Archive for August, 2022

"Whiskey Fungus" words

Today I learned about "whiskey fungus" — and the linked page will tell you all about it, from a general perspective, including the nature and role of the "angel's share". But I also clicked on the Wikipedia article for the fungus species involved, Baudoinia compniacensis, and the first paragraph of that article's Description section featured an unusually large number of technical terms previous unknown to me.

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Choose your font carefully


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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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Arabic and the vernaculars, part 5

Today I went to a shop in a nearby mall.  I heard two people who worked there speaking a language that sounded a bit like Arabic, but was softer and different enough that I could tell it wasn't really Arabic — al-ʻArabīyah al-Fuṣḥā (العربية الفصحى) ("eloquent Arabic").

They were a young woman in her early 20s and a man who was probably in his late 20s or early 30s.  The woman was Moroccan and the man Algerian.

I asked them what language they were speaking and the man said he was speaking Arabic.  The woman declared, "I would never say that I speak Arabic.  I don't understand people who speak Arabic and they don't understand me.  I am half Berber and I speak a Berber tribal language."  The man, who had honey blond hair and blue eyes, chided her and said, "You do speak Arabic."  She replied, "Never!"

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Word frequency variation: elicit vs. illicit

In the comments on yesterday's post about a slip of the fingers or brain ("Elicit → illicit"), there was some discussion about which of the two words is more common.

Obviously, the answer to such questions depends on where you look.

So I looked in a bunch of places. Overall, illicit tends to be more common than elicit — but the relative frequency varies widely, and sometimes it's the other way round.

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Conehead cabbage

A new kind of cabbage for me:

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Atomic Enema

Medical apparatus and preparation from Taiwan:

Source:  "Atomic Enema Gwoyeu Romatzyh", Pinyin News (8/17/22)

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Please do not feel confused

From Victor Steinbok:

AC app installation instructions.  This is a disclaimer page at the end. There's some other funky language in the manual but this one is the most interesting.

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Xhosa clicks

[This is a guest post by Don Keyser, retired Foreign Service Officer, in response to "Complex vowels" (8/11/22).]

The mouseover title to the xkcd cartoon in the "Complex vowels" post: "Pronouncing [ṡṡċċḣḣẇẇȧȧ] is easy; you just say it like the 'x' in 'fire'."

This one took me on a ramble down memory lane.  I spent the first three months of 1998 leading an inspection of our South African posts — South Africa (Embassy Pretoria, Consulates in Johannesburg, Durban and Capetown); Swaziland; and Lesotho.  Majority government — i.e., black-ruled, under President Mandela — had come to South Africa.  TV programming featured white hosts speaking Zulu or Xhosa, black hosts speaking English and Afrikaans.  In the spirit of the new era.  Multilingual signage was seen in the major cities.  And so I ventured into a local book store to acquire guides to speaking isiZulu and isiXhosa.

Xhosa is a tonal language (high and low, basically) best known for its "click consonants" — a language introduced to Americans by Miriam Makeba in her "Click Song (Qongqothwane)."

So … perusing the short tourist-type guide to Xhosa* that I bought, I found this delightful "explanation":

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Elicit → illicit

Ruth Blau sent a link to a law firm's page on the "Difference Between Judges and Magistrates", which was probably created in response to the role of a magistrate in the recent FBI search of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.

The linguistically relevant bit is the substitution of "illicit" for "elicit":

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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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Biological and Mental Evolution

While refiling some books yesterday, I came across an interesting reprint: Arthur Koestler, "Biological and mental evolution: An exercise in analogy", Nature 1965. Given the title, I thought Koestler might have scooped Richard Dawkins on the gene/meme analogy. But not so — here's how the paper starts:

ALLOW me to take you on a ride on the treacherous wings of analogy, starting with an excursion into genetics. Creativity is a concept notoriously difficult to define ; and it is sometimes useful to approach a difficult subject by way of contrast. The opposite of the creative individual is the pedant, the slave of habit, whose thinking and behaviour move in rigid grooves. His biological equivalent is the over-specialized animal. Take, for example, that charming and pathetic creature, the koala bear, which specializes in feeding on the leaves of a particular variety of eucalyptus tree and on nothing else; and which, in lieu of fingers, has hook-like claws, ideally suited for clinging to the bark of the tree — and for nothing else . Some of our departments of higher learning seem expressly designed for breeding koala bears.

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Bringing churches

I was puzzled for a while by a interesting error in yesterday's The Hill. A story by Jared Gans, under the headline "What Weisselberg’s guilty plea means for Trump", ended like this:

Weissmann said defense counsels requesting coverage in a plea agreement for other crimes that may have been committed is “standard,” so someone knows “there’s nothing waiting in the wings.”

He said its exclusion from the agreement is “striking” and makes him believe Bragg more when he said the investigation is ongoing.

“That made me think that we all need to sort of take a deep breath and wait to see what happens after the Trump Organization trial, and so whether other churches get brought,” Weissmann said.

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