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The Scrivener: Lots Of Pans

...In the 1600s, we also had knee-pannes and knee-pans (knee-caps), so named because of their shape. Off we go to the doctor, we elderly arthritic persons, and announce, 'Oh doctor, my knee-panne hurts!'...

Brian Barratt brings us the delicious, delightful, delectable results of an investigation into that simple three-letter word - PAN.

Pan. What a nice short word! It’s simply a flat dish, isn’t it? As such, it was used in English 1,200–1,500 years ago. It first appeared in writing at the same time as other basic Anglo-Saxon words such as mouth, neck and shoe.

In Old English, it was also useful for naming the skull — brain-panne`(brain-pan), heaved-panne (head-pan) and heren-panne (brain-pan). The word skull came into English later, as scolle.

In the 1600s, we also had knee-pannes and knee-pans (knee-caps), so named because of their shape. Off we go to the doctor, we elderly arthritic persons, and announce, 'Oh doctor, my knee-panne hurts!'

A large, flat, round dish was a feature of the gold rushes too. Prospectors used it to pan for gold, washing traces of it out from the gravel, and so in the 1830s the noun became a verb — panning for gold.

That, in turn, led to the figurative use in ‘let’s see how things pan out’ and in the early 1900s to panning a book or a stage-show in the sense of severely criticising it. But if you’re upset by criticism, you can cheer yourself up by making a few nice pancakes in a pan, can’t you?

So far, so good. But now we diverge. To pan something with a camera comes from the word panorama. It was coined in 1796 from Greek words meaning all + see. Pan can also mean ‘all’.
A pandemic is something which affects all people over a wide area. (An epidemic, by the way, affects many people in only a specific area or community). A pantheon is a temple for all gods or a place for images of them all. There is a wonderful ancient Roman pantheon in, guess where: Rome.

Pantomime, denoting several ancient and more recent forms of entertainment, was coined from roots meaning ‘mimic all’.
Pancreas was adopted into English in the 1500s from Greek pankreas. It originally referred to sweetbreads, the edible pancreas of an animal. The literal meaning is all + flesh. It isn't clear why it was given this name. For some of us, it isn't clear why on Earth people want to eat them.

The word pantechnicon was invented in the early 1800s. It denoted a bazaar, and then a warehouse for storing furniture. It was more recently used to denote a large van for furniture removal.

Pantry? Sorry, that one is nothing to do with ‘dish’ or ‘all’. Pantry comes from Latin panis, bread, via Old French paneterie, meaning bread-room. No need for panic, though. Panic? Breadlike? No. Here’s yet another type of pan. We must move to the dark forest.

Pan was the Greek god of fields, woods, shepherds and flocks. He was a man with a goat’s horns, ears and legs. And he could be very naughty. When he moved around in the shady forest or among a crowd, he caused irrational fear — panic. But his name didn’t give rise to pandemonium.

That word was coined in 1779, from pan + demon, meaning all evil spirits. So we’re back to ‘all’, and to ancient Greece. Here’s Pandora, who was given a box. Her name means ‘all gifts’ and is ironic in view of what happened. When she couldn’t resist opening it, all the ills of the world poured forth.

Fighting the evils of Britain, police use panda cars, or pandas. They were given that name originally because of their white and blue or black markings. They were said to resemble the panda. That animal’s name doesn’t come from Old English or ancient Greek, by the way. It’s probably adapted from a Nepalese name of the animal.

I won’t pander to your curiosity by listing any more pan- words. Oh dear, there’s another one already. Pander means to give gratification, to cater to someone’s whims. In Shakespeare’s time, it was a noun meaning a pimp, someone who procured prostitutes. It was originally adapted from Latin Pandarus and Greek Pandaros. The Greek name comes from roots meaning ‘all + I flay’. Overall, he really wasn’t a very nice person to know.

That’s enough for today. Now let’s turn our pan upside down and have a little nap. Oops, sorry. Pan, nap. That's a sort of pun.

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