Archive for Etymology

Boogaloo

Boogaloo is in the news these days, in reference to what a recent Forbes article calls "a loose group of far-right individuals who are pro-gun, anti-government, and believe that another civil war in America is imminent". The politics is complex and evolving, as a USA Today article explains:

[T]here are various facets to the loosely organized group: One generally stems from its original ties to neo-Nazis and white supremacists, while a newer facet is libertarian.

"There's a lot of overlap and the boundary is blurry because they both evolved together," said Alex Newhouse, digital research lead at Middlebury Institute's Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism. "It is very difficult to know if the 'boogaloo boi' you see standing in the middle of the street at a protest is there in solidarity or to incite violence."

For further details, see the Wikipedia entry for "Boogaloo movement". The term's linguistic history poses the puzzle of how the name of a Latinx and Black dance fashion came to be adopted by white supremacists:

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"Carrot" in Persian, Urdu, Uyghur, Sinitic, Vietnamese, etc.

From David Brophy:

I’ve often wondered why the Uyghur word for carrot is sewze, etc., which comes from P. sabz “green”. I know carrots range from orange to yellow, and maybe occasionally purple, but I’m pretty sure there’ve never been green carrots.

It's a good question.  

One thing I do know is that, whenever I go to an Indian restaurant, I find sabzi, also spelled sabji, as a vegetable cooked in gravy

I think maybe the word originally just meant "veggies" in Persian, and then developed the specialized meaning of "carrot" in Turkic and other languages.

Ghormeh Sabzi (Persian: قورمه‌ سبزی‎) (also spelled as Qormeh Sabzi) is an Iranian herb stew. It is a very popular dish in Iran.

——

Ghormeh is derived from Turkic kavurmak and means "braised," while sabzi is the Persian word for herbs.

Looking at Wikipedia, it does say that carrots are likely originally from Persia where they were probably first cultivated for their leaves (which are green).

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K-pop stans troll Trump

You've probably read about how k-pop stans pranked the Trump campaign — apparently several hundred thousand of them signed up for tickets to Saturday's Tulsa rally, creating embarrassingly over-optimistic attendance predictions. You may even have seen one of the celebratory tiktok videos:


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Cvrk

If you're looking for words with lots of consonants and few or seemingly no vowels, try Eastern Europe, especially Czechia.

I have a friend named Stu Cvrk, and I asked him the story of his surname and how to pronounce it.  Here's what he told me:

It is Czech. The Czech pronunciation is "tsverk". My grandparents Americanized it a bit to make it easier to say, as we now pronounce it "swerk."

The story of its derivation according to family lore is this:

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On the etymology of the title Tham of Burusho kings

[The following is a guest post by John Mock.  I am impressed by how much detailed scholarship (although perhaps not always of great precision and rigor) on such an esoteric matter as that discussed herein already existed in the 18th and 19th centuries.]

John Biddulph in his book Tribes of the Hindoo Koosh (Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, 1880), p. 24, wrote:

I have been told by a Nepalese gentleman that Thum is a Chinese title, meaning Governor, and that it is used in a reduplicated form Thum Thum, to signify a Governor General. [footnote: It is perhaps a corruption of the word Tung, which appears in many titles. The Chinese Governor of Kashgaria is called Tsung Tung, and the officer who commands the troops is styled Tung-lung.] Its very existence in these countries, where its origin has been completely lost sight of, is curious and must be extremely ancient.

Henry H. Howorth, in his article "The Northern Frontagers of China. Part VIII. The Kirais and Prester John", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 21 no. 2 (1889), pp. 383-5, discussing Tang relations with Uighurs, wrote:

The Chinese emperor at this time was called Tham vu tsum.", and, “During the reign of Tham yi tsum, from 860 to 874….

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European slaves in the year 1000

Valerie Hansen has a new book just out:

THE YEAR 1000: When Explorers Connected the World — and Globalization Began.  New York:  Scribner, 2020.

A NYT review of Hansen's landmark volume is copied below, but let's first look at some interesting language notes concerning the background of the word for "slave" (Chapter 4 is on "European Slaves"; the quotations here are from pp. 85-86).

The demand for slaves [in addition to that for furs] was also high, especially in the two biggest cities in Europe and the Middle East at the time–Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire, and Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, in present-day Iraq. The residents of Constantinople and Baghdad used their wealth to purchase slaves, almost always people captured in raids on neighboring societies.

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Bats in Chinese language and culture: Early Sinitic reconstructions

The May 2020 issue of a scientific journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, shows a rank badge of Qing Dynasty officialdom.  There are five bats in this piece of ornate embroidery (can you spot them?):

Artist Unknown. Rank Badge with Leopard, Wave and Sun Motifs, late 18th century. Silk, metallic thread. 10 3/4 in x 11 1/4 in / 27.31 cm x 28.57 cm. Public domain digital image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA.; Bequest of William Christian Paul, 1929. Accession no.30.75.1025.

(Source)

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Once more on Sinitic *mraɣ and Celtic and Germanic *marko for "horse"

Jessica Hemming, in consultation with Joseph Eska (personal communication), writes:

In the debate about whether Sinitic ‘mra’ could be a borrowing from an Indo-European language, given that only Celtic and Germanic have horse words in *marko, it may be of use to know that proto-Celtic is now conventionally dated to no earlier than c.1000 BC and proto-Germanic to c.500 BC. These would seem to be too late to be options. Also, the native word for horse in Celtic is *ekwo; nobody is quite sure where *marko came from, although later it became the standard medieval word for horse (especially in the sense of ‘war horse’ or ‘steed’ in Middle Welsh).

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"Crisis = danger + opportunity" in America and in PRC official media

From Gillian Hochmuth:

Thank you for your great explanation of the reasons behind the famous Kennedy "crisis" misquote. When I was in high school, I had a friend who was Chinese and spoke Mandarin fluently, who explained it to my US History class after the teacher quoted Kennedy. That was over 20 years ago and I remembered that his quote was wrong, but could not remember the explanation I was given well enough to explain it to someone else.

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The historical phonology of "Han", the main Chinese ethnonym

[VHM:  This is a guest post by Chris Button.  It will be primarily of interest to specialists in the phonological history of Sinitic.  Since there are quite a few such scholars on Language Log, I expect that it will occasion the usual lively debate that follows posts on such subjects.  It will also undoubtedly be of interest to historical phonologists in general, as well as to a broad spectrum of Sinologists and their colleagues focusing on other Asian cultures and languages.]

I've been thinking about the etymological associations of Hàn 漢. It's often reconstructed with an aspirated coronal nasal as *hn-, in spite of the Middle Chinese x- then being somewhat unexpected (Baxter and Sagart put it down to dialects), largely on the basis of the *n- in 難. But its etymological association with 艱 and its velar *k- make this problematic. A regular source of MC x- would be *hŋ- which then at least would be a velar onset to parallel *k-. The *n- in 難 could perhaps be put down to some sort of assimilation of *ŋ- with the *-n coda (one might compare 般 *pán < *pám where there is dissimilation of the coda unlike in its phonetic 凡 *bàm) . At the very least, 漢 most likely went back to something like *hŋáns and then *xáns with a velar onset and the -s eventually becoming qu-sheng. An alternative option is rhinoglottophilia whereby a *ʔ became *n- as attested in cases like 憂 *ʔə̀w and 獶(夒) *nə́w a I mentioned here.

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Mud season in Old English

[This is a guest post by Pamela Crossley]

I was recently doing something with my old undergraduate major, Old English, and was reminded of the word Salmonath (Solmonath), which put me in mind of this old conversation on your blog:

"Mud season in Russia: Putin, Rasputin" (3/31/18)

So you’ll like this one. Like the others we were discussing before, the Anglo-Saxons referred to a mud season, specifically the “muddy month” of February — Salmonath or Solmonath. There has been a lot of confusion about exactly what Salmonath means. A passage in Bede has been interpreted as saying that he translated “Salmonath” as “cake month,” but I think the passage only means that people also called Salmonath “cake month.” Somebody else said it was “Sol” as in the sun, obviously silly. Virtually everybody eventually agrees it means “muddy month” but they don’t go any further with what this “Sal” or “Sol” is supposed to be. The most illuminating discussion I have now read is in Wedgwood, A Dictionary of English Etymology (1865), Vol III, pp. 25-256, which you can now read online. Turns out, this word is very well attested in other Germanic languages. It is only very distantly related, if at all, to “soil,” which comes to English from French; “soil”’s original meaning was place, spot, ground, that kind of thing. Solid.

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Turandot and the deep Indo-European roots of "daughter"

In recent days, the famous aria from the final act of Giacomo Puccini's opera Turandot, "Nessun dorma" (Italian: [nesˌsun ˈdɔrma]; English: "Let no one sleep"), has surfaced as part of a worldwide movement to encourage the Italian people in their struggle against the novel coronavirus (see here, here, and here).  This article by Claudia Rosett gives the backstory:

"An Uplifting Moment, in the Time of Coronavirus", PJ Media (3/14/20)

This led me to ponder the origins of Turandot's name, especially since the operatic version of the story is set in China and she is alleged to be a Chinese princess.  Right away, I was in for a jolt, since "The name of the opera is based on Turan-Dokht (daughter of Turan), which is a common name used in Persian poetry for Central Asian princesses." (source)

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Everything's curated now

Cartoon by K. L. Ricks:

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