Monday, August 30, 2004

This week in my B&C blog: August news and book review roundup. LINK/ARCHIVE
early U.S. mapMy latest Tribune language column:
On the use of the term "Indian country" to refer to Iraq.
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More on Lewis and Clark here and here; their journals are here and here. (Earlier I linked to a Slate piece that questioned the value and celebration of their expedition.)

Update: WP on Algonquin loan words, The Melbourne Age on Yulparija, and Slate on "Native American": "The term 'Native American' describes not one culture but a multitude of cultures that share the superficial connection of having evolved in the Western Hemisphere before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

The NY Times' letters from soldiers in Iraq are here. More on American Indians in military history here and here. And for what it's worth, here's a brief essay on Cooper's caricatured frontiersman Natty Bumppo.

-The International Herald-Tribune ran a piece on interpreter-related problems at the Olympics:

The French, of course, turned up without a translator and were fined. They borrowed a UEFA official who bewildered listening journalists by translating the word 'dechets' correctly but unintelligibly. So Jacques Santini, the coach, reportedly said that his team's bad passing was 'leftovers.' He meant that it was a waste. has a piece on an archer who was disqualified for disobeying an official's order she did not understand--but the piece merely chastises her for not knowing English.

-The NYT's guest On Language column this week is on all (or most) of the words that have been called The A-word, The B-word, etc. They include:

B — Budget. Biodiversity. C — Cancer. Cellulite. Class. D — Detente. Dinosaur. Deficit. E — Elite. In her July 1 column in The Times, Barbara Ehrenreich commented on conservatives' promoting the idea of ''a sinister, pseudocompassionate liberal elite. . . . Note how richly the E-word embellishes the screeds of Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly and their co-ideologues.'' Also: Euphemism. Electronic.

-Here's another alphabet offering, from Christopher Hitchens' review of books about John Kerry: "The name Kerry is thus another tired synonym for ABB, or ''Anybody but Bush.''

-Earlier this month, Jan Freeman, the Boston Globe's language columnist, had an interesting piece on the history--and inflation of five-dollar word (and ten-dollar word, and so on).

-I didn't get anywhere with my search for the origins of give away the farm--all I found was a page about corporate trade secrets titled "To give away the farm or not to give away the farm?" When did such a numerous bunch of over-charitable farmers make the mistake of giving away their farms for free that they had a phrase coined for them? Who knows, but the phrase has special meaning at this Web page:

Environmentalists are urging Santa Barbara County to refrain from rezoning any more prime agricultural land for housing. There must he a way to spread the new homes throughout the community and spare the best farmland, they say. "We don't want to give away the farm, literally," said Dave Fortson, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network.

-The CS Monitor had a rather ho-hum piece on the ethics and offensiveness of speaking your mind.

-Recent articles on the philosophy of disgust have proceeded in oblivion to the analysis in the Boston Globe by my B&C editor, John Wilson. That includes this otherwise worthwhile LL post on whether speech and accents can be disgusting.

-Seen in From Flutes of Fire: Essays on California Indian Languages, by Leanne Hinton:

While the cardinal directions are used with great frequency in this passage, it also contains many words that talk about direction with regard to features of the landscape instead--"up the hill," "down the hill," and "over the flat," for example. For many languages of California, direction words are not based on the sun, but rather on geographical features, and the direction of flow of the watercourses.

-A couple of fascinating paragraphs from John McWhorter's The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language:

Ask someone who speaks a language other than English natively how to say I sank into the mud up to my ankles, and figure out what the words actually mean. ... Am intrat in noroi pana la glezne (I have entered in mud up to ankles [Romanian]); Ich bin bis zu meinen Knocheln im Schlamm versunken (I am until the ankles in mud sunk [German]); Ja provalilsja v grjaz' po scikolotku (I sank-self in mud at ankle [Russian]); Doro no nake ni askikubi made tsukatte shimatta (mud of within at ankle until soaked put-away [Japanese]); Bikwaakoganaaning ingii-apiichi-gagwaanagwajiishkiwese (knob-bone-at I-extending to-'mudmoved' [Ojibwe, or 'Chippewa']) and so on.


Sometimes a word's meaning simply drifts aimlessly, with each step following plausibly from the last, but the difference between the earliest reconstructable meaning and the most recent one having become so vast as to completely obscure any historical relationship. In Old English, the word that became silly meant "blessed." ... Blessedness implies innocence. That kind of implication led people to gradually incorporate innocence into their conception of the word, and through time innocence ended up becoming the main connotation rather than the "definition 2" one ... Thus, by the Middle Ages, silly meant "innocent": about 1400, we find sentences such as Cely art thous, hooli virgyne marie. If one is innocent, one is deserving of compassion, and this was the next meaning of the word (a 1470 statement: Sely Scotland, that of helpe has gret neide), but because the deserving of compassion has a way of implying weakness, before long the meaning of silly was "weak" (1633: Thou onley art The mightie God, but I a sillie worm). From here it was a short steep to "simple" or "ignorant," and finally silly came to mean "foolish"--having begun meaning "sanctified by God"!

And here's a cool picture of the Tower of Babel:
Tower of Babel

Previous column and inflections
New Yorker movie reviews: Anthony Lane on Spiderman 2, She Hate Me, and Vanity Fair; David Denby on The Bourne Supremacy and Manchurian Candidate, Before Sunset and Terminal, Farenheit 911, and We Don't Live Here Anymore. Earlier NYkr movie review links.
I was intrigued by this phrase in C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves (in which he questions the notion that sexual desire is necessarily a spiritual distraction).

The gnat-like cloud of petty anxieties and decisions about the conduct of the next hour have interfered with my praryers more often than any passion or appetite whatever.
Etymology Today from M-W: roseate \ROH-zee-ut\
1 : resembling a rose especially in color
2 : overly optimistic : viewed favorably

"Everything's coming up roses." "He views the world through rose-tinted glasses." "She has a rosy outlook on life." In English, we tend to associate roses and rose color with optimism, and "roseate" is no exception. "Roseate" comes from the Latin adjective "roseus," and ultimately from the noun "rosa," meaning "rose." Figurative use of "roseate" began in the 19th century, and the literal sense of the term has been in the language since the 16th century. Literal uses of "roseate" are often found in descriptions of sunrises and sunsets. "Through yon peaks of cloud-like snow / The roseate sunlight quivers," wrote Shelley in Prometheus Unbound. And in an early short story, Edith Wharton wrote, "The sunset was perfect and a roseate light, transfiguring the distant spire, lingered late in the west."

Previous E.T.

Monday, August 23, 2004

This week in my B&C blog: Response to a Daedalus article called "George W. Bush and the missionary position." LINK/ARCHIVE
My latest Tribune language column:
My hunt for the origins of the word solecism.
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Here's a guide to ancient Greek literature that mentions Anakreon, and here's an amateur page about modern-day Soloi.

What was trimmed from the piece was a graf about how the singling out of Soloi seemed unlikely because Greek was morphing into so many different dialects around the empire. This source on the history of the Greek language contains a muddled sentence that seems to make a similar point.

Because of the importance of Athens in both politics and literature, its speech was destined to play an especially prominent part; but the custom of treating 5th and 4th century Attic as the standard form of Greek, and divergencies from it in other dialects as abnormalities, while it may be convenient pedagogically, is indefensible linguistically.

Here's a shorter page on Greek dialects throughout history.

Finally, here's Strabo's fateful entry about "barbarize" and "solecize":
The term "barbarize," also, has the same origin; for we are wont to use this too in reference to those who speak Greek badly, not to those who talk Carian. So, therefore, we must interpret the terms "speak barbarously" and "barbarously-speaking" as applying to those who speak Greek badly. And it was from the term "Carise" that the term "barbarize" was used in a different sense in works on the art of speaking Greek; and so was the term "soloecise," whether derived from Soli or made up in some other way.

Also, here's an artists' rendering of the Greek playwright Aeschylus about to get bombed by a turtle shell, which came up in my 8/12 column. Here are the perm.prev's for my 8/12 and 8/5 columns.

Update: More words supposedly derived from Greek slurs: laconic, abderian, sybarite, boeotian

-More (here and here) from LL on d'oh and other grunts (earlier)

- Listening to the sanity-threatening Olympic gymnastics announcers last night, I was wondering if dismount is an appropriate term for the conclusion of a floor routine. Here's LL on how one linguist named the marathon.

- Here's the Rocky Mountain News on eggcorns, with a follow-up post by LL.

- I had the phrase just one damn thing after another in my head, so I googled it. What came up repeatedly was an anonymous quote which some sources (such as this one) attributed to PBS's Nova: "Time is just one damn thing after another."

- From Joseph Epstein's entertaining, sporadically apt, sometimes snobbish Weekly Standard story "Is Reading Really at Risk?":

Eubanks reports that "at the heart of the NEA survey is the belief that our democratic system depends on leaders who can think critically, analyze texts, and write clearly." If this were true, the United States would have been done for around the time of Andrew Jackson.

Epstein also uses the term whinging--"But what if the books that Oprah's club endorsed were mostly works of victimology--whinging, hopeless books about dysfunctional families that chiefly reinforced readers in their own self-pity and self-righteous anger?"--I didn't know it, but it turns out to be the OE root of "whining."

- From The Week: "The Japanese rival Americans in their devotion to work; indeed, they have had to add a word to their language for “death from overwork,” “karoshi.” Still, they manage to get away for an average of 18 days a year-almost twice as much as Americans."

Cleaning out a lot of old files:
- I never did write anything about the U of Colorado flap over the c-word, but, really, how could I have discussed that in a family newspaper? x

- LL is skeptical about what the BBC calls the most untranslatable word in the world: ilunga x

- The CHE and LL on god-awful academic titles.

- From the Globe&Mail a few months back:
Just as North American sports commentators compete with unique terms, Indian announcers seek to outdo each other with distinctive expressions, reports The Wall Street Journal. One, a retired cricket player named Navjot Singh Sidhu, has become famous for his "Sidhuisms," as when he refers to a losing team as "tumbling over like a row of bicycles without their stands." Indian cricket announcers, describing a well-hit ball, might say "the batsman has a royal stroke," "his bat is roaring like a lion," or, the ever-popular, "runs are flowing from his bat like water flowing from the Ganges River."

- From "Many German viewers were annoyed when they realized that in the German dubbed version the dubbing voice of Brad Pitt was changed from his usual one (Tobias Meister) to the voice of Nicolas Cage (Martin Kessler). This was done on personal request from director Wolfgang Petersen."

- And more "Troy" news from the Plain English Campaign in May:
Promoters of a major Hollywood production have encountered linguistic problems in Japan. Japanese uses a "phonetic" language where words are made from a set of sounds rather than letters. When foreign words are used in Japanese, they are altered to the closest equivalent that can be produced from this set of sounds.
This means the film title "Troy" appears on posters above star Brad Pitt as "Toroi". Unfortunately, when read out loud, the word sound the same as the native Japanese word for slow and dim-witted.

-From the Apr. 12 '04 Christian Century: "The way things stand in many seminaries, learning Hebrew and Greek is the standard for everyone, while learning Spanish is a specialty reserved for the few. ... I think we have it backwards.
If learning a language other than English is not presented as the norm, it will never be embraced later on by busy pastors." Heidi Neumark, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church

-From the NYT 4/14:
Sarah Harmer waited until near the end of her show at the TriBeCa Rock Club on Friday night to make her embarrassing confession. Just as she was about to sing "Took It All," from her enthralling new album, "All of Our Names" (Zoƫ/ Rounder), she paused to announce that there was a slight problem with the chorus.
"It wasn't until I was spell-checking the lyrics to the record that I found out `abundancy' isn't really a word," she said. But she sang the song the way she wrote it, intoning, "It didn't blow up in our face/This life's abundancy/Came clear to me," and the line conjured up two images at once.

-From the Trib on grade inflation ("NU finding A par for journalism courses," Robert Becker, April 6 x): "Education officials decry the "Lake Wobegon" effect, where suddenly all students are now above average, and the grade of C has been consigned to the academic dustbin."

Previous column and inflections
The Trib has a great piece today from its foreign correspondents on Olympic television coverage around the world. x
The new nature center at my alma mater, Calvin College, sounds pretty cool:
The Bunker Interpretive Center is a largely self-sustaining entity, independent of the city's sewer system and taking more than 60 percent of its operating power from a photovoltaic array on its roof. Much of the center - including paneling, insulation and interior trim - is built of recycled materials. On days the weather permits, the windows open automatically to heat and cool the building. Gray water (from sinks) is recycled through a biomass, a large window box filled with plants that filter the water and return it to preserve ponds. Waste is processed through chemical composting toilets. The soil from those toilets, processed by worms, will eventually enrich the center's landscaping - all indigenous plants grown in the preserve.
Etymology Today from M-W: poignant \POY-nyunt\
1 : pungently pervasive
2 a (1) painfully affecting the feelings : piercing *(2) deeply affecting : touching b : designed to make an impression : cutting
3 a : pleasurably stimulating b : being to the point : apt

"Poignant" comes to us from Anglo-French, and before that from Latin — specifically, the Latin verb "pungere," meaning "to prick or sting." Several other common English words derive from "pungere," including "pungent," which can refer to, among other things, a "sharp" odor. The influence of "pungere" can also be seen in "puncture," as well as "punctual," which originally meant simply "of or relating to a point." Even "compunction" and "expunge" come from this pointedly relevant Latin word.

Previous E.T.

Monday, August 02, 2004

This week in my B&C blog: July news and book review roundup. LINK/ARCHIVE

Publishing news trimmed from my book roundup: More on online used book sales. The CSM on online short stories, and Alan Wolfe on pamphleteers as the ancestors of bloggers and pundits.

I'll blissfully be a non-blogger for the rest of this week and all of the next. My Aug 5th column will be on the book Hearing Gestures (and mention Hand to Mouth: excerpt and critique). My Aug. 12th column will be on bird-watching, now known as birding.