By Stewart Edelstein '70
Illustrations by Jim Grashow, courtesy of Wiley and Sons

The people of Flanders, Belgium, known as the Flemings, were renowned for their lively personalities, flushed complexions, and love of bright-colored clothing. Spaniards who came into contact with the Flemings (or "Flamencos") were impressed by their pink Dutch complexions. • As early as the 14th century, the Spanish flamenca meant "of a ruddy complexion, flesh-colored." The Spanish word for the "bird of a hue reminiscent of the Flemings" was flamengo and our flamingo. (An alternative etymology is that the bird's name derives from the Latin word for flame--flamma--via Old Provencal flamenc, based on the notion that when a flamingo takes flight, the flash of its scarlet wing is like a burst of flame.) • Spaniards associated the gypsies' bright-colored clothing with the Flemings' flamboyant attire and associated the fine appearance of Gypsy dancers with the healthy and ruddy complexion of the Flemings. So, it is not surprising that word for the provocative Gypsy dance from Andalusia, Spain, is flamenco. Thus, as unlikely as it may seem, both flamingo and flamen- co are eponyms based on the name of the Flemings.

Carrot and hornet both derive from the Indo-European root *ker-, meaning head or horn, with derivatives referring to horned animals, horned-shaped objects, and projecting parts. • Indo-European is a pre-historic parent language spoken in Europe from 3000 to 2000 B.C., reconstructed based on the family of languages derived from it. The notion of "head" survives in such words as cranium, cerebrum, cerebellum, and migraine (this last from Greek hemikrania, literally "half a head," because a severe migraine typically affects only one side of the head). • We name animals for projecting parts from their heads, all based on this same Indo-European root: rhinoceros, triceratops, unicorn, and reindeer are a few examples. Since ancient times, animal horns have been used as instruments--whence such words as horn, alpenhorn, flugelhorn, French horn, and cornet--and as containers: cornucopia is the horn of plenty. By extension, names for projecting parts likewise derive from *ker-, including the corn on the toe, the cornea covering the eye, the corner to which two walls project, and its derivative, cater-corner. In light of this discussion, it is understandable that the names for the projecting root vegetable (carrot) and the stingered insect (hornet) derive from this same root. • Inclusion of words beginning with "h" in this etymology appear dubious, indeed, unless you know about Grimm's law, a formula describing the regular consonant changes in words based on Indo-European roots, such as the shift from the "k" to "h." Other examples of this shift include such word pairs as cent/hundred and canine/hound.

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