Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mommy, What's a Codpiece?

When we once entertained the notion of writing a short book of Ren Faire (short for Renaissance Faire) terms, Mommy, What's a Codpiece? was the title we considered. There are several words, bandied about at such fairs, whose etymology we have often wondered about.  Since it is now the season of Ren Faires, it is the perfect time to analyze some of those words.

Codpiece, of course, is the first to come to mind.  Most of us know what it is - the OED Online defines it as
A bagged appendage to the front of close fitting hose or breeches worn by men of the 15th to 17th c.: often conspicuous or ornamented.
Codpiece-Antonio Navagero (1565), from Wikipedia
Men of the period wore hose or leggings, and a longish coat or jacket over those.  The hose were not joined at the crotch, so the genitals could be exposed, but the naughty bits were, in the beginning, covered by the length of the jacket (doublet).  However, fashion tastes brought about a rise in the hemline of the doublet.  Once it started approaching the tops of the thighs, men risked exposing their genitals as they mounted and dismounted their horses and during other activities.  Thus the codpiece was born.  It was originally a simple triangle of cloth laced to the gap in the hose, but with time it grew larger and more ornate, and it even acquired padding.  As tastes changed, the codpiece eventually went out of fashion, but it can still be seen today in period clothing, and also among certain groups such as heavy metal rockers and superheroes (certain versions of Batman in film, for example).

The word codpiece is, etymologically, "a piece for the scrotum or testicles," as cod is the Old English word for "testicle" by transference from its previous meaning, "scrotum."  The "scrotum" meaning arose from the word's earlier, broader sense of "pouch."  Codpiece dates from the late 15th century, while cod turns up in the written record around 1000.  One could say that a codpiece is a "piece for the pouch"!

Now let us give womenswear some attention.  Why is the bodice so named?  You may be surprised to learn that it is a doublet (having the same etymological roots) of the word bodies.  The term bodice was originally a pair of bodies, as this article of clothing came in two pieces that were joined and laced up the front and back.  The phrase was truncated to bodies and then the spelling altered to bodice.  The word bodice was treated as a plural (like dice and mice) for quite some time.  The plural of the word body was used because this particular garment clothed the body (or trunk), as distinct from the arms, legs and head.  The term dates from the mid-16th century.

The word doublet was mentioned in the discussion of codpiece above (and again in the discussion of bodice, but that is a different doublet).  Why was the men's jacket of the Renaissance called a doublet?  English borrowed it from French (same spelling) in the early 14th century, and the French had so named it because it was made of fabric that was doubled or folded and quilted.  The -et suffix of doublet makes it a diminutive of double.

Farthingale.  http://bit.ly/1js2gq1 
Back to women's clothing - what is a farthingale?  It is a hooped petticoat, the hoops often being made of whalebone.  The hoops lifted a woman's skirts away from the body, in a bell shape. Where did its name come from?  A person?  A place?  None of the above.  In fact, it derives ultimately from Spanish verdugado, from verdugo "rod, stick,"  referring to the whalebone or cane sticks/rods used.  It came to English in the mid-16th century via the French form, verdugale.

If you've ever read Stellar and Yeatman's 1066 and All That, a humorous look at British history, you may recall that everyone seemed to die from eating a surfeit of something.  Was a surfeit a bowl, or a plate?  Or a particular method of food preparation? No, it was an "excessive consumption of food or drink" per the OED. That meaning is considered obsolete now, but it was more common during the Renaissance.  It also refers to an excessive quantity of anything.  It derives ultimately from French sur- which is equivalent to Latin super- + faire "to do, act," with the combined meaning "do something excessively."  The association with food and drink appears to have been attached to the word when it came to English in the late 14th century.

Privies - http://www.dmrenfaire.com/
Everyone who has attended a Ren Faire knows that the toilets are referred to as privies.  You may have guessed that privy is in some way related to private, and if so you guessed correctly.  The privy was a private place.  Both private and privy derive ultimately from Latin privus "individual".  Something that was private was reserved for an individual or a select few, and a privy was a private area reserved for the members of a family or household to relieve themselves.

What about deprive and privation, you may ask?  These are also related, but they took a different route from Latin to English.  While private and privy came from the past participle of privare, privatus, deprive and privation came directly from privare.  Privare originally meant "isolate," but its meaning evolved from "isolate" (and you can see how that derived from the "individual" meaning of its parent, privus) to that which can come from isolation, deprivation, and that is whence privation and deprive came to English.  Yet another priv- word, privelege, means, etymologically, "law regarding the individual," where the -lege element derives from Latin lex "law".

You are now reasonably well-equipped to attend a Renaissance Faire.  However, if you want the full lingo experience, here is one site that delves more deeply into "Faire Speak".

Recommended Link:  With each new blog entry we will endeavor to provide you an interesting link to an article or a site related to etymology or language in general.  This week we offer you Stan Carey's MacMillan Dictionary blog entry on the fallacious belief that etymology provides the true or most correct meaning of words.  We have fought this fallacy at TOWFI since TOWFI's inception many years ago.  (If you follow us on Twitter you will have seen this link already, and we apologize for the repetition.)

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