Thursday, August 2, 2012

Shall we repair to the drawing room? And should we bring tools?

I heard this on some show or other recently. It struck me. I know what "Shall we repair to the drawing room?" means, of course. It means, retire to or withdraw to. But what in heck does it have to do with repairing anything? Always curious as to how those metaphors get extended, I decided to find out.

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"Repair" and "repair" are two distinct words. No, really. Although they look EXACTLY alike, they draw from different wells. "Repair", as in fixing something, goes back to the Old French reparer, which stems from the Latin reparare, to restore, or put back in order. But the repair in "repair to" stems from the Old French repairer, which means to frequent, or return to. It's earlier form was repadrer, going back to the Latin repatriare, to return to one's own country.

Call me gullible, but I am not entirely satisfied by this explanation. Where did that 'i' come from in the second version? Why isn't it something along the lines of 'repatrate' to the drawing room? Doesn't it seem like their might have been just a leetle, tiny bit of blending of meanings in that "repair to", which combines both the restorative and the returning meanings of the word?

And where is Anatoly Liberman when we need him most? 

11 comments:

  1. I have no idea if what I am about to say applies to this case, but confusion sometimes arises from retroactive application of current spelling rules to older words. I have read, for example, that "iSland" includes an s only because of false assumption that is really the same word as "isle," which apparently comes by its s honestly.

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  2. Island and isle aren't related? Now that's interesting...

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  3. kinda relaed...but the traditional 18th c middle/upper class homes had a drawing or withdrawing room whereby after feeding guests suckling pig, quail and or spotted dick (yes a quaint term for a dessert dish my mother used to go all red faced about), the lady guests would 'retire' to, leaving the men to chat about taking over the world or discuss what they were to do with those dreadful working class trouble makers.
    I saw this on a recent edition of the brilliant stephen fry show 'Q I'....
    anyway another lil factoid of sorts :)

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  4. Quite related, Dan, and you remind me that i haven't gotten on to that Stephen Fry show yet, which I had fully intended to do...

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  5. Seana, if I recall correctly, the words are related but distinct, with the spelling of one influenced by the that of the other.

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  6. Nope, island and isle are apparently unrelated:

    Origin of ISLAND

    alteration (influenced by Anglo-French isle) of earlier iland, from Middle English, from Old English īgland (akin to Old Norse eyland), from īg island (akin to Old English ēa river, Latin aqua water) + land land
    First Known Use: before 12th century

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  7. Interesting. It may provoke a new post.

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  10. Replies
    1. Thanks, Abner. That came at a good moment for me.

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