Archive for Etymology

Limerick Poems and Civil Wars

This is a St. Patrick's Day guest post by Stephen Goranson.


The five-line nonsense verses with AABBA rhymes existed long before they were called Limericks, it's generally agreed, but why they got that name lacks consensus.

Let's start with an example:

There was a young rustic named Mallory
Who drew but a very small salary.
He went to the show,
But his purse was so
That he sat in the uppermost gallery.
Tune: wont you come [up] to Limerick

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Copasetic

This is a guest post by Stephen Goranson.


The source of “copasetic,” meaning “fine,” has been sought in Yiddish, Hebrew, Creole French, Italian, Chinook, and in a putative assurance from an accomplice of a thief in the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago that the house “cop’s on the settee.” But, probably, a novelist coined the word. There is good reason to think that Irving Bacheller invented the word for a fictional character with a private vocabulary in his best-selling and later-serialized 1919 book about Abraham Lincoln in Illinois, A Man for the Ages. Despite extensive searches, and conflicting rumors, there is no known earlier attestation.

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Caucasian words for tea

In Appendix C of The True History of Tea, a book that I wrote with Erling Hoh, I showed how all the words for "tea" in the world except two little-known Austro-Asiatic terms can be traced back to Sinitic.  The three main types of words for tea (infusion of Camellia sinensis leaves) may be characterized as te, cha, and chai.  I won't repeat all of the philological and linguistic data in this post, but you may find the essentials nicely summarized here:

"An evening with Victor Mair" ("Pluck Tea", 6/1/11), also in this Wikipedia article, and in this blog post on Languages of the World by Asya Pereltsvaig:  "What will you have:  tea or chai?" (9/28/14).

Here's a map of words for tea in European languages.

If you want more detail, go to Appendix C of the book, but — unless you have exceptionally good eyes — you'd be well advised to enlarge it on a photocopier because that part of the book is in double columns of very fine print.

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Multiculturalism meets international trade

From Bill Thomas via John Rohsenow:

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"Dog" in Japanese: "inu" and "ken"

This post intends to take a deep look at the words for "dog" in Japanese, "inu" and "ken", both written with the same kanji (sinogram; Chinese character): 犬.

I will begin with some basic phonological and etymological information, then move to an elaboration of the immediate cause for the writing of this post, observations from colleagues, and a brief conclusion.

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Pell-mell

When, about 40 years ago, I first read the "Basic Annals of Xiang Yu (232-202 BC)" ( Xiàngyǔ běnjì 項羽本紀) in the The Scribe's Records (Shǐjì 史記, ca. 94), the foundation for the 24 official dynastic histories that followed it, I was struck by this sentence:   `Yúshì Xiàng wáng dà hū chí xià, Hàn jūn jiē pīmí, suì zhǎn Hàn yī jiāng.'「於是項王大呼馳下,漢軍皆披靡,遂斬漢一將。」("Then King Xiang shouted loudly and galloped down, causing all of the Han army [to flee] pell-mell, whereupon he cut down one of the Han generals".)

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Language vs. script

Many of the debates over Chinese language issues that keep coming up on Language Log and elsewhere may be attributed to a small number of basic misunderstandings and disagreements concerning the relationship between speech and writing.

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"Arrival is a tree that is still to come"

Thanks to Chinese characters, we are inundated with such preposterous profundities.

In the day before yesterday's UK Observer, there is an article by Claire Armitstead titled "Madeleine Thien: ‘In China, you learn a lot from what people don’t tell you:  The Man Booker-shortlisted writer on a solitary childhood in Canada and daring to question the Chinese regime" (10/8/16).

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Common language

Provocative research results reported in Sci-News (9/13/16), "Unrelated Languages Often Use Same Sounds for Common Objects and Ideas, Research Finds":

A careful statistical examination of words from 6,000+ languages shows that humans tend to use the same sounds for common objects and ideas, no matter what language they’re speaking.

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Eurasian eureka

After reading the the latest series of Language Log posts on long range connections (see below for a listing), Geoff Wade suggested that I title the next post in this series as I have this one.  If there ever was an occasion to do so, now is as good a moment as any, with the announcement of the publication of Chau Wu's extraordinary "Patterns of Sound Correspondence between Taiwanese and Germanic/Latin/Greek/Romance Lexicons, Part I", Sino-Platonic Papers, 262 (Aug., 2016), 239 pp. (free pdf).

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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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