or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, March 24, 2006

Pop Quiz

Okay. Two of these seven words are related to two other of the seven words etymologically; the other three are stand-alones. Can you pick out the pairs?

pop [the sound, or the soda]
poppy [the flower]

I ask because I was watching a show and the word "poplar" came up (it's used in the manufacture of harps), and naturally I wondered where it came from. Not from "popular", obviously, because what could trees have to do with people?

As it turns out, much to my surprise, "poplar" and "popular" are in fact intimately related: they both derive from Latin "populus", "the people" (obviously also the root of "populace", as well as "populate", "vox populi", and on and on). I have no idea why "poplar" got its name: the OED is not very forthcoming on the matter. Perhaps the large, dense stands of trees reminded someone of a crowd of people.

The other pair of words in the list is "poplin" and "pope", again much to my surprise. Poplin, a cotton fabric, is so named because it was first made in the papal town of Avignon.

"Poppy" comes from its Latin name, papaver somniferum. "Popinjay" is evidently from Spanish "papagayo", "parrot"; a popinjay is a chattering, preening person. (The Spanish word may sound familiar if you know the Mozart opera Die Zauberflöte: the befeathered birdcatcher is named Papageno.) And "pop", as can easily be imagined, is onomatopoeic.


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