or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Today on Now Smell This was the announcement of a new Lalique scent, Hommage a l'Homme, and nearly as soon as I saw that I realized that "hommage", the French word for (and ancestor of) English "homage", must obviously be descended from "homme", "man", somehow, and I couldn't believe that I hadn't noticed this before, although if we stopped to think about the provenance of every word that passed our lips or entered our heads we would never get anything done, so perhaps it's just as well.

"Homme" is in fact the progenitor of "hommage", which originally meant allegiance to one's feudal lord, vowing to be his man, but now in English more broadly means a display of respect to someone or something.

Today would have been David Foster Wallace's birthday, and as it happens, I'm in the middle of one of his books ("A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again"). I decided to read one of his pieces online, "Consider The Lobster" (not in the book I'm reading but in the book of the same name), possibly not the sort of thing one wants to read if one enjoys eating lobster because it will thereafter be hard to enjoy it quite so much, and as I was reading the piece it occurred to me that the French word for "lobster", "homard", looks as if it too ought to be related to "homme", though of course that is impossible. And thankfully, the two words have nothing to do with one another.

"Homard" is, somewhat bizarrely, a Frenchification of the German word "Hummer", meaning the same thing. (Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian also employ this word, and it might be the case that it came to French from one of them.) Those northern tongues got it from Old Norse "humarr", which in turn got it from...Latin, of all things, the Latin for "lobster" being "cammarus".

I was sure I had done "lobster" before but apparently not, so here it is: originally Old English "loppestre", from Latin "locusta", and you are going to say that "lobster" and "locusta" do not look much alike, to which I will reply that neither do "homard" and "cammarus", but that is the sort of thing that happens to words over the decades and centuries.


Blogger Pinellas Thrifter said...

Grimm's Law in action with cammarus->homard! Although I prefer to use cannabis and hemp as an example.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012 2:29:00 AM  
Blogger pyramus said...

Grimm's Law, right you are, and you can see therefore that I am not a trained linguistician, because I was sitting insomniac writing, trying not to write something obviously wrong, and all I could think of was "chanukkah/hanukkah" (wrong language family) and "century/hundred" (different principle altogether) until finally I gave up and said, "It just is, that's all."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012 7:00:00 AM  
Blogger Pinellas Thrifter said...

Roots of English was one of the more "fun" electives I took- the professor (D. Gary Miller) has published some dreadfully expensive books/texts on the subject. Somewhere in my school email, I've got course notes that probably became one of those books if you're interested.

Thursday, February 23, 2012 5:29:00 AM  

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