Archive for Names

Galbraith: the secret clue

Patrick Juola's guest post on identifying the authorship of The Cuckoo's Calling (now number 1 in the Amazon hardback bestseller list) is fascinating. But I seem to be the only person in the world who picked up the secret message that Joanne "J. K." Rowling sent when she picked the pseudonym under which she would publish her first crime novel. It is amazing that no one else picked up on it, but there we are: it was just me. I saw it as soon as… well, as soon as the Sunday Times revealed their discovery of the novel's pseudonymous nature, actually, which is not quite as good as seeing it before the story was all over the newspapers, but I still think I deserve a lot of credit for my penetrating intelligence. I can't imagine why I don't do crosswords; I'd probably win prizes.

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Nihon, Nippon, Japan

Students of Japanese often get confused about when to use "Nihon" and when to use "Nippon" as the name of the country.  In truth, there are many names for the "Land of the Rising Sun (a translation of Nihon / Nippon にほん / にっぽん / 日本), and sometimes the English name "Japan" gets thrown into the mix.  All of these variants came together in an incident that is recounted for us by Jim Breen.

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Ramps, chives, garlic, and other members of the Allium genus

Four days ago, I had never even heard of "ramps" (in the sense of a vegetable), but on Friday the 26th, I had a great revelation.  That morning I went up to the Swarthmore COOP to replenish my larder, which had been pretty much emptied out before I left on a trip to Kyrgyzstan and Turkey.  Right while I was standing in the produce section contemplating whether to buy kale, baby bok choi, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, or some other vegetable, a lanky Irishman (I could tell from his accent) brought in two big bags of greens, the likes of which I'd never seen before.

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Teppanyaki

If you like Japanese food, you are undoubtedly familiar with "teppanyaki", so you probably wouldn't be surprised to see a sign like this in your neighborhood, as did Jim Breen near his home in Melbourne:

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Celebrating "Kromowidjojo"

The winner of the women's 100-meter freestyle swimming event at the London Olympics is the wonderfully named Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands. Her last name (pronounced /'kromowɪ'ʤojo/) has naturally attracted some attention, so I thought I'd offer an explainer for those interested in its origins.

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Bandersnatch Cummerbund: not a typo, not a cupertino

Earlier today, AFP photographer Alex Ogle posted on Twitter what looked like an outrageous typo in a column by Lisa de Moraes of the Washington Post: the name of Benedict Cumberbatch, star of the BBC/PBS show Sherlock, got transmogrified into "Bandersnatch Cummerbund" on second mention.

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Boko Haram and Peggy burrito

From California, Julie Wei sends me "tidbits:  curious words":

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Novel illness name of the week

News is leaking out about DSM-5, the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the central reference book of mental illnesses for the psychiatric profession, due to be published in May 2013. Journalists who have been delving into the details of its proposed new listings (it is up for comment by the medical community at the moment) are finding rich pickings in jargon-encapsulated official names for new mental conditions. I think my vote for new illness name of the week has to go to disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. This would be the new DSM-5 term for temper tantrums. Is your child (or indeed, your domestic partner) sicker than you thought?

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The economics of Chinese character usage

Under the above rubric, my friend Apollo Wu sent around a note (copied below) about the economic impact of the use of Chinese characters in the operation of his business.  Since Apollo was for many years (from 1973 to 1998) a top translator in the Chinese Translation Service at United Nations headquarters in New York, he knows whereof he speaks.  Among other interesting tidbits that I heard from Apollo over the decades was that, of the official languages of the United Nations (Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Castilian Spanish) Chinese was by far the least efficient and most expensive to process.

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Must Cinco de Mayo fall on the 5th of May?

Last night Jay Leno presented an advertisement by someone a little bit confused about Mexican(-American) culture: it urged people to get ready for Cinco de Mayo on May 6th. "Cinco de Mayo" of course means "the fifth of May". In this case the confusion is real – Cinco de Mayo does not fall on the sixth of May, but in theory it could. "Cinco de Mayo" is the name of a holiday. The holiday is named after the day on which it falls, but the name is not itself a date. That means that we can imagine a future in which the holiday is still named "Cinco de Mayo" but falls on another date. It might be decided to celebrate on another day but to keep the traditional name, or Mexico might adapt a different calendar, one that had no month called "Mayo".

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Arthrousness

On my blog, an inventory of postings (mostly from Language Log) on arthrousness, here, plus a fresh note on anarthrous U.S., here.

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There aren't as many plants as we thought

It is well known that the same organism may be known by different common names in different areas (e.g. "cougar", "panther", "puma", and "mountain lion") and that the same common name may be used for different organisms in different areas (e.g. "blackberry"), but the assumption is that (pseudo-)Latin scientific names like Achillea millefolium "yarrow" are unique. Recent work by Kew Gardens and the Missouri Botanical Garden, with numerous collaborators, has revealed that this is not quite true: of 1.04 million species-level names, they classified only about 300,00 (29%) as accepted names. They classified 480,000 names (46%) as synonyms for accepted names and 260,000 (25%) as unresolved, meaning that the available data is not sufficient to determine whether or not they designate distinct species. By way of example, a query for Achillea millefolium reveals that it has synonyms such as Achillea ambigua, Achillea angustissima, Achillea borealis, and even some in other genera, such as Chamaemelum tanacetifolium. You can look things up yourself at The Plant List.

No word yet on beetles.

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Tiggy does an infix

I think perhaps the most delicious name I have ever encountered on a real human being, certainly on anyone moderately well known, is Tiggy Legge-Bourke. I don't know why I find it so deliciously silly, but I do. Tiggy was back in the news the other day because she had a reaction to the recently announced royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton — a much less sour and disloyal one than that of the Mad Bishop), and more newsworthy than most people's, because Tiggy used to be Prince William's nanny. (For a long time the newspapers had tried to establish that she had been Prince Charles's lover as well, but that never came to anything.) Tiggy's comment on the news of the nuptials was: "fan-flaming-tastic".

That kind of infixing of an expletive in the middle of what is quite clearly a single morpheme is well known to linguists, and has some intrinsic interest, but one doesn't see it that often in the newspapers, so I cherished this instance. Coming in a story mentioning Tiggy Legge-Bourke, it was (for me) a small extravaganza of linguistic pleasures.

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