Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Perfumigation


Once upon a time, there was a Latin word fumare that meant to smoke, from which we get fumes. Now, some smoke is a welcome guest in the nose of the smeller and some isn't. So burnt incense was called perfume, but smoking out a hornets' nest was called fumigation, and the dung of deer was called fumet, although why you'd need a special word for deer-dung is beyond me.

There's a pub I know that has a little beer garden at the back. This closes at 10:30pm and a sign says that "smokers may fume out the front", which is a funny little etymological pun. Moreover, it alludes - unknowingly, I assume - to the obscure C19th word fumacious. A fumacious person is one who is fond of smoking.

Eh?

2 comments:

  1. The Antipodean, wondering if deer were particularly smelly, or if other words for such things are derived from smell23 November 2011 22:08

    "I know what fewmets are," said the boy with interest. "They are the droppings of the beast pursued. The harborer keeps them in his horn, to show to his master, and can tell by them whether it is a warrantable beast or otherwise, and what state it is in."

    - T. H. White, The Sword in the Stone.

    Fewmets has also been hijacked by some fantasy authors to refer to dragon droppings.

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  2. The Italian 'fumetti' - little puffs of smoke - refers to the speech balloons that you get in comics.

    Laurie -

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