Archive for Etymology

A Vietnamese etymology for the Chinese word for "pineapple"?

In "Shampoo salmon" (2/10/14), I called attention to the variety of opinions concerning the origins of the Chinese word bōluó 菠萝 / variant bōluó 波萝 ("pineapple").  Tom Nguyen suggests that another possible source is from Old Vietnamese *bla (> dứa /z̻ɨ̞̠ɜ˧ˀ˦/ with Northern accent – note the process of “turning into sibilant” of initial consonant cluster bl- in Vietnamese).

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Ask Language Log: -er vs. -or

From Matthew Yglesias:

A few of us at work were talking about why it's adviser and protester but professor and and auditor and after bullshitting around for 10 minutes I thought "maybe I should ask a linguist." Have you ever blogged on this?

I don't think that we have, though you can find well-informed discussions elsewhere, e.g. here or here/here. The executive summary is that -er is (originally) Germanic while -or is (basically) Latin, often via French.

But this doesn't help much with the particular examples you cite, since all four words are from Latin via French. Like most things about English morphology and spelling, the full answer is complicated, and also more geological than logical. But the OED seems to have the whole story — lifted from the depths of the discussion, the key point is that

Many derivatives [formed with -er as an agentive suffix] existed already in Old English, and many more have been added in the later periods of the language. In modern English they may be formed on all vbs., excepting some of those which have [Latin- or French-derived] agent nouns ending in -or, and some others for which this function is served by ns. of different formation (e.g. correspond, correspondent). The distinction between -er and -or as the ending of agent nouns is purely historical and orthographical.

For a (much) longer treatment — you have been warned — press onward.

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Monkey wrench

Peter Reitan, previously involved in "Solving the mystery of 'off the cuff'" (2/21/2015), has now pointed us to an improved history of monkey wrench. His email:

Your Language Log post of March 22, 2009 about "Monkey Wrench" mentioned the traditional folk-etymology associated with the term; namely that it was widely believed to have been invented by a "London Blacksmith who invented an adjustable wrench."  All of the early recitations of that folk-etymology (early 1880s), however, attribute the wrench to Charles Moncky, said to have sold his invention for $2000 and to then be living in a small cottage in Brooklyn, New York.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the 1880 census for Brooklyn, New York reports a man named Charles Monk – "tool-maker "- living on Sixteenth Street in Brooklyn.  He may have inspired the folk-etymology; but he does not appear to have invented, inspired, or coined the "monkey wrench."  He was only twelve years old when the earliest-known, date-certain references for "monkey wrench" were published in 1840: See Peter Jensen Brown, "Charles Monk, Monkey Wrenches and 'Monkey on a Stick' – a Gripping History and Etymology of 'Monkey Wrench'", 10/14/2015.

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Are there Phoenicians in phonology?

A question from Mark Seidenberg:

Is the English phono- morpheme etymologically related to Phoenicia/Phoenician, i.e., the corresponding Phoenician words?

I have looked at the OED and other sources and I cannot connect the dots.

The Phoenician word for “Phoenicia” has a couple of conjectured etymological bases unrelated to sound or voice.

The Greeks then had a word (morpheme?) phono that was related to sound/voice, which English and other languages absorbed.

Is it a coincidence that the Greek word happened to sound like name for the language whose writing system they borrowed, the inadequacies of which for representing the typologically distinct Greek language led to the identification of vowels, which could then be written by repurposing letters for a few consonants that occurred in P but not G. or so they say.

Is this an homage to Phoenicia or are these false phonological cognates?

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The bearded barbarian

Ben Zimmer mentioned to me that he was on the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley talking about the origins of the word "gringo":

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Ask Language Log: -ange < ?

From Bob Ladd:

I just drove through the general area of Luxembourg/Lorraine – one of the places where French and Germanic have been in close contact since the Middle Ages – and could couldn't help noticing dozens of place names ending in -ange (Dudelange, Hettange, Differdange, Hayange, Hagondange, Aubange, Redange, Useldange, and many more) all within a relatively small area. I've tried to come up with some Germanic town name component that could have been gallicized as -ange, but I've drawn a blank. Does any reader know the source of these names?

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Water control

The exoticization of Chinese, yet again

This time it's the alleged, essential aqueousness of governance:

"The Water Book by Alok Jha review – this remarkable substance", by Rose George (5/14/15).  The first sentence:  "The Chinese symbol for 'political order' is made from the characters for river and dyke."

What a lame, wrongheaded way to begin a serious article!

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That's another Japanese word that you'll be learning. Here's why:

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Cantonese protest slogans

We've been following the tumultuous Hong Kong democracy protests closely, e.g., "'Cantonese' song" (10/24/14), "The umbrella in Hong Kong" (10/19/14) and "Translating the Umbrella Revolution" (10/3/14), with plenty of additional material in the comments to these posts.

Now there is a new article in Quartz that focuses on the most popular slogans used by the protesters: "The backstory to seven of the most popular protest slogans in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement" (10/23/14).

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Pulled noodles: Uyghur läghmän and Mandarin lāmiàn

Some notes on the origins of the words and characters for wheat, flour, and noodles in Turkic and Sinitic languages

On the Xinjiang Studies list, a number of questions about noodles and the words for them in Sinitic and other languages have come up.

First of all, Sue Naquin called to my attention this article which seems to show a connection between Uyghurs and the invention of pulled noodles (lāmiàn), which the Uyghurs call laghman:

Amy Qin, "Q. and A.: Jen Lin-Liu on Noodles and Their Origins".

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Neoguri: raccoon or raccoon dog?

The typhoon that struck Okinawa a few days ago and is now passing by Tokyo is called Neoguri.  It gets it name from a Korean word meaning "raccoon dog".

The Japanese refer to it as Taifū 8-gō Neoguri 台風8号ネオグ リ ("Typhoon No. 8 Neoguri"), but most often without the "Neoguri" (see below for discussion of Japanese typhoon designation practices).  However, the Chinese are calling it Huànxióng 浣熊 ("raccoon"), which is a clear mistranslation.  The Chinese name for the raccoon dog is hé 貉 or háozi 貉子.

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Ur-etyma: how many are there?

This is another one of those posts that I started writing long ago (in this case back in January of 2012), but then set aside for one reason or another.  However, such drafts and research notes usually reemerge on my radar screen sooner or later, especially if they are of compelling interest and potential significance.  Now that it is summer time and I have a little bit of leisure to do what I like, I'm happy to return to this topic and finish it up.

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Medieval ontology on the streets of Oakland?

A recent Twitter exchange between William Gibson and Simon Max Hill:

Wouldn't it be wonderful if a term from high philosophy had really penetrated the street slang of Oakland? Alas, it looks like a case of false cognates.

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