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The dawn of etymology

Yesterday's SMBC: Mouseover title: "Chicken etymology is really easy because the word origins AND the words you use to describe them are all 'bock bock bock'."

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A Vietnamese etymology for the Chinese word for "pineapple"?

In "Shampoo salmon" (2/10/14), I called attention to the variety of opinions concerning the origins of the Chinese word bōluó 菠萝 / variant bōluó 波萝 ("pineapple").  Tom Nguyen suggests that another possible source is from Old Vietnamese *bla (> dứa /z̻ɨ̞̠ɜ˧ˀ˦/ with Northern accent – note the process of "turning into sibilant" of initial consonant […]

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Etymology in the rain forest

"Scientist discovers puppy-sized spider in rain forest", ABC 11 Eyewitness News 10/20/2014: For all readers with arachnophobia, take a moment to collect yourself before proceeding further, because this spider will haunt your dreams. Harvard Etymologist Piotr Naskrecki recently posted on his blog about an encounter in Guyana's rainforest with a South American Goliath birdeater, a […]

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Etymology gone wrong: (un)impregn(at)able

A few days ago, Larry Horn sent this note to the  American Dialect Society's discussion list: On an article lauding the Texas Rangers' defense in today's NYT sports section, I did a double-take on reading that The defense—anchored by shortstop Elvis Andrus and the impregnable glove of Adrian Beltre at third base—has saved more runs […]

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Chinese "Etymology"

My previous post was about "dialects" that are often not really dialects, but bona fide languages, and the efforts of the Chinese government to phase them out.  In this post, I'll be talking about "etymology" that is not really etymology, but character analysis. The occasion for these ruminations (see especially the last two paragraphs below) […]

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Extreme etymology

Last week, there was an interesting Ask MetaFilter thread about how to find "a list of all the English words that can be traced back to a given root word" ("Word histories and dirt lions") , in which Language Hat helpfully linked to the American Heritage Dictionary's "lists of Indo-European and Semitic roots" as a […]

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Heroic feats of etymology

The "About Us" page for the new search engine Cuil says that Cuil is an old Irish word for knowledge. For knowledge, ask Cuil. There has been considerable discussion at the Wikipedia discussion page for Cuil about whether this is really true.

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The Mandarin grammatical particle "le" — one or many?

When I was learning Mandarin over half a century ago, the more grammatically minded Chinese language teachers argued that historically and functionally there were multiple "le" particles that just happened to end up being written with the simple two-stroke character 了.  Then a contrary movement set in, and linguists tried to prune down all the […]

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Bear words

In "Dynamic stew" (10/24/13) and the comments thereto, we had a vigorous discussion of words for "bear" in Korean, Sinitic, Tibetan, and Japanese,  And now Diana Shuheng Zhang has written a densely philological study on "Three Ancient Words for Bear," Sino-Platonic Papers, 294 (November, 2019), 21 pages (free pdf). Let's start with the basic word […]

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Horses, soma, riddles, magi, and animal style art in southern China

Two of the best known displays of Chinese culture worldwide are the Lion Dance and Dragon Boat Races.  The former, including the Chinese word for "lion", is actually an import from the Western Regions (Central Asia, or East Central Asia more specifically). Compare Old Persian * (*šagra-) (sgl /sagr, sēr/) (> Persian سیر‎ (sīr)). The […]

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Compiling references to the Ocracoke "brogue", I wondered about the origins of the word. The Wikipedia entry confirms the possibilities that I recall: Multiple etymologies have been proposed: it may derive from the Irish bróg ("shoe"), the type of shoe traditionally worn by the people of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, and hence possibly originally […]

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"Horse Master" in IE and in Sinitic

This is one in a long series of posts about words for "horse" in various languages, the latest being "Some Mongolian words for 'horse'" (11/7/19) — see also the posts listed under Readings below.  I consider "horse" to be one of the most important diagnostic terms for studying long distance movements of peoples and languages […]

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Hong Kong protests: "recover" or "liberate"

From Alison Winters: I am a regular reader of Language Log and really enjoy your digging on unusual Chinese turns of phrase. One word I have recently been puzzling over lately is the usage of guāngfù 光复 in the Hong Kong call to arms 光复香港时代革命*. The dictionary description indicates it has to do with reclaiming […]

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