or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Warm and Fuzzy 2

Maybe you've seen those photographs of the plus-size model that Jean-Paul Gaultier put in his show as a smirky fuck-you to Spain. Turns out her stage name--perhaps it's her given name, don't know, don't care--is Velvet, which is an interesting word indeed.

For the first few hundred years of English, there was only "v", used to represent what are in modern times "u" and "v". Eventually the "u" evolved, but not the way we use it today: "v" was generally used at the beginning of a word, and "u" within a word, leading to such oddities (to modern eyes) as "vnder" and "loue". (In keeping with the fast-and-loose spelling of the time, these were not absolute rules.) In the eighteenth century, in what we might call the dictionary era, the consonant "v" and the vowel "u" took on their modern forms once and for all.

"Velvet" started out its life as "veluet", but since "v" is "u" is "v", the modern spelling and pronunciation were eventually settled on. (The OED lists a quotation from 1694 as the time when the one became the other: there is one earlier quote, from the mid-1400s, using the spelling "velvet".) "Veluet" is clearly related to "velour"--more clearly than is "velvet", anyway. They're both from the same source, eventually: they both came from French words that descended from Latin "villosus", "hairy", which stems from "villus", "hair", because velvet has a short-haired nap.

You might suppose that "vellum" is descended from the same root: I rather hoped it was, since vellum, a form of parchment, is made from kidskin...which has the hair...scraped from it....

But no. "Vellum" is from the same root as "veal": Latin "vitulus", "calf".


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