Zed (or Zee)

Well, the reason I don't have have my beloved Oxford English Dictionary with me, or indeed most of my books, is simple: I just could not bring many of them here with me. And I cannot begin to explain how bereft this loss of my library--or what's left of it, since our recent downsizing--makes me feel.

But actually, my OED is less and useful to me as time goes on. I have the two-volume edition, in which the print is miniscule, so a magnifying glass was supplied; but even with the glass, it is too hard for me to read now.

I think I will take the extravagant plunge and buy the CD format. There is absolutely no substitute for the OED, as word mavens know; it's a monument to the richness of the English language and gives examples of a word's usage from the earliest days. Rumour has it that the next edition will probably not appear in traditional book form at all.  The current full-size edition takes up twenty volumes, and few people have money to buy it or space to store it....but still, it's a shame if this most wonderful of books will not be a book any more.

Here in Lyon it is a beautiful morning. A luminous blue sky and sunshine...the temperatures were spring-like yesterday and forecast to be mild again today. We can see a wide swath of sky because our apartment is on the fifth floor, almost at roof-top level. We can also see that the roof and dormer windows of a nearby building are being repaired, and a banner draped over the scaffolding proclaims that the construction company does charpente-couverture-zinguerie: carpentry, "covering"--roofing, I assume--and the intriguing-sounding zinguerie.

Zinguerie makes me think of gypsies, because zingara is gypsy in Italian--a word conjuring the swirl of long skirts and the throbbing violin. The reality of the effect on Italian and other European cities of the people known as "gypsies"--colourfully dressed street beggars and, sometimes, pickpockets--is less romantic. Although they are popularly called gypsies, I'm not sure they are really Romany, or Roma. I ought to know, because I've read Isabel Fonseca's fascinating book about gypsies, Bury Me Standing; but, alas, as with so much I read, I have retained little. One snippet I do remember is that, in the gypsy world, cats are filthy, because, when they clean themselves with their tongues, they take all their dirt inside their bodies.

However, it's unlikely this roofing company has anything to do with gypsies; so, to the French-English dictionary (Le Robert & Collins): ah. Zinguer: to coat with zinc. Zingeur: zinc worker. So zinguerie, though not in the dictionary, must be "zinc work." A plombier zingeur is a plumber and zinc worker. I'm not really sure what the metal zinc is or does (although I know it's thought to help the immune system these days) nor why this construction company would mention zinc work as a part of its repertoire, unless by extension zinguerie has come to mean metalwork more generally. More prosaic than it sounds, and if you knew this all along, you're laughing.

Never mind; I enjoyed my foray into the z --zed as we Brits say, zee in American--section of the French dictionary, with its other exotic-sounding words like zizanie, which means ill-feeling, and zibeline, sable. But perhaps z doesn't sound exotic to the French: there's also zozo, nitwit or ninny, or guy or bloke, (I don't think the dictionary is saying these are all the same thing!), not to mention zizi, the equivalent of the English childhood word "willy" for a certain body part. Funnily enough, I knew zizi already, from the subtitles of the wonderful movie we saw yesterday,The King's Speech.