or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Merry Christmas to everyone, and I hope you all got what you wanted. If you don't celebrate Christmas, well, welcome to the club: I used to, but four-plus years in the heart of big-box retail has made me jaded and bitter (and thoroughly sick of Christmas music), so I'm done with the holidays and will be glad when they're over. I know: bah, humbug.

Despite my general hostility to the season these days, wouldn't you like to know anyway where the word "stocking" came from? Sure you would.

The stock which forms the main part of a tree, the stock of a rifle, the stocks in which criminals used to be put, a family or other collection of people (think "family tree") or animals ("livestock"), and on and on, all of them are from the same source: Proto-Germanic "stukkaz", "tree trunk". The very narrow sense grew and proliferated to cover such things as investment certificates (a paper form of wealth, virtual livestock), a group of things or people (stock footage, a theatrical stock company, merchandise kept in stock), and on and on, including such metaphorical uses as "stock-still" (motionless as a tree trunk, a very old figure of speech dating from the fifteenth century).

A stocking is also related: Old English "stocc" meant "tree trunk" or "log", and "stocka" eventually came to mean "leg covering", presumably because of the visual similarity between tree trunks and legs (mine, anyway). The Christmas stocking is first found referred to in print in the mid-1800s.

And, while I'm on the subject of leg coverings, what about "hose" (from a couple of days ago)? I figured it was from French in one way or another, since someone who sells them is a hosier, and his product came to be known (in the late eighteenth century) as hosiery, and they look pretty French (if you assume that the French "-ie" ending was changed to "-y" in English). However, as it turns out, "hose" is pretty old, dating from the twelfth century, and English merely tacked on the "-ier" suffix, for "one who": we did get that from French, but the rest of the word is actually Germanic. "Hose" are trousers in Mittelhochdeutch, hence "Lederhosen", "leather pants". (Since pants are composed of tubes, the sense of "a tube for conveying water" was not too far behind: it dates from 1497.) "Hose" originated in IE "(s)keu-", "to cover or conceal", about which more in a day or two, probably.

Seriously, though. If you celebrate Christmas, have a good one, and if you don't, you probably still have some time off, so have a nice holiday, whatever it be.


Post a Comment

<< Home