Monday, August 29, 2011

furbelow

I don't know about you, but to me this is a pretty obscure word. Nevertheless, when the same word comes up twice in the same day, I take heed. First I read it in a mystery novel, and then I heard it in a play. Now from the book, I took it to mean the ruffle around the bottom of a bed, and from the play I think it had to do with some sort flounce around the bottom of a pelise (not that the word pelise was all that familiar--I kept thinking they were saying "police", so I was quite confused by lines that sounded like "I just saw him with the police!").

I think that 'furbelow' is a word more used in British English than American, and maybe it's as simple as fur+below, though the fur aspect is still rather baffling. We shall see.

***

Well, I'm glad to report that it is not as simple as all that. A furbelow is indeed a ruffle or a flounce or fringe or , by extension, any elaborate ornamentation. But it has nothing to do with fur, or, for that matter being below anything. The word it stems from is the French word falbala, or perhaps the Provencal variation farbello, which is more of fringe. This in turn is probably a corruption of the Italian faldella, which is the diminutive of falda, which means more like pleat, flap, or fold, and points back to one of those very densely packed ProtoIndoEuropean roots, *pel, which generally means 'to fold'.

Oh, yeah--it's also a seaweed...

Laminaria bulbosa, a furbelow

8 comments:

  1. I had never heard or read this word. I quite like the zany humorous possibilities of pelisse/please/police, though -- the Clash performing "Pelisse and Thieves," for instance.
    ======================
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  2. Well, I'm quite sure I have never heard anyone speak it off of a stage. But yeah, I come across it in books from time to time, and always remember it because until now it hasn't made any sense to me. But of course, I was too lazy to look it up.

    The police/pelise mix up was actually quite funny, but I think wholly unwitting.

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  3. A new word for me too.

    If you link it to a search with "Regency" there are some good links.

    Also found this:

    "bulkpedia.com/Articles/Ruffle"

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  4. Hmm--I'm puzzled by the lack of recognition among you well read types. I have the sense that I come across this word every now and then. Maybe I'm reading more about seaweed than I think I do, or maybe I have a hidden life--hidden even from me--of reading a books that feature a lot of ruffles.

    Wordnik has a sidebar with a few examples of usage, although I'll admit that the only one that I could claim is more recognizable is Villette. But some of them are highly amusing.

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  5. It's found in the musical "Oliver".

    "musicals.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=52984"

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  6. Well, we did listen to the Oliver soundtrack a lot as kids, so I wouldn't be surprised that I know it in some way from that, but this song wasn't one of the ones we memorized the lyrics to. Probably a tad mature, or ironic for kids.

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  7. I have a feeling that one of the reasons I have never noticed this word is that it is both archaic and not particularly pleasant to the ear.

    People tend to learn words they like and would enjoy using, I think.

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  8. Yes, it might have fared better if it had stayed closer to that (probably)original Italian 'faldella'. It sure doesn't sound much like a ruffle.

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