Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I always, always, always get confused in Vo Vietnam, when they tell us to "laissez vos talons au sol", for example.

In English, talon means first and foremost the claws of a raptor, but it can be used figuratively for the grasping fingers of a greedy archmage as well (I might be slightly influenced by my favourite genre here). This, however, is far removed from the origin of the word - in fact, the French talon (heel) is much closer to the original meaning of the latin root  talus, i.e. ankle.  Since I know the instructors are talking about our feet, I immediatly assume talon->fingers->toes, and get it wrong (incidentally, the toes are called orteilles in French, a word that is much too long and onomatopoaeic unpleasing).

To clear up the confusion, I turned to my new favourite resource, the Oxford English Dictionary (oh sweet manna of definitions, oh ambrosia of etymology - thank you EPFL for buying access!), which says about the english talon:

talon, n.

  I. 1. a. The ‘heel’ or hinder part of the foot of certain quadrupeds, as swine and deer, or of the hoof of a horse. Obs. 

  b. The hallux or hinder claw of a bird. Obs. 

  2. pl. The claws (or less usually in sing. any claw) of a bird or beast. a. spec. The powerful claws of a bird of prey, or of a dragon, griffin, etc. 

  b. The claws (or in sing. any claw) of a wild beast, of an insect, etc. 

  c. Allusively applied to the grasping fingers or hands of human beings. (Cf. CLAW.)

[ME. a. OF. talon heel of a man, or of a shoe, hinder part of the foot of a quadruped = Pr. talo, Sp. talon, Pg. talo, It. talone heel, heel-piece:late pop. L. or Com. Romanic talo, talon-em heel, deriv. form of talus ankle. With the forms talant, talent, cf. ancient, margent, parchment, peasant, tyrant, etc.: see -ANT3. The sense-development shows the stages: ankle; heel of man (of a shoe, etc.); heel or hinder part of the foot of a beast; hinder claw of a bird of prey; any claw (usually in pl. the claws) of a bird, a dragon, an ungulate beast, an insect, etc. The extension to a bird of prey, and subsequent stages, are peculiar to English.] 

Well, there you go. Ankle -> heel -> hindclaw -> raptor claw -> any claw -> fingers. Obvious.

For completeness sake here the french definition of the Larousse (to which the EPFL also provides access. Oh joy, oh... etc.)

talon:nom masculin

(latin populaire talo, -onis, du latin classique talus)

Partie postérieure et inférieure du pied de l'homme, dont le squelette est le calcanéum.

Support placé sous l'emboîtage pour donner à une chaussure son aplomb : Chaussures à talons hauts.

Partie d'un bas, d'un collant, d'une chaussette qui correspond au talon : Bas à talons renforcés.

Extrémité inférieure ou postérieure de certains objets : Le talon d'un ski.

Extrémité d'un aliment qu'on débite en tranches : Talon de jambon.

Partie non détachable d'une feuille de carnet à souches, d'un chéquier.

Être, marcher sur les talons de quelqu'un, le suivre de très près ; l'imiter.

Le talon d'Achille, la seule partie vulnérable de son corps ; le point faible de quelqu'un.

Tourner, montrer les talons, s'enfuir.

There you have it. The point? There is supposed to be a point to my blog-entries?

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