PÔ / pincers, crab claw, nipper

photo source: wikimedia

“, s.f., pronounced [pɑ:ʊ̯] 🔊, is the Sarkese word for “pincers”, “crab claw” or “nipper” in the meaning of jointed claws or pincers of crustaceans, insects etc. It should be noted that in Sarkese, like in many other languages, but unlike in English, we strictly distinguish between the two main different types of animal claws depending on whether the claw is in fact a sole nail, known as “grin”, as mammals or birds have, or two jointed pincers, “pô”, which are reserved for crustaceans and other non-mammals with similar physiology. Moreover, within the concept of “pô”, the old fishermen of Sark used to distinguish subtypes of claws/pincers, e.g. “grapîn” etc. The Sarkese “pô” is directly related to the English word “paw” via the shared Anglo-Norman heritage, with Sarkese being probably the only Norman language to conserve the word in its original form. It should also be noted, that the word for “pincers”, the tool, is “pinchéte” in Sarkese.

origin: Gallo-Romance (obscure) / first recorded for Sarkese: 2018 (MN) / current status in the 21st century: fully preserved, in use

“pô” is a feminine invariable countable noun (a she-word that does not change in plural and may be counted), meaning we say “une pô”, in singular, and “dê pô”, in plural, with no change in how we write or pronounce the word. The pronunciation is regular, though standardly variable as in the case of any word with a final ‘ô’, meaning it regularly changes depending on whether it is stressed or not, from a long standard [ɑ:ʊ̯] to a reduced short [ɔʊ̯].

On the origin

The Sarkese “pô” is directly related to the English word “paw”, with both words originating in one same Old Norman word, “powe” or “poe” etc., which used to mean “paw”, “animal foot” or “claw” and corresponds to similar old Gallo-Romance forms, descended form the Latin “pauta”, meaning “paw”.

Interestingly though, while “paw” in English is only a loan word from Old Norman, it preserved, unlike its counterpart in Sarkese, the original primary meaning of the Old Norman word, “paw”, while loosing the secondary meaning of “claw/pincers”. By contrast, the Sarkese “pô”, despite being a direct descendant of the Norman “powe”, lost the primary meaning of “paw” completely, with the secondary meaning “claw/pincers” having become the sole meaning of the word in today’s Sark Norman.

At the same time, Sarkese seems to be not only the last Norman language to conserve the word “powe/poe” in its original form, though with restricted meaning, but also one of the very few languages in the North of France, in which common Gallo-Romance equivalents once existed and survived until today. The only comparable form known to us today is found, as one would expect, in Jersey Norman, in which the word, however, has been preserved only in its diminutive form “pouette”, but retained the meaning of “claw/pincers” as in Sarkese. In Mainland Normandy and other parts of Northern France, however, “poe” disappeared, perhaps already by the 15th century, having been replaced with “patte”. In Modern French for example, it has been conserved only in a derived form “empoté”, “clumsy”.

Finally, as for the origin of the Old Norman and Gallo-Romance “powe/poe”, meaning both “paw” or “claw”, it originates directly from the Vulgar Latin “pauta”, “paw”, which has been preserved in the same meaning until today in the Occitan “pauta”, the Catalan “pota” or the Galician “pouta”. The exact origin of the Latin “pauta”, the precursor to our “pô” and the English “paw”, has, nonetheless, been a complete mystery, especially with regard to its historic use, limited to the Gaul and Northern Hispania. Some suggest a pre-Romance, or even pre-Celtic origin, while some claim it was introduced to the area via a Germanic input.

Whatever is the origin of the Latin “pauta”, English and Sarkese share, via the common Anglo-Norman heritage, a very interesting ancient Gallo-Romance word which descended from it. Even though originally with two meanings of “paw” and “claw”, in the two languages, the respective successor words retained only one of the two meanings – “paw” in English and “pincers/claw” in Sarkese.


The word “pô” appears in the only preserved excerpt from the oldest known Sarkese theater play, which was performed in the 70s of the 20th century at the Sark School by the Sarkese children. The excerpt, which was first recorded in 2018 and saved for the future thanks to Philip Perrée who had performed in the play as a back then pupil, contains the following sentence: “J’ět frapé la pô du chancre.“, meaning “I have hit the brown crab’s claw.


SNLCP audio archives: 181205E, 230911E, 240105E

Citation: NEUDÖRFL, Martin. /pincers. In: Sark Norman Dictionary Online [on-line]. Published: 06. 01. 2024. https://www.bonjhur.net/sndo-vocab-po

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