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Cloves and Nails


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Mention has been made of cloves, the spice and the etymological connection to nails, the things you hit with hammers. 

 

That is an interesting topic but not as interesting as the history of the cloves themselves. Syzygium aromaticum, formerly known as Eugenia caryophyllata is native to the Maluccas, a group of islands in Eastern Indonesia.

 

It's a long story worth investigating but at one time the islands were controlled by the Dutch who imposed the death penalty for unauthorised possession of even one clove. 

 

Later the French prevailed and named the tree and its spice gilofre. Later, the spice changed to clou or  clou de gilofre meaning 'nail of gilofre' due to the appearance of the dried flowers buds used as the spice.

 

From here it passed into English as 'clou gilofre' following the Norman Conquest. In 1386, Chaucer, a master of the colloquial, could write "And many a clow gilofre and notemuge (nutmeg) to put in ale" with no fear of it not being understood.

 

At some point, the pronunciation changed from 'clue' to the current 'clove' for reasons unknown.

 

Gradually, the gilofre was dropped from the spice, although the flower name remains as gillyflower. In modern French, it is girofle.

 

Several languages, mostly European but also Arabic, took a similar path, naming the spice after nails. Many more didn't.

 

In Chinese, the spice is 丁香 (dīng xiāng) (literally T-shaped aromatic) whereas the fastener is 钉子 (dīng zi). The first character of the former appears again in the first character of the latter, again referring to the shape. The two characters are homophones. 

 

Incidentally, 'clove' as in garlic is unrelated. It is from the verb 'to cleave' as in 'separate'.

 

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5 hours ago, Nancy in Pátzcuaro said:

Interestingly (at least to me), in Spanish the word for "nail" and "clove" are the same--clavo. In this case context is everything.

 

Yes, the same is true in many languages around the world. As well as European languages, Arabic, Chinese and Russian. Not surprising really.

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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