Language and ammunition terms- French, Latin etc origins

Doc AV, interesting comparison of language terms. Where did the English come up with the ca. 1400-1500 terms for artillery such as calvurn, bastard, demi bastard etc. for sizes of the bores?


You have to remember that after 1066 the “English” language was full of Norman French and the King and the Nobility spoke only French.
This remained the case for several centuries and the two languages are closer than they might at first appear. This is particularly the case in matters of law and warefare.

I like France, until they were hit recently with European firearms legislation France always had a wonderfully relaxed and unconcerned attitude to guns in general and their laws reflected the fact.

They had none of the tensions and political point scoring that has blighted the issue in UK and USA. Guns were simply not seen as a problem.

Walk through a French town carrying a shotgun and everyone would just smile at you and wish you “Bon Chasse”

True, French is a Romance language, and a lot of terms in Ordnance in French are directly Latin derived, but a lot of the more “Gunpowder specific” terms have come from Italian and Arabic; the Italian of course, is also “Latin derived” but a lot of what seems “latin” in origin, is actually “Gaulish” itself (absorbed by the Romans as “their own”) The “Gauls” stretched from what is now eastern Spain to North Eastern Italy, near present day Slovenia; and north into present day Switzerland and the Low Countries…even the British Isles were considered “Gaulish” in language and customs, until the Romans found that they could be distinguished into a subgroup called the “Britanni” for Political reasons.
Caeser’s book begins “all Gaul is divided into three parts…” ( Gallia in partes tres divisa est).

As to the effect Norman French had on Anglo-Saxon English, well, the victor rules, so they say, and by introducing this version of French (itself peppered with borrowings from the Normans’ original homeland, Norway etc,) helped expand what would become modern English of Shakespeare’s day.
And being the language of the Nobles, the law courts, and the royal court, soon saw the “new” words for Warfare related items being borrowed direct from the French ( courtesy of the 100 years war (1300-1400s, Crecy, Agincourt, Joan of Arc etc) saw the introduction of first Bombards, then “hand-gonnes” and by the early 1500s, the arquebus and a variety of other light and heavy ordnance.

As to the mentioned “culver”, “bastard,” and “demi-bastard”…the words are derived from Norman terms, bastard in English is the French"batard" (circonflex on the first “a”, signifying the lost of the “s” from the original Latin; and the pre-fix demi signifies “half” as in half size or capacity.

Culver (culverin, caliver, etc) is a bit more difficult, but is though to be a poor adaptation of the Arabo-Italian Calibre.

As to “cartoccio” ( a small paper cone or packet) the derivation of this is the same as “cartuccia” (cartridge) and the original “carta”…Italian has a wonderful way of creating diminuitives and functional descriptives by adding “endings” to the stem word ( “cartaccia”…scrap paper, or “gutter press”; “cartina”–a small paper, or a map; “cartone” originally, a large design on paper, used by artists to “dust outline” a wall fresco…( read about Michelangelo) the tough paper was then used to make parcels and wrapping, and the term extended to kraft paper, which was used to make “cartons” (boxes of multi-layer corrugated “cartone”).

Doc AV
AV Ballistics

Hi Doc,as you know I live in north east Italy,but I have never known the “gaulish” term.How do you translate it in Italian?
We speak the Friulano dialect which is “Ladin”,derived from the bastardized Latin variation spoken here during the Roman occupation

This is a cool example of the Friulano speech.Star trek translated in Friulano!

Caro Pivi,
The term “Gaulish” is best translated into Italian as “Gallico” or in in the English translation of Caeser’s work, “Gallic” ( as in "De Bello Gallico).

The term I have used covers the wide variety of language variations spoken by the Celtic Gauls, as described by Caesar, with the area know as “Gallia” comprising TransPadania and CisPadania ( the other side and this side of the Po river; the border of Gallia and Italia being the Rubicon river ( “iacta alea est”–il dado e’ tratto). Gallia Narbonensis ( now Provence in southern France); other parts of “Gallia” comprised the territory of the Helvetii ( present-day western Switzerland, ( the French Cantons,) and of course, Central and Northern France, Belgium etc, named after their dominant Celtic tribes (Parisii, Belgae, etc.)

Ladino and “Friulan” are later, post-Roman developments, with the influence of the Tribes from the Danube area ( “Germanii”) which Emperor Marcus Aurelius defeated at Vindobona about 180 AD ( the big battle in “Gladiator”)

The “Celts” as an ethnic grouping, stretched in a band from the Pyrenees, across Switzerland and Northern Italy, to the Danube and down to the Black Sea, co-existing with the Romans, until militarily subjugated by Rome over a period of some 300 years.

I think we have wandered far enough from the original theme of this thread, “Origin of Ordnance terminology” in linguistic terms…let’s get back to Cartridges…Cartouches…Cartuccie…Cartuchos…Cartuchoes…Patronen…Patronnyi…Fisek… Eles Toltenyi, etc.etc.etc

Doc AV
AV Ballistics.