Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Pedigree

This 'blog will be about verbal etymology, and sometimes lexicology...

It's about where words came from, and the paths they've taken to get here... What and how they bump into along the way, and what rubs off on them, making them who they are.  Of course, etymology isn't definition - even lexicology isn't definition.  Definition, as chronicled by dictionaries, is simply a score card of how words are being used today.  That, itself, is subject for a number of essays and studies... How did "verbiage" stop meaning "excess wording" and start meaning "the text" or "the language"?  How did "agnostic" stop meaning "I firmly believe it's essentially unknowable" and start meaning "Gee, I just don't know."?

But that's not for today.  Today, I wanted to talk about the word 'pedigree', since I chose it to be the name of this 'blog.

So, I decided to call it "The Pedigree" - The lineage and family history - to give a sense of what I want to write about... But, why do we use that word, pedigree, anyway?

On first glance, we'd expect it to have something to do with feet...  It's got that root word "ped" right there in front.  A pedestrian is someone who travels by foot, and a pedestal is a 'foot stall' - a thing to stand upon. A pedal (usually pronounced 'pehd-ul' in the US) is a lever operated by the foot, taken from 'pedal' (usually pronounced 'pee-dahl') which means 'of or related to the foot or feet', and comes from the Latin word 'pedalis' , which, itself, comes from the Latin roots pes or ped-, or "foot".

That latter sense - pedal as 'pee-dahl' - also gives us the velocipede - literally "swift foot" - which describes a land vehicle powered by foot, and eventually gave way to specific names, including the most common, the bicycle, and all those -pede words describing various creatures and their configurations... Such as centipedes, milipedes, and bipeds like you and me.

What about pedlar or peddler? What's that got to do with feet? Well... A peddler is an itinerant (one who travels from place to place) trader in small goods. Perhaps it has to do with travel by foot? One would think so, looking at the roots and taking a guess, but it turns out this is a case of verbal camouflage - a word that looks for all the world like it comes from one place, but actually comes from another place entirely.

As best we can tell, in this case, peddler, and pedlar before it, may have been dialectic synonyms of "pedder", which came, most likely, from "pannier". A pannier is either one of two baskets, typically carried on either end of a stick set over the shoulders of a human or a beast of burden... The sort of basket a peddler might carry goods in.  The word 'pannier' comes from Old French panier, which itself comes from the Latin panarium  - or ‘bread basket’.  The shape, function, and impression, moving forward again, then lent itself to another use of the word 'pannier', to describe the ad hoc basket formed when a skirt is looped up and tucked to form a basket, sometimes with a frame for support.

Another family of words that might seem, in America, at least, to be camouflaged are words related to children - another logical guess as to the origin of the word "pedigree". A pediatrician is a doctor who specializes in children's medicine, but we'd expect we don't call them that because children are short and exist at foot-height. A pedophile is someone who is sexually attracted to children - again, presumably not because of their proximity to the feet.  Speaking of, and related, why is someone with a foot fetish a podophile and not a pedophile?

Well, turns out there are words and classes of words that tend to come from Latin, and words and classes of words that tend to come from ancient Greek... Most words having to do with medicine come from ancient Greek, as do many of our ideas and philosophies regarding medicine and it's theory and practice.

The Greek iatros refers to a physician and often gets -ic or -ist added, to denote something of or related to, while the Greek words philean and philos are to love and loving.  The Greek word pais, or the root paid- refers to a child or a boy.  Pais / piad- were initially adopted into English as Paedo-, but, as written language tends, over time, to be simplified, in US English, it got shortened to Pedo.  Same 'ped-' as feet, but wholly unrelated.

Then, too, sometimes when you'd expect a Latin -ped, you get a Greek -pod. An animal with two feet is bipedal, but a stand with three feet is a tripod.  Sometimes, it's just a matter of which root term gets adopted, even if it's not the most logical.  VHS or BetaMax?

By the way, although we now tend to use "pedophile" to describe anyone who is attracted to anyone in the broad class we consider "minors", when an adult starts chasing teenagers, that's not actually pedophilia - that's ephebophilia.  Ephebophilia comes from Greek - epi means upon or near, while hēbē refers to ‘early manhood’.  Epi + derma is upon the skin, and epi + hēbē  is near early adulthood...

So, since it would seem the word "pedigree" has nothing, logically, to do with feet, could it perhaps be related to the Greek? Something to do with children or offspring?  That seems logical enough, right? But, sometimes a word that seems camouflaged isn't as camouflaged as it seems.  Sometimes, a foot is just a foot, and it's the logic connecting them that doesn't immediately leap to mind.

The word "pedigree" has been part of the English language since "Middle-English" (ME - which describes the forms of English spoken from roughly the eleventh and fourteenth centuries - between the low and high middle ages.) and came to us from the Anglo-Norman French term "pé de grue" which means ‘crane’s foot’, describing the splitting line marks used to denote succession in charts of family lineage - pedigrees.

So, a pedigree is a 'pedigree' because a line on a sheet of paper reminded someone of the foot of a semi-aquatic bird.

We do this quite a bit, of course...  An old and well used book might be described as "dog-earned", not because it's worked like a dog, or because it's been scratched and chewed and scarred, like the ears of a dog prone to fighting might be, but because when you fold down the corner of a page to mark your place when putting down a book, it forms a fold that looks more than a little like a dog's ear, folded over at rest.

A bit like many of my dictionaries and texts on etymology and lexicology. :)