Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages.
There is pretty much no scenario in which I can organically talk about sequins, so the week following when a bunch of people wore them in Hollywood seemed like the only possible way to get this trio, the third on my list of almost 140 Word Mysteries, into the mix.
Get your dancing shoes on and shimmy on over to the learnin’.
EN → sequin — 1 a small, shiny disk sewn as one of many onto clothing for decoration. 2 (historical) a Venetian gold coin. ORIGIN From second sense, this, chronologically from Arabic sikka [a die for coining], to Arabic zecca [a mint/place for coining metal] to Italian zecchino [pure gold coin].
ES → lentejuela — Plancha, pequeña y redonda, de metal u otro material brillante, que se cose en los vestidos como adorno. [Small, round piece of flat metal or other shiny material which is sewn on clothes as decoration.] ORIGIN Diminuative of lenteja [lentil], this from Latin lenticŭla [freckle, lentil].
FR → paillette — Petite lamelle de matière brillante servant d’ornement sur les vêtements. [Small piece of shiny material which serves as decoration on clothing.] ORIGIN From paille [straw], this from Latin palea [chaff, husk].
English note: Ooooh, I like it when there’s a clear progression between the original word and the modern one. It should be noted that sequins are probably only slightly less heavy than actual gold coins.
Spanish note: This makes sense to me, though I would never attach lentils to my person.
French note: A bit confused by this one. I guess that maybe if you slice a piece of straw, you’re left with something small, round and kind of decorative. If you attached a bunch of them together, they might even make a sound like sequins do, but they won’t shimmer and shine.
Today’s winner, despite how I feel about lentils, is English because I really like the idea of just strapping one’s money to oneself to show off.