Abram Smythe Palmer.

Leaves from a word-hunter's note-book online

. (page 11 of 21)
Online LibraryAbram Smythe PalmerLeaves from a word-hunter's note-book → online text (page 11 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


poet, honest Ovid, was among the Goths.'

As You Like It, iii. 3.

Owen Meredith (Lord Lytton) describes the fit-
ful disposition of the animal just as it must have
struck our ancestral word-makers —

1 Every goat objects to sameness,
And peaceful plenty cloys at last ;
Without adventure ease is tameness :
Away the wild thing scampers fast.

He scrambles up the pebbly passes :
He leaps the wild ravines : in vain

To woo him wave the choicest grasses —
He nibbles, and is off again.

The good St Peter, to whose keeping it has

been committed, puffs after it till he is fairly

exhausted, and resigns his capricious charge with

the words —

' Take back, Lord, this wilful creature,
And from its whimsies set me free.'

Cynips Terminalis.

' Goats,' observes Fuller, < are when young most
nimble and frisking, whence our English word to
caper. .' When Boyle therefore speaks of one
' dancing and capering like a kid,' the expression,
though accurate, is almost pleonastic.

The French forms of the word are cabrer, c to
reare, or stand upright on the hinder feet, as a goat
or kid thatbrouzes on a tree ' (Cotgrave) ; cabrioter,
to caper. From the same source, through the
diminutival form capreolus, a kid, comes the verb



CAPRICE. 161

' to capriole.' It. capriola, ' a kid, a caper in
dancing, also a sault, a goates leape that cunning
riders teach their horses ' (Florio).

The French word was cabriole, and hence a light,
two- wheeled vehicle, which, as it were, bounds along,
was called a cabriolet, which we now have shortened
into ' cab/ 1 The same conveyance in slang phrase-
ology is styled a ' bounder,' 2 which is suggestive
of a kindred expression in the authorised version
of Nahum iii. 2, ' the jumping chariots.'

With 6 caprice ' we may compare the provincial
English word gaiting, signifying frolicsome, from
gait, a goat. So in the Comasque dialect of the
Italian mice is a caprice, and nucia a kid ; ticc/do,
the Italian word for a freak or whim, is from the
0. H. Ger. ziki, a kid (Diez) ; and the French
verve, spirit, fancy, comes probably from a Latin
word verva, a ram's head, vervex, a wether. 3



1 Cabriolets were introduced into England in 1755. Horace
"Walpole speaks of ' la f ureur des cabriolets, Anglice one horse
chairs, a mode introduced by Mr Child ' (Wright, Caricature
History of the Georges, p. 253).

2 Hotten, Slang Dictionary, s.v.

3 Another word expressive of a mental conception derived from
the goat is 'chimera,' a monstrous fancy or groundless imagination,
that word being the Greek chimaira, (1) a goat ; (2) a composite goat-
shaped monster; (3) something unreal or non-existent. Chimaira,
chimaros, is properly a winterling goat, and connected with ckeimdn,
winter, just as the provincial Eng. term, a ' quinter,' is a sheep
of two winters, corresponding to the Erisian twinter, a two-
year-old horse, enter, a one-year-old, cf, Latin bimus, two years
old, trimus, three years old, i.e., li-himus, tri-himus, akin to litems,
winter.



162 LARK.

Similar is the Italian vitellare, l to skip and
leape for joy as a yonge calfe ' (Florio), the Latin
vitulari, to make merry, originally to skip like a
calf (vitulus). An interesting parallel is afforded
by the ancient Egyptian, for in that language a
bounding calf .is said to be the ideograph, or little
picture, determinative of the verb ab, which signifies
to rejoice as well as to thirst ; and in the list of
hieroglyphical signs given by Baron Bunsen in his
great work, 1 the head of a calf is the determinative
of the word for joy (rck). Compare also the Ger-
man kdlbern, to be wanton, to romp, to frisk about
in a calf-like manner, from kalb, a calf; the Greek
arneuo, to frisk, from arnos, a lamb; ortalizo, to
frolic like a young animal, ortalis ; and paizo, to
dance or play, originally to sport like a child,
pais, (compare the French gar Conner, to be wanton);
the provincial and Old English verb, to colt,
meaning to frisk about and kick up one's heels, to
wanton, a word employed by Spenser in his ' View
of the State of Ireland,' which in Devonshire
takes the shape coltee, to be skittish.

It might perhaps be supposed, at the first view,
that the vulvar English word i to lark ' was
another instance in point, and that in its primary
significance it meant to disport one's self with the
abandon of that bird which has often been regarded

1 Egypt's Place in Universal History, vol. i. p. 543.



LARK. 163

as the very type of light-heartedness and joyous

freedom. 1 If the frisking columbine, with her

pirouettes and glissades, bears an appellation

shared in common with the tumbling pigeon

columbus, columbinus (Greek kolumbdn, to tumble)

and if the public figurant or pantomimic dancer

arneuter, introduced by Homer (II. xvi. 742)

owns a kinship with the skipping lamb, arnos

then why should not a frolic, accompanied as it

often is by dance and jest and song, and enacted

though it be for the most part during the hours

when gambling is rife but gambolling is still, by

revellers —

1 Awake when the lark is sleeping,

Ere Flora fills her dewy cup ;
When the festive beetle's homeward creeping,
Before the early worm is up,' —

why should it not, by an analogous process,
derive its name from the merry bird of morning ?
This, however, would be quite a groundless assump-
tion, as the word is only a modern corruption of
the verb to laik, which is common in Old English,
and still current in the provincial dialects.

< Thai mett
With men that sone thaire laykes lett ' —

Minot, Political Songs, 1352.



One of the aspirations of the cheerful man in ' L'Allegro,' as he
invokes Sport and Laughter and Mirth to be his companions, is —

1 To hear the lark begin his flight,
And singing startle the dull night,
From his watchtower in the skies
Till the dappled dawn doth rise.' LI. 41-44.



164 MERRY AS A GRIG.

i.e., hindered their larks. Of the giants be-
fore the flood we are told

' That for her lodlych layke^ alosed tliay were ' —

Alliterative Poems (ed. Morris)

they were destroyed for their loathsome larks.

So Hampole says that proud man takes no heed

to himself

'"When he es yhung and luffes layking.'

Priche of Conscience, 1. 593.

< Lark,' therefore, is the Old English laih, A. -Sax.
Mc, play, sport, lacan, to play, Goth, laiks, sport,
dancing, laikan, to skip or leap for joy, Swed. leka,
Dan. lege, 0. Norse leika, from the Sanskrit root lahgh,
to jump, which is also seen in A. -Sax. leax, the sal-
mon, i.e., c the leaper,' locusta, and lepus, the hare.
It is with these creatures, if any, that the frolic-
some ' lark' is allied, and not with the bird which
is its homophone — the ' laverock,' ' la'rick,' or lark.

Amongst the animals which by reason of their
liveliness of disposition and quickness of motion
have been made types of hilarity and cheerfulness,
and become proverbial in popular phraseology, is
the c grig.'

Cotgrave, for example, explains gouinfre, ' a
madcap, merry grig, pleasant knave,' gringalet, ' a
merry grig, pleasant rogue, sportfull knave.' We
still say ' as merry as a grig,' and the word has
been generally understood to mean a small, wriggling
eel, so called perhaps from its colour, A. -Sax.



MERRY AS A GRIG. 165

grceg, gray, just as another fish has been named a
i grayling/ As c grig,' however, is a provincial term
also for the cricket, 1 as it were the gray insect , in Ice-
landic grd-magi, ' gray-maw ' (compare the c gray-
fly ' of Milton's < Lycidas '), it is more natural to
suppose that the phrase is synonymous with another
equally common, c as merry as a cricket ; ' the
cheerful note of the cricket, even more than its
lively movements, causing it to be adopted as an ex-
emplification of merriment. But c grig ' may have
had still another meaning. Grec, gregeois, griescke,
gregue, are various French spellings of the word
Greek (compare 'gregues, foreign hose [i.e., Greek],
wide slops, gregs,' Cotgrave), and the word grin-
galet, a merry grig, may be only another form of
grigalet or gregalet, a diminutive of grec, i.e., a greek-
ling, grcsculus, n being inserted as in the old French
term for holy water, gringoriane, a corrupted form
of gregoriane, c so termed,' says Cotgrave, ' because
first invented by a Pope Gregory.'

From the effeminacy and luxurious living into
which the later Greeks degenerated after their
conquest by the Romans, their name became a by-



l ' The high-shoulder'd grig,
Whose great heart is too big
For his body this blue May morn.'

Lord Lytton.
So ' the grygynge of the daye ' is an Old English expression for
the dawn, i.e. , the graying or gray of the morning. Frisian gr&vding,
the twilight. Scot, gryking, greking, the peep of day.



166 MERRY AS A GRIG.

word for bon-vivants, good fellows, or convivial
companions ; just as the Teuton or German has
supplied a sobriquet for a toper, It. tedesco, Neap.
todisco, among the people of Southern Europe.

' The boonest companions for drinking are the Greeks and
Germans; but the Greek is the merrier of the two, for he will
$dng, and dance, and kiss his next companion ; but the other
will drink as deep as he."

Howell, Fam. Letters (1634), Bk. II. 54.

6 No people in the world,' it has been said, ' are
so jovial and merry, so given to singing and
dancing, as the Greeks/ 1 So Bishop Hall, in his
1 Triumphs of Koine,' having spoken of the wakes,
May games, Christmas triumphs, and other con-
vivial festivities kept up by those under the Roman
dition, adds these words — ' In all which put together,
you may well say no Greek can be merrier than
they.' In Latin, grcecari, to play the Greek, meant
to wanton, to eat, drink, and be merry. Shakspere
says of Helen, i Then she's a merry Greek indeed '
(Troilus and Cressida, i. 2), and the phrase occurs
repeatedly in other writers of the same period.
Cotgrave defines averlan to be ( a good fellow, a
mad companion, merry Greek, sound drunkard ; '
while Miege gives ' a merry grig, un plaisant com-
pagnonf 2 and i They drank till they all were as



1 Patrick'Gordon, quoted in Brewer's ' Dictionary of Phrase and
Fable,' s.v. Grig, where it is also stated that 'grig ' is a slang term
for a class of vagabond dancers and tumblers.

a Cited in Wright's ' Provincial Dictionary,' s.v. Grig.



£tre gris. 16?

merry as grigs ' occurs in ' Poor Robin's Almanac/
1764. We can easily perceive that the latter
phrase, both in sound and signification, arose
out of, or was at least fused with, the older one
6 as merry as a Greek.' That the connection be-
tween the two was remembered and recognised so
late as 1820 is proved by the following quotation,
which I take from Nares —

' A true Trojan and a mad merry grig, though no Greek''

Barn. Journ. vol. i. p. 54.

The French have a phrase etre gris, to be drunk,
which is of the same origin, if Genin be correct
in his assertion that gris is an old French form of
grcecus, 1 and that the verb se griser exactly repro-
duces Horace's grcecari, meaning properly ' to be
Greekish,' just as they say ivre, or boire, comme un
Polonais, or as we might say, ' to be drunk as a
Dutchman.' Synonymous with this, and likewise
derived from the language of the learned, is the
jocular expression II savait f Hebrew. This is a
mere calembour on the resemblance between the two
Latin words ebrius, drunken, and Ebrceus, Hebrew.
' II entend VHebrieu, he is drunk, or (as we say)
learned : (from the Analogy of the Latine word
Ebrius).'' — Cotgrave. In an old French song
occur the words —

1 Recreations Philologiques, vol. i. p. 137. Gris, it seems, was
also written griu, and thence came grive, the thrush, because it is
wont se griser among the vines. Cf. ' saoul comme une grive,' and
grivois, a term for a tipsy soldier.



168 BELLARMINE.

1 Je suis le docteur toujours Ivre,

Notus inter Sorboxiicos ;
Je n'ai jamais lu d'autre livre

Qu'Epistolam ad Ebrios.' 1

Phrases like these evidently owe their origin to
the scholastic slang of the university or monastic
common-roorn,and to the same source may be attri-
buted the facetious name that used formerly to be
given to an earthen jug or tankard, a ' Bellarmine,'
— the works of that great doctor being the handbook,
or vade-mecum, into which the student should con-
tinually be dipping, whose contents he should be
constantly imbibing. Rabelais tells us that the
monks had flagons actually made in the shapes
of books; these they called their breviaries,
and in these, we need not doubt, they were deeply
versed.

Many can remember a kind of jug that was for-
merly in use constructed in the shape of a squat-
ting or dwarf-like figure graced with a long beard
— Toby Philpots, I think they were called — speci-
mens of which may still be seen in out-of-the-way
nooks and corners. The ancient ' Bellarmine/
we may suppose, resembled these bearded jugs,
which the Scotch called ' greybeards. ' 2 'Ye may



1 Notes and Queries, 4th S. vol. ii. No. 28, p. 42 ; No. 29, p. 71.

2 Vide Halliwell, Popular Rhymes, p. 143 ; Chambers, Book of
Days, i. 371. For some whimsical reason vessels of large capacity
have received names from two kings of Israel, and are termed in
some parts of England Jorams and Jeroboams.



169

keep [for the pilgrims] the grands of the last
greybeard, says Peter Bridge- Ward to his wife in
6 The Monastery,' ch. ix. Similarly, in Icelandic
skcgg-karl is a i bearded carl,' and skegg-brusi is an
earthen jug, while brusi, an earthen jar, meant
originally a bearded he-goat.

But the merriness of the Greek was not his only
proverbial characteristic. He was also regarded as
a personification of artfulness and cunning, qualities
faithfully delineated in the typical character of
Virgil's Sinon ; and still, in modern times, he is
said to be ' most of all remarkable for his shrewd-
ness and sharpness in business. 1 In French
il est Grec is, according to Cotgrave, another
way of saying, i He is a most crafty or subtill
Courtier. '

There are many other instances of this use of
words by which the name of various nationalities
are used as common nouns descriptive of persons
of a certain disposition, or of certain occupations
which were considered specially characteristic of
those nationalities. For example, a Sybarite, or
native of Sybaris, has become another name for an
effeminate voluptuary. A Cyprian is a votary of
Venus — Cyprus being one stronghold of her wor-
ship — a woman of light character : and Corinthian
is almost the same, a person in old time being

1 C. L. Brace, Races of the Old World, p. 272.



170 EPHESIAN, ETC.

said to Corinthianise when he led a life of loose
debauchery ; while Bougre, a Bulgarian, has fallen
to a still more degraded meaning. A Gypsy, i.e.,
a Gyptian 1 or Egyptian, is now the vernacular
name for the nomad Zingaro ; but Bohemian, the
term once applied to the same race, now denotes
a social nonconformist, one that claims the right
to order his mode of living at his own pleasure,
and refuses to submit to the trammels of an
established code of etiquette; and a homeless
wanderer of the city we call a street Arab. The
word Ephesians, as used in' Shakspere, is a cant
term for topers or boon companions, men that
were certainly no devout worshippers of that
chaste goddess whom their city delighted to
honour. ' It is thine host, thine Ephesian, calls,'
says the host to FalstafF (Merry Wives of Windsor,
iv. 5). Welcher, a swindler who absconds from
the ring when he has lost his bet, seems to be
an invidious allusion to the land of Taffies, who
in nursery tradition have long lain under the im-
putation of being thievish. Similarly, a Switzer
was, till comparatively lately, a common name for
any mercenary soldier (vide Pope, The Dunciad,
Bk. II. 1. 358), while Srcisse in French is now
only a house-porter or a beadle. Coolie, the
Anglo-Indian name for a porter or water-carrier,



* ' Like a Gipsen or a Juggeler.'

Spenser, Mother Hubberds Tale.



LOMBARD. 171

was originally one of the Koles or Kola, 1 a tribe
of the Vindhya race of India employed in that
capacity. Conversely, in Fiji all black men are
called kuke, cooks, from the profession which they
commonly follow on board ship.

In Greek, Indos, an Indian, was given as an
appellation to every elephant-driver, and Carian
was synonymous in the same language with a
mercenary, a venal slave. So Geta and Davus,
the ordinary names for slaves in the Roman
comedy, are said to have denoted respectively a
Goth and a Dacian, and the word ' slave ' itself
meant originally a member of the great Slavonic
people, or race of Slaves, whose very name was
significant of glory (slava). 2

A Lombard, owing to the financial skill and re-
putation of that people, was once another term for
a banker, and their name still clings to the great
banking street in London which they once fre-
quented, as well as to every lumber-room where a
pawnbroker stores his pledges, in German called
ein lombard.

1 By their Profession they [the Jews] are for the most part
Brokers and Lombardeers?

Howell, Fam. Letters (1633), Bk. I., vi. 14.

Among the Romans, a person engaged in banking



1 C. L. Brace, Paces of the Old World, p. 103.
2 Pictet, Orig. Iudo-Europ., vol. ii. p. 204.



172 CANAANITE.

was styled a Babylonian (' BabyloJ Terence,
Adelphi, v. 7), just as among ourselves a Jew
is another name for a money-lender or usurer,
and as in the French argot, anglois is synonymous
with creancier. In Cotgrave's time anglois was
used for ' a creditor that pretends he hath much
money owing, which is never like to be paid
him.'

The name of the Canaanite is repeatedly used
for a trader in the Hebrew Scriptures, and it is
this word which is translated l merchant ' in Job
xli. 6; Prov. xxxi. 24; Hosea xii. 7; and
' trafficker ' in Isa. xxiii. 8. In the passage of
Zechariah (xiv. 21), where he predicts that in the
day of the Lord ' there shall be no more the
Canaanite in the. house of the Lord,' this in the
Targum of Jonathan is interpreted ' trader,' 1 the
allusion apparently having reference to the sym-
bolical action performed by the Saviour when He
came to the Temple, and drove out the money-
changers, and them that sold and bought therein
(John ii. 15). It is noteworthy, indeed, that
Canaanites were a party to the earliest transaction
on record in the way of buying and selling, that,
namely, which took place between Abraham and
' the people of the land, even the children of
Heth,' about the purchase of the field of Machpelah

1 Farrar, Life of Christ, vol. i. p. 189.



173

(Gen. xxiii. 16). The commercial activity of this
people was proverbial in antiquity, whether they
were known as Canaanites or Phoenicians; and
there is evidence that the latter name, Phoinix,
had acquired in Greek the meaning of one who
barters or exchanges, 6 giving with one hand and
taking with the other.' 1 c Assassin/ as is well
known, was originally the name given to a fana-
tical sect of Ismaslians, a people of Persia,
whose daggers were ever at the service of their
leader, and who were so called probably from their
intoxicating themselves with the drug hashish?
Similarly, in Horace's time Chaldean was al-
most another name for a magician, and the words
Boeotian, Abderite, Goth, Yandal, are synonymous
with stupidity and barbarism.



1 Kenrick, Phoenicia, p. 191.

2 See Spelman, Glossary, s.v.; Walker's Selections from the
Gentleman's Magazine, vol. ii. p. 145.



(174)



CHAPTER VII.

WORDS FOR THE ' PUPIL* OF THE EYE, — THE
HUMAN TREE, — THE WORDS ' TOE,' — l DOTE,'
ETC,

Any one who bestows a thought at all on the value
and meaning of the words he uses must some time
or other, I should think, have paused to wonder
how it comes to pass that one and the same word,
' pupil/ is applied indifferently to objects so unlike
as the aperture of the eye * and a person under
instruction ; for saving that analogy ingeniously
suggested by some humorist, that they are both
perpetually under the lash, there seems little in
common between them. The point of connection
certainly is curious, and not immediately obvious.
< Pupil ' (one under tutors or guardians, a ward)
is the Latin pupillus, pupulus (a little hoy),pupilla,
papula (a little girl), diminutives of pupus 2 (boy),
pupa (girl). These words were also commonly



1 Cf. Heb. ' gate of the eye ' = pupil, Zech. ii. 8 (Gesenius).

2 Pupus connected with puer, pusus, pullus, ttujXos, (Goth.)
fula(n), 'foal,' (Pers.) ptisr (boy), (Sans.) putra (a child). — Monier
Williams, Sanskrit Diet. s.v.



pupil. 175

used for any small figure, such as a 6 puppet,' doll,
or baby — * doll ' itself, it may be remarked in
passing, being only a modern substitute for < baby,'
which had once the same meaning. Shakspere
tells us that

* The beauty that is borne here in the face
The bearer knows not, but commends itself
To others' eyes ; nor doth the eye itself,
That most pure spirit of sense, behold itself,
Not going from itself ; but eye to eye opposed
Salutes each other with each other's form/ l

Now, when two parties are thus tete-a-tete — or,
as the Italians express it, more appropriately for
our purpose, c at four eyes ' together, a quattro
occhi — the diminutive reflection which each observer
beholds in the convex mirror of the other's eye as
he gazes into it was called pupilla or papula (a
little puppet), and eventually the dark centre of
the iris which forms that miniature image was
designated the 'pupil.' The Persian dubu, the
pupil of the eye, may perbaps be compared. The
common meaning, therefore, to which both uses
of the word converge is that of a person of dimi-
nutive size — in the one case, a person young and
immature, and so requiring instruction and guar-
dianship — in the other, a person dwarfed in appear-
ance by the medium through which he is viewed.

We would scarcely have expected beforehand

1 Troilus and Cressida, iii. 3.



176 pupil.

that this characteristic of the eye being a little
natural mirror would have so powerfully arrested
the attention of mankind as to give a name to the
organ, or a part of it, amongst races and peoples
the most different. And yet so it undoubtedly
did. For instance, in Hebrew the words which
we translate ' the apple of the eye ' 1 (Deut. xxxii.
10 ; Prov. vii. 2) in the original are ishon ayin,
6 the little man of the eye,' i.e. pupil (diminutive
of ish, a man). 2 In the ancient Egyptian iri
denotes a child as well as the pupil of the eye.
Compare ' iris ' (Greek Ipt?). 3 The Coptic lilou,
a child, and allou, pupil of the eye, are akin to
each other and to the Egyptian rr, a child. 4 The
Arabic kak is a man or boy, also the pupil of the
eye.

So in Greek, kore (fcopr)) — (1) a girl, (2) a



1 What we call the ' apple ' the French call the ' plum ' of the
eye {prunclle).

2 Gesenius tells us that a similar expression is found in the
Arabic, Persian, Syriac, Coptic, and Ethiopic. He also gives as an
alternative explanation of bdbliah (pupil), Zech. ii. 8, ' little boy ' of
the eye. I have an impression on my mind that the A. -Sax. man-
lica (man's image) is applied to the pupil, but I cannot find that
signification in Bosworth.

The Macusi Indians of Guiana have a strange idea that although
the body will decay, ' the man in our eyes ' will not die, but wander
about. The disappearance of this image from the dim eyeballs 'f
a sick man was considered a sign of approaching death, Grimm
observes, even in European folk-lore (Tylor, Prim. Culture, vol. i.
p. 389).

3 Vide Bunsen, Egypt's Place in History, vol. i. p. 561. Alu is
a boy, allu the eye (Ibid., vol. v. p. 748).

4 Ibid., vol. i. p. 475.



pupil. 177

doll, (3) the pupil of the eye. Glene (yXrjvrj) , l
(1) a little girl, (2) the pupil of the eye.

In Spanish, nina, (1) a child or infant, (2) the
pupil, ' the sight of the eye, so called because it
represents the person looking on it in so little a
figure' (Stevens, Diet., 1706).

I believe that the Portuguese mejtina, 1 Venetian
putina, Bomagnol bamben, Sicilian vavareda, Picar-
dian papare, all mean, (1) a baby, (2) the pupil
or apple of the eye (Diez). Compare Prov.
anha, (1) a little lamb, (2) the pupil.

Our word i baby ' was formerly applied in a
similar manner to the image in the eye, as will
appear from the annexed passages —

' But wee cannot so passe the centre of the Eye, which wee
call Pupilla, quasi Puppa, the babie in the eye, the Sight.''
Purchas, Microcosmus, p. 90 (1619).

' She clung about his neck, gave him ten kisses,


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryAbram Smythe PalmerLeaves from a word-hunter's note-book → online text (page 11 of 21)