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Of Quince, Kid and Lout


January 20, 2006

One of the joys of writing is to string a number of disparate beads along a common thread and then round it all by clasping the two ends at the end. Sometimes the process is rendered difficult not because the beads are varied but because the end product looks far from being cohesive at the outset – like a hodgepodge of nonsequiturs. To make it all fit is the fun part and this week’s fare is a case in point.

Sunday afternoon a friend came visiting while still supporting the remainder of a lousy cough from the week before. As we sat around the kitchen table sipping tea, I asked what she took for the cough. “Nothing in particular,” she recoiled, “none of the over the counter stuff seems to work, besides who knows what is in them.” Past the hour, we got talking about the various colors that take their name from fruits. She said that she liked the reddish-yellow color of quince jam. It did not take long to remember how in my childhood cough and quince were more than nonsequiturs.

In Persian the word for quince is “beh,” which is written and pronounced (dialectical variations beh or bah) in the same way as the word for “well.” The fruit is a hard and apple-like, but at times it looks like a pear. It has many seeds and it is edible if cooked. It is fragrant but astringent. The mucilage from the seeds has medicinal use. The medicinal quality of the mucilage of quince comes, I believe, from it astringency – which draws together or constricts the tissues and hence stops the flow of blood or other secretions. In Persian we call this sensation “gassi.”

When I had severe coughs, I recall, the quince seed-sweat (la’ab) was the remedy of choice. A number of quince seeds were soaked in a glass of water and when the liquid turned whitish it was time: the slightly warmed up elixir was administered by spoon or one took little sips until it was all gone.

My friend was rather amused by this recollection and asked if the name quince may have had a connection with the English word quinsy. The condition peritonsillar abscess or quinsy is a pus-filled swelling in the throat and it is associated with acute tonsillitis. The afflicted suffers from fever and pain and has difficulty talking and swallowing.

I can only surmise that one afflicted with quinsy would be helped by the astringency of the quince seed-sweat, which probably helped abate the swelling of the tissue and halted the secretion of the pus. I can conclude therefore, if not fully tenable, that there is a likelihood of connection between quince and quinsy.

When my guest left I went to my study to ponder the essence of the word “beh.” A nagging thought kept telling me that “beh” could have had some connection with the Persian word for cough, which is “sorfeh.” If of Persian and pre-Islamic origin, the word sorfeh would have been probably something like sorveh or sorbeh, just like Vahram and Bahram, or like the variants vand, bad and fand that referred to “mountain” and about which I have written before. The word “beh” for quince would have come to us from the pre-Islamic time when the present-day Farsi word sorfeh would have been sorbeh.

If quince could cut (borydan) the cough – then quince could be called aptly a sorbeh-bor. The suffix bor in a medical sense connotes the capability of some consumable to reduce or disappear symptoms and some common examples of this in connection with fruits are shahtoot (large black mulberry) that is safra-bor (antibilious) (the brine of pickled cucumber is equally beneficial after a long night of drinking) and ab-hendevaneh (water-melon juice) that is tab-bor (febrifuge, antipyretic) -- and so why not a fruit that is sorfeh-bor (cough suppressant)?  I am perfectly content with the notion that regardless of its erstwhile name, today’s “beh” is all that is left of the description of a fruit (quince) that reduced cough in ancient Persia.

Speaking of childhood – a dear friend inquired the other day if the English word “kid” has any connection with the Persian “koudak.” I find this inquiry intriguing only in that I never know if the sound “ak” at the end of a Persian word is a diminutive suffix or is the part of the root-word. For example, pesar is “boy” and pesarak is a young boy but also can be an insolent form of the noun, as mardak (var. martakeh) can be for a grown up male person (mard). There is dokhtarak (often an affectionate reference to a daughter or girl) but there is arousak (literally, “little bride”) that means “doll.”

I know the sound “ak” in koudak is not a diminutive of anything like koud or kout, which by itself means “soil fertilizer!” No doubt -- the Farsi word koudak derived via koutak or directly from the Persian kouchak, which means “small, little, minor.” I have not checked a Persian dictionary on this interpretation, but for now however I am pretty smug about this conclusion.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the origin of the English word “kid” to the Original Teutonic kidjo and connects it to kissin in Old High German and kitlin and kidnin, and in Old English to cyddan, kuddjan. If any of these make you think that your Persian “koudak” and let’s say the English “kid” or “kuddjan” may be related you may want to reconsider in the light that in English the word “kid” in all its pertinent former forms meant the young of quadrupeds like goat or deer! May be yours is a koreh boz and even an Ahou, but who am I to say – I have my own occasional koreh khar to deal with.

I think the English word “kid,” as in a human child, owes much to the German word for child -- kind (pronounced keend) -- and not necessarily to “kid” itself. The word “child” itself is from Old English cild and Original Teutonic kilpo.

One of the conditions that accompany quinsy is vomiting, just like in the case of whooping cough (siyah sorfeh, literally “black cough”). So I got to thinking about La Nausee (nausea), the title of a work by Jean Paul Sartre. This got me to think about Sadeq Hedayat, a famous Iranian romantic-existentialist writer who read and wrote about Sartre. One of his works was about a vagabond dog and it was tiled aptly “Sag-e velgard,” the subject of was a very common scene in Iranian streets during my childhood years.

When I think of Sadeq Hedayat, I also think of Sadeq Choubak, another Iranian writer. He wrote, “The Baboon whose Buffoon had died.” This title in Farsi is “Anatari keh loutiash mordeh boud” and the baboon (antar) and his handler too were a part of the Iranian street scene as I remember from my childhood. And thus I come to weave into the discussion of quince (beh) and kid (koudak) some thoughts about the word louti and its connection with the English word “lout.” “I wonder,” asked me Omidfarda, “what [is] your take on ‘Lout,’ an awkward and stupid person or an oaf? We use it daily in Farsi!” 

The Haim Inglisi-Farsi Dictionary translates the English word lout (pronounced laut) as a person who is inept, the adjective “loutish” is given as “the one who is ignorant and peasant like” and the verb “to lout” is given as “to bow and bend in deference.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “lout” as an awkward ill-mannered fellow, a bumpkin, clown. Whether related or not, the English “lout” sounds a lot like the English word “lewd,” so I took a look there and found out that the etymology of “lewd” is very sketchy and the word may have originated from Latin, anyway meaning “unlearned, unlettered, untaught, rude, artless, common, low, vulgar, base, foolish, ignorant.

So I looked under “rude” and found out that it meant “uneducated, ignorant, inexperienced, uncivilized, barbarous, offensive.” It derived from the Latin rudimentum, meaning beginning (rudimentary, elementary) and imperfect, and it entered into English from the Latin rudis by way of the French rude. Curiously, in French the word louche (pronounced loosh) means not straightforward, from the Latin luscus, meaning one-eyed, oblique, shy. This is very akin in meaning and sound to lut-skae in Original Teutonic that meant “to lurk, lie hid, skulk, sneak.”  

The Persian word louti (pronounced lootee) means a pederast, sodomite, bugger, rascal, rogue. The word louti-bazi means buffoonery. Colloquially and in the parlance of the Iran’s culture of street chivalry, the term louti-gari means manliness, frankness and gallantry – and so a louti can be a gallant. The Persian word louti in the sense of a “rascal” or “rogue” is virtually the same as English definition of the English word “lout.”

My guess therefore is that the English lout probably had roots in some similar-sounding word in Original Teutonic (such as lut-skae that meant “to lurk, to skulk”) and probably related to the Persian louti, even though the orthography of louti (written with a ta) gives the mistaken impression that the word might be Arabic. I think louti is Persian and lout is derived from it. Another Persian in English!

Now that is how a number of unrelated subjects come together in a cohesive piece of writing. Honestly, I did not think I could pull it off. Maybe I didn’t.

Guive Mirfendereski is a professorial lecturer in international relations and law and is the principal artisan at Born in Tehran in 1952, he is a graduate of Georgetown University's College of Arts and Sciences (BA), Tufts University's Fletcher School (PhD, MALD, MA) and Boston College Law School (JD). He is the author of A Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea >>> Features in

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