The "F" Words I
Bill Long 10/31/08
Don't Worry--Nothing X-rated Here
Some day in the near future I will have to spend most of my time trying to tease out the meaning of scientific terms. But not before the end of this year! So, for now, I will continue to explore the histories of fascinating terms, this time words beginning with "f." The Phrontistery provides a basic list of words for me. Then I decide which of those words I want to explore. Sometimes those words lead me to may others that beg for consideration--as I pore over the OED and the Century. The words I will explore here are farofa, feijoada, fumage, ferronniere, feracious/ferocious, and feretory.
1. Let's begin with something that can be seen and touched--a feretory. Behind this term is the Latin word for carrying (ferere). Sure enough, a feretory is a shrine or bier containing the relics of saints, adapted to be carried in religious processions. It can also relate to the place in a church where such a shrine is set. On this web page (just do a search for the word 'feretory') is the shrine carrying relics of St. John. Medieval Catholicism may not be your schtick, but it sure has given us lots of words.
2. Then, I had to pause on ferronniere, a word I hadn't seen but which is forever now indelibly etched in my mind because of the late 15th century painting, coming from the Milanese circle of Leonardo da Vinci, called La belle ferronniere. Well, here she is--not exactly the Mona Lisa, but maybe her kid sister... The word ferronniere may mean "iron monger" or "iron worker," and so we have concluded that the subject of the painting was either the wife or daughter of an iron worker. The word also signifies a "frontlet" or a "coronet worn on the forehead." Or, from 1960: "Ferroniere, a chain worn as an ornament encircling the head with a a jewel in the center." I wonder when ferronnieres were in fashion and when they went out of fashion--not that they have much of a chance of returning any day soon, I imagine. But notice how we learn words through art, and not simply medieval Catholicism. Picasso has a silk screen of a sauterelle, and a painting of a diseuse and a saltimbanque (acrobat, clown). Add ferronniere to the list..
3. Fumage takes us deep into the common law of England and, like murage, is a term denoting a kind of taxation. It comes from the word fumus, meaning "smoke," and it was a tax on chimneys that one might have in one's house. It was also known as a feuage/fuage (from the Old French "fire") or focage (the word focage is derived from the Latin focus, which means "hearth." Hm...maybe I can see an essay coming here on the word "focus," which has assumed a great importance in American English in the last several years). We have this historical statement:
"A fumage, or tax of smoke farthings, or hearth tax...ranges among those of the Anglo-Saxon period. Such a tax is mentioned subsequently in Doomsday Book. It seems to have been a customary payment to the king for every hearth in all houses except those of the poor."
I would like to know more about this tax. Was it assessed because it was difficult to meaure all the wood that might have been taken from the King's forests--but a tax on chimneys was another way to get at this issue? Don't know, but someday I may...
4. and 5. Well, why not just go to a Brazilian dish now--farofa. The word isn't on the Phrontistery list, but it is in the OED and I, to my shame, don't remember having heard the word. But it really is a very simple and common one, if you know anything about Portuguese food/cooking. I love this video of a guy from "Cuca Brazuca" teaching us how to make farofa. You put a lot of butter in a frying pan, to which you add chopped onions and mix with butter. Once onions have softened up, add a tablespoon of palm oil and then a bunch of cassava flour. Stir it all up, and you have a tasty-looking yellow delicious meal. Well, we can't stop there, we have to look at someone making feijoada, cutting up dry meat, putting in water for a few hours. Then, you take some black beans, wash them, put the meat over the beans, add ribs, water, chili, bay leafs and lots of salt. Oh, you also have put in loads of tomatoes and some slices of bacon. Then you let it simmer for a few hours and "see what happens." Then crushed garlic and onions are added so that it has a real tasty garlic flavor. This web site tells us that for 300 years feijoada has "reigned supreme" in the Brazilian kitchen. It was invented by slaves, who began mixing their masters' pork leftovers with black beans used to feed animals. Now, almost everyone has his/her favorite feijoada recipe. You learn words, and you learn to enjoy food. Next, you will want to learn to cook Brazilian, then visit Brazil, then learn Brazilian dances, marry a Brazilian and, who knows, you may end up moving to Sao Paulo.
6. Please note the difference between ferocious and feracious (the same applies for ferocity and feracity). We know the former, but the latter is derived from ferax and, beyond that, from ferre, which means "to bear" or "to give birth to." Thus, feracious means "bearing abundantly, fruitful, prolific." We live in such a feracious world, which everywhere around us gives birth to and teems with endless variety and allure. Perhaps we should also strive for a feracious mind, one that generates new thoughts constantly, overflowing with ideas, conceptions, visions, passion. Let's combine a tenacious with a feracious intellect.
While on feracious, I ought to make mention of ferae naturae, a term from old law to describe "animals living in a state of nature" or "domesticated animals." Note here that ferae comes from fera, the Latin for "wild beast" and not ferre--"to give birth to." Thus, the word feral means "wild, untamed" or even "brutal, savage." Here is a statement from English law--just to show you how law isn't as "rational" as it tries to appear. From Jowett's Dictionary of English Law:
"At common law animals ferae naturae which are fit for human food are the subject of larceny if they either are in confinement or have actually been tamed; but at common law there can be no larceny of such animals as a lion or a gorilla, even though they are tame or kept in confinement."
Huh? So, how many categories do we have? I suppose we have domesticated animals, then undomesticated animals, then undomesticated animals that have been tamed and are subject to larceny, then undomesticated animals that have been tamed and are not subject to larceny. Are all domesticated animals subject to larceny? Only if they "belong" to someone? Well, what about other animals? The bonobo? Guenon? Okapi? Seems like law is making it up as it goes along, doesn't it?
Well, this just gets us started on our quest. Let's continue on more "f's."