This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Spot the frippet: bunting

File:Flags and Trees (7889846002).jpg

It's always been good stuff, has bunting. The word used to mean a coarse woollen fabric which was used, rather surprisingly, for sifting grain; but from about 1600, or so they say, this cloth began to be used for making flags for the Royal Navy. Bunts is still used as a name for a ship's communications officer.

A bunting is also a bag with a hood that you put a baby in to keep it warm. Now, naturally you wouldn't make one of those of coarse wool. No, that sort of bunting seems to be called after the bunting in the nursery rhyme Bye Baby Bunting.

And the connection?

Well, it seems to be to do with fat things.

The Old French bonnetin means good little thing, an obvious nickname for a baby. In Scotland the word buntin came to mean short and plump.

The word branched out to mean the wide middle part of a ship, or the baggy part of a fishing net, or to haul up the middle part of a sail to furl it...which perhaps gives us a connection with the flags, and one much more convincing to me than the idea that a loosely-woven cloth suitable for sifting grain would be used to make flags, which would need to be closely-woven so you could see what colour they were.

Lastly, buntings are birds. No one is quite sure where this word comes from, either, but they're quite plump little things, too:

File:Lark Bunting Image.jpg
Louis Agassiz Fuertes: Lark Bunting.

Just like Billy Bunter:

Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School

Spot the frippet: bunting.  No one is sure where this word came from, but perhaps from the Middle English bonting to sift, because of the use of the cloth in sifting grain, which in turn may be from the dodgy Latin bonitare, to make good. As far as the flags go there may be some connection with the German bunt and the Dutch bont, which both mean parti-coloured.

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