Monday, August 30, 2004

early U.S. mapMy latest Tribune language column:
On the use of the term "Indian country" to refer to Iraq.
temp link/perm.preview

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

No comments: