Thursday, 7 August 2008

chintz and cheetah

Hobson Jobson has a quote showing that chintz, the "printed or spotted cotton cloth," wasn't always as déclassé as its adjective form chintzy might suggest:

No, let a charming chintz and Brussels lace
Wrap my cold limbs, and shade my lifeless face
Pope, An Essay on Man, i. 248., c. 1733

That's some fabric meant to be taken seriously. Or maybe not, I never got the hang of Pope.

And, when she sees her friend in deep despair,
Observes how much a chintz exceeds mohair.
Ibid., ii. 170

chintz is from Hindi छींट chīṇṭ "spot, speck, stain, blot; spattering, splash". This is probably from Sanskrit चित्र citra "conspicuous, excellent, distinguished; bright, clear, bright-coloured; variegated, spotted, speckled". (Altho Platts traces it to छींटना chīṇṭanā "to sprinkle, to scatter" from Sanskrit स्पृष्ट spṛṣṭa, past participle of स्पृश् spṛś "to touch or sip water, wash or sprinkle".)

The Indo-Aryan inherited lexicon traces citra to Proto-Indo-European *kʷit-ro- "conspicuous", but the link goes to *kʷei-1(t) "to observe, to appreciate". To make things even more confusing, the AHD and Pokorny claim that citra is from *(s)kai- "bright, shining", the source of hood in childhood, neighbourhood, cognate with the second element of the name Adelaide.

Anyway, *kʷei-1(t) happens to be the source of Old Irish cíall, a real word for "wisdom, intelligence" (as opposed to, say, another word).

citra also means "picture" as in Amar Chitra Katha (अमर चित्र कथा, "immortal picture stories"), the series of comic book retellings of Indian mythology.

citra is also found in Sanskrit चित्रकाय citrakāya "striped-body; tiger or panther", becoming Hindi चीता cītā, borrowed into English as cheetah.

2 comments :

komfo,amonan said...

I am ignorant of Indian languages, but the road from spṛṣṭa to chīṇṭanā sure seems like a long one.

goofy said...

This road might not actually exist. I might be misinterpreting Platts.