or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, January 01, 2012


I'm back!

Did you miss me? I missed you.

There's a sketch on the British comedy series That Mitchell and Webb Look (series 4, episode 1, if you're interested: it's on Netflix) in which a small-business owner shoots all of his employees, one after another. when he discovers their little mispronunciations and errors in usage during a staff meeting. I can sympathize: hearing someone say "pacifically" instead of "specifically" or "expresso" instead of "espresso" makes me grit my teeth, and it's just as well I don't have access to a Luger, I suppose. But after almost seven years of blogging, I simply ran out of bile, or at least redirected it.

So it's time for a do-over. What I'm still interested in is etymology, and so I think that unless something really chaps my hide or otherwise distracts me, I'll be focusing on that. Let's have some now, shall we?

The French word for "citrus" is "agrume", and both of these words are at first glance a bit of puzzle; you can make out from the "-us" ending that "citrus" must be Latin, but otherwise, how baffling! "Citrus" may come originally from Greek "kedros", "cedar", but as is so often the case, nobody is absolutely sure: but neither is anybody proposing that citrus fruit grows on cedars. The link seems to be that the Greeks came across an African tree with fragrant wood and lemon-like fruit and, rather than using the native name for it, just named it after a tree they already knew that also had a fragrant wood.

"Agrume", on the other hand, is of certain etymology, and it too is Latin: from Late Latin "acrumen", "sour fruit, a sour thing", from Latin "acer", "sharp". And a number of other English words derive from or are otherwise related to this, all of them having some sense of "sharp" or "sour. "Vinegar" is a direct steal from French "vinaigre", "soured wine", and another name for vinegar, "acetic acid", derives both its parts from "acer": "acetic" is the adjective and "acid" (derived from "acidus") the noun evolved from "acere", "to be sour". "Acerbic" and "acrid" are both relatives (as is "exacerbate", literally "to make sharper"), and words somewhat farther afield such as "acrimonious" are kin, as well as, most unexpectedly, "acrylic", not having anything to do with paint but being originally a chemical term derived from Greek "acrolein", "sharp-smelling".

A word that both English and French use for the smell of citrus fruit, a word mostly used in the perfumery biz (which as you may know I have a passing interest in), is "hesperides". Anybody familiar with Greek mythology knows that word: the Hesperides were the nymphs who tended the orchard in which those troublesome golden apples grew. "Hesperides" means "from Hesperus", which was another name for the planet Venus, long associated with beauty, and a descendent of the word "Hesperus" is (via Latin) "vesper", which originally meant "the evening star" (another name for Venus) and a century or so later came to mean "the evening", with "vespers" being the Latinate name for evening prayers (beautifully rendered in native English as "evensong").


Blogger Frank said...

Welcome back!

Sunday, January 01, 2012 10:49:00 PM  
Blogger Vanessa said...

Hi Pyramus,

I was recommended to approach you with my question about the meaning of the word "OLFCARTOPHILE". Is it - as my research suggests - a lover of perfume cards (pre-scented or otherwise):

I came across this term while researching the history of perfume cards on a French website, and assumed it would work in either language.

Hope you don't mind my posting this query here!

For what it is worth, I am a staunch defender of the beleaguered apostrophe, which seems to be inserted or omitted (though more often inserted) quite wantonly these days.

Sunday, January 15, 2012 7:33:00 PM  
Blogger Vanessa said...

Sorry - the semi-colon should be a question mark. Slip of the finger, not grammatical standards!

Sunday, January 15, 2012 7:35:00 PM  

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