Archive for Names

Butter chicken

Who owns it?

It's sort of like who owns kimchee, Koreans (of course!) or Chinese — we've been through that many times — except that the question of who has the rights to claim they invented butter chicken is ostensibly internecine / intranational rather than international (but maybe not [see below]), as is the case with kimchee.

"India’s courts to rule on who invented butter chicken:  Two Delhi restaurants both claim to have the right to call themselves the home of the original butter chicken recipe" by Hannah Ellis-Petersen, The Guardian (1/25/24)

Judging from the account in The Guardian, the squabbling between the two Delhi restaurants is both picayune and misplaced:

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"Sheep-dog", spindle whorls, and meditation

Some people call it a "woolly dog", but that's more a description of what it's like.  That's not its name.  And it's not a "sheepdog" or "sheep dog", like a border collie.

Before I go any further into the nomenclature of canines, I want to recognize that they're all the same species:  Canis lupus familiaris.  No matter what their size, shape, coloration, or behavior, from the chihuahua to the great dane, they are all the same species:  Canis lupus familiaris.  It's only their breed that is different.  That is to say, they are bred to enhance different characteristics and to emphasize diverse traits.

Conversely, there are thousands of different species of birds.  It has always puzzled me why there is only one species of dog, but thousands of species of birds (upwards of 10,000), but I'm sure that somebody on Language Log will have the precise answer.  Is it that dogs are selectively bred by humans, whereas birds do their own thing?

The dog I'm talking about here — although extinct now — was raised for thousands of years for its wool!  It was carefully kept apart from other types of dogs to enhance its wool-bearing capability.  Like a sheep.  That's why I like to call it a sheep-dog, albeit somewhat jocularly.  It's a dog, but it has the wool producing characteristics of a sheep.

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"Tibet" obliterated

The name "Tibet" has been outlawed in the PRC.  Henceforth, Tibet (the name by which it has been known to the world for centuries) is to be called by its newer Chinese name, Xizang ("West Zang") — even in English. 

Chinese state media drops ‘Tibet’ for ‘Xizang’ after release of Beijing white paper

    Use of the name ‘Xizang’ when referring to the Tibet autonomous region has risen dramatically in English articles by China’s official media
    It comes after the State Council releases a white paper on November 10 which replaced ‘Tibet’ for pinyin term ‘Xizang’ in most instances

Yuanyue Dang, SCMP (12/10/23)

China’s official media has dramatically increased its use of the term “Xizang”, rather than “Tibet”, when referring to the autonomous region in western China in English articles, after a white paper on Tibet was released by China’s cabinet, the State Council, in early November.

The white paper, titled “CPC Policies on the Governance of Xizang in the New Era: Approach and Achievements”, outlines developments in Tibet since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

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Writing indigenous names in Taiwan

In Taiwan, a woman from the Bunun tribe is pushing to have her name given just in the Roman alphabet, not in combination with or substituted by Chinese characters presenting a Mandarinized form.  (Bunun language here.)

My Bunun name is …

Pinyin News (11/27/23)


A candidate for the Indigenous constituency in Taiwan’s Legislature has, in protest over government policies mandating the use of Chinese characters, changed her name to “李我要單列族名我的布農族名字是 Savungaz Valincinan,” which translates as “Li I want to list my tribal name separately; my Bunun name is Savungaz Valincinan.”

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Massachusett Cambridge

It was bound to happen:

New street signs with Massachusett language translation will be installed in East Cambridge

More than 70 new signs will designate First through Eighth Streets after a participatory budget item.

Molly Farrar, (12/6/23)

The article doesn't say much about Massachusett, but at the least we should note that it is an Algonquian language and that it had a surprisingly high degree of literacy.

The Massachusett language is an Algonquian language of the Algic language family that was formerly spoken by several peoples of eastern coastal and southeastern Massachusetts. In its revived form, it is spoken in four communities of Wampanoag people. The language is also known as Natick or Wôpanâak (Wampanoag), and historically as Pokanoket, Indian or Nonantum.

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Mr. Mark

Storefront in Taichung, Taiwan:

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Wok talk: a real-life retronym!

From François Lang:

Since you're a Sinologist, I thought you might be amused by a retronym that I had to coin.
My wife (59 YO) was born and grew up in Beijing, and came to the US in the 80s to do her PhD at Cornell. Since she's Chinese, the only stovetop cooking vessel she'd ever known was a wok, so she calls any such vessel a wok — whether it's a sauté pan, sauce pan, dutch oven, or stockpot. They're all woks to her.
So…when she uses what we Westerners call a wok, she calls it a "Chinese wok", as opposed to a Western wok!

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Occitan and Oenology

[This is a guest post by François Lang]

Picpoul (AKA Piquepoul, or Picapoll) is a white wine grape best known in the south of France.  The grape is known for its intense acidity, and many wine references claim that its name derives from the Occitan for "lip stinger". But I can't find any justification for this derivation, at least not in online Occitan dictionaries that I've consulted.
Occitan picapol is indeed the name of the grape in question
Pique clearly means "sting", as in modern French piquer and piqûre, but I don't see any link between poul and lip.
"Lip" in Occitan is labia, lavia.
Occitan pọl == Fr poule (hen, chicken)
No entry in the dictionary for poul

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Skunk stunk

Two nights ago, it was raining heavily, with lightning and thunder every so often.  As I was peering out into the blackness of my backyard, all of a sudden, a bright light flashed on.  At first I thought it was lightning, but then I realized that someone or something had set off the light.  It didn't take long for me to spot a gleaming, coal black skunk crawling around through the brush.

Most striking were the narrow, white stripe on its forehead and along the length of its nose and the two broad swaths of white fur along its back.  It was so beautiful, all soaked in the rain, that I wanted to go out and get a closer look (make friends with it, so to speak), but my companion said, "No way!"

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Some recent news and posts from

OMG, it’s nougat (4/15/23) — "OMG" borrowed into Mandarin

A long post on puns, multiscriptal writing, and the difficulties of Hanzi.

Puns piled upon puns.

Microsoft Translator and Pinyin (4/15/23)

Microsoft's not very good character-to-Pinyin conversion.

They have the resources and could surely do better.

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Ivan Enraged

A Russian friend of mine told me that "Terrible" is a common, well nigh universal, mistranslation for the nickname of Ivan IV Vasilyevich (Russian: Иван Васильевич; 25 August 1530 – 28 March [O.S. 18 March] 1584).  He says that a closer translation would be "Enraged".

The English word terrible is usually used to translate the Russian word Грозный (grozny) in Ivan's nickname, but this is a somewhat archaic translation. The Russian word Грозный reflects the older English usage of terrible as in "inspiring fear or terror; dangerous; powerful" (i.e., similar to modern English terrifying). It does not convey the more modern connotations of English terrible such as "defective" or "evil". Vladimir Dal defines grozny specifically in archaic usage and as an epithet for tsars: "courageous, magnificent, magisterial and keeping enemies in fear, but people in obedience". Other translations have also been suggested by modern scholars, including formidable.


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BYD — the look and the sound

Yesterday, Charlie Munger, the 99-year-old billionaire Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, declared that the Chinese company, BYD, was beating Tesla in the electric vehicle (EV) market.  I had never heard of BYD, so I asked my students from mainland China what "BYD" meant.

They all seemed to consider the apparent initialism as though it were an English word, pronouncing it Beeyah'di, making the second syllable long and stressed.  I pursued by asking, "But what does it mean?  What does it stand for?"

They said, "It doesn't mean anything and it doesn't stand for anything.  It's just the name of a car company:  Beeyah'di."

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Whose New Year is it anyway?

The struggle for cultural priority, supremacy, and naming between China and Korea is perennial:  fishing nets, printing with metal movable type, kimchi….  Now it's over the lunar new year that is currently being celebrated.

"NewJeans' Danielle apologizes for calling the 'Lunar New Year' 'Chinese New Year'"

Yaki-Jones, allkpop (1/21/23)


"Chinese netizens terrorize the Instagrams of Korean celebrities who gave lunar new year greetings, including IVE's Wonyoung and CL"

Yaki-Jones, allkpop (1/22/23)

Might be better to avoid the orthological controversy altogether and just refer to it as the Lunar New Year.

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