or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Skin Deep

The other day I was wearing a scent called Cuir Cordoba, or "Cordoba Leather", "cuir" (pronounced, approximately, "queer", unfortunately) being the French word for "leather", and of course I began to ruminate on the etymology of the word.

Couldn't think of a thing. (I was at work, so I couldn't look anything up.) There's no reason that "cuir" should have left any trace in English, since we took the Germanic word for "leather" instead: the German word is "Leder", as in "Lederhosen", and the relationship is instantly obvious. But it turns out that there sort of is a distant and barely connected relative of "cuir" in English, really more of a great-aunt's third cousin twice removed, and you will never, ever guess what it is.

"Cuir" is not unexpectedly from Latin originally: it's a derivative of "corium", which means "skin" or "hide", leather being a preserved skin. ("Corium", by the way, exists in English, but in a very restricted sense: it is the deep, sub-epidermal layer of the skin.) You may not have heard of "corium" before--I hadn't--but you have heard of a related word, "cortex", originally in Latin a tree's bark and now the outer layer of a number of things, including the human brain and also the adrenal glands, which is where the word "cortisone" comes from.

"Corium" and "cortex" in turn come from the Indo-European "(s)ker-", "to cut", for obvious reasons, which gave English quite a few words, including "scar" and "shear", along with some more unexpected ones.

Now, the unrelated Latin word "cor", meaning "heart" (as in "cordial", originally "hearty", now just "friendly"), was expanded into "corata", "entrails", which gave rise to the Old French word "corée", with the same meaning. This eventually evolved into "cuirée", which is unrelated to "cuir" but was given its spelling based on "cuir". The entrails of the hunted animals synechdochally came to represent the whole animal, which was eventually referred to as "quarry".

The other kind of quarry, since you are certain to be wondering about it, is related to "quadrilateral": a quarry was a place where stones were excavated, cut out, and squared off.


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