Canteen

Writing about the word magazine yesterday made me think of another word with a similar range of meanings: canteen.

As in, a communal place to eat, but also a small container for holding water. Interestingly enough, not only do magazine and canteen have vaguely similar meanings (a small container), but they also share similar origins.

Canteen originally referred to a military storeroom, similar to magazine. This meaning became extended to a room for having refreshements in a military setting, which in turn came to be used to refer to such a room in more general contexts (workplaces, schools etc).

A canteen for carrying water is a variation on this same basic idea, as the canteen is used for storing water, like a magazine stores bullets.

These different uses of canteen can all be traced back to the Latin word canto, meaning corner (this is where many modern words come from, such as canton, best know in terms of the different cantons of Switzerland).

The Latin canto developed into the diminutive Italian cantina (wine cellar). You might now be thinking that cantina is a Spanish word, referring perhaps to a bar or restaurant. And it is, but it’s a loanword from Italian. It entered Spanish during the Renaissance period, and nowadays in Spain refers to a bar in a train station or near workplaces, while in Mexico it refers to a bar normally only frequented by men.

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