Sunday, November 21, 2010

Etymology Journeys: Bricolage

The Main Reading Room
Photo by Paul Lowry

As you may have guessed from some of my recent posts, I am pretty good at working myself into a rage coma.

I used to subscribe to's word of the day in the interest of bettering myself, & acquiring a little knowledge easily.

However, I soon unsubscribed because they don't provide etymology. Ever. Why is this? What dictionary doesn't tell you where words come from? Oh that's right, an online Dictionary that prides itself on  being "the world's largest and most authoritative online dictionary [that] helps people get smarter any time, any place." ( 'about' page)

Recently, my father announced to me that the word of the day was bricolage. I began to wonder if it was related to the phrase 'bric a brac', but of course they couldn't provide an etymology. I checked, but they didn't know either (most other etymology websites are pay-to-play, oddly enough).


And so it was that I found myself in the reading room at the NYPL, killing time between auditions at the shelf of dictionaries as long as a city block (!!!), trying to decode the "Dictionaire Etymologique & Historique do Francais" (DuBois/Larousse).

In case you care, bricolage and bric a brac are in fact related: the word Bricole originated in 1360 as 'un machine de guerre', and comes up again in 1633 in the form of Bric, Brac, Broc meaning 'en bloc et en blic.' So I can only assume that the Bricole must have been an object which hurled bric, brac, & broc, which we would think of as shrapnel.

Amusingly enough, in 1650 the 'Bric' prefix comes up again as Bricoler, meaning 'ricocher, aller en zigzag,' & I find it delightful that the French say zigzag! Let's all just say zigzag with a French accent for a moment. Zigzag. Zigzag. Zigzag.


Michelle said...

bricoler: to tinker

bricolage: a sort of tinkering activity.

Danielle said...

Subscription to the OED = Best reason to go to college.

Also, next time perhaps we should take an entomology journey. Just for funsies.

Bef With an F said...

@Danielle: Yes! I'll call my Uncle Critter. Or we could just look for BedBugs in NY...

The Sequin Cat said...

Loved this post!

@Michelle: Yes tinkering, but in a crafty, DIY way.... like 'renovate', in English I suppose. You go to the hardware shop to buy stuff for le bricolage. At least that's my understanding of the word.

Bef With an F said...

@michelle/The Sequin Cat:

I know this is kind of silly, but I can't tell you how happy it makes me that people who don't know each other are having conversations on my blog about something that I like. It makes me feel like I'm contributing something. Yay internet!

The Sequin Cat said...

Very cute. French is a passion for me!