or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Spume Also Rises

Seven years. I have been doing this for seven years.



As I mentioned not too long ago, I had recently been reading David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. As you may know, the man loved his footnotes, which are on occasion nuisances but which usually add flavour to his pieces (one of his footnotes reads, in its entirety, "Duh."). Here is a sentence plus its footnote, #27, from the title essay:

The whole first two days and nights are bad weather, with high-pitched winds and heaving seas, spume lashing the porthole's glass, etc.

The single best new vocab word from this week: spume (second-best was scheisser, which one German retiree called another German retiree who kept beating him at darts).

You can tell Wallace didn't grow up on a coastline*, because if he had there is scarcely any way he could have avoided hearing the word "spume", which is essentially seafoam**. Nearly any water foam, but mostly seafoam.

Looking at "spume", you can instantly make the connection to a couple of Italian food words: spumante, which is a kind of sparkling wine (it foams up when you pour it), and spumoni***, which is a kind of ice-cream dessert (the name comes, I think, from the frothy whipped cream which is folded into it to lighten it). Therefore, you will reason that "spume" is originally from either Italian or Latin, and of course it must be (though it will not surprise you to learn that we got it from French: it does, after all, end in "-e", where the Italian would probably, and does, end in "-a").

Now, here is something that will surprise you. "Spume" is originally from Indo-European "(s)poimo-", and without the "s-", "poimo-" also gave birth to Latin "pumex", which is the source of English "pumice", a volcanic rock so foamily riddled with air pockets that it floats in water. Fittingly, "poimo-" is also ultimately the source of English "foam".

I wanted to be able to tell you that German "Schaum", which means "foam" and is related to English "scum" and "skim", is descended from "(s)poimo-", but it isn't. Alas.

*He was born in Ithaca, New York, and grew up in Champaign, Illinois, says Wikipedia. No coastlines for him.

**I grew up in Newfoundland, which even for an island is heavily fjorded and fractaled and estuaried.

***According to its Wikipedia page, "November 13 is National Spumoni Day in Canada," and all I can say about that is, "No, it isn't." Or at least it isn't very well publicized, since this is the first I've ever heard of it. I don't want you to get the idea that all we do in Canada is celebrate odd, meaningless and commercially motivated holidays.


Blogger Frank said...

Congratulations, Pyramus!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012 10:32:00 PM  

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