9 07 2010

Have you ever looked at a word, an English word, one with which you are familiar, one that’s long been a part of your vocabulary, and for the first time, you’ve thought – what a funny looking word! ?

This happens to me quite often, and when it does, I’m sent off compulsively to my dictionaries. The urge is to get a handle on the word and how it became an English word.

The latest example is tarpaulin.

Now, you have to admit this is a funny-looking word. Isn’t it? Try to “estrange” it by imagining this is the first time you’ve seen or heard it. It’s definitely curious, if not downright odd.

This is what I discovered:

The word entered English at the start of the 17th century, and early on had as one of its meaning, a sailor because of the tarpaulin-like clothing they wore. This makes sense when you think about sailors, water and protective clothing.

The “tar-“ comes from the fact that the material, originally some kind of canvas, was rendered waterproof through the addition of tar (or paint or wax).

The “-paul-“ comes from an Old English word “pall”,  meaning  a covering. It entered English some time before 900 AD, derived from the Latin pallium, meaning a cloak or covering,  and was extensively used in ecclesiastical settings – note our still-current “pall-bearer”.

The “-ing” at the end seems to suggest that the term entered English as a verb or gerund – “tar- paul- ing”.  For example: Come on, get ready, the roof is leaky, we have to go tarpauling.

Certainly by the start of the 20th century, the “ing” had reduced, both phonologically and in writing, to “in”, at least in American English. Once you reduce the final syllable in this way, the stress lands on the medial syllable, rendering the pronunciation something like  – tar-PAUL-en

So there you have it. It doesn’t seem so odd any more.




7 responses

9 07 2010

Prof. Ruth,

I knew this word from my native Hungarian too. In Hungarian it means
waterproof material or waterproof sailor hat. It is intersting to learn about the origin of the word.

By the way, since I am on your course I learned about 50 new English words already…

Your postings are very helpful for me. Thank you.

9 07 2010

Hi Erika,
I’m very glad to read this.
When you say you “learned” abt 50 new words, do u mean their dictionary meaning? Or how to use them contextually?
Give me some examples. I’m v interested to hear!

11 07 2010

Hi Prof. Ruth,

Mostly, I learned the meaning of the words, but I also try to find examples for their usage.

For example “endow”, “derived”, “metacognition”, etc.

She was endowed with spiritual strength studying English.

Hungarian derived from Finno-Ugric languages.

In the process of language learning meatcognition is very important.

12 07 2010
mark c

I agree that in the process of language learning – the notion of meatcognition cant be underestimated.

But to tell the truth I’m stuck in the hazy world of vegetable protein – could you enlighten me please . . . .

12 07 2010

According to the study of Psychology “metacognition” means awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.
If one’s able to understand about his or her own thought processes that is very useful in selecting what king of learning style works the best for that very individual in learning languages or anything else. In language learning there are different macro stategies as listening, speaking, reading and writing.
One of the strategy groups that relates to the four macro skills in language learning is “metacognitive”. This strategy includes: organizing, setting goals and objectives, identifying the purpose of a language task, seeking practice opportunities, self-monitoring, self-eveluating, centering learning, etc.
I’m not sure if it was helpful, but at least I tried…
See Language Learning Strategies by Rebecca L. Oxford.

Prof. Ruth, correct me if I’m mistaken.

12 07 2010

Mark C.,

The word is metacognition, not “meatcognition”…I hope it helps too…talking about vegetable protein…

9 07 2010
Stephen H N Hofstee

Thank you.

English is indeed an interesting and colourful language. One word that tickles my fancy is oppugn, though I am not oppugning it.

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