or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Foam on the Range

I have in my shower a bottle of Chanel's Allure Homme shower gel. One of the things I love about lots of European products is that they're labelled in multiple languages; in this case, eleven. It makes for riveting bathtime reading, let me tell you.

The French term for "shower gel" (on this bottle, anyway) is "gel moussant". "Mousse", as we know, is French for "foam".

The German word for "foam" is "Schaum". You've probably seen this word before: if not on a bottle of European shower gel, then as part of the word "Meerschaum". It's a kind of pipe, but the word literally means "seafoam", "Meer" being the German word for sea and being cognate to French "mer" and Latin "mare". The word "Schaum" doesn't actually appear on the bottle (they use "Bade- und Duschgel", which is to say "bath and shower gel"), but it is the word for "foam" anyway. (Meerschaum is a form a white clay--actually magnesium silicate--used for carving little sculptures and also pipe bowls.)

The Norwegian translation of "foaming bath gel" is "skummende badegele", which strikes the English ear as slightly hilarious and slightly gross, because it inevitably calls to mind the word "scum", which is unfortunate.

But, as will almost certainly have occurred to you by now, "scum" is directly related to "Schaum". Scum that's floating in a pot of boiling potatoes is nothing more than air bubbles bound together by starch molecules; it's potato foam. But the word, alas, has come to mean something rather nastier than that, since it now generally refers to a floating layer of something filthy, decomposing, or otherwise noxious.

And what do we do with cooking scum? We skim it, of course, and do you suppose that "scum" and "skim" are related? Oh, you had better bet they are. Middle English "scume", which we borrowed from the Dutch (their word was "schume"), led not only to "scum", but also to the verb "scumen", which meant, yes, "to skim".


Post a Comment

<< Home