or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bad Taste

Over on my other blog I've posted a review of a scent called Gourmand Coquin, and its name has a most interesting etymology.

The "gourmand" part is pretty self-evident: we have the word "gourmand" in English, where it's a noun meaning a person who gorges himself, as opposed to a gourmet, someone who takes pleasure in fine, well-prepared food. In French, the words have pretty much exactly the same meaning as they do in English. "Gourmet" and "gourmand" are not directly related etymologically, but they influenced one another in spelling over the centuries: "gourmet" started out as Old French "grommes", wine-tasters, and "gourmand" started out as "gormant".

But what about "coquin"?

At first glance it seems likely to be related to "coq", which is to say "cock" or "rooster". In addition to the dish "coq au vin", we have another "coq" word in English: "coquette", a flirtatious woman. (French also has the masculine version, "coquet", which exists in English but is rarely seen.) There's also the derived "cocotte", which goes beyond mere flirtatiousness: a cocotte follows through on her flirting, and is therefore a promiscuous woman--a tart.

"Coquin" means, as a noun, "rascal", and as an adjective (as it is in "Gourmand Coquin") "rascally". So obviously "coquin" and "coquet" should be related, being two elements of the same essential pattern of behaviour: the roguish flirt. And yet surprisingly, they're not related in any way.

This is very complicated, so gird your loins. "Coquin" is derived from "coquille", which is the French word for "scallop shell", as in "Coquille St-Jacques", a dish made of scallops in an egg-based sauce and protected with buttered and seasoned breadcrumbs, baked or broiled in the shell (or in a ramekin). (Scallops themselves are called "petoncles", a word which derives from Latin "petunculus", diminutive of "pecten", "sea comb", another name for the scallop.) If you ever wondered why scalloped potatoes--mixed with a cheese sauce, covered in crumbs, and baked--are called that, now you know. "Coquille" in turn comes from Vulgar Latin "conchilia", "shell", which I would think is self-evidently related to "conch", from Greek "konche", "mussel".

Coquille St-Jacques is named after the saint James, "Jacques" in French, whose symbol was the scallop shell and whose devotees also used the shell for symbolic as well as practical purposes: Middle Ages pilgrims on their way to his shrine in Spain would stop along the way to beg for food, and would ask the donor only for as much food or drink as would fit into the scallop shell, a good thing for impoverished citizens who were nevertheless morally obliged to assist the pilgrim.

A coquin, then, was someone who begged with a coquille, or scallop shell. Eventually it came to be applied to those pilgrims who abused the hospitality of those at whose houses they stopped along the way, and eventually to any man ("coquine" is the feminine version) who variously abused the hospitality of others, or was simply a bad influence.

Yes, I know all this sounds vaguely preposterous, but as Anna Russell liked to say, "I'm not making this up, you know."


Blogger gloria said...

Love this perfume! Want a full bottle. Thanks for the coq!!


Tuesday, March 20, 2012 6:39:00 PM  

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