Archive for Etymology

Ambling, shambling, rambling, wandering, wondering: the spirit of Master Zhuang / Chuang

All the talk of moseying and ambling propelled me into a customary mode of mind.  Those who have taken classes with me know that, though I may start at a certain point in my lectures, it is difficult to predict how we will get to our intended destination, though we are certain to pass through many interesting and edifying scenes and scenarios along the way.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, my favorite Chinese work of all time is the Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu 莊子 (ca. 3rd c. BC).  The English title of my translation is Wandering on the Way.  The publisher wanted something more evocative than "Master Zhuang / Chuang" or "Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu", so I spent a couple of days coming up with about sixty possible titles, and they picked the one that I myself preferred, "Wandering on the Way", which is based on the first chapter of the book:  "Xiāoyáo yóu 逍遙遊" ("Carefree wandering").

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Mosey

This is both one of my favorite words and one of my most enjoyable modes.  Although I am normally very active and highly goal oriented, and walk almost as rapidly as a Singaporean (fastest in the world), occasionally I simply want to unwind a bit, especially when I'm with a like-minded friend, and just stroll about in a leisurely fashion.  Thus, for example, I will say, "Let's mosey on over to the Art Museum", and it will take us an hour or two, whereas if we walked at a normal pace and went straight to our destination, we might get there in half an hour.

Since "mosey" is a curious sounding word, one might well be tempted to look up its exact meaning and etymology.  If you do so, you'll likely be surprised and flummoxed, for its derivation and definition are both fuzzy, like the word itself.

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Xiongnu (Hunnic) Shanyu

One of the most hotly debated questions in early Chinese studies is the origin and pronunciation of the title of the ruler of the Xiongnu (Huns), which is written with these two Sinographs, 單于.  The current scholarly consensus is that the Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) pronunciation should be chányú.  Although it is much contested, the current scholarly consensus for the pronunciation of the name of the son of the first Xiongnu ruler, Tóumàn, is Mòdú (r. 209-174 BC): 

Modun, Maodun, Modu (simplified Chinese: 冒顿单于; traditional Chinese: 冒頓單于; pinyin: Mòdùn Chányú ~ Màodùn Chányú, c. 234 – c. 174 BCE), also known as Mete khan across a number of Turkic languages, was the son of Touman and the founder of the empire of the Xiongnu. He came to power by ordering his men to kill his father in 209 BCE.

(source)

The following is a guest post by Penglin Wang, which takes a different approach, and for the first time offers a novel source for the Hunnic title.  The state he refers to is Shanshan, better known as Loulan, which would make its language Indo-European (Tocharian or Gandhari Prakrit), for which see here.

For caṃkura as a Gandhari Prakrit title, see A Dictionary of Gāndhārī here.

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Ashkenazi and Scythians

It is not my intention to stir up a firestorm, but I have for decades suspected that the names "Ashkenazi" and "Scythian" are related.  Now, after having sat on this for years and letting it gnaw away at my inwyt for far too long, I've decided to seek the collected expertise of the Language Log readership to see if there really is something to my suspicion.

Ashkenazi Jews (/ˌæʃ-, ɑːʃkəˈnɑːzi/ ASH-, AHSH-kə-NAH-zee), also known as Ashkenazic Jews or, by using the Hebrew plural suffix -im, Ashkenazim[a] are a Jewish diaspora population who coalesced in the Holy Roman Empire around the end of the first millennium.

The traditional diaspora language of Ashkenazi Jews is Yiddish (a Germanic language with elements of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Slavic languages), developed after they had moved into northern Europe: beginning with Germany and France in the Middle Ages. For centuries they used Hebrew only as a sacred language, until the revival of Hebrew as a common language in 20th century's Israel. Throughout their time in Europe, Ashkenazim have made many important contributions to its philosophy, scholarship, literature, art, music and science.

The term "Ashkenazi" refers to Jewish settlers who established communities along the Rhine river in Western Germany and in Northern France dating to the Middle Ages. Once there, they adapted traditions carried from Babylon, the Holy Land, and the Western Mediterranean to their new environment.  The Ashkenazi religious rite developed in cities such as Mainz, Worms, and Troyes. The eminent French Rishon Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki (Rashi) would have a significant influence on the Jewish religion.

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Japanese giggle words

Japanese giggle words

Daniel Morales has a fun article in Japan Times (7/2/21):  "‘PPAP,’ ‘golden jewels’ and other words that make the Japanese giggle".  It begins:

Unintentional comedy is actually relatively easy to pull off. All you have to do is trip and fall.

Intentionally getting a laugh, on the other hand, takes practice. Especially in a second language. What’s funny in Japan may be different from what’s funny in other countries, but one common thread is that humor can be found in the way you wield the language — any language — not just ドタバタ喜劇 (dotabata kigeki, slapstick).

Knowing the funny words, so to speak, can give students of Japanese a leg up and, fortunately for us, in 2019 the online comedy site オモコロ (Omocoro) conducted an extremely “scientific” survey of 356 Japanese-speaking individuals on the internet to determine the funniest Japanese words. What it found suggests that there are certain patterns that make some words funnier than others in Japanese.

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Cantonese chatting

[This is a guest post by Tom Mazanec]

I recently became curious about the origins of the Cantonese word king1 gai2 傾偈 ("to chat"). Though I've never formally studied Cantonese, I'm picking up bits of it from my wife and in-laws, who moved to the U.S. from Guangzhou about 30 years ago and use Cantonese to speak to each other and to my children. I like to think I know it slightly better than my 1-year-old and almost as well as my 3-year-old. My in-laws use the term king1 gai2 often, especially in light-hearted tone to describe the kids' pre-verbal babbling when they were under 1.
 
The equivalent phrase in Mandarin is liáo tiān(r) 聊天(兒), which appears to have no relation to king1 gai2. So this got me wondering about where king1 gai2 came from. On its surface, the characters appear to mean "pouring out gāthās" (gāthā: "song" in Sanskrit; "Buddhist verse" in Chinese). This makes little sense (though it would've been nice to put it into my T'oung Pao article on gāthās a few years ago), so I suspected the characters 傾偈 were used in a purely phonetic manner. Sure enough, the word is also sometimes written as 傾計 (king1 gai2). 

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Must be something in the water

As part of my run through the Western Regions (Xīyù 西域) of Pennsylvania, I wrote to Ed Shaughnessy asking him which town he was from, since I knew he came from somewhere around Pittsburgh, and it might be nice to be aware of where he grew up if I happened to run through that town.  Ed wrote back that he came from Sewickley, which lies 12 miles to the northwest of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. 

Ed himself is a distinguished Sinologist, so it is remarkable that a little river town with less than four thousand population would also be home to other well-known China specialists, including J. Stapleton Roy (former US ambassador to China [1991-1995]) and his brother David Tod Roy (former professor of Chinese literature at the University of Chicago, where he was Ed's colleague [b. 1933-d. 2016]), Catherine Swatek (professor emerita of Chinese literature at the University of British Columbia), and Jon von Kowallis (professor of Chinese Studies at the University of New South Wales in Australia).

As Ed says, "There must have been something in the water (for your Language Log people, Sewickley is said to mean Sweet Water in one or another Indian language; I presume they were the ones who inhabited Mingo)".

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Slaves and clients; Arabic Mamluks and mawlas: a fishy Turkic tail

From my 10th grade high school world history class in 1959, I was intrigued by the evocative, mysterious Mamluks.  I was impressed by their achievements in statecraft, art, architecture, and many other fields.  Thus Mamluk is a word that is very well known in English, even to a rural highschooler in Osnaburg Township of Stark County in northeastern Ohio, but I never imagined that their name meant "slave".  Rather, I thought of the mighty Mamluks as military forces who were like knights, and in some cases were  even rulers who founded states of their own.  That they were, but I didn't realize they were of slave origin.

Mamluk (Arabic: مملوك mamlūk (singular), مماليك mamālīk (plural), translated literally as "thing possessed", meaning "slave", also transliterated as Mameluke, mamluq, mamluke, mameluk, mameluke, mamaluke, or marmeluke) is a term most commonly referring to non-Arab, ethnically diverse (mostly Turkic, Caucasian, Eastern and Southeastern European) slave-soldiers and freed slaves to which were assigned military and administrative duties, serving the ruling Arab dynasties in the Muslim world.

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IHTFP

Today the MIT Sloan Executive Education program sent me an email with the subject line "The Spirit of Hacking at MIT":

While the terms hack and hacker have many shades of meaning, the hacker ethic has always been celebrated at MIT. Referring to a difficult, complex, and creative campus prank, hacking at MIT is everything from transforming MIT's Green Building into a giant game of Tetris to the most recent redecoration of the Great Dome as Captain America's shield.

To us, hacking means more than just practical jokes. It represents a culture of free information, hands-on experimentation, and disregard for (or redefinition of) bureaucracy. At MIT Sloan Executive Education, we recognize that the spirit of (ethical) hacking is the same fearless spirit that drives invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

At MIT Sloan, we applaud the “hackers” among you who are making waves. We encourage you to channel that spirit and hone those skills in Executive Education courses designed to help you revolutionize your business strategy, find creative solutions to systemic problems, and generate breakthrough business ideas.

The link goes to a page on the IHTFP Hack Gallery site listing "Hacks by Year" — other pages include "Best of the Gallery", "Hacks on Harvard", and "Frequently Asked Questions", where you'll learn that IHTFP doesn't really stand for "Interesting Hacks To Fascinate People".

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Merriam-Webster gives "vaccine" a new definition

Prefatory note:  In this post, I take the noun "vaccine" as the basic word under discussion, but also consider other cognate terms ("vaccinate", "vaccination").

Here's a standard dictionary entry for "vaccine":

n.

1. any preparation of weakened or killed bacteria or viruses introduced into the body to prevent a disease by stimulating antibodies against it.
2. the virus of cowpox, used in vaccination, obtained from pox vesicles of a cow or person.
3. a software program that helps to protect against computer viruses.

[1800–05; < New Latin (variolae)vaccīnae cowpox = vacc(a) cow + -īnae, feminine pl. of -īnus -ine]

Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary

(cited)

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Manglish "lah" and its affinity to Arabic "muhibbah"

Dwight Reynolds called my attention to this extraordinarily apropos article from the Travel section of the Beeb (3/9/21), by Charukesi Ramadurai :

"Malaysia's harmonious approach to life"

While Malaysia generally stays under the radar, it is one of Asia’s most friendly and tolerant countries where its three major ethnic communities live mostly in harmony.

The serendipitous article jumps right onto the "lah" wagon:

As a newly minted resident of Kuala Lumpur, the first Malaysian word I learned was “lah”. Each time I used it in conversation, both locals and expats exclaimed in delight, “you have become a Malaysian so soon!” For that short, simple sound used as a suffix in everyday conversations encapsulates the ease and warmth with which Malaysian society embraces everyone within its fold. Indeed, although it is believed to be of Cantonese or Hokkien origin, lah is used most commonly in what is known as Manglish – Malaysian English – a delightful patois of formal English with casual smatterings of Malay, the national language.

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A new derivation of the Sinogram for verb "fly"

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A purported Hindi-Arabic round-trip word

More than thirty years ago, I coined the term "round-trip word" (láihuí cí 來回詞) to signify a word that is used in one language, is borrowed by another language which attaches a different meaning to it, often one that is calqued from a third language, and then is sent back to the original language with the new meaning.  In the modern version of the originating language, the new meaning usually displaces the old meaning.

This phenomenon is very common between Chinese and Japanese.  I cited scores of examples in this short paper (item #2):

"Two Papers on Sinolinguistics:  1. A Hypothesis Concerning the Origin of the Term fanqie ('Countertomy'); 2. East Asian Round-Trip Words," Sino-Platonic Papers, 34 (October, 1992).

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