Why is it called? Part 1: Pastries and desserts

Why is it called … Part 1: PASTRIES and DESSERTS Have you ever asked yourself why something is called by a particular name? Why are croissants, pain aux raisins and pains au chocolats called viennoiseries for example? How do things get named? Here is a short list of French pastries and desserts and how they got their names. We invite readers to add their own favorite pastries and dessert to the comments. Viennoiserie A pastry was created in Vienna in celebration of the end of the Turkish siege of 1683 in the shape of the Turkish crescent (croissant). An Austrian army officer named August Zang and his associate Ernest Schwarzer, a nobleman from Vienna opened the Boulangerie Viennoise at 92 rue de Richelieu in Paris in 1838. They were the first to make the pastries which were to become known as viennoiserie. Ironically even though the French name viennoiserie makes a reference to Vienna which is the origin of the pasrties, in English these baked delights are called Danish pastri…
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Why do you call it a canicule?

Word etymologies are great fun. Here's a few pertinent ones.

Canicule

Usually this French word is translated to English as heatwave, but a more picturesque and almost literal translation would be "the dog days of summer". Basically it means that it is very hot, hotter than it usually is. But why this reference both in the French "cani" and English to dogs? What do dogs have to do with heat? It goes back to astronomy. The Dog Star, or Sirius, rises and sets with the sun during the summer. Thus the most sultry time of the year became associated with the Dog Star, called canicula in Latin. The word canicule dates from about 1500, but the Romans and Greeks had already been refering to the dog days and associating them with the star Sirius.

Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky; On summer nights, star of stars, Orion's Dog they call it, brightest Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat And fevers to suffering humanity.

Homer's Illiad Once …
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Why is it called? Part 4: Clothing Etymology

Why is it called...? Part 4: Clothing Etymology Have you ever asked yourself why something is called by a particular name? Why are bérets called that? How do clothes get named? There is often a story. Here is a short list of some clothing articles and how they got their names, etymology. We invite readers to add their own favorites or ask about other clothes for which they would like to know the origin in the comments. We'll try to find the answer. Charentaises A charentaise is a general French word for slipper. It refers however to a specific pantoufle usually plaid which came from the area near Angoulême in the Charente region of France about 300 years ago. The area had many paper mills. At the time paper was made from rags and leftover felt pieces from the paper making were used to line wooden shoes, making them warmer and softer. A bit later a shoemaker from the town of La Rochefoucaud in the Charente had the idea to add a rigid sole to the felt clog liners thus creating th…
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Giant numbers – just try to count that high!

1000 billion or one trillion? It's the same thing, but it depends who you ask. In any case they are gigantic numbers. While reading an article recently in the French press I saw the figure 1000 milliard and wondered why the journalist used that method for writing the figure, why not use trillion. In any case they are gigantic numbers. Well come to find out the French, the British (who finally agree on something) and most of the rest of the world have different words than the U.S. for expressing these giant numbers (what else is new when it comes to measurement?!). To try to understand the terms here is a list of them. As you will note the system for naming numbers used in the U.S. is not as logical as that used in other countries (like Great Britain, France, and Germany). In these countries, a billion - bi meaning two and -llion referring to million - logically has twice as many zeros as a million, and a trillion (tri means three right?) has three times as many zeros as a mill…
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The French keys to the kingdom

Bonjour, madame. Excusez-moi de vous déranger. Then I went on to ask the lady in the press kiosk if she knew how to get to the street I was looking for. Wow! Talk about a miserable human being! (Miserable, by the way, is a faux ami, usually used in French to mean only “destitute”, i.e., financially “miserable”; the French translation of the English “miserable” is simply [très] malheureux, triste.) The look on her face was a combination of horror (at being disturbed), heartache (What had happened to her?!) and hatred (of the world in general). And yet, I had used all three magic words/expressions. The ones you’re chided by cross-cultural coaches for not using, and thus not getting what you need and want in France. The ones you’re real proud of yourself for having learned, as witness your success in getting what you need and want in a capital city notorious for its commercial iciness. So, “Sorry, lady! I gave you all I have,” I said to myself, realizing that if these three cu…
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Why is it called? Part 3: Foods

Why is it called? Part 3: Foods Have you ever asked yourself why something is called by a particular name? Why are mushrooms called champignons? How do foods get named? There is often a story. Here is a short list of (mostly French) foods or dishes that are well-known in the Paris area and how they got their names. We invite readers to add their own favorites or ask about other foods for which they would like to know the origin in the comments. Champignon de Paris

The first mushrooms in France were grown in 1670 by Jean de La Quintinie, gardener to Louis XIV. (You may still visit the King's garden in Versailles, it's called the Potager du Roi and it is a fascinating history of gardening and early techniques.) Under Napoleon I, mushrooms were grown in Paris in areas protected from sunlight, notably in the catacombs. Later in the XIXth century the majority of former quarries and grottos under Paris, which had the perfect constant temperature of 17°C were used to c…

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Why is it called? Part 2: French place names or toponyms

Why is it called… Part 2: French place names or toponyms Have you ever asked yourself why something is called by a particular name? We've learned Paris was named for the Celtic tribe the Parisii who lived in the area (why the Parisii were called that is still up for discussion), that the Seine was named for the nymph Séquana. Here are some other topoynms from the Paris area. Feel free to add your town in the comments. Versailles: The most likely origin of the name Versailles, first mentioned in 1038 as land belonging to a person named Hughes, comes from the Latin word versare which means to turn over (verser, reverser in French) and probably referred to Hughes’s agricultural efforts of clearing and preparing his land for planting. “Un versailles” or “versail” in old French refers to cleared land. Stains: The name of the town of Stains, a town north of Paris, rings strangely in anglophone ears because we hear a noun that means "a mark that is difficult to remove". In fact the …
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