Friday, 14 November 2014

Money in the coffers and all that

Posted by Rosie

I was talking to our neighbouring farmer's wife yesterday and reminded her that her husband had not let me know how much I owed him for the wheat I had bought off him recently. I have some cash put aside and I wanted to say, proving how much I still translate things from English before speaking French, that if he didn't let me know soon, "The coffers would be empty."  However I quickly realised I didn't know how to say that so I simply said something along the lines of: "If not the money will disappear."  I couldn't remember the word for spend either!  

As she drove off I had a light bulb moment.  The boot of a car in French is coffre and what do the Americans call a car boot?  A trunk.  Un coffre or un coffre-fort in French is also used for a large trunk, the sort that money would once have been stored in (think Robin Hood or pirate treasure).  A quick check in the dictionary revealed that the French do indeed say, Les coffres de l'Etat - the state coffers ... so I think I would have been absolutely fine saying, "Sinon, les coffres seront vide !"

The French also have these related words:
coffre à bijoux - jewellery box
coffre à  jouets - toy box
coffre à voyage - trunk
coffre à bagages - overhead luggage holder
coffrage - to protect something by boxing it in
coffrer - to imprison
coffret - casket
la salles des coffres - strong room

In English we have these words:
Coffin was used as a word for a chest, box or casket from the 14thC and as a box in which to bury your dead from the 16thC.  Coffin can also mean a raised pie crust, like the lid of a basket and Shakespeare writes of a "custard-coffin" in the Taming of the Shrew, meaning a custard under a pastry crust.  The word coffin derives from the old French word cof(f)in meaning little basket/case.  The French word comes from the Latin, Cophinus via the Greek, Kóphinos for basket.

I love etymology, the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history. It can make learning another language easier when you know the derivation and it can also help words make sense.

Can you think of any French or English words I have missed from my lists above?  Or do you know any quotes, idioms or suchlike centres around the words coffers and all it's variations?

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