Archive for Etymology

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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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Does "splooting" have an etymology?

In the summer of 1990, I spent a memorable five weeks at the outstanding summer institute on Indo-European linguistics and archeology held by DOALL (at least that's what we jokingly called it — the Department of Oriental and African Languages and Literatures) of the University of Texas (Austin).  The temperature was 106º or above for a whole month.  Indomitable / stubborn man that I am, I still insisted on going out for my daily runs. 

As I was jogging along, I would come upon squirrels doing something that stopped me in my tracks, namely, they were splayed out prostrate on the ground, their limbs spread-eagle in front and behind them.  Immobile, they would look at me pathetically, and I would sympathize with them.  Remember, they have thick fur that can keep them warm in the dead of winter.

I assumed that these poor squirrels were lying with their belly flat on the ground to absorb whatever coolness was there (conversely put, to dissipate their body heat).  At least that made some sort of sense to me.  I had no idea what to call that peculiar, prone posture.  Now I do.

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Ajvar and caviar

Many of us first learned about the Balkan red pepper sauce / relish / spread called "ajvar" in this post:  "Bosnian menu" (7/28/22).  Simplicissimus contributed a nice comment in which it was averred that the BCS (Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian) "word ‘ajvar’ and the English word ‘caviar’ both derive from the same etymon, the Ottoman Turkish word ‘havyar’ (which, in turn, derives from the Persian ‘xâvyâr’) — now that I think about it, it’s not unimaginable to me that ‘ajvar’ got its name on account of a vague resemblance to red caviar."

Since I was one of those who had not previously heard of ajvar but was quite familiar with caviar, Simplicissimus' remark really piqued my fancy because neither did the two food items in question resemble each other very much (fish roe vs. red pepper sauce), nor was the phonological resemblance that great (thinking especially of the "c" at the beginning of "caviar" and its absence from "ajvar").  So I decided to dig more deeply into the relationship between ajvar and caviar.  Turns out to a fascinating linguistic, cultural, and culinary story.

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The giraffe, a supposedly composite creature with a complicated nomenclature

The giraffe is such an outlandish animal that many otherwise sensible people have thought that it must be a combination of several species.

From the concept of a giraffe being an amalgam of several animals jointly; compare Persian شترگاوپلنگ(šotorgâvpalang, giraffe, literally camel-ox-leopard) and Ancient Greek καμηλοπάρδαλῐς (kamēlopárdalis, giraffe).

Noun

زَرَافَة (zarāfaf (plural زَرَافَات(zarāfāt))

    1. group of people, cluster of people, body of people
      زَرَافَاتٍ وَ‌وُحْدَانًا‎ ― zarāfātin wa-wuḥdānanjointly and severally; in groups and alone

(source)

The name "giraffe" has its earliest known origins in the Arabic word zarāfah (زرافة), perhaps borrowed from the animal's Somali name geri. The Arab name is translated as "fast-walker". In early Modern English the spellings jarraf and ziraph were used, probably directly from the Arabic, and in Middle English orafle and gyrfaunt, gerfaunt. The Italian form giraffa arose in the 1590s. The modern English form developed around 1600 from the French girafe.

"Camelopard" /kəˈmɛləˌpɑːrd/ is an archaic English name for the giraffe; it derives from the Ancient Greek καμηλοπάρδαλις (kamēlopárdalis), from κάμηλος (kámēlos), "camel", and πάρδαλις (párdalis), "leopard", referring to its camel-like shape and leopard-like colouration.

(source)

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Misbehaving mediums

https://twitter.com/C_M_Churchman/status/1543548736663474176?s=20&t=2MgZwvO2bGO9cDgP4H6lIg

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A grammar of quickstick errors

Chopsticks:  in cookery, designates:

a pair of thin sticks, of ivory, wood, etc, used as eating utensils by the Chinese, Japanese, and other people of East Asia
 
[C17: from pidgin English, from chop quick, of Chinese dialect origin + stick1]

Collins English DictionaryComplete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014

That's for the English word, now for the Chinese:

The Old Chinese words for "chopsticks" were zhù (OC *das) and jiā (OC *keːb).  Zhù is preserved in almost all Min dialects (Taiwanese , ; Fuzhou dê̤ṳ) and some other dialects, especially those in some contact with Min; it is also preserved in loans to other languages, e.g., Korean 젓가락 (jeotgarak), Vietnamese đũa and Zhuang dawh. Starting from the Ming Dynasty, the change to kuàizi 筷子 occurred in Mandarin, Wu, and some Cantonese dialects. The 15th century book Shuyuan Miscellanies (《菽園雜記》) by Lu Rong (陸容) mentioned this change:

舟行
」……,快兒

As the mariners feared (“to stay”) […], they called zhù (“chopsticks”) kuàier 快兒 (lit. "quick + diminutive suffix").  [VHM:  alt. "As the mariners had a taboo against "lingering / staying", they called zhù (“chopsticks”) kuàier 快兒 (lit. "quick + diminutive suffix").

The bamboo radical (zhu [the sound is not relevant here) was later added to kuài to form kuài .

(source, with some additions by VHM)

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Genghis Khan and Burkhan Khaldun

Every five years or so, popular science magazines have a "Genghis Khan tomb" story.

Here's a current iteration:

"Where is the tomb of Genghis Khan?"

By Owen Jarus, published 12 days ago

The location of the tomb of Genghis Khan (c. 1162 – August 18/25, 1227; the founder and first great Khan [Emperor] of the Mongol Empire) was certainly meant to be kept secret by those who buried him.  

Marco Polo wrote that, even by the late 13th century, the Mongols did not know the location of the tomb. The Secret History of the Mongols has the year of Genghis Khan's death (1227) but no information concerning his burial. In the "Travels of Marco Polo" he writes that "It has been an invariable custom, that all the grand khans, and chiefs of the race of Genghis-khan, should be carried for interment to a certain lofty mountain named Altai, and in whatever place they may happen to die, although it should be at the distance of a hundred days' journey, they are nevertheless conveyed thither."

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Tocharian words for oil

We've had two consecutive posts on oil-related words (see "Selected readings" below).  julie lee made this comment on the first of the two:

Old Chinese/Old Sinitic *lew is similar in sound and meaning to Welsh OLEW "oil".

[From Middle Welsh olew, form Old Welsh oleu, from Proto-Brythonic *olew, from Vulgar Latin *olevum, from Latin oleum (oil).] (source)

julie's observation inspired me to ask Doug Adams whether there were any Tocharian words for oil.  He replied:

There are two (sort of),  There are both ṣalype and ṣmare.  The first is 'oil (particularly sesame oil); salve, ointment' (also oil in a lamp), the second is, as a noun, 'oil' (as in a lamp) and, as an adjective, 'smooth, even, slippery.'  The first is etymologically connected to English salve and the second to English smear.

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Oleomargarine: rituals and litany

In the previous post ("Oil: a partial paradigm" [6/19/22)]), we have been discussing the origins and ramifications of the derivation of the word "oil" from the ancient Greek word for olive.  The last comment (before I wrote this post), by Coby, states:  "Spanish also has the word óleo, which can mean either oil paint or the oil used in church rituals."  Reading Coby's reference to óleo immediately sparked fond childhood memories of the Mair family ritual of mixing margarine.

We were a large and not well off family, so we seldom could afford real butter.  Consequently, we used oleomargarine to spread on our bread rather than butter.  We referred to it as "oleo" instead of "margarine", since the latter seemed too fancy-fussy in our household, and "oleomargarine" would have taken too much time to pronounce and would have been considered archly pedantic among us rural Ohio folk.

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Oil: a partial paradigm

Oil is one of the most important substances used by human beings.  It can be an essential food for consumption, a medium for cooking and frying, a lubricant, a material for the transmission of pressure through closed channels, a soothing substance for the skin, a substance to burn for propulsion and illumination, a polishing agent, and so forth.  It can even be used metaphorically and literally to signify a calming agent:

The figurative expression pour oil upon the waters "appease strife or disturbance" is by 1840, from an ancient trick of sailors.

Another historical illustration which involves monolayers, was when sailors poured oil on the sea in order to calm 'troubled waters' and so protect their ship. This worked by wave damping or, more precisely, by preventing small ripples from forming in the first place so that the wind could have no effect on them. [J. Lyklema, "Fundamentals of Interface and Colloid Science," Academic Press, 2000]

The phenomenon depends on what are called Marangoni effects; Benjamin Franklin experimented with it in 1765.*

(source)

[*What did not excite the curiosity of the founder of the University of Pennsylvania?]

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