Sunday, September 23, 2012


Meaning: the process by which snow becomes a glacier; firn is old snow. It's from a German word meaning 'of last year', which has the rare honour of being described as a 'useful word' by the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Usefulness: 1 (Used symbolically - unless you happen to live on a mountain top - this is a ridiculously useful word for all those things you haven't done for far too long. "The only way to overcome the firnification of my ironing basket was to throw it out."  "The firnification of the editor's slush pile was complete: later generations would be able to chart publishing trends by measuring the layers of boy wizard, vampire and erotic fiction.")

Logofascination: 1 (there is something about words for very specific things, and f-words - fuliginous is quite popular, for some reason)

In the wild: discovered in the OED while trying to track the roots of a word used in Jumbline.

Degrees: 2

Connections: firnification - snow

Which is used in: G&P, Second Book, XIV: How Panurge related the manner how he escaped out of the hands of the Turks. While telling his tale, Panurge says:
"But where is the last year's snow? This was the greatest care that Villon the Parisian poet took". 
He is alluding to Villon's famous line Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?* We now know that les neiges d'antan are on the mountains, undergoing firnification.

*also well known because Rosetti invented yesteryear to translate antan, probably because 'last year' and the English words related to firn didn't have enough syllables. Yesteryear originally meant last year, (like yesterday) but, being poetic, has become much vaguer.

No comments:

Post a Comment