Daily Archives: August 4, 2009

barque

The shape of this word is no worse than its bite, though we may say it is atavistically augmented, perhaps so readers would not be up the wrong tree (or the cortex thereof). It came from the same Latin as barge, and has referred to an overlapping set of vessels, but how could anything ending in that nice French que be so boorish? (Never mind that barge is also a French word.) That’s what keeps this word from seeming just like the outcries of Fido – or Phydeaux – and makes its brusque sound, with the blunt plosive /b/ (no delayed voice onset there!) and the harsh /ark/ (an “arrr!” plus that kicking k), seem more elegant, or brave and adventurous (or like a boat by Braque, on which is a barbeque?). Well, that and a certain line from Shakespeare, perhaps. But if you prefer to spell this word bark, you and old Will are in the same boat: in his Sonnet 116, love “is the star to every wandering bark,” never mind that curly que. And indeed that is the form this word had adopted long since when it came to be pushed back to the old French spelling (which does look nice, doesn’t it? with the rotational symmetry of b and q, and to a lesser extent of the r and u and of the a and e, and you may even imagine a mast and keel in the ascender and descender). But do not like this word less for its changeable form; “Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds.”