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Word origin of CALIBER
Posted: 04 November 2010 12:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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lionello - 04 November 2010 09:01 AM

According to Google ( thanks, reezawaF) the modern Arabic word for cork is transliterated as kwrk

I’ve used translate.google.com pretty often, and I’ll keep on using it, but I and you have to be careful about its output, especially Arabic, and that’s a good example of why. If you type in KURK at translate.google.com/#ar|en it transcribes it to the Arabic كورك and gives you back the English “Cork”. But كورك KURK is not an Arabic word. It’s a bogus output. You can verify it’s bogus by entering كورك at dictionary.babylon.com/arabic/ and looking at its output. Another way to verify it’s bogus is by entering Cork as English at translate.google.com and looking at the four outputs it gives you back in Arabic, none of which is remotely like كورك KURK. Another way to verify it’s bogus is with the massive 1852 edition of Richardson’s Persian-Arabic-English Dictionary, which is 1400 pages long, and freely downloadable at Archive.org (fileformat DjVu) (100 megabytes). Today’s Arabic dictionaries contain reflections of recent Arabic modernization that Richardson’s doesn’t.

Speaking of Richardson’s Dictionary, that reminds me of another point about the flimsiness of the Arabic-origin story for CALIBER.

Richardson’s (page 797), from root verb صاغ (for صوغ) ‘’sāgh’’, to mold, to shape:
صيغة ‘’sīghah’’. A form or mould for casting metal. [Also] A form, shape....
صياغة ‘’siyāghah’’. The art of a goldsmith. [Also] The art of founding, casting, or moulding.
صواغ ‘’sawāgh’’. Form, shape, mould, cast.

Richardson’s (page 945):
قالب ‘’qālib’’. Who or what turns or changes. Unripe dates reddening. Of a different colour from the mother (a sheep). A form, mould, model : a last on which shoes are made.
قالبّي ‘’qālibīy’’. Cast in a mould, moulded.

The supposed progenitor of CALIBER, ‘’qālib’’, has no association with metal casting or founding in Richardson’s. The word that was generally used in Arabic for casting metal was the other word shown above. The ‘’qālib’’ word is on record in a metal-casting sense in 9th century Arabic (as mentioned earlier). But in 1505, which is around the time CALIBER emerged in the West, Pedro de Alcala’s Spanish-Arabic dictionary defined ‘’qālib’’ is a last on which shoes are made. Pedro de Alcala’s 1505 dictionary is at Archive.org (fileformat DjVu) (20 megabytes).

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Posted: 04 November 2010 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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lionello - 03 November 2010 01:52 PM

what is cork called in West African (Morocco, Tunisia) Arabic today?

It just occurred to me to look up this question in Pedro de Alcala’s 1505 Spanish-Arabic dictionary, which reflects Maghrebi Arabic. He translates Spanish corcho with the Arabic word “cortīcha” (which I think would be written “qortīqha” under today’s convention). So Iionello’s hunch that the Maghrebi Arabic would be from Latin is right. Also of note, the reports that Spanish ‘’alcorque’’ would be from an Arabic ‘’al-qurq’’ is not supported by Pedro de Alcala.

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Posted: 04 November 2010 02:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Do you have any citations from the period showing “calibe” or its cognates, meaning “steel”, used in the context of cannons?[I.e., as something cannons were made of?] You keep talking about the flimsiness of the qalib connection, and I’ll admit the evidence is not strong, but I don’t recall seeing you present any actual evidence for your own suggestion.

[ Edited: 04 November 2010 03:55 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 04 November 2010 03:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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ᴚǝǝƶɐʍɐɈ - 04 November 2010 12:15 AM

Therefore the Spanish ‘’alcorque’’ of a date of 1458 looks beside the point because it’s more than 150 years too late.

For the record, what seems to be a diminutive of Spanish alcorque is in fact found in 1253 in Libro de los engaños [e los asayamientos de las mujeres] (also known as El Sendebar), a collection of Arab stories, in the plural form arcorcoles.  [Spanish is often switching the consonants l and r, e.g., Argelia for Algeria.]

http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/servlet/SirveObras/02483818656026729976613/p0000001.htm#I_12_

E el Rey abrió el libro e falló en el primer capítulo cómmo devía el adulterio ser defendido, e ovo gran vergüença e pesól’ mucho de lo qu’ él quisiera fazer. E puso el libro en tierra e sallóse por la puerta de la cámara, e dexó los arcorcoles so el lecho en que estava asentado.

“And the king opened the book and found in the first chapter how adultery should be prohibited, and had great shame and thought much about what he should do. And he put the book on the ground and went out through the door of the chamber, and left the cork shoes under the bed on which he had been seated.”

[ Edited: 04 November 2010 03:24 PM by madeira ]
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Posted: 05 November 2010 02:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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I haven’t seen the actual text of any of the early records of use of CALIBER. Here’s all I know about the early records :

1478 France. Record cited at cnrtl.fr without summarizing what the record actually says.
1548 France. Cited at cnrtl.fr and summarized as “fig. « importance »”, i.e. used in a (presumptively) figurative sense for “importance”.
1560s England. Summarized by etymonline as “1560s, “degree of merit or importance,"”. Summarized by ConciseOED as “mid 16th century (in the sense ‘social standing or importance’)”
1571 France. Summarized at cnrtl.fr as « capacité d’une chose par rapport au volume qui doit la remplir (ici en parlant d’un canon) » which translates as “capacity of a thing in relation to the volume it has to occupy (here talking about a cannon).”
The next citation given at cnrtl.fr is 1636, which it summarizes as the volume of a projectile, or of a cylindrical or spherical object.

Given that early record, and although I’m blind on the 1478 usage, I have to presume it’s an over-interpreation to say “The original Western meaning [was] ‘diameter of a bullet or cannon-ball’” (or cannon-barrel).

As mentioned by Dr. Techie and others, cannon barrels were made of brass or iron, and not steel. I don’t see any semantic route by which you could hook up calibe = “steel” to caliber = “something to do with cannons”.

The MED’s entries for stele = steel include lots and lots of figurative uses for steel, including as true as steel, as strong as steel, as stable as steel, as trustworthy as steel, as steadfast as steel, as stiff as steel, as hard as steel, and as sure as steel. Especially the phrase “as true as steel” has lots and lots of occurrences in the MED. Relatedly, the MED has several cases of “they fynde love of stel”, meaning true love. “God leve that ye fynde ay love of stiel”.

I don’t see how that sense for steel could get hooked up to CALIBER either. I don’t see any semantic route by which calibe = steel could become the progenitor for CALIBER.

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Posted: 05 November 2010 02:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Latham’s Revised Medieval Latin Word Word-List from British and Irish Sources lists chalyb/s, meaning steel, in various forms from c. 1200, doesn’t give cites or even citation info. But the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, which Latham’s word-list was the preliminary step, should have it—the currently published fascicles go up to letter O.

I won’t be getting to the library today, so if anyone has access to a copy of the C fascicle, have at it. I may not get to the library until Monday.

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Posted: 05 November 2010 04:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Reading the various entries on the origin of caliber, it seems that all of the issues mentioned are discussed thoroughly in a 2-page entry in Corominas’s Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico.  Corominas was one of the greatest etymologists of the 20th century, and his expertise included Arabic. 

His overall conclusion is that the origin of Spanish calibre is “uncertain, perhaps from Arabic qâlib”.  After discussing a large number explanations which have been advanced (including, but not limited to the ones in this blog), he returns to the original (Arabic) etymology and states that “There is nothing against the idea that the variant calibo or cálibo [of qâlib] (documented in the 16th and 17th centuries) passed from Spain to France, either in its nautical sense or designating an aro (hoop) for measuring, as is used today in railways: in France it would have added an adventitious (accidental) r because of the influence of the other liquid [l], and it would have been applied there to the artillery caliber; we should not forget that the word artillery is of French origin in all of the European languages; from France in the 16th century the word [caliber] with the new meaning would have extended to Italy and to Spain itself, where some took it as is while others, more purist, would have adapted it to the native form cálibo.”

The nautical/railway sense is translated by the unrelated French word gabarit, which may also be English (it’s used in various English-language technical sources), although it’s not found in the OED, meaning “gauge”, “template”.

It should also be noted that Spanish gálibo (with the sense of “gabarit”, hence not too far removed from that of “caliber") is unquestionably from Arabic qâlib and although its first attestation in Spanish is 1526 (with the nautical sense of “template") it is found considerably earlier (end 14th century) in Catalan (gàlib).  The “purist” form cálibo (of calibre) is still found in (at least some) Spanish dictionaries.

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Posted: 06 November 2010 12:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Thanks to madeira for two posts having information of quality.

If I am reading the quote from Corominas right, he says Spanish calibo or cálibo had a “nautical sense” in 17th century. Madeira says Spanish gálibo had a nautical sense in the 16th century, “the nautical sense of “template”. What were these nautical senses?

If I am reading the quote from Corominas right, he says Spanish calibo also designated “a hoop for measuring” in the 17th century—unrelated to railways. What was it used to measure? Did it involve iron or steel? Was it straightforwardly synonymous with Spanish calibre?

Corominas agrees the Spanish calibre is from French calibre, and everybody else agrees too including the Spanish official DRAE Dictionary. Corominas suggests: “There is nothing against the idea that the variant calibo passed from Spain to France, either in its nautical sense or designating a hoop for measuring.” The nautical sense is incompatible with the French sense, I expect. The idea of Spanish calibo --> French calibre --> Spanish calibre is undermined from the point of view of chronology: cnrtl.fr reports the Spanish calibo is totally unattested in the 16th century; there’s a lone attestation in the form calibio in 1583, followed by the form calibre in Spanish in 1594. The French calibre is attested in 1548 in a (presumptively) figurative sense and if this “figurative” interpretation is correct, the word in the literal sense must have been pretty well known in France prior to 1548 (and in England in 1560s when the same figurative sense was used) because you can’t have a word used figuratively when your audience don’t know the word literally.

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Posted: 06 November 2010 12:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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I’d like to know what Corominas says about calibe = “steel” as a possible progenitor of caliber = “measure of strength”.

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Posted: 06 November 2010 04:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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I propose that 16th century CALIBER = “measure of strength” derived from late medieval Latin calibe = “steel”. In support of this, here are some quotations from the MED under its entry for “Strong”:
1475-1500: Wyth wallys strong as eny stele
1400-1450: And a grete mace stronge as stele
1425: Þe grounde, þe walles are stronge as stele.
1333-1350: Þou ert þe gate so stronge so stel [as strong as steel].

Here’s more along the same lines in the MED’s entries for “Steled” and “Stele”:
1460: Therof the hed is iron steeled stronge.
1400-1425: His spere was strong, the hed wel steled.
1325-1400: Hert o stele and bodi o brass, Strenger þen euer sampson was. [stronger than ever]
1300: Wit strongue dores of Ire and stiel swyþe faste. [swyþe is an intensive]

The MED under “iron” has the item (1350-1500): “An helm of riche atire, Þat was stele and noon ire [not any iron], Percevale sette on his croun.” Under today’s and older usages of CALIBER, we can say that that particular author viewed steel as a material of a higher caliber than iron.

I suggest such usages for steel can generate both the “diameter of a cannon ball” and the “degree of merit” meanings that are on record in the early use of “caliber”. Under this angle of view, the mid-16th century “degree of merit” usage for caliber is not interpreted as a figure of speech for “diameter of a cannon-ball”. Rather, both usages are figures of speech for “degree of steel”, where “steel” is figurative for strength, power, potency.

As I said before, I haven’t seen the actual text of any of the early records of use of CALIBER. If somebody could copy the early quotes from the OED into this thread, it would improve the information content in the thread, and I personally would like to see them, and it wouldn’t be a copyright violation to copy them.

[ Edited: 06 November 2010 05:13 AM by ᴚǝǝƶɐʍɐɈ ]
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Posted: 06 November 2010 06:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Late to the game, but some more information. The same CNRTL etymology cited above says that French caliber, which means both caliber in the English sense and caliper the measuring device, is a loan from Arabic qālib ‘mold for casting metal’, and that the Arabic is in turn a loan from Greek kalopous ‘shoeman’s last’ from kalon ‘wood’ and pous ‘foot’. It also implies that the older meaning of calibre in French refers to the volume of the projectile and only later to its diameter. I looked at the cited entries in both Meyer-Lübke Romanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (REW 4663a) and Gamillscheg Etymologisches Wörterbuch der französischen Sprache (FEW, p.173). FWIW, the latter has this to say: “Nach Kluyver, ZdW 11, 219ff. wäre das arabische Wort aus ital. calibro entlehnt, dieses aus mittelat. collumbar, colubar ,,Halseisen eines Gefangenen`` u. ae. 11 Jhdt calibum, zu lat. chalybs ,,Stahl``; doch ist unmittelbare Entlehnung der romanischen Wörter aus dem Lateinsichen lautlich nicht möglich.” Latin calibrum comes up again in Kluge’s etymology of German Kaliber: “Das arab. Wort [qālib] dringt unverändert in die mittelmeer. Sprachen und wird weitergebildet zu mlat. calibrum ‘Halseisen der Gefangenen, Kumt der Zugtiere’. Dies wird in der älteren Ballistik zur Bezeichnung der Lehre, durch die der Durchmesser und damit das Gewicht von Kanonenkugeln bestimmt wird. Für das Messgerät besteht im 15. Jh. ital. calibro; es wird in 14. Jh. ins Frz. als calibre entlehnt, dabei die Bed. vergröbert zu ‘Durchmesserder Geschützmuendung bzw. des Geschosses’. Aus dem Frz. ins Deutsche übernommen, erscheint Caliber zunächst als M. bei Wallhausen 1616 Kriegsman. 90; Kluyver 1909Zs. f. d. Wortf. 11, 219; Littmann 1924 Morgenl. Wörter 100.”

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Posted: 06 November 2010 06:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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ᴚǝǝƶɐʍɐɈ - 06 November 2010 12:04 AM


If I am reading the quote from Corominas right, he says Spanish calibo or cálibo had a “nautical sense” in 17th century. Madeira says Spanish gálibo had a nautical sense in the 16th century, “the nautical sense of “template”. What were these nautical senses?

It is the template (pattern) according to which the frame and other parts of the ship are made.  Additionally, according to the RAE, it can refer to the “Forma que se da al contorno de las ligazones de un buque” (form or shape given to the contour of the futtocks (!) of a ship.  English futtocks, I have just learned, are the curved timbers that form ribs in the frame of a ship.)

If I am reading the quote from Corominas right, he says Spanish calibo also designated “a hoop for measuring” in the 17th century—unrelated to railways. What was it used to measure? Did it involve iron or steel? Was it straightforwardly synonymous with Spanish calibre?

No, I don’t think that Corominas is saying that there are confirmed attestations of such use—as far as I can tell, the only confirmed use seems to have been the maritime one.  I think he has drawn the inference that it might well have had this sense, based on the use of the word at a later stage to mean “the maximum dimensions established for rail cars taking into account the need to pass through tunnels” (a definition now obsolete) and (still current) “an arc or hoop in iron in the form of an inverted U, which is used in railway stations to test whether rail cars filled with freight can pass through tunnels and underpasses.”

The idea of Spanish calibo --> French calibre --> Spanish calibre is undermined from the point of view of chronology: cnrtl.fr reports the Spanish calibo is totally unattested in the 16th century; there’s a lone attestation in the form calibio in 1583, followed by the form calibre in Spanish in 1594.

One should not give too much emphasis to dates of first attestation, particularly for technical terms such as these.  They could well have been used centuries before.  When
Corominas says that calibo (or cálibo) is documented in the 16th and 17th centuries, he is not suggesting that these words - clearly derived directly from Arabic - entered Spanish at that time; they had clearly been Spanish words for centuries.  And keep in mind that gálibo—which is almost certainly simply a spelling variant of cálibo—has been confirmed in the Iberian (Catalan) peninsula from the late 14th century.

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Posted: 06 November 2010 12:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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“a hoop for measuring”

In one of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels he mentions the procedure of checking the size of cannon-balls in the armory, by rolling them through a hoop. Cannon balls were usually of cast iron; the casting procedure (of which I have so far found no details on the Web) is unlikely to have been micrometrically accurate. Adjustments of small surface irregularities (e.g. removal of the casting-sprue) could be made manually; too large a ball would be rejected and (presumably) returned to the foundry for melting down and re-casting

May I suggest that this hoop (of which a larger version was used later to check the cross-sectional size of railway carriages) was the “caliber” or “template” referred to in several of the places cited in this thread.

(edited for greater precision)

[ Edited: 06 November 2010 12:28 PM by lionello ]
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Posted: 06 November 2010 04:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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The date generally given for the first reported usage for French calibre is 1478.  An actual citation is provided by the online Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330-1500)

http://atilf.atilf.fr/gsouvay/scripts/dmfX.exe?IDF=pcXcaaXbff;ISIS=isis_dmf2010.txt;OUVRIR_MENU=2;s=s171c1058;;XMODE=STELLa;FERMER;;AFFICHAGE=2;SANS_MENU

CALIBRE, subst. masc.
[GDC : calibre ; FEW XIX, 82b : qalib ; TLF V, 39b : calibre]
“Diamètre intérieur d’un objet cylindrique” (GDC)

REM. Doc. 1478 (Rouen, et aussi soient tenus les dits besognants de plastrerie (...) garder les triangles au calibre rapportant au parmy du noieul) ds A. Delboulle, Rec. de notes lexicol. (ms Bibl. Sorbonne), s.v. calibre.

The document in question—with the title “Statuts des Peinteurs-Sculpteurs-Imagiers”—can be found at the following address:

http://books.google.com/books?id=T6s0MMljF_MC&pg=PA717&dq="et+aussi+soient+tenus+les+dits+besognants+de+plastrerie"&hl=en&ei=Q9vVTKKvBcvOswbduuyDCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

It would appear from this that the actual date is 1507 rather than 1478 (see p. 712), although perhaps this text is simply repeating that of an earlier regulation dated 1478.  In any event, the relevant portion of the text reads as follows (Article XIII on p. 717):

Et aussi seront tenus les dits besognants de plasterie faire toutes marches à plomb et garder les triangles au calibre rapportant au parmy du noieul, se le lieu le peut porter, et au cas où le lieu ne serait convenable pour porter ouvrage de si grandes espoisses et devises, les dits ouvriers seront tenus de faire iceulx degrés, bien et duement selon les lieux et édifices.

A rough go at translating this:

And also the said (people) responsible for plastering will make all steps level and will keep the caliber triangles relative to the middle of the newel, if the location can support it, and in the event that the location would not be suitable for supporting a work of such great thickness and separation, the said workers will be required to make these steps, well and properly according to the locations and constructions.

Noieul is modern French noyau which generally means “core”, “nucleus”.  However, in the construction sense it translates English newel—derived from the French term—which the American Heritage Dictionary defines as follows:

1. A vertical support at the center of a circular staircase.
2. A post that supports a handrail at the bottom or at the landing of a staircase.

I leave it to others with more experience of construction to refine this definition and to give a more precise sense to this initial recorded use of calibre.

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Posted: 07 November 2010 03:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Thanks to medeira for another high-caliber post.

At Archive.org I found an 1887 book Glossaire archéologique du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance. It has quotes with use of “calibre” in French dated 1523, 1567, 1583. Each is in a context of gun barrels, and each says very little or nothing beyond that about calibre.

1523. — 8 hacquebutes [Arquebuses] de fonte de bonne matière de mytaille, du poids de chacune 30 liv., du calibre de celles du roy qui sont au chateau, à y délaisser deçà et delà du boute-feug, 2 écussons pour mettre les marques ou armes de la ville.
1567. — Les harquebuses à croc [Arquebuses] sont de plusieurs longueurs et calibres et aussi faut qu’ils servent pour plusieurs effets.
1584. — ... 4 passe-volant du nouveau calibre… [passe-volant was a name of a type of big artillery piece]

Separately from that, incidentally, the same book quotes “calibis” = steel used in French language in 1336; and “calibe” = steel in Latin in 1225 and 1458.

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