Word of the Week (161): BEDEGUAR (probability 9582), by David Sutton

I find BEDEGUAR a rather beautiful word, though the thing it describes is perhaps interesting rather than beautiful: a soft spongy gall formed on the branches of the sweetbrier and other roses, caused by the larva of a small wasp. When I was a child we called these Robin's pincushions, where Robin refers to the folkloric spirit of the English countryside, Robin Goodfellow. The word comes to us through French from Arabic badawar, wind-brought.

Only a few other types of gall have vernacular names. We have the GALLNUT or NUTGALL, a round gall produced on the leaves and shoots of various species of the oak tree, and the CUPGALL, another oak tree gall, this time cup-shaped. The GALLNUT does give its name to a specific acid, GALLIC acid, and also more indirectly to ELLAGIC acid, which takes its name from the French for gall, i.e. galle, spelt backwards.

And there is one more: TACAHOUT, a kind of gall found on the tamarisk, also a source of gallic acid. The name is Berber in origin. Why this particular gall should be distinguished by so exotic a nomenclatural provenance I have been unable to ascertain. But don't confuse it with RACAHOUT (or RACCAHOUT) which is acorn meal, used by the Arabs as a substitute for chocolate, and also as a beverage for invalids.


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