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  LOGOLOG
a weblog of wordplay by Eric Harshbarger

BIVOUAC

I've decided that I really don't like the word "bivouac".

On LOGOLOG I spend a lot of time writing about words and patterns and puzzles that I do like, so I thought it was about time I mentioned some linguistic tidbit that I find distasteful.

I'm not quite sure why I dislike "bivouac", but it just doesn't seem right. It certainly doesn't seem it would be of French origin. It's been a while since I studied the French language formally, but I have these vague memories of most of their words having a "smooth" or "flowing" quality to them. The language as a whole seemed to have a rhythym and beauty that most other languages do not.

And yet they somehow managed to settle upon "bivouac".

The ugly "b" at the beginning, the "v" in the middle", and the "c" finding an odd place at the end... an end that cuts off abruptly when you say it aloud ("BIV-whack!")

All in all this just seems like some word a noisy toddler blurted out.

And then there's it's definition: "an encampment under little or no shelter usually for a short time" [MW3].

Why in the world did anyone at anytime in any language decide that a simple campground should be called a "bivouac"!

It just seems so weird. Wrong even.

So I've officially decided it's on my "Do Not Like" wordlist.

-- Eric

P.S.: funny thing is that I should have some affinity toward the word given it's odd letter combinations and the fact that, as a verb, its past tense ("bivouacked") throws in a 'k" for good measure (to harden the "c", actually) as well as an "e" which makes it pan-vocalic (containing all five vowels).

[23 May 2007]
   
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Comments about this article:
Hi, Eric,

I apologize that my mother language was a way to pass into English a so ugly word!

According to the "Grand Robert", bivouac comes from the Swiss-german "biwacht", "night patrol". The derived verb "bivouaquer" exists too, with a typically French digraph "qu".

Posted by: jxano


Well, I'll be the first to admit that the English language has it's share of ugly words as well...

Posted by: Eric Harshbarger


I've always hated the word tacky, and believe it is akin to an otomotapia- the definition of it also describing the pronunciation.

I feel the need to brush my teeth, having just considered pronouncing it.

Posted by: Aaron Sneary


As a french guy, I find Bivouac quite a nice word.
Having studied german during 7 years, I hate some of their words, like "angström", it's not the same pronounciation as angst !

BTW, your article reminded me this one:
http://www.word-buff.com/spelling-bee-champion.html

Posted by: jcmeyrignac


 
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