Wednesday 11th May 2016: Is Fisog/Fizog a corruption of the French visage? and Cambus associated with Chambois?

Some of these answers I bash out from my own opinions. Some I research to back up my ideas. Some I start to write, research, and find out I am TOTALLY WRONG.

I was all set to write that, yes, fisog is the same as visage, comes from the Latin visus, through French to Scots, and the inclusion of fizzog in Scots is emblematic of the close connection that Scots had with French in the late medieval period.

Turns out that was ALL MADE UP.

Fisog/fizog/fizzog/phisog/phizog seems to be an abbreviation of physiognomywhich was first the study of appearance, or specifically, ‘The study of the features of the face, or of the form of the body generally, as being supposedly indicative of character; the art of judging character from such study.’ This later becomes ‘A person’s facial features or expression (originally freq. considered as indicative of the mind and character); the face, the countenance.’ And the physio- part of it comes from Greek, meaning ‘nature, natural, physical’.

That’s not all!

In the OED the listing isn’t even mentioned as being Scots. And the word isn’t in the Concise Scots Dictionary. That’s right. It’s just ‘humourous colloq‘ and has been quoted since the early 19th century in Standard English texts. In the OED’s quotations showing usage, the writers have often put the word in italics, to show distance, or the acknowledgement of informality. Fizzog seems to be the sort of thing that Bertie Wooster might say, ‘Nobby’s fizzog had a rummy sort of air about it as she oozed into the library in the pm.’

I don’t know what to tell you. Sometimes Scots maintains words which have died out south of the border, maybe because of Scots’s small-c conservatism. ‘Okay dokey’, for example, lives on in Scots in a way that might seem like a fifties RAF movie to a Standard English speaker. I dunno. I’m speculating. I’m still wracked with shock. There is a close connection between Scots and French, one that will no doubt come up again in this blog.

As for Cambus – I think that the writer is maybe referring to Cambus as in Cambuslang. As for Chambois, I’m not sure if they mean the French word ‘chamois‘ meaning fawn (as in chamois/shammy leather) or chambouis meaning dirty grease. However, it seems that cambus of Cambuslang is neither. It has had various suggested meanings over the years, but the most recent is from Iain Mac an Tàilleir in his collection of Gaelic placenames for the Scottish government which you can read here. In that collection Cambuslang is listed as  ‘”River bend of ships”, from Camas Long. This was the furthest point up the Clyde navigable by large vessels.’

I’m going to have to go and come to terms with fizzog.

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