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!

Flotsam, Jetsam, now I've got her, boys. The boss is on a roll!

Ok, this is kind of embarrasing. I just recently realized "flotsam and jetsam" were not just the names of the two evil eels in the Little Mermaid. I grew up with the movie and never thought twice about it.

The dictionary has a usage note that says:
In maritime law, flotsam applies to wreckage or cargo left floating on the sea after a shipwreck. Jetsam applies to cargo or equipment thrown overboard from a ship in distress and either sunk or washed ashore. The common phrase flotsam and jetsam is now used loosely to describe any objects found floating or washed ashore. (Also related is lagan, which is debris that sinks.)

They have both undergone several spelling changes through the decades, but etymologically,
  • Flotsam comes from flotasion/floating/floater, spelled flotsen til the mid 19th century, when -some was being added to many English words.
  • Jetsam is a syncopated variation of jettison, which comes from the French, jeter, meaning to throw.

The phrase has been used for many other things in popular culture aside from these characters. Obviously.

Cajun Trash?

I walked into a work meeting and someone asked me "Chela, do you know what /pa do/ means?" I said no, and he couldn't believe that no one had heard his expression. Apparently no one was as Cajun as him in the room.

Having studied French, and growing up in Louisiana, I've had surprisingly little contact with Cajun French--practically none at all--only a very few expressions here and there that get eventually assimilated into the New Orleans dialect.

But this one, he said implies "white Cajun trash" but I have NO idea what words he was actually saying. I asked him and he didn't know where it came from, either.

  • pas d'eau
  • pas do
  • pas don
  • pas deux (if he really meant/if it came from /pa dœ/)
  • pas de
  • pas d'eux
  • anything else the silly Cajuns just made up...

Does anyone have a clue??

How common is "halcyon"?

hal⋅cy⋅on  /ˈhælsiən/

–adjective Also, hal⋅cy⋅o⋅ni⋅an  /ˌhælsiˈoʊniən/
hal⋅cy⋅on⋅ic  /ˌhælsiˈɒnɪk/

1. calm; peaceful; tranquil: halcyon weather.
2. rich; wealthy; prosperous: halcyon times of peace.
3. happy; joyful; carefree: halcyon days of youth.
4. of or pertaining to the halcyon or kingfisher.

5. a mythical bird, usually identified with the kingfisher, said to breed about the time of the winter solstice in a nest floating on the sea, and to have the power of charming winds and waves into calmness.
6. any of various kingfishers, esp. of the genus Halcyon.
7. (initial capital letter) Classical Mythology. Alcyone (def. 2).

1350–1400; L to Gk halkyn, pseudo-etymological var. of alkyn kingfisher; r. ME alceon, alicion to L alcyōn to Gk

1. serene, placid, pacific, untroubled.


Al⋅cy⋅o⋅ne  /ælˈsaɪəˌni/

1. a third-magnitude star in the constellation Taurus: brightest star in the Pleiades.
2. Also, Halcyon, Halcyone. Classical Mythology. a daughter of Aeolus who, with her husband, Ceyx, was transformed into a kingfisher.


halcyon days
Definition: a period of peace and happiness; an idyllic time; also, a period of calm weather during the winter solstice
Etymology: Greek Alkyone a legend of fourteen windless days


Hal⋅ci⋅on  /ˈhælsiˌɒn/

Trademark. a benzodiazepine, used as a sleeping drug and as an anxiolytic.