Thursday, 29 October 2009

Rum, Chutney, & Lime: On Trinidadian musical refashioning and some obscure etymologies

In Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana (as well as Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) there is a popular form of music called chutney soca, which is more or less a blend of soca and Bollywood music. Soca music itself represents the Trinidadian development of Caribbean calypso music (and the word soca appears to be an abbreviated form of soul calypso). In chutney soca, one may find instances of Hindi-English codeswitching and codemixing. And, in fact, some chutney soca songs are refashionings of old Bollywood songs.

One nice example of this is Ravi B's "Rum is Meh Lover" (2007?), which retains the refrain akelā hūṁ maiṁ "alone am I" from its model, the song "Akela Hoon Main", sung by Mohammed Rafi, from the 1962 Hindi film "Baat Ek Raat Ki". The Trinidadian refashioning keeps both the tune and the refrain (akelā hūṁ maiṁ) of the original Bollywood song, but the remainder of the lyrics is something rather different from its Hindi model.

Here are the two songs:

"Akela Hoon Main" (1962) - Mohammed Rafi [subtitled]

"Rum is Meh Lover" (2007?) - Ravi B

I leave it to my readers to examine the musical and lyrical developments from Mohammed Rafi's original to Ravi B's revision; and turn instead to an etymological investigation of three words which occur in (or are associated with) Ravi B's "Rum is Meh Lover": rum, chutney, and lime (in the Trinidadian slang sense "hanging out")--all three of which have rather obscure etymologies.

The theme of "Rum is Meh Lover" is, unsurprisingly, "rum" (apparently a popular theme in chutney soca songs), which brings us to the first of our obscure etymologies: rum "spirit distilled from various products of the sugar-cane (esp. molasses and dunder), and prepared chiefly in the West Indies and Guyana".

The earliest citation the OED[1] has for rum is from 1639 (spelled rhum):
1639 J. JOSSELYN Jrnl. 24 Sept. in Acct. Two Voy. (1674) 26 Captain Thomas Wannerton..drank to me a pint of kill-devil alias Rhum at a draught.
In this citation we find another early name for rum, i.e. kill-devil, which appears first with the meaning "a recklessly daring fellow" in ca1590 (OED[1]):
c1590 MARLOWE Faust. iv, ‘Did ye see yonder tall fellow..? he has killed the devil.’ So I should be called Kill-devil all the parish over.
Though there of course seems to be a possible connection between rum-drinking and recklessness, kill-devil in the sense of "sugarcane-based alcohol" actually appears to be a folk etymology (or eggcorn) from French guildive--which is itself of unknown origin (Skeat[2])--though likely the form of this folk etymology was influenced by the pre-existing word kill-devil in the sense "reckless fellow".

A couple of other early instances of rum:
1661 Cal. State Papers Col. Ser. (1661-8) 42 That the former orders concerning rum, sugar, and hammocks be still in force.
1667 WARREN Descr. Surinam vi. 17 Rum is a Spirit extracted from the Juice of Sugar-Canes, commonly, twice as strong as Brandy.
Skeat[2] suggests that rum is a truncation from rumbullion/rumbowling, for which we also have early attestations with the sense of "sugarcane-derived alcohol" (though these are later than the 1639 rhum):
c1651 in N. D. Davis Cavaliers & Roundheads Barbados (1887) 112 The chiefe fudling they make in the Island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Devill, and this is made of suggar canes distilled, a hott, hellish and terrible liquor.
1672 HUGHES Amer. Physitian 34 They..make a sort of Strong-Water, they call Rum or Rumbullion, stronger than Spirit of Wine.
The OED[1] also suggests rumbustion as another possible source of rum:
1652 Mercurius Politicus No. 90. 1435 Partly [through] the Brandewin wherewith we have furnisht him, the spirits of Rombostion, which our men there make him, and other good hopes we give him, he becomes very valiant.
However, the possible sources of either rumbustion or rumbullion are equally obscure. Though the latter exists in present-day Devonshire vernacular English, there it has the sense "tumult, uproar"; it thus seems rather unlikely that this modern form is a continuation of early rumbullion "sugarcane-derived alcohol".

Skeat[2] suggests that rumbullion/rumbustion may be derived from ramp in the sense "a merry frolic"; however this meaning is not attested until the end of the 17th century, the earliest attestation being from 1696:
1696 G. G. LANSDOWNE She-gallants IV. 57 Be pleas'd Madam, to dispatch us, for I have promis'd to play at Ramp to Night, with some Ladies.
Ramp enters English from Norman French, originally with the sense "to rear up" (said of animals, especially in the heraldic jargon form rampant "(of a four-legged animal) standing on the sinister hind foot with the forepaws in the air, the sinister above the dexter" [ca.1200]). The meaning "rear up" is later broadened to "rush, storm, or rage with violent gestures; behave in a furious or threatening manner":
c1405 (c1390) CHAUCER Monk's Prol. (Hengwrt) (2003) l. 16 Whan she cometh she raumpeth in my face And crieth false coward wrek thy wyf.
And then undergoes further reanalysis as "bound, rush, or range about in a wild, lively, or excited manner":
1569 E. FENTON tr. P. Boaistuau Certaine Secrete Wonders Nature xi. f. 30, The rage was so cruell that men were forced to climbe trees like birdes, others ramped vpon the mountaines
Still later perhaps reanalysed (with melioration) with the sense of "play, sport"; but this meaning occurs only in the nominal form as in the above Lansdowne citation. The phonologically-similar word romp does occur as a verb with the meaning "to play, sport, or frolic in a very lively, merry, or boisterous manner", but only in the 18th-century (and further the connection between ramp and romp is not entirely certain):
1709 STEELE Tatler No. 15.para2 This careless Jade was eternally romping with the Footman.
Norman French ramp itself is a borrowing from a Germanic form with the sense "bend, turn", as in dialectal English rimple "wrinkle" from Old English hrympel "wrinkle, fold"; these ramp/rimp forms derive ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European [PIE] root *(s)kerb-, which is an extended form of *(s)ker- "to turn, bend". From *(s)ker- with various extensions derive a number of English words: shrink from Old English scrincan "to wither, shrivel up" from Proto-Germanic *skrink- from PIE *(s)kre-n-g-; ring from Old English hring from Proto-Germanic *hringaz "something curved" from PIE *(s)kre-n-gh- (see Watkins[3]:78). Skeat's suggestion would thus have rum derive ultimately from a root meaning "curve, bend, turn".

In principle there is no real difficulty with extensive semantic change from "curve" to "sugarcane-based alcohol", other words have more unlikely etymologies. However, it seems to me (on other grounds) that there is a more likely etymology for rum. In 16th- and 17th-century English we find rum used as a 'canting' word (=argot, or secret language), meaning "good, excellent, fine". For instance:
1567 HARMAN Caveat (1869) 84 Rome vyle [=] London.
1621 B. JONSON Gipsies Metam. (Rtldg.) 619/2 For the roome-morts [=good women], I know by their ports..They are of the sorts That love the true sports.
More relevantly, it appears in the collocation rum bowse or rum booze "a good drink, i.e. wine or liquor", again from the 16th-century on:
1567 HARMAN Caveat (1869) 83 Rome bouse, wyne. Ibid. 86 This bouse is as benshyp as rome bouse. [=This booze is as good as rum booze]
1641 BROME Joviall Crew II. Wks. 1873 III. 391 This Bowse is better then Rum-bowse.
So a more likely etymology for rum "sugarcane-based alcohol" seems to me to be: rum bowse/rum booze "good drink, i.e. wine or liquor" with ellipsis to rum and semantic narrowing to "sugarcane-derived liquor".

The early etymology of 'canting' rum "good, pleasing, excellent" is also unclear. Skeat[4]:408 derives it from the Romani (Gypsy) word rom meaning "a Gypsy" hence "good" from a Gypsy point of view (though he also notes the other meaning of rum, "strange, odd", which he suggests is from the same Romani word, but from an outsider's point of view, thus "suspicious"). Romani is an Indo-Aryan language, and Romani rom derives from a form corresponding to Sanskrit ḍomba- "man of low caste living by singing and music" (Turner[5]:no.5570), cp. Hindi ḍom "low caste person". Since rum in this sense represents an argot word, Romani makes good sense as a source, since argot words often derive from "the language of groups that are marginalised in society and thus often forced into illegal or criminal activities...[i]n English...especially Romani" (Hock & Joseph[6]:301).

The other possible source of 'canting' rum "good, pleasing" that occurs to me is that it derives from a South Asia Indo-Aryan language like Hindi or Bengali--though the 16th-century is perhaps a bit early for such borrowings, at least if it was borrowed directly. However, there are Indo-Aryan words of the sort Hindi ramnā "to enjoy (a woman)", Marathi ramṇẽ "to loiter idly", Nepali ramāunu "to be pleased" (all of which derive from the Sanskrit root ram-, originally meaning "to rest", later "to take pleasure in"; which is possibly cognate with Greek ἠρέμα /ēréma/, cf. Pokorny[7]).

Our next word with an obscure etymology is chutney, as in the musical genre chutney soca, which represents a metaphorical extension of chutney "Indian sauce/relish". Chutney itself is a clear borrowing from Hindi caṭnī "sauce, relish, pickle, seasoning". Further, caṭnī is clearly related to the Hindi verb caṭnā "to taste"; however, the pre-Hindi etymology of caṭnā "to taste" is not as clear. Similar words meaning "taste" are found in the other Indo-Aryan languages (and in Romani), but though these are clearly cognate, they have no obvious Sanskrit source. Turner[5]:no.4673 provides an earlier Prakrit cognate caṭṭēi "licks", and suggests that the hypothesised root *caṭṭ- "lick, taste", from which all of these appear to derive, may be onomatopoeic in origin (see also Prakrit caḍḍaï "eats").

Finally, in the Ravi B song above, we find the Trinidad-specific slang word lime, meaning roughly "to hang out (with friends), to idle" (and thus is semantically-connected with Sanskrit ram- and its modern Indo-Aryan descendants like Marathi ramṇẽ "to loiter idly", and thus possibly with rum as well... (see above)). For an extended study of the Trinidadian practice of "liming", see Eriksen[8].

The word lime seems to first appear in Trinidad with this sense sometime in the 20th-century, but its etymology is considered obscure.

Dr. Eriksen alerted me to one suggested etymology of Trinidadian lime/liming: as deriving from limey "a British sailor", in the sense "act like a limey (when he's ashore); i.e. relaxing and doing nothing". The term limey is a truncated version of lime-juicer, originally referring to British sailors and British ships--deriving from the fact that in the British navy the consumption of lime-juice used to be enforced (as an antiscorbutic). [Limey was later used (in a rather pejorative sense) to refer to English (and British) immigrants to the former British colonies (especially Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa).]
1859 CORNWALLIS New World I. 58 Turn that lime-juicer out.
1891 C. CREIGHTON Hist. Epidemics I. 596 Hawkins, it will have been remarked, was no bigoted ‘lime-juicer’.
1888 D. SLADEN Austral. Ballads & Rhymes 31 They'd seen old stagers and limey new chums.
1954 T. S. ELIOT Elder Statesman III. 93 Everyone would sneer at the fellow from London, The limey remittance man for whom a job was made.
Lime here thus refers to the fruit of that name--which itself has a rather interesting etymology, being a Wanderwort (word that spread throughout a number of languages, typically through trade; typical examples include sugar, candy, and computer). English lime is a borrowing from French lime, which was borrowed into French from Arabic līm, which itself is a borrowing from Persian. The Persian word appears to have been borrowed from some Indian language; we find a number of words for "lime" or "lemon" in the modern Indo-Aryan languages, often with many variant forms in each languages, e.g. Hindi nimbū, nībū, nīmū, lī̃bū, līmū; Gujarati lĩbu, lību. In Sanskrit we find both nimbū-/nimbūka- as well as limpāka-, which are the source of the varying words in the modern Indo-Aryan languages (Turner[5]:no.7247). The Sanskrit forms appear to be borrowings from Austro-Asiatic, specifically from some Munda language, cf. Mayrhofer[9]. So if Trinidadian liming does in fact derive from limey, then the word's ultimate source is in eastern India (e.g. Orissa).

I tentatively suggest another possible etymology for Trinidadian lime/liming: that it derives from (bird-)liming: "to smear (twigs or the like) with bird-lime (a viscous sticky substance prepared from the bark of the holly and used for catching small birds), for the purpose of catching birds", often metaphorically; or "to catch with birdlime", again often metaphorically (OED[1]). Examples of the metaphorical use of lime (as both verb and noun):
1593 SHAKES. 2 Hen. VI, I. iii. 91 My selfe haue lym'd a Bush for her. [I myself have limed a bush for her, i.e. set a trap for her]
1692 R. L'ESTRANGE Fables ccclxxix. 350 Those Twigs in time will come to be Lim'd, and then you're all Lost if you do but touch 'em.
c1386 CHAUCER Wife's T. 78 A man shal winne us best with flaterye, And with attendance and with bisynesse Been we ylymed bothe moore and lesse. [A man may win us best with flattery, and with attendance and with busyness, we're often limed, the greater and the less.]
a1822 SHELLEY Ess., Def. Poetry (1840) I. 39 Lucretius had limed the wings of his swift spirit in the dregs of the sensible world.
1863 THORNBURY True as Steel II. 152 like birdlime; the more we struggle, the more entangled our wings get.
1870 M. BRIDGMAN Rob. Lynne II. iii. 64 He was..limed this time [matrimonially].
I see two possible routes that the metaphorical sense "catch or snare" of lime could have been extended along which would lead to the Trinidadian sense "hang out, loiter, idle". The first is if bird-liming was seen as an idle practice (which alas I don't have any evidence for), then liming could have been reinterpreted as "idling".

A limed bird

The second possible route is if lime "to catch or snare" developed an intransitive sense of "to be caught or stuck in a place" (cp. the above Bridgman quotation), which then was further reanalysed as metaphorically "caught or stuck (in a place) by idleness".

If either of these theories are on the right track, then Trinadadian lime/liming has an long etymological history, dating back to Proto-Indo-European. Early attestations of lime (as a noun) in the sense "sticky substance for catching birds" are found in Old English:
a700 Epinal Gloss. 133 Bitumen, lim. [i.e., glossing Latin bitumen]
a1000 ÆLFRIC Colloq. in Wr.-Wülcker 95 Ic beswice fugelas hwilon mid neton mid grinum mid lime. [I snare birds sometimes with nets ginned with (bird)lime.]
Old English lim "lime" itself can be traced back to the PIE root *(s)lei- "slimy", from whence derives not only lime, but also slime (from Old English slīm), slippery (from Old English slipor "slippery"), slick (from Old English slīcian "to make smooth"); as well as oblivion, from Latin oblīvīscī "to forget" (< "to wipe, let slip from the mind"; ob- "away"), and litotes "a form of understatement", from Greek lītos "plain, simple". In Sanskrit we also find the reflex lināti, layate "sticks, stays". (See Watkins[3]:80.) [For another reflex of the PIE root *(s)lei-, slade, see here.]

Ravi B has thus (unwittingly) led us on a rather interesting etymological voyage--I won't claim that the journey has been either smooth or certain, but at least for rum and the Trinidadian lime we have explored some new attractive possible etymologies. Chutney may ultimately be onomatopoeic (think: smacking your lips); rum may derive from a Sanskrit word originally meaning "rest" and later "to take pleasure in"; liming "hanging out" may have first referred to catching birds with a sticky substance made from holly-bark, deriving ultimately from a PIE word meaning "slimy".

[1]The Oxford English Dictionary, September 2009 rev. ed.
[2]Skeat, Walter. 1887. "Notes on English etymology". Transactions of the Philological Society 20/1:690-722.
[3]Watkins, Calvert. 2000. The American Heritage dictionary of Indo-European roots. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2nd edn.
[4]Skeat, Walter. 1901. Concise dictionary of English etymology. Oxford: Clarendon, 2nd edn.
[5]Turner, Sir Ralph Lilley. 1966-1985. A comparative dictionary of the Indo-Aryan languages. 4 vols. London: Oxford University Press. [reprinted, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999.]
[6]Hock, Hans Henrich & Brian D. Joseph. 2009. Language history, language change, and language relationship. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2nd edn.
[7]Pokorny, Julius. 1958. Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Bern and München: Francke Verlag.
[8]Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. 1990. "Liming in Trinidad: The art of doing nothing". Folk 32. [online version]
[9]Mayrhofer, Manfred. 1953-. Kurzgefaßte etymologische Wörterbuch des Altindischen. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter.

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