or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Taking Your Lumps

From Boingboing, as usual, there's a link to this amazing poster which shows just what high-heeled shoes can do to the feet. I believe it, too. The mother of a friend of mine had worn heels all her life, from World War II onward (this friend was a late baby), and by 1980 her tendons had shortened so much as a result that she could no longer stand with her feet flat on the floor; she walked around on tiptoes.

And there's a picture of a bunion, and of course--of course!--I had to know where the word "bunion" comes from, and you'll never believe it: it's related to "bun"!

Okay, it isn't, really. But it's amazingly close.

There's an old, old French word, "beigne", which meant "lump", "swelling", or "bruise". This led to a couple of English words with the same meaning, "buyne" and "buigne". The first is obviously a spelling of the way the word was pronounced: the second was a misspelling of the word. Either way, as pronunciations changed over the years and decades, the word came to be pronounced "bunny" or "bony" (much as "cunny" and "coney" existed side by side), and was spelled accordingly. From "bunny", it would seem, came "bunion", a lumpy, swelling outgrowth of bone on the side of the foot.

But what about that bun? Well, that old French word, "beigne", still exists in French, but rather than meaning merely a lump of something or other, it specifically means a lump of dough--or, more exactly, a doughnut. The word still exists in Louisiana French as "beignet", a small fritter or doughnut covered in sugar.

"Bun", surprisingly, doesn't seem to have emerged from "beigne". "Bun" looks like a native English word, and as far as anyone knows, it is. It started out life, or at least had an earlier life, as "bunne", which looks even more authentically Middle English, as Dave Barry uses to great effect in his fake Chaucer:

In a somer sesun whon softe was the sunne
I kylled a younge birde ande I ate it on a bunne.


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