or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Stormy Tuesday

Tuesday gets its name from Tyr, the Nordic god of war known as Mars in the Roman pantheon. Tyr was variously spelled Tiw or Tew in Old English, and so Tew's Day became Tuesday. The German word for "Tuesday" is the similar "Dienstag", and the French version of this is, of course, "Mars' Day", or "mardi".

One of my co-workers is Finnish, and on occasion we talk about her language and the various words in it. Many Finnish words seem very long to the English ear, accustomed the overall brevity and concision of its own language. (The counting numbers from one to ten are "yksi, kaksi, kolme, neljä, viisi, kuus, seitsemän, kahdeksan, yhdeksän, kymmenen", which is wonderfully rhythmic but a real mouthful compared to English.) I was charmed to discover that the Finnish days of the week are not only relatively short but, on the whole, similar to English and other Germanic words: their word for Tuesday is "tiistai". (Doubling a vowel in Finnish elongates it: if I understand correctly, the single "-i-" would be pronounced like the vowel in English "fit", while "-ii-" is pronounced as in English "feet", and likewise a single "-e-" resembles the vowel in "pet" while "-ee-" sounds like our long "-a-" in "pate".)

I got the list of Finnish number-names from the indispensable Wikipedia. You could look at this page for hours.


On my other blog I've written about a strange and beguiling scent called Poivre Piquant, and naturally that got me to thinking about the word "pepper" in French and English. The English word self-evidently comes from the Latin name for black pepper, "piper nigrum", but I couldn't imagine where the French might have come from.

The Latin word which gave us ours is an offshoot of the Sanskrit "pippali", which filtered through another language to become "pippari" before making it into Latin. What surprised me is that, according to Wikipédia, the French version of Wikipedia, the French word comes from exactly the same root. I don't know nearly enough about French etymology to guess how "piper" evolved into "poivre"--how did the "-p-" turn into a "-v-"?--but it does seem odd.

The second half of the name, while I'm at it, was obviously absorbed whole into English as "piquant", "spicy" or, at a metaphorical remove, "intriguing". The French verb "piquer" means "to prick", and this also gave us English "pique", "to arouse interest" as a verb, "snit" as a noun. (An older English meaning of the verb "pique" was "to pride": "She piqued herself on her appearance". I think it's safe to say that this sense of the word is entirely gone from the language except as a historical curiosity.)


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