Bill Long 9/29/08
Beginning with Secateurs, Poilu, Plongeur, Sauterelle...
Let's begin with a few French-derived words. Secateurs, rare in the singular, is a kind of pruning shears with crossed blades. Pictures here speak louder than words, so here we have one. We tend to call them pruning shears or simply clippers, but secateurs, originally from the Latin secare, "to cut" is a more sophisticated term. We can even get literary about it: "She dressed her enormous bulk... in a baize gardening apron with capacious pockets for her bass and secateurs. Ah, baize--a "coarse woollen stuff having a long nap, now used chiefly for linings, coverings, etc., and in a variety of clothing." Another quotation, using secateurs, brings us to a gardening tool that may be unfamiliar: "The tools which the gardener must have for a start are two spades, a fork, a rake, three hoes, a trowel, a dibber, a pair of secateurs..." A dibber, pictured here, is the simplest garden tool--its only purpose is to make holes in the ground so that seeds or bulbs can be planted.
That was so successful that we should move on to poilu. It is also a French term, but this one signifies, in military slang, a "brave man." It specifically refers to a soldier in the French army, especially in WWI. John Dos Passos could use the term in the 1960s: "The Boche...scattered a few salvoes of artillery...just to keep the poilus on their toes." By the way, the term Boche also originated among the French around the same time as poilu, but it was a disparaging term for a German soldier. This source says that Boche is a French alteration of "Alboche," which is a blend of Allemand (German) and caboche (cabbage or blockhead).
Sauterelle is the French word for "grasshopper," and can also refer to an instrument used by stone-cutters and carpenters for tracing and forming angles. Loads of pictures of these beautiful leaping creatures are online. Here is one looking straight at you. Here is a remarkable little serigraph [i.e., silk-screen] named sauterelle, done by Picasso in 1907.
What is a plongeur? Well, someone that plunges or dives, I suppose. But, in fact, it is "a person employed to wash dishes and carry out other menial tasks in a restaurant or hotel." Henry Miller first used the term in English (in a book written with Anais Nin): "It was a story about a plongeur who was poor and illiterate." Then, the Daily Telegraph noted an advertisement for one in 1977: "Titles are nice but surely the Dorchester is going a little too far advertising for a 'Supervisory Plongeur' to head the washing up department."
Crossing the Channel
There could be no more obviously English-originated term in our language than helpfellow. It is a colleague, partner, associate, just as we could have guessed. Coverdale first used the term in his translation of Erasmus' Paraphrase of I Thess. (3:4): "A tried minister of God and a helpe felowe of our office." Just as I would like to bring back the word daysman to signify a mediator, so a helpfellow as colleague is pretty attractive.
Now that we have touched down in England, let's leave quickly and go to the highest mountains in the world. When there, we might run across a hemionus or hemione--the "wild ass" or the "half ass" of Asia. The name under which the OED lists it is the dziggetai. Dziggetai is a Mongolian word to describe this equine quadruped approaching the mule in appearance. Take a look for yourself. They are also known as the "Gobi kulan," which were at one time widespread over "an immense region of the Gobi, but now are found only in small localized pockets in Mongolia, after their numbers were cut by hunting and competition for water." Some, however, are making their way to the Edinburgh Zoo (I suppose someone is bringing them there) in 2008.
While in the "dz's," we might as well mention the two other entries that the OED has. The dzeren is the Mongolian antelope, Procapra guttorosa. Apparently the Mongolian word for reddish-yellow or rufous is dzer. Then, Dzonghka is a Tibetan word to describe the Tibetan dialect used as the official language of Bhutan. From 1979: "Since the 17th century...there has..developed an official idiom known as 'Dzonghka'...'the language of the fortress'..., a polished form of the village patois of the Ngalong people." I think I am really out of my league.
Just as the hemionus was the "half ass" (hemi is Greek for "half" and onus is "ass"), so hemianopsia is "half blindness." The word is interesting, if you take it apart. The hemi is clear--meaning "half." And the opsia transliterates the Greek opsis, meaning "sight." Thus, hemiopsia would mean "half-sight," which in fact would probably be the same thing as "half-blindness." But there is the little alpha privative in the middle of the word, with a "n" added to make pronunciation easy. So the word is hemi (half) an (without) opsia (sight).
As I was looking up a word from freerice.com which I never found in any dictionary (I think the word was oints), I happened upon the Century page for words beginning with the Greek prefix oligo (small). An oligarchy, for example, is a regime where only a few rule. Oligomania is a rare word suggesting a mental impairment evident in only a 'few directions." But I liked best of all oligometochia, which means "sparing use of participial clauses in composition." The Greek word metoche means "a participle." Why we would have a word for that (and there is also oligometochic) is beyond me, but I can think of more examples of polymetochia than its opposite... I think it is time to quit!