Thursday, 4 October 2012

We Ponder Sewers and Medieval French

Our post the other day about a Victorian sewage pipe got us thinking. About sewers.
Coming across a website by a deluded author claiming that sewer means "seaward" in Old English, which is obviously utter balderdash, we realised we don't actually know the etymology of the word sewer. A quick Google search directed us to our beloved Wikipedia, which states that there are two possible origins of the word, one of which involves that delectable phenomenon, "Vulgar Latin". We don't love Latin, but we do love the word "vulgar" - bring it on! (And yes, we realise the word "vulgar" stems from Latin - give us a break.)

So, plunging straight into business, etymology 1 is as follows:
"From Anglo-Norman sewere (“water-course”), from Old French sewiere (“overflow channel for a fishpond”), from Vulgar Latin exaquāria (“drain for carrying water off”), from Latin ex (“out of, from”) + aquāria."
Etymology 2 gives off a bit of a smell:
From Anglo-Norman asseour, from Old French asseoir (find a seat for), from Latin assidēre, present active participle of assideō (attend to), from ad (to, towards, at) + sedeō (sit).
This sounds like a load of hogwash to us, but you can't blame people for trying - it is an exciting subject! Also the connotations to sitting are so amusing!

Image from Graphjam

Descending into the murky depths of the Middle English Dictionary, we receive the following information on the use of the word sewer in Middle English:
"seuer (n.) Also suer(e & (in surname) suor & (error) sere.

[AF sewer (cp. OF esseveur & sewiere floodgate) & AL sewera, seuera, suera.]

(a) A trench or ditch used for drainage; ~ gate, a floodgate on a sewer; (b) commissioun of seueres, authority or duty to oversee drainage canals; justices of seueres, ?officials who regulated the drainage of marshlands; (c) in surname."
An entry for "seu" is also flushed out:
"seu (n.(2)) Pl. sewes.

[From OF esseu gutter, channel & AL essewium.]

A drain, sewer; water ~."
If there's one language that we enjoy diving into even less than Latin, it's medieval French. However, if you should perchance have a penchant for this language, we thought we might indulge you. Here's the Godefroy entry on "sewiere", listing examples of the use of the word in medieval French:
"Sewiere, seu., s. f., écluse ou décharge d’un étang, d'un vivier:
Des cele porte jusques al beghinage ki ore siet seur le fosset de le ville dou Kaisnoit, et del liu de cel beghinage dusques a le sewiere de nostre vivier dales le gart. (1261, Lettre de Marguerite, comtesse de Flandre, Taillar, p. 253.)
Et si a assonc l’escluse de Bouchaing .III. sewieres ki sunt le conte et monsegneur Estievenon… Et as anwisons et au blanc pesson qu’on prent a ces sewieres… (1265-1268, Cart. des rentes et cens dus au comte de Hainaut, Publicat. des biblioph. de Mons, n° 23, t. II, p. 215. )
Les seuwieres, espaumaus, escluzes des viviers. (1405, Valenciennes, ap. La Fons, Gloss. ms., Bibl. Amiens.)"

So that's all clear now. It would seem that the word sewer, derived from Latin, existed in medieval French and bored its way into Anglo-Norman, from where it leaked into modern English.

Let's have a lovely picture.

Since we're being all French, here's a picture of a Parisian sewer! Image from Greenspec

If you're REALLY interested in sewers, there are always the ones in Vienna. They date back to Roman times, and you can go on a tour and explore them up close.

You can also, for some reason, go on a tour of the sewers of Brighton.

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