or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, October 08, 2007

Gone With The Wind

It's Thanksgiving Day in Canada, and I am thankful for lots of things, and while I'm sorry anyone has to work on a statutory holiday, I can't just sit around the apartment all day, so Jim and I went to the local hyperdrugstore to pick up a couple of things.

On the way, as we walked along the bank of the Petitcodiac River (we live just a few minutes' walk from it), Jim mentioned that the other day he had seen a partridge and her brood of young in the rushes by the river. "Did I ever tell you where the word 'partridge' comes from?" I asked. I hadn't. I haven't told you, either.

The Middle French word "pertris", which mutated into our modern "partridge" from Middle English "pertrich" and which also turned into modern French "perdrix", is pronounced identically to English "pear tree" with a French accent, which makes the first and last lines of the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas", "a partridge in a pear tree", a sort of pun, or at least a history of mistaken etymology.

"Perdrix", and therefore "partridge", have nothing at all to do with pear trees. The word is instead descended from Indo-European "perd-", "to fart", because the sharp snapping noise of the bird's wings as it takes off are supposedly reminiscent of a series of farts. We might well call the bird a fartridge.

"Perd-" has left another trace in English. "Péter", pronounced "pay-tay", is the French verb "to fart", led to the noun "petard", a firecracker or other explosive device. To be "hoist by one's own petard", therefore, means literally to be thrown in the air by the explosive device that one has set oneself, or, figuratively, to be accidentally done in by a plot or a trap that one has set in motion.

Since "péter" means "to fart" and "pet" is the French noun for a fart, what do you suppose "pétomane" means? Employing the French "-mane" suffix you may have seen in such English imports as "balletomane", and meaning "maniac", a pétomane would logically be a fartin' maniac, and such was the stage name of a man who could control his musculature so that he could fart at will, so precisely that he could perform the Marseillaise, which rather puts armpit-farters to shame.

In his book "Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women", Ricky Jay, if memory serves, devotes an entire chapter to Le Pétomane. You may read a sober, straightforward account of this performer nonpareil here, or a hilarious version here, from, of course, Cecil Adams. A sample of the latter:

...he would proceed with a program of fart impressions, as it were: the timid fart of the young girl, the hearty fart of the miller, the fart of the bride on her wedding night (almost inaudible), the fart of the bride a week later (a lusty raspberry), and a majestic 10-second fart which he likened to a couturier cutting six feet of calico cloth.


Post a Comment

<< Home