The Etymology of ‘Crayon’

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At my age it is important to always find new and exciting ways to waste time. 

You know what it’s like when you write: you become obsessed with words.  And so it was that I came to write down the word ‘expert’ and my mind flipped.  You see, I know that ‘ex’ means former, or occasionally formerly, and I know that ‘pert’ means attractively small and well shaped (although I can pretty much guarantee that all of my male readers now have the self-same image imprinted on the brain) and, as far as I am concerned, it suddenly makes being an expert in any field a very much less appealing proposition, because nobody wants to be ‘once-upon-a-time small and attractive’, particularly if they are about to give a lecture to a room full of students.  (Worse, if I’m honest, that I only have to think of the word to conjure up an image of Daddy Pig* – which is, to say the least, disturbing.)

Now I know, I understand, that you are all educated people and sooner or later one of you is going to point out that ‘expert’ is not, within the meaning of the act, a ‘portmanteau’ word at all.  (Intriguingly, neither is portmanteau.)  It is not the sum of two thrust-together halves like brunch, dumbfound and Velcro (velvet + crochet – no, I didn’t know that either!) but is a single unfused entity.  This is the problem with etymology – once you start to look for the origin of words, you find them – even when they are not there.

It all started a few weeks ago, on this very platform, following a fleeting mention of Viking place names, when I began to wonder what an expert in such things might be called (a Viking expert, as it disappointingly turns out) and, inevitably, I became lost in an accidental off-piste ramble.  First of all – and quite logically in my opinion – I started to wonder about the actual word ‘etymology’: where does that come from?  Well, it comes from a Greek word etumos apparently, meaning ‘truth’ – as in ‘true meaning’ – which got me precisely nowhere (a venue with which I was strangely familiar).  I wondered if the Vikings had a word for it.  I still do.  If you can find out, I would love to know.  I have spent many hours trying to persuade Google that I do not want to know the etymology of the word ‘Viking’ but rather whether the Vikings themselves had a word for ‘etymology’, to absolutely no avail.  It is not to be persuaded**.  Google has, of course, developed an Artificial Intelligence that clearly believes (and can no doubt prove) that I am beneath it.

Frustrated beyond… beyond… oh, there must be a word for it, I tried to drag my mind back onto the original subject but, let’s be honest, the journey from ‘pert’ to archaeology can be a very long one – particularly when you get to my age – so, eventually, I just gave it a blank sheet of paper and a pencil to play with, while I began to wonder about the word ‘crayon’***…

*Daddy Pig, from Peppa Pig, considers himself an expert in most things, which he feels obliged to demonstrate, usually with disastrous consequences: life imitating seriously annoying cartoon toddler fodder.
**It did, however, inform me that the word ‘Reindeer’ comes from the Viking.  So, I wondered, did the Vikings believe in Father Christmas?  Well, apparently yes: Christmas was called Yule and the old bearded man flying across the sky was Odin.  Google does not tell me whether he sat in a cardboard grotto in the middle of the supermarket for weeks before the event though, nor whether he had horns on his Santa Hat.
***Intriguingly, I Googled “what is the origin of the word ‘crayon’” only to find myself being informed that ‘vagina’ was originally the word for the sheath into which a sword was (forgive me) inserted.  Why?  I have no idea.  Perhaps Google’s AI is even more human than we thought…


7 thoughts on “The Etymology of ‘Crayon’

  1. Etymology. Borrowed from French crayon (“pencil”), from craie (“chalk”) + -on (“(diminutive)”), from Latin creta (“chalk, clay”), from crētus.
    Of course I had to go and pose the question on this side of the Atlantic, because I was intrigued but I only got a boring answer. Not that I don’t sometimes get taken to extraordinary places too!

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  2. I learned it that expert = “ex” as in “has-been” and “spurt” is a drip under pressure.
    A person knowledgeable about Vikings must be a Vikingologist, don’t you think?

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