Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0021942, Mon, 15 Aug 2011 14:37:28 -0300

[Nabokov-L] [TRIVIA] Waxwings and windowpanes...
Charles Knbote invites me to visit a dictionary a lot more often than does John Shade, who seems to prefer less recherché words (the only one that comes to my mind right now is "preterist"). I doubt it that his readers would feel the need to check on the bird-smashing word "windowpane".
However, while reading a Portuguese author whose character leaned "over" a window, I suddently realized that all my windows were mostly decorated with curtains and slates, fancy ledges, frames and panes, while the original term must mainly refer to a simple opening in a wall. Before I stripped my mental image from all sorts of its embellishments, I decided to explore the word in English using internet resources.
There was a surprise lying in wait for me and I thought that I might as well share it with the Nabokovians who are interested in analogies, metaphors and all sorts of things one may append to a word..
Here it is: Window
[Middle English, from Old Norse vindauga : vindr, air, wind; see w- in Indo-European roots + auga, eye; see okw- in Indo-European roots.]
Word History: The source of our word window is a vivid metaphor. Window comes to us from the Scandinavian invaders and settlers of England in the early Middle Ages. Although we have no record of the exact word they gave us, it was related to Old Norse vindauga, "window," a compound made up of vindr, "wind," and auga, "eye," reflecting the fact that at one time windows contained no glass. The metaphor "wind eye" is of a type beloved by Norse and Old English poets and is called a kenning; other examples include oar-steed for "ship" and whale-road for "sea." Recently we have restored to the 800-year-old word window a touch of its poetic heritage, using it figuratively in such phrases as launch window, weather window, and window of opportunity or vulnerability.

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