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.