20 May 2009

Neal Stephenson

I'm reading my first Neal Stephenson novel. Walker suggested I start with Snow Crash. I still don't know why he chose that one to be first. Maybe he thought it was the most accessible? Knowing a little bit about his other works, to me it seems I'd enjoy some of his other works more. But I don't know. I like Snow Crash just fine.

Oh wait! I think he said he recommended it because of it's linguistics theme. Jaja. Of course.

Mmmm I kind of have a good eye for typos and grammatical mistakes in text. Now, the edition I got of this book has to be at least the 5th, so I figured this couldn't possibly be a typo. I trust Stephenson enough to give him the benefit of the doubt--I'm assuming this was intentional.

On page xx, the line break makes the word "metaphoric" into "met-aphoric." I thought this was a mistake, because I thought the syllabic breakdown was me-ta-pho-ric. So then I wondered what he meant by it.

Met- and meta- are Greek prefixes meaning "after," "beyond," "behind," etc. And pherein is the Greek root word for "to carry." Hence, metapherein meaning to carry past... as in a metaphor carrying meaning past it's literal one.

I wondered and wondered what Stephenson was trying to accentuate. I really stretched my span of plausibility for this one particular sentence. Jaja. I wanted to blag about my findings.

BUT then I looked "metaphoric" up in a dictionary only to discover the correct syllable breakdown is met-a-phor-ic. ...which makes a lot of sense, considering the word breakdown I already knew.

Fail. Mmm I'm going to attribute my original idea for the syllabic breakdown to my extensive experience with French and liaisons--whereby if a syllable begins with a vowel and is preceded by a consonant, the consonant sound gets slided into the following syllable. Syllables don't start with vowel sounds in French. Which must have been what I was thinking !

14 May 2009

Ese wey es un higado.

Colloquially, in Mexico, saying someone is an higado is to call them self-centered and egotistical. Higado means liver--as in the organ. HOW IN THE WORLD did the liver come to be associated with the self? How did this happen!?

Well first of all, I couldn't find any Spanish or Mexican slang dictionaries online that listed higado as a term. So then of course I wondered if I had been misled all along into thinking this was a common colloquial phrase, when only my family uses it. This has happened to me before. Yes, it has made me a little calloused. And bitter. Jaja.

Putting that thought aside and assuming some people use it outside of my family, I continued my quest.

The etymology of higado comes from the Latin ficatum meaning liver.
From ficatum, we got:
French - foie
Italian - fegato
Portuguese - figado
Spanish - higado

That kind of left me stuck so I looked into the etymology of liver in English. I came across Easton's 1897 Bible dictionary. This might be a bit of a stretch--but I couldn't come up with any other reasoning:

The Hebrew word for liver is kabhed also meaning heavy--appropriate because the liver is the heaviest of the viscera. Because of it's weight, it Biblically achieved sacred status, being burned upon the altar, and not used as sacrificial food.
In Ezekiel, the King of Babylon "looked upon the liver" to one of the most ancient of all modes of divination.

Maybe--just maybe--this notion of the liver's divine superiority got translated through the times to be associated with the self, and the self's center.
Or maybe even because of it's actual weight, it became associated with the self's center.

MAYBE I should ask some Mexicans and see what they think. Or know.

10 May 2009

mountains and ass

Khya and I were talking about how funnily words point to different ideas in some languages.

For instance, in Japanese, the word for mountain points to the whole mountain range, whereas in English, we think of mountain, and we think of the peaks.

In French, the word for ass really refers to the backside of the leg, from the back of the knee to the waistline. In English of course, we think of the ass as being the part between the top of the leg and the waistline.


01 May 2009

Welcome transformed.

So when you see signs in English that say "Welcome!" the part of speech is technically an interjection, but it comes from the adjective. Basically it is the shortened form of "You are welcome here!" Simple enough.

In some languages that have gender endings for adjectives, such as French, it's more obvious that signs that say "Welcome!" are using the adjectival form--as opposed to the noun or verb. Sooo... what gender do you make it? Masculine, of course, as languages often tend to assume the unspecified third person reader is masculine.

"Bienvenu!" it would say to the reader in French.
But! Times are a-changing and the world is so post-modern and women and men are feeling equal now a days... so equal that this masculine form was seeming unfair. --in France, anyway.

Indeed, signs are now saying "Bienvenue!" which, while it is also the feminine adjectival form, is more importantly the noun form--which in French doesn't require gender specification. In essence, these signs instead of implying "You are welcome here" are really giving a welcome. The noun welcome. They imply "This is a welcome for you. Happy arrival!"

Oh genders and post-modernism! This opens the door to so many changes... if people really want to push for gender equality and then push for that to carry over to language--which is absurd because language gender tags are not really related to men and women or masculine and feminine in that sense--then they are going to have to change the nature of the language itself.

Which may be what they want. Not only equality in the ends but equality in the means. If language really does create culture and culture, language, then to really alter the cultural mindset, the language would have to be reflective as well.

It's quite a daunting task.
Oh the French!


"Bienvenidos! Estan en su casa."

I have hypothetical conversations in my head all the time, and the other day I was lunching alone, looking at the welcome hanging above the breakfast room doorway. I thought about explaining "bienvenido" to Walker.

It breaks down to "bien" and "venir" -- literally meaning, come well. I hope that when you come here, you come well. I hope that you are well when you come into my home and I hope that your stay in my home goes well, makes you feel well, and that all in all, all is well.

And then I realized it's the same in English. Welcome.