Archive for Etymology

Shiok, shiok

Taylor Swift sings "shake, shake", but in Singapore and Malaysia, everybody is saying "shiok, shiok".


Source:  "Where or how did the phrase Shiok or Syiok used in Malaysia & Singapore originate?" (Quora, Feb. 2015)

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Of shumai and Old Sinitic reconstructions

It's no secret that I'm a great fan of the AHD:

"The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition " (11/14/12)

My devotion to AHD stems not just from its unparalleled inclusion of Indo-European and Semitic roots, but from its outstanding coverage of terms relating to Chinese languages and linguistics.  It was already strong in the latter respect in the earlier editions, but, with the 5th edition (2011), there was a noticeable improvement, such that the treatment of Chinese in AHD cannot be matched by any other dictionary of English.

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"Enter the Dangal"

Earlier this year, Language Log readers contributed to the elucidation of "South Asian wrestling terms" (3/1/16).

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Unnecessariat

Anne Amnesia, "Unnecessariat", More Crows than Eagles, 5/10/2016:

In 2011, economist Guy Standing coined the term “precariat” to refer to workers whose jobs were insecure, underpaid, and mobile, who had to engage in substantial “work for labor” to remain employed, whose survival could, at any time, be compromised by employers (who, for instance held their visas) and who therefore could do nothing to improve their lot. The term found favor in the Occupy movement, and was colloquially expanded to include not just farmworkers, contract workers, “gig” workers, but also unpaid interns, adjunct faculty, etc. Looking back from 2016, one pertinent characteristic seems obvious: no matter how tenuous, the precariat had jobs. The new dying Americans, the ones killing themselves on purpose or with drugs, don’t. Don’t, won’t, and know it.

Here’s the thing: from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that. The new bright sparks, cheerfully referred to as “Young Gods” believe themselves to be the honest winners in a new invent-or-die economy, and are busily planning to escape into space or acquire superpowers, and instead of worrying about this, the talking heads on TV tell you its all a good thing- don’t worry, the recession’s over and everything’s better now, and technology is TOTES AMAZEBALLS!

The article starts by comparing the rise in suicide and overdose deaths to the history of AIDS deaths in the 1980s, and her punchline is this:

If I still don’t have your attention, consider this: county by county, where life expectancy is dropping survivors are voting for Trump.

Since this is Language Log and not Political Analysis Log, I'll let you digest the article on your own, and turn my attention to the word formation principles behind unnecessariat.

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Epistemological metaphors and meanings

Following up on the issues raised yesterday in "Feelings, beliefs, and thoughts",  it might be helpful to explore the etymology of the various  verbs that people commonly use to express the epistemic status of their assertions. From their entries in the Online Etymological Dictionary, we'll learn that several common propositional attitude verbs have roots in sensation, motion and emotion, just as feel does.

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Old Sinitic reconstructions and Tibeto-Burman cognates

[The following is a guest post by Tsu-Lin Mei.]

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The Old Chinese reconstruction of Gong Hwang-cherng and James Matisoff is not only internally consistent, but can be shown to have a Tibeto-Burman counterpart through Sino-Tibetan comparative studies.  Gong Hwang-cherng's Collected Papers on Sino-Tibetan Linguistics 龚煌城, Hàn-Zàngyǔ yánjiū lùnwén jí《汉藏语研究论文集》(2002) has about 300 cognate sets — involving Old Chinese, Written Tibetan, Written Burmese, and reconstructed Tangut. I am writing a paper whose purpose is to unite Gong's work with Zàng-Miǎn yǔzú yǔyán cíhuì《藏缅语族语言词汇》(Lexicon of Tibeto-Burman languages), edited by Huang Bufan 黄布凡 (1992). So far I have 142 cognate sets and can testify that Gong's cognate sets on the whole hold water.

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"Please enter your cock after urinating"

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South Asian wrestling terms

Rudraneil Sengupta is preparing a book on the history of wrestling in the subcontinent, and is searching for the etymologies of certain common terms used in the sport.

He believes that some of the most common words in wrestling come from Iran & Turkey and that general region, and some are of Sanskrit origin.  For example, the old Sanskrit word (now rarely used) for wrestling is Malla-Yudh. Yudh means battle.  Now Malla, as far as his research tells him, was first used as the name of a tribe, then was the name of a kingdom, then became a derogatory term — a term to denote a despised "other" (dark-skinned, poor, tribal).  Apparently this same tribe was famous for their proficiency in wrestling, and thus the term Malla-Yudh came to be coined. He's not sure whether this is accurate, or if the etymology has ever been carefully considered.  But that's where he is starting from.

I myself recognized a few of the words as looking distinctly Persian (e.g., Pehelwani / Pahelwani / Pahlwani and kushti), and I remembered that there was a Malla dynasty in Indian history and a series of Malla kingdoms in Nepalese history, but wasn't sure or precise enough about their possible relationship to words for wrestling, so I asked some colleagues who are specialists in Asian languages if they knew more about them.

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DON'T SPEAK THE ENEMY'S LANGUAGE!

This World War II American propaganda poster speaks for itself:


A poster of WWII era discouraging the
use of Italian, German, and Japanese.
(Source)

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Hissy fit

I am fond of this expression and have often wondered how it arose.  In my own mind, I have always associated it with the hissing of a cat and hysteria, but never took the time to try to figure out where it really came from.  Today someone directly asked me about the origins of this quaint expression and proposed a novel solution, which I will present at the end of this post.  First, however, let's look at current surmises concerning the problem.

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FOOD & BGVERAGGS, with a focus on naan / nang

The following three items might well have been included in the previous post on Chinglish, but that one got to be rather long and unwieldy, so I'm treating these separately.  In any event, I think that they merit the special treatment they are receiving here.

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What does "Schmetterling" sound like to a German?

I'm prompted to ask this question in response to the very first comment on this post:

"'Butterfly' words as a source of etymological confusion" (1/28/16)

The comment supplies a link to this YouTube video, in which russianracehorse tells "The Butterfly Joke".  A Frenchman, an Italian, a Spaniard, and a German each pronounce the word for "butterfly" in their own language.  The words for "butterfly" in the first three languages all sound soft, delicate, and mellifluous.  Finally the German chimes in and shouts vehemently, "Und vat's wrong with [the joke teller could have said 'mit'] Schmetterling?"

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"Butterfly" words as a source of etymological confusion

Nick Kaldis writes:

I've started buying English etymology books for my 8-year-old daughter and I to explore; today we discovered that "butterfly" comes from "butter" + "shit", because their feces resemble butter.

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