or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, June 15, 2007


So as I was cleaning up in the store tonight after we closed, I saw in the floral department what's known as a frog, a device used for holding flowers in an arrangement. You can pretty much look at it and see how it would work, I think, and if you can't, well, that's what the Internet is for. I can't do everything for you.

Since everything is labelled in English and French here in Canada, the package also bore the French word for "frog", which is not what you might think it is ("grenouille"): instead, it's "porc-épic". Isn't that a delight?

Even if you don't know what "porc-épic" means on first sight, you can figure it out. Look at the picture of the frogs and say the French word a few times. That's right: "porcupine".

This makes a great deal more sense than the English name for it. Nobody is quite sure why exactly we call those devices "frogs", except, I suppose, that they live in water. Dictionary.com is of the opinion that the word is of an entirely different derivation from the aquatic-amphibian version (which is from originally from the Norse and later the Germans, who currently use the word "Frosch").

Where do "porcupine" and "porc-épic" come from? You will be unsurprised, I think, to learn that they're from the same source. We did in fact get "porcupine" from Middle French, which called the animal "porc d'espine", "spiny pig". English adopted this as "porke despyne", which was then slurred into "porcapyne", which is pretty close to the pronunciation still heard in the South, where "porkypine" is not uncommon.

I am not sure how "porc d'espine" became "porc-épic", though, but if "porke despyne" can become "porcupine", then anything is possible.


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