Saturday, March 10, 2007


The way we should all produce, I suppose.

This is the April installment of David's Definitions in Community News:


    A type of restaurant, typically small and with a fairly simple menu and reasonable prices. My Russian teacher in college told us that the word comes from the Russian word bistro, meaning quickly, because Russian soldiers occupying Paris after the defeat of Napoleon used to yell that at the French waiters, who weren’t as easily intimidated as Russian serfs. Bistros evolved to serve the Russians but then became popular with the French, who decided that this Russian idea of fast service and low prices wasn’t such a bad one, after all. I’ve since read that linguists dispute this origin of the word, but it does make a nifty story.


David said...

I suppose that one of my next definitions should be for folk etymology, because that's what this one turned out to be.

That's a bit embarrassing.

Chris said...

Not at all! If someone wanted a straightforward definition, they'd head for a dictionary. Now, I'm a bit of a word-geek, but I thought this was fascinating.

David said...

Thanks, Chris.

That Russian teacher was a bit of a Russophile, so of course she liked that etymology.

I think I'll do "folk etymology" anyway. There's so much of it floating around, being taken seriously by people. The example I'll probably use is sirloin; I don't know how many times I've heard the story that an English king enjoyed his steak so much that he declared, "I dub thee Sir Loin."

I'd like to use the silly one about fuck being an acronym for "Fornication Under Command of the King", but it's not that kind of publication.

Chris said...

No, I imagine it's not. And as I understand it, the King's English defined 'fornication' as carnal relations outside of wedlock, rendering that admittedly colorful tale apocryphal at best.

Chris said...

To hell with the definitions, I say -- I think the folk etymology angle would be endlessly entertaining. "Fuck" aside, there've got to be dozens of worthwhile entrants. Of course, "David's Folk Etymology" doesn't have quite the same ring, does it? "David's Deconstruction"?

Okay, fine -- "Definitions" just sounds better.

David said...

That's a good idea, even without the name change.

Two issues of the publication have/will soon have appeared using the title "David's Definitions", so it's simplest to stick with that. But if I gave more examples of folk etymology, I'd be doing a service by cleaning up a lot misconceptions.

People seem to like folk etymologies on some emotional level, perhaps because they usually make a kind of sense, wherease real etymologies seldom do.