Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Bonfire Night and All That





Words and their origins have always interested me and with Bonfire Night upon us I found myself wondering where the word ‘bonfire’ came from.  My immediate thought was ‘good fire’, from the French ‘bon’ for good.  However, I couldn’t be more wrong.  According to an online etymological site it comes from the Middle English banefire meaning a fire on which bones were burnt.  Which I suppose is appropriate, if we burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes on it, as was traditional in my childhood (although I haven’t seen this recently), but certainly gives a much more gory meaning to the celebration.


Mmm, and where does the word ‘effigy’ come from?  According to the same dictionary, it is derived from the Latin effigies (back to Latin – such an important language, see my last blog!) which meant copy or imitation of something.  More interesting, in the context of Bonfire Night, the page on which I found this also produced the fact that the word ‘guy’ has come to its current meaning (man, fellow) starting with the effigy of Guy Fawkes, a 'guy' being a figure paraded through the streets by children, then 'guy' meaning a poorly dressed person – and to our present usage.

And so this set me wondering again – where does ‘dudes’ come from, a term used these days interchangeably with ‘guys’ to signal a group of people as in ‘what do you dudes/guys think’.  Dude apparently came into common usage in America in the 1880s to mean 'city slicker' or 'fastidious dresser'.  Definitely not what we mean by it now.  Our current usage comes from the 1960s when the term was used by Black Americans to mean any man.

I could go on and on!  On Saturday, as an early celebration of Bonfire Night, we had a Bonfire Party.  So, where does the word ‘party’ come from?  According the etymologists it is from the Old French partie meaning ‘side’ or ‘division’, usually the side in a dispute.  It only came to mean a gathering of people for social reasons (as opposed to disputing) in the 18th Century, usually for a specific purpose such as ‘hunting party’, ‘dinner party’.

So there we have it.  On Saturday we held a gathering of people (dudes? They were certainly well-dressed) who all take the same side in order to burn bones on a fire… or maybe not.  Whatever it was, we had a good time.
 




13 comments:

  1. Love it, Gill. I assume those dudes at the party were cool dudes?

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    1. Yes, definitely cool. Must point some of them in the direction of the blog so they can enjoy the coolness of it too.

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  2. Fascinating post Gill, exploring the origin of words and the changes in meaning over the generations. I have no reason for this like or dislike at all but however cool they are I don't like the word dudes. Strange I know. The bonfire looks very professional. Excellent photograph.

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    1. Not sure I like the word dudes either! Although everytime I hear it used it makes me smile as I can't take it seriously.

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  3. Love this post, Gill! Words are fascinating. Sometimes you don't even think about the derivation, but when you do it takes you to a whole new layer of thought. Thank you! And I'm glad you had a good time!

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    1. Thanks Jenny. You're right about the extra layer of meaning. I'll never think of a bonfire in quite the same way.

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  4. I love discovering the origins of words, Gill, and have a lovely Origin of Words volume on my shelf, although I use the online dictionary too! That's a greatt looking bonfire - can almost feel the heat.

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    1. Thanks Rosemary. I like the idea of a 'real' Origin of Words book. I do prefer books to on-line techy things. Think that could well go on the Christmas list.

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  5. Great post.....informative and fun....written in the afterglow of a good party, I'd say....:)

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  6. bonfires hold such a fascination for many of us don't they. Off to have one now of olive tree prunings. :)

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  7. Great post, Gill! I too am fascinated by words and where they come from. Can't help but shudder every time I think of poor Guy Fawkes though - whether he deserved it or not, his end was pretty gruesome!

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  8. I hadn't actually thought about what it must have been like to be poor Guy Fawkes. Yes a whole other aspect there..

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