Posted: 24 February 2007 08:24 AM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  2915
Joined  2007-01-30

Reading an old review in Scientific American I came across this paragraph:

“Among the many charms of the book {Bright Earth by Philip Ball} are its etymological surprises. Who would have thought that the word “miniature” traces its origins not to any synonym for “small” but to the Latin word minium, a lead-based red pigment often used in the scenes (usually small, to be sure) depicted in illuminated medieval manuscripts? Or that “crimson” has such a tangled past? The word comes from the name of an insect of the genus Kermes, from which a red compound was extracted. But because, when seen from a distance, the kermes insects look like kernels of grain, Pliny the Elder called the pigment granum, Latin for “grain.” By the time of Chaucer, “dyed in grain” had come to mean dyed crimson.”

I knew about miniature but the etymology of crimson was new and fascinating to me.

Here’s OED:

[The 15th c. cremesin(e corresponds exactly to early Sp. cremesin (cited 1403-12), early It. cremesino and med.L. cremes{imac}nus, variants (by metathesis of r) of med.L. kermes{imac}nus, carmesinus, It. chermesino, carmesino, Sp. carmesin (16th c.), f. It. chermisí, cremesí, Sp. carmesí (cited 1422), (a. Arab. qermazi, qirmaz{imac}: see CRAMOISY) + suffix -ino, L. -{imac}nus: see -INE. Thence our 16th c. variants. The corresponding 15-16th c. F. form was cramoisin (Littré), whence occasional Eng. cramoysine; the disturbing influence of this probably appears also in cremosin, crimosin, crimison, crimson.]

And here’s the big dic on dyed in grain and the connection with crimson.

Palsgr. 1530 gives a Fr. engrainer to dye. The word, whether first formed in Fr. or Eng., was suggested by the Fr. phrase en graine (adapted in Eng. as in grain) where graine means the cochineal dye. Hence to engrain and to dye in grain meant originally to dye with cochineal, and subsequently to dye in any fast colour. But afterwards they came to be associated with the word grain, a. Fr. grain, the ‘fibre’ or minute structure of a thing; so that in mod. use ‘to dye in (the) grain’ means to impregnate the very substance of the material with the dye, to dye the wool before it is woven; and the present senses of the vb. engrain have distinct reference to grain ‘minute structure.’ On the whole the form engrain is now preferred to ingrain; see however the note on ENGRAINED ppl. a.]

Posted: 24 February 2007 08:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  170
Joined  2007-02-14

I didn’t know that crimson and cochineal were the same color (or at least from the same source).

I first heard the word cochineal from one of my favorite poems by E. Dickinson:

I found the phrase to every thought
I ever had, but one
And that defies me,— as a hand
did try to chalk the sun.

To races nurtured in the dark, --
How would your own begin?
Can blaze be shown in cochineal
Or noon in mazarin?

Posted: 24 February 2007 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Total Posts:  429
Joined  2007-02-14

Interesting to compare that to the etymology of Dutch ‘karmijn’. I’ll quote Van Dale on this;

Karmijn [red dye] (1691) < Fr. carmin < MLat. carminium [id.], a combination of minium [cinnaber], of Iberian origin + Ar. qirmizi [karmijn], from qirmiz [kermes, the female cochenille-lice that provide a red dye], goes back on an older Sanskrit krmih (worm); the red dye was not only extracted from lice, but also from worms.

Apparently cognate to NE Carmine

[ Edited: 24 February 2007 10:51 AM by Dutchtoo ]