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.

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.

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”?

February from the Très Riches Heures

Musee Conde Trés Riches Heures MS_65_F2v via Wikimedia Commons

The calendar image for February in books of hours, like that of January, often features someone sitting by the fire, but calendar pages for February are rife with scenes related to the chill of deepest winter. Typically they feature the piscine astrological signs for Pisces. The saints’ days for February include St. Ignatious, and St. Bridget.

This image from the February calendar page in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry in the Museé Cluny shows the labors of a fairly typical winter day.

This calendar page features an interesting technique in that the house on the bottom left is a cutaway or cross section that reveals the inside. A pair of peasants are warming themselves by the fire, less than decorously, as both the woman (in blue) and the man (wearing gray) have removed their lower garments in order to warm their legs—exposing their genitalia. I suspect the garments in question are hanging on the back wall of the house, behind them.

Just outside the house, a woman who appears to be of a higher socio-economic class (based on her clothing and manners), has her skirts slightly raised to encourage the heat to warm her legs without being immodest; notice the way she is turned away from the display of the people inside the house. There’s a slightly weasel-looking cat near her feet.

It seems to be a fairly prosperous farm, with a dove cote (see the doves feeding on the ground), dome-shaped bee hives, and a sheep-fold with plump sheep. Just to the right of the sheep-fold, a shivering peasant’s breath warms the air, an interesting detail for the era. Notice too the smoke curling upwards from the house’s chimney.

The calendar proper in the semicircle at the top of the winter scene shows Aquarius on the left and Pisces on the right, and the chariot of the sun below them.

Musee Conde Trés Riches Heures MS_65_F2v via Wikimedia Commons