More about Butlers and Bottles.

In my last post I talked about the origins of the surname Butler, coming as it does from the Anglo –Norman bouteler (French bouteille) for bottle / bottler. Thus, your original butler had been, in fact, a bottler. Later, in grand homes at least, the role of the bottler morphed into having responsibility for the keys to the wine cellar and hence – butler.

Before the Norman invasion of England, the Old English word for bottle was flasce, or flacse, and was related to the Old German flashe and Scandinavian flaske / flaska. With time, the term became flash, but word for bottle died out, and was replaced by the Anglo-Norman term. Then, a few hundred years later flash re-entered the English language as flask via a new-fangled French term for bottle – flasque. By this time though the words bottle and bottler from the Anglo-Norman had become established on this side of the channel, so flask had a close, but distinctive meaning. Which is probably as good thing as otherwise we might have had flashers lording it in the wine cellar to the discomfort of the cook and scullery-maid.

The French flasque also entered Italian, this time as fiasco (like with a lot of French words the Italians replaced the ‘l’ with an ‘I’). These words are the origin of the word we use in English for a large bottle – flagon.

Colloquially ‘far fiasco’ in Italian meant ‘to do a bottle’ i.e. to be a flop, as in a stage play that bombs. (Anecdotally the term came into use after a disastrous theatrical production of a play involving a bottle, but this has not been proven). Later a fiasco came to mean what we now understand it to mean – a total disaster. It doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to see there is a link between this meaning and our colloquial uses of the word bottle – as in ‘to bottle out’ of something / he didn’t ‘have the bottle’ to do something….

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