Tuesday May 9, 2006

Fencing Etymologies

Have you ever picked up a new vocabulary word in conversation, guessing its meaning purely from context, and then discovered later that you guessed completely wrong?  Stop looking at me that way, you know you have.  (Is there a name for the phenomenon?)  I've had this happen to me with two separate bits of terminology associated with modern sport fencing: homologated and maraging.

Let's see if you make the same sorts of guesses I did about the meanings of these words.  Via Google, here are some phrases and sentences containing the word homologated:

  • FIE labelled 800 Newton homologated jacket
  • FIE labelled 800 Newton homologated pants
  • The best masks have FIE homologated bibs to protect the throat...
  • FIE homologated jackets, britches, and masks are ideal, as they are made with puncture-resistant fabrics such as kevlar

A little help: the FIE is the Federation Internationale d'Escrime, the international regulating body for the sport.  800 Newtons is the maximum amount of force those pieces of protective clothing are supposed to protect against (because blades break—but more on that later).

So, what do you think it means?  I figured it was something like 'strengthened' or 'reinforced'.  Wrong!

ho·mol·o·gate: To approve, especially to confirm officially.

(From Medieval Latin homologāre, homologāt-, from Greek homologein, 'to agree', from homologos, 'agreeing')

I had it completely wrong, but in my defense, the contexts where the word gets used really do make it sound like it's a property of the clothing rather than an action taken by the FIE—notice above how it reads like it's an "FIE labelled" jacket that also happens to be "homologated".  I'm not the only one who makes this mistake, either.  In a recent thread on fencing.net about pulling newbie fencers' legs, somebody suggested trying to sell them "homologation spray" to get their equipment ready for tournaments.  Cruel, and therefore funny.

The other word I was confused about was maraging, which is used to describe competition-approved blades (and which recently had its 15 minutes of fame, by the way, because it's apparently used in making uranium-enriching centrifuges).  Some fencing-related contexts:

  • Introduced in the 1980s, maraging blades are forged from an alloy of tempered steel that incorporates iron, nickel and titanium.
  • In the sport of fencing, blades used in competitions...are made with maraging steel
  • electric weapon/s (foil/epee/sabre) with non-maraging blades
  • Generally, maraging blades last up to ten times longer than non-maraging blades

I never really had a clear idea of what maraging meant, but I again assumed that it had something to do with the durability of the blade.  Some fencers will tell you (apparently incorrectly) that a maraging blade will break cleanly, leaving a flat end rather than sharp one, thus lowering the chance of a puncture wound.  So, I just had a vague idea it had something to do with the physical characteristics of the blade.

I had a clearer idea, though, (or so I thought) of the word's origin.  Fencers in these parts pronounce the word as if it were the present participle of mirage, and the [ʒ] sound led me to think that it, like much fencing terminology, came from French.  The fact that the FIE's primary working language is French (the organization is based in Switzerland) made this seem all the more plausible—in response to the tragic death of Vladimir Smirnov, I thought, the FIE must have (in an act of homologation!) pronounced that all blades should marage, non?

In a word, non.  The word maraging actually refers to steel subjected to a particular heat treatment process to greatly increase its hardness.  It's derived from the words martensite (a kind of crystalline mineral that forms during the process) and aging, so it's pronounced like the English words mar and aging.  Live and learn.

Having dug up this tidbit of information, I've embarked on a one-man crusade in which I ostentatiously over-pronounce maraging in front of other fencers.  I do this in the hope that they'll try to correct me, because that will afford me the opportunity to play the know-it-all—surely one of life's greatest pleasures.  Sweet, sweet pedantry...

[Now playing: "You Better Be Doubtful" by Housemartins]

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
05:17 AM in Fencing , Linguistics | Submit: | Links:

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» HOMOLOGATED MARAGING. from languagehat.com
It's always fun to make guesses about unfamiliar words. The Tensor has a post on this very subject, introducing "two separate bits of terminology associated with modern sport fencing: homologated and maraging." If you already know these words, you're p... [Read More]

Tracked on May 9, 2006 7:45:10 AM

» HOMOLOGATED MARAGING. from languagehat.com
It's always fun to make guesses about unfamiliar words. The Tensor has a post on this very subject, introducing "two separate bits of terminology associated with modern sport fencing: homologated and maraging." If you already know these words, you're p... [Read More]

Tracked on May 19, 2006 5:05:34 AM

» HOMOLOGATED MARAGING. from languagehat.com
It's always fun to make guesses about unfamiliar words. The Tensor has a post on this very subject, introducing "two separate bits of terminology associated with modern sport fencing: homologated and maraging." If you already know these words, you're p... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 16, 2006 8:10:28 AM

Comments

"Have you ever picked up a new vocabulary word in conversation, guessing its meaning purely from context, and then discovered later that you guessed completely wrong? Stop looking at me that way, you know you have. (Is there a name for the phenomenon?)"

Misconstrue?

Posted by: Steve at May 9, 2006 6:44:47 AM

Why isn't it maraged?

Posted by: AJ at May 9, 2006 7:00:39 AM

It is, according to the OED:

maraged, a.
Of steel: strengthened by maraging. Of a quality: produced or reinforced by maraging.
1961 Inco Nickel Topics 14 IV. 8/1 This development paves the way for a new family of high-strength ‘Mar-aged’ steels with advanced engineering design possibilities. 1962 Trans. Amer. Soc. Metals 55 61/2 Maraged hardness increased linerly [sic] as the product, cobalt times molybdenum, increased. 1968 R. KUMAR Physical Metall. Iron & Steel xi. 292 Maraged steel is hardened without as much sacrifice of ductility.

Posted by: language hat at May 9, 2006 7:28:38 AM

Misconstrue is good, but I think it's a more general word than was wanted here. I propose dysglark.

Posted by: Q. Pheevr at May 9, 2006 8:26:12 AM

Why isn't it maraged?
It is, according to the OED

That form may exist, but it's almost never used in fencing contexts. Google says:

fencing maraged: 31 ghits
fencing maraging: 12,300 ghits

Posted by: The Tensor at May 9, 2006 1:30:26 PM

Dysglark is ok, but dysgrok would be better.

Otherwise if you want a neologism, how about misconstrapolate?

Posted by: Steve at May 9, 2006 2:25:43 PM

Very curious.

Posted by: language hat at May 9, 2006 2:26:11 PM

Misunderstand?

Misinterpret?

Misinterpolate?

Posted by: Owlmirror at May 10, 2006 6:45:35 PM

Homologate is known to NASCAR as well as sports car racing fans (which there are probably more of than fencing fans in the US). For eample:
"Dodge manufactured 392 of these cars (1969 Charger 500) for street use in order to homologate the Charger 500 for racing purposes. Race-prepared 500s went on to claim 19 NASCAR wins, but specially designed Ford Torinos and Mercury Cyclones won 30."
In that sport it means that the factory has made enough of them to qualify them as "stock".

Posted by: Richard at May 11, 2006 9:02:35 AM

According to Wikipedia entries, FIE did indeed decree that certain fencing blades must be made of maraging steel (d'acier maragé, peut-être?) and it did happen shortly after Smirnov's death. Maraging steel is hard and very heat-resistant... and oddly for a sword blade doesn't hold an edge well at all. But the property that makes maraging steel useful in fencing blades is its very high resistance to crack propagation. The blades just don't break easily.

Posted by: Jonathan at May 12, 2006 9:44:15 AM

Yes, actually, I have had that same issue:

http://wiki.firespeaker.org/JNW's_English#Words_I_never_got

In my case, "immaculate", "impeccable", and "trivial" I always interpreted as the opposite of what they mean, probably because of sarcasm. To this day, I'm not completely sure about their meanings, depending on the context they're used in.

Posted by: firespeaker at May 22, 2006 12:32:53 PM

::::Why isn't it maraged?

Because Maraging is a Portmanteau word, comprised of Martensitic and Aging.

Posted by: dov at Feb 24, 2010 9:45:49 AM