Archive for Etymology

Brogue

Compiling references to the Ocracoke "brogue", I wondered about the origins of the word. The Wikipedia entry confirms the possibilities that I recall:

Multiple etymologies have been proposed: it may derive from the Irish bróg ("shoe"), the type of shoe traditionally worn by the people of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, and hence possibly originally meant "the speech of those who call a shoe a 'brogue'". It is also possible that the term comes from the Irish word barróg, meaning "a hold (on the tongue)", thus "accent" or "speech impediment". A famous false etymology states that the word stems from the supposed perception that the Irish spoke English so peculiarly that it was as if they did so "with a shoe in their mouths".

The OED (entry from 1888) has the shoe story:

Derivation unknown: from the frequent mention of 'Irish brogue', it has been conjectured that this may be the same word as the brogue n.2, as if 'the speech of those who wear brogues', or 'who call their shoes brogues'; but of this there is no evidence.

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"Horse Master" in IE and in Sinitic

This is one in a long series of posts about words for "horse" in various languages, the latest being "Some Mongolian words for 'horse'" (11/7/19) — see also the posts listed under Readings below.  I consider "horse" to be one of the most important diagnostic terms for studying long distance movements of peoples and languages for numerous reasons:

  1. In and of itself, the horse represents the ability to move rapidly across the land.
  2. The spread of horse domestication and associated technology such as the chariot is traceable, affording the opportunity to match datable archeological finds with linguistic data.
  3. The symbolic, religious, military, political, and cultural significance of the horse is salient in widespread human societies outside the normal ecological reach of the animal itself.  In other words, the horse is treasured in areas far beyond its natural habitat (the Eurasian steppeland), such that it is a symbol of royal, aristocratic power and prerogative.  Indeed, for many societies, it is a sacred animal imbued with divine power.
  4. In studying the words for "horse" in various languages, we have been fortunate on Language Log to benefit from the expertise of historical linguists who have been providing cutting edge analysis of data drawn from numerous languages belonging to different groups and families.

And so forth.

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Blue-Green Iranian "Danube"

A curious phenomenon of Old European hydronymy that I've noticed for a long time is that many of the most important rivers in Central and Eastern Europe — Danube, Don, Donets, Dnieper, Dniester, and others — all have names that derive from the ancient Iranian (Scythian) word for "river" (cf. don, "river, water" in modern Ossetic).  Source

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Lord Millet and the empty orchestra

Every week I bring floral arrangements to the main office of the UPenn Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.  This week, one of the vases will have two spikes of beautiful ornamental millet ("foxtail" is certainly an appropriate descriptor).

Millet has special significance for East Asia, since — along with rice — it is one of the earliest domesticated grains from that part of the world, dating back nearly 9,000 years ago.  Moreover, East Asian varieties of millet had spread to the area around the Black Sea by about 7,000 years ago, affording evidence of very early trans-Eurasian cultural exchange (wheat came in the opposite direction, from west to east, around the third millennium BC).  Before the introduction of wheat, millet was the original staple grain of North China.  No wonder that the mythical culture hero Hou Ji 后稷 ("Lord Millet"), the god of cereals or minister of agriculture, had that name.

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"Popo" in Hong Kong

Article in SCMP Magazine:

"How Hong Kong slang terms for 'police' have evolved over time", by Lisa Lim (9/28/19):

Back in the day, Hong Kong policemen were referred to in Cantonese as luhky ī  [sic; VHM: luk6ji1 綠衣]  ("green clothing"), for the green uniforms they had worn since the 19th century. Khaki drill became the summer uniform around 1920 while the current get-up of light-blue shirt and black trousers, worn year-round, was adopted in December 2004.

In addition to the green uniforms, headgear worn by policemen – the turbans of Sikhs and the conical bamboo hats of the Chinese – were also part of the personification.

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The Out of Hunan Theory

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu and Filip Jirouš]

A recent post by Mark Liberman nominated the Association for the Promotion of Research on the Origin of World Civilizations (Shìjiè Wénmíng Qǐyuán Yánjiū Cùjìn Huì 世界文明起源研究促进会) for the prestigious Becky prize, bestowed on those who make "outstanding contributions to linguistic misinformation". The award, named after Goropius Becanus, who claimed all human languages derived from his own, would be fully deserved by an Association promoting a form of Goropism: the contention that multiple languages, including English, are in fact derived from Chinese. While the recent event that triggered Liberman's nomination has been widely reported in English and other Chinese dialects, it is perhaps less known that the Association's chairman has even more Goropian ideas. Just like Goropius saw his Antwerp dialect as the language of Adam and Eve, Professor Du Gangjian of Hunan University claims these languages, and a few other things, in fact come from Hunan Province.

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Another Illusion Shattered: "leprechaun" not native Irish

So we learn from this article:

"Leprechaun 'is not a native Irish word' new dictionary reveals", by Nuala McCann BBC News (9/5/19)

Leprechauns may be considered quintessentially Irish, but research suggests this perception is blarney.

The word "leprechaun" is not a native Irish one, scholars have said.

They have uncovered hundreds of lost words from the Irish language and unlocked the secrets of many others.

Although "leipreachán" has been in the Irish language for a long time, researchers have said it comes from Luperci, a group linked to a Roman festival.

The feast included a purification ritual involving swimming and, like the Luperci, leprechauns are associated with water in what may be their first appearance in early Irish literature.

According to an Old Irish tale known as The Adventure of Fergus son of Léti, leprechauns carried the sleeping Fergus out to sea.

A new revised dictionary created from the research spans 1,000 years of the Irish language from the 6th to the 16th centuries.

A team of five academics from Cambridge University and Queen's University Belfast carried out painstaking work over five years, scouring manuscripts and texts for words which have been overlooked or mistakenly defined.

Their findings can now be freely accessed in the revised version of the online dictionary of Medieval Irish.

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The origins of the Turkic word for "stirrup"

Ulf Jäger has just published this impressive article:

"A Unique Alxon-Hunnic Horse-and-Rider Statuette (Late Fifth Century CE) from Ancient Bactria / Modern Afghanistan in the Pritzker Family Collection, Chicago", Sino-Platonic Papers, 290 (August, 2019), 72 pages (free pdf).

In this study the author offers a first attempt to describe, discuss, and interpret the bronze statuette of a noble horse-and-rider of the so-called Alkhon/Alxon wave of the "Iranian Huns," dated to the end of the fifth century CE, from Northern Afghanistan.

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The enigma of the black hands

"UPDATE 1-China tells U.S. to remove 'black hands' from Hong Kong"

Reuters   (7/23/19)

China said on Tuesday that U.S. officials were behind violent chaos in Hong Kong and warned against interference, following a series of protests in the city, including bloody clashes on the weekend. "We can see that U.S. officials are even behind such incidents," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a regular press briefing on Tuesday.

China's allegations of U.S. "black hands" fomenting unrest in Hong Kong have been all over the news during the last few days.  Politically, no one knows exactly what the PRC is referring to (they haven't given any evidence for the involvement of American officials).  Linguistically, the origin of this expression in Chinese is far from clear.

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"Mulan" is a masculine, non-Sinitic name

There is much hullabaloo over the new "Mulan" trailer:

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Water chestnuts are not horse hooves

One of my favorite ingredients in Chinese cooking is the crunchy water chestnut, but it always puzzled me that the name for this item is mǎtí 马蹄 / 馬蹄.  Although technically it's not a nut (it's the corm of an aquatic vegetable) and doesn't really look like a horse hoof, I tried to convince myself that maybe there was some sort of resemblance between the two after all.

It turns out that, while on the one hand mǎtí 马蹄 / 馬蹄 really does mean "horse hoof" and just happens to be the title of a chapter [the 9th] in my favorite early Chinese book (Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu / Wandering on the Way), on the other hand it also has a completely different etymology when applied to the water chestnut.  Namely, it is borrowed into Mandarin and other Sinitic topolects from Cantonese maa5 tai4-2, maa5 tai4, where it is the transcription of a Kra-Dai substrate word (Li, 2012) (compare Zhuang makdaez).  Source.  I became even more hopelessly confused when I learned the derived Cantonese expression maa5 tai2 fan2 馬蹄粉 and thought that, well, this must be some sort of gelatin made from horse hooves (but that's just an urban legend anyway), when in truth it's simply water chestnut starch.  This is but one example of how Chinese characters frequently lead us seriously astray when it comes to understanding the derivation and meanings of Sinitic words.

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: "bear arms" (part 2)

Part 1 is here. An introduction and guide to my series of posts "Corpora and the Second Amendment" is available here. The corpus data that is discussed can be downloaded here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.

Update:  Concordance-line references have been changed to reflect revisions to the spreadsheet from which the lines were copied, as have figures for the total number of concordance lines and for the various subtotals that are given.

New URL for COFEA and COEME: https://lawcorpus.byu.edu.

In this post and the next one, I will discuss the corpus data for bear arms.

This post will focus on the data that I think is consistent (or at least arguably consistent) with the Supreme Court's interpretation of bear arms in District of Columbia v. Heller, and the next one will deal with the data that I think is inconsistent with the Heller interpretation.

As I discussed in my last post, the court in Heller held that the "natural meaning" of bear arms in the late 18th century (i.e., its "ordinary meaning" (i.e., what it ordinarily meant)) was "wear, bear, or carry upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person." As I read the data, very little of it is consistent with that interpretation.

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H-b expressions

Yesterday, I was thinking of words to express "commotion", "(noisy) disturbance", etc.  "Hustle bustle" and "hurly burly" quickly came to mind.  Thinking analogically, "hubbub" also presented itself for consideration.  Tangentially, "hullabaloo", "hoopla", "hoo-ha", and, through a process of inversion, "ballyhoo" and "brouhaha" also tagged along, but were less convincing as support for a thesis that was swiftly emerging.  Namely, "h-b" words seem to be naturally configured for expressing an energetic state of affairs full of movement and din.

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