Size
Posted: 18 December 2013 12:22 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Not long ago we had a discussion on the way the meaning of words changes in time.  An interesting example is the word “size”, which is used today in two completely different senses, both apparently having the same origin. The dimensional sense of “size” is given as deriving from the ME sise, meaning ultimately ‘’a session, or sitting” (cf. “assize"), implying the act of estimating/judging.

The other sense of “size” is “a [glutinous] material added to cloth, paper, wall surfaces, etc. as a filler”. This sense, apparently, also derives from the same ME word sise in the sense of “setting” (cf. “sitting"). In the paper industry, until about 1800, paper was dipped in a bath of animal glue ("size") before drying, to give it some resistance to ink or water penetration (important for writing and packaging papers). Today, other chemicals are used to impart water resistance to paper, but the process is still called “sizing”. The German word for the same process is leimung, the French word, collage, and the Spanish encolado - leim, colle, and cola all meaning “glue” . “Lime” is also an archaic English word for “glue”—hence “bird-lime”, the glue spread by Papageno the bird-catcher on tree branches, to trap birds.

(note: my etymology of “size” is derived from dictionaries available on-line --- not from the OED, which might have more to say).

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Posted: 18 December 2013 03:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I was unfamiliar with that second meaning.

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Posted: 18 December 2013 04:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The online OED entry is an un-updated one, and all it says is:

Possibly the same word as SIZE n2 [a form of ASSIZE] but the history is not clear. Compare Spanish sisa , given by Minsheu (1599) as ‘solder for golde’, but explained in later Spanish dicts. in accordance with sense 1. Florio (followed as usual by Torriano) gives both Italian sisa and assisa in the sense of size ‘that painters use’, but later Italian dicts. do not confirm this.

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Posted: 19 December 2013 09:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Possibly the same word as SIZE n2 [a form of ASSIZE] but the history is not clear. Compare Spanish sisa , given by Minsheu (1599) as ‘solder for golde’, but explained in later Spanish dicts. in accordance with sense 1.

The RAE gives the origin of sisa as “Old French assize, a tax”, and lists four meanings: 1. The part set aside or concealed, in a dishonest transaction, especially in respect to the purchase of food; 2. A semicircular cut in dressmaking, corresponding to the armpit; 3. A mordant, made from ochre or vermilion cooked in linseed oil, used in gilding for fixing gold leaf. 4. A tax, formerly charged on food products.
It looks as though the on-line OED entry is ready for updating, as Syntinene Laulu points out.

I’d never heard of Minsheu before, though I’m sure aldiboronti and our pro linguists have, and hastened to Wikipedia (may its name be blessed) and other on-line sources. He seems to have been an extraordinary intellectual and polyglot (a dictionary in 11 languages, in the late 16th century, forsooth!). I checked out his Spanish dictionary (on-line, courtesy of Kings College London) from the Wikipedia references.  Of the four meanings of sisa given by the RAE, Minsheu lists three (omitting the dressmaking reference, which might have come into use after his time). Obviously a careful and painstaking linguist.

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Posted: 20 December 2013 02:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I once worked in picture framing and currently paint in oils. In both fields a ”rabbit skin glue” was used both as an adhesive for the corners of the frames (before nailing) as well as an adhesize for gold leaf applied to the surface of the frame (mordant as noted above). In oil painting this “glue” was usually called ”sizing”—a gerund based on the verb “to size” though less-often called “size.” It was used by early painters because the linseed oil in paints would eat away at the canvas fibers over time. Now it’s used more as a foundation or “ground.”

One can get “raw canvas” for painting but almost all commercially available canvas comes “pre-sized.” Most sizing now is acrylic based but still called “sizing” as Lionello noted re: the paper industry.

I note that the spray starch I use for my dress shirts before ironing is also called “sizing.”

all sources seem to agree that this sense traces back to the Old French “assize” but how it is derived from that word is still not clear to me. “Setting” I guess is a clue to the glue.

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Posted: 20 December 2013 02:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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After a bit of looking around, I think Lionello was close in the first post:

meaning ultimately ‘’a session, or sitting”

French has 2 words with the same spelling, Assise.  One refers to legal judgement etc., the other to fundamental layers in architecture or geological formations.  Both derive from the same latin roots as asseoir, to sit or lay down.

I guess the sense of the glue/preparation etc. comes from the supporting layer meaning.  But in what order or sequence it arrived into English, I don’t know.

As an aside, in the UK (at least) you can buy ‘size’ in DIY and decoration shops to put on walls to help paper stick or paint cover more evenly.  These days I mostly use diluted PVA glue, but the process is still sizing.

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