29 June 2009


Soo... I'm in an adult beginner's ballet class. I've always loved and wanted to learn ballet, and now that I have the time, I'm taking an adult beginner's class. I'm certain that what we're learning is very basic, and I'm certain it must be odd for the teacher to be working with grown people for whom these movements are not instinctual.

She tries to explain the feelings of certain movements, and sometimes she succeeds. Most ballet terms are in French, which makes them all easy for me to remember.

Today, we worked on the three arabesque positions. She reminded us not to put our hands in front of our eyes. She said the movement was based on the classic cherub angel imagery, where the angels are flying. We, as ballerinas, are supposed to be reminiscent of these angels. The angels can't have their hands in front of their eyes--if they did, they wouldn't be able to see where they were flying!

For some reason, in class, this all made sense to me. I could even picture the angels.

So I came home trying to link the two: flying cherub angels and arabesque positions in ballet.
I'm not doing too well.

I started by even looking for paintings of angels in the arabesque positions, but even that has caused me trouble.

In ballet, they look like this:

1st arabesque

2nd arabesque

3rd arabesque

I've found a few angels in ... positions similar enough:

"Birth of Venus" Print "German Rococo Cherub, March 31, 1961" Photographic Print
But WHY did this come to be known as "arabesque"? In French, all it means is "Arabian" or "in Arabian fashion" and these kinds of angels certainly don't come from the Arabian/Islamic art tradition. This style is considered traditional Islamic art:

Vector Damask Seamless Pattern Stock Photography 

So I looked into the word etymology. The dictionary says:

ar⋅a⋅besque  /ˌærəˈbɛsk/

  1. Fine Arts. a sinuous, spiraling, undulating, or serpentine line or linear motif.
  2. a pose in ballet in which the dancer stands on one leg with one arm extended in front and the other leg and arm extended behind.
  3. a short, fanciful musical piece, typically for piano.
  4. any ornament or ornamental object, as a rug or mosaic, in which flowers, foliage, fruits, vases, animals, and figures are represented in a fancifully combined pattern.
Note: It was employed in Roman imperial ornamentation, and appeared, without the animal figures, in Moorish and Arabic decorative art. (See Moresque.) The arabesques of the Renaissance were founded on Greco-Roman work.

And here, I believe, we have our answer. It's probably a combination of the fact that this particular body movement is somewhat undulating. But more importantly, I guess it came from the angels in the Greco-Roman art in the Renaissance movement.

I guess.

27 June 2009


I really like sneezing.

When I was little, I was cute and I imitated people's sneezes. My daddy roared, "wooshaaa!" My mom has a funny little "tissue! tissue!" and my grandpa's wife (she's from Venezuela) has a dainty "a-chii!"

We wonder what sneezes sound like around the world?  Wiki beat me to it and compiled a list:

Some common English onomatopoeias for the sneeze sound are achoo, atchoo, achew, and atishoo, with the first syllable corresponding to the sudden intake of air, and the second to the sound of the sneeze.
  • in French, the sound "Atchoum!" is used
  • in Finnish "Atsiuh!"
  • in Icelandic "Atsjú!"
  • in Norwegian "Atsjo!"
  • in Swedish "Atjo"
  • in Danish "Atju!"
  • in Dutch "Hatsjoe!" or "Hatsjie!"
  • in Hebrew and Lithuanian "Apchi!"
  • in German "Hatschie!"
  • in Estonian "Atsihh!" and "Aptsihh!"
  • in Hungarian "Hapci!" and "Hapcik!"
  • in Polish, "Apsik!"
  • in Russian , "Apchkhi!"
  • in Turkish, "Hapşu!"
  • in Italian, "Etciù!"
  • in Spanish "¡Achís!"
  • in Portuguese, "Atchim!"
  • in Romanian "Hapciu!"
  • in Malayalam "Thummal"
  • in Filipino "Hatsing!"
  • in Japanese, "Hakushon!"
  • in Tamil, "Thummal"
  • in Telugu, "Akshi"
  • in Korean, "Achee!"
  • in Vietnamese, "Hát-xì!!"
  • In Cypriot Greek, the word is "Apshoo!", incidentally also the name of a village, which is the cause of much mirth locally.
  • In Howards End, by E.M. Forster, a sneeze in polite society is "A-tissue" - a literary allusion to its respective remedy.
So I guess all but my dad's sneezes are pretty common, somewhere. I think my dad really liked to sneeze, too.


Of course we can always talk about different countries' responses to sneezes. In most cases, it's that languages translation of "health!," but somehow the German "Gesundheit!" has permeated a lot of languages as well.

  • The French "À tes souhaits", which you correctly translate as "To your wishes" or "May your wishes/dreams come true", can sometimes be replaced by a more intimate version: "À tes amours", if you know the person well. (= to your loves...)
  • In Japan, it seems standard that the first sneeze means that something favorable is being rumored about you, the second sneeze indicates that a bad rumor is going around, the fourth sneeze means that you're catching a cold, but there seems to be regional discrepancies concerning the third sneeze, from "disparagement" to "being admired" to "you're being laughed at" to "being scolded."
  • In Korea, you respond with the sound of a sneeze ("eichi") if you are close with the person who sneezed. Otherwise, you don't say anything at all.
  • A lot of times in Spanish, after the first one you say "health!" After the second sneeze you wish them "health and money!" and after the third "health, money and love!"
  • In Brazil, you sneeze, they say "health!" or "God help you" and then you, the sneezer, respond "Amen."
  • In Holland--typical, you sneeze, they wish you health, you thank them--but if you sneeze three times in a row, it means that tomorrow will be a sunny day!
  • In India, sneezing is considered bad luck.
  • In Iran--same deal, they wish you health, you thank God for the health--but then you don't continue going about your work! It's also bad luck, so you shouldn't go back to your work for a few minutes. Or if you were trying to decide whether or not to do something and you sneeze, that means you shouldn't do it. HOWEVER, if you sneeze again, that cancels out the first sneeze. Jaja! (Some sources say this is true in parts of India, too.)
  • In the Ancient Greece, sneezes were believed to be prophetic signs from the gods.
And of course, Wiki talks about this, too.


Interesting article?

25 June 2009

Opposite Prepositions

The other day, Walker and I were discussing... something...

and he said: "Are you up?" and I said: "I'm down."
Are you up [for it]?
I'm down [with that].
This was completely unplanned and hilarity ensued.

I like prepositions that are literal opposites, but can be used to mean the same thing.
Such as:

My mom and I were talking the other day:
Mom: Don't forget to fill up that form.
Me: It's "fill out", mom.
Mom: Fill up, fill in, fill out--I never know.
And she was so right! Those, in certain contexts, all work. Even in the same scenario of "the form," both fill in and fill out would work.

More on prepositions later.

In the meantime, Andrew said he learned a new one the other day. Andrew?

23 June 2009


I forgot to post this one with that other one:



For Walker:



–noun, plural -gies.
1. the quality or state of being drowsy and dull, listless and unenergetic, or indifferent and lazy; apathetic or sluggish inactivity.

It comes from the French, which came from the Latin, which came from the Greek lēthārgos, forgetful, which is actually broken down into lēthē, forgetfulness + ārgos, idle.
Some synonyms with precise connotations:

  • Lethargy is a state of sluggishness, drowsy dullness or apathy
  • Lassitude implies weariness or diminished energy such as might result from physical or mental strain
  • Torpor and torpidity suggest the suspension of activity characteristic of an animal in hibernation
  • Stupor is often produced by the effects of alcohol or narcotics; it suggests a benumbed or dazed state of mind
  • Languor is the indolence typical of one who is satiated by a life of luxury or pleasure

22 June 2009


I'm starting Italian lessons next Monday!
I'm sooo excited! JAJAJA my instructor predicts I'll be fluent in 3 months.

21 June 2009

Hugs and Kisses

I text a lot. In texting, lots of acronyms are used, and now-a-days, most of them came from teh interwebs. However, I know some predate the interbutt, and I was just wondering how xoxo came to mean "hugs and kisses."

I'm not totally convinced with what I've found, but I keep coming across the same answer more or less:

First of all, is the O the hug or the kiss? I always thought the X was the kiss--on some level related to XXX or movies being X-rated. I think I also thought the O just looked like a hug... Some people seem to think the X looks like a top-down view of two mouths puckered up, kissing. I had never thought of that.

What sounds most right to me is:

The use of XOXO goes back to the use of an X or cross, which was considered as good as a sworn oath in times before most people could write and therefore used the X in the same way a signature is used today — a mark of one's word. An X at the end of a letter or document was often kissed as a seal of honesty, in much the same way one would kiss a Bible or kiss the fingers after making the sign of the Christian cross. Thus the X came to represent a kiss in modern times.

No one really seems to know about the O.

...ok. Back to things being X-rated. A lot of theories out there on this, too.

  • It could be an extension of the kiss-implying-X
  • X has long been an abbreviated form of the word "ecstasy."*
I like this one best:
  • Amsterdam has long been associated with pornography. Check out the flag of Amsterdam (these are three St. Andrew's Crosses said to represent Valor, Resolution and Mercy):

Granted, this has only been the official flag of Amsterdam since 1975, but the one used before it (and since the 1600s)


* Middle English extasie, from Old French, from Late Latin extasis, terror, from Greek ekstasis, astonishment, distraction, from existanai, to displace, derange : ek-, out of; see ecto- + histanai, to place


As far as XXX-rated beer, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable says, "X on beer casks formerly indicated beer which had paid the old 10s. duty, and hence came to mean beer of a given quality. Two or three crosses are mere trademarks intended to convey an impression of its extra strength."


Also, I found this list which is pretty interesting. I'll do my best to never let my blog become just this, though. Jajaja.

19 June 2009


My friend Magee is in DC and texted me asking the etymology of "gestapo" or what it actually meant in German. I didn't have an answer right away! But here it is:

[guh-stah-poh; Ger. guh-shtah-poh]
/gəˈstɑpoʊ; Ger. gəˈʃtɑpoʊ/

The term was first coined in 1934, from Ger. Gestapo, from
"Geheime Staats-polizei," literally "secret state police," set up by Hermann Göring in Prussia in 1933, extended to all Germany in January 1934.

Thanks (c) Douglas Harper 2001.

Alligator Pear

There's this delicious cafe near where I work called Alligator Pear. I eat there often. Did I mention it's delicious?

I thought it was a funny name. But hey, this is New Orleans. We have alligators. Why not name it something kind of fancy sounding?

And then while I was looking up some Nahuatl/Spanish words for the post below, I came across the etymology of avocado and found:

alligator pear
n. See avocado.

[By folk etymology from American Spanish aguacate, avocado (the trees are said to grow in areas infested by alligators); see aguacate.]'

The fruit is sometimes called an avocado pear and alligator pear (due to its shape and the rough green skin of some cultivars).

No wonder the logo has an avocado in it! I had no idea!

18 June 2009

The Aztec's Nahuatl

I was only going to post about Nahuatl (language) diminutive forms--or at most the "contact phenomena" between Nahuatl and Spanish, but I got to reading the wiki page and became fascinated--as I knew I would.

So I don't think you're incapable of reading the wiki yourself (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nahuatl)...
I just wanted to extract some of the things I found most interesting about Nahuatl linguistics.

My cousin told me once that the superlative suffixes -ote (m) and -ota (f) to imply physical largeness or intangible grandeur were only seen in Mexican Spanish. Same thing with -ito (m) and -ita (f) for diminutive forms.

I'm trying to figure out if this is true.

Reading around, I see references to -ton, -co and -tzing as diminutive form suffixes.
HOWEVER, Claudine Chamereau in her article "Morphology in Mesoamerican languages contacts" states that -ito and -ita were actually Spanish first and borrowed into Nahuatl. There goes that idea.*

Nahuatl is known for its prefixes and suffixes to better describe the root noun. Sometimes they double the first syllable of the root word to make it plural or to make it diminutive or as an honorific. e.g. /tla:katl/ "man" > /tla:tla:kah/ "men". Sometimes they do this just to emphasize the word. e.g. /kitta/ "he sees it", /kihitta/ "he looks at it repeatedly" and /ki:itta/ "he stares at it".

Sometimes all these affixes cause the word to be very long. For example, there is an 18-syllable word which means means “you honorable people might have come along banging your noses so as to make them bleed, but in fact you didn’t”.

Other interesting things about Nahuatl:

1. Nahuatl doesn't have case or gender. However, they do distinguish between animate and inanimate nouns. Interesting. Even then, only animate nouns can be made plural. Inanimate nous are considered uncountable. Apparently this is the same reason some words in English don't have different plural forms--words like "bread" and "money" are inanimate and uncountable in English. (Funny that they would use "money" as an uncountable nounn.)

So all words are marked as either not plural or plural. Not plural often ends in -tl (which is seen really often in modern Spanish references to Nahuatl) and plural often ends in -meh. However, if they wish to show ownership of the noun, this doesn't apply. Instead the prefix no- is added.

Stand-alone pronouns are really just used for emphasis. Otherwise, they'd be attached to the word.

2. Nahuatl is a "non-configurational" language, meaning that word order is basically free. That's cool.

3. Over time, Nahuatl dialects have blended short and long vowels into new vowel sounds. Jaja. Some dialects also compensate for this with pitch varieties. Many modern dialects have also borrowed phonemes from Spanish, such as /b, d, g, f/.

4. Stylistically, the higher social class wrote in a rhetorical style using parallelism. Couplets cosisting of two parallel phrases. For example:

ye maca timiquican
"May we not die"
ye maca tipolihuican
"May we not perish"
Yeah, I want to talk like that all the time, too.

They also used a kind of parallelism called difrasismo, which is when two phrases are symbolically combined to give a metaphorical reading. Some examples:

in xochitl, in cuicatl
"The flower, the song" – meaning "poetry"
in cuitlapilli, in atlapalli
"the tail, the wing" – meaning "the common people"
in toptli, in petlacalli
"the chest, the box" meaning "something secret"
in yollohtli, in eztli
"the heart, the blood" – meaning "cacao"
in iztlactli, in tenqualactli
"the drool, the spittle" – meaning "lies"

5. And of course, a lot of Spanish words got mixed into Nahuatl, seeing as how the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs and whatnot, but a few words got mixed backward--from Nahuatl back into Spanish. (For a full list, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Spanish_words_of_Nahuatl_origin)
For instance:
  • chocolate (chocolātl)
  • avocado (āhuacatl)
  • chili (chīlli)
  • coyote (coyōtl)
  • tomato (tomatl)
  • Mexico (from the Nahuatl word for the Aztec capital mexihco)
  • Guatemala (from the word cuauhtēmallan)

The largest concentrations of Nahuatl speakers are found in the states of Puebla, Veracruz, Hidalgo, San Luis Potosí, and Guerrero. Significant populations are also found in Mexico State, Morelos, and the Federal District, with smaller communities in Michoacán and Durango.

A side thought:

In Mexican slang, "chichi" is equivalent to "titties" in English. In Nahuatl, "chichi" means dog. The etymology shows that yes, this is how this came to be. Dog to bitch to titties, I guess. The curious part is that "chichi" is now also the slang term for breasts in French.

*Her article is actually pretty interesting concerning this topic. http://www.fb10.uni-bremen.de/morphcon/abstracts.aspx#Chamoreau

17 June 2009

The sin of Onan

Random House Dictionary 2009


1. withdrawal of the penis in sexual intercourse so that ejaculation takes place outside the vagina; coitus interruptus.
2. masturbation.

1720–30; after Onan, son of Judah (Gen. 38:9); see -ism


Mirriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary

Function: noun
2 : COITUS INTERRUPTUS —onan·is·tic /"O-n&-'nis-tik/ adjective
Onan /'O-n&n/, Biblical character. In the Book of Genesis Onan was commanded by his father to impregnate the widow of hisslain brother and to raise the offspring of the union. In order to avoid raising descendants for his late brother, however, Onan engaged in coitus interruptus.


The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions

Onanism. Coitus interruptus, unnatural sexual intercourse or masturbation. In the Jewish tradition, onanism is associated with the biblical figure Onan who was condemned by God for spilling his seed ‘on the ground’ (Genesis 38. 7–10).


Basically, from what I've found, every definition of the word--and even reference to it--has said Onan is infamous for masturbating OR pulling out. I haven't found one single legit exapmle of where it only means masturbating.

EVEN the Roman Catholic Church uses the story of Onan to justify banning BOTH masturbation and coitus interruptus. And more recently, also contraception.

The only ones who really thought it only referred to masturbation were the early rabbis, but Levitical regulations concerning ejaculation cleared that up, saying that ANY ejaculation, be it due to intercourse, maturbation or nocturnal emission merely need to be cleaned up with some good old ritual washing.

Only really in popular culture, and by crazy Christians has this been taken waaay out of context. Clearly anyone with a brain knows that Onan pulled out, and that he was disobeying God's rules and not treating the seed as sacred and for procreation blah blah and that's why God was mad at him.

Oddly enough, the only other languages I could find that had a cognate were French, onanisme (f) and Russian онанизм.


Mmm Andrew recently asked me why I say "blag" instead of "blog" and I guess I had forgotten that *not* everyone reads xkcd. But THEY SHOULD! In case anyone is reading this and doesn't currently read xkcd... that's just weird--but here's where the word came from anyway:


It's just really popular on the interbutt and has been accepted into colloquial vernacular.

Andrew never lets me down.

The last time I went to Germany was 2006, and throughout my trip, I discovered several linguistic fun-pieces--which made me think of my dear friend Andrew. Upon my return, I wrote to him:

i came across a lot of interesting observations about language, which is why you came to mind so so often. i had a lot of questions for you. i think ive forgotten most of them now, :) but as they come back to me, i'll pose them to you.
for instance: live and love. in german, leben und lieben. clearly coming from the same root... right? how cool that to live and to love are so closely in essence intertwined. !

another one i just remembered: the way in spanish you use "querer" instead of "amar" to mean love in most cases, in german you use "moegen" instead of "lieben" in those same cases. the interesting thing here is that "moegen" and "moechten" are often mixed up and are taught together (like "lay" and "lie" in english)--probably because at some point they came from the same root. "moegen" means to like or like strongly. "moechten" means to desire or want in a polite way (usually translated into "would like"). so this is all tied together, with wanting and loving being related in essence as well.

that sure says something about how people first described their feelings, and how way way back, things like living and loving were concepts that were naturally tied together. (or am i making wrong assumptions? i ask you because i know you know the history behind it all fo sho.)

maybe you already know all this *blush* but they're new, cool discoveries to me in which i know you can also share the enjoyment.

i know there are others. i'll think of them and relay them to you. i just made a lot of interesting discoveries in general, not just about language roots. for instance, maybe you already knew this, but cologne, like perfume, you know how on the bottles it says "eau de cologne" = "water of cologne"! hello? duh? perfume/cologne originated in the city of cologne. it seems really obvious now, but i had never thought of it. the city in german is called koeln, so they call it "koelnische wasser", but in french it sounds much better, :) eau de cologne. i went to the museums of the first cologne places, and the history is so cool.
" ... and then I went on to ramble some more about how cool Germany was.

He responded:

A friend and I were talking about the word "love" a while ago . . . checking with www.oed.com (an excellent tool for etymology), they're more similar now than they've ever been before. Going back to reconstructed Proto-Indo-European, "live" and "leben" are from "leip-", "to adhere or stick; fat." Whereas "love" and "lieben" are from "leubh-", which hasn't changed meaning much since . . . I think five thousand-odd years ago. And interestingly, the same root is responsible for "believe."

When my friend and I discussed "love," one thing we observed was the increasing ambiguity of its meaning in English, how it's held back from meaning everything people want it to mean and expounded to other things, all based on our kind of weird prudish society . . . I, too, think it's pretty cool that Spanish and German can connect love to wanting so frankly but without making it purely sexual as English "I want you" is . . . in Greek, there's "agapi" and "erotas" which I understand (possibly mistakenly) to carry more emotional and more physical weight respectively, but neither one exclusive of the other.

... and then he admitted he loves me. *blush* jajaja!

15 June 2009

How did you hear about our island?

My dear friend Khya recently traveled to Bonaire, the lovely island in the Lesser Antilles--the Netherlands Antilles to be exact--off the coast of Venezuela. Not only did he marvel at the climate and topgraphy--desertlike, not tropical--he mentioned the curious linguistic tendencies on the island.

The population of Bonaire is approximately 14,000. There are three official languages. Dutch, Papiamentu and English. English did not become an official language until 2007--and that was only to increase tourism, really. English is not used in official documents. Most widely spoken are English and Spanish--even though Spanish is not even an official language. Khya and I suspect this is because of the island's proximity to Venezuela.

How did this come to be? In 1499, Bonaire was discovered by the Portuguese. In the 152os, the Spanish took over. In the 1630s, the Dutch took over. In the early 1800s, the Brits took over. During World War II, the U.K. and the U.S. protected Bonaire and stationed troops there.

Point being, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English eventually all melted together to form Papiamentu. Khya said it sounded most like Spanish but looked more like Portuguese. He detected no French. (:

We had never heard of this curious Papiamentu. It is apparently also spoken in Aruba and Curacao. (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao are nicknamed "The ABC Islands.") The natives of these islands, before they were discovered, spoke Arawak. Apparently, there are nationalistic divides over how much African influence Papiamento speakers claim.

Officially, Papiamentu is a creole mix of Portuguese, Spanish, English, Dutch, and the native Arawak and African languages. It might even have some Italian up in there. Why not? Of course, the language developed as a mix of communication between the Europeans settling and the natives being taken as slaves.

Those who ascribe to the theory of heavy African influence attribute it to the Afro-Portuguese creoles who settled in the ABC Islands after having been moved from African trading post islands. What weighs in favor of this theory is that creoles in Cape Verde can understand Papiamentu. (In Cape Verde, they speak Portuguese and Cape Verdian Creole.)

And of course, there are dialects within Papiamentu as well. Two main ones. Arubian PapiamentO sounds more like Spanish. Words are more likely to end in "o" and have "c"s. In Bonaire and Curacao, PapiamentU sounds more like Portuguese, with words ending in "u" (note of course, the difference in the spelling of the language name itself) and having "k"s in them.
Both Papiamento and Papiamentu have distinctly Spanish dipthonigization and /b/ instead of /v/ sounds--which is characteristic of both Spanish and Portuguese.

Spelling seems to vary by dialect as well, where Papiamentu is more phonetic, Papiamento is more etymological.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS you could show up and speak just about anything to these people that isn't an Asian language, and they'd probably understand you just fine.

12 June 2009

boo! boo hoo?

So a lot of onomatopoeic expressions really do sound like what they are representing... but what about "boo hoo"? When does crying ever sound like that? Who cries like that?

I looked up the origins and this is what I found:
boo⋅hoo [boo-hoo]
–verb (used without object)
1. To weep noisily; blubber.
2. The sound of noisy weeping.

1515–25; rhyming compound based on boo
that's it? just because it rhymes?! jajaja oh well.

and then the origin of boo? Here's our answer!

"to startle," c.1430, probably because it can be pronounced as a loud, booming sound; as an expression of disapproval, 1816, perhaps imitative of oxen; hence, the verb meaning "shower someone with boos" (1893). Boo-hoo first recorded 1525, originally of laughter or weeping. To say boo "open one's mouth, speak," originally was to say boo to a goose.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper