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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) an ancestral history or account, or a record of a person or animal’s lineage

a family tree showing the ancestry of french kings

Archery. Tapestry weaving. Playing the lute. Invading England. There were all kinds of things you could do to pass the time in medieval France.

Another popular pastime was genealogy, the study of heritage and descent. Seemingly, the nobility of the day liked nothing more than drawing elaborate tree diagrams to boast both in print and in picture of their family’s proud French heritage.

Some of these diagrams comprised little more than lists of names connected by a series of hand-drawn strokes and lines. Others, like the one above, were more involved and more detailed. And some were even drawn as actual trees. But no matter how they were put together, there was something about the lines on these genealogical diagrams—long, flat and broad, with shorter vertical strokes linking one generation to the next—that reminded the writers and artists who produced them of birds’ feet. And, in particular, of cranes’ feet.

Today, in modern French, “crane’s feet” is pieds de grues. But back in the eleventh century, it would have been something more like pée de grue. And if that particular snippet of obscure medieval French sounds even slightly familiar, then it’s because pée de grue eventually morphed into our word pedigree—namely, the traceable ancestry or descent of something.

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