Archive for Etymology

Thought panzers

Vacillating Chinese terminology for think tanks

Mark Metcalf wrote to tell me:

Global Times*just ran an article that might be of interest regarding PRC think tanks and a new book related to this topic: “Researchers, scholars explore methods to boost China’s influence of thoughts”.

*an appendage of People's Daily

I was caught up short by the clumsy expression "influence of thoughts".  But something else about this new development bothered me much more.  Mark tracked down the title of the book in question:

《Sīxiǎng tǎnkè: Zhōngguó zhìkù de guòqù, xiànzhuàng yǔ wèilái 思想坦克:中国智库的过去、现状与未来》("Thought tanks [armored vehicles]: the past, present, and future of China's wisdom warehouses"]) [VHM — intentionally awkward translation for special effect, to be explained below]

What jumped out at me in the title was the use of tǎnkè 坦克 for (think) tank. In my Chinese studies, I learned that tǎnkè 坦克 was a military weapon and not a repository. And when you Google images of tǎnkè 坦克, all you see are images of tracked vehicles. That's how all my Pleco dictionaries translate the term, as well. However, when you put the term into Google Translate, it provides both the tracked vehicle and an alternative translation: "a large receptacle or storage chamber, especially for liquid or gas" with yóuxiāng 油箱 ("oil / gas[oline] / fuel tank") as a synonym. Yet GT can't translate the term sīxiǎng tǎnkè 思想坦克.  [VHM:  And well it should not.  See more below.]

Going out on a limb, could the expression sīxiǎng tǎnkè 思想坦克 have the dual meaning (i.e., a pun) for an offensive organization ("vehicle") that is used to control / defend the narrative of the CCP?

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Ask Language Log: Manchu Blue Dragon

Continuing our series on dragons, this note and illustration come from Juha Janhunen, the Finnish linguist:

Happy Blue Dragon Year to everybody! Below is the official flag (1889-1912) of the Manchu Empire (in the west misleadingly known as "China"), which happens to have a blue dragon on it. Manchu muduri 'dragon' still seems to lack an external etymology. Any suggestions?

(See at the very bottom of this post for a possible connection to "otter".)

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What is the difference between a dragon and a /lʊŋ³⁵/?

Today is the Lunar New Year's Day, and it's the Year of the Dragon / /lʊŋ³⁵/ . As such, a kerfuffle is stirring in China and the English-speaking world regarding the English translation of lóng ⿓ / 龙 / 竜 (J), which is usually "dragon".

I will begin with the pronunciation of the word.  In MSM, it is lóng (Hanyu Pinyin), lung2 (Wade-Giles), lúng (Yale), long (Gwoyeu Romatzyh [the configuration of GR tonal spelling for this syllable indicates second tone), лун (Palladius).  They all represent the same MSM syllable.  I will not list the scores of other topolectal pronunciations for Cantonese, Shanghainese, Hakka, Hokkien, Xiamen / Amoy, Sichuan, etc., etc. and their dialects and subdialects.

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Abbott's Abode, part 2

[This is a guest post by Michael Bates.  It is about the place in Pakistan where Osama Bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011 and where, a scant five months earlier, on January 25, 2011, Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek was arrested.]

Via Google search, I found your post about the etymology of "-ābād" ("Abbott's Abode" [5/6/11]), which is very enlightening.
 
This is in the context of my previous discussion of the mints al-Hārūniyya and Hārūnābād in 2011. Someone just now responded cogently to the argument online.* My thinking has evolved a bit since I last wrote. I would now argue that the termination "-iyya" in an Arabic toponym indicates an elided "al-Madīna" [al-Hārūniyya], and that madīna indicates a walled settlement. For example, Madīnat al-Salām is not a renaming or synonym of Baghdad, but rather Madīnat al-Salām was the circular walled fortification–one can easily find a modern plan of it–superimposed within or on or adjacent to a pre-existing undefined town named Baghdad, which was or came to be larger territorially, and survived as a place and a name long after the madīna itself was destroyed by the Mongols.

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"Tibet" obliterated

The name "Tibet" has been outlawed in the PRC.  Henceforth, Tibet (the name by which it has been known to the world for centuries) is to be called by its newer Chinese name, Xizang ("West Zang") — even in English. 

Chinese state media drops ‘Tibet’ for ‘Xizang’ after release of Beijing white paper

    Use of the name ‘Xizang’ when referring to the Tibet autonomous region has risen dramatically in English articles by China’s official media
    It comes after the State Council releases a white paper on November 10 which replaced ‘Tibet’ for pinyin term ‘Xizang’ in most instances

Yuanyue Dang, SCMP (12/10/23)

China’s official media has dramatically increased its use of the term “Xizang”, rather than “Tibet”, when referring to the autonomous region in western China in English articles, after a white paper on Tibet was released by China’s cabinet, the State Council, in early November.

The white paper, titled “CPC Policies on the Governance of Xizang in the New Era: Approach and Achievements”, outlines developments in Tibet since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

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Confusing coffee and tea: blowing hot and cold

Klaus Nuber, who four years ago sent us this amusing post, "Restaurant logo with a dingus" (5/29/19), has contributed another droll Anekdote.

The following article is in today's Süddeutsche Zeitung, "Kannste knicken?"* (11/23/23) — herewith the second anecdote of three from all over the world:

*VHM:  The meaning of the article title escapes me — can you fold / bend [it]?

Mitten in … Zhejiang

Weiter weg geht es kaum von der Großstadt Peking: Neun Stunden mit dem Zug, dann eine lange Autofahrt die Täler entlang, jetzt ist der Hunger groß. Im Restaurant? Keine Karte, bestellt werden kann, was im Kühlschrank liegt. Ein paar Karotten, zwei Kartoffeln, ein platt gedrückter Tintenfisch. Kommt sofort! Dafür um die Ecke, kaum zu glauben, ein Café! Draußen das ländliche China mit seinen Reisfeldern und Kohlelastern, drinnen brummt die Espresso-Maschine. Der lang ersehnte Schluck, aber was ist das? Der Kaffee – eiskalt! Vorsichtige Frage an den Barista, ob es den auch in heiß gäbe? Sein Blick zunächst: totale Entgeisterung, dann folgt schallendes Gelächter. "Diese Ausländer!", ruft er und alle gucken. "Hört mal her. Jetzt trinken die ihren Kaffee auch noch wie Tee!" So was Amüsantes haben die Menschen hier schon lange nicht mehr gehört. Lea Sahay

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Indigo and cabbage

In the first comment to this post on a Northeastern topolectal word for kohlrabi, "piě-le 丿了" (cf. MSM piělán 苤蓝), Jenny Chu astutely asked whether the second syllable is related to the Chinese word for the color blue, lán 藍 (also "indigo", for which see below).

That sent me scurrying, since — although I was vaguely aware of a secondary meaning besides "indigo, blue" of "cabbage" for lán 藍 — I could not recall ever hearing any convincing / satisfying explanation for what the relation between these two meanings is.

Some early Chinese authors and commentators do assert that the leaves of cruciferous vegetables (Brassicaceae, colloquially called cole crops in North America) are referred to as lán 藍 due to their color.  However, because of my background knowledge of words for cabbage, kale, etc. in many other languages, I did not find that a satisfying explanation.  So I decided to dig deeper into the mystery of the dual identity of lán 藍:  indigo and cabbage.

I believe that what I came up with will illuminate the conundrum.

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"Tomato sauce" in Cantonese, with a trigger warning

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Midori

Michael Watts just wrote this comment on another post, and I thought it was interesting enough to deserve a post of its own:

I've been wondering about a claim that appears on wiktionary. The entry for the Japanese word "midori", spelled 緑 or in older form 綠, states that the word is from Old Japanese, originally referred to buds and shoots, and experienced semantic shift into its modern meaning of the color green.

What bothers me is that the character 綠 is already defined in the shuowen jiezi, which is significantly older than Old Japanese, as referring to a color and not to a plant. So for the Japanese word to be spelled 綠, it seems to me that it must already have lacked reference to plants by the time it was being written down at all.

So… how do we know that it originally referred to buds and shoots? What kind of evidence might we have for that? If it's true, why wasn't the word spelled 芽?

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Wok talk: enlarging the scope

Following up on "Wok talk: a real-life retronym!" (10/16/23), Jim Millward remarks:

My wife (Punjabi background) and her family call the "wok-shaped pan" they use for cooking vegetable or meat dishes "kurai" (that's my phoneticization–it could be aspirated or unaspirated k / g, I'm not good at hearing the difference).  I've seen these and we've got a couple–they are indeed parabolic curved-sided heavier metal pans, though some have small diameter flat bottoms for convenience.   Other pots and pans are called patila.   The dishes, generally, are bartan.  The kurai, she just told me, is specifically the "wok-shaped pan." 

 
I don't have the tools to look into this, but kurai may be Hindi with Sanskrit origins, possibly related to 锅?

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Share your language

If you can't make up your mind what to do about something, then in French you would say "je suis partagé":  I'm torn or divided over it.  You can't decide what to do about it.  You can't make up your mind whether to be pleased or angry with something.  But the verb "partager" means "to share".  So how do we get from "share" to "torn"?

Etymology tells us that partager is from partage +‎ -er, i.e., Displaced partir in the sense of "to share, to divide", e.g.,
Nous allons partager les bénéficesWe are going to share the benefits

(source)

My attention was drawn (see below) to this subject by the following editorial in today's The Yomiuri Shimbun:

Japanese Language Survey:

As Words Constantly Evolve, Let’s Share Them Across Generations

(9/30/23)

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Dogged by an etymological shape

[This is a guest post by Martin Schwartz]

The following is just an idle speculation for which I have no answer, but somehow I don't think mere coincidence is really a factor.

A number of Old World languages of different groups show a word for 'dog' or a doglike beast of the type affricate/sibilant plus /a/ (plus vowel) plus l/r.:
 
Basque txakur /čakur/ 'dog'; see Wiktionary, where under "descendents" Romance and Turkish(!) comparanda are given.
 
Kartvelian (grosso modo) dzaGHl- 'dog'.

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Some Old Chinese terms relating to religion, mythology, ritual

[This is a guest post by Axel Schuessler]

Some Old Chinese (OC) words that relate to religion, mythology and ritual, and words found in ritual literature (Yijing, Liji, Zhouli), have no Sino-Tibetan (ST) roots, but instead have connections with other language families.

    For comparison, the first section of this paper will list (§1) Sino-Tibetan words, i.e., ones with Tibeto-Burman (TB) cognates. Then: (§2) Mon-Khmer words from the state of Chu and mid-Yangtze region. (§3) Miao-Yao (Hmong-Mien) and area words, perhaps also from the mid-Yangtze. (§4) Tai/Kra-Dai items from the Huai River basin. (§5) The Gou-language(s), so called because among its prefixes stands out a conspicuous syllable gou (see Schuessler forthc.). These languages were in prehistoric times spoken from at least Yue in the South in the vicinity of the Coast all the way to Song and Qi. Their connection with known language families is unknown. (§6) The last section is dedicated to the mythological figures Xi and Hé 羲和.

    About the hypothetical early historic locations of these language families, see Schuessler forthc. (“Tigers, and the languages of ancient Chu, Wu, and Yue”). Outside of China, the items under consideration tend to be ordinary, mundane words, but in OC they often acquire a narrow meaning just for ritual use. This identifies them as loans.

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