This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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



Friday, 24 June 2016

Word To Use Today: vair.

What were Cinderella's glass slippers made of?

No, probably not glass, it was probably squirrel skin. I mean, glass slippers? How many reasons does anyone need that glass slippers would be a stupid idea?

No, Cinderella's slippers were probably squirrel skin, or, as the heraldry people still call it, vair.

How did the confusion arise?

Well, because the most famous version of the Cinderella story was originally told in French, and if anyone's telling you a story in French then vair, squirrel skin, and verre, glass, are going to sound pretty much the same.

I mentioned heraldry. Heraldry recognises five basic colours, two metals (which we would call white and yellow) and originally two furs, ermine and vair. Vair is supposed to give an idea of the winter fur of the Russian squirrel:


photo: By Marcello.sega - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36936026

The Russian squirrel is grey above and white below. Here it is, rather horribly, in a coat:




In heraldry vair has become stylised (partly because heraldry doesn't really have a grey):




That's British vair. French vair is similar, but with the colours the other way round, and all the upward-pointy shapes in the top row whole.

Sometimes the shapes, or vair bells, are arranged differently. This is countervair:



and this vair in point:



And, have you noticed? It's not only vair, but variegated.

Neat, huh?

Word To Use Today: vair. This word comes from the Old French word meaning of more than one colour (so could Cinderella's slippers have just been really pretty?). The word comes from the Latin varius, variegated.





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