or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Fuzz

Every now and then I run across a misspelling which is charming and even understandable. Still wrong, but still delightful.

This one showed up on a really marvellous website called knitty.com: it's a free online knitting magazine with patterns, articles, and attitude. If you knit--which I do, being a Newfoundlander--you pretty much have to check it out. The misspelling is on this page in this sentence:

I worked up this version in 'authentic' colors -- dark brown and a print of purpley cochenille reds.

That second-last word threw me for a loop. It looks so much like "chenille", a word familiar to any knitter (it's a fuzzy, woven-not-spun yarn), but it clearly isn't. It took a few seconds and a few repetitions in my head before I realized that the writer meant "cochineal".

Now, "cochinille", as it happens, in the French spelling for "cochineal", and the writer has a French-sounding name (Marie-Christine Mahe), so we have to give her the benefit of the doubt. But in English, "cochenille" is still wrong.

We did, of course, get the word from the French. They got it from the Spanish "cochinilla", and they got it from Latin "coccinella", which means "little scarlet one".

After all this, you probably want to know what cochineal is. It's a red dye made from crushed insects--little scarlet ones.

I would love to be able to report that "cochineal" is related to "cockroach", which in Spanish is "cucaracha". Unfortunately, that isn't the case. However, and this is perfectly wonderful, "cucaracha" comes from "cuca", "caterpillar", and what do you suppose the French word for "caterpillar" is? Why, it's "chenille"!


Blogger Peggy said...

I enjoy your blog. I like words and find your lessons on etymology very enlightening. It helps that you seem to know French and the bonus is: you knit!

Thursday, September 15, 2005 2:34:00 PM  

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