Monthly Archives: October 2010

sachet /’sæʃeɪ/

It’s no secret that I am a power user of the Starbucks® coffee chain. The staff at my local dispensary not only know me by name but start preparing my drink before I get to the counter. I also have one of the Starbucks’ gold cards that automatically reloads direct from my bank account if my credit goes below $15.00.  Add to that my collection of Starbucks mugs from around the world and you get some idea of my significant contribution to the company’s annual profits.

Starbucks mug from Auckland

Starbucks Auckland mug

To sustain my habit during the day, I bought a VIA® tumbler, a marvelous piece of drinking technology that ensures I have a constant supply of ready-brew coffee; or as it used to be called, “instant coffee.” The Starbucks marketing department have gone to great pains to advertise their VIA range as “Ready Brew” because it’s “a different instant coffee.”

Where marketing and design converge is the VIA tumbler, which allows you to load up to six of the VIA packets into a case that wraps around the tumbler, almost loading a six-gun barrel.

Starbucks VIA tumbler

Starbucks VIA tumbler

So when they announced the launch of their new flavored VIA packs, I looked forward to adding them to my tumbler, giving me a wider choice. But alas there was one tiny flaw: the packets are too large for the slots. This is either an oversight by the marketing department or a prelude to the launch of a new tumbler designed for the larger packs.

Needless to say, like any good Englishman, I wrote a stern letter. If I’d still been living in the UK, I’d have mailed it to the Times and the Telegraph. However, as I’m in Ohio, e-mail had to do.

A week later, my new friend, Leo, sent me a reply.

I’m very happy to hear how much you enjoy your tumbler.  There is nothing in my database that indicates the VIA Natural Fusions will be packaged in a smaller sachet. What I will do is pass your idea onto the VIA department here at our corporate headquarters.

Clearly Leo actually read my missive as I did indeed state that I liked my cup. Sadly his second sentence drifted from the “I” of the first and shifted the focus to a neutral third party – the database. Whatever the database tells him must be the truth. I would have preferred a more human “we have no plans to make smaller sachets” rather than the retreat to the passive. Ah well, at least he switched back to the “I” in the final sentence and has now passed the buck.

The OED defines the current use of the word as:

A small sealed bag-like container, now usually of plastic, for holding a liquid, a powder, or air.

It first appeared in the 1917 Harrod’s General Catlogue when mentioning “Shampoo Sachets.” However, the earlier definition of a sachet was;

A dry perfume made up into a packet for placing among articles of clothing, etc.

Piesse’s Perfumery (1855) contains the sentence, “Besides the sachets mentioned there are many other substances applied as dry perfumes, such as scented wadding.”

scented sachet

L'Occitane scented sachet

Ultimately it can be tracked back to the 15th century when it was used to mean a small bag or wallet. William Caxton uses the word in his 1483 The Golden Legend:

He… ete.. twyes a day of the same loof and alwaye on the morn he fond it hool in his sachet.

But the story doesn’t end – or start – there. The word is clearly French in origin, which in turn derives from the Old Northern French saquet, a small sack or bag. At the same time as sachet was being used by Caxton, the word sacket was also in use, as evidenced in a snippet from An Alphabet of Tales, a 1440 translation of the Alphabetum Narrationum of Etienne de Besancon:

A grete sakett full of mony in his hand.

This remained as a dialectal word in Scotland to at least the early 19th century, and through to the late 19th as meaning a rascal.

The word saquet is itself a diminutive of the older Latin word, saccus, meaning a bag made of sackcloth. Digging even further bag we find the Greek word σάκκος, also meaning a bag made of cloth.

Earlier than this, the word saq occurs in Hebrew and possibly Phoenician (according to both the OED and Liddell & Scott in their An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon). There are also the variants such as the Jewish Aramaic saq, saqq{amac}, the Syriac saq, saqå, and the Assyrian saqqu.

I can only hope that Starbucks’ will take less time to re-size their new flavored VIA sachets than the word itself evolved from its Assyrian origins. I can only hope.

Wordle: sachet - etymology

Leave a comment

Filed under Etymology, Word Origins

enchant /ɛnˈtʃɑnt/

If I were given the chance to choose another era into which to have been born, I’m pretty sure that culturally, the mid- to late-19th century would have suited me fine. Well, provided I were given the resources to avoid having to live in grinding poverty, succumb to fatal diseases, and be an Englishman. In truth, it took me a long time to realize that I was perhaps born a century too early, and a simple list of my cultural interests outside of the 20th and 21st centuries  make it so obvious that it’s hard to imagine how stupid I was to miss it!

Top Five Musicians: Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky.

Top Five Poets: Byron, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, and Tennyson.

Top Five Painters: Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Arnold Bocklin, Thomas Cole, John Collier, Casper David Friedrich, and John William Waterhouse.

Top Five Writers: Han Christian Anderson, Lewis Carroll, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Nikos Kazantzakis, and Mark Twain.

Now not all of the above are 19th century – and consider that your “Quiz of the Week” to find out which are more early 2oth – but the majority certainly are. Add to this the fact that my collection of Freudiana takes up three shelves and you can see that on balance, I appear to be a hopeless Romantic, in the full 19th century meaning of the word.

You could say that I am enchanted by the era. It’s no surprise that I’ve already talked about the romanticism of vampires and that both Lara Croft and Xena Warrior Princess are guilty pleasures. But why should that be? What have these fictional characters got to do with the word enchant?

Well, the obvious link is that it also the root of the word enchantress, defined by the OED as a “female who employs magic; a witch, sorceress.” And perhaps the most iconic and well-known enchantress is Circe, who appears as a major character in Homer’s Odyssey, and gets a minor mention in Hesiod’s Theogeny. In the myth, Circe tried to use her magic to enchant Odysseus, but by using a drug given to him by Hermes, he was able to resist her charms. However, the same could not be said for Circe who fell in love with him and eventually let him and his men leave.

J.W. Waterhouse’s Circe Invidiosa (Latin for envious) came close to having me banned from the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide when I committed the heinous crime of trying to take a photograph. My error was to use a camera since that what caught the attention of one of the fine art Gestapo, who were conveniently ignoring all the spotty-faced yakking kids on a school outing happily clicking their cell phones at all and everything. Unless he thought I was an international art thief planning my heist, I have yet to work out what possible harm I could have caused.

Circe Invidiosa painting

Circe Invidiosa

Circe Invidiosa phto

Circe Criminalis

The word enchant derives from the Latin incantare, which in turn comes from the prefix in- meaning upon or against, followed by cantare, to sing. The word incantation, meaning a magic spell or charm comes from the same root. In his 1377 The Vision of William concerning Piers Plowman, William Langland wrote;

The frere with his phisik this folke hath enchaunted

By the 16th century, the word had extended its verbiness and become an adjective. In Spenser’s Faire Queene, he said;

When Britomart with sharp avizefull eye
Beheld the lovely face of Artegall
Tempred with sternesse and stout maiestie,
She gan eftsoones 6 it to her mind to call
To be the same which, in her fathers hall
Long since in that enchaunted glasse she saw.

Coleridge was also enchanted by “enchanted” and used the word in Kubla Khan (an etymologized version of which can be found on this very blog).

But O, that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

Kiss of the Enchantress

Kiss of the Enchantress 1890 Isabel Gloag

Tennyson used the masculine form of the noun in the story of Merlin and Vivian in Idylls of the King:

And Vivien ever sought to work the charm
Upon the great Enchanter of the Time,
As fancying that her glory would be great
According to his greatness whom she quenched.

In the poem, Merlin is eventually spellbound by Vivian as she casts a charm on him and imprisons him in an oak tree.

Beguiling of Merlin painting

The Beguiling of Merlin 1874 Burne Jones

Enchant has certainly worked hard at crossing the parts-of-speech boarders by moving from verb to adjective to noun and even to adverb! For a very brief period in the 13th century, magic was referred to using the noun, enchantery, and we also see the first appearance of enchantment at around the same time, although this form of the word has continued to also mean “alluring or overpowering charm; enraptured condition; (delusive) appearance of beauty” up until today.

Shakespeare (who else?) appears to have been the first to coin the use of the word as an adverb in the passage;

Yet hee’s gentle, neuer school’d, and yet learned, full of noble deuise, of all sorts enchantingly beloued

And only last month in Vogue magazine, in a review of Oscar de la Renta’s latest collection, writer Indigo Clarke said that there was;

An enchantingly ladylike extravaganza like no other during New York Fashion Week…, Oscar de la Renta’s preternatural ability to make antiquated styles relevant in a modern context is continually inspiring.

Oscar de la Renta gown

Enchantingly elegant de la Renta?

As a final example of the dangers of enchantment, consider once more Odysseus’s journey back to Ithaca and his brush with the sirens. These seductresses of the sea were said to lure sailors to their doom by singing the most beautiful and hypnotic songs and causing their prey to crash against rocks and drown. Artist John William Waterhouse, a slave to feminine enchantment, painted Ulysses and the Sirens in 1891, and The Siren around 1900.

Ulysees and the Sirens painting

Ulysses and the Sirens 1891 Waterhouse

If you click on the paintings and look at the faces of all the sirens, you’ll see that Waterhouse was indeed enchanted by a vision of one woman, whose image appears over and over in his paintings.

The Siren painting

The Siren c.1900 Waterhouse

Male artists seem to be prone to enchantment. It could be said of Quentin Tarantino, the director, that he was enchanted by Uma Thurman, who has appeared in a number of his movies and with whom he maintains a professional relationship.

But men and their Muses… that’s another story.

Wordle: enchant - etymology

Leave a comment

Filed under Etymology, Word Origins

kinky /’kɪŋkɪ/

Like most people, my life is governed by Chance. Those folks who think their lives are dictated by some some of Order are sadly mistaken. God not only plays dice with the universe but the Universe itself is nothing more than a giant dice shaker with an infinite number of ivories.

So earlier this week, word lover June Templeton happened to join The Word Guy’s merry band on Twitter. Ever intrigued by why folks might want to receive daily doses of random etymologies in 140 characters or less, I clicked through the twitter tracks to find June’s blog, June’s Temple. In her brief introduction, she writes:

I love reading, writing and dreaming. I have a thing for horses (not in a kinky way) and a thing for dashing fairy-tale princes (sometimes in a kinky way).

Kinky. Now there’s a word with a personal history. Without much thinking at all, the word conjures up images of Diana Rigg in a skin-tight leather catsuit and kinky boots. This was back in the late sixties when I was still in single digits but becoming old enough to find Emma Peel somewhat visually distracting. By the 70’s I was able to appreciate the full Freudian implications of the effect she had had on my tender young pre-pubescent psyche.

One interesting etymology of her name (there is another) comes from the desire of the original writers to have a character who had “man appeal,” which became shortened to “M appeal” and thus by pure phonetic association “Emma Peel.” Of course, purist phoneticians will leap up at this point and set me straight by mentioning that the stress patterns for “M appeal” and “Emma Peel” are different – /’ɛməˌpiəl/ versus /ˌɛmə’piəl/ – with the tonic stress shifting from front to middle.  But tish and pshaw, I retort! Diana Rigg in a catsuit will trump the International Phonetic Alphabet any day.

The reason that kinky comes to mind in this context is that the use of the word to describe fetishistic activity can be traced to the beginning of the 60’s when it refered to perverted sexual activity. The English novelist, Colin MacInnes wrote in his 1959 novel, Absolute Beginners;

Suze… meets lots of kinky characters… and acts as agent for me getting orders from them for my pornographic photos.

As an adjective, it became used frequently to describe the thigh-high leather boots used by dominatrixes in sado-masochistic games. Thus the phrase “kinky boots” entered the lexicon – and the world of the Avengers. In the original episodes, Honor Blackman played the role of Cathy Gale, who, like Emma Peel, was a “femme fatale” figure and dressed in boots.

In 1964, Blackman and her co-star, Patrick Macnee (who played John Steed), recorded a song called “Kinky Boots,” a kitschy piece of sixties trivia that was mercifully less than 2 minutes in length. Surprisingly it became a hit in 1990, by which time it had been out of circulation long enough to acquire cult status.

As an adjective, kinky was used in the mid-19th century with the meaning “Having, or full of, kinks; closely curled or twisted: said esp. of the hair of some races.” (OED).  The American humorist, William T. Thompson wrote;

I happened to call one of the nigger waiters ‘boy’. The kinky-headed cuss looked at me sideways, and rolled the whites of his eyes at me.

This was in 1848 in his collection of stories, Major Jones’ Sketches of Travel, and at a time when the word nigger was shifting from being a neutral generic for black-skinned individuals to a pejorative. In fact, the work kinky was used often in reference to describe the characteristic hair of the anthropological negroid type. Later, this extended to any hair: The American musician, writer, and politician Kinky Friedman was not born with this name but acquired it at college on account of his curly top!

Kinky Friedman: A rare hair shot

By the latter part of the century, it was used colloquially in some parts of the US to describe someone who was a little eccentric or crotchety. In Longest Journey (1907) E. M. Forster wrote; “This jaundiced young philosopher, with his kinky view of life, was too much for him.” There is also evidence that at around the same time, it was used in some dialects to mean lively, spry, or energetic.

In the 1920’s, kinky took on a special use among the criminal fraternity to refer to something that was stolen or dishonestly acquired. This continued in the 1950’s, as demonstrated in William and Florence Simpson’s Hockshop, where they say;

Canfield… was never accused… of having ‘kinky’ gambling paraphernalia. By that I mean dice and cards and roulette wheels that gave the house an unfair advantage.

Also during the 20th century, the word was used as a noun to refer to;

a. A person with ‘kinky’ hair.
b.
An object dishonestly obtained.
c.
A sexually abnormal or perverted person.

This switch from an adjective to a noun during the 1900’s is deliciously kinky because the adjective kinky originally came from the noun, kink back in the 17th century as a nautical term. The OED defines it as follows:

A short twist or curl in a rope, thread, hair, wire, or the like, at which it is bent upon itself; esp. when stiff so as to catch or cause obstruction.

Lexicographer Edward Phillips had an entry in his The new world of English words: or, a general dictionary first published in 1658:

Keenk (in Navigation), is when a Rope which should run smooth in the Block, hath got a little turn, and runs as it were double.

In the 19th century, the word took on the meaning of a twist in the neck, or a crick, and an example can be found in Melville’s classic Moby Dick;

I tore myself out of it in such a hurry that I gave myself a kink in the neck.

Ultimately, the word is likely to derive from the Dutch (like the English, another nautical nation) word, kink, meaning twist or curl. In turn, this has cognates in German of kink and kinke, as well is Danish and Swedish kink. Icelandic has the word kikna for “to bend at the knees” and keikr meaning “bending back.”

From these we can infer a common root of something akin to *kink– or *kik-” meaning “to bend or twist.”

There is one more kink to this post, and that’s also related to my childhood in the north of England. If I tried to go out to play when it was cold, I was told to wear something warm so I wouldn’t “catch your death of chincough.” I never knew what the chincough was and why it would lead to my ultimate demise but while researching kinky, I found the answer.

The word kink is also Scottish and northern English dialect for a fit of coughing or spasm of laughter. This was the basis for the word kinkcough, a spasmodic and potentially fatal type of coughing, which we now recognize as whooping cough. The softening of the initial hard /k/ to the affricate /tʃ/ lead to the “chincough” of my childhood.

This version of kink comes from a slightly different root: The Old English cincian meaning “to gasp or pant with difficulty.” Clearly there is the sense of a kink in the air tract but the chinchough represents a different tributary of the kinky river.

And as a final thought, just remember:

Kinky is using a feather. Perverted is using the whole chicken.

Wordle: kinky - etymology

Leave a comment

Filed under Etymology, Vocabulary, Word Origins