or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, March 17, 2008


A couple of days ago I was talking about the names of colours on paint labels, and today I'm talking about the names of colours on yarn labels. (We're doing inventory at the store, and, not being desperately needed in the frame shop for the most part, I had to do what's called a detail recovery of the yarn, making sure everything was where it ought to be.)

A number of yarns have a colour called "Winter White", which doesn't really differ from white-white in any significant way, in my opinion. (These lines of yarn also have a White. Go figure.) The French term for "winter white" is "blanc hibernal". Now, "hibernal", as it happens, is an English word as well, meaning, of course, "wintry". French "hibernal" is related to French "hiver", which means "winter", and is also obviously related to English "hibernate", which means "to undergo dormancy in the winter". All these words are from Latin "hibernus", "wintry", which comes from "hiems", the Latin word for "winter", which also gave English a word you've probably never heard before, "hiemal", with the same meaning. (You may already know that the opposite of hibernation is estivation, which is summer dormancy: this comes from Latin "aestivare", "to reside during the summer", and this word gave French its word for summer, "été".)

All well and good, but what about "Hibernia"? That's an old word for Ireland, which is not dramatically wintry, and yet the word clearly has a whiff of winter-ness about it. The old Celtic name for Ireland was "Iveriu", and the Romans adopted this name, mucked around with it a bit, altered it as if it were related to "hiems/hibernus", and dubbed it "Hibernia". "Iveriu" is where the name "Eire", yet another name for Ireland, comes from, and also the "Erin" in "Erin Go Bragh", and finally is where the first syllable of "Ireland" comes from.

It is completely and truthfully coincidental that I ended up writing about this on St. Patrick's Day. I don't celebrate it, I didn't even really think of it today, and yet somehow it cropped up. From a ball of yarn!


Blogger Dr. Herringbone Dread said...

Have you ever heard the saying that Ireland has three months of winter and nine months of bad weather?

Friday, May 14, 2010 10:07:00 AM  

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