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Aprons and Umpires

WHAT do apron, umpire, and orange have in common? There's a clue in naartjie and it's all to do with migration. And if that sounds more Irish than English don't get as mad as a hatter or use nick-names for these expressions also belong to the same emigrant family.

The onwardly mobile character is the initial 'n' which has joined the indefinite article in the case of apron, umpire, and orange, but has moved the other way in nick-name. Originally, the words were napron, numpire, and norange. The familiar nappy is a vestigial remnant of the old napron, and the Afrikaans naartjie establishes the provenance of norange.

In Italian and Portuguese the initial 'n' is still retained in naranja and narancha.

The English nick-name is also echoed, in Afrikaans where the term 'ook naam' indicates the common ancestry in Old Low German. Originally it was an 'eke name' (literally an 'also name') but in the shifting sands of English 'eke' became 'ick' and the initial 'n' was borrowed from the indefinite article. The 'ook naam' of Afrikaans has remained truer to the original root.

This sort of migrating 'n' has also affected words such as 'ewte' and 'otch' which are now familiar as a newt and a notch.

The practice of hatters driving themselves crazy by using mercury compounds has given us the well-known 'mad as a hatter' but the expression has an older history than Lewis Carroll's tea party host. The Old Saxon word 'nadra' meant a viper, and its close relation the German 'natter' is smiliar to the Anglo-Saxon 'attor' meaning poison.

Hence 'mad as a hatter' simply meant 'angry as a viper' or as we say today 'mad as a snake'. The Saxons also knew that some spiders were poisonous and thus called them 'attercoppe' or poison heads. The 'coppe' later became 'cop' and then 'cob', which accounts for the modern cobweb.

Strangely enough, umpire is of French derivation despite its quintessentially English cricket and tennis connotations. In old French, john McEnroe's favourite Aunt Sally was a 'nonper' literally 'non-pair' and odd man out belonging to neither side and who could therefore be relied on to give impartial judgments.

Perhaps that accounts for French cricket.

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