Barfing in tongues

« previous post | next post »

Gloria Bien sent in this scan of an airsickness bag that she found on Air New Zealand:

"Feeling unwell" is a very polite way of saying that one is about to retch.

Proceeding on to the second language, it looks Maori to me, but I have trouble with it because I don't know what to make of the "E" at the beginning. Moreover, in a number of dictionaries and Maori Bible translations that I quickly scanned, māuiui seems to mean "labor; sick; ill", and so forth. Perhaps it may also be construed to mean "vomit" as well, but I wonder about that, since in Cook Islands Maori māuiui is defined as "v.i. Stiff, aching, sore and weary after exertion (of the body)." My suspicions deepen when I find that most online Maori dictionaries and other sources translate "vomit" as "ruaki".

Not feeling very confident after that less than successful encounter with the Maori on the bag, I decided to leave the identification of the other languages to Language Log readers, though I think I know about half of them. Two that I'm sure of are Japanese ōto 嘔吐 and Mandarin tùwù 吐物.

It is surprising how many different ways there are to say "vomit". In English, we have:

be sick, spew, heave, retch, gag, get sick, throw up, puke, purge, hurl, barf, upchuck, ralph; regurgitate, bring up, spew up, cough up, lose, throw up, puke, spit up, toss one's cookies

You can find many more here and in the thesaurus section here. Neither of these sources list a favorite synonym for vomit that I learned back in high school: reverse peristalsis.

I wonder if other languages are blessed with so many possibilities for describing this revolting bodily phenomenon.

My colleague, Arthur Waldron, is wont to say "please pass the sick bag" when he confronts something that is particularly nauseating. Perhaps contemplating the Air New Zealand bag and the knowledge that the Air Sickness Bag Virtual Museum has collected 2,522 other unique specimens will make him feel better the next time he has the urge to….

[Thanks to Michael Carr]



36 Comments

  1. Milan said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 3:37 pm

    One is tempted to suggest a connection to the surfeit of terms meaning "to be (or to get) drunk" in English.

  2. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

    How long have people been writing "how ever" as two words? ("Forever", probably.)

  3. Ben Zimmer said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

    For a listing of terms for vomiting arranged chronologically by first citation date, see The Historical Thesaurus of the OED.

  4. arthur waldron said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 4:01 pm

    The Australians have contributed a lot, "chunderr" "liquid laugh" "hurl" and there is one that has to do with "reviewing" but I have not got it exactly right Very creative, the Aussies, and hard drinkers too.

    Entirely unrelated, they have just done a Tiananmen program interviewing their embassy staff from 25 years ago, with new footage and information, that is worth a look.

    Best to all

  5. fs said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

    Oh weird: I guess-read 嘔吐 as 'vomit' (verb) and completely ignored 吐物, which I now see, and understand as 'vomit' (noun). I thought these folks were just mixing up parts of speech, but it's just me accidentally guess-reading traditional characters.

  6. J Silk said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 5:02 pm

    The line on the bottom of the bag is hilarious, and also perhaps linguistically interesting: "If affected by motion sickness, use this bag and not your carry on." What is interesting is that they write "carry on" which must be a verb, and not "carry-on," which refers, I would say, to the piece of luggage which is the patient of the verb "to carry on" — but perhaps I'm just carrying on a bit too much here? [I refrain from listing my own favorite versions of the main verb in question here–there are some delightful variants to be sure!]

  7. David Morris said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 5:21 pm

    A quick search found http://www.linkydinky.com/blowchunks.shtml, for example. I didn't count, but there must be over 200 entries.

  8. Sjiveru said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 5:38 pm

    The Māori one is at least grammatical, and according to the example here (http://www.maoridictionary.co.nz/search?idiom=&phrase=&proverb=&loan=&keywords=m%C4%81uiui&search=), it's a valid translation of 'to be unwell' without the vomit context. The e…ana is an imperfect marker and ahau is the first person singular pronoun, so the whole thing literally means 'I am sick / tired / not feeling up to par [right now]'.

    Why they didn't just say māuiui, like they did in every other language, I don't know. Maybe 'e māuiui ana' is an idiom calqued off of the English.

  9. Jim Breen said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 6:15 pm

    You left out "technicolour yawn".

    Re: " Very creative, the Aussies, and hard drinkers too." Well, yes to the first, but the second is more reputation than fact. Per-capita consumption trails that of France, Germany, Austria, Ireland, etc. and is about the same as the UK.

  10. Brian said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 6:17 pm

    The technicolor yawn, the liquid yodel, the 3-D belch, reviewing input, jettisoning cargo, calling the buffalo, delivering a pavement pizza. I have never understood why euphemisms for vomiting are always so funny. The catch-and-release meal program.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 6:28 pm

    @Brian

    ROTFL!!!!!! (That's the first time I ever wrote that on Language Log.)

  12. LisaRR said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 6:29 pm

    Sichuan Airlines includes Tibetan on their air sickness bag.
    Also Chinese and English.
    I was surprised.

  13. LisaRR said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 6:36 pm

    I meant I was surprised by the Tibetan – sorry to be unclear!
    I didn't take a photo of the bag, only the safety instruction card.

  14. Ferdinand Cesarano said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 6:41 pm

    As a long-time Esperantist, I am thrilled to see the Esperanto "vomi" on the bag!

  15. RMMaier said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 7:16 pm

    Why the German term "erbrechen" on the bag is pretty standard but sounds rather bookish in my ears – colloquially, the segment off the speaker community that I get acces to widely prefers "kotzen", "reihern", or with children "spucken" (which is literally "to spit").
    On the general issue of Australian in this respect, it might be apt to point out Australian late 80s/early 90s band Porcelain Bus (as in "drive the p.") and their 1988 album "Talking to god" (as in "t. on the great white telephone")..

  16. Ray Girvan said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 9:12 pm

    The UK was introduced to many of these Australianisms by the Barry McKenzie comic strip in Private Eye. A favourite term of McKenzie, not so far mentioned, was to "cry Ruth".

  17. Ellen K. said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 10:04 pm

    "kräkas vómito" would presumably be two languages on one line, in one font. Which is strange. Although, to be fair, the lines with the Chinese and Japanese have two different scripts, not just two different fonts. I'm guessing "ana" and "ahau" is also two separate languages.

    "vómito" is Spanish for the noun vomit. A Google search indicates "kräkas" is Swedish. Though I've no personal knowledge on that one. (Actually, not sure I do on the Spanish, other than it looks like Spanish, but I did verify it's Spanish.)

  18. S. Tsow said,

    June 6, 2014 @ 10:42 pm

    I didn't see any Thai on the bag, but just to contribute my mite to this scholarly seminar, the Thai word for "to vomit" is pronounced "oo-uk," with a hard falling tone on the "oo." Very onomatopoeic. Onomatopoetic?

  19. John Walden said,

    June 7, 2014 @ 12:07 am

    No Eskimo?

  20. David Morris said,

    June 7, 2014 @ 1:48 am

    This deserves to be reblogged on the Australian language blog Fully (sic).

  21. danielschut said,

    June 7, 2014 @ 2:11 am

    "Braak" is Dutch, but it's the imperative of the verb 'braken' (imperative or word-stem, you choose. But imperative seems funnier given the context).

    I can't think of many more synonyms in Dutch for 'braken' actually:

    – kotsen
    – overgeven
    – vomeren (no one ever uses that)
    – spugen (which is more often used to mean: 'to spit')

    Synoniemen.net doesn't come up with much more:

    http://synoniemen.net/index.php?zoekterm=braken

  22. Alon Lischinsky said,

    June 7, 2014 @ 2:33 am

    @Ellen K.: vómito is good Spanish for "vomit" (n.), but it's unusually straightforward in this context; these bags are typically known as bolsas de mareo (lit. 'motion sickness bags').

    Kräkas, on the other hand, is good Swedish for "vomit", but it's the verb form; the noun would be kräks (or spya, a transparent cognate of spew).

  23. Frans said,

    June 7, 2014 @ 3:26 am

    I assume braak is supposed to be Dutch; however, according to my native-speaker intuition, backed up by the dictionaries I checked,* braak is not actually a noun—or at least not in the intended meaning. It could also be Afrikaans, of course.

    An airsickness bag is known as a spuugzakje (spitting bag), braakzakje (vomiting bag) or kotszakje (vomit bag).

    To vomit would be kotsen (vomit), overgeven (give over; i.e., throw up), braken (vomit; first-person singular is braak), spugen (spit) or spuwen (spew). Vomit itself would be, e.g., kots, overgeefsel or braaksel (not braak).

    Feeling brak (not braak) would be a colloquial way of saying feeling unwell; onwel would be a much better match to unwell in register and not just because it's a cognate.

    * Dikke Van Dale, WNT.

  24. champacs said,

    June 7, 2014 @ 7:47 am

    A souvenir I brought back from North Korea and which I'm very proud of is an Air Koryo air sickness bag. Air Koryo also has (or had in 2010 anyway) a sign in the plane lavatory saying "no waist [sic] in bowl".

    @Ferdinand, 'vomi' could just also be the French noun for 'vomit'.

  25. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 7, 2014 @ 8:50 am

    "Worshipping at the porcelain shrine" must be mentioned.

    BTW, "braak" strikes me as marvelously onomatopoeic.

  26. Victor Mair said,

    June 7, 2014 @ 9:12 am

    Taking stock thus far, we've got a motley collection of nouns and verbs, including some from unexpected sources. I too felt that "braak" sounded "marvelously onomatopoeic" and noticed that it appears to be cognate with "erbrechen", that both were Germanic, and that "kräkas" also sounded Germanic. "Vómito" and "vomi" struck me as being from the Romance group.

    I'm grateful to Sjiveru for the detailed explanation of the Maori.

    So that means we've got the whole bag covered. Thanks to all.

  27. Rakau said,

    June 7, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

    Air New Zealand use Maori (Te Reo Maori or Te Reo, or Te Reo Rangatira to those of us who speak Te Reo – less than 10% of New Zealanders speak it fluently). Mauiui means to be ill. That is the present day usage of the word. It could include feeling nauseous, but if one was in an aeroplane holding a bag over one's mouth the more correct, word would be ruaki. VHM wondered what the 'E' at the beginning of the sentence "E mauiui ana ahau" means. "E" has a number of uses in Te Reo. On this occasion it is used in an imperfect continous verbal structure that can be past, present or future. That is "e + verb + ana". The whole sentence translates as "I am ill/feeling ill." There are are three things wrong with it. Firstly, the english equivalent is from the speaker addressing the person about to vomit, whereas the Te Reo version is from the person about to vomit to someone else. Secondly, "ruaki" is more appropriate than "mauiui". Lastly, the sentence is far too formal for someone who is about to empty their stomach contents into a bag. I would say "Kei te hia ruaki" (I want to chuck/vomit/spew etc). The "I" (which would be "au" or "ahau") is inferred.

  28. a-gu said,

    June 7, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

    嘔吐 is used in Taiwan as verb for vomit.

  29. Bessel Dekker said,

    June 7, 2014 @ 7:18 pm

    Dutch "braken" (stem: "braak") and German "erbrechen" are indeed cognates, but I doubt whether either is in fact onomatopoeic. They are related to cognates of "to break", so the iconicity is apparent rather than real.

  30. Piyush said,

    June 7, 2014 @ 8:14 pm

    Here is my contribution to the "list": antiperistalsis (This is the version I learnt in school; compared to "reverse peristalsis" it has the advantage of being a single word)

    As for other languages, I could only think of two words in Hindi for the phenomenon. The first is उल्टी [ʊlʈiː], which literally means "reversed" (fem.), and the second is कै [kɛː], about whose origin I am completely clueless. However, some looking around also turned by the Sanskrit वमन [ʋəmən̪ə].

  31. Shadow-Slider said,

    June 7, 2014 @ 9:22 pm

    Nobody has mentioned yack.

  32. Ray Girvan said,

    June 8, 2014 @ 8:54 am

    For the linguistically-inclined nauseous, I suggest "calling Whorf" as another euphemism.

  33. BastianP said,

    June 8, 2014 @ 1:40 pm

    German also offers 'sich etwas noch einmal durch den Kopf gehen lassen' ( to let it pass through the head again, normally used for thinking things over), 'rückwärts essen' (to eat backwards), 'gürbeln' (onomatopoetic?), reihern, sich übergeben (literary to hand yourself over), 'speien' ('to spit, spout') and many more. 'Brechen' to my ears too sounds extremly bookish. The aussie expressions however are hillarious!

  34. Captain Bringdown said,

    June 9, 2014 @ 2:10 pm

    To my untrained ear, somewhere in the neighborhood of 25% of all German words could pass as onomatopoeiae for the subject matter discussed here.

  35. William Steed said,

    June 9, 2014 @ 8:22 pm

    My favourite Aussie versions (which I think get used elsewhere) is "driving the porcelain bus" and "praying to the porcelain gods".

  36. JasonK said,

    June 10, 2014 @ 2:31 am

    吐物is the noun for vomit but isn't very specified. 呕吐物 would have made much more sense. Being a native speaker of Mandarin and a semi-frequent flyer of air NZ I've always thought that it might be Japanese. 呕吐(嘔吐)is Mandarin for the verb vomit, and was the one that sounded better in the context.

    Discovered languagelog today. Making a first post

RSS feed for comments on this post