Origin of a Fat Adjective
The Latin adjective pinguis ‘fat’ has several rare descendants in English. Pinguid is a synonym for fat or greasy. The generic name of the bog-abiding, insect-dissolving butterwort plant is Pinguicula, Botanical Latin ‘little, rather fat one.’ Pinguefy means to fatten up, to make greasy. In this age of obesity, perhaps these words will cease to be obsolescent and gain new use.
Use of the Word
After all, pinguid sounds fat. A chubby fub of a word it is, a stubby, squat, plump wordlet, whose sound perfectly reflects its meaning. In this age that vilipends obesity, there clings to the adjective pinguid a faintly revolting sonority, an utterance fit to say aloud only when compressing human adipose tissue, as in the act of mounting the fat lady at a circus freak show, whereupon, in order to gain admittance to her scented honey-pot, in order to pry asunder her boulder-like thighs, one needs must rent the Jaws of Life.
Pinguid has been–audaciously–applied to my own style of English composition where the detractor referenced my too frequent clumsy overuse of recondite and outré vocables. I mean, really! Moi, lexiphanic? Modest me, guilty of tushery? May it never be so, O gingham-frocked goddess of plain English! Ever my endeavour it is, to eschew turgid rant and toplofty bombast.
An oily, ingratiating, lickspittle British politician was recently referred to, in the pages of The Guardian newspaper, as possessing “a pinguid charm.” Bingo! Or perhaps Pingo?
This print by caricaturist James Gillray, printed in London in 1792 CE, depicts satirically a drunken George, Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and George IV of England who reigned from 1820 to 1830. Like an obscene walrus, the sodden kraut “splorps” in his chair, bursting from his waistcoat, bloated and dissolute.
A more unctuous portrait of the stylish George IV, conceived and executed in servile flattery by court artist and cringing toady, Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Indo-European Cognates of Pinguid
Spruce belongs to the plant group that botanists have called Pinaceae, the pine family. The genus name of spruce is Picea from the Latin name for the pitch pine, picea stems from pix, picis Latin for black sticky pitch that the Romans made by boiling down pine resin. Cognates, related words, of pix are the Greek word for pine tree pitys, the Attic Greek for pitch pitta, and perhaps the Old English pich.
All these forms stem from a Proto-Indo-European morpheme (root ) *pi or *pa which denoted fat, grease, gum, resin, sticky material. One extension of *pi gives pine tree.
For those of us who think the monogenesis of all world languages may be true, you can even find the *pi ‘fat’ root in the Latin adjective pinguis ‘fat,’ in Homer’s Greek word for ‘fat’ pion, and in the Classical Greek word for ‘lard’ pimele.
Above thrives a butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris. Butterworts capture and digest insects in a manner similar to sundews. Their leaves have a greasy, sticky feel, like butter. Some varieties curl the edges of their leaves in response to capturing an insect with the sticky glue.
Butterwort (butter + Old & Middle English worte ‘plant, weed’) looks like a loan-translation into English from fifteenth-century German Smalzchrawt, Schmalzkraut ‘fat weed.’ The modern German name is Fettkraut. The plant’s buttery, fleshy leaves make all the names fitting. When the pioneering sixteenth-century Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner invented the Latin genus name Pinguicula, he too was translating the German name into botanical Latin. French did the same thing to arrive at la grassette (French ‘the little fat one’ from French adjective gras ‘fat’). Wort and Worte ‘plant’ survive in hundreds of English plant names, some long obsolete, some obsolescent: birthwort, liverwort, lungwort, ragwort and St. John’s-wort.
Surprising North-American & Chinese Cognates of Pinguid!!!
Note how close the Classical Greek word pimele is to the North American Cree word for ‘prepared fat’ pemmican. The Cree word for fat is pime. Kan means ‘prepared’ in Cree, hence pime-kan is ‘prepared fat.’ It is my contention that the same root shows up in Chinese! The PIE root *pin or *pim becomes nasalized in Chinese as feng, one of the Chinese terms for ‘fat.’ The single origin for all of the world’s languages is an exciting and wildly controversial topic we shall save for another day.
Just What was Pemmican?
Buffalo meat was beaten with a pemmican-pounder, mixed with fat and cran-berries or saskatoons or any available berry, and then sewn as a hard ball into a pemmican bag made of skin. Pemmican had a shelf life that would make any modern food-packaging company green with envy. It lasted forever and supplied iron and protein on the longest, remotest trips through the wilderness. Canada’s fur trade, and hence the opening-up of the country itself, was absolutely dependent on pemmican. There were, of course, variations in the ingredients, hence names like deer or moose pemmican. Tight in its bag, pemmican would keep even if dumped overboard from a canoe.
Let us conclude on a note of axiomatic advice: pemmican is not recommended for modern dieters already pinguescent ‘becoming fat or greasy.’
To gob and swill at the hog trough of glut forever
copyright © 2012 William Gordon Casselman
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