or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, April 13, 2009

It's Melting

It has finally stopped snowing. It started yesterday morning and it's finally stopped. And here I thought it was supposed to be spring.


I know this is a terribly geeky thing to say, but I've said it before and it's still true: one of the greatest pleasures in life is figuring something out, that "Aha!" moment when the light bulb in your head suddenly illuminates and you understand something you didn't before.

A couple of days ago I was waiting at the bus stop and I noticed a large circular metal object set into the ground. What it is isn't important (which is just as well, because I'm not altogether sure), but what it said is: "Fonderie St-Michel" or something like that.

"Fonderie". I don't know if two simultaneous thoughts will invade your mind, but they did mine. First, "Oh, 'fonderie'. That must be from French 'fondre', 'to melt'." And second, "Oh, 'fonderie' has to be the source of the English word 'foundry', because that's where metal is melted to make things into!"

The light bulb!

Because when you look at "foundry", it doesn't have any obvious relatives in English, does it?

"Found" as a verb, meaning "to establish", is obviously unrelated: it comes from Latin "fundus", "foundation, bottom", which also gives us "fundament", "fundamental", and "fund", the money which is at the bottom of an investment. "Founder", which is what a ship does when it takes on water and then falls to the bottom of whatever body of water it happened to have been floating on, is also from this source.

"Found" as the past tense of "to find" is straight from Germanic: the modern German verb is "finden", the preterite is "fand", and the past participle is "gefunden". (The Old English equivalents were "findan", "fand", "funden". We've lost "fand" altogether, but the others are still with us, minus the Germanic endings we thankfully dispensed with.) "Finden" comes from Indo-European "pent-", "to tread, to go", because you have to go after something in order to find it. (Other "pent-" words: "path", on which you tread; ditto French "pont", which means "bridge", and also the related "pontoon"; and Latin "pontifex", "priest", someone who sets out the path which believers are to follow, which gave English "pontiff", a pope, and "pontificator", one who speaks as if he were a pope.)

I wrote about "fondre" a year ago and somehow in the midst of listing related English borrowings such as "fondue" and "fondant" I completely failed to discover that "foundry" was also in the family. Better late than never.


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