Archive for Etymology

Nomadic affinity with oracle bone divination

Anyone who has studied the history of writing in China is aware that the earliest manifestation of the Sinitic script dates to around the 13th century BC, under the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600- BC).  It is referred to as jiǎgǔwén 甲骨文 ("oracle bone writing") and was used primarily (almost exclusively) for the purpose of divination.  The most ideal bones for this purpose were ox scapulae, since they were broad and flat, and had other suitable properties, which I shall describe below.

The bones used for divination were prepared by cleaning and then having indentations drilled into their surface, but not all the way through.  A hot poker was applied to the declivities, causing cracks to radiate from the heated focal point.  This cracking was called bǔ卜, a pictograph of the lines that form in a heat-stressed bone.

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Daughter of Holy Cow

I was just thinking how important cows (and their milk) are for Indian people and was surprised that's reflected in such a fundamental word for a family relationship as "daughter" — at least in the popular imagination.  Even in a scholarly work such as that of D.N. Jha, The Myth of the Holy Cow (New Delhi:  Navayana, 2009), p. 28, we find:

Some kinship terms were also borrowed from the pastoral nomenclature and the daughter was therefore called duhitṛ (= duhitā = one who milks).

That somehow seemed too good to be true, a bit dubious on the surface.  To test the equation, I began by bringing together some basic linguistic information acquired on a preliminary web search.

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Horse culture comes east

In Friday's New York Times:

"A Record of Horseback Riding, Written in Bone and Teeth:  Close examination of horse remains has clarified the timeline of when equestrianism helped transform ancient Chinese civilization", by Katherine Kornei (11/13/20)

More archeological evidence that the horse, horse riding, and related equestrian technologies and culture came to East Asia from the Eurasian interior before the rise of extensive trade along the Silk Road during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-9 AD), and that these developments had a profound impact on the civilization and political organization of East Asia.

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"Skin" and "hide" ("pelt") in Old Sinitic and Proto-Indo-European

Browsing through the The American Heritage Dictionary "Indo-European Roots Appendix", a favorite activity of mine, even before the pandemic lockdowns, I came to "pel-3" and was stunned when I saw that one of the derived words was Greek peltē, a shield (made of hide), about which three years ago I had written a very long post (nearly three thousand words): 

"Of armaments and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 6" (12/23/17)

Utilizing a mass of archeological, art historical, textual, linguistic, and other types of evidence, I had shown a close resemblance between the Greek peltē and Sinitic fá 瞂  pelta; small shield — Middle Sinitic bjwot — as defined in Paul Kroll, ed., A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese (Leiden: Brill, 2015), p. 104a.  In that whole, long post, I did not mention Sinitic pí 皮 ("skin; hide; pelt; leather"), because I was determined to cite only linguistic evidence from the Classical Greek to the Middle Sinitic period and the associated artifacts and images.

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This bore is not a bore

I was thrilled when I came upon this 3:04 YouTube video by chance on the morning of the mid-Autumn festival (October 1):

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Pugu, boga, beg

From Pamela Crossley:

Just read again Chao Wu’s perplexing post on An early fourth century AD historical puzzle involving a Caucasian people in North China. it mentions “pugu” as “a Hu title.”  This made me wonder about possible connection of “pugu” (however it was originally pronounced) and related series of titles boga / bojilie / beyile, beg / begler, boyar, etc., but can’t see this having been done on the site.  Not being a linguist, I can only express curiosity. but I wonder if “pugu” is an early citation of these medieval Eurasian titles.

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Foreigner: goy, gajo, gaijin

Annie Gottlieb asks:

Here's a question for you:

 
These words all have the same meaning—
 
goy, goyim (Yiddish)
gajo (Roma)
gaijin (Japanese)
 
Is there any relationship or is this a coincidence?

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Japanese toponyms Englished

There's a Reddit page with this title:  "Fully anglicised Japan, based off actual etymologies, rendered into plausible English".  Feast your eyes:


(source)

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Idle thoughts on "gelding"

The title and the following observations come from Rebecca Hamilton:

I was reading Patrick Leigh Fermor's Between the Woods and the Water: on Foot to Constantinople, as I convalesce from COVID-19 (I've had a hard time of it), and I stumbled upon an aside he made about the French "hongre," meaning "gelding," as does the German "wallach." He made this comment – without further explication – in the context of a discussion of the ethnographic roots of Hungarians, Wallachians, and Rumanians (in particular, the latter as being descendants of Roman occupation, if not Romans themselves). What all this means, I cannot say. It seemed like a topic you would know something about. Because I am confined to bed for the moment, if you could be so kind as to forward me some reading material, I would be very grateful. Also, anything about "Wales" or "Welsh" sharing etymological roots with "Wallach," and how "wether" fits into all this would be great.

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Turkish "kedi" and English "cat"

In reacting to the fierce denunciation of Xi Jinping by Cai Xia (see bibliographical note at the bottom of this post), Conal Boyce mused:

Mind-boggling material. I had to do a double-take on the passage you show that contains both chǔn and jiāhuo (蠢家伙 ["stupid guy / fellow"]).  And sure enough, in the video, she actually uses the term zhèngzhì jiāngshī (政治僵尸 ["political zombies"]) more than once!

These are shocking terms, with a peculiar color all their own. They reminded me that, in a sense, there are no words that are actually 'equivalents' between two languages. For instance, the Turkish for 'cat' is 'kedi', which has a comfortable look of familiarity at first, because of English 'kitty', yet we suspect that the semantic range of 'kedi' in Turkish versus the semantic ranges for 'cat' and 'kitty' in English probably overlap in some unexpected Venn diagram style, with much of 'kedi' not immediately accessible to a speaker of English.

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“What’s it to you if I use my uterus or not?”

The actress Qin Lan, who is best known for her role in the wildly popular TV drama "Story of Yanxi Palace", said this in an interview:

“People have been asking me why I’m not getting married, and some have even suggested it’s ‘irresponsible’ if I don’t have a baby. I think it’s strange.

“What’s it to you if I use my uterus or not?”

That line went viral, garnering its own hashtag on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter).

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Some citrus terms in Sinitic: today and in the past

From the time I started learning Chinese more than half a century ago, I had a hard time lining up the many Chinese terms for different types of citrus with the corresponding words in English.   For example, I always wanted to call oranges "júzi 橘子", but it is technically (botanically) more correct to call them "chéngzi 橙子".  As for what júzi 橘子 should be called in English, they are, well, "mandarins" or "mandarin oranges".  Ahem!  As L said in this comment several years ago, "…in NZ, any small, peelable orange is a mandarin! And would never be considered an orange."  (From "Really?!" [12/27/16]).

Then there are tangerines, clementines (cuties), and satsumas, just among closely related varieties of citrus fruits, and I won't begin to get into grapefruit, pomelo, yuzu, citron, bergamot, kumquat, tangelo, kabosu, orangelo, hyuganatsu, rangpur, sudachi, kawachi bankan, etc., etc., and dozens of other types.  My old friend, the late Elling Eide (1935-2012), a specialist on Li Bo (701-762) had a grove on his estate in Sarasota, Florida where he cultivated about fifty different types of citrus fruits.  What a joy it was to walk through the grove and sample tree-ripened mandarins, tangerines, clementines, grapefruits, pomelos, and all manner of other citrus to satiety!

Be it should be noted that Elling could have all that richness of citrus because Sarasota has a humid subtropical climate bordering a tropical savanna climate, with an average of only one frost per year and rarely drops below freezing (which nonetheless always concerned Elling greatly).

But now we must turn to the main thrust of this post, which is a discussion of the etymology of gān 柑, another name for mandarin(e) (orange), often appearing in the disyllabic form gānjú 柑桔, which includes several closely related subspecies.

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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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