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Ambush, Camouflage, Conceal, Disguise...four common words in English describing something being hidden. All four originated from earlier French words...


camouflage

The word camouflage is another perfect example of a single member of a family of words which was imported into English but which left the rest of its family behind.

The French verb camoufler means to disguise something so as to make it unrecognizable, and was originally thieves’ argot. Camoufler dates from the early 1800’s, and it, itself, probably came from an earlier 1600’s word, camouflet, which was a puff of smoke or a smoke bomb, used to blow smoke (in someone’s eyes, which was used as an original form of camouflage, as a “smoke screen”).

The verb camoufler came into common usage in French during World War I when it became an important military word. Camouflage was what was used to disguise military equipment, or it was the act of disguising, and it was camouflage which was adopted directly into English as camoflage at that time. (Camouflage was even not listed in Webster’s dictionary from 1913, just before the war).

Interesting Side Note: In French, the noun camouflage is an offshoot from the verb camoufler. However, it was the noun camouflage that was initially adopted into English as camouflage, and then English turned the noun camouflage into a verb (to camouflage), thus bypassing camoufler.

Note also that in English, to camouflage can be used in a figurative sense, much as camoufler can be used in French. For example:

He was trying to camouflage (disguise) his intentions --- Il essayait de camoufler ses intentions.

Interesting, but Unimportant, Note: The older French noun camouflet has additional unrelated meanings. During the time when sappers would attempt to dig a tunnel under the walls of a fortress to blow it up, un camouflet was a countering tunnel, built to approach the enemy’s tunnel, with the aim of blowing it up and destroying it before it got close to your walls. And, in casual language, un camouflet can also mean a snub, a put down, or an affront.

Il m’a infligé un camouflet --- He snubbed me or put me down (depending on context).


Saul
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