December 5, 2013

Case File #013.12.05: PAVILION

The word pavilion came to English via the Old French paveillon, which meant “tent” but was sometimes used to mean “butterfly,” and the French itself came from the Latin papilio, which meant “butterfly” in the classical era but came to mean “tent” in the era of Medieval Latin. (According to some etymologists and linguists, the use of a word meaning “butterfly” in reference to a tent was probably meant as an allusion to the way that some tents resemble the unfurled wings of butterflies and moths.) When English speakers borrowed the French in the late twelfth century, they Anglicized it to pavilun—it was sometimes spelled pavilloun or pavillioun—and initially used it to mean “a large elaborate tent or awning.” Then around 1300, the word's form changed to the now familiar pavilion, and at about the same time, it took on the additional noun sense of “a group of related structures forming a building complex.” The verb sense of “to furnish or cover with or as if with a pavilion” didn't appear until the end of the fourteenth century, though, and the now common noun sense of “a light and sometimes temporary roofed structure used at parks or entertainment facilities” is an even later addition, first coming into use circa 1680.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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