In their latest of their wonderful whiteboard videos, linguist Arika Okrent and illustrator Sean O’Neill verbally and visually offer up examples of common English words that have firm roots in the French language.
What is vinegar but sour wine? And that’s exactly where the word comes from too. Vinegar is “vin aigre,” or sour wine. Curfew goes back to the medieval regulation where the village bell would ring in the evening as a signal for everyone to put out their fires. Hence curfew “couvre feu” or cover fire. A dandelion has notched, pointed petals that look a bit–like lion’s teeth? In any case that’s where we get the word dandelion from, French “dent de lion,” or lion’s tooth. We also get our name for the spikiest animal we know from a French phrase. A porcupine is a “porc épine” or spiky pig.