Archive for Etymology

Sanskrit hiṃsā || Hebrew khamás || Arabic ḥamās

From Michael Carasik:

I have been wondering whether Gandhi’s “ahimsa” can be related to Hebrew חמס, the reason (per Gen 6:11) that God brought the Flood.

The OED has already assured me that ahimsa is a- (“non”) + himsa, which seems promising.

Michael asks whether this connection is plausible.

Though Sanskrit is an Indo-European language and Hebrew is Semitic, my initial impression is that the connection is not entirely implausible.  Here's why.

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Portuguese words in Japanese, and beyond

Len Leverson sent me his unpublished paper titled "O 'pão' Português Conquista o Mundo" about how the Portuguese word for bread spread across the globe.  That got me to thinking about how many words of Portuguese origin are in Japanese.  I'll focus on "pão" more squarely in a moment, but first just a quick list of some important and interesting words of Portuguese origin in Japanese.

The first one that pops into my mind (for obvious reasons since I spent a couple of decades studying the mummies of Eastern Central Asia) is mīra ミイラ ("myrrh") because, when the Portuguese were selling Egyptian mummies to the Japanese as medicine, they often mentioned myrrh as one of the preservatives, and the Japanese took the part for the whole.

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Schnauze

Upon seeing that word for the first time, I had only the vaguest idea of what it meant, though I suspected that it was closely related to the dog breed name:

schnauzer (n.)

breed of terrier with a bearded muzzle, 1923, from German Schnauzer, literally "growler," from schnauzen "to snarl, growl," from Schnauze "snout, muzzle," which is related to Middle English snute, snoute "snout" (see snout).

(etymonline)

Next, I thought that surely it must be the German cognate of Yiddish schnoz[z] ("nose"), and that was unmistakably clear from the nickname and protuberant proboscis of Jimmy Durante (1893-1980), who often jocularly referred to his own nose as the schnozzola (Italianization of the American Yiddish slang word schnoz.

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No more "turkey", please

Article by Vivian Salama and Jared Malsin in WSJ (11/27/22)

Turkey’s Push to Change How the World Pronounces its Name Causes a Flap

In part weary of bird comparisons, the country wants everyone to say ‘Tour-key-yeh.’ The rebranding has been a head-scratcher for many people.

In truth, I don't blame them, especially not since so many other countries and cities around the world have changed their names in recent decades.

Talking turkey is a pastime in the halls of government around the world. Yet what to call Turkey, the country, is something many can’t agree on.

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Wawa

[Preface:  scores of versions of the Wawa logo here.  Take a look before plunging in to the post.]

Brother Joe told me the good news that Wawa stores are coming to my home state of Ohio!

Wawa's are great!  Anyone who went to Penn would know this because their stores are near the campus and their hoagies / subs, salads, mac and cheese, coffee, snacks of all sorts, etc. are tasty and wholesome.  I could practically live out of Wawa's.

Chinese chuckle when they encounter the word "Wawa".  The first thing they think of is "wáwá 娃娃" ("baby; child; doll") — note the female radicals on the left, but secondarily they might think of "wāwā 哇哇" ("wow wow") — note the mouth radicals, or tertiarily they might think of "wāwā 蛙蛙" ("frog") — note the insect / bug radicals.  The name just somehow sounds funny.  Cf. what we were saying about sound symbolism in "The sound of swearing" (12/7/22).

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Zoroastrianism between Iranic and Sinitic

I've always been intrigued by this odd character:  祆.  It's got a "spirit; cult" semantophore (radical; classifier) on the left (shì 礻) and a "heaven" phonophore (tiān 天) on the right.  Read "xiān", it is customarily translated as "deity; divinity; Heaven" and is thought of as the central figure of Xiānjiào 祆教 ("xian doctrine / religion").  The traditional Chinese explanation of Xiānjiào 祆教 is Bàihuǒjiào 拜火教 ("fire-worshipping doctrine / religion"), which is rendered into English as "Zoroastrianism" or "Mazdaism".  According to zdic, Xiān is Ormazda, god of the Zoroastrians; extended to god of the Manicheans.

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Mount a chariot

This has always been a bone of contention with me ever since I started studying Buddhology and Sinology in the late 60s and early 70s, when everybody I knew — Chinese and foreigners, scholars and laypersons alike — pronounced 大乘 and 小乘, the Chinese equivalents of Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna, respectively as dàchéng and xiǎochéng.  But that didn't make sense to me, since Mahayana means "Great Vehicle" and Hīnayāna means "Small Vehicle", i.e., modifier + noun construction, so I formed the opinion that, in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) they should be pronounced as dàshèng and xiǎoshèng.  Consequently, I began to use these pronunciations — dàshèng and xiǎoshèng — for Mahayana and Hinayana, rather than dàchéng and xiǎochéng.  At first it seemed odd, causing editors and reviewers to "correct" me.  Slowly, however, over the decades, other scholars began to adopt these readings, dàshèng and xiǎoshèng, until now most knowledgeable Buddhist specialists use them, although the lay public, by and large, still pronounce them dàchéng and xiǎochéng.

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Scot-free

Next time you hear or use the expression "scot-free", don't think that it has anything to do with Scots language or Scot people.  I have always avoided using this expression because I didn't want to disparage a whole people.  But "scot-free" is such a useful phrase that I wished I could use it with a good conscience.  So finally I looked it up and found that it has a completely different derivation from that of the name of the language and the people.

(colloquial) Without consequences or penalties, to go free without payment.

From Middle English scotfre, from Old English scotfrēo (scot-free; exempt from royal tax or imposts), equivalent to scot (payment; contribution; fine) +‎ -free.

(Wiktionary)

 

scot
 (skŏt)

n.

Money assessed or paid.

[Middle English, tax, partly from Old Norse skot and partly from Old French escot, of Germanic origin; see skeud- in Indo-European roots.]

(AH Dict. 2016 5th ed.)

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The multifarious nature of the kiosk

Makes your head spin.

Takes so many different shapes and serves so many different purposes:

Historically, a kiosk (from Persian kūshk) was a small garden pavilion open on some or all sides common in Persia, the Indian subcontinent, and in the Ottoman Empire from the 13th century onward. Today, several examples of this type of kiosk still exist in and around the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, and they can be seen in Balkan countries.

The word is used in English-speaking countries for small booths offering goods and services. In Australia they usually offer food service. Freestanding computer terminals dispensing information are called interactive kiosks.

(source)

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Tea map

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Look-see-watch

As native speakers of English, we have a direct, non-analytical understanding of the differences among "look", "see", and "watch", the three main verbs for expressing visual perception.  The first indicates that we have a purposive gaze at / toward / for something; the second that our sight focuses on what we were looking for; and the third adds a durative aspect of observing what we were looking for and saw.

A few days ago, I came across a mention of the term "look-see", and it brought back the memory of when I first learned the Mandarin word kànjiàn 看見 ("see") half a century ago, which struck me powerfully as having the same construction as "look-see".  Moreover, I knew enough about pidgin English to realize that "look-see" had a strong pidgin Gefühl to it.

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Garbler of spices

A couple of days ago, we had occasion to come to grips with the word "garble":  "Please do not feel confused" (8/19/22).  This led Kent McKeever to write as follows:

Your recent use of "garble" has prompted me to pass on something I recently stumbled on.  I have been poking at the digital files of the Newspapers of Eighteenth Century English newspapers and ran across a reference to the London city government position of "Garbler of Spices."  From the context, it seems to be an inspector, perhaps processor, of spice imports.  Totally new to me.

Totally new to me too.

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"Sound" at the center, "horn" at the periphery: the shawm and its eastern cousins, part 2

For a good example of how music and musical instruments, together with the words to designate them, could travel long distances in antiquity, we have already taken a look at the case of the shawm:  "The shawm and its eastern cousins" (11/16/15).  Since writing that post nearly seven years ago, a few more interesting facts about the shawm family have come to light, so it's time to revisit this raucous instrument.

I first encountered this melodic noisemaker in the guise of the Chinese suǒnà 嗩吶.  Inasmuch as the Sinographic form has two mouth radicals, that could be to emphasize that it has to do with making sounds, which is definitely true, but that might also indicate that it is a transcription of a foreign word, which is certainly the case.  The latter is underscored by the fact that it has the variant orthographic form with a metal radical on the first character:  鎖吶.

So where did the suona come from, and how did it get to China?  By investigating suona's linguistic ancestry, we can get a pretty good idea of the route by which it came to the Middle Kingdom.

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