or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, September 16, 2005


Not that anyone would ever think I know everything, but just to set the record straight: sometimes I come across a word that I've never seen before, a perfectly ordinary word, and looking into it opens up a whole new set of doors.

From an interesting piece in The New Republic comes this sentence:

The central drama of our time is the collapse of formalism, of the belief that emotion is lodged in the very facture of the work.

After reading that, I thought, "Facture? That can't be right! It's the French word for 'invoice'!" So of course I had to look it up, and guess what? It's a word! In English!

In retrospect, I should have known. It is, after all, the second half of "manufacture", and so clearly has to be Latin in origin, from "facere", "to make". ("Manufacture" literally means "to make by hand".) And that's just what it is: in English, "facture" means "the manner in which an artwork is made"--it's actually pretty clear from the context, but I was thrown by the Frenchness of it.

So why is a French invoice called a facture? Because in French, a maker of something is a facteur (in another demonstration of French's influence on English, "-eur" is the same as English "-er", "one who...": "juggler", "one who juggles"; "jongleur", "un qui jongle") and the "-ure" ending is another way of turning a verb into a noun. In this case, the verb is "faire", "to make or do", which is very irregular, leading to that stem "fact-". (By the way, "factory" comes from "facere", as does "factor", obviously, and, less obviously, "feature"--that one comes from French as well, from "faiture", "a making", another "-ure" form of "faire". Very irregular, that verb, although the really basic verbs such as "to be" and "to do" tend in that direction, at least in the languages I know about.)

And why is an English invoice called an invoice, and what does it have to do with voices? Nothing at all; it's from the (yes!) French word "envoi", the noun form of the verb "envoyer", "to send" (also, to again state the obvious, the root of our "envoy", "messenger"). We took "envoi" and turned it into "invoy", plural "invoyes", which eventually turned into the modern English word.


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