House Parts: Their Names & Word Origins
Part 2 of 4
(parts 3 and 4 over the next week)
Chamfer: A beveled edge on a board formed by removing the sharp corner. Generally used on moldings, edges of drawer fronts, and cabinet doors.
From French chamfrain ‘a channel in stonework’ < Old French verb of the same meaning chanfraindre < late Latin canthus ‘a band of iron surrounding a hole in an object,’ like an opening-supportive grommet + Latin frangere ‘to break, to cut.’
A check-throat is a groove cut along the underside of window sill or door sill to stop rainwater running back to the building wall and causing water damage.
Cheeks of a Fireplace
Cheeks are the laterals of any structure. The cheeks of a fireplace are the inside, interior sides of the opening, often brick cladded with a metal covering that deflects heat outward.
For once, as simple an origin as it appears in the word itself: clerestory = clere, clear + story. The architectural term refers to the upper part of a large church featuring a line of windows to bring light into the interior of the structure. In a modern house, it’s an upper floor of a structure with a row of windows.
clerestory window treatment in an American chicken coop
This is a shelf jutting out from the face of a wall, made by laying successive courses of masonry out from the face of the wall. It may also refer to the shelf's supports. Corbel was first named in Old French, perhaps playfully, where corb or corbel meant ‘raven.’ Could a jutting projection on a wall resemble a raven? At a stretch, maybe. More likely the name was a little French architectural jest. The French word stems from late Latin corvellum ‘little raven’ from classical Latin corvus ‘raven.’ Scottish English still has corbie ‘raven, crow’ as in Robert Burns’ delightfully gruesome little poem “The Twa Corbies.” The English bird name crow is cognate with Latin corbus both from some Proto-Indo-European root.
The Twa Corbies
As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies makin a mane;
The tane unto the ither say,
”Whar sall we gang and dine the-day?”
“In ahint yon auld fail dyke,
I wot there lies a new slain knight;
And nane do ken that he lies there,
But his hawk, his hound an his lady fair.”
“His hound is tae the huntin gane,
His hawk tae fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady’s tain anither mate,
So we may mak oor dinner swate.”
“Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I’ll pike oot his bonny blue een;
Wi ae lock o his gowden hair
We’ll theek oor nest whan it grows bare.”
“Mony a one for him makes mane,
But nane sall ken whar he is gane;
Oer his white banes, whan they are bare,
The wind sall blaw for evermair.”
For your delectation, below is a translation into standard English.
The Two Crows
As I was walking all alone,
I heard two crows (or ravens) making a moan;
One said to the other,
”Where shall we go and dine today?”
“In behind that old turf wall,
I sense there lies a newly slain knight;
And nobody knows that he lies there,
But his hawk, his hound and his lady fair.”
“His hound is to the hunting gone,
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl home,
His lady’s has taken another mate,
So we may make our dinner sweet.”
“You will sit on his white neck-bone,
And I’ll peck out his pretty blue eyes;
With one lock of his golden hair
We’ll thatch our nest when it grows bare.”
“Many a one for him is moaning,
But nobody will know where he is gone;
Over his white bones, when they are bare,
The wind will blow for evermore.”
In modern American home-building, a cornice is the part of a roof that projects out from the wall. In classical architecture, a cornice is a projection which crowns a building like the upper part on top of a frieze. Cornice is Italian in form, its French equivalent cornice, both from a Latin word for a species of crow: cornix, cornices.
This metallic tent-like device, a kind of false rooflet, is used at roof intersections, for example beside a chimney, to divert water. Named after the insect, but why?
In colonial-style homes, a dentil is a little tooth-like projecting block forming a molding under a cornice or other overhang. From French architecture where dentille ‘little tooth’ is a diminutive of dent ‘tooth,’ from Latin dens, dentis ‘tooth.’
This names the white, powdery deposit on the surface of bricks when salts in the mortar and concrete “flower” and migrate to the outer surface discoloring new brick. Long-wet bricks are most susceptible and a bad sign that water is entering a wall. Prevention includes laying dry bricks with good ventilation. The ultimate etymon is the Latin word for flower, flos, floris. The Latin compound verb efflorescere ‘to blossom forth, to burst into bloom’ is the more immediate source. The English word flower is a derivative of flos. The word flower’s formal history includes forms like these: Middle English flour, flur < Old French flur, flor (modern French fleur, modern Italian fiore) < Latin flos, floris < Proto-Indo-European root *bhlo ‘to bloom.’
Speaking of blow and shabby buildings, we gotta blow this popstand right here. Be here in a few days for the third part of this look at building terms. Next week, Part 3 of 4.
Enjoy Part 1 of this survey of building terms. Click here.
copyright © 2012 William Gordon Casselman
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