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Question

In his diaries documenting his time in Japan, Richard Cocks mentions barsos frequently, apparently meaning some kind of liquid containing vessel (mostly in reference to [gifts of] alcohol, but occasionally vinagre and other liquids). This word unusually is not included in the footnotes explaining almost every foreign term that he uses (mostly Japanese, with a few Portuguese and Spanish).

Does anyone know the etymology of this word?

Example usage:

October 28.—Goresanos wife brought her doughter of 20 daies ould to the English howse, with a present of a barsoe of wyne, figges, and oringes, desiring a name to be given her, which was per consent Elizabeth.


Note: In his diaries, wine is described as also coming in bottel, barica/barrico, barell/barrill/barille, butt and jarr. Specifically Spanish wine is never described as coming in barsos (it is most commonly described as coming in bottells, and occasionally in barica/barricos, barrels or butts). This might suggest that barsos weren't European made vessels, and were a kind encountered in Japan?


Data from diaries:

enter image description here

5
  • 1
    The contexts in which barsos appears (which are almost always part of a visiting gift) makes it seem more like a bottle than a barrel in size. – kimchi lover May 27 '18 at 23:13
  • It often seems to be a gift of wine and food, so may just mean a standardised gift – Henry May 28 '18 at 0:53
  • 2
    Isn't there a Japanese SE? If so you might want to try your luck there. – Denis de Bernardy May 31 '18 at 12:02
  • What are the contents called "tay barso"? Identifying them might yet reveal the source of the term. – Aaron Brick Dec 10 '19 at 5:36
  • @AaronBrick I assumed tay = tea – iacob Dec 10 '19 at 7:08
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The meaning of "barso" is clearer than its origin. Samuli Kaislaniemi analyzed it in his PhD thesis Reconstructing Merchant Multilingualism : Lexical Studies of Early English East India Company Correspondence, p. 256:

RC uses barso in the sense 'little barrel' (cf. Farrington 1991:805). Etymology uncertain; does not appear in PD It., Pt., or Sp. (cf. barrillo, barrilejo); the phonology is not Japanese. Possibly a pseudo-Romance word arising from playful use of language?

In his diary, RC also used barica [...]; Hill (1993) defines barrico as 'keg' (s.v.). The measures for barsos and "greate barelles" letters [sic] (Farrington 1991:803-805) reveal that a barso held c. 10 litres.

This rare word does not appear at all in Merchants of Innovation: The Languages of Traders. Perhaps Cocks invented it.

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    Thanks for this - I'd stumbled upon Kaislaniemi before, but when I last tried to research this topic (about a year ago) this thesis hadn't yet been published. – iacob Jun 2 '18 at 14:33
  • Kaislaniemi has found the answer (from medieval Portuguese barça "small barrel"): history.stackexchange.com/a/63643/28559 – iacob Apr 20 at 13:52
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My immediate assumption was that it was an anglicisation of Spanish vaso (pronounced /'baso/), meaning 'cup/glass/drinking vessel', since he also anglicises Spanish recado (message) as recardo:

“Copendale at Miaco not very well, and that he bringeth recardo from themperour to set Damian and Jno. de Lievana free.”

Further evidence that it may be Spanish in origin is that he similarly excludes the Spanish word barica/barrico from his section “Some Japanese and other foreign words and terms”, presumably because he assumed such words would be intelligible to his audience.


Sources:

 • Diary of Richard Cocks Vol. I, Cape-Merchant in the English Factory in Japan 1615-1622, with Correspondence
 • Diary of Richard Cocks Vol. II, Cape-Merchant in the English Factory in Japan 1615-1622, with Correspondence

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Barso is from medieval Portuguese barça meaning "small barrel":

Second word: “xxij barsos of singe”

The other word I couldn’t find the root of occurs in the same letters as “singe”: where “singe” is the liquid, “barsos” are the containers. It’s quite clear from the context that a “barso” is a small barrel – from other sources it’s possible to determine that a “barso” holds c.10 litres. But the etymology evaded me: I couldn’t find “barso” in any form in Present-Day Portuguese or Spanish dictionaries, and despite the apparent connection to other words meaning ‘cask’ such as barrel, but also barrillo, barillejo, and barrico, the lack of evidence made me put my hands up.

Once again, Yoshida (1993: 59) comes to the rescue. On the same page as discussed above, his list continues to section B, 酒屋, 酒造道具, 製造工程など ‘sake shop/brewery, sake production tools, manufacturing process etc’. And number 9 in this list is as follows:

enter image description here

In English:

(9) saka-oke (saca uoqe) a container for sake, like an oke [barrel] or a taru [cask] (barça).

...

In fine, then: it seems quite evident that barça was a common Portuguese word for a (small) barrel or a cask.

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