump to conclusions. The Greek cousin of Lat. deus is not θεός, God, but Ζεύς, Jupiter.


An etymology that has anything to do with a person or an anecdote is to be regarded with suspicion. For both we want contemporary evidence, and, in the case of an anecdote, we never, to the best of my knowledge, get it. In Chapter III. are a number of instances of words formed according to authentic evidence from names of persons. But the old-fashioned etymologist will not be denied his little story. Thus, in explanation of spencer (p. 40), I find in a manual of popular information of the last century,[150] that—

"His Lordship, when Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, being out a-hunting, had, in the act of leaping a fence, the misfortune to have one of the skirts of his coat torn off; upon which his lordship tore off the other, observing, that to have but one left was like a pig with one ear! Some inventive genius took the hint, and having made some of these half-coats, out of compliment to his lordship, gave them the significant cognomen of Spencer!"


This is what Pooh-Bah calls "corroborative detail intended to give artistic verisimilitude to a bald and unconvincing narrative." From the same authority we learn that—

"Hurly-burly[151] is said to owe its origin to Hurleigh and Burleigh, two neighbouring families, that filled the country around them with contest and violence."

and that—

"The word boh! used to frighten children, was the name of Boh, a great general, the son of Odin, whose very appellation struck immediate panic in his enemies."[152]

The history of chouse exemplifies the same tendency. There is no doubt that it comes from a Turkish word meaning interpreter, spelt chaus in Hakluyt and chiaus by Ben Jonson. The borrowing is parallel to that of cozen (p. 110), interpreters having a reputation little superior to that of horse-dealers. But a century and a half after the introduction of the word we come across a circumstantial story of a Turkish chiaus who swindled some London merchants of a large sum in 1609, the year before Jonson used the word in the Alchemist. "Corroborative detail" again. The story may be true, but there is not an atom of evidence for it, and Skinner, who suggests the correct derivation in his Etymologicon (1671), does not mention it. Until contemporary evidence is adduced, the story must be regarded as one of those fables which have been invented in dozens by early etymologists, and which are perpetuated in popular works of reference. It is an article of faith in Yorkshire that the coarse material[190] called mungo owes its name to the inventor of the machine used in its fabrication, who, when it stuck at a first trial, exclaimed with resolution, "It mun go."

Many stories have been composed après coup to explain the American hoodlum and the Australian larrikin, which are both older than our hooligan (see p. 12). The origin of hoodlum is quite obscure. The story believed in Australia with regard to larrikin is that an Irish policeman, giving evidence of the arrest of a rough, explained that the accused was a-larrikin' (larking) in the street, and this was misunderstood by a reporter. But there appears to be not the slightest foundation for this story. The word is perhaps a diminutive of the common Irish name Larry, also immortalised in the stirring ballad—

"The night before Larry was stretched."

As I write, there is a correspondence going on in the Nottingham papers as to the origin of the nickname Bendigo, borne by a local bruiser and evangelist. According to one account, he was one of triplets, whom a jocular friend of the family nicknamed Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-Nego, the last of which was the future celebrity. It is at any rate certain that his first challenge (Bell's Life, 1835) was signed "Abed-Nego of Nottingham." The rival theory is that, when he was playing in the streets and his father appeared in the offing, his companions used to warn him by crying "Bendy go!" This theory disregards the assertion of the "oldest inhabitant" that the great man was never called Bendy, and the fact, familiar to any observer of the local dialect, that, even if he had been so called, the form of warning would have been, "Look aht, Bendy, yer daddy's a-coomen."

In the Supplement to Littré there is an article on[191] domino, in which he points out that investigation must start from the phrase faire domino (see p. 102). He also quotes an absurd anecdote from a local magazine, which professes to come from a "vieille chronique." Littré naturally wants to know what chronicle. In Scheler's Dictionnaire étymologique (Brussels, 1888), it is "proved," by means of the same story elaborated, "que c'est là la véritable origine du mot dont nous parlons."


In Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, s.v. sirloin, we read that "it is generally said that James I. or Charles II. knighted the loin of beef, but Henry VIII. had done so already." This sounds like a determination to get at the root of things, but does not go far enough. The word is found in the 15th century, and Fr. surlonge, from which it comes, in the 14th. It is compounded of sur, over, and longe, a derivative of Lat. lumbus, loin. The belief in the knightly origin of the sirloin was so strong that we find it playfully called the baronet (Tom Jones, iv. 10). Hence, no doubt, the name baron of beef for the double sirloin. Tram is persistently connected with a Mr Outram, who flourished about 1800. This is another case of intelligent anticipation, for the word is found in 1555. It means log or beam, and was probably first applied to a log-road laid across bad ground, what is called in America a "corduroy" road. On the other hand, the obvious and simple derivation of beef-eater, i.e. a man who is in the enviable position of being sure of his daily allowance,[153] has been obscured by the invention of an[192] imaginary Fr. *beaufetier, waiter at the side-board. Professor Skeat attributes the success of this myth to its inclusion in Mrs Markham's History of England. But the most indestructible of all these superstitions is connected with the word cabal. It comes from a Hebrew word meaning hidden mystery, and is found in the chief Romance languages. The word is of frequent occurrence in English long before the date of Charles II.'s acrostic ministry,[154] though its modern meaning has naturally been affected by this historic connection.

Even anecdotic etymologies accepted by the most cautious modern authorities do not always inspire complete confidence. Martinet is supposed to come from the name of a well-known French officer who re-organised the French infantry about 1670. But we find it used by Wycherley in 1676, about forty years before Martinet's death. Moreover this application of the name is unknown in French, which has, however, a word martinet meaning a kind of cat-o'-nine-tails. In English martinet means the leech-line of a sail, hence, possibly, rope's end, and Wycherley applies the term to a brutal sea-captain. The most renowned of carriers is probably Hobson, of Cambridge. He was sung by Milton, and bequeathed to the town Hobson's conduit which cleanses the Cambridge gutters. To him is also ascribed the phrase Hobson's choice, from his custom of refusing to let out his horses except in strict rotation. But we find a merchant venturer, living in Japan, using "Hodgson's choice" fourteen years before the[193] carrier left this world and became a legendary figure—

"We are put to Hodgson's choise to take such previlegese as they will geve us, or else goe without."

(Correspondence of Richard Cocks, Oct. 1617.)


The most obvious etymology needs to be proved up to the hilt, and the process is rich in surprises. Cambridge appears to be the bridge over the Cam. But the river's older name, which it preserves above the town, is the Granta, and Bede calls the town itself Grantacester. Camden, in his Britannia (trad. Holland, 1637), notes that the county was called "in the English Saxon" Grentbrigseyre, and comments on the double name of the river. Nor can he "easily beleeve that Grant was turned into Cam; for this might seeme a deflexion some what too hardly streined, wherein all the letters but one are quite swallowed up." Grantabrigge became, by dissimilation (see p. 57), Gantabrigge, Cantabrigge (cf. Cantab), Cantbrigge, and, by assimilation (see p. 56), Cambridge, the river being rechristened from the name of the town.

A beggar is not etymologically one who begs, or a cadger one who cadges. In each case the verb is evolved from the noun. About the year 1200 Lambert le Bègue, the Stammerer, is said to have founded a religious order in Belgium. The monks were called after him in medieval Latin beghardi and the nuns beghinæ. The Old Fr. begard passed into Anglo-French with the meaning of mendicant and gave our beggar. From béguine we get biggin, a sort of cap—

"Sleep with it (the crown) now!
Yet not so sound, and half so deeply sweet,
As he, whose brow with homely biggin bound,
Snores out the watch of night."

(2 Henry IV., iv. 4.)

Cadger, or rather its Scottish form cadgear, a pedlar, occurs[194] about one hundred and fifty years earlier than the verb to cadge. We find, noted as foreign words, in 16th-century Dutch, the words cagie, a basket carried on the back, and cagiaerd, one who carries such a basket. These must be of French origin, and come, like the obsolete Eng. cadge,[155] a panier, from cage, for the history of which see p. 109. Cadger is used in Scottish of an itinerant fish merchant with his goods carried in paniers by a pony—

"Or die a cadger pownie's death,
At some dyke-back."

(Burns, Epistle to J. Lapraik.)

Tobacco does not take its name from the island of Tobago, but from the native name of the tube through which the Caribs smoked it.

The traditional derivation of vaunt is from Fr. vanter, and this from a late Lat. vanitare, to talk emptily, used by St Augustine. This looks very simple, but the real history of these words is most complicated. In Mid. English we regularly find avaunt, which comes from Old Fr. avanter, to put forward, from avant, before. This gets mixed up during the Tudor period with another vaunt from Fr. vanter, to extol, the derivation of which can only be settled when its earliest form is ascertained. At present we find venter as early as vanter, and this would represent Lat. venditare (frequentative of vendere, to sell), to push one's goods, "to do anything before men to set forth himselfe and have a prayse; to vaunt; to crake; to brag" (Cooper).[195]


A sound etymology must fulfil three conditions. It must not violate the recognised laws of sound change. The development of meaning must be clearly traced. This must start from the earliest or fundamental sense of the word. It goes without saying that in modern corruptions we are sometimes faced by cases which it would be difficult to explain phonetically (see p. 136). There are, in fact, besides the general phonetic and semantic laws, a number of obscure and accidental influences at work which are not yet codified. As we have seen (p. 188), complete apparent dissimilarity of sound and sense need not prevent two words from being originally one[156]; but we have to trace them both back until dissimilarity becomes first similarity and then identity.

The word peruse meant originally to wear out, Old Fr. par-user. In the 16th century it means to sort or sift, especially herbs, and hence to scrutinise a document, etc. But between the earliest meaning and that of sifting there is a gap which no ingenuity can bridge, and, until this is done, we are not justified in regarding the modern peruse as identical with the earlier.[157]

The maxim of Jakob Grimm, "von den Wörtern zu den Sachen," is too often neglected. In dealing with[196] the etymology of a word which is the name of an object or of an action, we must first find out exactly what the original object looked like or how the original action was performed. The etymologist must either be an antiquary or must know where to go for sound antiquarian information. I will illustrate this by three words denoting objects used by medieval or Elizabethan fighting men.

A fencing foil is sometimes vaguely referred to the verb foil, to baffle, with which it has no connection. The Fr. feuille, leaf, is also invoked, and compared with Fr. fleuret, a foil, the idea being that the name was given to the "button" at the point. Now the earliest foils and fleurets were not buttoned; first, because they were pointless, and secondly, because the point was not used in early fencing. It was not until gunpowder began to bring about the disuse of heavy armour that anybody ever dreamt of thrusting. The earliest fencing was hacking with sword and buckler, and the early foil was a rough sword-blade quite unlike the implement we now use. Fleuret meant in Old French a sword-blade not yet polished and hilted, and we find it used, as we do Eng. foil, of an apology for a sword carried by a gallant very much down at heel. As late as Cotgrave we find floret, "a foile; a sword with the edge rebated." Therefore foil is the same as Fr. feuille,[158] which in Old French meant sword-blade, and is still used for the blade of a saw; but the name has nothing to do with what did not adorn the tip. It is natural that Fr. feuille should be applied, like Eng. leaf, blade, to anything flat (cf. Ger. Blatt, leaf), and we find in 16th-century Dutch the borrowed word folie, used in the three senses of leaf, metal plate, broadsword, which is conclusive.



We find frequent allusions in the 16th and 17th centuries to a weapon called a petronel, a flint-lock fire-arm intermediate in size between an arquebus and a pistol. It occurs several times in Scott—

"'Twas then I fired my petronel,
And Mortham, steed and rider, fell."

(Rokeby, i. 19.)

On the strength of a French form, poitrinal, it has been connected with Fr. poitrine, chest, and various explanations are given. The earliest is that of the famous Huguenot surgeon Ambroise Paré, who speaks of the "mousquets poitrinals, que l'on ne couche en joue, à cause de leur calibre gros et court, mais qui se tirent de la poitrine." I cannot help thinking that, if the learned author had attempted this method of discharging an early fire-arm, his anatomical experience, wide as it was, would have been considerably enlarged. Minsheu (1617) describes a petronell as "a horseman's peece first used in the Pyrenean mountaines, which hanged them alwayes at their breast, readie to shoote, as they doe now at the horse's breast." This information is derived from Claude Fauchet, whose interesting Antiquités françoises et gauloises was published in 1579. Phillips, in his New World of Words (1678) tells us that this "kind of harquebuse, or horseman's piece, is so called, because it is to aim at a horse's brest, as it were poictronel." When we turn from fiction to fact, we find that the oldest French name was pétrinal, explained by Cotgrave as "a petronell, or horse-man's peece." It was occasionally corrupted, perhaps owing to the way in which the weapon was slung, into poitrinal. This corruption would be facilitated by the 16th-century pronunciation of oi (peitrine). The French word is borrowed either from Ital. petronello, pietronello, "a petronell" (Florio), or from Span. pedreñal, "a[198] petronall, a horse-man's peece, ita dict. quod silice petra incenditur" (Minsheu, Spanish Dictionary, 1623). Thus Minsheu knew the origin of the word, though he had put the fiction in his earlier work. We find other forms in Italian and Spanish, but they all go back to Ital. pietra, petra, or Span. piedra, pedra, stone, flint. The usual Spanish word for flint is pedernal. Our word, as its form shows, came direct from Italian.[159] The new weapon was named from its chief feature; cf. Ger. Flinte, "a light gun, a hand-gun, pop-gun, arquebuss, fire-arm, fusil or fusee"[160] (Ludwig). The substitution of the flint-lock for the old match-lock brought about a re-naming of European fire-arms, and, as this substitution was first effected in the cavalry, petronel acquired the special meaning of horse-pistol. It is curious that, while we find practically all the French and Italian fire-arm names in 17th-century German, a natural result of the Thirty Years' War, petronel does not appear to be recorded. The reason is probably that the Germans had their own name, viz., Schnapphahn, snap-cock, the English form of which, snaphaunce, seems also to have prevailed over petronel. Cotgrave has arquebuse à fusil, "a snaphaunce," and explains fusil as "a fire-steele for a tinder-box." This is medieval Lat. focile, from focus, fire, etc.


The most general name for a helmet up to about 1450 was basnet, or bacinet. This, as its name implies (see p. 156), was a basin-shaped steel cap worn by fighting men of all ranks. The knights and nobles wore it[199] under their great ornamental helms.[161] The basnet itself was perfectly plain. About the end of the 16th century the usual English helmets were the burgonet and morion.[162] These were often very decorative, as may be seen by a visit to any collection of old armour. Spenser speaks of a "guilt engraven morion" (Faerie Queene, vii. 7). Between the basnet and these reigned the salet or salade, on which Jack Cade puns execrably—

"Wherefore, on a brick wall have I climbed into this garden, to see if I can eat grass, or pick a sallet another while, which is not amiss to cool a man's stomach this hot weather. And I think this word sallet was born to do me good, for many a time, but for a sallet, my brain-pan had been cleft with a brown-bill."

(2 Henry VI., iv. 10.)

It comes, through Fr. salade, from Ital. celata, "a scull, a helmet, a morion, a sallat, a headpiece" (Florio). The etymologists of the 17th century, familiar with the appearance of "guilt engraven morions," connected it with Lat. cælare, to engrave, and this derivation has been repeated ever since without examination. Now in the Tower of London Armoury is a large collection of salets, and these, with the exception of one or two late German specimens from the ornate period, are plain steel caps of the simplest form and design. The salet was, in fact, the basnet slightly modified, worn by the rank and file of 15th-century armies, and probably,[200] like the basnet, worn under the knight's tilting helm. There is no Italian verb celare, to engrave, but there is a very common verb celare, to conceal. A steel cap was also called in Italian secreta, "a thinne steele cap, or close skull, worne under a hat" (Florio), and in Old French segrette, "an yron skull, or cap of fence" (Cotgrave). Both words are confirmed by Duez, who, in his Italian-French Dictionary (1660), has secreta, "une secrette, ou segrette, un morion, une bourguignotte, armure de teste pour les picquiers." Ergo, the salet belongs to Lat. celare, to hide, secrete.

We now caulk a ship by forcing oakum into the seams. Hence the verb to caulk is explained as coming from Mid. Eng. cauken, to tread, Old Fr. cauquer, caucher, Lat. calcare, from calx, heel. This makes the process somewhat acrobatic, although this is not, philologically, a very serious objection. But we caulk the ship or the seams, not the oakum. Primitive caulking consisted in plastering a wicker coracle with clay. The earliest caulker on record is Noah, who pitched[163] his ark within and without with pitch. In the Vulgate (Genesis, vi. 14), the pitch is called bitumen and the verb is linere, "to daub, besmear, etc." Next in chronological order comes the mother of Moses, who "took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch" (Exodus, ii. 3), bitumine ac pice in the Vulgate. Bitumen, or mineral pitch, was regularly applied to this purpose, even by Elizabethan seamen. Failing this, anything sticky and unctuous was used, e.g., clay or lime. Lime now means usually calcium oxide, but its original sense is anything viscous; cf. Ger. Leim, glue, and our bird-lime. The oldest example of the verb to caulk is about 1500. In[201] Mid. English we find to lime used instead, e.g., in reference to the ark—

"Set and limed agen the flood" (c. 1250),


"Lyme it with cleye and pitche within and without." (Caxton, 1483.)

Our caulk is in medieval Latin calcare, and this represents a rare Latin verb calicare, to plaster with lime, from calx, lime. Almost every language which has a nautical vocabulary uses for our caulk a verb related to Fr. calfater. This is of Spanish or Portuguese origin. The Portuguese word is calafetar, from cal, lime, and afeitar, to put in order, trim, etc.


The readiness of lexicographers to copy from each other sometimes leads to ludicrous results. The origin of the word curmudgeon is quite unknown; but, when Dr Johnson was at work on his dictionary, he received from an unknown correspondent the suggestion that it was a corruption of Fr. cœur méchant, wicked heart. Accordingly we find in his dictionary, "It is a vitious manner of pronouncing cœur méchant, Fr. an unknown correspondent." John Ash, LL.D., who published a very complete dictionary in 1775, gives the derivation "from the French cœur, unknown, and méchant, a correspondent," an achievement which, says Todd, "will always excite both in foreigners and natives a harmless smile!"

It is thus that "ghost-words" come into existence. Every considerable English dictionary, from Spelman's Glossarium (1664) onward, has the entry abacot, "a cap of state, wrought up into the shape of two crowns, worn formerly by English kings." This "word" will no longer appear in dictionaries, the editor of the New English[202] Dictionary having laid this particular ghost.[164] Abacot seems to be a misprint or misunderstanding for a bicocket, a kind of horned head-dress. It corresponds to an Old Fr. bicoquet and Span. bicoquete, cap, the derivation of which is uncertain. Of somewhat later date is brooch, "a painting all in one colour," which likewise occurs in all dictionaries of the 18th and 19th centuries. This is due to Miège (French Dict. 1688) misunderstanding Cotgrave. There is a Fr. camaïeu, a derivative of cameo, which has two meanings, viz., a cameo brooch, and a monochrome painting with a cameo effect. Miège appears to have taken the second meaning to be explanatory of the first, hence his entry—brooch, "camayeu, ouvrage de peinture qui n'est que d'une couleur." In Manwayring's Seaman's Dictionary (1644), the old word carvel, applied to a special build of ship, is misprinted carnell, and this we find persisting, not only in the compilations of such writers as Bailey, Ash, etc., but even in technical dictionaries of the 18th century "by officers who serv'd several years at sea and land." The Anglo-Saxon name for the kestrel (see p. 100) was stangella, stone-yeller (cf. nightingale), which appears later as stonegall and staniel. In the 16th century we find the curious spelling steingall, e.g., Cooper explains tinnunculus as "a kistrel, or a kastrell; a steyngall." In Cotgrave we find it printed fleingall, a form which recurs in several later dictionaries of the 17th century. Hence, somewhere between Cooper and Cotgrave, an ornithologist or lexicographer must have misprinted fleingall for ſteingall by the common mistake of fl for ſt, and the ghost-word persists into the 18th century.

The difficulty of the etymologist's task is exemplified by the complete mystery which often enshrouds a word[203] of comparatively recent appearance. A well-known example is the word Huguenot, for which fifteen different etymologies have been proposed. We first find it used in 1550, and by 1572 the French word-hunter Tabourot, generally known as des Accords, has quite a number of theories on the subject. He is worth quoting in full—

"De nostre temps ce mot de Huguenots, ou Hucnots s'est ainsi intronisé: quelque chose qu'ayent escrit quelques-uns, que ce mot vient Gnosticis hæreticis qui luminibus extinctis sacra faciebant, selon Crinit: ou bien du Roy Hugues Capet, ou de la porte de Hugon à Tours par laquelle ils sortoient pour aller à leur presche. Lors que les pretendus Reformez implorerent l'ayde des voix des Allemans, aussi bien que de leurs armees: les Protestans estans venus parler en leur faveur, devant Monsieur le Chancelier, en grande assemblee, le premier mot que profera celuy qui portoit le propos, fut, Huc nos venimus: Et apres estant pressé d'un reuthme (rhume, cold) il ne peut passer outre; tellement que le second dit le mesme, Huc nos venimus. Et les courtisans presents qui n'entendoient pas telle prolation; car selon la nostre ils prononcent Houc nos venimous, estimerent que ce fussent quelques gens ainsi nommez: et depuis surnommerent ceux de la Religion pretenduë reformee, Hucnos: en apres changeant C en G, Hugnots, et avec le temps on a allongé ce mot, et dit Huguenots. Et voylà la vraye source du mot, s'il n'y en a autre meilleure."[165]

The only serious etymology is Ger. Eidgenoss, oath companion, which agrees pretty well with the earliest recorded Swiss-French form, eiguenot, in Bonivard's Chronique de Genève.


The engineering term culvert first appears about 1800, and there is not the slightest clue to its origin. The victorious march of the ugly word swank has been one of the linguistic phenomena of recent years. There is a dialect word swank, to strut, which may be related[204] to the common Scottish word swankie, a strapping youth—

"I am told, young swankie, that you are roaming the world to seek your fortune."

(Monastery, Ch. 24.)

But, in spite of the many conjectures, plausible or otherwise, which have been made, neither the etymology of swank nor its sudden inroad into the modern language are at present explained. The word ogre, first used by Perrault in his Contes de Fées (1697), has occasioned much grave and learned speculation. Perhaps the philologists of the future may theorise as sapiently as to the origin of jabberwock and bandersnatch.


[142] The following "etymologies" occur, in the same list with a number which are quite correct, in a 16th-century French author, Tabourot des Accords:—

Bonnet, de bon et net, pource que l'ornement de la teste doit estre tel.
Chapeau, quasi, eschappe eau; aussi anciennement ne le souloit on porter que par les champs en temps de pluye.
Chemise, quasi, sur chair mise.
Velours, quasi, velu ours.
Galant, quasi, gay allant.
Menestrier, quasi, meine estrier des espousées.
Orgueil, quasi, orde gueule.
Noise, vient de nois (noix), qui font noise et bruit portées ensemble.
Parlement, pource qu'on y parle et ment!

[143] Old Fr. pourloignier, to remove; cf. éloigner.

[144] A very difficult word. Before it was applied to a Londoner it meant a milksop. It is thus used by Chaucer. Cooper renders delicias facere, "to play the wanton, to dally, to play the cockney." In this sense it corresponds to Fr. acoquiné, made into a coquin, "made tame, inward, familiar; also, growne as lazy, sloathful, idle, as a beggar" (Cotgrave).

[145] Thought to be a Mexican word.

[146] "Sache que le mot galant homme vient d'élégant; prenant le g et l'a de la dernière syllabe, cela fait ga, et puis prenant l, ajoutant un a et les deux dernières lettres, cela fait galant, et puis ajoutant homme, cela fait galant homme." (Molière, Jalousie du Barbouillé, scène 2.)

[147] Old Fr. joindre, Lat. junior.

[148] Of Arabic origin.

[149] That is, they are both descended from the same Indo-Germanic original. Voltaire was thus, superficially, right when he described etymology as a science in which the vowels do not count at all and the consonants very little.

[150] Pulleyn's Etymological Compendium, 3rd ed., revised and improved by M. A. Thoms (Tegg & Co., 1853).

[151] Cf. Fr. hurluberlu, which occurs in Rabelais, and in Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac.

[152] Tit-Bits, which honoured the Romance of Words with a notice (8th June 1912), approvingly quoted these three "etymologies" as being seriously propounded by the author. This is dramatic justice.

[153] The following explanation, given in Miège's French Dictionary (1688), is perhaps not far wrong: "C'est ainsi qu'on appelle par dérision les Yeomen of the Guard dans la cour d'Angleterre, qui sont des gardes à peu près comme les cent Suisses en France. Et on leur donne ce nom-là, parce qu' à la cour ils ne vivent que de bœuf: par opposition à ces collèges d'Angleterre, où les écoliers ne mangent que du mouton."

[154] An acrostic of this kind would have no point if it resulted in a meaningless word. In the same way the Old Fr. Fauvel, whence our curry favour (see p. 131), has a medieval explanation of the acrostic kind. It is supposed to be formed from the initial letters of the vices Flatterie, Avarice, Vilenie, Variété, Envie, Lâcheté.

[155] There is also a word cadge, explained in the glossary to a book on falconry (1615) as a kind of frame on which an itinerant vendor of hawks carried his birds. But it is unrecorded in literature and labours under the suspicion of being a ghost-word. Its first occurrence, outside the dictionaries, is, I believe, in Mr Maurice Hewlett's Song of Renny—"the nominal service of a pair of gerfalcons yearly, in golden hoods, upon a golden cadge" (Ch. 1).

[156] This seems to have been realised by the author of the Etymological Compendium (see p. 188, n. 2), who tells us that the "term swallow is derived from the French hirondelle, signifying indiscriminately voracious, literally a marshy place, that absorbs or swallows what comes within its vortex."

[157] It is much more likely that it originated as a misunderstanding of pervise, to survey, look through, earlier printed peruise. We have a similar misunderstanding in the name Alured, for Alvred, i.e. Alfred. The influence of spelling upon sound is, especially in the case of words which are more often read than heard, greater than is generally realized. Most English people pronounce a z in names like Dalziel, Mackenzie, Menzies, etc., whereas this z is really a modern printer's substitution for an old symbol which had nearly the sound y (Dalyell, etc.).

[158] And therefore identical with the foil of tinfoil, counterfoil, etc.

[159] It is a diminutive of some word which appears to be unrecorded (cf. Fr. pistolet for the obsolete pistole). Charles Reade, whose archæology is very sound, makes Denys of Burgundy say, "Petrone nor harquebuss shall ever put down Sir Arbalest" (Cloister and Hearth, Ch. 24); but I can find no other authority for the word.

[160] Fusee, in this sense, occurs in Robinson Crusoe.

[161] Over the tomb of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral hangs his cumbrous tilting helmet. But the magnificent recumbent bronze effigy below represents him in his fighting kit, basnet on head.

[162] Burgonet, Fr. bourguignotte, is supposed to mean Burgundian helmet. The origin of morion is unknown, but its use by Scott in Ivanhoe—"I have twice or thrice noticed the glance of a morrion from amongst the green leaves." (Ch. 40)—is an anachronism by four centuries. Both words are used vaguely as general names for helmet.

[163] See pay (p. 160). It will be found that all verbs of this nature are formed from the name of the substance applied.

[164] See letter by Dr Murray, afterwards Sir James Murray, in the Athenæum, Feb. 4, 1884.

[165] The Encyclopædia Britannica does not imitate the wise reticence of Tabourot's saving clause, but pronounces authoritatively for the porte de Hugon fable.



  • ancient, 128
  • andiron, 115
  • Andrea Ferrara, 50
  • anecdotage, 132
  • animal, 4
  • anlace, 59
  • Annabel, 58
  • ansatus, 100
  • antic, 141
  • antlers, 99
  • ant-lion, 32
  • apache, 12
  • Apfelsine, 31
  • appeach, 62
  • appendicitis, 11
  • apprentice, 118
  • apricot, 20
  • apron, 57, 113
  • Arabella, 58
  • arbour, 133
  • arch, 83
  • argosy, 50
  • aringo, 21
  • Arkwright, 176
  • arles, 119
  • armada, 2
  • armée, 2
  • Armitage, 5
  • Armstrong, 180
  • aroma, 6
  • arquebus, 127
  • arrant, 83
  • arras, 47
  • array, 95, n.
  • arrière-ban, 72
  • artillery, 161, n.
  • assassin, 22
  • assegai, 25
  • asset, 116




  • buxom, 82
  • Bythesea, 172
  • cash, 157
  • cashier, 18, 157
  • cashmere, 47
  • casket, 140
  • cass, 157
  • cast, 157
  • caste, 26
  • catch, 143
  • catchpole, 165
  • cate, 62
  • cater, 63
  • caterpillar, 33
  • catkin, 33
  • Catonet, 41
  • Cator, 62
  • cattle, 143
  • caucus, 13
  • caudle, 7
  • cauliflower, 153
  • caulk, 200
  • causeway, 125
  • caveat, 4
  • cavestrolo, 67
  • cavie, 109
  • celandine, 30
  • cercueil, 140
  • cerf-volant, 38
  • cervelas, 136
  • chabouk, 26
  • chaise, 116, n. 2
  • Challen, 173
  • Challis, 173
  • Chaloner, 177
  • chamberlain, 90
  • chambrée, 94
  • chameleon, 32
  • Champain, 173
  • Champneys, 174
  • chancel, 88
  • chancellor, 88
  • chancery, 165
  • Chaney, 174
  • Chantecler, 36
  • chap, 67
  • chapeau, 26
  • chapel, 26, 152
  • chaperon, 27
  • chaplet, 26
  • Chapman, 175
  • chapman, 67
  • chare, 2
  • charge, 142
  • charwoman, 2


  • clove, 91
  • club, 78
  • cobalt, 44
  • Cobbett, 171
  • cobra, 26
  • cockney, 186
  • cocoa, 23
  • cocoa-nut, 23
  • coffer, 140
  • Coffin, 181
  • coffin, 140
  • cognovit, 4
  • colander, 154
  • Colas, 45
  • cole, 153
  • Collet, 170
  • colon, 6
  • colonel, 58
  • Coltman, 177
  • colza, 153
  • comadreja, 92
  • comma, 6
  • commère, 94
  • companion, 93, 165
  • compassion, 2
  • compère, 94
  • complex, 4
  • compound, 157
  • comptroller, 88
  • comrade, 94
  • connect, 105
  • constable, 89
  • contrôle, 88
  • controller, 88
  • Conyers, 173
  • coon, 64
  • cooper, 81, n.
  • coopering, 67
  • cordonnier, 128
  • cordwainer, 128
  • corne, 117
  • Corner, 177
  • Cornwall, 151
  • Cornwallis, 174
  • corp, 116
  • corsair, 22
  • costermonger, 63, n. 1
  • couleuvre, 7
  • counterpane, 137
  • counterpoint, 137
  • court-card, 129
  • Coward, 181
  • coward, 36


  • Dada, 91
  • dado, 142
  • daffadowndilly, 71
  • daffodil, 71
  • Daft, 183
  • Dago, 45
  • dahlia, 31




  • Habeas Corpus, 125
  • hack, 66


  • Ib, 70
  • Ibbotson, 172
  • ill-starred, 106
  • imp, 111
  • indenture, 89
  • index, 4
  • Indian corn, 52
  • Indian ink, 52
  • indigo, 51
  • infantry, 76
  • innuendo, 3
  • inoculate, 112
  • insult, 3
  • interfere, 106
  • inure, 159
  • inveigle, 110
  • invoice, 118
  • Irrgarten, 63
  • isinglass, 137
  • item, 4


  • Kjöbenhavn, 67, n.
  • kjönne, 92
  • Klaus, 42
  • kloof, 91
  • knapsack, 18
  • knave, 55
  • Knecht, 84
  • knickerbockers, 44
  • knight, 84
  • Knoblauch, 91
  • Kohl, 153
  • kooi, 109
  • kraal, 25
  • Laager, 18
  • label, 93
  • Labouchère, 178
  • lace, 24
  • lacrosse, 164
  • lady-bird, 35
  • lady's bedstraw, 35
  • lady's garter, 35
  • lady's slipper, 35
  • Lambert, 179
  • Lambertsnuss, 35
  • lampoon, 9
  • lancegay, 25
  • Lander, 178
  • landier, 115
  • landscape, 18
  • Langlois, 115
  • lanterloo, 69
  • larboard, 121
  • larder, 165
  • lariat, 24, 115
  • Larkin, 171
  • larkspur, 29
  • Lärm, 115
  • larrikin, 12, 190
  • larum, 115
  • lasso, 24
  • lateen, 51
  • Latimer, 177
  • Launay, 174
  • Launder, 178
  • lavandière, 34
  • lawn, 47
  • lay-figure, 18, 166
  • leaguer, 18
  • leech, 155
  • legend, 3
  • Leggatt, 171
  • lemon, 160


  • Mabel, 58
  • macadamise, 41
  • Mackenzie, 195
  • mackintosh, 39
  • Macnab, 19, n.
  • Macpherson, 19, n.
  • Madeira, 51
  • madge owl, 37
  • madonna, 142
  • magazine, 93
  • magenta, 39, n.
  • maggot, 59
  • magnet, 48
  • magnolia, 31
  • magpie, 37
  • mailed fist, 156
  • main de gloire, 131
  • Mainwaring, 169
  • majolica, 48
  • Malins, 173
  • malkin, 42
  • Mall, 166, n. 2
  • malmsey, 51
  • Malthus, 170
  • malvoisie, 51
  • mammet, 43
  • manant, 150
  • mandarin, 27
  • mandoline, 149
  • manger, 8
  • mangle, 140
  • mangonel, 140
  • Mann, 173
  • manner, 158
  • manœuvre, 159
  • manor, 9
  • Mansell, 173
  • mansworn, 15, n. 1
  • manual, 3
  • manure, 159
  • marabout, 147
  • maravedi, 147
  • marble, 69
  • marchand des quatre saisons, 63, n.
  • Marchant, 145


  • Marienkäfer, 35
  • marionnette, 43
  • marmalade, 31
  • Marner, 176
  • marquee, 116
  • Marriot, 36
  • marshal, 89
  • Marshalsea, 90
  • marsouin, 32
  • Martello tower, 60
  • martin, 37
  • martinet, 192
  • martin-pêcheur, 37
  • mascot, 13
  • mask, 145
  • masnadiere, 151
  • Massinger, 177
  • masterpiece, 106
  • match, 8
  • mate, 93
  • matelot, 93
  • Maud, 70
  • maudlin, 61
  • maul, 166
  • Maulbeere, 58
  • maul-stick, 166
  • maxim, 39
  • maximum, 4
  • Mayhew, 171
  • Mayne, 173
  • mayor, 153
  • maze, 63
  • mazurka, 49
  • mediastinus, 92
  • Meerschwein, 32
  • Meerschweinchen, 51
  • megrims, 35
  • meiny, 151
  • melon, 31
  • ménage, 151
  • ménagerie, 151
  • mend, 62
  • ménétrier, 76
  • menial, 151
  • Menzies, 195
  • merchant, 67
  • mercurial, 106
  • merino, 153
  • Merryweather, 180
  • mesmerism, 40
  • mess, 93
  • messer, 92
  • messmate, 93
  • metal, 144
  • métier, 160
  • mettle, 144
  • mews, 120
  • miasma, 6
  • Middlemas, 172
  • milliner, 48
  • miniature, 81
  • minstrel, 76
  • mint, 142
  • minx, 82
  • miscreant, 127
  • miser, 4
  • misnomer, 9
  • miss, 160, n. 1
  • mister, 160
  • mistery, 159
  • mizen, 9
  • mob, 66
  • Mohock, 12
  • moidore, 142
  • moineau, 34
  • money, 141
  • monkey, 36
  • monkey-wrench, 38
  • monkshood, 29
  • monnaie, 142
  • monsieur, 92
  • Moon, 170
  • Morel, 181
  • morion, 199
  • Morris, 174
  • morris dance, 49
  • morris pike, 49
  • mosaic, 168
  • mosquito, 39, 59
  • Mother Carey's chicken, 36
  • mouchoir, 99
  • moustique, 59
  • Moxon, 172
  • muckinder, 99
  • muguet, 148
  • mulberry, 58
  • mulligrubs, 35
  • Mullins, 175
  • mungo, 190
  • Münze, 142
  • mûre, 58
  • mushroom, 56
  • musk, 148
  • musket, 38
  • muslin, 47
  • mustang, 23



  • periwig, 63, n. 2
  • periwinkle, 128
  • Perkin, 171
  • Perrot, 36
  • person, 145
  • pert, 80
  • peruse, 195
  • pester, 76, 167
  • Peterchen, 42
  • petrel, 36
  • petronel, 197
  • Pettifer, 77
  • Pettigrew, 77
  • petty, 80
  • pew, 8
  • Pfalz, 139
  • Phillimore, 175
  • Philpot, 171
  • Physick, 170
  • pickaback, 71
  • pick-axe, 126
  • Pickard, 173
  • pie, 37
  • piebald, 38
  • pierrot, 36
  • pig-iron, 38
  • Pilcher, 176
  • pilgrim, 58
  • pinchbeck, 40
  • Pinder, 177
  • pine-apple, 32
  • pion, 160
  • pips, 102
  • plain, 81
  • plaudit, 5
  • Playfair, 181
  • plover, 99
  • pluck, 83
  • pocket, 97, n.
  • pocket-handkerchief, 98
  • Pocock, 181
  • Poidevin, 173
  • pointe, 66
  • poison, 91
  • poke, 97
  • polecat, 165
  • polka, 49
  • Pollock, 174
  • Poll parrot, 36
  • polonaise, 50
  • polony, 49
  • pomander, 57
  • pomcitron, 32


  • pomegranate, 32
  • Pomeranze, 31
  • Pomeroy, 174
  • pomme de pin, 32
  • ponder, 1
  • Pope Joan, 129
  • porcelain, 39
  • porcupine, 32
  • porpoise, 32
  • porridge, 118
  • port, 51
  • portcullis, 154
  • porter, 81, n.
  • Portugee, 116
  • Portwine, 173, n. 3
  • Poslett, 169
  • Posnett, 169
  • possum, 64
  • posthumous, 126
  • post-mortem, 4
  • posy, 145
  • potence, 40
  • Potz, 65
  • pouce, 87
  • Pouille, 114
  • poulterer, 63
  • pounce, 108
  • pouncet-box, 108
  • pourboire, 91
  • Power, 181
  • power, 9
  • pow-wow, 14
  • Poyser, 176
  • prayer, 74
  • premises, 6
  • premisses, 6
  • premium, 4
  • prentice, 63, 106
  • prepense, 1
  • preposterous, 129, n.
  • press-gang, 130
  • Prester John, 92, n. 2
  • Priddle, 175, n. 1
  • priest, 92
  • primrose, 125
  • proctor, 61
  • pub, 66
  • pudding, 74
  • puisne, 80
  • pun, 66
  • punch, 94, n.
  • pundigrion, 66
  • pundit, 94, n.
  • Rack, 155
  • radius, 4
  • raiment, 61
  • rampart, 121
  • ramper, 121
  • ranch, 23
  • rank, 23
  • rappee, 9
  • Read, 181
  • Reader, 178
  • reasty, 79
  • reata, 24
  • rebus, 5
  • recreant, 127
  • recruit, 64
  • redstart, 117
  • Reed, 181
  • Reeder, 178
  • Regenpfeifer, 99
  • Regenschirm, 64, n.
  • Reginald, 36
  • rehearse, 106
  • Reid, 181
  • reine Claude, 32




  • spick and span, 107
  • spinning-jenny, 42
  • Spitalfields, 64
  • spite, 65
  • Spittlegate, 64
  • splay, 65
  • sponge, 56
  • Spoonerism, 60
  • sport, 65
  • sprightly, 122, n. 1
  • sprite, 64
  • Sprössling, 111
  • spruce, 48
  • squarson, 66
  • squire, 64
  • stable, 56
  • stage, 64
  • staid, 101
  • stain, 65
  • stale, 101
  • stance, 143
  • staniel, 202
  • stank, 26
  • stanza, 143
  • starboard, 121
  • stationer, 63, n. 1
  • Steckenpferd, 91
  • Steinbrech, 30
  • steingall, 202
  • Steppdecke, 137
  • sterling, 79
  • stevedore, 76, n.
  • steward, 90
  • Stewart, 90
  • stickler, 75, 172, n. 2
  • still-room, 165
  • stimulus, 4
  • Stoddart, 179
  • stomacher, 156
  • stone, 87
  • stonegall, 202
  • Storchschnabel, 29
  • stortelli, 144
  • stout, 81
  • stranded, 97
  • stun, 106
  • sullen, 140
  • Summerfield, 175
  • Sumner, 176
  • supercilious, 3
  • surcease, 126
  • surly, 92
  • surplice, 176, n.
  • surround, 164
  • Surtees, 172
  • swank, 203
  • sward, 84
  • sweet William, 30
  • sympathy, 2
  • synopsis, 6
  • syrup, 146
  • Tabby, 47
  • taffrail, 126
  • taint, 64
  • talisman, 22
  • tallage, 134
  • tally, 88
  • talon, 9
  • Tammany, 14
  • tandem, 4
  • tank, 26
  • tankard, 59
  • tansy, 30
  • tantalise, 41
  • tante, 70
  • tarantella, 50
  • tarantula, 50
  • tartan, 19, 47
  • tassel, 163
  • 'tater, 66
  • tattoo, 18, 162
  • tawdry, 65
  • tease, 12
  • teasel, 12
  • 'tec, 65
  • teetotaller, 6
  • teetotum, 6
  • Telford, 182
  • 'tench, 65
  • tender, 64
  • tenet, 4
  • tennis, 10
  • tent, 163
  • tenter-hooks, 154
  • termagant, 46
  • test, 106
  • testy, 79
  • tetchy, 163
  • tête, 106
  • thimble, 61
  • Thoroughgood, 170
  • Tibbet, 171
  • Tibert, 36
  • tick, 67
  • tidbit, 123


  • Umber, 152
  • umbrella, 152
  • umpire, 113
  • uncouth, 2
  • Underhill, 172
  • undertaker, 63, n. 1
  • unkempt, 2
  • unseal, 133
  • upholder, 178
  • upholsterer, 63
  • usher, 90
  • usquebaugh, 68
  • utterance, 163


  • Xeres, 51


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