Archive for Etymology


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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Apparently, the South Korean government has decided that kimchi 김치 should no longer be referred to just as pàocài 泡菜 ("pickled vegetables") in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, but should have its own name to distinguish it from other types of pickled vegetables.  (There's a November 17 news article about it here.)

The Koreans are very proud of kimchi, and it may be referred to as the Korean national dish.  Kimjang, the tradition of making and sharing kimchi that usually is done in winter, has recently been added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.

My brother Thomas, who served in the Marines during the Vietnam War and fought alongside Korean soldiers, told me he was amazed that, when the Koreans opened their K-rations, there was kimchee inside.  Thus it is obvious that kimchee is extremely important to the Koreans, and it is indeed different from Chinese fermented vegetables.  But, if it's no longer to be referred to as pàocài 泡菜 ("pickled vegetables") in Chinese, what to call it?

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Poetry as "Word Temple" — NOT

Andrew Shields encountered the idea — on Facebook and vigorously promoted on this blog — that the Chinese character for poetry, shī 诗, consists of two parts meaning "word" and "temple".  Furthermore, it is claimed that this is a particularly apt way to represent the notion of poetry, one that is conspicuously missing in Western culture.

Such a facile interpretation commits several fallacies, the chief of which is to misunderstand the history and nature of the character in question.  After a careful examination of the evidence, it seems far more likely that shī 诗 has to do with the ritual performance of the odes by eunuchs, i.e., by reciters or singers who were castrati, than that it means "word" + "temple".

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Amber Woodward, an attorney for the federal government living in Dallas, TX (originally from the Kansas City area), recently had a run-in with her father-in-law when she called him "ornery". I'll let her tell her own story in a moment, but first I want to say that I personally never use "ornery" in a pejorative sense. In fact, I always use it to convey affection. For example, if I say "ornery little fellow" about a child, I mean that he is mischievous but loveable, and I'll go up and hug him after I call him that. If I say it about an animal (e.g., "ornery critter"), I intend to convey the notion that I respect it for its strength, agility, wiliness, etc., not that I despise it for being hard to handle. Even when I declare that someone is an "ornery old cuss", I usually want to let him know that I like him for being the curmudgeon that he is (cf. this Language Log comment [near the end, in red]).

By the way, I normally pronounce "ornery" with three syllables, but occasionally will lapse into two syllables ("orn-ree") when I'm relaxed or in a hurry. Oh, yeah, I'm from Ohio.

The Visual Thesaurus gives "cantankerous; crotchety" as first level synonyms for "ornery", and pronounces the word with three syllables. These seem to be standard for dictionary definitions of the word.

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The tangled web of bologna

Ry Rivard, "Duke Faculty Say No", Inside Higher Ed 4/302013:

“This had more to do with the politics of telling the provost he didn’t consult enough with the faculty, which I feel was bologna,” [Professor of Physics Steffen] Bass said. “But, yeah, that’s how it went.”

I strongly suspect that Prof. Bass actually said "baloney", pronounced something like [bə'loʊ.ni]. I don't think I've ever heard anyone use the pronunciation [bo'loʊ.ɲjə] for the meaning "nonsense", though I sometimes see it spelled "bologna". But this word (or words) is (or are) an orthographic, phonetic, and semantic mess.

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Why plural days and nights in Spanish greetings?

R.R. points out that many European languages have a greeting that means "good day" — German "guten tag", Dutch "goeden dag", Swedish "god dag", French "bonjour", Italian "buon giorno", Portuguese "bom dia", Catalan "bon dia", etc. — and asks why (only?) in Spanish, the corresponding phrase is plural: "buenos dias". And also "buenas noches", "buenas tardes".

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Brown: Greek is Latin, -logy beats -nomy

"Governor 'Moonbeam' Takes on His Critics at Greenbuild", The Dirt (American Society of Landscape Architects, 11/26/2012:

California Governor Jerry Brown, aka Governor “Moonbeam,” took on his many critics at the 2012 Greenbuild in San Francisco, saying the people who originally called him that are “no longer around, while I still am.” To huge laughs, he said “apparently, moonbeams have more durability than other beings.” In a rousing speech designed to rally the green building community, Brown walked the crowd through his profound “eco” philosophy, while also laying out a path for attacking climate change in California and across the U.S.

In Latin, Brown said “eco” means house. As an example, “economy” means “rules of the house.”  “Logos” means “lord, god, or the deep principles or patterns of nature.” So “ecology is more fundamental than economics. Economics sits within ecology. Not the other way around. This means through our economy, we can’t repeal the laws of nature.” Furthermore, humanity “can’t mock the laws of nature or thumb our noses at the climatic system. We have to learn to work with nature.”

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The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition

As soon as I heard that the 5th edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD) had come out, I rushed to the nearest Barnes & Noble bookstore (yes, they still exist — that was Borders that closed) and plunked down two Bens (hundred dollar bills) to buy three copies at $60 each:  one for my office at Penn, one for my study at home, and one for a friend.  The 5th ed. was actually published in November, 2011, but I was in China then, and didn't get a chance to buy my own copies until the day I arrived back on American soil.

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