Can a word that immediately calls forth a harsh, sharp sound (from a dog or other creature) be somehow elegant, lovely, or dreamy?

I don’t see why not. Of course, as soon as you use the que spelling, everything gets a little fancier – barque is what Phydeaux does, perhaps, while bark is what Fido does. The que calls forth French but also Latin – in Latin, que stuck on the end of a word (and fully pronounced) means “and”, as in Senatus Populusque Romanus “the Senate and People of Rome”. So if you had a place called Barbecue Barque perhaps it would mean it had a barbecue and a bar. (And maybe they should go with the alternate spelling Barbeque, which, however, I have a hard time not reading like “barbeck”.)

But the best evidence of the possibility of a little crisp, fresh elegance is the contrast with barge. Barge is a word that brings to mind something quite lumpish and unpleasant – perhaps a garbage barge – and goes with ill-mannered action. “He just barged in! What a bounder – I wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole!” On the other hand, embark is what one does on an expensive trip.

And yet barque (bark) and barge most likely come from the same source, by way of barca and barga. There is some dispute as to the origin – Celtic, perhaps, or maybe Greek, but by way of Latin anyway. They were once the same boat, but they’re not really in the same boat now.

Barque and bark rather are in the same boat, on the other hand, although barque can refer specifically to a three-masted ship square-rigged on the foremasts and fore-and-aft rigged on the rear. Bark can name any of quite a variety of mid-small boats – though nothing as small as a birch bark canoe (and no, that’s not the same bark any more than what a dog does is).

Why use the barque spelling when bark will do? Well, for clarity, for one thing. But also for the beautiful balance of the form. Whereas bark bursts a bubble (b > k), barque presents a back half that seems to be made of rotated forms from the front half, sea-changed: b > q (the mast trimmed and turned to make a rudder), a > e (a type a has some resemblance to that rotated e, the schwa ə), r > u (the lost leg grown back). And paradoxically we view inefficient, wasted silent letters as somehow elegant (certainly not in the mathematical sense!).

Still, it’s not the spelling preferred by poets. Well, if Noah released a lark from the ark, we may hark in the stark dark and mark a bark, wandering. Oh, yes, wandering! Shakespeare set down this collocation in his 116th sonnet: it is love that is “the star to every wandering bark.”

And where does the bark wander? In dreamland, surely. I recall again (as I did in my note on virch) “a barca da fantasia” from Madredeus’s O Pastor:

Ao largo ainda arde
A barca da fantasia
E o meu sonho acaba tarde
Acordar é que eu não queria

“At a distance still burns the barque [or barge] of fantasy, and my dream ends late – waking is what I didn’t want.”

And what do you see on the lovely barque of dreams? Perhaps a world as painted by Georges Braque…

6 responses to “barque

  1. Of course, as soon as you use the que spelling, everything gets a little fancier – barque is what Phydeaux does, perhaps, while bark is what Fido does.

    That made me chuckle.

    Coincidentally, also came out today: How to Talk All Fancy-like.

    It took me a bit to figure out what you meant by b > k, because as a computer programmer, “>” only means ‘greater than’, and I’m probably not the only person for which this is true. I suggest something more arrow-like, such as “->” or “=>” or even (though this requires special character territory that you may not want to venture into) “►” or “→”.

  2. True. I’m trying in my passive, subtle way to induce people into linguistics usages — linguists use a > b to mean “a becomes (or became) b”. But WordPress makes all sorts of fancy characters possible. I’ll see what I want to do next time…

  3. Well, can’t really blame you for that. It’s a bit of a shame (but not any sort of surprise) that the worlds – or at least the notations – of math and linguistics (and, no doubt, others) collide so.

  4. Hm, I just noticed that your URL has a “-2” after the word ‘barque’, which made me wonder, and go searching.

    Thought you should know, you’ve barqued your shin on this word before

    • Yeah, I know. That’s how I noticed it too. I usually try to check to make sure I haven’t done one before, but didn’t think to do so last night, so when I saved it and saw the -2 on the URL, I thought, “Shit.” I’ve done that a few other times — as if there weren’t enough words in the language or something! If you look in the Word Tasting Note Index, you’ll see some pairs. Generally one is shorter and one is longer. Interesting how similar the two tastings were this time — this one really does seem like the dance mix and the older one like the radio single.

  5. Pingback: cortex | Sesquiotica

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