or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bottled Up

I like to smell good, as you will know if you've ever read my other blog. Jim, on the other hand, feels he would probably be better off with no sense of smell whatever. This morning, we were getting ready to head out to our various days: him to the gymnasium, me to work (an hour from now). Here's a true-life conversation which happened mere minutes ago:

Jim: I'm off, so you can smear yourself with whatever unguents you like.

Me: Well, I'd do that anyway. If you're still home, I just put on something after I leave. That's why I keep two or three fragrances in vials in my knapsack. They call them vials because they're full of vile things.

Jim: Why
do they call them "vials", anyway?

Me: Well, the word started out as "phial". Before that...I got nothing.

Jim: Better look it up.

So I did.

"Vial" did indeed have an earlier life as "phial". As I was looking this up, Jim came into the computer room and asked the question I'd been asking myself: since "philtre" means "potion", is there any possibility that "phial" is related. since that's what a philtre would be packaged in? I didn't think so, and, as it turns out, no.

"Phial", interestingly, started off as Greek "phiale" and Latin "phiala", both of which mean a saucer or other shallow vessel. It turned into "fiola" in Late Latin and then to "fiole" in French; Middle English took it in just this form, and then, bafflingly, converted the "f-" right back to the "ph-" with which it started, giving us "phiole". And then, when the pronunciation and the spelling became unified, the vowel was switched to an "-a-". making the word "phiale", which, you will note, is exactly the form in which it started its life in Greek.

And then we dropped the terminal "-e" to get "phial". And then we switched the "ph-" to the closely related "v-". And here we are.

"Vial" therefore has nothing to do with "philtre", which, as I've written about before, simply means "love potion". "Vial" is also, obviously, unrelated to "vile" (from Latin "vilis", "cheap, base", also the source of "vilify"), except in weak puns made by people getting ready to go to work.


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