carousel, carousal

The life of leisure and revelry is a merry go-round. Do not get on your high horse and look down on us in our carousal; we are on horses, high, and looking down on you from our carousel. Drink life to the bottom, drain the glass, get in a lather, rinse, and repeat, go back, Jack, and do it again. It’s like Arthur Schnitzler’s play La Ronde, where A sleeps with B sleeps with… all the way to J, who sleeps with A, through all the levels of turn-of-the-century Viennese society, a carousel, a ring-around-the-Rogers. Except with carousal we’re just talking about consumption of food and beverage, exchange of convivial fluids, not vital fluids.

What is the difference between a carousal and a carousel? One is a round-and-round ride that will leave you dizzy, perhaps a bit sick, and feeling like a kid again, and the other one is a fairground attraction involving fake horses. One has an a and one has an e. And then there’s that pronunciation, which is messed up as all-get-out: the stress is on “rouse” in carousal, though you may well have trouble being roused after one, and on “care” in carousel, though it is a carefree ride. Well, OK, that’s if you’re an Anglophone North American. If you’re a Brit, according to Oxford, you are expected to say it /karuːˈzɛl/, which is as close as an Anglo can come to the French pronunciation.

Oh, yes. That’s another thing. The word that involves a fairground ride with fake horses comes to us from French, and to French from Italian, and traces back to horseback tournaments of knights. The word that involves drinking a lot comes to us from German, and traces back to… drinking a lot. Going all out, in fact.

All out? Gar aus! Different accounts link it to drinking all the beer from a glass or to drinking until the innkeeper says “Everybody out!” But it often has the implication of a pub crawl or multiple-itinerary bender, perhaps under the influence of cruise. Anyway, gar aus is what gave us (via multiple different spellings) our modern carouse, and somewhere along the way we started voicing the s and devoicing the g (as may happen when one has had a few). So now its noun form, carousal, rhymes with arousal, which seems usable enough, as the two have an inevitable yin-yang relationship: carousal can lead to, and defeat, arousal; and, on the other hand, the morning after you have caroused, you must perforce be aroused, so you can do it again… maybe not that day, though.

And carousel? From French carrousel, from Italian carosello or garosello (and there’s that g/c alternation come round again), which named a tournament with jousting or riding in formation or feats on horseback. The ultimate origin is much disputed. Could come from a word for ‘quarrelsome’, or a word for ‘chariot’, or a word for a Neapolitan ball game that traces ultimately to a word for ‘shaved head’. I suggest debating it on your next carousal. You’ll go round and round and won’t get anywhere in the end, but it will be fun. Even if it’ll probably leave you with a headache.

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One response to “carousel, carousal

  1. Lovely! Your posts are a treat.

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