or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The First Cut

Once again, I'm doing the dishes and idly reading the various boxes of things on the shelf above the sink, and I notice that the French words for "cutting edge"--on a box of cling-wrap, not a box of modern art or computer components--are "bord tranchant".

"Bord" is pretty obviously related to "border". No further explanation needed there, I trust. And doesn't "tranchant" look like an English word?

The suffix "-ant" in French has exactly the same effect as "-ing" has in English: it turns a verb into an adjective. "Tell", for instance, becomes the adjective "telling" (as well as the progressive verb as in present-progressive "he's telling a story"); "dire", "to say", becomes, with a consonant change, "disant", "saying", as in the naturalized English expression "soi-disant", "self-styled" (literally "saying [of] oneself").

"Trancher" is a French verb meaning "to cut" or "to slice"; "tranche" is a noun meaning "a slice". We have a few English offspring from this: "trench", a channel or ditch that's cut out of the earth, and "trencher", a plank of wood upon which meat is carved, and "trencherman", a hearty eater, as manual labourers such as ditch-diggers are known to be.

And, of course, we have "trenchant", a direct descendant of "tranchant"; a trenchant remark is one that is strong, sharp, and, above all, cutting.


Blogger Tony Pius said...

As well as the ineffable "tranche" -- rhymes with "launch" -- which is used in high finance.

You see, people buy up a whole bunch of mortgages, bundle them together into half-billion dollar chunks, and then slice up the interest and principal being repaid on those mortgages and sell off to investors pieces of each slice. Each such slice is a "tranche."

You can Google on "collateralized mortgage obligations" if you burn to know more, but it's pretty brain-hurty. Or you can go read Michael Lewis's excellent book Liar's Poker, which covers it in passing.

Thursday, June 22, 2006 6:35:00 PM  

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