etymological twins: ‘clock’ – ‘cloak’

cloak: twin roses designs



The nouns clock and cloak are doublets, or etymological twins: they are of the same derivation but have different forms and meanings. Despite the notion of ‘two’ implied by doublet, the term is also applied to sets of more than two words. In this case, cloche, a borrowing from French, must be added to clock and cloak—cf. also turban – tulip, fawn – fetus, pastichepastis and lobster – locust.


The word clock goes back to Middle English forms such as clok and clokke, either from Middle Dutch clocke or from Old and Middle Northern French cloke, cloque, corresponding to Central French cloche. All of these nouns originally denoted a bell and they are, directly or not, from Late Latin cloc(c)a, of same meaning and ultimately of Celtic origin. This word was probably echoic, imitating the rattling made by the early handbells of sheet-iron and quadrilateral shape, rather than the ringing of the cast circular bell of later date. Found as Church word in Merovingian Latin, Celtic and Germanic since about the 8th century, its diffusion in northern and western Europe was originally due to the early Irish missionaries. It is not found in Spanish and Italian, where campana is the word for bell.

English already had the word bell in regular use, so that clock was probably introduced either with striking clocks, or at least with bells on which the hours were mechanically struck. In the mere sense of bell, clock is not strongly evidenced in Middle English.

– Germanic languages: The modern Dutch word is klok and means bell and clock. German Glocke means bell. Norwegian and Danish klokke and Swedish klocka mean bell and clock.

– Celtic languages: Welsh cloch, Irish Gaelic clog, Scottish Gaelic clag, Cornish klogh and Breton kloc’h mean bell.


The Old and Middle Northern French cloque and the Central French cloche descend directly from Late Latin cloc(c)a, and originally meant bell. This sense gave rise to that of loose outer garment worn by travellers of both sexes over their other clothes, from its ‘bell’ shape. Hence the English noun cloak, which appeared in Middle English as cloke.

This meaning is now obsolete in French, the main current significations of cloche being bell, cheese cover, dish cover and small translucent cover for protecting or forcing outdoor plants (English borrowed cloche in this sense in the late 19th century). French also uses this word in compounds such as jupe cloche, bell-shaped skirt, and chapeau cloche, bell-shaped hat, adapted into English as cloche (hat) in the early 20th century.

The French form cloque now only means blister (on the skin) and leaf curl, a plant condition distinguished by the presence of curling leaves. In the popular idiom être en cloque (corresponding to the standard expression être enceinteto be pregnant), cloque means hump. The same image is found in another popular expression, avoir un polichinelle dans le tiroir/sous le tablier, literally to have a Punchinello in the drawer/under the apron.

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