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Word origin of CALIBER
Posted: 07 November 2010 04:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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Archive.org has an 1887 book Diccionario general etimologico de la lengua española (zoom:50%). It includes an entry for a Spanish word “calibe” defined as “greek name for steel”.
Its entry for “calibo” says “calibo” is an obsolete synonym for calibre, and that in provincial Aragonese calibo means or meant “embers”.

Also at Archive.org is an 18th century French-English dictionary where a French word “calibé” is translated as “a chalybeate, impregnated with steel”.

Also at Archive.org is an Italian-English dictionary dated 1873 where an Italian ‘’calibe’’ is translated as “steel”. At the other end of the dictionary, English “chalybeate” is translated as Italian “calibeáto”.

Also at Archive.org is an Italian-Spanish dictionary dated 1843 where Italian ‘’calibe’’ = Spanish ‘’acero’’, steel.

Also at Archive.org is Theophilus Presbyter’s “Diverse Arts” (12th century encyclopedia), with Latin and English presented side-by-side. It contains a dozen instances of Latin “calibe” meaning steel.

Repeating myself, “calibe” was so well-circulated and so phonetically close to “calibre” that it should’ve influenced the early interpretation of calibre even if calibre didn’t arise from it.

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Posted: 07 November 2010 05:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Dr. Techie - 02 November 2010 05:01 PM

The OED etymology says

a. F. calibre (qualibre in Cotgr. 1611) = It. calibro, Sp. calibre (OSp. also calibo, Diez) of uncertain origin....

Here’s the Summary Etymology for caliber in six of today’s online English dictionaries. Notice the absence of uncertainty and bear in mind that the Italian word is not attested until the early 17th century.

Merriam-Webster.com: Middle French calibre, from Old Italian calibro, from Arabic qālib shoemaker’s last. First Known Use in English: 1567
CollinsEnglish @ Dictionary.com: CENTURY16: from Old French, from Italian calibro, from Arabic qālib shoemaker’s last, mould
AmericanHeritage @ YourDictionary.com: Origin: French calibre, from Italian calibro, from Arabic qālib, qālab, mold, shoe tree, from Greek kālapous, shoemaker’s last.
OxfordDictionaries.com: mid 16th century (in the sense ‘social standing or importance’): from French, from Italian calibro, perhaps from Arabic qālib ‘mould’, based on Greek kalapous ‘shoemaker’s last’
Webster’sNewWorld @ YourDictionary.com: Origin: Fr & Sp, ult. < Ar qālib, a mold, last, < Aram < Gr kalopodion, shoemaker’s last [Note: ”ult.” admits Italian as the intermediary]
RandomHouse @ Dictionary.com: 1560–70; var. of calibre < MF Ar qālib mold, last < Gk kālápous shoe last. [Note: means “ultimately from"]

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Posted: 07 November 2010 10:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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I’m going to talk about the origin of the word ALIZARIN. This is not off-topic. Alizarin is a red dye widely used anciently, and widely used today. Until the late 19th century the Alizarin dye was made from the roots of the madder plant, while today it’s made in pure synthetic form. Historically its main use was for dyeing clothes, and it’s still in use for that, but a search on the Internet shows that most of the attention alizarin gets nowadays is as a tracer or staining agent in biochemistry research. Here’s how the word’s origin is summarized by the English dictionaries:

Concise OED (OxfordDictionaries.com): Origin: mid 19th century: from French alizarine, from alizari ‘madder’, from Arabic al-‘iṣāra ‘pressed juice’, from ‘aṣara ‘to press fruit’
Webster’s New World (YourDictionary.com): Origin: German alizarin < Fr & Sp alizari, dried madder root < Ar al ʿuṣāra, the juice < ʿaṣara, to press
American Heritage (YourDictionary.com): French alizarine, from alizari, madder root, from Spanish, probably from Arabic al-‘uṣāra, the juice : al-, the + ‘uṣāra, juice (from ‘aṣara, to squeeze; see עṣr in Semitic roots).
Random House (Dictionary.com): Origin: 1825–35; < F alizarine, equiv. to alizar(i) (< Sp < Ar al the + ʿaṣārah juice) + -ine
Collins English (Dictionary.com): C19 [CENTURY19]: probably from French alizarine, probably from Arabic al-’asārah the juice, from ’asara to squeeze
Merriam-Webster (Merriam-Webster.com): probably from French alizarine. First Known Use: circa 1835

There’s a problem with what the dictionaries are saying. Quote:

Dye-making from the madder root is ancient in northwest Europe and elsewhere. The word “alizarin” is only on record from the early 19th century. In France in year 1831 the official dictionary of the French language defined “izari” as “madder from the Levant” and flagged it as a recent word—Ref. It seems that an expansion of exports of madder from the Levant to western Europe may have occurred in the early 19th century—Ref. But (1) the Arabic word for madder was a completely different word; (2) the Arabic al-ʿaṣārah = “the juice” is very rarely or not at all used in Arabic in any sense of a dye; and (3) the way you get the dyestuff from the madder root is by drying the root, followed by milling the dried root into a powder—not by juicing, pressing or squeezing. So the Arabic verb ʿaṣar = “to squeeze” is semantically off-target, as well as being unattested in the relevant sense. Also phonetically it is not very easy to get a French or Italian ‘z’ from an Arabic ‘ṣ’—Ref. That is not true of a Spanish ‘z’. Regarding the Spanish word alizari the experts Dozy & Englemann (page 144) say it looks Arabic but they can find no progenitor for it in Arabic—Ref. In Italian in the 19th century the word is found as ‘’alizani’’, as well as today’s ‘’alizarina’’.

CNRTL.fr has an alternative proposal: alizarin comes from 19th century Greek ‘’rizari’’ which had a meaning of madder root and which came in turn from Greek ‘’riza’’ meaning root. I gather this idea is that the madder roots were shipped by Greeks from the Levant to France, and the Greeks called it by Greek ‘’rizari” but stuck Arabic ‘’al” in front because it was a product of the Levant. No explanation for how the ‘r’ got dropped.

The point is, the word-origin summaries in the English dictionaries can be far too credulous and uncritical. That’s certainly true of Cork and Alizarin and Caliber. A better summary of the Alizarin situation would be: “Origin: A name for madder that entered all Western languages in the first half of the 19th century, from an unknown source.” By the way, in the early 19th century, the Old English word “madder” meant the madder dyestuff, as well as the madder root, and was thus identical with “alizarin”. I suppose “Alizarin” may have been adopted by the resellers as a better marketing name than “madder”, similar to how 20th century resellers adopted “canola” oil in place of the Old English “rape seed” oil. But what could explain why the French & Portuguese took to using “alizarin” in place of their old word ‘’garance’’, the Spanish & Italians their word ‘’rubia’’, the Germans and Dutch their word ‘’Krapp’’?

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Posted: 07 November 2010 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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I’m going to talk about the origin of the word ALIZARIN. This is not off-topic.

It is, actually; it would be better to start a new thread for a new word.

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Posted: 08 November 2010 07:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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I finally got to the library an the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources. It turns out there is one citation that would support the idea that caliber comes from the Latin chalybs, “iron or steel.”

1399 [...] globos [chalyb]is igne candentes pro saxis balistis jaciunt LIV. Hen V. 22a

Which I translate as, “Instead of stones, they throw shining balls of iron with fire with ballistas.” The translation is rough. There’s not much context to go on (and I’m hardly a Latin whiz).

None of the other citations are remotely related to gunnery.

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Posted: 09 November 2010 12:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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I think it has been established that there is a connection between “caliber” and the Arabic “kalib” meaning “a mold or template”, borrowed from the Greek “kalopuos”, “the last for a shoe”. We know also that a template in the form of a hoop was used to determine the diameter, or caliber, of cannon balls. In view of this, it seems to me that there is not much point in insisting on looking for a derivation of “caliper” from “chalybes”, iron or steel.  The similarity of the words may be purely fortuitous (wouldn’t be the first time, that two words are associated because they sound alike, while meaning two different things), and given that cannon balls were eventually (but by no means at all times) made of iron, it is hardly surprising that etymological researchers, and others, should make an (unfounded) connection between “kalib” and “chalybes”. The term “caliber” is - and always has been, so far as I can see - associated with measurement; it would be equally applicable to cannon balls of stone, which were still in common use as late as the 15th century (e.g. in the Turks’ successful siege of Byzantium in 1453).

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Posted: 09 November 2010 03:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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lionello - 09 November 2010 12:35 AM

I think it has been established that there is a connection between “caliber” and the Arabic “kalib” meaning “a mold or template”.

Au contraire, I’ve seen no evidence for that at all, except for the faint evidence for a Spanish route mentioned earlier by medeira. The “kalib” = “mold” proposition comes with no more evidence than the Latin “calibrum” = “neck collar” mentioned earlier in the thread, or the Latin “calibe” = “steel”.

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Posted: 11 November 2010 01:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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For my assertion regarding the association of qalib with caliber, I was relying on madeira’s quotations from Corominas, and madeira’s statement that “Spanish gálibo with the sense of gabarit ...is unquestionably from Arabic qalib .... and it is found considerably earlier (end 14th century) in Catalan (gálib)”. But I suppose reezawaF is nearest the truth when he uses the expression “faint evidence”, a term which applies to much of what’s been said in this very interesting thread. Perhaps in the case of qalib vs. chalybes the most appropriate verdict might be the old Scottish one: “not proven”.

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Posted: 11 November 2010 04:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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A “genet” (also “genetta”) is a nocturnal civet-like mammal native to Iberia and north Africa. In the Medieval era its coat was used to make fur coats for humans. Here’s how today’s English dictionaries report the word’s origin:

Random House (Dictionary.com): 1375–1425; late ME < OF genette < Ar jarnait
Collins English (Dictionary.com): C15: from Old French genette, from Arabic jarnayt
Webster’s New World (YourDictionary.com): Origin: ME < OFr genette < Sp gineta < Ar jarnayṭ
Merriam-Webster (M-W.com): Middle English genete, from Anglo-French, ultimately from Arabic jarnayṭ
Chambers 21st Century Dictionary (ChambersHarrap.co.uk): 15c: French genette, from Arabic jarnait.
American Heritage (YourDictionary.com): Origin: Middle English, from Old French genete.
ConciseOED (OxfordDictionaries.com): Middle English (used in the plural meaning ‘genet skins’): from Old French genete, probably via Catalan, Portuguese, or Spanish from Arabic jarnaiṭ

The Genet with the spelling ‘’janeta’’ is in Portuguese in the 12th century and Catalan in the 13th—Ref:sup2. It’s in English in the 13th century spelled ‘’genet’’, also French ‘’genete’’, and 15th century English ‘’ionet’’ (i to be pronounced y)—Ref.. The word is absent from old Arabic writings and absent too from Arabic dictionaries—Ref.(zoom). However, a French linguist observing oral dialectical Maghrebi Arabic in the 19th century found the dialect word ‘’jarnait’’ = genet—Ref.(zoom). Later in the 19th century another French linguist curtly suggested that the European word “genet” originated from Arabic, with the Arabic attestation being this “jarnait”—Ref(zoom). As far as I know—though I may not be fully informed; I haven’t seen the OED—no further advance in knowledge about this word’s origin has happened since the 19th century reports I’ve just referred to. It is notable that the French government-financed CNRTL.fr etymology website today is not able to cite any attestation of the “jarnait” word in written Arabic (Ref:sup2), which I interpret as a good indicator that none is known of.

When I did a search for this Maghrebi Arabic word جرنيط (jarnait) on the Internet today, every single result was in the context of the origin of “genet”; that is, there are no instances of the use of the word on the Internet in a context of genuine Arabic usage.

When I looked in Richardson’s giant Arabic-English dictionary dated 1852 (ref), I found no Arabic word suggesting itself as a possible source-word for the Maghrebi oral dialectical جرنيط (jarnait). (Nor did I find the word itself). This suggests that the Maghrebi word is more likely to have come from Europe than the other way around, if the two words are related.

With my present state of knowledge—which consists of what I’ve said above—it looks to me that the only support for an Arabic origin for the medieval European word “genet” is a 19th century attestation of ‘’jarnait” in oral dialect.

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Posted: 11 November 2010 05:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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Seven modern English dictionaries give their summary etymology of the word ALMANAC as follows. Notice the first four convey no uncertainty about what was the source of the medieval Latin word.

Chambers 21st Century Dictionary (ChambersHarrap.co.uk): 14th century English, from Latin almanach, from Arabic al the + manakh calendar.
Random House (Dictionary.com): Middle English almenak < Medieval Latin almanach < Spanish Arabic al the + manākh calendar < ?
Webster’s New World (YourDictionary.com): ME almenak < ML almanachus < Late Greek almenichiaka, calendar, ? of Coptic origin
Concise OED (OxfordDictionaries.com): late Middle English: via medieval Latin from Greek almenikhiaka, of unknown origin
Merriam-Webster (Merriam-Webster.com): Middle English almenak, from Medieval Latin almanach, probably from Arabic al-manākh the almanac. First Known Use in English: 14th century
American Heritage (YourDictionary.com):: Middle English almenak, from Medieval Latin almanach, perhaps from Late Greek almenikhiaka, ephemeris, perhaps of Coptic origin.
Collins English (Dictionary.com): Century14: from Medieval Latin almanachus, perhaps from Late Greek almenikhiaka.

The truth is that the first attestation of the word almanac in any language is in Latin in 1267 and nobody has got a decent basis for saying where the Latin word came from. Some good info about Almanac’s etymology—taken primarily from the OED—is at Ref.

The French government-financed etymology website CNRTL.fr says almanac “is attested in 13th century Spanish Arabic”. That is bogus info. The early Latin meant a set of tables detailing movements of stars in the sky. A lot of medieval Arabic writings on astronomy and astrology exist, and they don’t use the almanac word. One of the words they do use is “zīj”; another is “taqwīm”. After the almanac word came into use in Latin and Spanish, it remained absent from Arabic writings. A very isolated reported exception is in a Maghrebi astronomer called Ibn Al-Banna, born 1256 died 1321, who almost certainly took the word from Spanish or Latin (and he generally used “zīj"). Furthermore, there is no known word in Arabic from which the almanac word might have been generated in Arabic. CNRTL.fr suggests the Arabic “probably issues from a Syriac word”. But that’s just fanciful handwaving, with no Syriac documentation to support it, and of course no Arabic documentation either. A Syriac source would also be out of kelter with historical context because the Arabic speakers of the 13th century were not borrowing any words of that nature from Syriac; and CNRTL.fr acknowledges that the Maghrebi/Spanish Arabic word it’s (spuriously) talking about is altogether absent from the Syrian or eastern Arabic.

The Greek “almenichiaka” only occurs in a writing by Porphyry (died about 305) which was quoted in a writing by Eusebius of Caesarea (died 339). In the context where used, it was the name of some sort of astrology table in use by Copts in Egypt, with the astrology stuff tied in with old-time religious beliefs of the Copts. Before and after Porphyry/Eusebius, this word “almenichiaka” occurs nowhere else, in all writings in all languages, down to the occurrence of the Latin “Almanac” (with that exact spelling, and also “Almanach") in 1267 in France. The meaning in 1267 had no association with Coptic astrology. The unknown individual who originated the 13th century Latin had very possibly seen “almenichiaka” in Eusebius and had pulled it from there. (Eusebius was still a fairly popular author at the time). It’s also possible he never saw the “almenichiaka” word.

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Posted: 11 November 2010 06:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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It would be better to start a new thread when you start discussing a new word. Sometimes the conversation drifts and new discussion of new words naturally arises, but if you make a sudden break and start discussing a word that has not been previously discussed in the thread, it’s better to start a new one.

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Posted: 12 November 2010 04:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Very interesting posts, those last two of reezawaL’s. They suggest that lexicographers are no different from other people.

The following is a quotation from a book dealing with an entirely different discipline:

“....one can’t be too careful. In this field (as in so many others) there is far too much half-knowledge, guesswork, and sheer invention in print, tarted up to look like fact..... Once something gets into print, most people are much too eager to accept it unquestioningly. Even scientists and academics, who really ought to know better, can often be pathetically gullible.”

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Posted: 12 November 2010 05:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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pathetically gullible

I wouldn’t classify most of the reaction this way. After all, people simply don’t have the time to verify each and every claim, particularly those outside their discipline. It is reasonable to assume that a claim made by source that should be reputable is, in fact, correct. Life is too short to do otherwise.

That of course doesn’t apply to other researchers in the same field. Lexicographers, for example, shouldn’t simply rely on the claims of other dictionaries when compiling their own dictionaries. Nor is the problem limited to lexicographers. I’m taking a course in “Historicizing Shakespeare’s Language,” and a huge number of articles by noted Shakespeare scholars repeat the claim that he was a great neologizer. Yet, when I looked into the research behind this claim, I found there was virtually none (a couple of articles written a decade ago that show equivocal results is about it). Furthermore, fifteen minutes with the online OED starts to blow holes in the claim. Not only is the claim wrong, it’s easy to disprove. (Shakespeare was clearly a highly skilled user and adopter of neologisms, but there is scant evidence that he was a great coiner of words. And many of those he might have coined were unsuccessful, dying a quick death and found nowhere else but in his works.)

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Posted: 12 November 2010 07:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Amateurs and autodidacts in any field tend to be smug about their own superior knowledge and contemptuous of professionals, who seem to them a bunch of overprivileged swindlers using their fancy degrees to ward off questions and sipping sherry as they sneer at the hoi polloi.  Very few amateur etymologists (to take the case at hand) have the faintest idea how much knowledge and effort it takes to come up with even what looks like a fairly simple etymology when it’s boiled down to the few words printed in a dictionary.  If one comes up with some obscure nugget that seems to have been ignored by the pros, it’s tempting to wave it around triumphantly and say “Gotcha!” But it’s quite possible that one of those pros would take a look at the nugget, yawn, and say “Yes, yes, that was dealt with by X in an article in 1897.  Er, you do read German, don’t you?” Obviously it’s not the case that all the etymologies in dictionaries are correct, and amateurs do make valuable contributions, but usually not if they start out with the attitude that the professionals are “credulous and uncritical.”

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Posted: 12 November 2010 08:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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Languagehat is correct in his general point. But in the case of most of the Arabic origins mentioned in the thread, the OED, for one, does not agree with the other dictionaries, saying that the Arabic origins are problematic. So in these cases there does seem to be some kind of uncritical acceptance going on. In these cases I would guess that it is not dictionaries copying one another, but instead old scholarship that found a Spanish connection to an al- word and assumed an Arabic origin. Since most revisions and new editions do not entail a complete researching and rewriting of every entry, the old scholarship is maintained long after its due date has passed.

I’m not saying the other dictionaries are wrong about the Arabic origins, but skepticism seems to be warranted in these cases.

Addition:

Another thing that often happens with scholarly findings is that caveats are dropped as time passes. As it is repeated, a qualified statement transforms into an unqualified one. I found one such case in arguments about the dating of the Beowulf manuscript. Scholars point to dialectal evidence presented by Kenneth Sisam in 1953, arguing that the works in the manuscript were not composed at the same time. But in Sisam’s article, he admits the evidence is thin and warns scholars not to take the his argument too seriously. Subsequent scholars cite Sisam’s results, but ignore his warnings.

[ Edited: 12 November 2010 08:23 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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