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Ex-calques and -loanwords

April 17, 2013

I’ve been reading the Ruth Fielding series to my daughter, and I’ve been surprised by several turns of phrase that sound Russian to me, though they aren’t. The books we’ve gotten to came out between 1913 and 1917, and where I would say “car,” “carriage,” and “between a rock and a hard place,” the author writes “machine,” “equipage,” and “between two fires.” I imagine these usages were borrowed from French into both English and Russian (in one case via German); машина, экипаж, and меж(ду) двух огней sound like they should be pan-European, but evidently they would have been even more familiar to Americans a hundred years ago. No one used “physiognomy” as a synonym for “face” even then, though, unlike физиономия. (Well, the Ngram says someone said “physiognomy,” but I sure don’t come across it often.)

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 18, 2013 8:24 am

    They didn’t bother saying “physiognomy” because they quickly shortened it to “phiz,” which was extremely common back then.

    • April 18, 2013 9:21 am

      I’ll watch out for that one. What register/social group was it common in? A quick search suggests it’s not in Ruth Fielding, and a quick Ngram says “phiz,” “phis,” and “phyz” are rare (in this subset of written English), while “phys” caught up to a declining “physiognomy” around 1950, and even that seems to have been as an abbreviation for “physical,” “physics,” or “physician.”

      • April 18, 2013 4:45 pm

        Oh, I’m not talking about Ruth Fielding (whom I’ve never read), just going on a general sense of the slang usage of the day. It certainly wasn’t used in Fine Literature, but I’m not enough of an expert to say… wait, I can check the OED! Wow, it goes back much further than I imagined (and there’s a cheeky outlier in 1997!):

        colloq. Now somewhat arch.

        A face or facial expression; countenance.
        1687 H. Higden Mod. Ess. 10th Satyr Juvenal 27 Oh had you then his Figure seen, With what a rueful Phis and meine.
        1688 T. Shadwell Squire of Alsatia v. i. 71 Indeed your Magnanimous Phyz is samewhat disfigur’d by it, Captain.
        1714 R. A. Hunter Monoropolis iii. iv. 26 Fizle’s Phiz always gives me the Chollick.
        1763 C. Churchill Ghost iv. 155 Savour’d in talk, in dress, and phyz, More of another World than this.
        1774 G. Morris in J. Sparks Life G. Morris (1832) I. 21 Grave phizes are grinned out of countenance.
        1825 N.Y. Literary Gaz. 1 Oct. 57/1 It is a sensible, commanding, and respectable nose..such as you see on the phizzes of our old-fashioned gentry.
        1827 R. Cobbold Valentine Verses 217 Such (shall I call them gentlemen?) there are,..who strut and quiz, And deem themselves of admirable fiz.
        1869 W. S. Gilbert Bab Ballads 25 And her painted, tainted phiz.
        1903 H. Keller Story of my Life i. xxii. 85 He has a long pedigree, a crooked tail, and the drollest ‘phiz’ in dogdom.
        1936 J. C. Powys Maiden Castle (1937) ii. 70 Us wants the scut of ‘ee; that’s what us wants, and never to see your ugly phyz no more!
        1997 Entertainm. Weekly 11 July 42/1 He endures some surgical magic to have his face temporarily removed, replaced with the phiz of his supposedly brain-dead nemesis.

  2. April 18, 2013 4:46 pm

    Hmm, I should have used the general comment form rather than replying to your comment — that’s awful squished. Sorry.

  3. April 18, 2013 9:01 pm

    Thanks for that! I saw in Merriam-Webster that “phiz” was old (they claim 1685, but without the lovely examples), and I never doubted you that it existed. I’m still skeptical on “extremely common” – the OED makes me suspect it peaked before the nineteenth century (quotation marks in 1903, highly marked speech in 1936, Gilbert in 1869 versus translations of the classics and what looks like ordinary dialogue in 1687-1714). As I’m sure you’ve guessed, my hobbyhorse is that физиономия is used more often, in more contexts, by more people, through a later point in history, so it’s often misguided to translate it with “physiognomy” or even “phiz.” OTOH “colloq. Now somewhat arch.” exactly mirrors Russian dictionaries and practice, so maybe I just haven’t read widely enough in English.

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