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.