or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hitting the Bottle

Over on my other blog I wrote about a scent called Anné Pliska, and over on that fragrance's Blogspot blog--yes, even perfumes have blogs these days--is the following text:

Prices for ordering direct from Anne Pliska Parfums are as follows:

Eau de Parfum Spray - 2 oz -- $53.00
Parfum Falcon - .25 oz -- $68.00

Parfum Falcon. Apparently they have a bird deliver it to your door!

Nah, they just meant "flaçon", and unfortunately "falcon" is a word in English so unfortunately a spellchecker wouldn't catch it, but a human would have and should have, and you know the drill.

"Falcon" is from Latin, from "falx", "sickle", which refers to the shape of the bird's talons, or beak, or outspread wings--take your pick.

"Flaçon", in the usual French spelling, or "flacon", as it's usually written in English, is from Late Latin "flasconem", "bottle", which in turn is related to English "flask" and "flagon". (The cedilla, that little squig under the "-c-", denotes a change in sound: rather than a hard-k "c", it's a soft-s sound: "flass-on". You do occasionally see such French borrowings as "flaçon" and "façade" in English, but since we generally do away with diacritical marks, we usually dispense with the cedilla as well, and trust that speakers will know how to pronounce the word without it. Sometimes this trust is misplaced, but that's English for you.)

In a surprising turn of events, "flasconem" was not originally a Latin word but was apparently borrowed into Late Latin from one of the Germanic tongues, where it may have initially derived from the same source that gave us "flax", because the original sense was of a bottle in a carrier of some sort that would have been woven or plaited around it. (Nobody is quite sure about this. Etymology is not the most exact of sciences.)

So, in a nutshell: "flask" was borrowed from Latin, which borrowed it from a Germanic tongue; "flaçon" or "flacon" is from French, which got it from Latin; and "flagon" is a perfectly ordinary mutation of "flacon", which, without the cedilla, would naturally be pronounced in English with a hard "-c -" and then eventually with a hard "-g-".


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