A Flan-Related Digression
Bill Long 9/30/08
When I used the word flan in the previous essay as a synonymn for planchet, I thought I would leave the matter there, but as I turned to look at flan, I became distracted by all the nice little jewels of words around it, and thought I needed to pause for a moment to tell the story of a few of these words. Well, the first listing of flan in the Century is a "sudden gust of wind from the land" or a "puff of smoke driven down the chimney by a gust of wind." My Icelandic is almost as bad as my Tibetan, but the OED tells us that flan, in Icelandic, is a "sudden rush."
But then, the Century gave another synonymn for flan: flaw. I hesitated a moment, because I, along with everyone else probably, thought that the only thing flaw meant was an imperfection. Well, a flaw is definitely that, and Shakespeare attests to this meaning: "My love to thee is sound, sans crack or flaw." But a flaw can also be a sliver or fragment (again, Shakespeare knows this usage: "But this heart/ Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws/ Or ere I'll weep") or a thin cake as of ice. It is as if Shakespeare was giving us a verbal tour, for he uses the word flaw in this way, too: "As flaws congealed in the spring of day..." (II Hen IV. iv.4). Then, we have a separate entry for flaw which means "a sudden and violent wind-storm; a sudden gust of wind." Guess who? Yep:
"O, that that earth which kept the world in awe
Should patch a wall to expel the winter's flaw," Hamlet, v. 1.
Here ends the discussion of the "wind"-related meaning of flan. Actually, I think I don't want to do much with the other three meanings of the term at this point, so let's just leave flan with knowledge that it is either a gust of wind (flaw) or a coin blank.
But then we run right into flaneur, derived from the French word for a loiterer or lounger, which means "an idle, gossiping saunterer; one who habitually strolls about idly." Doesn't that definition sound so 19th century! As if the editors were almost ready to call the authorities to arrest the word for vagrancy! Harper's Magazine first used the word in English in 1854: "Did you ever fail to waste at least two hours of every sunshiny day, in the long-ago time when you played the flaneur, in the metropolitan city, with looking at shop-windows?" Then, one can turn this word into a verb: "Shopped the whole morning--flaneed down Regent Street." Or, "they are going to laze and flane about the boulevards."
What does the flaneur do as he flanes? Well, he commits flanerie. One might have "intellectual flanerie" or an "aimless flanerie" which tends to look at every passerby as a potential source of entertainment. But not all flanerie is wasted time or effort. "It is by the aimless flanerie which leaves you free to follow capriciously every hint of entertainment, that you get to know Rome." Maybe that is the best way to look at some of these word-essays: endless and possibly aimless flanerie. But maybe, in fact, that is the way you really get to know words.
Flanch, Flasque and Flancard
Flancard is a piece of armor for the thigh (flank) or, in horse-armor, one of the side-pieces covering the flanks. But then, when we come to flanch, we have to pause for a moment. A flanch is a "projection; a flange," but it is also a term in heraldry. Let's look at what a flanch is in heraldry. We can see it most clearly in image No. 141 on this web site. Flanches are identical convex (curved) half-moons projecting from the top half of each of the two sides of a heraldic shield. The OED describes them in this way: "a sub-ordinary formed on each side of the shield by a line arched or convex towards the centre, always borne double or in pairs." These two curved surfaces are thus "flanks." What is an "ordinary?"
The word ordinary is a fascinating word in English; to tell its whole story would be an extra-ordinary undertaking. But, in heraldry it is "a charge of the earliest, simplest and commonest kind, usually bounded by straight lines, but sometimes engrailed, wavy, indented, etc." Well, what is a "charge?" It is simply an image occupying the field on a shield. The word charge in heraldry can also be a verb. Thus, as this article says, "If an escutcheon bears three lions, then it is said to be charged with three lions."
So, a flanch in heraldry is clear. But next to it in the book linked above is a shield with flasques. What is a flasque? Well, it is almost a flanch, but with smaller parallel curved segments. As the OED says: "a bearing similar to a flanch, but occupying a smaller part of the field." One 1610 guide tried to describe it as follows: "A flasque is an ordinary consisting of one arch line drawne somewhat distant from the corners of the chiefe and meanely swelling by degrees until you come towards the middest of the Escocheon, and from thence again decreasing with a like comely discent unto the sinister base points." I prefer the picture, here (image 142).
Flanconade comes from the world of fencing, and is "the ninth and last thrust, usually aimed at the side." From Pollock's 1889 book on Fencing: "This is the famous thrust known as flanconnade or liement d'octave." The liement, by the way (also known as the "bind") is an action in which the opponent's blade is forced into the diagonally opposite line. By the way, in researching fencing terms, I just discovered that there is a Fencing Masters Program at San Jose State Univ. My goodness--I think I believe in the doctrine of eternal life not so that I might have a place in the celestial choir but so that I might spend all my time learning new things. After all, there is Tibetan to learn, and Mongolian and all the foods of Southern Africa, and then the bodily techniques in fencing, and the hundreds of kinds of dancing, etc. How can one life be enough--especially since in this life we are often so engaged by tasks that must be done? I guess I consider that the privilege of writing on words is like a foretaste of heaven, an arrabon or earnest of that great seminar in the sky.
Wow..here is an article on the Fencing Masters Program--from only two weeks ago--that says it is in trouble. Oh my, I think it may be a casualty of our hard economic times, thus perhaps bringing to a close this most unique 29 year-old program, the only one of its kind in the United States....