Monday, April 16, 2007

Cavort v. Frolic

And since I am stuck in the airport, waiting for my flight, I will engage in a few more words.

Well, cavort just conjures images of prancing, which in turn raised frolic as an almost natural counterpart. I'll talk about frolic v. detour later.

Cavort has a questionable etymology, allegedly from Latin "cur(vare)" (curved) and "volvere" (turn or roll) through old French "vault" (arch), it became a curved leap, and then somehow, something someone would do when leaping from a horse, likely because c. 1565, this became a term in dressage (curvet for "little curve") for a leap a horse would do from a rearing position springing its hind legs and descending onto its front legs. Obviously, someone then either thought that the dismount was as graceful as the horse's leap, or that the rider was acting like a horse (or both), and c. 1790 the American term "cavort" was born of a "cavault", a curved leap, or the high spirited prancing of the horse. One step further and we get "lively and boisterous fun" likely from how much "fun" we think the horse is having when unnaturally jumping like that (or maybe the audience reaction). Whew.

Now, in practice, cavort has a broader usage. Of course, we talk about children cavorting in the meadow. That's harmless and innocent. Dolphins cavorting around the ship. Also harmless and innocent. And then cavorting with an colleague. hehehe. And therein lay the overtones of "making merry" more than the literal "leaping". Do I need to spell it out?

Back to innocence. Frolic has nothing to do with a horse, but comes from the German "frolich" for happy, ironically enough, coined at around the same time as the dressage term of curvet (c. 1538). Frolic just means happy, but through usage has also come to mean how one acts when one is just so happy, as in to be playful, prone to merrymaking, and possibly the occasional prank. How "happy" became "prank", I don't even want to contemplate, unless we keep it at the innocence of hiding books and tapping the wrong shoulder, and nothing malevolent. Think giddy, maybe even a touch loopy, and that's the level of prank that is really at issue. No one would ever say the frolicking children put tacks on the teacher's chair. But the frolicking children would cavort in the meadow. So compared to cavort, frolic just means the state of happiness which may be exhibited in some manner, while cavort means the leaping, regardless of the happiness, although the happiness may be implied by the fact of the leaping (or the fact of the proper type of leaping). I don't think the dolphins cavorted because they were intrinsically happy, but because the ship gave them a good draft to "play" in. While, his normal morning frolic through the office was clouded by the imminent IRS audit.

Well, my plane is going to board shortly, and thus I must abandon this frolic through wotd in favor of my detour perhaps to my destination, weather permitting. Just a quick foreshadowing.... ;-)

1 comment:

Cara said...

"Cavorting with co-workers" sounds like "consorting with co-workers" so I dragged along the connotations of consorting with cavorting, which is probably not a sound linguistic basis for meaning.