Don't try this at home

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Following up on my posts about locative denominal verbs, yesterday's SMBC: Without professional guidance, that kind of exploration could go off in all kinds of directions: And instead of emerging with some sensible conclusion ("…the bieventive analysis can form a basis for a unified theory of causativization across languages while the theta-role analysis cannot…"), you could wind up who knows where…

Seriously, if you're seriously interested in this sort of thing (causatives, not conspiracies), and want to see what one important strand of recent work in syntax and semantics looks like,  take a look at the thesis that the quote about "bieventive analysis" came from: Liina Pylkkänen, Introducing Arguments, 2002.  But be warned: that's a professional linguist on a closed course.


  1. Bill Walderman said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 8:50 am

    French has a verb meaning "to land on the moon" — "alunir", from "lune" ("moon"). This verb was formed by analogy with "atterrir," "to land on the ground anywhere on earth," which is used of both maritime and aeronautical landing, and is derived from "terre," which means both "earth" and "ground." Because of what seems like the polysemy of "terre" to English speakers, "atterrir" must seem even stranger when used of landing on the moon than "landing on the moon" seems to the the Anglophone conspiracy theorist in the cartoon.

    French also has "amarsir," "to land on Mars," maybe "avénusir," and what about "amercurir"?

    Of course, no word is needed for landing on the gas giants, but what about their moons? Aganymédir? Attitanir?

  2. dfgk04 said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 9:34 am

    To complete Bill Waldermann's documentation, French also has "amerrir," "to land on water," from "mer," "sea". (@Bill Waldermann: I guess the maritime meaning of "atterir" you mention concerns boats reaching a coast or similar things.)

    Of course, you can use "atterrir sur la mer" or "atterrir sur la lune" but then you could face some peeving. Another possibility is to use "se poser sur la mer/la lune/la terre" where "se poser sur" is a hyperonym of "atterrir/alunir/amerrir".

  3. army1987 said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 10:33 am

    Italian has allunare modelled on atterrare, too. I've never liked it and considered it unnecessary as I think of atterrare as a derivative of the ‘ground’ meaning of terra, not of the ‘third planet’ meaning.

    (And I'd define land as ‘any region of the surface of any solid celestial body not covered by a liquid’. No, wait: the frozen part of the Arctic Sea would be “land” according to this definition.)

  4. Mark Mandel said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 11:28 am

    Possibly dumb question: was the omission of frame #3 intentional?

  5. Bill Walderman said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 11:36 am

    Russian has verbs for landing on non-terrestrial surfaces, too. The word for "land" on earth (used only of aviation) is "prizemlitsa" from "zemlya," meaning "earth." The Oxford Russian Dictionary (1993 ed.), s.v. "land," gives "prilunitsa" for "land on the moon," (from "luna," "moon") and "primarsitsa" for "land on Mars."

    (Warning: Since this is a linguistic site I thought I'd better mention that I've used a crude and inconsistent transcription to avoid some pedantic orthographic details that would just obscure the derivational relationships.)

  6. Rodger said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 11:47 am

    "Of course, no word is needed for landing on the gas giants, but what about their moons? Aganymédir? Attitanir?" (Bill)

    According to fr.wikipedia, "alunissage" refers to landing on any natural satellite of a planet, not just our moon – presumably then the verb "alunir" covers these cases as well.

  7. Bill Walderman said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

    @ Rodger: What a disappointment. I was hoping for "aïjiraqir."

  8. Dan T. said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

    The English word "land" isn't planet-specific, but what about "earthquake"? Are there Moonquakes and Marsquakes?

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

    @Mark Mandel: Permit us to suggest that brevity is an essential desideratum of the work of the scholar, never to be emphasized too strongly or too frequently, and thus that we may be grateful to the author of the weblog posting that we have the honor to read, that he has omitted an inessential frame of the comic, provided that we read the weblog as belonging not to the ironic class of literature, but to the realistic or the romantic, we forget which.

    (Footnote not needed by Mark)

  10. Bill Walderman said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

    @ Dan T.:

  11. The Ridger said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

    Both "moonquake" and "marsquake" are around and in fairly common usage – common for their meanins, of course.

  12. Harley Hutchins said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

    Step 3 is missing. Something foul is afoot. A foot is 12 inches. The word "inch" comes from the Latin "uncia." The vowel change from u to i is an umlaut. Which is also the name of Clinton McKinnon's experimental rock band. Clinton in my main suspect for censoring step 3. What were we talking about?

  13. jan said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

    Speaking of space travel related terms:

    There's a point at which we should be tolerant of linguistic inconsistency.

    I read a Star Trek novel, "Spock's World", in which the Enterprise visits the planet Vulcan, and the ship's orbit keeps it over the same point on the planet's surface. Is it a geocentric orbit? No, silly, it's a Hephaestocentric orbit, since we can't mix Latin and Greek roots and call it a Vulcanocentric orbit…

    What if they'd been orbiting the planet Hephaestus? Or the planet
    Lalande 21185 II-b?

  14. Mark F. said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

    I am not a fan of coining these special new terms for obvious generalizations of old concepts. I refuse to call the geology of Mars "areology", and I think it's dumb for us to have perihelion for the Sun, perigee for the Earth, and perilune for the Moon. I think that's dying down now that scientists don't know Latin or Greek.

  15. @boris_tweets said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 9:31 pm

    @ Bill Waldermann: ""terre" […] means both "earth" and "ground.""

    When you say "ground", you mean "the surface of the earth," right? French often uses the phrase "par terre" (the French "parterre" is different–but it's related, of course), but sometimes also just "terre" (eg, "Il set tombé à terre."). There's a third meaning, though: "soil." Which is roughly an equivalent of… "ground," right? Maybe the polysemy of "terre" shouldn't come as this much of a shock to anglophones, then, right?

    >> SUPERBONUS: On May 4, at a public meeting, President Sarkozy said: "D'ailleurs on appelle la Terre la Terre, alors que y'a 2/3 de mer sur Terre, on devrait donc l'appeler la Mer !" –> "By the way, we call the Earth "the Earth," but really, oceans make up 2/3 of the Earth, so we should call the Earth "the Ocean"!" (This, of course, misses the best part, ie the "-er" alliterations.)

    God, this is so good! Genius! (And you won't hear me call Sarkozy a genius that often…) :)

    @ dfgk04: (a) "I guess the maritime meaning of "atterir" [sic] you mention concerns boats reaching a coast or similar things."

    Interesting. I am a native French speaker and never ever heard "atterrir" in the context of a boat reaching the coast. I had to check the dictionary ( to make sure it wasn't a misunderstanding. My point is, virtually 100% of the time, contemporary French (if not French, period) will choose other verbs (aborder, accoster, …) or–even more frequently–phrases (arriver au port, arriver à quai, …) to describe a boat coming to shore. De Gaulle himself makes a distinction between "aborder" and "atterrir" in his Mémoires de guerre (1959): "Mais les trains et les camions qui roulent, les avions qui atterrissent et les navires qui abordent sont destinés essentiellement aux forces en opérations." Larousse's definition of "atterrir" ( does not include a real equivalent of "land" for boats (it does for aircrafts).

    (b) Actually "atterrir sur la lune" sounds perfectly fine to me! :)

  16. chris said,

    May 11, 2011 @ 8:27 am

    Is it a geocentric orbit? No, silly, it's a Hephaestocentric orbit

    I'm pretty sure you mean either Hephaestostationary or Hephaestosynchronous. Any orbit has the body being orbited at one of its foci (technically not the center, but if the eccentricity is low, pretty close).

    Wikipedia claims that generic terms "periapsis" and "apoapsis" already exist for the ends of an orbit's major axis (without specifying what kind of body the object is orbiting), but I don't know if there's a generic equivalent to "geosynchronous".

  17. marie-lucie said,

    May 11, 2011 @ 10:54 am

    I was about to make the same point as boris_tweets about the meaning of those French terms. I find "alunir" and similar coinages unnecessary. Most people would say "atterrir sur la lune" in spontaneous speech, and I don't think anyone has coined a special verb for landing on ice, as on a glacier or at the poles. But "atterrir" cannot be used of a boat, which travels on the surface of water, therefore in a horizontal direction parallel to the overall surface of the earth. "Atterrir" implies a trajectory through the air (or space, to be picky), whether by a plane from the sky, a person falling from a tree, a stray ball or bullet, etc. The verb also has a figurative meaning of "ending up" in a place, a job, etc, so it is not restricted to an actual landing on planet Earth.

  18. Rich Look said,

    May 11, 2011 @ 11:42 am

    Mr. Liberman,

    I'm not a linguist, but a polyglot translator of Japanese.
    I have just discovered your wonderful blog this morning! It was cited in an online article ( excerpting the book You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity by Robert Lane Greene; Delacorte Press

    I've just completed a translation of high-school level Japanese Guide to the Solar System. Many of the issues in this particular thread crossed my mind as I worked on it. Now I know where to turn beside my usual J-to-E translator groups when searching for or trumpeting a(n) "Eureka moment" or just a quirky observation about that which we speak.

    Rich Look

  19. Mark Dunan said,

    May 11, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

    A while back, in Tokyo, I had been hit by an automobile while riding a bicycle, and was sent flying into the air, coming down on top of the hood of the car (and denting it). In trying to describe this, I couldn't think of a word to use, and was surprised that the Japanese word chakuchi 着地 could be used when "landing" on something other than the ground, since 地 means the ground or the earth.

    I guess it's a sign that my Japanese is far from perfect, because I was still consciously thinking of the literal meaning of the word 着地. The English word "land", which has the same problem, had no trouble going through my mind!

    The character 地 doesn't seem to be tied to our third planet; you can say 月面に着地 (getsumen ni chakuchi) for "land on the moon". To land on a water surface, there's the word 着水 (chakusui), but 水 specifically means "water" andnot another liquid. I wonder if a new word will be needed when landing on a planet covered by a surface other than water, or if 着水 will be used for that.

  20. Michael W said,

    May 11, 2011 @ 2:55 pm


    Plain old Synchronous orbit is the generic term. But other variations can exist, like "heliosynchronous".

  21. Nelida said,

    May 12, 2011 @ 6:02 pm

    @Bill Walderman @dfgk04: also in Spanish, "alunizar" and "amerizar", meaning to touch down (seeking to avoid the term "land") on the surface of the moon or resp. the sea.

  22. Mark Mandel said,

    May 12, 2011 @ 9:28 pm

    Jerry Friedman: Oh, well said, my lord!

  23. Rodger said,

    May 14, 2011 @ 6:01 am

    If the Martians spoke French, would they say "amarsir sur la Terre"?

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