Thursday, May 25, 2017

Language of Confusion: Mattress and Buttress

Several months ago, I did words that ended in -ress. Two I skipped were mattress and buttress, as they weren’t related to the others. So let’s look at them now! Because I have no other ideas.

Mattress is surprisingly old, having shown up in the late thirteenth century. It comes from the Old French materas, which comes from the Italian word materasso, just mattress. That’s the word that comes from Latin, in this case the Medieval Latin matracium, which in turn was taken from Arabic, where it was al-matrah, cushion. This is especially unusual because Latin prefers stealing its words from Greek.

Buttress first showed up in the early fourteenth century as a noun and the late fourteenth century as a verb. It comes from the Old French arc botrez, flying buttress. Not sure why it had to be flying, but there you go. It’s supposed to be from bouter, to thrust against, a Frankish word from the Proto Germanic butan, which in turn comes from the Proto Indo European bhau-, to strike. Which is the origin word for butt! But not the one that means your rear end. The one that’s part of head butt. Kind of disappointing, really.



  1. I guess the Arabs had mattresses first. I wonder what the Romans slept on before they borrowed that bit of technology from the Arabs.

    I think flying buttresses had to do with architecture, which is why "flying". (Gothic churches, I think.) Then I can see how butt would come in, as a sort of striking thing.

    Just yesterday I was wondering about fast. Like, how did the word for going quickly and the word for not eating come to be the same thing? Because if you're fasting, the day does not go by fast...

  2. Buttress is a term we really don't use anymore!

  3. The real question is what did the Romans speak before they stole all the Greek words? :P

  4. Now I want to know - why does it fly?

  5. Interesting that the word for mattress comes from Arabic.


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