or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, March 12, 2007


I don't wear a watch: the feeling of it bugs the hell out of me. (The only piece of jewelry I can stand to wear is my wedding ring, and that took a bit of getting used to.) But I always know what time it is, because my iPod and my cell phone both have time displays. Here's a Slate article about hard times in the wristwatch industry for just that reason: everyone always knows what time it is nowadays, even without a watch.

The article contains the word "canvass", and I immediately wondered where it might have come from, because obviously it can't be related to "canvas".

Surprise! It is! According to Answers.com, "canvass" comes from "obsolete 'canvass', to toss in a canvas sheet as punishment". English being what it is, it took me a few moments to parse the sentence, because I had originally interpreted it as "Toss a canvas sheet into...what?", possibly influenced by "toss in a dryer sheet"/"toss a fabric-softener sheet into the dryer": "toss in" can mean either "throw something into something else" ("Toss that shirt in the laundry hamper") or "agitate something inside something else" ("Toss the lettuce in the dressing"), but the second meaning is the intended one. Hard to imagine how they got from "punish by tossing about in a canvas sheet" (which actually sounds kind of fun, like what kids do with a blanket) to "scrutinize" or "survey", but of course that's English for you.

That was interesting enough, but what was even better was the origin of "canvas": Middle English "canevas" through Mediaeval Latin "canavasium", which derives from the Latin name for hemp, from which canvas was made: "cannabis"! Who knew?


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