Thursday, 21 February 2013

norange and copasetic

Mental Floss has a neat little article on the origin and mutation of English words garbled by mishearing them and shifting grammar conventions.
I never thought about elision being behind differentiation from foreign sources, like Apron and Napkin from the same root—though Napron transformed into “an apron,” same with Umpire, from the French for nonpareil (nonper) or the n- became incorporated with nickname. I can think of some examples of slurring peculiar to English that has given rise to perfectly respectable words, like the injection Zounds! from Christ’s Wounds or the happy affirmation of Copasetic, a signal used by bootleggers during Prohibition to indicate that the coast was clear—that the cop is on the settee, dozing. No, there was never a norange in the English language but it seems a likely candidate—as the native Asiatic fruit came to the West via Persia and Spain as narang and nananja and came to be known in other Germanic languages as a Chinese Apple (Apfelsine) but in England, via France, as an apple from Orange, un pomme d’orenge, for the port city on the Mediterranean.