Monday, 29 January 2007

I like the feel of chenille

News just in: chenille, the stuff of bathrobes the world over, turns out to be French for CATERPILLAR, which in turn derives from the word for LITTLE DOG. Yes, LITTLE DOG. No - I know I promised only one dog reference per fortnight, and this is the second for the day - but this information is TRUE. And USEFUL. You never know when some scoundrel will try to fob you off with a box of caterpillars (or - heaven forfend - puppies) instead of a posh dressing gown.

My trusty Oxford Anglo Lexicon describes chenille as "A kind of velvety cord, having short threads or fibres of silk and wool standing out at right angles from a core of thread or wire, like the hairs of a caterpillar; used in trimming and bordering dresses and furniture." But of course! Like the hairs of a caterpillar! The Parisian haberdasher who came up with that one wasn't just a pretty face.

While it's plain to see how the fabric took its name from the caterpillar, it's not as clear how caterpillars resemble little dogs. But we blame not France here. Those tricksy Romans were calling caterpillars "caniculae" from way back.

The plot thickens: a véhicule à chenilles, rather than being a truck full of caterpillars, or puppies, or bathrobes, is one of those tractor jobs with the two endless steel bands on each side. Perfect for traversing rough terrain, as is the limited edition chenille commando trouser.

Chenille! Versatile, absorbent, stylish, and like a small brown insect given to devouring cabbage.

16 comments:

TimT said...

And here I was thinking Chenille was the name of my bogan neighbour.

Might not the 'caterpillar' derivation be a reference to the silkworm?

alexis said...

On bogan neighbours (because I think the term might be peculiarly Melburnean), does anyone happily self-identify as "bogan" or is it always used as an affectionate(?)/derogatory(?) descriptor by people who are confident that it doesn't apply to them?

The chenille/silkworm suggestion is interesting. Maybe someone who's more au fait with their Français could let us know if a French silkworm is a chenille or a "worm de la silk".

TimT said...

Your right, actually, it's traditionally been a derogatory term of Kath 'n' Kim types, used most frequently (by my observation) by trendy socialites who write for the arts and music pages of The Age.

Lately, though, it seems to have been proudly adopted as a badge of honour. By these people, for instance.

And where does it come from? Well, one theory goes it comes from Bogan Shire Council, conveniently located on the Bogan River!

St John Nottlesby said...

Yes, I concur Tymnus, I'd always understood it to be a slur loosed upon especially unfortunate suburbanites by their cultural betters. But then it's awfully hard to see the world clearly from behind the Bentley's tinted windows.

alexis said...

What manner of trendy socialites are these? All the trendy socialites I know - the ones who can raise a pen, that is - are far too coy about their class prejudices to brandish about epithets like this 'un. Maybe it's better to be out with it, and admit that you look down on people with less education and earning-power (since the most common alternative is a covert discrimination), but, egad, it's strange to hear of trendy socialites so nakedly laying claim to their social superiority.

Me, I just try to talk about caterpillars.

TimT said...

You are wise indeed, Alexis. I find that the class system is rather more exaggerated in Melbourne than Sydney, for some reason. I think up until quite recently the term 'Bogan' - which I admit I had never really heard until moving here - was solely derogatory, and I have seen it used in this sense, quite openly, in The Age.

All of which makes me feel a tad ashamed for perpetuating such a term myself.

alexis said...

That's very interesting, what you say about class difference being more overt in the 'Bourn. I wonder what that's about. Not that Sydney is especially free of folk seizing each other up on the basis of their accents, their shoes, their high schools, daddy's job, etc. Further research in order.

Adrian said...

Incroyable! Chenille denotes a loud insect, and The Captain & Tenille sound like one.

alexis said...

Haw haw haw.

lucy tartan said...

The blogger who writes A Wild Young Under-Whimsy did her Masters about the Bogan phenomenon.

I'm not a native Melbournite but my partner is and after fifteen years parts of our brains have fused. I think it's descriptive of really crass philistinism - one notch down from yobbishness. Seems to me it's more tied to behaviour than to socioeconomic markers.

alexis said...

That's what I call a masters thesis! Does she do public readings? I should come along some time.

I'm not sure about the distinction you make between behaviour and socio-economic markers. Aren't the most impressive socio-economic markers the behavioural ones? Like calling your kid "Chenille", as per the parents of Tim's (I assume, fictitious) "bogan neighbour".

lucy tartan said...

According to most economists everything is a socioeconomic marker. Especially names; especially the degree of deviation from traditional spellings they exhibit.

I just meant that the word I mumble under my breath is more likely to be 'bogan' when I hear some fool gunning his car up my street, or when a pack of guffawing teenagagers chase each other through the cinema in the middle of a movie, than when I see what the teenagers are wearing or what sort of car Mr In A Hurry is driving.

alexis said...

Oh, gotcha. "Behaviour" as in "behaviour", rather than "behaviour" as in "stuff that gets documented by ethnographer in pith helmet". In the case of the young folk playing British bulldog during your movie, I'd be tempted to do more than mutter under my breath. You're a veritable model of restraint, Lucy T.

TimT said...

There are several blogs and forums that use the title 'bogan' as a form of self-identification, which does imply that 'bogan' is a word you can grow into as well as be defined by. Same with Yobbo, actually...

Strangely, Mel even does public performances. They're good, too! I was lucky enough to see her perform at the comedy festival two years ago.

And yeah, you caught me out. The bogan neighbours were fictitious ...

St John Nottlesby said...

Playing British bulldog? Come now, Mrs Thatcher so seldom takes in a flick these days that, yea verily, it's a gala occasion for even the least politically aware amongst us.

As for ethnographers in pith helmets, well, wots wrong wiv 'em, I say!

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