or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, November 13, 2005


It's 6:30 local time and I just awoke from a dream that I found a typo and was about to write about it. I had a dream about typos. How geeky is that?

And I can't even remember what the typo was!

But here's one I remember. As usual, washing the dishes with the earphones in and idly reading the French packaging on the shelf over the sink, I happened to notice this on a cut-rate, dollar-store package of zip-lock bags ("Nobility Wares" brand, a sure sign of quality):

Zipper Bags
Sacs à Fermenture

I didn't quite realize I was looking at a typo at first, because my French is not particularly good, but there was obviously something wrong with "fermenture", because if it was a word, it ought to be a word that had something to do with fermentation. Fermentation bags? Eventually--I was distracted by the music and the dishes--it dawned on me that the word intended was "fermeture", which means "closing", from the verb "fermer", "to close".


I can't think of a single English word that stems from or is related to that French word. Not one. On my search for such a word (after going through such lame possibilities as "fermata" and "deferment"), I gave "infer" a shot (knowing full well that it was unrelated), and answers.com gave this as the last definition, followed shortly thereafter by a usage note:

4. To hint; imply.
USAGE NOTE   Infer is sometimes confused with imply, but the distinction is a useful one.

"A useful one"? It's a crucial one, because "infer" does not mean "imply". You might as well say that "insolent" also means "insane" because they start with the first three letters. The words "infer" and "imply", it is true, are often confused, but so what? People confuse a lot of things.

I could get into the Latin roots of the two words, but I'm not going to bother, for a change, because they aren't particularly relevant in this case. Webster's English Usage has two and a half pages on the subject, dealing with the minutiae of personal versus impersonal ("he implies" versus "it implies") and suchlike, but here's what it really boils down to; use "infer" when you're taking information in, and "imply" when you're giving information out. You infer that someone loves you when you assess their behaviour, and imply that someone loves you when you're discussing the situation with another. Just like that.


Blogger language said...

Actually, fermer is from Latin firmare 'to make firm,' so English firm is closely related, even though you wouldn't think so. Interesting that both French and Spanish have rejected the Latin word for 'close' (represented by Italian chiudere).

Monday, November 14, 2005 4:46:00 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

That IS a geeky dream. And you spotted a typo in another language, too!

Monday, November 14, 2005 5:01:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

I really have to get myself a French/English etymological dictionary. And German/English, too. I have lots of resources for finding etymologies in English, but when it comes to other languages I'm all at sea.

Thanks for the "fermer"/"firmare" linkage. Claiborne's "Roots of English" says that "firmare" is also the source of "farm"--a fixed, or firm, payment on a tract of land--and the French word for "farm" is "ferme", so that's another obvious link right there.

I can't speak French, at least not exactly (I can bash my way through a simple exchange), but I can spell it, for some reason. (I was one of those flawless spellers in the third grade that annoyed most of the other kids.) I had a customer the other day with a very, very French name--Moncton is probably fifty per cent francophone--and she was astonished that I could spell it properly when typing it into the computer. (I suppose she's had it badly mangled more often than not.)

Monday, November 14, 2005 5:16:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home