Filibuster

According to the official U.S. Senate Glossary a filibuster is an

Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.

According to the AHD, a filibuster:

  1. a. The obstructing or delaying of legislative action, especially by prolonged speechmaking. 
  1. b. An instance of this, especially a prolonged speech.
  1. An adventurer who engages in a private military action in a foreign country.

Etymologically the English word filibuster derives from Dutch vrijbuiter, “pirate” via Spanish filibustero, or “freebooter”; the Spanish borrowed the word from French flibustier, who in turn derived their word from Dutch vrijbuiter.

English also derives our word freebooter “A person who pillages and plunders, especially a pirate” from Dutch vrijbuiter. Dutch vrijbuiter derives from from vrijbuit, plunder, a compound of vrij, free; (see prī- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots) + *buit, booty (from Middle Dutch būte, of Middle Low German origin).

The Proto Indo-European root * prī- “To love” is interesting; in addition to giving us Dutch vrij, prī- derivatives include friend, and Friday.

The record for the longest filibuster in the U.S. Congress is still held by Strom Thurmond’s 1957 24 hours and 18 minutes grandstand attempt to stop the Civil Rights act. You can read it, in all its shameful glory, in the Congressional Record Vol. 103 pt. 12: August 22 1957–August 30, 1957. .

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 see flotsam and jetsam used as a complete phrase, typically in the context of the beach and the sea: “The flotsam and jetsam of the sea dotted the tide line.” That’s very much the way the phrase is used in this quotation from Robert B. Parker’s A Catskill Eagle:

Debris bumped against us as we edged along the pier. I didn’t look. I didn’t want to know what it was. The water was cold and harsh and black. There were barnacles here and there on the stones of the pier. Not many, and probably from another time. Not much could live in the water these days. Now and then half-rotten seaweed made the stones slimy and made me slip as we edged along.

Hawk said very softly, “You figure this stuff flotsam, or jetsam?”

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.

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.

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

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 Jerusalemll. 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.

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.

Sommelier

I happened to see a post at one of the wine blogs I follow regarding the derivation of the word sommelier. But while the post is accurate, mostly, as far as it goes, it doesn’t to my mind go nearly far enough. First, a bare bones definition of sommelier:

A restaurant employee who orders and maintains the wines sold in the restaurant and usually has extensive knowledge about wine and food pairings (AHD).

You’ll sometimes see a sommelier defined as a wine steward, though technically there’s a fair bit of expertise that’s well beyond that of a steward.

Now, for the etymology. Sommelier is a word English borrowed from French; it’s derived from Old French, from *sommerier, meaning “beast of burden,” that is, a pack animal. Old French *sommerier was, it appears, borrowed into French via Provencal, and before that, from Vulgar Latin *saumrius.

The basic concept is that the sommlier, an expert on the storing and selection of wines, was a position that was once associated with cargo shipments via pack animals. The same Latin root that gave us sommlier also gave us the word summer, not the word for the season, but the summer that means

1. A heavy horizontal timber that serves as a supporting beam, especially for the floor above.
2. A lintel.
3. A large, heavy stone usually set on the top of a column or pilaster to support an arch or lintel.

Summer, meaning a supporting surface, came to English via Anglo-Norman sumer, from Vulgar Latin *saumrius, from Late Latin sagmrius, a word which referred to a packsaddle, packhorse, and which was derived from Latin from sagma, packsaddle.

You may, if you’re a military history fan, be familiar with the idea of a sumpter mule or even a sumpter horse used as a pack animal. Sumpter, a fairly common word in Middle English, is also descended from the Old French sometier, and from Vulgar Latin *saumatrius, from Late Latin sagma, sagmat-, or packsaddle, itself from Greek, from sattein, to pack.

In other words, sommelier, summer and sumpter are all cognate, and ultimately all go back to some version of Latin sagma, and further back, to Greek sattein “to pack.” Sommelier, summer and sumpter all have something to do with the business of packing or transporting, whether it’s wine, or weight bearing loads, or supplies and goods.

[I wrote an earlier version of this post for another site that appears to be no longer online]

Olive

 

Olive Tree, Portugal from Wikimedia Commons

Olives, deliberately planted and tended for thousands of years, are intimately tied to the early diets of ancient humans, who carefully cultivated them wherever we roamed, so much so that a plant with Afro-Asiatic ancestry is now grown even in Washington state. It’s no small thing, that, and it marks the importance of the olive tree in human history, given that the plant is used not only for the fruit (the olive), but for the oil, pressed from the fruit, and the leaves, and even the wood.

English, etymologically speaking, obtained the word olive via Old French, olive, from Latin oliva, “olive, olive tree,” from Greek elaia “olive tree, olive.” Elaia is most likely derived from one of the Aegean languages, possibly Cretan, or Minoan, since we also see ewi “oil” in Armenian. From roughly the 14th century on in Middle English, we routinely see olive used for the tree, and the fruit of the tree. Trees are closely tied to human migrations across the continent of Europe because humans took the plants that were most important for their survival, based on their uses for wood, oil, food and religion, with them, as they moved from the fertile crescent around the Tigris and Euphrates, across Asia and Europe, and, centuries later, to the New World. The prevalence of the olive helps us trace our ancestors migrations.

Olives are so closely tied to the early diets of Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, that the word oil, meaning “Any of numerous mineral, vegetable, and synthetic substances and animal and vegetable fats that are generally slippery, combustible, viscous, liquid or liquefiable at room temperatures, soluble in various organic solvents such as ether but not in water, and used in a great variety of products, especially lubricants and fuels” (AHD) that the word for “oil” in a large number of Indo-European and Semitic languages derives from the word for olive. In English, for instance, we see already by 1175 olie, oile “olive oil” from Anglo-Norman and Norman French olie, and huile in 12th century French, from Latin oelum “oil, olive oil,” Greek elaion “Olive tree,” from elaia “olive.” In Middle English, olie always meant “olive oil” until ca. 1300, when olie began to be used for any fatty, greasy substance, even those associated with fossil fuels, or petroleum. Or food, in the creation of oleo in the nineteenth century, and the subsequent increase in use during World War II as margarine began to used at home instead of butter.

Oleo, short for oleomargarine, derives from “oil” via Latin oelum. Petroleum entered English via Middle Latin as a compound ca. 1520–30. Petroleum derives form Latin petr (derived from Greek pétra), “rock” + Latin oleum.

And it all goes back to a simple olive tree, potentially living for thousands of years.

[I posted an earlier version of this post on another site]

Pumpkin

Pumpkins

A few days ago I noticed that the local markets are already selling pumpkins for carving, and for eating (there are some pumpkin varieties that are known especially for sweet flesh, appropriate for pies and puddings and sweet breads). And I’ve seen the appearance of pumpkin lattes and pumpkin-inspired beers. In other words, yes we’re in the season known as autumn, and fast approaching harvest.

A woman at the grocery store noticed me admiring the pumpkin display, and told me that they’re native to America, and that the word pumpkin is itself a native American word. I nodded politely, and didn’t correct her, but no, pumpkin is not a native American word, it’s a good English word, in the sense that we swiped it from the French, who got it from Greek via Latin.

Modern English pumpkin derives from the now obsolete pumpion, itself from the obsolete Medieval French pompon, popon, from Old French pepon, from Late Latin pepōn, from Latin, meaning “watermelon or gourd,” derived from Greek, “ripe, large melon.”

The proto Indo-European root *pekw– means “To Cook or ripen” with derived words having to do with cooking, ripening, and digesting, like Latin coquere, “to cook,” and vocabulary like cook, cuisine (culinary), kiln, kitchen, apricot, biscuit, concoct, and ricotta. The same root also gives us Greek pepon, pepo “ripe,” Greek peptein, “to cook, ripen, digest” and hence pumpkin (as well as dyspepsia).

Scatosyntheton

There’s been an unfortunate increase in the last four of five years of people who want to offer critical, opinionated reviews of books they haven’t read. This is usually done in an effort to prevent anyone else reading the book. A review of a book the author hasn’t read is, on the face of it, such an odd idea that many people are surprised it happens.

It not only happens, it’s become downright common.

The habit of critiquing a book the critiquer or reviewer has not read is in part related to people who want to ban books that they take issue with; like the parents of Litchfield, N.H. who want to ban books they haven’t read, but are absolutely positive are offensive, or any number of people who have objected to any number of literary works that are generally considered classics, but that they not only haven’t read, they don’t want anyone else to read them, either. These are people who have a socio-political agenda. They’re not really interested in books, or new ideas, or having old ideas challenged. They like living in a safe cave, isolated from those who are not like them.

In the last year or so there’s been a marked increase in people who haven’t read the book in question purporting to offer in depth critiques because they don’t like the author. Often these faux reviews are from other authors, and they are less about the books they haven’t read, as much as they are about jealousy because the writer is doing better professionally than the people offering fake critiques or reviews. It occurred to me, after a recent online burst of people fulminating about a book they hadn’t read, and in the process making it abundantly clear that they hadn’t read the book in question because they got basic plot items woefully wrong, that we need and completely lack a proper term for this particular rhetorical trope.

In crude terms, I suppose I’m looking for a Greek-inspired term that equates with “makes stuff up”; I’d considered cacosyntheton, but cacosyntheton has apparently replaced the earlier cacosyndeton for “improper, or ugly word-order.” Rhetorician Richard Lanham invented the Greek-inspired skotison, which means, literally, “darken it,” to refer to the practice of deliberately indulging in overly complex prose meant to be difficult, if not impossible, to understand. Lanham’s coinage suggested the invention of scatosyntheton, for, well, “making crap up,” and yes, it’s cognate with scatological. Go on, try it out: next time someone you know starts going on and on about a book they haven’t read—tell them they’re indulging in the vice of scatosyntheton.