or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, September 02, 2005

He's Got Legs

In yet another Friday Cat Blogging appearance, this is Mr. Picklesworth. Or at least part of him.

First he discovered that he could jump up on the kitchen table. From there it was a very short leap to the half-wall separating the kitchen from the living room. Then he realized that the fridge was nice and warm and also made him much taller than either of us--a consuming desire in any housecat's life. And then, unfortunately, he found that he could get up on top of the kitchen cabinets (which are about a foot from the ceiling); I was forever afraid that he would fall asleep up there and then fall off, but he never did. You'd never know it from this mildly alarming picture, though.

Seeing his furry little leg in the picture made me wonder about the word "leg", because it's nothing like the French word ("jambe") nor the German ("Bein"). I figured it might well be one of those short, pithy words that were spontaneously generated in Old English, but in fact it's Norse ("leggr"). Who knew?

The French word, though; now that's interesting. "Jambe" makes one inevitably think of "jambon", which means "ham", and of course the words would be related; a ham is the upper leg of a pig, smoked or otherwise cured. ("Hams" is also a word that means "buttocks"; the expression always makes me think of the unexpectedly charming Joe Jackson song "You're My Meat": "I love talkin' 'bout your gams/And your big fat hams/It excites me so/Because I know/You're my meat/Fat and forty/But Lordy, you're my meat.")

Now, Italian for "leg" is "gamba"--its relation to the French is obvious--and you might have heard the word in the name of the instrument "viola da gamba". What is it about this viola that earns it the name "viola of the leg"? Is it leg-shaped? No (although that would be wonderful and probably hilarious); unlike other members of the family, it's played resting on the thigh or, if it's big enough, placed between the legs as a cello is.

And of course "jambe" might remind you of the English word "jamb", and sure enough, it's the same word: door jambs are the vertical parts of the door's frame; the legs, if you like.

"Jam", though; surely unrelated, although nobody knows where the word even came from. Likewise "pyjamas", although you might be thinking "pyjamas, legs--pretty obvious". That word is borrowed from Hindi, which got it from Persian "pai", "leg", and "jamah", "garment". So the word "leg" is in fact in there; it's just not where we might have thought it would be.


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