Saturday, 14 January 2017

Baize, and Other Stuff

Talking with my son about the finer points of baize tonight got me thinking about the word. He was a little surprised that I knew the correct name for the felt-like fabric used on billiard and poker tables. But then he remembered he was talking to his mother, who knows lots of random facts: here are a few more!

I researched the origin of the word baize. Originally a coarse woollen cloth, it was chosen for its use on playing surfaces because the coarseness causes a desirable friction. There are different grades, depending on the speed at which you wish to play. While today baize is almost always green, originally it came in brown. The name baize comes from the French adjective meaning bay-coloured.

In English we still use the word bay to describe a type of brown horse. Although, as my Icelandic friend says: there are lots of different types of brown in horses. I think she was shocked when I described her horse as "brown" and I am sure  Icelandic has a much richer vocabulary in describing colours of horses than English. Something to do with the importance of the horse within the culture. Even so, my research shows English has more horse colour names than I gave it credit.

Me and a horsey friend in Iceland 2015

A bay horse is generally reddish brown, but it must have black points: dark mane, and ear and leg edges. Despite the word bay originating from the Latin word badius for chestnut or reddish brown, a chestnut horse is not a bay: a chestnut has no dark points. For further reading about Icelandic culture, horses and the meaning of life, check out "A Good Horse has no Colour"

recommended reading
It makes me wonder about the phrase "brown as a berry" and whether the berry referenced is the Chestnut... but more on that another day.

Back to that green cloth: baize was also traditionally tacked to the door leading to the servants quarters in grand houses. It helped to deaden the noise: an type of soundproofing. It gave rise to the phrase "green baize door" to denote domestic service.

I hope that is not the green door they are referring to in this song: if so, the staff are going to be in trouble when the master gets home! This is the original version of a song I remember from the 80's.

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