Friday, December 19, 2008

To stop a journey=to mend a day

The English verb ”to stop” once upon a time evidently did not mean ”hold back” or ”make ... cease” or - intransitively ”cease”. Its cognates in German and Swedish* mean ”mend”, which in turn is a French word, and if you have ever mended a hole in a pair of socks or a knitted pullover you know what the verb ”stop” used to mean. As far as I have gathered, the word is now obsolete in that sense, and every English speaker - at least in the Standard Dialects - uses ”mend” for it.

A wound is a hole in the skin and the ”walls” of a bloodvessel. If you can ”mend” - I mean ”stop” - a hole in a garment, you can also ”mend” - I mean ”stop” - the hole you call a wound. When you ”stop” the wound, you hold the blood back from running. Hence:

”stop a wound”+”make a bleeding cease”=”stop a bleeding/bloodflow” - a phrase that is still current.

And, if you consider it rightly, there already you have the modern English sense of the verb ”to stop”, though as far as that is concerned, only applied to blood as yet.

Of course, you might equally ”stop” (old sense) a hole in a wallet or sack to ”stop” (new sense) the coins or beans from running out.

I do not pretend to know which situation (mending a wound or a sack) first saw this extension of the word ”to stop”. If I had been C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien I would have known. I would most likely have known other ramifications of the sense as well, and I would have been able to cite texts where the old sense i still extant or the new already there (at least ambiguously or maybe without ambiguity, which it is, is sometimes impossible to know), or when and where the new gets widened from liquids and other amorph objects to animals and men running on legs.

The English word ”journey” is just a synonym of voyage, nowadays. Once it was the French word ”journée”.

”Au sens de ’temps pendant lequel il fait clair’, jour a un dérivé, JOURNÉE, n. f. (v. 1150, journee), avec lequel il entretient des rapports analogues (mais non identiques) à ceux qui existent entre an et année : la journée est plus pleine, plus étoffée que le jour. Le mot se rapporte en particulier à un jour de voyage, à un jour de travail (1155), d’où, par métonymie, à la rémunération d’une telle journée de travail (1267 - 1268).”

Dictionnaire Historique de la Langue Française.

Briefly: le jour means day (as opposed to night) and la journée is what you do in it: how far you walk or ride, how much you work, how much you get paid for it (all in a day).

A journeyman has as such nothing to do with making journeys in the geographical sense, it was a man who made his living essentially on daily wages.

And the oldest voyage to be called journey in England was of course: the voyage you do riding or walking one day.

If French speakers could make ”day’s march” a typical meaning of a word meaning essentially ”what you do in a day” druing the times 900 years ago, when English nobility spoke French, it means that walking or riding was one very typical content of one day. And if ”travel” is the same word as ”travail” (=”child birth pains” - the verb ”travailler” did not take the sense ”work” until the Renaissance, according to same lexicon), it was not always pleasant to voyage. So stopping a journey would really mean mending a day that had tired and sweated you.

But the fact that journeymen were paid daily and could leave any day they wanted without loss of wage, as well as the fact that voyages were typical enough contents of a day to give us the word journey convey the idea of a freedom that has been lost since back then.

Hans Lundahl
Aix en Provence
22/9 févr. 2008

*stopfen, stoppa; the Dictionnaire Historique gives us the entry:

”ÉTOFFER v. tr. est issu (v. 1190) du francique °stopfôn ”mettre, fourrer, enfoncer dans” (cf. ancien haut allemand stopfôn de même sens) issu d’un ancien stoppôn (cf. le néerlandais stoppen)...”

In brief: ”stopping” a hole means stuffing it with something.

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