22 November 2010


When my cousin Joaquin was in town a couple of weeks ago, he told me about this curious, hilarious, embarrasing linguistic trend happening in Mexico among some [lesser educated] people...

So HD TVs are more and more commonplace everywhere, and therefore the demand for high def channels has increased as well.  He says there are a few of the big channels that are offered in high def for free--accessible to the whole nation.

In the corner of the TV channel, just like here, it says "HD".

People know this means "alta definicion" (literally "high definition") but they do not know how to spell ALTA.  Since all Hs are silent in Spanish, they assume HD stands for "halta definicion"--which is hilarious, and sad. 

I found this ad (with prices listed in Euros, so this linguistic phenomenon must be happening in Spain, too).

I can only assume this is how language and spelling evolves.  Once it becomes common enough in the populus' vernacular, it becomes correct. We have examples of this all over the place.

I'm secretly afraid English speakers will eventually forget "lite" is not the correct spelling of "light."

20 August 2010

I don´t think they get it.

So there´s this brand of diet frozen meals called Michelina´s Lean Gourmet.  Remember when we blogged about malamanteaus?  Here´s the link.
I think Michelina´s is trying to make some malamanteaus on the insides of their cardboard boxes, but... I don´t think they get it.  I don´t think they get how these are supposed to work.

Here are some good malamanteaus:

  • spork
  • skort
  • Brangelina
  • blog
  • liger
  • muppet
  • smog
  • televangelist
  • WiFi

Here are some bad ones:


I will continue to post these as I find them, because they´re terrible.
The meals are delicious and cheap; their advertising... is low budget.

12 August 2010


(Answering Jon.)

pronounced MUFF A LOT UH 
or maybe MOOF A LOT UH

They´re a New Orleans specialty.  They´re delicious. The people at Central Grocery on Decateur claim to be the originators, since 1906.

Italian immigrant, Signor Lupo Salvatore, owner of the Central Grocery, started making the sandwiches for the men who worked the nearby wharves and produce stalls of the French Market. The sign over the covered sidewalk proudly proclaims, home of “The Original Muffuletta.”

The sandwich consists of the round loaf of crusty Italian bread, split and filled with layers of sliced Provolone cheese, Genoa salami and Cappicola ham, topped with Olive Salad: a chopped mixture of green, unstuffed olives, pimientos, celery, garlic, cocktail onions, capers, oregano, parsley, olive oil, red-wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

Marie Lupo Tusa, daughter of the The Central Grocery's founder, tells the story of the sandwich's origin in her 1980 cookbook, Marie's Melting Pot:

Most of the farmers who sold their produce there were Sicilian. Every day they used to come of my father's grocery for lunch.
They would order some salami, some ham, a piece of cheese, a little olive salad, and either long braided Italian bread or round muffuletta bread. In typical Sicilian fashion they ate everything separately. 
The farmers used to sit on crates or barrels and try to eat while precariously balancing their small trays covered with food on their knees. My father suggested that it would be easier for the farmers if he cut the bread and put everything on it like a sandwich; even if it was not typical Sicilian fashion. 
He experimented and found that the ticker, braided Italian bread was too hard to bite but the softer round muffuletta was ideal for his sandwich. In very little time, the farmers came to merely ask for a "muffuletta" for their lunch. 

Central Grocery is a big tourist attraction now.  What I really want to know is how the Muffuletta got its name.

Who created the first muffuletta is still a matter of dispute, but food critic and historian Gene Bourg uncovered a likely scenario. He interviewed elderly Sicilians who lived in the French Quarter for many years. "They told me vendors used to sell them on the streets, as did Italian groceries," he says. "The name refers to the shape of the bread. 'Muffuletta' means 'little muffin.' Italian bakers made muffuletta loaves and sold them to Italian delis. The delis then wrapped the sandwiches in the same paper the bread came in, so the sandwich took on the name."

I read that in a 2004 issue of Southern Living.  Makes sense.

According to Mirriam Webster:
Etymology: probably from Italian dial., from Italian muffoletta little muff, diminutive of muffola muff, from French moufle, from Middle French

08 August 2010


Have I mentioned I like this ALOT?


My name gets mispronounced a lot.

Shellondra (no joke--this actually happened--at the UA SHC)

Even when I started working at my current place of employment, one of my managers called my Shay-luh for about a month.  At one of my previous jobs in college, my boss´ boss (with whom I admittedly did not work with very often) called me Chee-luh for an entire semester when I was in his class even though I had worked in his office for two years.

It´s ok.  I´m used to it.  I´m usually genuinely surprised when someone guesses correctly.  Cheh-luh.  That´s how you say it.  Yes, like a cello but with an a.  Yes, I get that a lot.
When I go to restaurants or places where I have to give my name, I always use Rachel, my middle name, to avoid confusion.


My coworker Marvin started jokingly/affectionately calling me Sheh-lay-lee.  I never dreamed this was a real word.  Indeed, it is.  Thought I´d share.

shil·le·lagh   /ʃəˈleɪli, -lə/
Also, shil·la·la, shil·la·lah, shil·le·lah.
–noun (esp. in Ireland)
a cudgel, traditionally of blackthorn or oak.

1670–80;  < Ir Síol Éiligh town in Co. Wicklow; 
the adjoining forest provided wood for the clubs. 
From Irish Gaelic sail (cudgel) + éille  (leash, thong)

I went to Wicklow back in 08.


So... I just found out Avril Lavigne *groan* recorded the chorus of this Girlfriend song *GROAN* in a bunch of different languages.  It´s just about 24 seconds in each language, but GAH she sounds like she´s purposely trying to pronounce the words as terribly as possible.

My only guess is that this did not go over well considering I never heard about it until now--when I was looking up Shakira translations for the Waka Waka post.

There are two videos I want you to watch.  The first is a short clip of her talking and setting the scene for how terrible this whole project is going to sound.  The second--if you can stomach it--is 25 seconds or so in each language, with subtitles, back to back.

As far as pronunciations go, I think the Mandarin and the Portuguese sound especially terrible.  In the initial video she says she´s going to record  French, Portuguese, German, Hindi, Italian, but in actuality they nixed the Hindi and added Japanese and Mandarin Chinese.

Even though I don´t speak all these languages, it´s pretty obvious someone in charge of this project said, "ok, we want literal, exact translations as much as possible" as opposed to coming up with translations that capture the meaning, if not word for word.

HOWEVER, some translations are straight up WRONG.

  • In Spanish, instead of saying "I know that you like me" she says "I know that I like you."
  • In Italian she says "I don´t love your girlfriend" instead of "I don´t like your girlfriend" (which is a throwback to this post).
  • In Chinese she says "You´re not a secret."
  • In Japanese she uses "that girl" instead of "girlfriend."

I just wonder who they got to do these translations? and what kind of language coaches?  and why they failed in even translating correctly?  Even MTV was able to assemble a ragtag team of foreign language experts to have a panel discussion about this project.*  If MTV could do it, why couldn´t Avril?

I don´t even know what the purpose of this all really was, aside from a way for Avril to have fun... in which case I guess she didn´t really care too much about the accuracy either.  Whatev.

*Watch the video of the panel discussion here.

18 July 2010


I  keep thinking of ways to celebrate the Fourth of July.  I feel like as long as we're still in July, it's still appropriate to celebrate.

Related to my previous post about Ummerka, I would be remiss if I didn't also include the definition of a merkin--as Dubya so graciously called us. 

mer·kin /ˈmɜrkən/
false hair for the female pudenda

I also happened across* the origin of

first recorded in 1683, a name applied disparagingly by Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (New York) to English colonists in neighboring Connecticut.
It may be from Dutch Janke, literally "Little John," diminuitive of common personal name Jan; or it may be from Jan Kes familiar form of "John Cornelius," or perhaps an alt. of Jan Kees, dial. variant of Jan Kaas, lit. "John Cheese," the generic nickname the Flemings used for Dutchmen.
It originally seems to have been applied insultingly to Dutch, especially freebooters, before they turned around and slapped it on the English.

*OED, © 2010 Douglas Harper

16 July 2010

This time for Africa? WAKA WAKA.

This is for Messy Marv.

I know the World Cup's over, and this probably applies to most Ummerkins:

so I have to do this post quickly, before this song is forgotten completely.

I watched most of the World Cup games live on my Droid Incredible because I was at work during most of them.  I used VCast Videos and had the option of watching them in English or Spanish. As we all know, the Spanish speaking commentators are far more poetic and exciting that the stupid American ones, so I watched them all in Spanish. Before and after the games, this Waka Waka Shakira song played incessantly. --in Spanish. I later learned there is an English version, too.

What is this WAKA WAKA? Soungs pretty goofy. I sure freakin hope it means something to the South African people at least, and that it's not just Shakira's attempt at sounding African and making some fake shit up. That'd be dumb, and probably offensive, seeing as how there are countless African languages that sound lovely whose words she could have stolen from her song to be equally nonsensical to the listeners worldwide.

Let's find out.

A quick Wiki search tells me Waka does mean something in a few languages, such as:

  • Waka (canoe), canoes of the Maori of New Zealand
  • Waka (poetry), a genre of Japanese poetry
  • Waka music, a musical genre from Yorubaland of Nigeria
  • El Perú (Maya site), also known as Waka', Maya ruins in Guatemala
  • Huaca or wak'a, in Quechua, a class of sacred objects
  • -waka, a Swahili term meaning "be lighted"

Whatever.  That doesn´t matter.
The refrain in her song (the part that is presumably African) says,

Tsamina mina
Cuz this is Africa

Tsamina mina eh eh
Waka Waka eh eh

Tsamina mina zangalewa
Anawa aa
This time for Africa

Turns out the lyrics are in a Cameroonian dialect called Fang, sampled from a Cameroonian song first recorded in 1986, called "Zangaléwa," that was hugely popular in Shakira's native Colombia, (not to mention all over Africa).

Roughly translated:

Come, let´s do it!
Who sent you?
It´s mine!

A great rallying cry, if I do say so myself.

Yeah, this song has been sampled a lot.  Here´s one clip.

Gunabee says:

"Zangaléwa" was recorded by a makossa group from Cameroon called Golden Sounds who were beloved throughout the continent for their silly dances and costumes. The song was such a hit for Golden Sounds that they eventually changed their name to Zangaléwa, too. The men in the group often dressed in military uniforms, wearing pith helmets and stuffing their clothes with pillows to appear like they had a swollen butts from riding the train and fat stomachs from eating too much. The song, music historians say, is a criticism of black military officers who were in league with whites to oppress their own people. Or at least, some of it was. Some of it, as far was we can surmise, is gibberish.
Shakira was brilliant for choosing to sample this song because it's both a tribute to African music, with the World Cup being held in South Africa, and a nod to the folks back home who've partied to this song since way back in 1987 when the song rose to prominence thanks to West African DJ's in Cartagena. 

There was, of course, a bit of controversy about this song being the official World Cup song.  (To be honest, the last World Cup song I even remember was really Ricky Martin's The Cup of Life in 1998.)  The New York Times reports many South African people wanted it to be an African musician to do the song--but in my opinion, soccer is the world´s sport*--and it´s heart is really with Latin America.  Who better to represent Latin America--and the world!?--than Shakira?  I have no problem with her being the official chanteuse.  Besides, she did feature the South African musical group Freshlyground so no one can say a word about not including Africans, come on now.**

Some people also took issue with the lyrics themselves--the English ones (particularly the first verse).  Now this I do agree with, but on a bigger scale.  I know she always writes her songs [that end up being recorded in both languages] in Spanish first, and then she tries to come up with a translation into English for them.  I´ve got to say, I love Shakira´s lyrics in Spanish.  They are true and beautiful poetry.  BUT that just doesn´t translate very well, and I will be the first to say she sounds downright silly in A LOT of her English lyrics.  English is just not poetic enough of a langauge to be a supple host for her allusive lyrics.

Let´s take a look.  I´ll put three versions of the first verse here:

Her actual Spanish lyrics in Waka Waka:

Llegó el momento, 
caen las murallas
Va a comenzar 
la unica justa 
de las batallas

No duele el golpe, 
no existe el miedo
Quitate el polvo, 
ponte de pie 
y vuelves al ruedo

Y la presión, se siente
Espera en ti tu gente
Ahora vamos por todo
Y te acompaña la suerte

My translation of them (obviously not fit for song rhythm):

The moment has come
The walls fall
The only fair battle
Is going to begin

Wounds don´t hurt
Fear doesn´t exist
Shake off the dirt
Back on your feet
It´s your turn again

And the pressure can be felt
Your people hope in you
We´re in it for everything [we´ve got]
And luck is on your side

Her translation for the English version of Waka Waka:

You're a good soldier
Choosing your battles
Pick yourself up
And dust yourself off
And back in the saddle

You're on the frontline
Everyone's watching
You know it's serious
We're getting closer
This isnt over

The pressure is on
You feel it
But you've got it all
Believe it

Yeah, so that may be a tad culturally insensitive.  African nations are always at war and stuff, and referring to these people as being good soldiers and being on the frontline with everyone watching... yeah, I guess it could have been worded better.

*It´s all about unity anyway, right?  The soccer players featured in her video are Argentinan (Lionel Messi), Brazilian (Daniel Alves), Mexican (Rafael Marquez), Spanish (Gerard Piqué) and Cameroonian (Carlos Kameni).  I think that distribution pretty much reflects the world´s interest in soccer´s distribution, too.

**Ricky Martin was--ahem--equally culturally inclusive in his anthem.  He, too, recorded the song in English and Spanish (yeah I like the Spanish lyrics better here, too.  He talks about having passion, heart, fighting for your star with honor, together, tu y yo!  The world is on it´s feet.  Here we go!) and since the World Cup was in France that year, he even had part of the refrain be in French!
Allez!  Allez!  Allez!

14 July 2010

Productivity for Prosumers

As the launch of the beautiful Droid X approaches, we get emails from corporate every day with little tidbits and facts about the device that we ("wireless solutions experts") can use to further promote it. 

Today we got an email "Droid X, Fact 8: Enterprise Ready" that went on to descibe the corporate features that make the device adventageous.  One of the heading was "Productivity for Prosumers."  I had never heard this term before, and assumed Verizon had made it up, as they are oft known to do.

My thought process was: Pro-sumer, as opposed to Con-sumer.  That's funny.  Pro is the opposite of con.  Clever.  A positive spin on our corporate customers.

Then I did a bit of Googling and found this is actually an established term, however my initial assumption of its origins were proved incorrect.
Accoring to World Wide Words, this term actually first appeared in 1980!  There seem to be two acceptable definitions of the term.

  1. It was coined in 1980 by the futurist Alvin Toffler — in his book The Third Wave — as a blend of producer and consumer. He used it to describe a possible future type of consumer who would become involved in the design and manufacture of products, so they could be made to individual specification. He argued that we would then no longer be a passive market upon which industry dumped consumer goods but a part of the creative process.
  2. In the alternate definition, the word is a blend of professional and consumer. Prosumers of this sort are famed for their enthusiasm for new products and their tolerance of flaws and, from the marketing point of view, have much in common with early adopters. This usage is common among those selling video equipment, digital cameras, and electronics.  Professional consumer.

I guess, then, that VZW was using the second definition, and I guessed that the first definition wasn't so common.  But then I came across the book Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, and they use prosumer extensively, for example, page 125, where it discusses the social video game Second Life as being created by its customers. when customers are also the producers, you have the phenomenon: Prosumer.

Yes, indeed.

03 July 2010

I really love bubble tea.

I first discovered bubble tea years ago with Freau at this delicious Vietnamese place here in New Orleans, called Frosty's.  She said it was like a fruit smoothie with tapioca balls in the bottom.  I tasted one and was intruiged by the chewy tapioca--and actually really liked it.  Then when I went off to college, Badass Coffee on the Strip turned into Wickles Wicked Bean and then to Strip Teas.  I can't remember which, but one of these claimed to have bubble tea, but they were "out of pearls" almost every time I asked for it.  I assumed the bubbles and the pearls were both actually the tapioca balls.

THEN! I went to Chicago's Chinatown with the AAQT and we stopped into a place whose name we can't remember.  We stopped into a place that sold boba tea.  I wondered if it was the same as the bubble tea I had experienced, and if so, if it was a deliberate misspelling or simply an alternate spelling.

I skimmed over the history of bubble tea.  Looks like it originated in Taiwan in the 1980s and has become immensely popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong since then.  HOWEVER, it was originally just tea with different fruit flavors mixed in and shaken up.  The shaking made the bubbles, and it became known as bubble tea.  Not until the mid-80s were tapioca pearls added to the tea.  The tapioca pearls looked like bubbles, so this reinforced the already popular name.  But really, bubble tea can be bubble tea even if it doesn't have the pearls.

There are lots of different names for this drink all over the world.  Some interesting ones?

  • タピオカドリンク (Japanese): transliterated tapiokadorinku translated "tapioca drink"
  • Suco de Pobá (Portuguese): transliterated "boba juice" from interpretation of boba
  • QQ: means chewy.  Huh?  (I found a great blagpost about this.)  Q (pronounced kiu) is a common Taiwanese morpheme that no one seems to know how to write in Chinese characters.  This Taiwanese "Q" meaning "chewy" can be intensified by doubling, hence "QQ糖" ("chewy-chewy candy" or "really chewy candy").  Thus Q is clearly well established in Taiwanese as meaning "chewy," and it has been picked up on the Mainland with the same meaning (especially in advertisements).  Since I've never been able to determine a cognate for this "Q" in other Sinitic languages than Taiwanese and no one has ever been able to tell me how to write this Q morpheme with a Chinese character, I have sometimes wondered whether it might not have come from English "chewy" itself.

(Here are some noodles that are presumably al dente, or "chewy.")

But what about this word BOBA?!

I've read a couple of different things.
1.  As I suspected! BOBA - From the Chinese word 泡沫, which is in turn derived phonetically from the English word bubble.

2. However, I also read this!  Boba, a Cantonese slang, literally means the "dominatrix of breasts", connoting the image of a busty woman. "Bo" (波) is a slang for the breast which refers to the milk.

How true are these?!?!  I used Khya's secret infallible tool, YellowBridge.

1.  This word,  泡沫, is actually pàomò--which doesn't really sound like "bubble" very much.  The first part, 泡 (pào) means to bubble, to foam, to blister, or to get off with [a sexual partner].  !  The second part, 沫 (mò) means foam, suds or froth.
This all sounds like a good name for what we've described as bubble tea, however, I'm still not convinced it's where we get BOBA from.

2.  Bō, 波 means wave, ripple, surge, storm.  Ok, I can see the stretch by which this could mean breasts.

Let's break it down further.  (Chinese is fun!)  Remember mò above? Put mò and bō and side by side.  沫 and 波.  The little front part that looks like a sideways Y with two eyelashes is common to both of them!  That part, 氵 means water!  It's the second part that's different in these two characters.  In mò, 末 means end, insignificant... which sounds right for making suds or foam.  Water + insignificant = froth.  Check.  In bō, the second part of the character, 皮 means skin, hide, fur or feather (basically any exterior of the body).  I'm not sure that water + skin = wave, but water + exterior could= wave or storm.

More importantly, if in the Chinese subconscious 波 denotes wave or surge but connotes skin, I definitely see how it could come to be slang for breasts.

So in this 2nd argument BOBA referring to breasts and milk and bubble tea, what does the BA mean?  This is just my guess but I found two possibilities.

  • 把 (bǎ) means to hold or to grasp, particularly with the second half of this character, 巴 meaning to greatly desire (this is a pictographic character, picture of a snake! whatttt)
  • 拔 (bá) means to pull up, draw out by suction.  This is probably the right one.

Ding ding ding do we have a winner?!  I think so.
Bō (meaning storm but implying boobs/milk) + bá (drawn up by suction) must= bubble tea!


20 June 2010

McIntosh Apples

(Answering Jon)

Why is Macintosh called Macintosh?  Did Steve Jobs come up with that?  Ummmm... I don't know.
What even came first?  The Mac or the Apple?

Apple Computers, Inc. was established in 1976 (not until 2007 did they change the name to Apple Inc.) and the first computer Steves Jobs and Wozniak built was called the Apple I. 
Why Apple, though??  I'm still not sure.  Various answers float about the internet, such as:
  • (WikiAnswers) Steve gave his team members one day time to think about a good name of his company otherwise he will put the company name A for Apple.He got so many name at the end of the day but didn't like any one so he kept Apple.
  • In referenced to Sir Isaac Newton. 
  • In honor of the Beatles and their Apple Records.  I haven't read anything solid about this being true, although we do know that he is a big fan of the Beatles. He was quoted saying:
My model for business is The Beatles: They were four guys that kept each other's negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are not done by one person, they are done by a team of people.
  • (According to Khya, a new manager at an Apple store) "because it was Steve Job's favoirte fruit, yo."  And later, "At least that's what Steve said when I texted him."
The first Macintosh was not introduced until 1984.  Jobs wanted to name it after his favorite apple, the McIntosh, but had to change the spelling to Macintosh because there was an audio equipment company already named McIntosh.

McIntosh apples are actually really common in North America, used for applesauce, cider and pies.  They're the ones that are red and green!  There are internet rumors that Jobs used to work in an apple orchard, but I highly doubt it.

09 June 2010

International Linguistic Olympiad

I was at the NAQT HSNCT two weekends ago in Chicago and Andw and I got to talking about linguistics with one of the teams.  They were really excited because they had recently started a Linguistics Olympiad team at their school. 

I had never heard of this, so I looked into it.  Looks like the North American Linguistic Olympiad is part of the International Linguistic Olympiad (ILO), which is in turn part of the International Science Olympiad, which is really neat.  I love languages because they're the perfect blend of math and art.  This makes so much sense.  I love it when things make sense.

Here's some info about how the Olympiad works (according to their Wiki article):

This olympiad furthers the field of mathematical, theoretical and descriptive linguistics. Like all science olympiads, its problems are translated and completed in several languages and as such must be written free of any native language constraints. In practice, this is often difficult and competitors may gain some advantage if they are familiar with one or more of the language groups which are the subject of some of the assignments. However, the most helpful ability is analytic and deductive thinking, as all solutions must include clear reasoning and justification (as in solving mathematical problems).

The individual contest consists of 5 problems which must be solved in 6 hours. The problems cover the main fields of theoretical, mathematical and applied linguistics – phonetics, morphology, semantics, etc.

Since the 2nd ILO, the team contest has consisted of one extremely difficult and time-consuming problem. Teams, which generally consist of 4 students, are given 3–4 hours to solve this problem.

ILO 5 (2007) was held in St. Petersburg, Russia. The five problems at the individual contest were in Braille, Movima, Georgian, Ndom, and correspondences between Turkish and Tatar. The team problem was in Hawaiian and focused on genealogical terms.

ILO 6 (2008) was held in Slantchev Bryag, Bulgaria. The five individual problems were in Micmac, Old Norse poetry (specificially, drottkvætt), Drehu and Cemuhî correspondences, Copainalá Zoque, and Inuktitut. The team problem was about correspondences between Mandarin and Cantonese using the fanqie system.

ILO 7 (2009) was held in Wrocław, Poland, from July 26 to July 30. The subject matter of the five individual problems covered: numerals in the Sulka language, Maninka and Bamana languages in the N'Ko and Latin scripts, traditional Burmese names and their relation with dates of birth, stress position in Old Indic and the relation between grammar and morphology in classical Nahuatl. The team problem was in Vietnamese.

I'm going to look for some sample questions/problems.  I'll post them here and attempt to work them out, with your help!

03 June 2010

How fast can a word become legit?

As I had mentioned before (here and here), I guess I had forgotten that *not* everyone reads xkcd. But THEY SHOULD!   http://www.xkcd.com/

Back in May, we saw this image:

To be clear: this Wikipedia page did not exist at the time, but it now does, and redirects to xkcd.  I mean, I heard some people created it right away when this xkcd was posted, but then Wiki deleted it.

What does it actually mean?
Actually malamanteau is a combination of two words malapropism and portmanteau.

  • Malapropism means to use a word in place of another word that makes the same sound, but doesn’t deliver an appropriate meaning, for example, odorous for odious, comprehended for apprehended and auspicious for suspicious and benefactors for malefactors. All these are malapropos of each other.
  • Portmanteau means to merge two words with each other in such a way that the sounds of the two words become merged as well as their meanings. In this case malamanteau is a portmanteau of portmanteau and malapropism, whereas malamanteau is also a malapropos of portmanteau.

I love that this little comic strip caused so much rukus! 
Within hours of its posting, malamanteau was already defined in http://www.wordnik.com/ and Urban Dictionary [although there, it’s “a word defined to infuriate Wikipedia editors”]. Time from the word’s debut in a comic strip to appearance in a dictionary: less than half a day.

Whether you consider malamanteau to be a real word or an elaborate joke, it is a classic example of the kind of word that people argue about when they argue about what makes a word real.

If we leave the circumstances of its birth aside, malamanteau already has a number of the qualities we associate with real words. It has a clearly defined meaning, and seems to be fairly useful (we all recognize the real-world phenomenon that it attempts to describe). It has been used, or at least looked up, by thousands of people. On May 12 it made the top 10 list on Google Trends.

Its comic-strip origins may cast a shadow on its credibility, but comics have given us a number of new words — brainiac, goon, and skunkworks were all either coined or popularized in comics.

So: Is malamanteau a “real” word? It may depend on what you consider real — does a word’s “realness” comes from its use, or from its pedigree? For some, malamanteau will only become real when it’s used, unconsciously, by someone who’s never heard of xkcd. Every old word was a new word once, and at some point “silly word prank” may yet turn into “etymology.” It’s possible that day will never come, but until then, I say, if it acts like a word, we might as well let it be one.

28 May 2010


I had this professor once--back in college--who taught an honors seminar on Eastern Philosophies or something like that.  I loved this guy--he claimed to have inadvertently gotten something stupid like 11 bachelor's degrees, 3 master's and one doctorate degree along his path of taking classes that looked interesting.
Since he told us that, I decided I want to do it, too.  --Just take classes on and off throughout life, accidentally accumulating degrees.  Why not?

So I work for Verizon Wireless nowadays [we never stop working for you], and I've decided to take advantage of their tuition assistance program.  I'm enrolling at Tulane University* in the fall, here in New Orleans, and am going to take a couple of linguistics classes each semester.  Why not?

Check out a rough listing of Tulane's linguistics courses here.

I'm soooo excited!  I can't wait!  I've never taken an official linguistics class before.**

*My alterior motive is to join their quizbowl team and finagle NAQT into having the ICT in New Orleans again next year.
**Of course I'm not forgetting Dr. Hall's Studies of the English Language (aka "Slang") class I took back in 2003 at LSMSA.  He's what got me started in all this in the first place!

25 May 2010


So Khya and I work on basic Spanish throughout the day, and it was called to my attention how strange the word "anaranjado" is.  In Spanish, NARANJA means orange (fruit), and in some countries they use the same word for the adjective (color), but in Mexico, the color is ANARANJADO which could be literally translated to "oranged."  It's the past tense verb form of orange, as if "to orange" were a verb, but it's not, really.

My Honduran co-worker also says anaranjado for the color; my Cuban co-worker didn't know how to say orange in Spanish and my El Salvadorian co-worker says naranja.

The funny thing is that no other color name is in that past-tense verb form.  But then again, none of those words double in meaning for some other noun.  In fact, if you do see a color word in that verb form, it means a derivation of that color.  For instance, azulado from azul connotes "bluish."  I also found blancuzco from blanco, verdáceo from verde and violáceo from violeta--but I've never heard those used in real life.

My best guess is that we only use the different form for the color orange to differentiate it from the noun.
I did some research.  We have Orange in English, French and German; Naranja in Spanish; Arancia in Italian and Laranja in Portuguese.  Where does this word even come from?

According to the dictionary, From Arabic نارنج (nāranj), from Persian نارنگ (nārang), from Sanskrit नारङ्ग (nāraṅga), “‘orange tree’”), itself of uncertain origin, possibly Dravidian.

I got the following from that same Etymologically Speaking guy.  Like I said before, some of his stuff sounds outlandish, but everything I double checked elsewhere was in fact, true.  However, this I can't seem to find any support for, except that he himself has been quoted countless times all over the interbutt.*

Interestingly, none of these terms come from the Latin word for orange, citrus aurentium; instead, they all come from the ancient Sanskrit naga ranga, which literally means "fatal indigestion for elephants."

In certain traditions the orange, not the apple, is the fruit responsible for original sin.

There was an ancient Malay fable--which made its way into the Sanskrit tongue around the Seventh or Eighth Centuries B.C.--that links the orange to the sin of gluttony** and has an elephant as the culprit. Apparently, one day an elephant was passing through the forest, when he found a tree unknown to him in a clearing, bowed downward by its weight of beautiful, tempting oranges; as a result, the elephant ate so many that he burst. Many years later a man stumbled upon the scene and noticed the fossilized remains of the elephant with many orange trees growing from what had been its stomach. The man then exclaimed, "Amazing! What a naga ranga (fatal indigestion for elephants)!"

*Bradshaw of the Future seems to think it's false, but his jump from pume orenge to melarancio presents a problem for me.  That particular jump is the key, but I see no support for it.

**Now this I do believe--oranges being the sinful fruits in cultural myths.  Here's why: it's probably a translation issue.  In many languages, oranges are, implicitly or explicitly, referred to as a type of apple, specifically a golden apple or a Chinese apple.

For example, the Greek χρυσομηλιά (chrysomelia) and Latin pomum aurantium both literally describe oranges as golden apples. In other languages like German, Finnish, Polish, or Russian the terms for the bitter orange (a related species) are derived from Latin pomum aurantium. Additionally, the Hebrew word תפוז (tapuz) is a shortened form of תפוח זהב (tapuakh zahav), or golden apple.

In Dutch, sweet oranges are called sinaasappel, which is derived from China's apple. The Latvian apelsīns, Icelandic appelsína, Swedish apelsin, Finnish appelsiini, Russian апельсин (apelsin) and North-German Apfelsine share similar etymology.

Etymologically Speaking

I happened upon this great website called Etymologically Speaking written by Stephen Morgan Freidman.  He's happened upon *quite a few* interesting etymological discoveries, so I thought I'd copy and paste my favorites here.  I'm putting them into categories for you.  Some of them seemed too outlandish to be true, but I've double checked a lot of them in the OED and they are all solid, believe it or not.

Marriage and Women:

New Latin from Greek Gorillai, for a tribe of hairy women, from Hanno's account of his voyage along the N.W. coast of Africa, c.500 B.C.E. (Check line 18 here.)

Comes from the Old German words hus and bunda, which mean "house" and "owner," respectively. The word originally had nothing to do with marital status, except for the fact that home ownership made husbands extremely desirable marriage partners.

Food and Drink:

Companion; Compañero (Spanish); Copain (French) Companion
From the Latin "Companionem," "Con" (with) and "Pan" (bread) -- presumably, your "companion" was someone with whom you would "break bread.
This one is so obvious!  How did I never see it before?!

Gin; Ginebra (Spanish); Genievre (French)
The English word "gin" comes from the French word genievre, which means "juniper," the name of the berry which gives gin its distinctive, bitter flavor. Incidentally, the term "juniper" comes from the Celtic word jenupus, meaning "bitter." The Swiss city Geneva also stems from the same source. Apparently, the countryside around Geneva had originally been filled with wild juniper plants.

Comes from the description of the feeling that many British sailors experienced when they would drink too much "grog," a mixture of rum and water. Grog is said to have taken its name from the nickname of "Old Grog" given to British Admiral Vernon by his sailors; much like Lord Mountbatten later, he was in the habit of wearing a kind of heavy coat of grogram, a coarse weatherproof fabric (the word comes from the French gros-grain). The sailors started to apply their nickname for him in a rather derisive way to their rations of rum, after he mandated in 1740 that they be diluted with water.

Comes from the Latin vin aigre, meaning "sour wine."

From the mediaeval French 'Bis + cuit' meaning 'cooked twice'

Gods and such:

From the pre-Christian, Germanic term "witan", which means wise, tribal elders (literally, those who follow the way of the Norse god "Wodin" or "Odin").

Work and Business:

from 2 Celtic words: "slaugh" and "gheun" which mean, respectively, "battle" and "cry".

The English noun essay comes from the French verb "essayer," to try. Early intellectuals believed their papers to be only a modest attempt to put their ideas on paper.
I always wondered about this one.

Cravate (French); Krawatte (German); Corbata (Spanish) Tie
The term "Krawatte" (German), "cravate" (French) and "corbata" (Spanish), which all mean a man's "tie", first originated in the Napoleonic Wars when French troops were entering the territory of Crotia, which, at that time, was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Apparently the Croatians were so estatic to be rid of the German Habsburg yoke that they showered the triumphant French troops with flowers and ran up to them and tucked squares of red cloth in the collars of their uniforms as a gesture of goodwill. From them on the term "Croat" or a variation thereof seems to have stuck in may parts of Continental Europe.


The derivation of the word trivia comes from the Latin for "crossroads": "tri-" + "via", which means three streets. This is because in ancient times, at an intersection of three streeets in Rome, they would have a type of kiosk where ancillary information was listed. You might be interested in it, you might not, hence they were bits of "trivia."

Huh! and Well of course:

From the Greek "barbaroi," meaning "babblers," used to mean non-Greeks, i.e., people who didn't speak Greek; from the sound that the Greeks thought they were making: "bar bar bar bar..."

From the French "Ped de gru," which means or meant, "Crane's foot," the /|\ symbol "used to denote succession in a genealogical table.

The tough cloth used in jeans was originally made in Nimes, France, as well as Genoa, Italy (hence "jeans"). It was called Serge di Nimes--later shortened to di Nimes, which became denim.

From the old Arabic word "hashshshin," which meant, "someone who is addicted to hash," that is, marijuana. Originally refered to a group of warriors who would smoke up before battle.
From the Italian, "All'arme" -- "To arms!"
In Latin, escape means "out of cape." The ancient Romans would often avoid capture by throwing off their capes when fleeing.

From the medieval Italian "mal'" (bad) and "aria" (air), describing the miasma from the swamps around Rome in the summer months, believed to be the cause of fevers.

"Therma" (hot) is from the Greek city of Therma, known for its hot springs.  Among the most healing yet radioactive springs in the world, look.

French for "of good air." In the Middle Ages, people's health was judged partly by how they smelled. A person who gave off "good air" was presumed healthier and happier.

From the Latin "De Rivus," "From a stream."

From the Latin elire, meaning "to choose," from which we also get the modern Spanish word meaning the same, elegir.
"Tennis," a sport which first developed in France, was originally "tenez" (pronounced tuh-nay) which is the French verb "tenir" conjugated at the second person of the plural as a polite imperative verb (translated in this case by something like "there you go"). They were saying "tenez" when they hit the ball so as to say :"there, try to get this one". But tennis lost popularity in France and gained popularity in England at the same time. So, English people were still using the word "tenez" each time they hit the ball, but saying it with the English accent which sounded more like tennis, and which eventually took this new spelling. Then the sport gained popularity world wide and got picked up by many languages, including French.

24 April 2010

The Circle of Life!

I recently downloaded the African chant from the beginning of The Circle of Life as my ringtone.  It's awesome.

People laugh when I sing along... and CJ asked me what the lyrics translate to.  I don't know.  Let's look it up.  I knew it's in Zulu. I read the chant was created by Lebo M., who is from South Africa.  The rest of the song is music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice:

Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba
Sithi uhm ingonyama
Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba
Sithi uhhmm ingonyama

Siyo Nqoba
Ingonyama nengw' enamabala

Translates to:

Here comes a lion, Father
Oh yes, it's a lion

Here comes a lion, Father
Oh yes, it's a lion
A lion

We're going to conquer
A lion and a leopard come to this open place

I think the Zulu lyrics sound a lot more impressive.

I noticed this Baba meaning father, and it rings a bell. Isn't baba the word for father in a few other languages? Sure is!

Language develops from function and necessity. Seeing as how baba is one of the easiest syllables for babies to pronounce, along with "mama," "papa" and "dada," it has become the word for father in a lot of languages like Albanian, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Greek, Hindi, Bangla, Persian, Swahili, Turkish.

The Middle Eastern word "baba" (as in Ali Baba) is rather a term of endearment, and is ultimately derived from Persian بابا (bābā), “‘father’”) (from Old Persian pāpa; as opposed to the Arabic words ابو (’ábu) and أب (’ab), as well as the Turkish word ata; see also Papak) , and is linguistically related to the common European word papa and the word pope, having the same Indo-European origin.

It's a great ringtone.

23 April 2010

LingLing and Sean

I have a lovely co-worker named Collying.  (It's ok to reveal her identity because if you Google just the first name Collying, she's the fifth result.)  It's pronounced coʊ - lin' (like "coco"), not cɑ - leen "Colleen".  She's really pretty and she's from Honduras but customers at the store all the time mistakingly think she's Asian somehow.

She doesn't really look very Asian at all.  I think her nametag throws the customers for a loop.  I overheard a customer once ask her, "Is Coll your first name and Ying your last name?" What an ass.  --but visually, you know, at first glance... I understand spotting the ying.

Because she's Hispanic, of course her mother has the same name as her.  (See post below.)  Aside from that, though, there seems to be no other record of anyone ever named Collying.  Ling says her mom--or her grandmother, I guess--read a character in a book named Collying and liked it, but I have found no such character in any such book.  According to the official White Pages, there is only one Collying listed in the whole country.  I'm assuming that is her mother, because she's listed in Louisiana.  (There are 415 Chelas.)

Having lived in Ireland for a while, and having been exposed to some of their outrageous and lovely names, I noticed a lot of their traditional names end in -ing so I made the connection and assumed Collying was a traditional variation of the Irish name Colleen.  OR SO I THOUGHT.  I came home, searched and searched and searched.  Turns out, the only Irish name I can think of with -ing is Aisling, pronounced "ash-ling"--but I think it such a pretty name, it must have stuck in my mind.

The fact that collying--as in "to colly", pronounced /ˈkɒlin/ is an actual verb [meaning to blacken with coal dust; begrime], it was tough to search around that.  In Irish and Irish English I actually found no record whatsoever of the name Collying ever existing.  There is no evidence--in fact there is evidence to the contrary--that Collying is in any way a derivation of Colleen.  The Irish spelling of Colleen is Cailin (meaning "girl"), but if anything, that became Americanized to Kaylin or Cailin.

So really, I was all wrong.  -ing is not really a common Irish name ending, and Collying is in no way related to Colleen.  I think they just made it up.


Sean likes to argue.  A lot.  About everything.  On a recent trip to Chicago, the question came up: "Is Sean more of an Irish name or Scottish?  You should blog about it."  Ugg.  Thanks, Maggs.  Ok.
WAIT.  Did you know Sean is the Irish form of the name John?!  I had no idea.  The anglicization of Sean is Shane; and Shaina and Shanna are the female forms.

According to the last census done in Ireland by the Central Statistics Office, An Phriomh-Oifig Staidrimh, Sean is currently the most popular male name in Ireland (followed by Jack, Conor, Adam and James.  The female names: Sarah, Emma, Katie, Aoife [How do you pronounce this?!] and Sophie).

Turns out Sean is in no way a Scottish name.  There are no records of it as a derivation of any traditional Scottish name.  Only recently in Scottland has Sean become popular in part as a result of the fame of Sean Connery (whose first name is actually Thomas). Sean was the 24th most popular boys' name to be registered in Scottland in 1999 with Shaun 51st.

In summary:  Collying is not Irish and Sean is not Scottish.  The end.

18 April 2010

Cat language, pt. 2

This one's for Mrs. Chris, per request. As seen earlier, cats pervade the English language.

Have you ever thought about putting something cat-a-corner to something else? Or is it catty-corner? Or wait, kitty-corner? Why are all these cats in the corner here?!?!

This phrase actually has nothing to do with cats. It's derived from cater-corner which comes from the french quatre which means four--derived from the Latin, quattuor--meaning cornered. The expression first appeared in English as the name for the four in dice, soon Anglicised to cater. The standard placement of the four dots at the corners of a square almost certainly introduced the idea of diagonals.

From this came a verb cater, to place something diagonally opposite another or to move diagonally, which can be found in the sixteenth century. Some English dialects had it as an adverb in compounds such as caterways or caterwise. By the early years of the nineteenth century it was beginning to be recorded in the USA in the compound form of cater-cornered. It had by then lost any link with the French word; people invented spellings in attempts to make sense of it, often thinking it had something to do with cats, which is why we have forms like kitty-corner.

But they were wrong.

Cat language, pt. 1

Women have been compared to cats for a long time.  In ancient Egypt, people used to refer to their partners as cats.  A woman associated with a cat is usually a good thing, with one unfortunate exception, as we will see here.


The term sex kitten was popularized in the 1950s, referring to Brigitte Bardot and Ann Margaret.  A sex kitten typically refers to a younger woman who is sexually provocative or aggressive.

There are countless examples of sexy catwomen; we can't forget Catwoman. Wanting to give his Batman comic books sex appeal and someone who could appeal to female readers as a female Batman, Kane and writer Bill Finger created a "friendly foe who committed crimes but was also a romantic interest in Batman's rather sterile life."

As for using cat imagery with their Catwoman, Batman's creator, Bob Kane states he and Bill Finger saw cats "were kind of the antithesis of bats."

"I felt that women were feline creatures and men were more like dogs. While dogs are faithful and friendly, cats are cool, detached, and unreliable. I felt much warmer with dogs around me--cats are as hard to understand as women are. Men feel more sure of themselves with a male friend than a woman. You always need to keep women at arm's length. We don't want anyone taking over our souls, and women have a habit of doing that. So there's a love-resentment thing with women. I guess women will feel that I'm being chauvinistic to speak this way, but I do feel that I've had better relationships with male friends than women. With women, once the romance is over, somehow they never remain my friends."


The term cougar was first seen on this website.  Cougar typically refers to a woman at least in her 40s who is sexually attracted to much younger men.  According to that website, a cougar in training who is in her 30s is called a puma and in her 20s is called a cougar cub.  (I didn't realize that in real-life feline terms, cougars and pumas are the same thing: puma, mountain lion, mountain cat, catamount and panther are all the same animal.  The name varies depending on the region.)  It seems that puma is accepted across-the-board as a term for cougars in training; however, according to some other sources, cub is often the term for the young man who is dating the cougar.*  This video explains the modern-day cougar pretty well.


We even have the group of pop singers and dancers, the Pussycat Dolls.  This is obviously a reference to the crude slang pussy, referring to a woman's vagina.  I'm pretty sure this came from calling a woman a sex kitten or pussy cat--which eventually degenerated into the slang we have today.

But what about the cat lady?!
The poor cat lady got the only bad cat-related reputation of the bunch.  See this video.  A cat lady is often a spinster who loves her cat.  Crazy cat lady is a pejorative term referring to a woman who hoardes cats and often cannot take care of them all properly.  According to that documentary, "these may be people who have a very hard time expressing themselves to other people. They may find the human need for affection is met most easily through a relationship with a pet." This devotion can sometimes signal mental or emotional issues such as depression.  According to the book, Outing the Cat Lady: Embracing your Feline Addiction with Style, you might be a cat lady if:
Chapter 1: You have ever actually exchanged money for a cat.
Chapter 2: Your several cats are all named "Kitty."
Chapter 3: Most of your wardrobe consists of cat-themed fleece.
Chapter 5: Even though you live alone, you require a king-size bed just for you and your cats.



*The animal equivalents for gay men seem less flattering, in my opinion.  A cub is still the young man dating someone older, in the gay community, the older man is the bear or the chicken-hawk.  Other variations include chicken queen and chicken plucker.  ugg.