Carottage, an example of lexical borrowing and loan words

Webster's various dictionaries tell us that the word "carrot" comes from the Middle French, i.e. the French language in use between the 14th and the 16th centuries, with Late Latin and Greek roots. If we then go to a French dictionary such as "Le Petit Robert" we will find that the word "carotte" appeared at the end of the 14th century and that it is linked to the Latin carota and the Greek karoton.

However, if we browse adjacent entries in the French text, we will see such words as "carotter", (c. 1740, a transitive verb meaning to extort something by ruse) and "carotteur" (masculine) or "carotteuse" (feminine) which are adjectives or nouns referring to someone who extorts, or "carrots". These are purely French words, offshoots of the original carotte.

Delving further into the French definitions we find the word "carottage". (The suffix -age denotes the result of action expressed by the verb.) Carottage in this sense means extortion, a noun appearing in 1845 and linked to the verb carotter.

But there is a second definition of carotter : "The extraction of carrots from the ground, by drilling." This definition then sends the reader back to the word carotte in its fourth definition : "A cylindrical sample taken from the soil, derived from the English word, carrot."

English dictionaries generally do not carry this definition of carrot, but a technical glossary of mining or drilling terms will identify "carrot" as a core sample.

What is interesting in this example (at least, interesting to me), is how the word went back and forth between French and English. In its original vegetable state, carotte/carrot was borrowed by the English language. It then, in its mineral version, was adopted as a loanword by the French who have no other word for core sample. Carottage was subsequently coined by the French from the secondary English definition of "carrot". Today, while French petroleum giants such as TotalFinaElf have a "Departement de Carottage" in their oil field bases, the word does not seem to have caught on in the English-language world.

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