17 December 2009

Butterflies flutter by.

So I told Ms. Chris about my blag and she had one pressing etymological question: Where does "butterfly" come from? I had never thought about it, but she had been wondering for years, apparently.

And then I realized, the word for butterfly is vastly different in every language I could think of off the top of my head.

The most likely origin of the English word seems to be

based on the old notion that the insects (or witches disguised as butterflies) consume butter or milk that is left uncovered
although some people also think it is based on the color and consistency of butterfly excrement. This explanation is highly unlikely. Now, I don't know about you, but I had never really looked at butterfly excrement before.

What about in other languages?

Off the top of my head:

Spanish - Mariposa - from "la Santa Maria posa" = "the Virgin Mary alights/rests" ?

French - Papillon - this actually comes from the Latin papilio meaning butterfly. Our English word pavilion comes from the same root... a canopy spread out like wings.

German - Schmetterling - from "Schmetten", an Upper Saxon dialect loan-word first used 16 & 17th C, from Czech "smetana", both meaning "cream", referring to butterflies' proclivity to hover around milkpails, butterchurns, etc. Folk belief had it that the butterflies were really witches out to steal the cream.
Tagfalter is another name for butterfly, perhaps meaning "day-hinge" or "day-folder", and Nachtfalter is a moth.

Italian - Farfalla - This also comes from the Latin. (Eventually I'm going to do a post about how p's became f's and f's became h's. ...later.) This is also the English word for those bow-tie pasta things that look like butterflies.

Notably, a few others:

Norwegian and Yiddish both call it a "summerbird," sommerfugl and zomerfeygele respectively.

Babochka in Russian. This means "butterfly" or "bow tie." Go with me here. Baba or Babka means woman or grandmother. Babushka can mean grandmother or grandmother-like-thing, like a grandmother-like-handkercheif, like one that can be tied to the shape of a butterfly, babochka.

16 December 2009

a linguistic phenomenon from Facebook

from Andw:
So I received this FB message about an Under 40 Mixer for one of the mayoral candidates. It's a decent idea, I guess, for marketing to the young crowd-- but CHECK OUT THE WORDS THEY USE. It's awesome.

Townsend Jordan sent a message to the members of Under 40 Mixer!
Subject: HOTTIES & TROOPERS: RAIN or SHINE, Park at Windsor Court


To get out of the rain all you have to do is to park right there at Windsor Court- The Polo Lounge validates!

OPEN DOOR & OPEN BAR. Get Excited.

TOP FLOOR, WINDSOR COURT Chinoisserie Ballroom
5:30pm-7:00pm. Come from work!

If you cannot make mixer, join us later. There be a slew of us hamming it up in the Polo Lounge for a while. GET NICE.

Yes, the MAYORAL DEBATE will be on! Watch it with us.

What: Under 40 Mixer for Jackie Clarkson, Council-At-Large
When: Tuesday Dec 15, 5:30PM-7:00PM
Where: Windsor Court - Chinoiserie Ballroom- 23rd Floor
RSVP: Townsend Jordan, Campaign Manager

Come One. Come All.

12 December 2009

Rejected Reindeer

So I recently did a post about the Rejected Dwarf names, and today heard that good old Rudolph song on the radio, and got to wondering where these names came from?
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. And we all recall the most famous reindeer of all: Rudolph
Are there any rejected reindeer names?!? YES!

Most sources will tell you that the original eight reindeer names came from the "Twas the Night Before Christmas" poem written in 1893 by Clement Clarke Moore. However, sources now seem to think Henry Livingston Jr. in 1808.* Either way, whoever wrote it just made up the original eight reindeer names!

  • The name Dasher means to be quick or a name of speed.
  • Dancer and Prancer describe names that are graceful and elegant. Vixen is a female fox, which also symbolizes speed or swiftness.
  • Comet is a large ball of fire that travels through space at a very high speed.
  • Cupid also has to do with flying since he has wings.
  • Thelast two reindeer names are Donner and Blitzen. Dunder and Blixem were the original names, which mean Thunder and Lightning in Dutch. Of course, thunder and lightning means power and force.

But then in 1939, Robert May was working for Montgomery Ward Department Stores and he wrote a promotional holiday pamphlet that was given to 2 million customers. He penned a story of an underdog reindeer, taunted for a his abnormal nose, which glows bright red. Original name ideas, Rollo and Reginald, were rejected for being too cheerful and too British, respectively. (I hate British reindeer, too. I mean WHAT)

And so, Rudolph was born.

He didn't really become popular, though, until in 1949, Robert's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks wrote the song, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, " based on Robert's book. In 1948, on New York radio, Harry Brannon was the first person to sing this song. This was the year before Gene Autry recorded it in 1949. By 1950 it was the most popular Christmas song on the radio.

In the song, the phrase "All of the other reindeer" has been misinterpreted as "Olive the other
reindeer.” Olive is another fictional character that was created afterward. He's the most popular other reindeer, but for more, see this list.

*To see this poem in German, click here.

11 December 2009


What's the difference between "fact" and "factoid"?

My inclination was to say that "factoid" was a smaller little tidbit of a fact. Andw's inclination was that "factoid" was more interesting and requiring a more elaborate story behind it.

Let's see.

FACT: something that actually exists; reality; truth.
comes from the Latin factum > factus > facere

facere means "to do" in Latin, like "faire" in French, "fare" in Italian, "fazer" in Portuguese or "hacer" in Spanish. (I'm working on a post RIGHT NOW about how f became h somewhere along the Latin to Spanish lines.)

FACTOID: an insignificant or trivial fact OR something fictitious or unsubstantiated that is presented as fact, devised esp. to gain publicity and accepted because of constant repetition
-OID is a suffix meaning “resembling,” “like,” used in the formation of adjectives and nouns (and often implying an incomplete or imperfect resemblance to what is indicated by the preceding element)

I like the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language because it makes ridiculous assertions... like:
  • 73% of their official English language usage panel approve of and understand "factoid" to mean: a piece of information that seems to be true simply due to its repition
  • only 43% of that panel approve of using "factoid" as a brief, somewhat interesting fact and that it might better have been called a factette.



  • I've always laughed in Spanish. I type "jajaja" which is pronounced /hɑhɑhɑ/ because in Spanish, the letter H is silent, so "hahaha" would be pronounced /aaa/.
  • Years and years ago, Tina said "If you say 'jajaja,' I should say 'xaxaxa.'" She's Greek.  
  • Khya´s silly.  He jokingly says "five five five!"

Apparently, the number 5 in Thai is pronounced /hɑ/ so people typing type 555.

How do people type their laughter-sound in other languages?
  • Hebrew: The letter ח is pronounced 'kh' and ה is pronounced 'h'. Putting them together (usually three or more in a row) makes the word khakhakha or hahaha (since vowels in Hebrew are generally not written).
  • Chinese - although 大笑 (da xiao; "big laugh") is used, a more widespread usage is "哈哈哈" /ha ha ha/ on internet forums.
  • Arabic: هاها: The character هـــا makes the sound "ha," and is strung together to create the sound /haha/.
How do people abbreviate their laughter?
  • English: lol - "laugh out loud"
  • French: mdr - "mort de rire" that roughly translated means "dying of laughter"
  • Swedish: asg - "Asgarv" meaning intense laughter
  • Danish: g - abbreviation of the word "griner", which means "laughing" in Danish
  • Portuguese - rsrsrs - being an abbreviation of "risos", the plural of "laugh"
  • Dari (Afghanistan): mkm - "ma khanda mikonom" means "I am laughing"
  • Japanese - traditionally the kanji for laugh in parenthesis was used in the same way as lol; (笑). It can be read as wara and so just w has taken over as the abbreviation. It is often strung together in long strings denoting the strength of the laugh (as in ちょwww), and then interspersed between the characters in a word to denote laughing while trying to speak (as in みwなwぎwっwてwきwたwww).
Here's the best news:
  • Lol is a Dutch word which, coincidentally, means "fun" ("lollig" means "funny").
  • In Welsh, lol means "nonsense" – e.g., if a person wanted to say "utter nonsense" in Welsh, they would say "rwtsh lol"

08 December 2009


Khya has recently been hired by Target, and in a training he was learning about how to attend to handicapped aka handi-capable customers. I said, "capable is not the opposite of cap."
But then I got to thinking... maybe it is! What does "handicap" even mean? Where does this come from!?
In the dictionary, the very first definition of handicap is
1. a race or other contest in which certain disadvantages or advantages of weight, distance, time, etc., are placed upon competitors to equalize their chances of winning.
I immediately thought of horse-racing, where the horses have to have a certain handicap put on them--which is an amount of weight they have to carry so that all the horses will weigh the same at the start of the race?? I don't know. No.
A handicap race is a horse race where horses carry different weights. A better horse will carry a heavier weight in order to make the race more fair. This allows for more skill in betting.
Handicap races are also common in clubs which encourage all levels of participants such as a swimming club or in cycling races as well. All the participants are clocked in a time trial before the races, known as the handicap. In the race itself, the participants don't start at go, but the starts are staggered based on the handicaps. The slowest swimmer/cyclist starts the earliest and the fastest starts the latest, making the end of the race really close. An ideal handicap race is one in which all participants finish at the same time. The one to win is the person that beats his/her own time. Isn't that a lovely concept?
Ok so does all this give us a better pointer as to where the word "handicap" actually came from? Yes.
In the 1600s there was a betting game with three participants. Two players and one referee. The two players would put some money into the pot--originally, a literal, physical cap/hat. Then they would put a valuable items up for betting and the referee would tell them how much money each must supply in order for their bets to be of equal value. NOW, the players had the option to either supply that money or not. They were basically calling each other's bluffs.
Both traders put their hands into the cap, and draw them out at the same time. An open hand is an agreement to trade and a closed hand is a refusal to trade. Hence the name of the game: hand-in-cap.
  • If they both had open hands, they would exchange goods and the referee would keep the cash.
  • If both had closed hands, the referee would keep the money and the goods would not be exchanged.
  • If only one had an open hand, he got the money and the goods were not exchanged.
Handicapping thus became a term for leveling out the field by making the stronger contestant bear a penalty. A term which had made the jump from a game's name to 'way to equalize a contest' from there became synonymous with 'imposed impediment.' and then just 'impediment.'
So is "handi-capable" a more politically correct term than "handicapped"? I guess so... I guess you could even stretch the imagination and say yes, because one definition of cap is:
9. a maximum limit, as one set by law or agreement on prices, wages, spending, etc., during a certain period of time; ceiling: a 9 percent cap on pay increases for this year.
a limit, essentially. So, if someone is capped, they have limits, and you coulllllldddd say if they are capable then they are free of such limits...
stupid P.C. bullshit.

04 December 2009

The Rejected Dwarves

We came upon the dwarf names that were rejected for the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

WHAT DOES NEURTSY MEAN?! I have no idea.
All I can guess is that he's kind of neurotic.

Also, I really wish there had been a Sleazy dwarf.

24 November 2009

Shorthand and Speedwriting

My mom recently got into a conversation during which the difference between shorthand and speedwriting were assumed to be obvious. She related this conversation to me and I told her honestly, I had never heard of speedwriting. I had to look it all up.

Shorthand typically refers to any method of writing that uses symbols for common phrases, words or sounds. Some methods of shorthand use abbreviations for words. In either case, someone well trained in shorthand should be able to take dictation as fast as someone else is speaking. Obviously, shorthand is generally used with the intention of transcribing it to longhand... but some people like Samuel Pepys don't ever do that.

There are looooots of different kinds of shorthand, including geometric systems, script, and geometric-script. Turns out speedwriting is just one of maaaaaany shorthand writing systems.

Non-symbol systems often supplement alphabetic characters by using punctuation marks as additional characters, giving special significance to capitalised letters, and sometimes using additional non-alphabetic symbols. Examples of such systems include Stenoscript, Stenospeed, Speedwriting, Forkner shorthand, Quickhand and Alpha Hand. However, there are some pure alphabetic systems, including Personal Shorthand, SuperWrite, Easy Script Speed Writing, and Agiliwriting, which limit their symbols to purely alphabetic characters. These have the added advantage that they can also be typed - for instance, onto a computer, PDA, or cellphone. Early editions of Speedwriting were also adapted so that they could be written on a typewriter, and therefore would possess the same advantage.

This is an example of the Lord's Prayer written in a bunch of different shorthand systems.
File:Eclectic shorthand by cross.png

About speedwriting specifically:

Speedwriting is phonetic with a ‘k’ used for a hard c, ‘C’ for ‘ch’, ‘j’ for ‘g’ in ‘age’. It condenses words by omitting silent letters and only writing long vowels, and initial short vowels. Sentences are ended with ‘\’ and a ‘/’ is used for omitted syllables. There are other abbreviating devices, including capitalisation, and the use of punctuation marks to denote combinations of sounds. It uses around 100 abbreviations for common words and suffixes.

Speedwriting uses a stylized script made in 1942 for faster handwriting, in which the ‘t’ is uncrossed (l is looped to distinguish them), ‘i’ is not dotted, ‘m’ is a simple curve like a stretched ‘n’ and 'w' is also a simple curve like a stretched 'u'.

Speedwriting is more than twice as fast as longhand, due to using half the letters, but it is nowhere near as fast as symbolic shorthand systems. Speeds of up to 120 words a minute are possible for short periods of time, with speeds of 80 words a minute being regularly attained. It is therefore more useful for someone wanting a simple system to speed up handwritten note taking than for reporting.

Here's what it looks like:

I think we should all just type real fast and forget about all this abbreviated non-sense. Writing things by hand holds nothing more than aesthetic value for me. Yes, having said that, I really like my handwriting.

05 November 2009

French Punctuation

I really like KMarsh's blog. Probably--at least partially--because I really like KMarsh.
He had a post the other day about hating the serial comma, in which he proudly used an interrobang. In all my years, I had never seen it. Can you believe it Even my spell-checking device currently thinks I've made a mistake.
So I started looking into unusual punctuation, and discovered... surprise! the French. They really are the people most enthusiastic about their own language I've ever witnessed. This includes the punctuation marks they've made up for themselves.
Brief history of punctuation:
Punctuation of course developed when people started making lots of copies of the Bible--which was meant to be read aloud. They put dots and marks to help the reader, and they invented capital letters, too!
Punctuation didn't really become standardized until printing came about, and typewriters even regulated trends: for the most part, punctuation was minimized because a period or a comma took up as much valuable ribbon space as a letter.
I guess once computers came into common usage, people started using punctuation more freely.
We generally assume that punctuation marks all serve the same purpose in every language, but they do vary slightly from region to region.
In Western languages, a period marks a full stop with only slight variations.
"Carefree" means "free from care or anxiety." (American style)
"Carefree" means "free from care or anxiety". (British style)

  • In some Asian languages, notably Chinese and Japanese, a small circle is used instead of a solid dot: "??"
  • In the Devanagari script used to write Hindi, Sanskrit and some other Indian languages a vertical line "|" is used to mark the end of a sentence.
  • In Thai, no symbol corresponding to full stop is used as sentence marker. A sentence is written without spaces and a space is typically used to mark the end of a clause or sentence.
 More interesting than periods:
In English, quotation marks are most commonly used to quote someone. It is unfortunate that many English speakers do not know what other functions quotation marks may serve.
  • Quotation marks may be used for irony.
    • He shared his "wisdom" with me.
    • The lunch lady plopped a glob of "food" onto my tray.
It is incorrect to use quotation marks for emphasis. I don't know why people think it's ok. It's not. Check out this blog.
In a lot of languages, we use these funny angle quotes. «…» In Belarusian, Catalan, Danish, French, Swiss, German, Greek, Italian, Latvian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish and Ukranian. I don't know why.
What's even weirder is that whether languages use the angle quotes or the comma quotes SOMETIMES THEY POINT IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS.
Don't ask me to explain it.
Ok so back to funny looking question marks and the French.
Not only do they embrace the interrobang as relatively standard, they also have what's called an irony mark. ؟ The French are silly.
In other news…
Soo... how many spaces do you put after a sentence? I always put two. Before typewriters, all European languages has a long tradition of using spaces of varying widths for the express purpose of enhancing readability.
Once stuff got more standardized, French spacing inserted spaces around most punctuation marks, but single-spaced after sentences, colons, and semicolons. English spacing removed spaces around most punctuation marks, but double-spaced after sentences, colons, and semicolons.
Money makes the world go 'round.
The reasons were predominantly commercial rather than stylistic. A key change in the publishing industry from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century was the enormous growth of mass-produced books and magazines. Increasing commercial pressure to reduce the costs, complexity, and lead-time of printing deeply affected the industry, leading to a widening gap between commercial printing and fine printing.
The underlying reasons for the changes were:
  • ease and speed, since far less physical type and more importantly far less skilled effort was required
  • cost, since fewer man-hours were required and the condensed text required less paper. The bulk of the cost saving was typesetting-related rather than paper-use-related
  • cultural, since new typesetters (and readers) had grown up with typewriters and the standard typists' spacing approximations of good typesetting
But then, what was French spacing became English spacing, and vice versa.
The earliest use of this inversion was apparently 1994 by the University of Chicago Press. By the mid-2000s this usage had been widely asserted on the internet.
It is not clear why this reversal occurred.
It is possible that it was an attempt to discourage the practice by labeling it alien.
The moral of the story is:
I really love the French—and how much they love their language.

04 October 2009


I noticed a handful of years ago, it became the fad to say "I heart you" aloud, even though we had been writing

for ages.
Maybe people always said that and I just hadn't noticed.

Anyway... what is it called in linguistics when you put a picture in place of a word? I can't remember.


is read aloud "I heart you" --
I saw an organ donor billboard the other day that said

Get youron

I had forgotten about this until KMarsh reminded me.

29 September 2009

Dixie's Land

My Uncle Mike is one of the funniest people I know. He's not funny in that he's cracking jokes every second--he's more like... just a comical person... a highly amusing person to be around. I love Uncle Mike.

Tonight he said, "Do you know where they got 'Dixieland' from?" I never know if he's really serious in what he's about to tell me. "The word, 'Dixieland,' do you know where it came from?" Two things happened. A. I was surprised because I'm pretty sure Uncle Mike is clueless about my interest in linguistic trivia, and B. I stopped to think about it, and realized I had never thought about it before. Where does the word "Dixie" come from?

He said something along the lines of: You know, the French used to own this area, the South, and you know what their word for "ten" is? That's right. Dix. --and they had paper money with 10 on it, and we became Dixieland.

The ten dollar notes were issued by private banks in Louisiana, and colloquially referred to as "dixies" by English-speaking Southerners, and the area around New Orleans and the Cajun-speaking parts of Louisiana became known as "Dixieland."

I had no idea! But it makes sense. I came home to research it. Turns out, that is only one of three etymological explanations. The actual origin of the term is not necessarily known.

A lot of transcriptions say "Dixie's Land" instead of "Dixieland."
There is a story about a slave owner whose name was Dixy, and he was very "kind" to his slaves, and when he died, his slaves mourned his death intensely. Thus Dixie's Land became a synonym for "paradise" and during the Civil War, the minstrel song "Dixie's Land," written by Daniel D. Emmett became popular among the slaves.

The dictionary says the word origin comes from the Mason-Dixon line, which for the most part, separated free and slave states.
I guess that could be it, too.

I'm honestly most inclined to believe the first explanation, strictly due to geographical references. The money explanation has New Orleans/French Louisiana as it's center. The "kind" Dixy in the second story was actually a slave-owner in Manhattan, NY--even though the song became popular in the South during the Civil War. And the Mason-Dixon line, well, yes it separated the North from the South but... isn't New Orleans the heart of Dixie?

We have Dixie beer brewed here, and Winn-Dixie supermarkets. Ok, ok. Dixie Beer is actually currently brewed in Heuber Brewery in Wisconsin (but only since Katrina flooded the brewery here), and Winn-Dixie supermarkets are based out of Jacksonville, FL and have stores in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and Mississippi.

Why do I think that New Orleans is the heart of Dixie, then?
The Dixie Chicks are from Dallas, TX--and they got their name from a Little Feat album, Dixie Chickens. Which brings me to the music! Dixieland Jazz aka New Orleans Jazz is the earliest style of recorded jazz ever. It's all about the music! The term Dixieland became widely used after the advent of the first million-selling hit records of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917.

Louis Armstrong's trumpet is often thought of as the definitive sound of Dixieland. There are now several "styles" of Dixieland Jazz, including Chicago-style, and West-Coast revival. There are even international dixieland jazz music festivals, like the one in Dresden, Germany and the one in Catalonia, Spain.

How fun would it be to go to one of those? and say, "I live in the heart of Dixie."

27 September 2009

the worst bank.

So I happen to work on the Worst Bank of New Orleans. aka the "West Bank."
The culture there is so radically different from New Orleans itself, and even that--of course--can be subdivided into countless cultures--which some people can pinpoint down to the subdivision you grew up in or high school you attended.
as I'm sure it is with all places.
The West Bank culture is very curious to me, and comical.

I've discovered they find verbs unnecessary.

"This phone a piece of crap!"
"My momma at home!"

I recently received a text message from one of my co-workers, which I absolutely LOVED.
She managed to fit that verb in just fine:

"We on are way."

25 September 2009


Um. Some people make fun of the way George W. Bush says "America." And... some people like to then continuously say "ummerka" --as if it were an "amen."
Well, someone recently told me "you know 'umerka' actually means something." ...but when I asked her what, she didn't remember.
So here's the answer:
the lees or sediment of olive oil.
a city in S Somalia.
That's it.

24 September 2009

Lafayette, LA

My friend Quentin is from Lafayette, LA. Lafayette was founded by a French-speaking Acadian named Jean Mouton (aka Jean Sheep)--therefore, Lafayette developed as the Cajun center of Louisiana. We've talked about the Cajuns before, and a lot of Cajun phrases are completely new to me, so I enjoy hearing about them.

Q insists people will say "to my house" instead of "at my house"--presumably coming as a direct translation of "c'est a ma maison" where the preposition "a" can be translated as "to" or "at."

Considering Cajuns say all kinds of crazy things like "making groceries" (to shop for groceries, a calque of the Cajun French faire des groceries) and "my eye!" or "my foot!" to mean "no way!"--in French, it's pretty common to say "mon oeil!" or "mon pied!" to express disbelief-- so this doesn't surprise me.

I had just never heard it before.

Also, here is a map of where Cajun English is spoken.

I'll also go ahead and mention that Q makes it a point to refer to his people as Creole, not Cajun. I mean, that's understandable, because they actually are Creole, not Cajun--but to people who aren't either, there aren't really any real connotations either way. But Quentin talks about how Cajun carries so many negative implications that Creole doesn't... which is funny to me.

is derived from the Latin word "crear", which meant, "create." In 1590, Father J. de Acosta decided that the mixed breeds born in the New World were neither Spanish, African, Indian, but various mixtures of all three, thus a created race. So he identified them as "Criollos".

Creoles also have their own brand of French. Over time, the black Créoles and Africans created a French and West African hybrid language called Créole French or Louisiana Creole French. It was used in some circumstances by slaves, planters and free people of color alike. It is still spoken today in central Louisiana.

People who are neither Cajun nor Creole often have trouble identifying the differences between the two. Culturally, they started off very differently, but as Spanish and then French Catholics took over the region, the cultural blending progressed.

Creoles were the first European settlers in New Orleans and the Mississippi river plantations. The considered themselves of aristocratic decent. Their heritage was of France, Spanish or Portuguese origins. Creoles were considered to be very wealthy. Some were given high political appointments by the crown. Creole holdings involved shipping, banking and plantation ownership. Their businesses faltered after the Civil War without slave labor.

Acadians (Cajuns) originating from the West coast of France (Brittny/Normandy) first settled Nova Scotia in 1604. Most were of peasant descent with little or no education, who worked with their hands. After being loaded on ships by the British, who expelled they from Nova Scotia, they began arriving in Louisiana about 1765. Cajuns mostly settled the bayous and open prairies where they could continue their trades of trapping, fishing and farming.

It seems--by Quentin's attitude anyway--that a little bit of snobbery still lingers. How curious!

23 September 2009

Hundreds and Thousands!

Andw told me something wonderful yesterday.
In the UK, as well as in Australia and New Zealand...
aaaah I can't contain my giggles!
Wiki of course has a whole article devoted to sprinkle-nomenclature. It goes on to say that "hundreds and thousands" typically refer to the spherical type of sprinkles, while "sugar strands" are... just that.

Hebrew and Yiddish

Soo we always make fun of my friend Magee for being a Jew. He's not actually Jewish, he just fits a lot of the negative stereotypes.
Anyway, one day he texted me "Mazel Tov" when I called him a Jew, which I knew to be a completely inappropriate response. I didn't say anything, but he soon replied "After looking up yiddish phrases, I think 'ikh hob dir in drerd' is more appropriate." and then "Or even better: a kholeryeh."
This all looked surprisingly German to me--so I started wondering what the connection/difference between Hebrew and Yiddish is. I asked ChaCha, who responded "Hebrew is the ancient language of the Jews. Yiddish is a modern language, more similar to German, that uses the Hebrew alphabet." As I suspected!
So Hebrew came first, obviously.

Modern Hebrew is currently spoken in Israel, and classical Hebrew is spoken around the world in Jewish communities.
Linguistically, Hebrew is related to Arabic and Aramaic (during the Babylonian captivity, more Aramaic got mixed in there. But... culturally speaking... Aramaic represented the hated language of slavery, conquest, and occupation, while Hebrew remained the language of Israel's history and national pride. Preserved largely by Israel proper, Hebrew continued to be a thriving language until shortly before the Byzantine era.)
Anyway, proper Hebrew became scholarly, and between the 2nd and 19th centuries, dialects formed all over the place, seeing as how there were Jews all over the place. These dialects included Ladino (aka Judezmo aka Judeo-Spanish), Yiddish and a slew of Judeo-Arabic tongues.
The Second Aliyah refers to when a bunch of Jews--mostly from Russia and Poland--came to Ottoman Palestine. Due to this, around this time (early 1900s) a lot of those other Hebrew dialects died out and traditional Hebrew was re-vamped to include a bunch of that stuff left over from those dialects, as well as more Arabic and Aramaic, not to mention English and other European languages. In 1948 Hebrew became the official language of Israel.
So where did Yiddish come from!?
Well... the Ashkenazi Jews are the ones that came from the Rhineland valley (in the west of Germany) and northern France around the 10th century... when all those dialects were spreading. Hasidic Jews still grow up speaking Yiddish today.
Traces remain in the contemporary Yiddish vocabulary: for example, בענטשן (bentshn, to bless), from the Latin benedicere; and the personal name Anshl, cognate to Angel or Angelo. Western Yiddish includes additional words of Latin derivation (but still very few): for example, orn (to pray), cf. Latin "orare."
But it seems to have really been born out of a mix of German with Hebrew words tossed in. The big difference is that it was always written with the Hebrew alphabet. Not until the 15th century could you even really say that German and Yiddish were two different languages if you heard them spoken. So really, Yiddish developed as a transliteration of German into the Hebrew alphabet. How cool!
גוּט טַק אִים בְּטַגְֿא שְ וַיר דִּיש מַחֲזֹור אִין בֵּיתֿ הַכְּנֶסֶתֿ טְרַגְֿא

gut tak im betage se vaer dis makhazor in beis hakneses trage

May a good day come to him who carries this prayer book into the synagogue.

How wild!
So... "Mazel Tov" did indeed come from Yiddish...
There are also some words that Yiddish speakers who live in English speaking countries have adopted into their vocabulary. They call this

27 August 2009

Etymological Epiphany, from Khya

Khya texted me today.
(I doubt he'll ever blag on his own, so I've taken him on as a contributor to my blag. Jaja yes!)

So I had another etymological epiphany: EXACT. Ex-meaning "out of," and Act-as in "what takes place." So when used nowaday, we mean it so to say "that which comes directly from the action/source." So an "exact copy" is a mirror image because it comes out of the act, the source.

26 August 2009

That gives you the willies?

To give you the willies... where did that expression come from, anyway? Walker asked.
No one does.
Every source I've found says that the origin of the phrase is unknown, but there seem to be a few postulate theories out there. I've collected 4 of them. The last one is my favorite.
- Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, traces "the willies" to the slang expression "willie-boy," meaning "sissy" -- presumably the sort who would be prone to the "willies."
- The Serbo-Croatian word "vila" (in English pronounced /wi-li/) meaning a wood-nymph or fairy usually refers to the spirit of a betrothed girl who died after being jilted by her lover. It seems entirely possible to me that "willi," the spirit or ghost, became the "willies," the feeling that something creepy is going on.
- 2001 Douglas Harper Etymology Dictionary also says its origin is unknown, but that it's perhaps from the woollies, a dialectal term for "nervous uneasiness," probably in reference to the itchiness of wool garments. In the dictionary, woolly also means: a. Lacking sharp detail or clarity. b. Mentally or intellectually disorganized or unclear. c. Having the characteristics of the rough, generally lawless atmosphere of the American frontier.
- This is pretty wild. On Monday night, Aug. 28, 1826, an avalanche rampaged down isolated Crawford Notch, N.H., in the heart of the White Mountains, burying seven members of the Willey family and two hired men. Had the victims stayed in their house, which stood directly in the path of the avalanche, they would have been spared; incredibly, a boulder divided the landslide directly behind the house so that the debris streamed past on either side. (Reference: OUT OF NOWHERE Disaster and Tourism in the White Mountains By Eric Purchase Johns Hopkins University Press) Check this out. Some people suspect that is the origin of the phrase...
Take your pick.

25 August 2009

Japanese is a silly language, pt. 1.

There are these things called "counter words." In English, they're not too common, but examples of them are like the word "sheet" in "two sheets of paper" or "cup" in "two cups of coffee."

Now, these should not be mistaken with:
  1. collective nouns - These refer to a group of objects as a single noun. For example, a "flock of geese" or a "pride of lions". Correctly, we use singluar verb conjugations with these words, like "The team is working." There are all kinds of specifications and technicalities here, too, which are pretty funny.* For a full list of collective nouns in English, click here.
  2. collective number - In English, a word is singular unless marked (usually with an -s) otherwise to indicate it's plural. In some languages, like Welsh, some nouns have collective number, which means they are plural unless indicated singular with some vowel changes and stuff.
  3. mass nouns - These cannot be directly modified by a numeral without specifying a unit of measurement, and that they cannot combine with an indefinite article (a or an). Some examples are "furniture" and "cutlery." Also, when you add some furniture to some more furniture, you still just have "furniture." The word form doesn't change--or more technically, these words have cumulative reference.
  4. count nouns - This is the opposite of a mass noun. This can be counted, like "a chair." "One chair," "two chairs." If you have one chair and then get another chair, you now have "two chairs." The word form does change. Simple enough.

Ok we know what counter words aren't... but what are they?

Japanese isn't the only language that uses them** but they are pretty rare in European languages. We don't have it because with count nouns we can just say "two leaves" and with mass nouns we use other word like "one grain of sand"--you can't say "one sand."
BUT in Japanese, you don't have to "worry" about all that. There are special counter words (I'll say CW) for nearly everything. You must say "threeCW students" or "twoCW birds" or "over 9000CW trees."

So really, to prove that you're not a total n00b, you have to know the right counter words for everything. Good luck. That is, except for when you don't. It seems that if you use the wrong counter word for a certain kind of small animal, and use a counter word for any other kind of animal, that's ok. But if you get to bigger animals, like horses, they don't let you slide. ...yeah, good luck. If you really don't know the counter word for a certain thing, and if you happen to want to say some number between 1 and 10, you can use the traditional numbers without a counter word, and that's ok. After that, you're on your own.

Also, if you want to make a funny, you can use the wrong counter word intentionally to achieve the effect. Wiki's example of this is: one might say 男一匹なのに (Otoko ippiki nano ni; "I am only one man..."). Using the counter hiki (匹), the counter for small animals, humorously suggests that the person is overpowered by massive obstacles.

Khya hates counter words. ...and I don't blame him.

*"Herd" can properly refer to a group of wild horses, but not to a group of domestic horses. A "paddling of ducks" only refers to ducks on water. A group of geese on the ground is referred to as a "gaggle of geese" while a "skein of geese" would refer to them in flight.

**Counter words are part of the grammar of most Asian languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Malay, Burmese, Thai, Hmong, Bengali, and the Munda languages just to the west of this area. Among indigenous languages of the Americas measure words occur in the Pacific Northwest, especially among the Tsimshianic languages, and in many languages of Mesoamerica, including Classic Maya. They also occur in some languages of the Amazon Basin (most famously Yagua) and a very small number of West African languages.

24 August 2009

red red wine

Syrah and Petite Syrah grapes, respectively.

A few months back, my cousin and I were discussing how much we like red wine but don't know much about it. He likes to try lots of different kinds--and recently discovered he likes Petite Syrah wine.
He saw it on a wine list, and because his girlfriend's name is Sarah, he thought it cute to get a wine "named after her." Turns out, it is delicious.

What I do know is that wine names like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Grigiot are all grape varieties. Further names are going to be brand names. Petite Syrah is also a grape variety, just a less common one.

I had Petite Syrah that one time in Mexico, and since then, have had trouble finding it. I saw Petite Sirah once and I see Shiraz all over the place and wonder if that's related to Syrah--and how different that is from Petite Syrah. Soooo let's blog to find out.

is actually a large city in Iran--where the oldest wine samples ever discovered were. They've been making wine in Shiraz for over 7000 years.

is a grape variety, also known as Shiraz, that has grown in France for many centuries, and more recently, also in Australia. It's called Syrah in Europe, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and the United States. In Australia, South Africa and Canada it's more commonly known as Shiraz. But it is, in fact, the same grape.*

Where the grape originated before it was in France is hard to say. People speculate it came from Shiraz, Iran--but there are other ideas, too.**

We definitely know how it got to Australia: In 1831, the Scotsman James Busby, often called "the Father of Australian viticulture", cut samples of it from Europe and brought it back to Australia. The plant was an established Australian variety by the 1860s.

Shiraz and Syrah are in fact the same grape, but it seems the nomenclature has varied implications, anyway:
Winemakers (or wine marketers) sometimes choose either Syrah or Shiraz to signify a stylistic difference in the wine they have made. "Syrah"-labelled wines are sometimes thought to be more similar to classic Northern Rhône reds; presumably more elegant, tannic, smoke-flavoured and restrained with respect to their fruit component. "Shiraz"-labelled wines, on the other hand, would then be more similar to archetypical Australian or other New World examples; presumably made from riper berries, more fruit-driven, higher in alcohol, less obviously tannic, peppery rather than smokey, usually more easily approached when young, and possibly slightly sweetish in impression. It must however be realized that this rule of thumb is unevenly applied.
None of this mentions Petite Syrah or Petite Sirah. Turns out that's a different grape variety all together. The grape is actually called Durif, which came from crossing the Syrah and Peloursin grapes, which didn't happen until the 1880s. California and Australia are now the two leading producers of Durif. The grape can also be found in Israel, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.

According to wiki, compared to Syrah, [Petite Sirah] wine is noticeably more dark and purplish in color, and typically rounder and fuller in the mouth, and offers a brightness that Syrah lacks.

*Other names for the same grape include Schiras, Sirac, Syra, Syrac, Serine, and Sereine.

**Another legend of the grape variety's origin, based on the name Syrah, is that it was brought from Syracuse by the legions of Roman Emperor Probus sometime after AD 280. This legend also lacks documentary evidence and is inconsistent with ampelographic findings.

07 August 2009

music in foreign languages

Ok so obviously I've been on a Sound-of-Music-in-translation kick.
Which got me wondering about solfege in foreign languages. (Which reminded me of the conversation about which the previous post was.)

do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti
(with a chromatic scale of ascending di, ri, fi, si, li
and descending te, le, se, me, ra)

First of all, where did this come from?
In the eleventh century, the music theorist Guido of Arezzo developed a six-note ascending scale that went as follows: ut, re, mi, fa, sol, and la. A seventh note, "si" was added shortly after. The notes were taken from the first verse of a Latin hymn below (where the sounds fell on the scale), and later
"ut" and "si" were changed to flow with the other notes.

Ut queant laxis resonāre fibris
Mira gestorum famuli tuorum,
Solve polluti labii reatum,
Sancte Iohannes.

Some people think that the real origin is from the Arabs (dal, ra, mim, fa, sad, lam, ta) from back in the Middle Ages. Either way.

Is solfege international?
In the Romance countries of Europe and Latin America, these seven syllables have come to be used to name the notes of the scale, instead of the letters C, D, E, F, G, A and B. (For example, they would say, "Beethoven's ninth symphony is in Re minor". Weirdos.)

In Germanic countries, the letters are used for this purpose, and the solfège syllables are encountered only for their use in sight-singing and ear training. (We would say, "Beethoven's ninth symphony is in D minor".)

Japan uses traditional kana order (iroha) to correspond to Anglo-American note names.


In Anglo-Saxon countries, "si" was changed to "ti" by Sarah Glover in the nineteenth century so that every syllable might begin with a different letter.

I didn't know

in some countries, "do" always corresponds to C, "re" D, etc. This is the case in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Belgium, Romania and Latin American countries, as well as countries such as China, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Greece, Iran, Lebanon, Israel and Japan.

When I learned, I learned

not that C was always "do" but that the tonic was "do" and you just moved up from there. It seems that in Australia, Ireland, the UK, the USA, the Hong Kong SAR and English-speaking Canada that's the way they learn it. Wiki says it's called "moveable do" and that originally it was used throughout continental Europe as well, but in the mid-nineteenth century was phased out by fixed do in Romance countries.


yes, solfege is international, yet its usage varies between the two methods. Of course, there is controversy over which method is better.

06 August 2009

math in foreign languages

Less than a year ago, but before I started this blog, my friend Magee asked me about the names of math things in other languages. We were hoping they would be universal, as the should be... and it turns out, for the most part, they are.

Actually, I only looked through trig function names, because that's what he asked about specifically.
The short answer is: you'll be able to figure it out, I promise.
  • In most languages the abbreviations are sin, cos, tan, sec, csc, cot.
  • In Asturian, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, they use sen instead of sin.
  • In most Germanic languages it seems like they use kos and kot, but not actually in German.
  • Беларуская and Hrvatski use tg and ctg instead of tan and cot. Italian and Esperanto give you this option as well.
As far as non-Cyrillic-alphabet-languages... good luck. They don't seem to use the Cyrillic abbreviations.

Lies. and Well, no wonder.

In the post below, I claimed that the German lyrics were saying "tut schnell" but that really doesn't make sense... I wracked my brain last night trying to figure out what in the world they were actually saying... and gave up and had to finish the post and figured no one would call me out on it before I found a real answer.

I asked my German-expert friend what the heck they were saying and he said:

Matt Wehner: It's Dutch. I tried to look up the lyrics, no idea. lol on the acting though!

Well, duh. It didn't make sense in German, because it's not in German.
That whole freaking thing is in Dutch, not German. They just sound that much alike that I thought the parts I didn't understand were just because I wasn't catching the German.

Why do I keep accidentally understanding languages I don't actually know?!

So long, farewell!

I'm dumb.

Walker asked "what language is that?" I immediately said "German," and then "no, wait. That's French. In French it means 'to God' just like adios in Spanish." (It's a shortening of a Dieu vous commant ("I commend you to God").) But my inclination was to say that German people say adieu. I had no idea why I felt this way, knowing that the farewell in French is au revoir and in German is auf wiedersehen--both of which mean "until we see each other again."

Still, this feeling of German people saying adieu persisted.
And then I figured it out.

It seems I've watched that movie/musical so many times it's just been assimilated as a source of truth and fact in my brain without my knowing it.
The kid says "adieu, adieu, to you and you and you" and he's supposed to be German.
Well, shit.
Lol sorry Walker. Adieu is French. duh.

But this did lead to something a bit more interesting:

(I'm refering to that song in the Sound of Music where the kids are saying goodnight to the dinner party, and they say the little tag over and over again before each kid sings his/her verse, in case you haven't seen it a million times, like I obviously have.)

In English, they sing:
  1. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodnight
  2. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu
  3. So long, farewell, au revoir, auf wiedersehen
  4. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye
  5. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

BUT THEN I FOUND IT IN GERMAN! Here's the link.*
In German, I'm not sure of this but it sounds like they sing:
  1. Tut schnell, farewell, ??, gute nacht
  2. Tut schnell, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu
  3. Tut schnell, farewell, bon soir, au revoir
  4. Tut schnell, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye
  5. Goodbye, tut schnell, auf wiedersehen, farewell
  6. Farewell, farewell, farewell.

And just because it's also the language in question, here it is in French.
They say the same thing every time:
  1. Goodbye, farewell, auf wiedersehen, bon soir.
  2. ...
  3. Au revoir, au revoir, au revoir.

I also found it in Spanish, and it seems they say "adios, adios, buenas noches, adios" every single time.
I also found it in Norwegian. It sounds a lot like German.

*Yes, when I found this, I laughed out loud. --a lot.

05 August 2009

Paper Cuts

I was reading The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards (boo don't bother) and came across "scherenschnitte." Sounds German but they were using it in English. It sounds too German to be used in English, to me, but apparently it is. It's this art form of cutting paper into super intricate designs.

In English it's pronounced shear-n-SNIT-a and in German it's pronounced share-n-shnitt. In English it still refers to this art form, but in German, it currently means silhouette.

Tweet Correction

On July 1st at 8:47am, sirgeoph tweeted:
Only three words have entered English from Czech: polka, pilsner, and robot.

I wondered if he was right. Turns out, he's not! I really like the Czech Republic so here's what you need to know:

Words that we really use in English that came from Czech:
  • dollar - from High German thaler, a nickname for the silver coins that were minted from the ore found in Jáchymov in western Bohemia, called Joachimsthal in German.
  • pilsner - after Pilsen, the German name of Plzeň, a Czech city. The name of the city is derived from Old Czech Plz.
  • pistol - from píšťala, an 15th century Hussite firearm.
  • pram - comes via Dutch from the Czech word prám, referring to such a vessel, though this is interesting since the Czech homeland has no seacoast.
  • polka - from Polák or polský, a Czech dance named in remembrance of the November Uprising of 1830; or from Půlka, in English half because of its tempo.
  • robot - from Czech robota (labour, drudgery), introduced in Karel Čapek's play R.U.R. from the 1920s.
Not to mention:
  • Budweiser - after Budweis, the German name of Budějovice, a city in southern Bohemia.

Ok, he was close.

Bull, Bullet, Bulletin

Do they all come from the same root word?

Kind of! All but the animal are related:

  • Bull (refering to the animal and all that) --comes from Old English bula "a steer" which came from Old Norse boli "bull", both of which came from bullon, the Germanic stem which means to roar. This is also the root of the English word boulder.
See full size image
  • Bull (refering to the papal declaration)--comes from teh Latin bulla "sealed document" (which used to be the word for the seal itself), coming from Latin bulla meaning "round thing, knob" which might have come from Gaulish. Words like buttocks, bubble, boil, bowl and even bag might have come from this same root.
Which leads into...
  • Bullet--This comes from that same aforementioned Latin bulla. It went into French, balle meaning "ball" got the diminuitive ending -ette for "little ball" and tada! Note: boulette in Modern French means "cannon ball."

  • Bulletin--This came from when the Latin bulla meant bill (Medieval Latin) and took the French and Italian diminuitive forms -ette and -ino. ! Note: Popularized by their use in the Napoleonic Wars as the name for dispatches sent from the front meant for the home public (which led to the proverbial expression "as false as a bulletin"). The first record of bulletin-board is from 1831.

23 July 2009

Italian Lesson Update #2

Well, when I first looked over the Italian alphabet, I immediately noticed there is no j! When I came back to it and tried to recite the alphabet, I noticed there is also no w, x or y!

What is going on here?!
I mean, I know Italian is the closest modern descendant of Latin we have, and Latin didn't really have j, but other Romance Languages like Portuguese, Spanish, French, Romanian and Catalan all have j.
As a matter of fact, those languages all also have w, x and y!

The story of j.

J started off as a swash variation of i. That's it. 1524 is the oldest recorded use of two distinct sounds for i and j. As a matter of fact, Gian Giorgio Trissino was the first to do it, and he was an Italian dude. He was writing about linguistic development in Italian, even, but I guess it just never caught on in Italian. You only see j in Italian when it's in a proper Latin noun--therefore, a lot of Italian city names have j in them, like Boljano, Jelsi and Pietraroja.

It did, however, catch on in other Romance Languages, and developed a different sound in each. In French, Portuguese and Romanian it makes a /ʒ/ sound. Catalan is pretty close to Spanish and it makes a /ʑ/ sound (like the h in help). Spanish is the only one of those that de-voiced it, and turned it into a /x ~ h/ sound, which is a lot like that Catalan pronunciation.

In a lot of non-European languages like Turkish, Azerbaijani and Tatar, the j makes the /ʒ/ sound, too. Like Taj Mahal.

The sound we get for our English j comes from the French j, which turned into a /dʒ/ sound for us. We first saw it happen in writing in English, in 1634. BUT we still see it do some funny sounds, like in the word Hallelujah and Taj Mahal.

Germanic languages embraced it fully, though. German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian all use it to make a /j/ sound (which is like the English word yet.)
And as a note, j is not used in Celtic or Native American languages at all.

What about w, x and y?

Well, in English we used to see just vv instead of w, and eventually, they got crossed together in the middle. We're talking about the 7th century, here. And as far as Romance Languages are concerned, w is still really only used for foreign words, like le week-end and le kiwi in French.

X has been around forever, because it comes from the Ancient Greek: Chi X in Western Greek and Xi Ξ in Eastern Greek. It might even be older than that according to some hyroglyphs and stuff, but whatever. This is where the /ks/ sound came from. In French, it came into usage as a plural form
that used to be -us, but then people started writing it pretty and it turned into x. In French, it's generally silent. In Catalan, it can be pronounced either /ʃ/ or /ks/ or /s/. This plus /z/ is true for Portuguese. In Spanish, it makes a hard /x/ sound and in spelling is often interchanged with j because j makes a very similar sound. Like Mexico can also be spelled Mejico.

Y is pretty straightforward, too. It also came from the Greek: Upsilon Y. (Hence Latin not really having it.) As a matter of fact, Old English called y "Greek U" and in Spanish, Catalan, French and Romanian, it is still called "Greek I" (referring to y) and i is called "Latin I" (referring to i). In almost every case it's /i/ or /j/ but in German it's always /ʏ/. Spanish does something similar and usually pronounces it /ʝ/. Italian only uses it in loanwords.

And that's that.

22 July 2009

The Germans aren't as bad as the French.

The French are really really anti-letting non-French words pollute their vernacular.
The German are not so self-centered:

21 July 2009

Cigar Lingo: Part 1

What about OSCURO cigars? (Nope. You never hear "obscuro cigars." Don't ask me. All I know is in the post below.)

I'm not much of a cigar smoker myself, but as it turns out, the outer wrapping of a cigar is a tobacco leaf as well. ! Who knew? Not I. The wrapper determines much of the cigar's character and flavor, and as such its color is often used to describe the cigar as a whole. Colors are designated as follows, from lightest to darkest (Yep, these are all in Spanish):
  • Double Claro - very light, slightly greenish (also called Candela, American Market Selection or jade); achieved by picking leaves before maturity and drying quickly; often grown in Connecticut.
  • Claro - light tan or yellowish. Indicative of shade-grown tobacco.
  • Colorado - reddish-brown (also called Rosado or "Corojo").
  • Colorado Claro - mid-brown; particularly associated with tobacco grown in the Dominican Republic or in Cuba.
  • Colorado Maduro - dark brown; particularly associated with Honduran or Cuba-grown tobacco.
  • Natural - light brown to brown; generally sun-grown.
  • Maduro - dark brown to very dark brown.
  • Oscuro - a.k.a. "Double Maduro", black, often oily in appearance; mainly grown in Cuba, Nicaragua, Brazil, Mexico, and Connecticut, USA.

Dark and Obscure

The word in Spanish for dark is oscuro. It's also obscuro.

I had always asked around about this, and all the native-Spanish speakers I had talked to all told me that they're synonyms, with no different connotations or anything.

Why is this?
ob⋅scure /əbˈskyʊər/ appeared in [Middle] English around 1350–1400 from the Old French oscur, obscur which came from the Latin for dark, obscūrus.

HOWEVER, when it first entered the English language, in 1481 obscurity was recorded in sense of "absence of light" and not until 1619 with meaning "condition of being unknown."

Looking further into the Latin, we're looking at ob- "over" + -scurus "covered". So really, we're looking at the same problem in French, with both oscur and obscur meaning the same thing. BUT in Modern French, the word oscurer no longer exists. Looks like it was last used in the 1500s. It's been replaced by obscurer. Both still exist in Modern Spanish.

In English, dark and obscure have different connotations.
In Spanish, oscuro and obscuro are used interchangable to mean both dark and obscure.
In French, obscurer is used to mean both dark and obscure.

And really, in English, OBSCURE can mean both unclear/vague and physcially dark.

08 July 2009

Italian Lesson Update #1

There are too many languages in my head.
I can do this.

We started with basic verbs and such--for instance, "to be" = ESSERE.
She said "conjugate ESSERE" but she said it in Spanish because my teacher speaks Spanish, and I thought "we haven't learned to eat yet" because I was thinking of essen in German.

Jaja I have to remind myself to think of this as a whole new language. NOT as a variation of French or Spanish and ESPECIALLY NOT German because I haven't found any similarities with German at all.

That's going to be the hardest part of all, methinks.
But this is soooo much fun!

05 July 2009


So when you're a kid and you watch Disney's The Little Mermaid, you assume Ursula's spell that she casts on Ariel is just a bunch of jibberish like bibbidi bobbidi boo*. But you're wrong!

At the end of Poor Unfortunate Souls, she commands Ariel to sing. She casts a spell and takes her voice away! The spells she says is:

Beluga sevruga
Come winds of the Caspian Sea
Larengix glossitis/glaucitis (?)
Et max laryngitis
La voce to me

And what does ALL THIS mean?!

  1. Beluga is a whale also known as a Sea Canary for it's high pitched twitter singing.
  2. Sevruga is a kind of caviar from the Caspian Sea, according to Wiki, "eclipsed in cost only by the Beluga and Ossetra varieties."
  3. The Caspian Sea. Well, we know where that is. But it's not known for being particularly windy. And we can't presume the story is set there becasue in the opening scene of the movie, Prince Eric is caught in a hurricane, and there are no hurricanes in the Caspian Sea. Oh well, we'll let this one slide.
  4. Ok we know that larynx comes from the Greek lárynx, which is in the upper part of the human trachea where the vocal chords are located.
  5. Glossitis is actually an inflamation of the tongue, coming from the Greek root gloss- meaning voice.
  6. Glaucus is an ancient Greek sea-god. According to Ovid, Glaucus was a normal fisherman who one day discovered an herb that would make the fish he caught come back to life. He tried eating this herb himself, and it made him an immortal merman.
  7. Laryngitis is, of course, an illness which causes you to lose your voice when your larynx becomes inflamed.
  8. And last but not least, voce means voice in Italian.

I don't know who came up with this stuff, but it's genius. No wonder they won so many awards.

*Maybe for my next trick, I'll figure out where that came from!