or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, November 26, 2005

One, Two

Jim and I are sitting in the multimedia room (it's the spare bedroom of our two-bedroom apartment: we both have our computers there); I'm writing this and he's playing around with the OED, because it's fun (and probably because he's a little bored), typing in random words, one of which, a few minutes ago, was "buckle". It had occasionally occurred to me that "buccal" ("of the oral cavity, specifically the cheeks") is pronounced in exactly the same way, but I'd never bothered to look it up--I'm a busy guy, I have a long list of words I want to look up and sometimes I forget.

So: "buckle" and "buccal"; related? Or a mere coincidence? As it turns out, related--and how! The noun "buckle" got to us from (no surprise) French, in this case "boucle", which in turn came from Latin "buccula", meaning "the cheek-strap of a helmet", derived from "bucca", "cheek". So a few twists and turns on the way to Modern English have given us two words with identical pronunciations and--apparently--nothing else in common, which goes to show...something or other.


The French "boucle", with the same meaning as our "buckle", also exists in French (and therefore English) as the adjectival form "bouclé", "buckled"; it refers to a type of yarn with a raised, loopy surface. Its name comes from its method of spinning; two strands of yarn are plied together, but at different rates, so that the more slowly-moving yarn twists and loops and bunches against the other; in other words, it buckles.


But why do collapsing things buckle? What does that have to do with buckles (or cheeks)? Why do we say that a playing card buckles, or a strand of yarn, or your knees? I have no idea. Anyone?


Blogger language said...

The OED says "branch III [definitions based on the sense 'bend, warp'] may be from the F[rench] word, which has the sense ‘to bulge’ (as a wall)." Of course, that just pushes the problem back to French.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005 1:09:00 PM  

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