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Dray

A dray or drey is a squirrel’s nest. Dray is also sometimes applied to a nest of squirrels, or a litter of squirrels. The OED s.v. d...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Dray

A dray or drey is a squirrel’s nest. Dray is also sometimes applied to a nest of squirrels, or a litter of squirrels.

The OED s.v. dray offers “A squirrel’s nest” with the following in context citations:

1607   E. Topsell Hist. Fovre-footed Beastes 497   They..make their nestes, like the draies of squirrels.
1627   M. Drayton Quest of Cynthia in Battaile Agincourt 141   The nimble Squirrell..Her mossy Dray that makes.

The etymology of dray isn’t clear; it’s generally associated with the dray that means a sled or cart that lacks wheels, and is thus dragged. That dray derives from Old English dragan to draw; the OED suggests “compare Old English dræge drag-net, also Swedish drög sledge, dray, (Old Norse draga, plural drögur timber trailed along the ground)” (s.v.dray).

I suspect, though I can’t prove it, that dray for a squirrel’s nest also derives from OE dragan meaning to draw or drag, and refers to the way squirrels create the dray, by dragging leaves and brush into a nest in the fork of a tree.  This is typically the way the North American Eastern Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) builds its nests.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Flotsam and Jetsam

flotsam n.

  1. Goods floating on the surface of a body of water after a shipwreck or after being cast overboard to lighten the ship.
  2. Discarded or unimportant things: "Keyrings, bookmarks ... gum, scissors, paper clips ... pencils and pads stolen from various hotels: all this detritus, this flotsam of a life being lived at full throttle" (David Leavitt).
  3. People who are considered to be worthless or to have been rejected by society. flotsam AHD
jetsam n.
  1. Goods that are cast overboard from a ship, especially in an attempt to lighten the ship, and that sink to the bottom of a body of water.
  2. Discarded odds and ends. AHD jetsam

Dorian Krause 
We almost always hear flotsam and jetsam as a phrase, typically in the context of the beach and the sea: "The flotsam and jetsam of the sea dotted the tide line."

As the AHD points out, in maritime law, flotsam refers to "Goods floating on the surface of a body of water after a shipwreck or after being cast overboard to lighten the ship." Jetsam refers to cargo, supplies, or equipment deliberately thrown overboard from a ship in distress (including smugglers fearing legal ramifications) that floats or washes ashore and lands on the beach.
Lagan, a rather rare word today outside of maritime law, refers to items that are deliberately cast off from a ship and that and sink; traditionally, such items were tied to a buoy or float.

Legally, items considered jetsam and ligan belong to their original owner; flotsam may potentially be considered salvage. Items that are derelict are items that been abandoned.

Although the laws related to salvage and beaches are medieval in origin, they are still quite applicable today. In the United Kingdom, all four categories of debris are regulated by law and under the control of a Receiver Of Wreck. The Duke of Cornwall (AKA the Prince of Wales) has all right of wreck in the Duchy of Cornwall. That means, in broad terms, if you find something, you have to declare it, and the Duke has the right to claim it. Given the history of wrecks off the rocky, often dangerous shore of Cornwall, rights of wreck could have had fairly important ramifications in earlier eras.
Etymologically speaking, the wordflotsam came to Modern English via the Normans, and the Anglo-Norman floteson, from Old French floter, "to float," of Germanic origin, and ultimately deriving from the Proto Indo-European root pleu-. *Flotsam, in English, was spelled flotsen until the middle of the nineteenth century, when it began to be spelled flotsam.

Jetsam was originally written jetson, from Middle English jetteson, cognate with Modern English jettison, to throw overboard. Lagan refers, technically, to an item attached to a float or buoy and thrown into the ocean, with the intention to retrieve it later. Etymologically, lagan derives from Old French, and (probably) from Old Norse lögn, lagn- which goes back to the Proto Indo-European root legh*- "to lie down," the same root that gives us the Modern English verb "to lie" (down).

There are a surprisingly large number of idioms and phrases that are commonplace in Modern English, but which ultimately derive from legal terminology and, sometimes, the medieval equivalent of boiler plate text from legal documents. Flotsam and jetsam is one of those phrases.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Dormouse

John Tenniel National Library of Scotland
There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. “Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,” thought Alice; ”only, as it's asleep, I suppose it doesn't mind.” —Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Chapter VII. A Mad Tea-Party.

Danielle Schwarz Wikimedia commons
Technically, the dormouse is a small omnivorous rodent, a native of Eurasia and Africa, of the family the family Gliridae. The dormouse featured in Lewis Caroll’s The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland is almost certainly meant to be the British Hazel dormouse, Muscardinus avellanarius. Dormice that live in temperate regions like Britain hibernate, sometimes for as much as half the year, depending on local conditions. They may occasionally wake just long enough to snack on edibles they’ve hidden near their burrow, but then it’s back to sleep again.

The etymology isn’t exactly clear. The AHD offers:
Middle English, perhaps alteration (influenced by mous, mouse) of Anglo-Norman *dormeus, inclined to sleep, hibernating, from Old French dormir, to sleep; see DORMANT. 
First, the easy part; the Middle English forms of dormouse dormoise (Middle English Dictionary Entry ) and dormowse, dormows (OED) are ostensibly derived from Anglo-Norman *dormeus, itself deriving from Old French dormir “To Sleep.”

While this is a perfectly reasonable etymology for a creature known for its sleeping patterns, it’s a problem because the supposed Anglo-Norman form *dormeus doesn’t appear to actually exist; it’s a hypothetical form. As the OED points out,
The French dormeuse, feminine of dormeur “sleeper,” sometimes suggested as the etymon, is not known before 17th cent. (s.v. dormouse).
What does seem clear is that the -mos ending of the Middle English forms, and likely, the Anglo-Norman and Old French forms, sounded to English ears  like mouse, and thus a perfect name for a mouse-like creature.

The dormouse (dormice in plural) is currently endangered in Britain (including Wales), in part because of climate change; as the temperatures during the dormouse’s usual hibernation time rise, the dormouse fails to hibernate, and consequently uses up its stored fat before spring arrives and provides new food.

You can learn more about dormouse at dormice.org.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

February



The standard dictionary definition for February is very like this one from the AHD:
The second month of the year in the Gregorian calendar.
Modern English February is ultimately derived from Latin; the Latin name for the second month, the name used by Romans, is februarius mensis, “purification month,” or, more literally, "month of purification,” the last month of the ancient (pre-450 B.C.E.) Roman calendar. The month was named after the Roman feast of purification, held on the ides of the month, with the new year starting in the following month.

The etymology of February is a little complicated, in that Modern English February is derived from Latin Februarius, which was used as a direct borrowing in Old English, where the Old English equivalent month, Solmōnað, or "mud month," is glossed with Latin Februarius. The Latin name for the month was used in addition to the Old English name, and gradually, began to be used instead of the Old English name.

After the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Anglo-Norman French names for the month (also derived from Latin Februarius), Feverer, and Feverier (and other spellings) began to be used, eventually becoming Feoverel.

Spelling reforms in the 15th century attempted to modify English spelling in terms of Latin spelling practices; Feoverel became Februarius, and eventually, February. The pronunciation of February, however, is still a little confusing. As the Usage note in the AHD notes:
Usage Note: The preferred pronunciation among usage writers is (fĕbr-ĕr′ē), but in actual usage the pronunciation (fĕby-ĕr′ē) is far more common and so cannot be considered incorrect. The loss of the first r in this pronunciation can be accounted for by the phonological process known as dissimilation, whereby one of two similar or identical sounds in a word is changed or dropped so that a repetition of that sound is avoided. In the case of February, the loss of the first r was also helped along by the influence of January, which has only one r.
The pronunciation is enough of an issue, still, that entire articles have been written about Why do we pronounce February without the "r"?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Points

In the post about aglets, I mentioned that according to the OED, in earlier eras, aglets were called points. According to the AHD, under definition 35 for point, a point is “A ribbon or cord with a metal tag at the end, used to fasten clothing in the 16th and 17th centuries.”

The following bit from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Act 1, scene 5, between Feste the Jester or “clown,” and the maid Maria, refers to points. Feste has returned, late, long after he was expected:
Maria Yet you will be hanged for being so long absent; or,
to be turned away, is not that as good as a hanging to you?
Clown Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage; and,
for turning away, let summer bear it out.
Maria You are resolute, then?
Clown Not so, neither; but I am resolved on two points.
Maria That if one break, the other will hold; or, if both
break, your gaskins fall.
Twelfth Night I. 5. 14–21
Feste is making a bawdy pun regarding a good hanging, meaning both “lynched,” and well, “well hung.” He says he is unconcerned about being “turned away,” or fired, and will let “summer bear it out” because summer time, when it is warm, won’t be so terrible to be homeless and jobless. Maria asks if Feste is “resolute,” and again, Feste makes a pun on being “resolved, ” in the sense of being “sure, and in the sense of “finding a solution” to a problem—he is “resolved on two points,” again, making another pun on points as in definition 17 “A significant, outstanding, or effective idea, argument, or suggestion,” and, 36 “A ribbon or cord with a metal tag at the end, used to fasten clothing in the 16th and 17th centuries.” As Maria knows, gaskins or breeches were held up by points.

All that from part of a shoelace

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Aglet

An aglet according to the AHD is
1. A tag or sheath, as of plastic, on the end of a lace, cord, or ribbon to facilitate its passing through eyelet holes.
2. A similar device used for an ornament.
The OED s.v. aglet offers:
a. A tag attached to the end of a lace, originally of metal and now also of plastic, intended primarily to make it easier to thread through the eyelet holes, but also developed as an ornament.
The aglet is that small plastic sleeve on the end of your shoelace. Sometimes aglet refers to ornaments at the end of a lace, especially on shirts or other items of clothing. You see this use in the N-Town mystery cycle play # 26 when the Devil describes the clothing he will offer followers:
Hosyn enclosyd of the most costyous cloth of crenseyn; Thus a bey to a jentylman to make comparycyon, With two doseyn poyntys of cheverelle, the aglottys of sylver feyn (Play 26, Conspiracy; Entry into Jerusalem ll. 70–72)
The hose have two dozen points, with fine silver aglets at their ends, serving both to protect the ends of the leather points, and as an ornament. (I'll take a look at points in the next post.) Etymologically, Modern English aglet descends from Middle English, via Anglo-Norman and Old French aguillette, diminutive of aguille, needle, from Vulgar Latin *acūcula, from Late Latin acucula, diminutive of Latin acus, needle. The same Indo-European root *ak- gives us not only Latin acus, but includes acute, vinegar, acid, and edge, among other words.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Haggis

If you mention to anyone, at all, that you're going to visit Scotland, you're bound to be warned about Scotland's national dish; haggis. Haggis is, according to the AHD “A Scottish dish consisting of a mixture of the minced heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep or calf mixed with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings and boiled in the stomach of the slaughtered animal.” The closest thing I can compare with haggis to in terms of standard American dishes is stuffing, made with giblets.

People tend to think of haggis around the 25th of January, the date reserved to celebrate the birth of Scottish poet Robert Burns. All over the world Scots are celebrating Burns Night with a meal that includes toasts to Burns, his poetry, a ceremonial presentation of the haggis, and naturally, a reading of Burns' poem “Address to a Haggis.”

Haggis was not always thought of as a Scottish dish; indeed it was quite popular in the Middle Ages as this English haggis recipe from c. 1430 implies.

Etymologically, the ancestry of haggis is French; The Random House Dictionary, unlike the OED or AHD, properly attributes English haggis to Anglo-Norman French, via late Middle English (c. 1375–1425) hageys, from Anglo-Norman French *hageis, the equivalent of the verb hag-, the root of haguer, to chop, hash. They then follow haguer back to Middle Dutch hacken "to hack," with the addition of the -eis noun suffix frequently used for cookery terms. Language blogger Language Hat beat Random House to the chase to point out in this entry that there are several clear cognates in Anglo-Norman French.

Should you be so inclined, you can make your own haggis following Alton Brown's recipe. Haggis is often served with neeps and tatties, or turnips and potatoes, as in the image above. Alternatively, the less intrepid can order their haggis in a can here.