Friday, 2 August 2013

The Elusive Etymology

As a teacher seeing sulky pouting students is part of the job but a sight much less common these days than you might expect as the sound of teeth sucking seems to have taken over. Not so long ago, I actually witnessed a student formulating what I've always called a “fletcher lip” and commented on it to a colleague who'd never heard of the expression, instead referring to it as “making a moue”.

I recall many a scene as a child where I was accused of “making a fletcher lip” and as a result, laughed at. As I've been on an exceedingly gluttonous Herefordshire trip with my family, I thought I'd ask them where the term came from. Old Dear had no idea but Big G was quick to explain its etymology lies in archery: apparently back in the day when strategically-placed archers were a primary form of defence, having the bow's anchor point placed near to the lips when ready to draw resulted in a similar lower lip pout-like expression.

Having just returned from my mini-break, I thought I'd put my mum's explanation to the test and did indeed discover that “fletching” are the stabilising fins or vanes of an arrow (each individual fin being a “fletch”) and that a “fletcher” is the craftsman who makes/attaches “fletching” for the arrows. While there's nothing explaining the exact etymology of the term or explicitly linking a “fletcher lip” to archery, there is obviously a semantic connection.

Both to “make a moue” and “fletcher” have origins in French with the first use of “moue” recorded from Middle French in 1850 and “fletcher” coming from the Old French “fl├Ęche”, meaning "arrow” and the Frankish “fliukka” from between the fourth and eighth centuries. As there seems to be little evidence of similar uses of the term on the Internet, I can only conclude “a fletcher lip” is an original Owenism and wonder what pet names other families have for the expression?

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