Cephalogenic

or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

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Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Open Source

There's always been lots of cross-pollination among the languages of Europe. It could hardly be otherwise, what with all the invading and trading over the centuries.

German and French are far, far apart--they don't belong to the same family, German being (natch) Germanic and French being Romance--but even as a sprat I thought it was fascinating that their words for "window" were practically identical: the Germans use "Fenster" and the French "fenĂȘtre", with the little hat over the "e", called a circumflex, usually denoting a vowel that was once followed by an ess that was later lost. (I wrote about it here.) The word is even feminine in both tongues.*

Well, if we didn't get "window" from the French, and we didn't get it from the Germans, who did we get it from? From the Norse, who lent us a compound word which Answers.com accurately calls "a vivid metaphor. "Window" is from a pair of words which mean "wind" and "eye": a glassless window is a fanciful eye through which air streams.

* No, it isn't. My mistake. Read the comments for more on this.

5 Comments:

Blogger Peggy said...

I don't get a chance to check your blog regularly. I notice you've already written three other postings since dedicating this one to correct me. Hope you'll still sccroll down to read my comments.

You're right about grenadine juice being made from pomegranates. The fruit I mentioned as grenadine is actually called grenadille, passion fruit in English. My confusion comes from the fact that grenadille is sometimes called grenadine in some islands. That is why I assumed grenadine would be the juice from the grenadine fruit. You can find more details on the fruit if you do a search on grenadille. Hope that helps to clarify things.

Saturday, April 08, 2006 6:54:00 PM  
Blogger Ana said...

Actually the gender for the German word for "window" is neuter. It's "das Fenster."

In any case, that's a word that has always interested me. There's also the Italian "finestra." This makes me wonder if the Spanish "ventana" is related. Could be, but I really don't know and I'm lacking a good etymological dictionary. (I must get one, or several!)

Sunday, April 16, 2006 4:06:00 AM  
Blogger pyramus said...

Well, look at that--it is neuter! Either I trusted my obviously inadequate memory instead of digging out my German dictionary, or I typed it into Google Translate and accidentally asked for "the windows", which actually is "die Fenster". Thanks for fixing that up.

The Spanish word for "window" is suggestive of a couple of things--not only "Fenster"/"fenetre" but also "window" itself, because the Spanish word for "wind" is "viento" (which is also reminiscent of French "vent" and Italian "vento"). But, like you, I have no Spanish etymological dictionary, and a Google search didn't lead me to one online, so it will have to remain a mystery for now.

Sunday, April 16, 2006 8:51:00 AM  
Blogger Ana said...

Huh, hadn't thought of the connection between "window" and "ventana" -- makes sense! This is all fascinating to me.

And after posting my comment yesterday I remembered one of my favorite words: "defenestration." I wonder if it was such a frequent occurrence for people to get thrown out of windows that they had to come up with a specific term for it.

Monday, April 17, 2006 1:04:00 AM  
Blogger pyramus said...

I love the word "defenestration", too, and I've also always marveled at the fact that we actually thought we needed a word for it. There's never any telling what words a language might find itself in need of, is there? Last October I was amazed to discover that the Greeks had a word for the angle formed by the place where the eyelids meet.

Monday, April 17, 2006 7:09:00 AM  

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