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26. Out of Shakespeare: ‘Aroint thee’

By Anatoly Liberman


Dozens of words have not been forgotten only because Shakespeare used them. Scotch (as in scotch the snake), bare bodkin, and dozens of others would have taken their quietus and slept peacefully in the majestic graveyard of the Oxford English Dictionary but for their appearance in Shakespeare’s plays. Aroint would certainly have been unknown but for its appearance in Macbeth and King Lear. From the speech of the first witch (Macbeth III, opening scene): “A sailor’s wife had chestnuts in her lap, / And munch’d and munch’d and munch’d.—‘Give me,’ quoth I: / ‘Aroint thee, witch!’ the rump-fed ronyon cries.” And in King Lear Edgar, pretending to be mad (III. 4, 129), also says “Aroint thee.”

The origin of aroint has been the object of an intense search. In 1874 Horace H. Furness, the editor of the variorum edition of Shakespeare, knew almost everything said about the word, but he offered a dispassionate survey of opinions without comments. Very long ago, in Cheshire, rynt, roynt, and runt were recorded. Milkmaids in those quarters would say “rynt thee to a cow, when she is milked, to bid her get out of the way.” The phrase meant “stand off.” “To this the cow is so well used that even the word is sufficient.” Rynt you, witch as part of the proverbial saying rynt you, witch, said Besse Locket to her mother turned up in a provincial dictionary published in 1674, approximately sixty years after Macbeth and King >Lear were written. The lady whom Robert Nares, the author of an 1822 glossary of obscure words, consulted added: “…the cow being in this instance more learned than the commentators on Shakespeare.” The taunt missed its target: philologists are not cows, and neither the lady nor the milch cows elucidated the word’s origin. (In my experience, no one understands the word milch, and this is why I have used it here.)

The fanciful derivation of aroint as a compound from some verb for “go” and a cognate of (be)hind does not merit attention. The familiar dialectal pronunciation of jint for joint suggests that the etymological vowel in the verb rynt was oi, not i. Old English had the verb ryman “to make room,” and Skeat derived aroint from the phrase rime ta (ta = thee), imperative, “which must necessarily become rine ta (if the i be long).” I am not sure why the change was necessary, but Skeat sometimes struck with excessive force. Anyway, he reasoned along the same lines as most of his predecessors and followers, who thought that aroint meant ‘begone’. A similar idea can be observed in several attempts to find a Romance etymon of aroint.

Horne Tooke, famous, among other things, for a two-volume book EPEA PTEROENTA, Or, The Diversions of Purley (1798-1805), traced Shakespeare’s word to “ronger, rogner, royner; whence also aroynt… is a separation or discontinuity of the skin or flesh by a gnawing, eating forward, malady” (compare Italian rogna “scabies, mange” and ronyon in Macbeth, above). He obviously glossed aroint as “to be separated” and found several supporters. Other early candidates for the etymon known to me (for nearly all of which I am indebted to Furness’s notes on Macbeth and King Lear) are French arry-avant “away there, ho!”, éreinte-toi “break thy back or reins” (used as an imprecation), Latin dii te averruncent “may the devils take thee,” and Italian arranca (the imperative of arrancare “plod along, trudge”). A strong case has been made for aroint being an expected phonetic variant of anoint or acquiring in some contexts the figurative sense “thrash” (the latter derivation was defended by George Hempl, a distinguished American philologist), or because it “conveys a sense very consistent with the common account of witches, who are related to perform many supernatural acts by means of unguents.” Finally, Thomas Hearne’s Ectypa Varia ad Historiam Britannicam… (1737) contains a print in which “a devil, who is driving the damned before him, is blowing a horn with a label issuing from his mouth and the words: ‘Out, out Arongt’.” Arongt resembles aroint but its existence does not clarify the etymology of either.

The opinions, as one can see, are many, but only one conclusion is almost certain. Shakespeare, a Stratford man, knew a local word, expected his audience to understand it even in London, and used it in his plays dated to the beginning of the seventeenth century. Thus, he did not invent aroint, and the suggestion that it is his adaptation of around cannot be entertained, for how would it then have passed into popular speech in that form? As follows from the facts summarized above, in addition to witches, cows in Cheshire understood aroint thee and the phrase became proverbial in some parts of England. The milkmaids’ experience notwithstanding, it will probably not be too risky to propose that aroint thee was coined to ward off witches, damned souls, and their ilk (arongt does look identical with aroint) and that only later it spread to less ominous situations. Perhaps its origin has not been discovered because nearly everybody glossed it as “begone, disappear, stand off.” But (and this is my main point) aroint thee may have meant something like beshrew thee, fie on you. Louis Marder, in updating Furness’s Macbeth (1963), said: “The local nature, the meaning, and form of the phrase, seem all opposed to its identity with Shakespeare’s Aroint,” because ryndta! in Cheshire and Lancashire is “merely a local pronunciation of ‘round thee’= move around.” Except for having doubts about the currency of ryndta in Lancashire, OED endorsed this verdict. In my opinion, the match is quite good. Ryndta does not necessarily have to go back to round thee, while the local character of the phrase cannot be used as an argument for or against its identity with what we find in Macbeth and King Lear.

At least as early as 1784, it was suggested that aroint has something to do with rauntree, one of several variants of the tree name rowan. This tree, perhaps better known as mountain ash, is famous in myth and folklore from Ancient Greece to Scandinavia. One of its alleged virtues is the ability to deter witches and protect people and cattle from evil. The great Scandinavian god Thor was once almost drowned in a river because of the wiles of a mighty giantess but threw a great stone at her, was carried ashore, caught hold of a rowan tree, and waded out of the water; hence the tree’s name “Thor’s rescue.” It would be quite natural to shout rauntree or rointree, in order to chase away a witch: on hearing the terrible word, she would be scared and flee. Rowan is a noun of Scandinavian origin (Icelandic reynir, Norwegian raun; the earliest citations in OED do not predate the middle of the fifteenth century), so that various diphthongs, including oi, developed in it. An imprecation like a raun ~ reyn to thee seems to have existed and become aroint thee. The only lexicographer who entertained a similar idea was Ernest Weekley. He wrote: “Exact meaning and origin unknown. ? Connected with dialectal rointree, rowan-tree, mountain-ash, efficacy of which against witches is often referred to in early folklore.” I take it to be the most promising hypothesis of all. The word (rowan), pronounced differently in different dialects, reached England from Scandinavia, but the curse is probably local. In any case, its Scandinavian analogs have not been found.

Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins…And How We Know Them as well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears here, each Wednesday. Send your etymology question to him care of blog@oup.com; he’ll do his best to avoid responding with “origin unknown.”

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Image credit: Rowan by Ivan Shishkin, 1892. Public domain via Wikipaintings.org.

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27. Monthly etymology gleanings for January 2013, part 1

By Anatoly Liberman


Last time I was writing my monthly gleanings in anticipation of the New Year. January 1 came and went, but good memories of many things remain. I would like to begin this set with saying how pleased and touched I was by our correspondents’ appreciation of my work, by their words of encouragement, and by their promise to go on reading the blog in the future. Writing weekly posts is a great pleasure. Knowing that one’s voice is not lost in the wilderness doubles and trebles this pleasure.

Week and Vikings.
After this introduction it is only natural to begin the first gleanings of 2013 with the noun week. Quite some time ago, I devoted a special post to it. Later the root of week turned up in the post on the origin of the word Viking, and it was Viking that made our correspondent return to week. My ideas on the etymology of week are not original. In the older Germanic languages, this noun did not mean “a succession of seven days.” The notion of such a unit goes back to the Romans and ultimately to the Jewish calendar. The Latin look-alike of Gothic wiko, Old Engl. wicu, and so forth was a feminine noun, whose nominative, if it existed, must have had the form vix. Since the phrase for “in the order of his course” (Luke I: 8) appears in Latin as in ordine vicis suae and in Gothic as in wikon kunjis seinis, some people (the great Icelandic scholar Guðbrandur Vigfússon among them) made the wrong conclusion that the Germanic word was borrowed from Latin. In English, the root of vix can be seen in vicar (an Anglo-French word derived from Latin vicarius “substitute, deputy”), vicarious, vicissitude, vice (as in Vice President), and others, while week is native. Its distant origin is disputed and need not delay us here. Rather probably, German Wechsel (from wehsal) “exchange” belongs here. Among the old cognates of week we find Old Icelandic vika, which also had the sense “sea mile,” and this is where Viking may come in. “Change, succession, recurrent period” and “sea mile” suggest that the oldest Vikings (in the beginning, far from being sea robbers and invaders) were called after “shift, a change of oarsmen.” But many other hypotheses pretend to explain the origin of Viking, and a few of them are not entirely implausible.

The present perfect.
More recently, while discussing suppletive forms, I mentioned in passing that the difference between tenses can become blurred and that for some people did you put the butter in the refrigerator? and have you put the butter in the refrigerator? mean practically the same. This remark inspired two predictable comments. The vagaries of the present perfect also turned up in one of my recent posts and also caused a ripple of excitement, especially among the native speakers of Swedish. As with week and Viking, I’ll repeat here only my basic explanation. In Germanic, the perfect tenses developed in the full light of history, and in British English a good deal seems to have changed since the days of Shakespeare, that is, the time when the first Europeans settled in the New World. To put it in a nutshell, there was much less of the present perfect in the sixteenth and the seventeenth century than in the nineteenth. In the use of this tense English, wherever it is spoken, went its own way. For instance, one can say in Icelandic (I’ll provide a verbatim translation): “We spent a delightful summer together in 1918, and at that time we have seen so many interesting places together!” The perfect foregrounds the event and makes it part of the present. In English, the present perfect cannot be used so. Only a vague reference to the days gone by will tolerate the present perfect, as in: “This has happened more than once in the past and is sure to happen again.” Therefore, I was surprised to see Cuthbert Bede (alias Edward Bradley) write in The Adventures of Mr Verdant Green: “Who knows? for dons are also mortals, and have been undergraduates once” (the beginning of Chapter 4). In my opinion, have been and once do not go together. If I am wrong, please correct me.

However, in my next pronouncement I am certainly right. British English has regularized the use of the present perfect: “I have just seen him,” “I have never read Fielding,” and so on. I mentioned in my original post that, when foreigners are taught the difference between the simple past (the so-called past indefinite) and the present perfect, they are usually shown a picture of a weeping or frightened child looking at the fragments on the floor and complaining to a grownup: “I have broken a plate!” American speakers are not bound by this usage: “I just saw him. He left,” “I never read Fielding and know no one who did,” while a child would cry: “Mother, I broke a plate!” A British mother may be really cross with the miscreant, whereas an American one may be mad at the child, but their reaction has nothing to do with grammar. Our British correspondent says that he makes a clear distinction between did you and have you put the butter in the refrigerator, while his American wife does not and prefers did you. This is exactly what could be expected. My British colleague, who has not changed his accent the tiniest bit after decades of living in Minneapolis and being married to an American, must have unconsciously modified his usage. I have been preoccupied with the perfect for years, and once, when we were discussing these things, he said, with reference to the present perfect, that during his recent stay in England, his interlocutor remarked drily: “You have lived in America too long.”

Blessedly cursed? Tamara and Demon. Ill to Lermontov’s poem by Mikhail Vrubel’, 1890. (Tretiakov gallery.) Demon and Tamara are the protagonists in the poem by Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841). The poem is famous in Russia; there is an opera on its plot; several translations into English, including one by Anatoly Liberman, exist; and Vrubel’ was obsessed by this work.

Suppletive girls and wives.
In discussing suppletive forms (go/went, be/am/is/are, and others), I wrote that, although we have pairs like actor/actress and lion/lioness, we are not surprised that boy and girl are not derived from the same root. I should have used a more cautious formulation. First, I was asked about man and woman. Yes, it is true that woman goes back to wif-man, but, in Old English, man meant “person,” while “male” was the result of later specialization, just as in Middle High German man had the senses “man, warrior, vassal,” and “lover.” Wifman meant “female person.” The situation is more complicated with boys and girls. Romance speakers will immediately remember (as did our correspondent, a native speaker of Portuguese) Italian fanciullo (masculine) ~ fanciulla (feminine) and the like. In Latin, such pairs also existed (puellus and puella). But I don’t think that fanciulla and puella were formed from funciullo and puellus: they are rather parallel forms. But I am grateful for being reminded of such pairs; they certainly share the same root.

Lewis Carroll’s name.
I think the information provided by Stephen Goranson is sufficient to conclude that the Dodgson family pronounced their family name as Dodson, and this confirms my limited experience with the people called Dodgson and Hodgson.

PS. At my recent talk show on Minnesota Public Radio, which was devoted to overused words, I received a long list of nouns, adjectives, and verbs that our listeners hate. I will discuss them and answer more questions next Wednesday. But one question has been sitting on my desk for two months, and I cannot find any information on it. Here is the question: “I was wondering if you knew what the Latin and Italian translations would be of the term blessedly cursed? I know this is not a common phrase, but I would think that there would be a translation for it.” Latin is tough, but our correspondents from Italy may know the equivalent. Their help will be greatly appreciated.

To be continued.

Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins…And How We Know Them as well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears here, each Wednesday. Send your etymology question to him care of blog@oup.com; he’ll do his best to avoid responding with “origin unknown.”

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28. Wrenching an etymology out of a monkey

By Anatoly Liberman


Primates have given Germanic language historians great trouble. In the most recent dictionary of German etymology (Kluge-Seebold), the entry Affe “ape” is one of the most detailed. In the revised version of the OED, monkey is also discussed at a length, otherwise rare in this online edition. Despite the multitude of hypotheses, the sought-for solution is not in view. (Mine, however, will appear at the end of the present post.) Only one thing is clear: wherever the ancestors of the modern Germanic speakers lived, including the southernmost areas of the lands they once inhabited (Italy and the shores of the Black Sea), they could not observe monkeys and apes roaming tropical woods. This means that the names of both animals are, most probably, borrowed.

No extant citation of monkey predates 1530 (so the OED), and the word cannot be much older. Before the sixteenth century, ape was the generic term for both species. The question is about the original land of the import. The suspects are two: northern Germany and some Romance country. In Spanish, mona (feminine) and mono (masculine) resemble monkey, and in Middle French monne (Modern French mone) has been attested. Likewise, Italian had monna ~ mona. The source of those words remains undiscovered; clearly, monkeys were as foreign to the Romance speaking lands as they were to the English and Germans. In the nineteenth century, etymologists accepted the explanation of Friedrich Diez, the founder of Romance comparative philology, who looked upon mona as a “corruption” of Madonna. He based his conclusion on the fact that the name of a female monkey surfaced before the name of its masculine partner.

Skeat, The Century Dictionary, and others followed him, though Skeat suggested that monkey was an alteration of Old Italian monicchio, a diminutive of monna. He traced it back to Latin domina and referred to Madonna “my lady”: “The degradation of the term is certainly very great; but there is an exactly parallel instance in the case of the term dam, which has been degraded from the Latin domina, in French ‘notre dame’, till it now means only the mother of racehorse, or of a less important animal.” This reconstruction is but slightly different from Diez’s. Later researchers went to Greece, Turkey, India, and the Arab lands for the elusive etymon. I am leaving out of account a few fanciful suggestions that may amuse but not enlighten our readers. In no modern Romance language, except Spanish, is mono the main name of the monkey. In Italy, it turned up in 1438, a century before it reached an English book. The first French citation goes back to 1545.

The central argument in my reasoning resolves itself into the following. The English hardly coined the word monkey; they must have borrowed it. Therefore, I have no sympathy for the conjecture of Klaus Dietz (not to be confused with Friedrich Diez!) that monkey is a native word, made up of the root monk and the suffix -ie ~ -(e)y. Little capuchin monkeys allegedly resembled little Capuchin friars; moreover, apes were traditionally used in satiric portrayals of the clergy. Dietz advanced his idea in 2006 and wrote a short article on this subject in 2008. The most recent entry in the OED online testifies to Dietz’s influence. Long ago, Eduard Mueller (or Müller) remarked in his useful but now forgotten dictionary of English etymology (1865-67; 1878) that English speakers could not help noticing a strong resemblance between monkey and both monk and man. Before him, Franciscus Junius (1743; a posthumous edition) had the same idea, and in 1863 August Lübben considered but rejected this possibility. I also refuse to treat monkey as a word initially endowed with the sense “little monk.”

William Caxton, the first English printer. In 1481 he brought out his translation of the Dutch version of Reynard. The Booke of Reynarde the Foxe (in prose; the original is a versified poem) is a delight to read. It exists in several excellent modern editions.

Another theory takes us to the famous Low German animal epic Reynke de Vos (1498) or (in French) Reynard the Fox. In it Martin the ape has a son Moneke; in French, the “youngster” is called Monnekin. Both -ke and -kin are familiar diminutive suffixes: compare Engl. manikin, another word strongly resembling monkey. Some scholars thought that Moneke had come to England with German traveling showmen or by some such route. But there are problems with this idea: the vowels of monkey (whose first syllable rhymes with dun rather than don) and Moneke do not match, and nothing testifies to the popularity of the poem’s fame in England in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. The name of Martin’s son occurs only once in the poem, and it is unbelievable that it could have stayed in people’s memory and caught their fancy to such an extent as to cause the formation of a new word. Dietz makes this point, and his objections to the Moneke theory, contrary to his etymology, are irrefutable.

The real question is why the ape’s son bore the name Moneke, and it was answered ingeniously and, I think, persuasively, in 1869, but etymologists have a short memory, which is not their fault, for without exhaustive bibliographies unearthing a relevant note with a vague title is impossible. Moneke was a familiar name for Simoneke, that is, Simon. Simon is a Greek word, derived from the adjective simós “snub-nosed” or “flat-nosed,” and the meaning of the name was known, even though in the late Middle Ages few people may have realized that Simon had been confused with Hebrew Simeon. Apparently, Moneke “the flat-nosed,” was, in addition to the pet name for Simoneke, a slang word for “monkey,” with reference to the German-Latin pun, for the Latin for “monkey” was simia (a borrowing from Greek; feminine, like Modern French guenon and the Romance words, cited above). Judging by Dutch simminkel, the unattested Latin simiuncula “little monkey” also had some currency; hence the name of the ape’s son in Reynke. It is this word that must have become known in England. In German and Dutch it did not stay, but in English it did. The phonetic difficulties (the quality of the stressed vowels) are hardly insurmountable here. To be sure, I have no proof that moneke “monkey” existed, but if this word had been recorded, the riddle would have been solved centuries ago and saved us a lot of monkey business. In any case, Martin must have had a good reason for calling his son Moneke.

Something should also be said about the Romance words. One might suggest that in French and Spanish we are dealing with the Germanic noun that lost its suffix, but this would hardly be a convincing solution. Also, Italian mona was recorded a hundred years before monkey surfaced in English, and a loan from German or Dutch is probably out of the question. I would risk the hypothesis that the Romance names of the monkey have nothing to do with their Germanic look-alikes. In Kanarese, a Dravidian language, the male monkey is called manga; a related Tamil noun sounds mandi. One may perhaps ask whether a migratory culture word for the monkey, known from India to northern Germany, enjoyed some popularity in the past. It may not be for nothing that so many similar simian forms have been found. If some such word traveled with the animal, in every country speakers would adapt it slightly under the influence of folk etymology. Whatever the answer, I believe that, as regards the etymology of Engl. monkey, both monks and the medieval animal epic should be left in peace.

Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins…And How We Know Themas well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears here, each Wednesday. Send your etymology question to him care of blog@oup.com; he’ll do his best to avoid responding with “origin unknown.”

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29. Drinking vessels: ‘goblet’

By Anatoly Liberman


One more drinking vessel, and I’ll stop. Strangely, here we have another synonym for bumper, and it is again an old word of unknown origin. In English, goblet turned up in the fourteenth century, but its uninterrupted recorded history began about a hundred years later. Many names of vials, mugs, and beverages probably originated in the language of drinkers, pub owners, and glass manufacturers. They were slang, and we have little chance of guessing who coined it and in what circumstances.

Goblet may have been one of such coinages. French gobelet means the same as Engl. goblet, a word with a history not less obscure than that of its English namesake. The diminutive suffix -et is Romance, so that gobelet looks like the name of a little gobel. Unfortunately, we have no idea what a gobel is or was. Only gobeau has been attested. Nor does the suffix provide secure guidance to the origin of goblet. To be sure, the word may have been French, suffix and all, though it is strange that gobeau, not gobel, has turned up. On the other hand, a Romance suffix could be added to an English noun. Strumpet is almost certainly a Germanic word, but -et, as I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, turned a homegrown English whore into a classy Frenchified harlot. We had similar trouble with -ard in tankard.

An Old High German Reader by Theodor Wilhelm Braune.

Gobelet ~ goblet are not restricted to French and English. Spanish cubilette seems to be a close cognate going back to Medieval Latin cupellum “cup.” However, the similarity may be due to chance, because it remains unclear why the French and the English reflex of initial c (that is, k) should have been g. Derivation of gobelet from cup/cupellum, directly or via French, was proposed long ago. However, since the beginning of English lexicography it has had a strong rival. French gober means “swallow, gulp down.” Given such a root, goblet can be understood as a vial whose contents had to be gobbled up hurriedly or greedily — less than a fully convincing interpretation. Besides, we are in the dark about the origin of gober. Braune (1850-1926), one of the most distinguished German language historians, who had a rather frustrating habit of giving his name as Wilhelm on book covers but Theodor when signing his articles (so that for a long time I could not decide whether Wilhelm and Theodore, those precursors of Oscar Wilde’s Mr. Bunbury, were one person or two), isolated the root g-b ~ g-f in the Romance languages and traced it to Germanic. A seemingly ill-assorted group of words, including goblet, gag, giggle, goggle, javelin, jig, jug, and quite a few others, found themselves in the same group. If a scholar less solid and of less fame than Braune had come up with such a list, it would have been laughed out of court. As a matter of fact, a series of articles by him, all of which are like the one in which gob and goblet occur (1922), had minimal influence on Germanic etymologists; it seems because they have been ignored rather than rejected as containing fanciful ideas.

Not unexpectedly, a connection between gob and goblet occurred to many people before 1922. To justify it, goblet was defined as “a cup containing a long quantity for one opening of the mouth, for one draft or swallow” (Charles Richardson). How much one can drink at one opening of the mouth depends on the size of the consumer’s throat and cannot serve as a foundation for a secure etymology. Hensleigh Wedgwood, who always tried to detect sound imitative roots in English words, explained goblet so: “The names of vessels for containing liquids are often taken from the image of pouring out water, expressed by forms representing the sound of water guggling out of the mouth of a narrow-necked vessel.” As usual, he cited numerous words from various languages bearing out his conclusion. Wedgwood’s etymology makes sense, and many dictionaries offer some version of it, specifying that the source of gob might be the Irish word for “mouth” and “beak.” I have a curious confirmation of his hypothesis. Russian drunks are in the habit of sharing a half-liter bottle among three people. But how can 500 grams be divided into three equal parts?  Strangely, in the process of careful pouring a half-liter bottle yields 21 “glugs.” Each thirsty alcoholic receives seven glugs. This is (at best) what scholars call anecdotal evidence. We still face the question whether gob and goblet are related. Nor should it be forgotten that goblets are not narrow-necked.

Uncle Toby

Those who have read my essay posted two weeks ago will remember that Ernest Weekley derived tankard from a proper name. He offered a similar etymology for goblet and many other vessels. This is what he said (I will only expand his abbreviations): “goblet. Old French gobelet, diminutive of gobel, gobeau. All these words are French surnames, Old High German God-bald, god-bold (cf. Engl. Godbolt), and the vessel is no doubt of same origin. Cf. Engl. dialectal gaddard, goblet, Old French godart, Old German Gott-hart, god-strong, named in same way. See goblin, and cf. demijohn, jack, gill, jug, tankard, Middle Engl. jubbe (Job) in Chaucer, etc.” In the entry tankard, he also mentioned toby-jug, bellarmine, and puncheon. Under his pen goblin ended up as a diminutive name of Gobel. A Toby Philpot jug, or simply Uncle Toby, was made in the shape of a stout man in a long coat, knee breeches, and three-cornered hat, seated. The phrase no doubt, when used in etymological studies, always makes me wince. Toby is a clear case. Perhaps Weekley guessed well that tankard has something to do with Tancred, but the path from God-bald to goblet is not straight. As concerns style, Weekley’s entries resemble Braune’s article: inspiring but a bit reckless.

Thus, we have several conjectures: goblet may go back to Latin cupellum, via French, or to Engl. gobble (which may be traced to Irish gob), or to the name God-bald, admittedly, not much to choose from. In a very general way, Braune may have been right. It seems that goblet is ultimately a Germanic word (regardless of its putative ties with Irish gob “beak, mouth”) and that its derivation from Latin and French, though supported by such authorities as Skeat, should be treated with a grain of salt.

When dictionaries explain the rhetorical figure of hendiadys, they sometimes give the example drink from gold and goblet for drink from golden goblets. Let this fact efface the salty impression left by the last sentence, above.

Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins…And How We Know Themas well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears here, each Wednesday. Send your etymology question to him care of blog@oup.com; he’ll do his best to avoid responding with “origin unknown.”

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Image credits: (1) Cover page for Althochdeutsches Lesebuch (1888) via Open Library. (2) Toby Jug, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England. Reptonix free Creative Commons licensed photos via Wikimedia Commons.

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30. Drinking vessels: ‘tankard’

By Anatoly Liberman


One drinks to the coming New Year, and one drinks while remembering the old one. Besides, some do it according to the Gregorian calendar, while others prefer the Julian one. As could be expected, the end of the world has been delayed and life continues. I was touched by the kind words from our regular correspondents; over time they have become my good friends. Although I cannot provide them with drinks (distance learning is possible, but no software has yet been invented for distance drinking), I am ready to go on with my series “Drinking Vessels.” Now that we have dispensed with bumper, the turn of tankard has come around.

If you want to know the origin of tankard, you are advised to look it up in some of our best reference works. In The Century Dictionary (CD), you will read: “…origin unknown. The notion that the word is from tank ‘a pool of deep water, natural or artificial’ is wholly untenable.” The first edition of the CD appeared in 1889, before the birth of armored cars on caterpillar wheels. Henry Cecil Wyld’s The Universal Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1932. Like CD, it contains excellent etymologies and says the following about tankard: “…origin uncertain; perhaps connected with tank.” Enlightened by this information, we can now start from scratch.

As early as 1266, the Latinized form tancardus turned up in a British source. In a 1317 inventory of golden and silver vessels from Florence, two grandi tancardi and two piccoli tancardi are mentioned, which means that tankards have not always been large. In French, tancquard surfaced only in Rabelais, so at least two centuries later. Old Dutch tancquaert, which graces the pages of many English dictionaries, is misleading, because the word has not been attested until the early Modern Dutch period (the digraph ae designates long a, as in Engl. spa). Given the order of the forms at our disposal, tankard looks like a genuine English word, genuine not as meaning that it is of Anglo-Saxon descent but that it was coined in England. Its structure makes one think of the elements tank (the root) and the suffix -ard. However, tank had not been recorded in English until the seventeenth century, and despite Wyld’s and many other people’s suggestion could not be the etymon of tankard, as Skeat pointed out long ago. The suffix provides no clue to the word’s origin. The home of -ard was Old High German, from where it spread to Old French. In Modern English it is mildly productive and turns up in both French borrowings (bastard, coward, and the like) and native words, such as drunkard (a nice dialectal noun is dizzard “blockhead”). The origin of some words ending in -ard, including buzzard and blizzard, has been a matter of involved speculation, while leopard has no suffix at all.

Tankard does not have to be tank + ard; it may be tan- + -kard (or -card). A modern tankard contains a quart, and more than one scholar has derived the name of the vessel from the volume of the liquid that fills it to the brim. Tri-quart? This is not a good idea. Tri- would be hard to change into tan-, and we should not forget the piccoli tancardi of the Florentine inventory: piccoli (plural) means “small,” and, to make matters worse, why three? Also, the French spelling with final -d complicates the connection between -kard and quart. Or perhaps tan- is from tin-, which is from French étain “tin,” unless it is from étang, the French reflex of Latin stagnum “pool”? The last etymology is not too different from the one that traces tankard to tank + -ard, because in at least two languages of India (the country from which tank came to England) tank “pool” has possible Sanskrit antecedents. Among some impressive-looking etymological dictionaries of English some are unoriginal and often unreliable. Such is, for example, the work by Ernest Klein. He says about tankard: “From tant quart,” that is, “only a quart.” Perhaps he borrowed this etymology from one of his predecessors, but I have not seen it anywhere else. Unfortunately, Yoshio Terasawa copied it in his English-Japanese dictionary. Stay away from hasty products and dissociate tankard from both tank and quart.

This is a tank, and THIS IS A TANKARD.

Charles Mackay, my constant target of regretful derision, suggested that tankard had come from Irish Gaelic teann “stretch forth” and caraid “friend”: “…the etymology would point to the same original idea as that of the English loving cup, a goblet stretched forth in friendship or affection, for friends to partake of.” This conjecture, of the same order as bumper from bon père, is fanciful and doesn’t explain why the medieval British term should have come to English from Gaelic. Equally unconvincing were attempts to reduce tankard to sound imitation, as though from twang. One should of course beware of dismissing anything Skeat said as unacceptable, but the etymology he offered in the first edition of his dictionary (1882) has little to recommend it. He derived (tentatively) tankard from Swedish stånka “large wooden can; tankard” (before him, Wedgwood looked for a Norwegian source of tankard). As a parallel, he referred to Engl. standard “a standing bowl.”

Drinks have frequently been used as a form of punishment. Consider students’ emptying a sconce at Oxford and Cambridge. Some victims have been obliged to drink a huge quantity of intoxicating swill at one gulp (Peter I of Russia enjoyed this entertainment; he was a great czar). To add an element of hilarity to public humiliation, the construction of the vessel might prevent it from being stood on its bottom. The best proof that such glasses existed is the word tumbler “footless goblet,” which needs little help from etymologists to tell its story. But just as we are puzzled by the Irish heritage of tankard in Mackay’s explanation, we wonder why a Swedish word should have become so popular all over Europe. If borrowed from the Vikings, it would hardly have been Latinized and made its way to Italy. Skeat had moderate trust in his etymology from the start but never quite gave it up.

The author of the first English etymological dictionary (1617) was John Minsheu. He derived tankard from Latin cantharus (originally a Greek word) “chalice; tankard,” by metathesis (cantha- to tanka-). The coincidence is indeed striking. Minsheu’s etymology was known very well. Skinner (1671), Junius (1743), Todd (in Johnson-Todd, 1827), and Eduard Mueller (1867) endorsed or at least mentioned it, and it emerged in The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1768. That is why I was surprised to read in Skeat that, when all is said and done, the best hypothesis can be found in Webster-Mahn (1864): tankard is probably an alternation of cantharus. What gross injustice! Mahn replaced Webster’s Armenian-Hebrew derivation with Minsheu’s, and Skeat couldn’t possibly be ignorant of the authorship of the cantharus-tankard idea. Apparently, he wrote the entry in a hurry.

Minsheu’s idea is clever. Switch around cantha- and tanka-, add a suffix, and you will get tankard. Similar examples of metathesis are not too few, but why should the change have occurred in this word? I will quote Ernst Weekley’s suggestion (with abbreviations expanded). “I take it [tankard] to be a jocular metathesis (? due to the fame of the Crusader Tancred), of Latin cantharus, … suggested by the personal name Tankard, once common and still a surname…. A similar metathesis is seen in Norwegian, Danish hopper, pox, for earlier pokker.” So be it. The names of vessels often go back to personal names, as Weekley indicated. Perhaps tancardus, from cantharus, was the result of ignorance, perhaps it originated in the language of topers, who seldom speak distinctly and are prone to cracking silly verbal jokes, or they might have toasted Tancred much too often and got it all wrong. But isn’t it instructive that three centuries after Minsheu we are bound to admire his perspicacity and acknowledge his wit? Tankard, nearly rhyming with drunkard, may have nothing to do with cantharus, but even more probably it does.

Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins…And How We Know Themas well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears here, each Wednesday. Send your etymology question to him care of blog@oup.com; he’ll do his best to avoid responding with “origin unknown.”

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Image credits: (1) Toy Army Tank with Camouflage Paint Scheme Isolated on White. Photo by yusufsarlar, iStockphoto. (2) beer. Photo by Chepko, iStockphoto.

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31. Music: a proxy language for autistic children

By Adam Ockelford


I spend around 12 hours a week – every week – sharing thoughts, feelings, new ideas, reminiscences and even jokes with some very special children who have extraordinary musical talents, and many of whom are severely autistic. I’m Professor of Music at the University of Roehampton, and the children come to see me in a large practice room in Southlands College where there are two pianos, so we don’t have to scrap over personal space. My pupils usually indicate what piece they would like us to play together, and they tell me when they’ve had enough. Sometimes, they tease me by seeming to suggest one thing when they mean another. We share many jokes and the occasional sad moment too.

But the children rarely say a word. They communicate everything through their playing. For them, music is a proxy language.

On Sunday mornings, at 10.00 a.m., I steel myself for Romy’s arrival. I know that the next two hours will be an exacting test of my musical mettle. Yet Romy, aged 11, has severe learning difficulties, and she doesn’t speak at all. She is musical to the core, though: she lives and breathes music – it is the very essence of her being. With her passion comes a high degree of particularity: Romy knows precisely which piece she wants me to play, at what tempo and in which key. And woe betide me if I get it wrong.

When we started working together, four years ago, mistakes and misunderstandings occurred all too frequently, since (as it turned out), there were very few pieces that Romy would tolerate: the theme from Für Elise (never the middle section), for example, the Habanera from Carmen, and some snippets from ‘Buckaroo Holiday’ (the first movement of Aaron Copland’s Rodeo). Romy’s acute neophobia meant that even one note of a different piece would evoke shrieks of fear-cum-anger, and the session could easily grow into an emotional conflagration.

So gradually, gradually, over weeks, then months, and then years, I introduced new pieces – sometimes, quite literally, at the rate of one note per session. On occasion, if things were difficult, I would even take a step back before trying to move on again the next time. And, imperceptibly at first, Romy’s fears started to melt away. The theme from Brahms’s Haydn Variations became something of an obsession, followed by the slow movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata. Then it was Joplin’s The Entertainer, and Rocking All Over the World by Status Quo.

Over the four years, Romy’s jigsaw box of musical pieces – fragments ranging from just a few seconds to a minute or so in length – has filled up at an ever-increasing rate. Now it’s overflowing, and it’s difficult to keep up with Romy’s mercurial musical mind: mixing and matching ideas in our improvised sessions, and even changing melodies and harmonies so they mesh together, or to ensure that my contributions don’t!

As we play, new pictures in sound emerge and then retreat as a kaleidoscope of ideas whirls between us. Sometimes a single melody persists for 15 minutes, even half an hour. For Romy, no matter how often it is repeated, a fragment of music seems to stay fresh and vibrant. At other times, it sounds as though she is trying to play several pieces at the same time – she just can’t get them out quickly enough, and a veritable nest of earworms wriggle their way onto the piano keyboard. Vainly I attempt to herd them into a common direction of musical travel.

So here I am, sitting at the piano in Roehampton, on a Sunday morning in mid-November, waiting for Romy to join me (not to be there when she arrives is asking for trouble). I’m limbering up with a rather sedate rendition of the opening of Chopin’s Etude in C major, Op. 10, No. 1, when I hear her coming down the corridor, vocalising with increasing fervour. I feel the tension rising, and as her father pushes open the door, she breaks away from him, rushes over to the piano and, with a shriek and an extraordinarily agile sweep of her arm, elbows my right hand out of the way at the precise moment that I was going to hit the D an octave above middle C. She usurps this note to her own ends, ushering in her favourite Brahms-Haydn theme. Instantly, Romy smiles, relaxes and gives me the choice of moving out of the way or having my lap appropriated as an unwilling cushion on the piano stool. I choose the former, sliding to my left onto a chair that I’d placed earlier in readiness for the move that I knew I would have to make.

I join in the Brahms, and encourage her to use her left hand to add a bass line. She tolerates this up to the end of the first section of the theme, but in her mind she’s already moved on, and without a break in the sound, Romy steps onto the set of A Little Night Music, gently noodling around the introduction to Send in the Clowns. But it’s in the wrong key – G instead of E flat – which I know from experience means that she doesn’t really want us to go into the Sondheim classic, but instead wants me to play the first four bars (and only the first four bars) of Schumann’s Kleine Studie Op. 68, No. 14. Trying to perform the fifth bar would in any case be futile since Romy’s already started to play … now, is it I am Sailing or O Freedom. The opening ascent from D through E to G could signal either of those possibilities. Almost tentatively, Romy presses those three notes down and then looks at me and smiles, waiting, and knowing that whichever option I choose will be the wrong one. I just shake my head at her and plump for O Freedom, but sure enough Rod Stewart shoves the Spiritual out of the way before it has time to draw a second breath.

From there, Romy shifts up a gear to the Canon in D ­– or is it really Pachelbel’s masterpiece? With a deft flick of her little finger up to a high A, she seems to suggest that she wants Streets of London instead (which uses the same harmonies). I opt for Ralph McTell, but another flick, this time aimed partly at me as well as the keys, shows that Romy actually wants Beethoven’s Pathetique theme – but again, in the wrong key (D). Obediently I start to play, but Romy takes us almost immediately to A flat (the tonality that Beethoven originally intended). As soon as I’m there, though, Romy races back up the keyboard again, returning to Pachelbel’s domain. Before I’ve had time to catch up, though, she’s transformed the music once more; now we’re hearing the famous theme from Dvorak’s New World Symphony.

I pause to recover my thoughts, but Romy is impatiently waiting for me to begin the accompaniment. Two or three minutes into the session, and we’ve already touched on 12 pieces spanning 300 years of Western music and an emotional range to match.

Yet here is a girl who in everyday life is supposed to have no ‘theory of mind’ ­– the capacity to put yourself in other people’s shoes and think what they are thinking. Here is someone who is supposed to lack the ability to communicate. Here is someone who functions, apparently, at an 18-month level.

But I say here is a joyous musician who amazes all who hear her. Here is a girl in whom extreme ability and disability coexist in the most extraordinary way. Here is someone who can reach out through music and touch one’s emotions in a profound way.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Romy playing piano with musical savant Derek Paravicini and Adam Ockelford

I explore the science of how Romy and her peers are able to do what they do in my new book Applied Musicology, which uses a theory of how music makes sense to all of us to explore intentionality and influence in children who use little or no language. If music is important to us all, it is truly the lifeblood of many children with autism. Essential brain food.

Adam Ockelford is Professor of Music and Director of the Applied Music Research Centre at the University of Roehampton in London. He is the author of Applied Musicology: Using Zygonic Theory to Inform Music Education, Therapy, and Psychology Research (OUP, 2012).

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32. Monthly etymology gleanings for December 2012

By Anatoly Liberman


A Happy New Year to our readers and correspondents! Questions, comments, and friendly corrections have been a source of inspiration to this blog throughout 2012, as they have been since its inception. Quite a few posts appeared in response to the questions I received through OUP and privately (by email). As before, the most exciting themes have been smut and spelling. If I wanted to become truly popular, I should have stayed with sex, formerly unprintable words, and the tough-through-though gang. But being of a serious disposition, I resist the lures of popularity. It is enough for me to see that, when I open the page “Oxford Etymologist,” the top post invites the user to ponder the origin of fart. And indeed, several of my “friends and acquaintance” (see the previous gleanings) have told me that they enjoy my blog, but invariably added: “I have read your post on fart. Very funny.” I remember that after dozens of newspapers reprinted the fart essay, I promised a continuation on shit. Perhaps I will keep my promise in 2013. But other ever-green questions also warm the cockles of my heart, especially in winter. For instance, I never tire of answering why flammable means the same as inflammable. Why really? And now to business.

Folk etymology. “How much of the popular knowledge of language depends on folk etymology?” I think the question should be narrowed down to: “How often do popular ideas of language depend on folk etymology?” People are fond of offering seemingly obvious explanations of word origins. Sometimes their ideas change a well-established word. Shamefaced, to give just one example, developed from shame-fast (as though restrained by shame). Some mistakes are so pervasive that one day the wrong forms may share the fate of shame-fast. Such is, for example, protruberance, by association with protrude. Despite what the OED says, it seems more probable that miniscule developed from minuscule only because the names of mini-things begin with mini-. Incidentally, from a historical point of view, even miniature has nothing to do with the picture’s small size. Most people would probably say that massacre has the root mass- (“mass killing”), but the two words are not connected. Anyone can expand this list.

Sound symbolism. A correspondent has read my book on word origins and came across a section on words beginning with gr-, such as Grendel and grim. Since they often refer to terror and cruelty (at best they designate gruff and grouchy people), he wonders how the word grace belongs here. It does not. Sound symbolism is a real force in language. One can cite any number of words with initial gl- for things glistening and gleaming, with fl- when flying, flitting, and flowing are meant, as well as unpleasant sl-words like slimy and sleazy. But green, flannel, and slogan will show that at best we have a limited tendency rather than a rule. Besides, many sound symbolic associations are language-specific. So somebody who has a daughter called Grace need not worry.

Grendel attacking Three Graces.

Engl. galoot and Catalan golut.  More than four years ago, I wrote a triumphant post on the origin of Engl. galoot. The reason for triumph was that I was the first to discover the word’s derivation (a memorable event in the life of an etymologist). Just this month one of our correspondents discovered that post and asked about its possible connection with Catalan golut “glutton; wolverine.” This, I am sure, is a coincidence. In the Romance languages, we find words representing two shapes of the same root, namely gl- and gl- with a vowel between g and l. They inherited this situation from Latin: compare gluttire “to swallow” and gola “throat.” English borrowed from Old French and later from Latin several words representing both forms of the root, as seen in glut ~ glutton and gullet. As for the sense “wolverine” (the name of a proverbially voracious animal, Gulo luscus), it has also been recorded in English. By contrast, Engl. galoot has not been derived from the gl- root, with or without a vowel in the middle. It goes back to Dutch, while the Dutch took it over from Italian galeot(t)o “sailor” (which is akin to galley).

Judgement versus judgment. This is an old chestnut. Both spellings have been around for a long time. Acknowledgment and abridgment belong with judgment. Since the inner form of all those word is unambiguous, the variants without e cause no trouble. The widespread opinion that judgment is American, while judgement is British should be repeated with some caution, because the “American” spelling was at one time well-known in the UK. However, it is true that modern American editors and spellcheckers require the e-less variant. I would prefer (though my preference is of absolutely no importance in this case) judgement, that is, judge + ment. The deletion of e produces an extra rule, and we have enough of silly spelling rules already. Another confusing case with -dg- is the names Dodgson and Hodgson. Those bearers of the two names whom I knew pronounced them Dodson and Hodson respectively, but, strangely, many dictionaries give only the variant with -dge-. Is it known how Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, pronounced his name?

Zigzag and Egypt. The tobacco company called its products Zig-Zag after the “zigzag” alternating process it used, though it may have knowingly used the reference to the ancient town Zig-a-Zag (I have no idea). Anyway, the English word does not have its roots in the Egyptian place name.

Lark. I was delighted to discover that someone had followed my advice and listened to Glinka-Balakirev’s variations. It is true that la-la-la does not at all resemble the lark’s trill, and this argument has been used against those who suggested an onomatopoeic origin of the bird’s name. But, as long as the bird is small, la seems to be a universal syllable in human language representing chirping, warbling, twittering, trilling, and every other sound in the avian kingdom. It was also a pleasure to learn that specialists in Frisian occasionally read my blog. I know the many Frisian cognates of lark thanks to Århammar’s detailed article on this subject (see lark in my bibliography of English etymology).

Bumper. I was unable to find an image of the label used on the bottles of brazen-face beer. My question to someone who has seen the label: “Was there a picture of a saucy mug on it?” (The pun on mug is unintentional.) I am also grateful for the reference to the Gentleman’s Magazine. My database contains several hundred citations from that periodical, but not the one to which Stephen Goranson, a much better sleuth that I am, pointed. This publication was so useful for my etymological bibliography that I asked an extremely careful volunteer to look through the entire set of Lady’s Magazine and of about a dozen other magazines with the word lady in the title. They were a great disappointment: only fashion, cooking, knitting, and all kinds of household work. Women did write letters about words to Notes and Queries, obviously a much more prestigious outlet. However, we picked up a few crumbs even from those sources. The word bomber-nickel puzzled me. I immediately thought of pumpernickel but could not find any connection between the bread and the vessel discussed in the entry I cited. I still see no connection. As for pumpernickel, I am well aware of its origin and discussed it in detail in the entry pimp in my dictionary (pimp, pump, pomp-, pumper-, pamper, and so forth).

Again. It was instructive to see the statistics about the use of the pronunciation again versus agen and to read the ditty in which again has a diphthong multiple times. If I remember correctly, Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, and others rhymed again only with words like slain, though one never knows to what extent they exploited the so-called rhyme to the eye. Most probably, they did pronounce a diphthong in again.

Scots versus English, as seen in 1760 (continued from the previous gleanings).

  • Sc. fresh weather ~ Engl. open weather
  • Sc. tender ~ Engl. fickly
  • Sc. in the long run ~ Engl. at long run
  • Sc. with child to a man ~ Engl. with child by a man (To be continued.)

Happy holidays! We’ll meet again in 2013.

Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins…And How We Know Them as well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears here, each Wednesday. Send your etymology question to him care of blog@oup.com; he’ll do his best to avoid responding with “origin unknown.”

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Image credit: (1) Lucas Cranach the Elder’s The Three Graces, 1531. The Louvre via Wikimedia Commons. (2) An illustration of the ogre Grendel from Beowulf by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall in J. R. Skelton’s Stories of Beowulf (1908) via Wikimedia Commons.

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33. The Naming of Hobbits

By Michael Adams


It will be interesting to see how much of J.R.R. Tolkien’s several invented languages will appear in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. In a letter to his American publisher, dated 30 June 1955, Tolkien suspected there were limits to how much invented language readers would ‘stomach’ — to use his term. There are certainly limits to how much can be included in a film. American audiences, anyway, are subtitle averse.

Of Tolkien’s invented languages, Elvish receives most attention, not unreasonably, since it is illustrated most often in Tolkien’s works and most fully articulated in his manuscripts. Other languages are essential to The Lord of the Rings, however. When Gandalf reads out the delicately curved Elvish script on the One Ring in the rough-hewn Black Tongue of Mordor it represents so incongruously, Tolkien proves that some language — just the sound of it — can petrify us as surely as any Ringwraith. Tolkien’s languages aren’t suitable only for poetry or gnomic verses on rings. They also include the element of language most familiar to speakers speaking to one another every day, namely, names.

Tolkien as Philologist

When Tolkien came up with what sounded to him like a name, he would play with it a bit, experiment with its sound structure, and eventually a system of linguistically related names would emerge. Thus a family was invented, a family with relationships to other families in a mythical place, ready to take part in stories. As Tolkien explained in the letter already mentioned, “The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows.” And in his lecture on creating languages, ‘A Secret Vice’ (1931), he wrote “the making of language and mythology are related functions” and an invented language, at least one developed at length, will inevitably “breed a mythology.”

A slip written by J.R.R. Tolkien on the etymology of “walrus” during his years working for the Oxford English Dictionary. Image courtesy the Oxford University Press Archives.

Tolkien was always a philologist, whether in scholarship or fiction. He treated his fictional languages as though they were real, as though he were discovering rather than inventing them. In his scholarship, reconstruction of the sound system or grammar of languages like Old English and Old Norse was routine. For instance, he wrote ‘Appendix I: The Name “Nodens”’, in the Report on the Excavation of the Prehistoric, Roman, and Post-Roman Sites in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, published by the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London (1932). So, it isn’t in every library, but it has been helpfully reprinted in Volume 4 of the annual journal Tolkien Studies (2007). In it, you will find passages like this one: “Although it is perhaps vain to try and disentangle from the things told of Nuada any of the features of Nodens of the Silures in Gloucestershire, it is at least highly probably that the two were originally the same. This is borne out by the isolation of the name in Keltic [sic] material, the importance of Nuada (and of Nodens), and not least by the exact phonological equation of Nōdont- with later Nuadat.” This reads very much like a passage from one or another appendix to The Lord of the Rings, and if you read it without knowing it deals with a matter of linguistic and historical fact, you might well think it was fiction.

How to Name a Baggins

Many names in Tolkien’s fiction are not invented, or, at least, not invented by him. Nearly all of the names of dwarfs in The Hobbit can be found in Dvergatal or ‘Tally of the Dwarfs’ in the Old Norse poetic Edda, as can the Old Norse precursors of Gandalf and Thorin’s nickname, Oakenshield. Hobbit names are an interesting blend of borrowed and invented items. For instance, a few males of the Baggins family of Hobbits sometimes bear real — though indisputably outmoded — personal names, such as Drogo (name popular among the French nobility c1000 CE, but since, not so much), Dudo (name of a tenth-century Norman historian and ecclesiast), and Otho (name of a Roman emperor). Other masculine names are converted from surnames or words found in natural languages, such as Balbo, Bingo, Fosco, Largo, Longo, Minto, Polo, and Ponto. But still others appear to be well and truly invented by Tolkien, such as Bilbo, Bungo, and Frodo. Perhaps they were invented to sound and look like the borrowed and converted names, but more likely those were found to fit patterns implied by the invented ones.

The 1937 Allen & Unwin hardback edition cover designed by Tolkien.

Many female Bagginses were given English flower names, such as Daisy, Lily, Myrtle, Pansy, Peony, and Poppy. Others had personal names common in English and other natural languages, for instance, Angelica, Dora, Linda, and Rosa. And a few bore personal names converted from surnames, like Belba, or historical but unfamiliar personal names, like Prisca (name of a Roman empress). The repurposing of such names and words as names of Hobbits may be inventive yet not count as an invention. Yet the invention is not of the names themselves — not most of them, anyway — but of linguistic relations among the names and social relations, embedded in the linguistics, among those to whom they belong.

The names have no actual relation to one another. They are borrowed from Italian and Scots and Norman French, or in those few cases made up. Tolkien brought them into relation by means of their sound shapes: the masculine names, whatever the source, and for whatever genuine etymological reason, are all two syllables and end in -o, which is proposed as a mark of the masculine name in the naming practices of Bagginses. For female Bagginses, the flower names are a fashion that obscures the way gender is marked in Baggins names: Belba, Dora, Linda, Prisca, and Rosa are marked with the contrasting feminine -a. Among all of the flower names, the -a names suggest a diminishing but tenacious historical tendency. But all language changes, as do naming practices, and any reconstruction of personal names in a historical language must account for remnant forms, anomalies, and generational trends.

There and Back Again

Other Hobbit clans have different types of names from those of the Bagginses. Brandybuck names have a distinctly Celtic shape, given the profuse -doc suffix: Gormadoc, Marmadoc, Saradoc, and, of course, Meriadoc. The Tooks prefer names from medieval romance and beast epic: Adelard, Ferumbras, Flambard, Fortinbras (rather than Armstrong, which has a quite different shape), Isengrim, and Sigismund, for instance. The Longfathers have names constructed from Anglo-Saxon elements: Hamfast and Samwise, in which -wise may mean, as it sometimes does in Anglo-Saxon, ‘sprout, stalk’. Over the generations, clan marries into clan, and the names mingle and develop new patterns: the names are the genealogical architecture of a culture.

Through alliances and friendships, Hobbit culture reticulates into the wider web of cultural relationships across Middle Earth and deep into the mythology of which the story of Middle Earth is only a part. The linguistic bases for cultural relationship and contrast are woven tightly and everywhere into the fabric of Tolkien’s fiction. In the middle of the mythological pattern, Tolkien has pricked in the -o and the -a, suffixes that say something about who the Bagginses are, or who they think they are, something that allows one Baggins to find the Ring and another to destroy it, just in time.

Michael Adams teaches English language and literature at Indiana University. In addition to editing and contributing to numerous linguistic journals, he is the author of Slang: The People’s Poetry and Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon, and he is the editor of From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages.

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34. Drinking vessels: ‘bumper’

By Anatoly Liberman


Some time ago, I devoted three posts to alcoholic beverages: ale, beer, and mead. It has occurred to me that, since I have served drinks, I should also take care of wine glasses. Bumper is an ideal choice for the beginning of this series because of its reference to a large glass full to overflowing. It is a late word, as words go: no citation in the OED predates 1677. If I am not mistaken, the first lexicographer to include it in his dictionary was Samuel Johnson (1755). For a long time bumper may have been little or not at all known in polite society. Even Nathan Bailey (1721 and 1730) missed it. But once it surfaced in dictionaries, guesswork about its origin began.

Johnson derived bumper from bum “being prominent.” Etymology was not his forte (to put it mildly), and the source of the consonant p hardly bothered him. Of the revisions of Johnson’s work especially serious was the one by the Reverend H. J. Todd (1827). Although later scholars derided Todd’s etymologies, his explanations were not always useless, despite the fact that he had no notion of the progress historical linguistics had made by 1827. Be that as it may, to discover the origin of seventeenth-century English slang (and I assume bumper was slang), one can dispense with the facts of Indo-European and even of Old English. Todd called Johnson’s conjecture far-fetched, offered none of his own, and only said that others had traced bumper to bumbard ~ bombard. It is most irritating that he did not indicate who the “others” were. I have been unable to find his authority and will be very pleased if someone enlightens me on this point.

Bombard, a word known to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, meant “cannon” and (on account of its size or form?) “leather jug or bottle for liquor.” For a long time Skeat had sufficient trust in this etymology. Bumper, he said, appeared in English just as the older bombard, a drinking vessel, disappeared and was “a corruption of it.” This hypothesis fails to convince. A jug or a bottle for liquor is not a glass, and it remains unclear why a word, evidently in common use, should have been “corrupted.” Nevertheless, the bombard-bumper etymology appeared in numerous good dictionaries, though, surprisingly, Skeat’s early competitors Eduard Mueller and Hensleigh Wedgwood passed by the word.

Then there were attempts to present bumper as a disguised compound. Such an idea should not be dismissed out of hand. For example, bridal, now understood as an adjective, derives from Old Engl. bryd “bride” and ealu “ale” and meant “ale drinking at a wedding feast.” The indefatigable Charles Mackay, who traced hundreds of English words to Irish Gaelic, explained bumper as the sum of bun “bottom” and barr “top”: bum-barr or bun-parr “full from the bottom to the top.” A somewhat more reasonable theory looked upon bumper as a borrowing from French and decomposed it into bon “good” and père or Père “father.” A typical statement ran as follows: “When the English were good Catholics, they usually drank the Pope’s health in a full glass after dinner—Au bon Père—whence your bumper.” Perhaps this derivation was first offered in Joseph Spence’s posthumous (1820) Anecdotes, Observations, and Characters, of Books and Men…, an amusing and entertaining book. Spence had no idea when bumper surfaced in English and did not doubt that at the time of the word’s appearance the English were still good Catholics. Nor did he provide any evidence that the rite he mentioned ever existed. (Those with a taste for such reading will also enjoy Samuel Pegge’s Anecdotes of the English Language…, 1844.)

This is a country bumpkin. Bumpkin and bumper are not related.


Soon after the publication of Spence’s Anecdotes Alexander Henderson brought out a volume titled The History of Ancient and Modern Wines (1824), a learned and eminently readable piece of scholarship. Like many of his contemporaries, he occasionally dabbled in etymology. According to him, bumper was “a slight corruption of the old French phrase bon per, signifying a boon companion.” Granted, French pair “one’s equal, peer”  had the form per in Old French, but where did Henderson find the collocation bon per “boon companion”? This is the problem with both Mackay and the adherents of the French theory. The etymons they posed do not and did not exist in the alleged lending languages, so that, following their logic, the phrases had to be coined in English from two foreign elements, change their shape, merge, and become opaque simplexes. This chain of events defies belief.

Not unexpectedly, some people thought they had found a tie between bumper and bump up, a rather rare collocation meaning “swell up.” The glass was said to be filled so as to cause the liquid to “bump up” slightly above the rim. Several variations on the bump up theme exist. At this point I need a short digression. Some etymological dictionaries have been written by monomaniacs, as Ernest Weekley called them. They derived all the words of English from several ancient roots or from a few primordial cries, or from one language (Irish Gaelic, Arabic, Hebrew, etc.). Criticizing their labors is a thankless task. By contrast, the authors of some dictionaries were so misguided, even if learned, that one wonders how they managed to produce their monstrosities. One such monster is Words: Their History and Derivation, Alphabetically Arranged by Dr. F. Ebener and E.M. Greenway, Jr. (Baltimore and London, 1871). Greenway was, apparently, the translator of this hapless work from German, while Ebener may have been a medical doctor. Among the physicians of the past one can find several crazy etymologists. The dictionary caused such an outcry that its publication was discontinued after the letter B. But my experience has taught me to consult all sources, because a heap of muck sometimes contains a grain of precious metal. (Consider also the dust heaps immortalized in Our Mutual Friend.) This is what I found in the short entry Bumper: “After Grimm [sic], a full glass which in toasting is knocked on the table or against another bumper. He compares [sic] with bomber-nickel.” (It is so easy to translate this text back into German!)

What is a bomber-nickel? And where did Grimm (I assume, Jacob Grimm) say it? His multivolume Deutsche Grammatik has a word index, compiled by Karl Gustav Andresen and published in 1865, but bumper is not in it. Once again I am turning to the assistance of our correspondents. Perhaps they will be able to find the relevant place in Jacob Grimm’s other books or Kleinere Schriften. I cannot imagine that Ebener made up the reference. The OED suggested cautiously that bumper is connected with bumping and its synonym thumping “very large.” Quite possibly, that’s all there is to it. Yet a link seems to be missing, namely some reference to drinking.

The short-lived adjective bumpsy (bumpsie) “drunk,” with an obscure suffix seemingly borrowed from tipsy, has often been cited by those who looked for the origin of bumper. I wonder whether bump up at one time also meant “guzzle” or that the noun bumper “drunkard” existed in colloquial use. Bumper “full glass” may, as suggested above, have been avoided by Samuel Johnson’s closest predecessors because it was current only as occasional slang, even though Johnson did not call the word low (an epithet of which he was fond). Bumper “full glass,” coexisting with bumper “drunkard,” is possible. For instance, a reader is someone who reads and a book for reading. Also, bump “drink heavily,” a homonym of bump “strike” and bump “bulge out, protrude,” may have had some currency as an expressive doublet of the little-known verb bum “consume alcohol.” Verbs ending in -mp (jump, thump, slump, dump, and of course bump) are invariably expressive. I wish it were possible to show that slum, a word of undiscovered origin, is in some way connected with slump!

The etymology of bumper is simple (not a “corruption” or a disguised compound), but, unfortunately, some details have been lost along the way. Let us not des-pair. Good wine needs no bush, so au bon père!

Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins…And How We Know Themas well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears here, each Wednesday. Send your etymology question to him care of blog@oup.com; he’ll do his best to avoid responding with “origin unknown.”

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Image credit: A portrait of a man aiming a shotgun. Critical focus on tip of gun. Isolated on white. Photo by steele2123, iStockphoto.

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35. A dazzle of books..?

A plague of locusts…
A pride of lions…
A flock of sheep…

But what do you call a collection of books about collective nouns?

A brilliance?
A giggle?
A talent?

When it comes to the set published by PatrickGeorge, all of the above could apply.

A filth of starlings, A drove of bullocks, A crackle of crickets and A shiver of sharks each take a themed set of collective nouns, illustrate them in witty and bold ways, a provide a paragraph of information about each animal in question. Part non-fiction book, part English-language/literacy book, part science book, part word-play book, each of these volumes is inventive and engaging.

Whether you are reading about a run of salmon, where an optical illusion allows the illustration to look both like a salmon’s head and a running shoe, or a culture of bacteria, where the contents of a petri dish looks like Mona Lisa, each page plays with our understanding of language and the way we look at objects.

A quiver of cobras

The modern, bright illustrations are crisp, cool and clever. The text is informative and playful. Perfect for any kid who enjoys puns or animals, these bold books are fun for all.

With these books in mind the girls and I made our own volume of collective nouns:



We all enjoyed playing with language and sitting down simply drawing together.

Now, I’m delighted to say I have one set of all 4 books on collective nouns to give away to a lucky reader.

  • The giveaway is open to anyone WORLDWIDE.
  • To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post. I’d love it if you could suggest a new collective noun for books about collective nouns – but any comment is fine.
  • For extra entries you can:
      (1) Tweet about this giveaway, perhaps using this text: Win a set of really clever & rather stylish books by @PatrickGeorge2 over at @playbythebook’s blog http://www.playingbythebook.net/?p=23269 #giveaway
      (2) Share this giveaway on your Facebook page or blog

    You must leave a separate comment for each entry for them to count.

  • The winner will be chosen at random using random.org.
  • The giveaway is open for one week, and closes on Wendesday 12th December 6am UK time. I will post the winner on this post, and also contact them via email. If I do not hear back from the winner within one week of emailing them, I will re-draw a winner.

  • Good luck!

    Share

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    36. Seven Inspirational Speeches and Why They Matter

    I was watching President Barack Obama’s re-election speech last week and it got me President Barack Obamathinking about speeches—how historically great speeches really matter. Speeches are like placeholders to mark significant milestones in history. I think the main idea that moved me about the president’s speech was that the message of unity—even after the most grueling, partisan, expensive election campaign ever—is reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. The sentiments Dr. King expressed fifty years ago are still being realized today. A truly united United States of America is very much a work in progress.

    Here are some favorite speeches of mine:

    Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?, 1851Sojourner Truth
    “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman?” Read more


    Abraham Lincoln: Gettysburg Address, 1863President Abraham Lincoln

    “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.” Read more

    Winston Churchill: Sir Winston S. Churchill
    Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat, 1940
    “You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.” Read more


    Mahatma Gandhi: Quit India, 1942Mahatma Gandhi
    “Speaking for myself, I can say that I have never felt any hatred. As a matter of fact, I feel myself to be a greater friend of the British now than ever before. One reason is that they are today in distress. My very friendship, therefore, demands that I should try to save them from their mistakes. As I view the situation, they are on the brink of an abyss. It, therefore, becomes my duty to warn them of their danger even though it may, for the time being, anger them to the point of cutting off the friendly hand that is stretched out to help them.” Read more

    John F. Kennedy, Inauguration address, 1961John F. Kennedy
    “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” Read more

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: I Have a Dream, 1963Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Read more

    Do you have a favorite speech that is near and dear to your heart? Please share it below.


    Filed under: Dear Readers Tagged: diversity, History, Language, Power of Words

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    37. What does close reading look like in Second Grade?

    Jaclyn DeForgeJaclyn DeForge, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching first and second grade in the South Bronx, and went on to become a literacy coach and earn her Masters of Science in Teaching. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.

    Before I start discussing close reading in the second grade classroom, I want to take a minute to acknowledge educators and students across the Northeast, who over the past two weeks have dealt with not just superstorm Sandy, but a Nor’easter!  Some schools sustained significant flooding and damage, or have classrooms without heat or power.  And in some areas, even though the children are back in the classrooms, after a long day teachers and students head home to clean and repair damage sustained to their own homes and communities.  And last week, they did that in the wind and snow.  If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is.  My thoughts are with everyone who continues to be affected by this awful streak of weather.

    Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.  Over the next several weeks, I’ll be modeling how to do a close reading at several different grade levels.  Last week, I wrote about close reading in first grade. Next up: Close Reading in Second Grade using the L level text  Under the Lemon Moon by  Edith Hope Fine and illustrated by Rene King Moreno.

    In terms of student questioning, start general and move up Bloom’s Taxonomy by gradually increasing the rigor.  For example, say you want to focus your close reading of Under the Lemon Moon on author’s craft, specifically focusing on language and word choice in just the first six pages of the story  (2nd grade reading standard for literature, Craft and Structure, strand 4,  AND 2nd grade language standards, Vocabulary Acquisition and Use, strands 4-6 from the Common Core Standards).  Here are the questions I would ask:

    Question 1 (Knowledge):  Can you list several examples of onomatopoeia in the story so far?  Why do authors use onomatopoeia?

    Under The Lemon MoonQuestion 2 (Comprehension & Analysis):  How would you rephrase the meaning of “mi arbolito”? What clues does the author give you as to the meaning of that phrase?  What language is that phrase?  How do you know?  What clues does the author give you? Why do you think the author chose to include Spanish words and phrases in this story?

    Question 3 (Comprehension):  What details does Edith Hope Fine include on the first page to set the scene for the story?  Why does she choose to include these details?

    Question 4 (Application):  Edith Hope Fine has chosen strong, specific verbs so far.  For example, on page 5, she uses the strong, specific verb “crooned” instead of the everyday verb “sang.”  What are some other examples of strong, specific verbs that Edith Hope Fine used to describe characters’ actions?

    Question 5 (Analysis):  In the beginning of the story, instead of telling us Rosalinda scared the Night Man away, Edith Hope Fine described what Rosalinda and Blanca did that caused the Night Man to cry out and run away.  Can you identify other parts in the story where the author used that same “show not tell” strategy?

    Question 6 (Synthesis):  What words or images did the author use to build suspense?  What other words or details would you add to the story to further build suspense?

    Question 7 (Evaluation):  Edith Hope Fine chooses to name the stranger in the garden “Night Man.”  Why do you think she made the choice to give him a name? Do you agree with her choice of name?  What would you have called the stranger in the garden if you were writing the story?Under the Lemon Moon

    Additional questions to ask:

    • Make a list of words that were unfamiliar to you before you read this story.  How did you figure out what these words meant?
    • Choose the most important sentence from the story so far.  Why did you choose this sentence?  Why do you feel it is so important?
    • Choose a word that you learned or particularly liked from the beginning of the story.  Write the meaning of the word in your own words, then draw a picture that shows what the word means.
    • Choose a word that best represents the story so far.  Is there a time in your life when this word applied to or was important to you? Is there a time when this word was important in another text you read?
    • List some descriptive words Edith Hope Fine uses to set the scene or to show characters thoughts, actions and feelings.
    • What techniques did the author use to hook you into the story?  To make the story suspenseful?  To make the writing lively?
    • So far, what word best describes Rosalinda? Cite evidence from the text to support your answer.
    • What words or phrases from the story helped you visualize the story?

    What are your favorite questions to ask when doing a close reading focused on author’s craft, language and word choice?

    Further reading:

    What does close reading look like in First Grade?

    What does close reading look like in Kindergarten?

    What is close reading?


    Filed under: Curriculum Corner, Resources Tagged: close reading, close reading in second grade, common core standards, Educators, guided reading, Language, literacy, reading comprehension, slow reading

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    38. Best big word in a picture book

    That honor, at least this week, will have to go to "malfeasance", from Ian Falconer's Olivia and the Fairy Princesses. As in: "I [Olivia] could be a reporter and expose corporate malfeasance." I have to confess--I can't even pronounce 'malfeasance'. Am I the only one who thinks that Olivia will grow up to be Harriet the Spy?

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    39. False Teeth and the Foreign Office

    Terry Eagleton, from a review of the 50th anniversary edition of Erich Auerbach's Mimesis:

    To describe something as realist is to acknowledge that it is not the real thing. We call false teeth realistic, but not the Foreign Office. If a representation were to be wholly at one with what it depicts, it would cease to be a representation. A poet who managed to make his or her words ‘become’ the fruit they describe would be a greengrocer. No representation, one might say, without separation. Words are certainly as real as pineapples, but this is precisely the reason they cannot be pineapples. The most they can do is create what Henry James called the ‘air of reality’ of pineapples. In this sense, all realist art is a kind of con trick – a fact that is most obvious when the artist includes details that are redundant to the narrative (the precise tint and curve of a moustache, let us say) simply to signal: ‘This is realism.’ In such art, no waistcoat is colourless, no way of walking is without its idiosyncrasy, no visage without its memorable features. Realism is calculated contingency.
    The idea itself is as old as the hills (how old are the hills? and which hills, exactly?), but Eagleton expresses it concisely, and his examples made me chuckle.

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    40. Common Core ELA Activities:

    Month by Month CCSS Lesson Plans You Can Use Immediately in Your Classroom or School



    School years includes many odd sorts of days.

    • You unexpectedly finish a unit on Thursday and don’t want to start a new one until Monday.
    • Holidays or special events make regular lessons difficult.
    • You’re sick and need a substitute teacher for a day.

    This group of seasonal ELA and writing lessons is designed to fill in those odd days with fun, easy, lessons which require a minimum of preparation and yet still meet the needs of the Common Core State Standards. We suggest activities for each month, but most activities are flexible enough for any season.

    Meets Common Core Curriculum Needs

    Each lesson is correlated to appropriate Common Core curriculum maps.

    The Common Core State Standards (corestandards.com) include ten anchor standards each for writing and reading and six anchor standards for language. Each ELA activity in this book will list the anchor standards addressed, thus making them flexible enough to fit any grade level.

    Each activity is meant to be:

    • Flexible
    • Fast and easy preparation
    • Fun for students
    • Aligned to the CCSS
    • Correlated to CCSS curriculum maps

    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    • August 26 National Dog Day (argument)
    • September 3 Skyscraper Day (informative/expository)
    • October 2 – Write a Comic Strip (comic strip/narrative)
    • November 21 – World Hello Day (letter writing/optional argument)
    • December – Rudolph’s Top 5 Writing Tips (narrative)
    • January- Frosty the Snowman (narrative)
    • February- Evaluate a Website (argument)
    • March – Gingerbread Man (folk tale/narrative)
    • April 5 – National Read a Road Map Day (Reading/Creating maps as informational text)
    • May 20 – Endangered Species Day (Informative/expository)

    Order or Learn More

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    41. New Work! May 2012 High Five: “Love From Lisa”

    Here’s another fun spread I created is in the May 2012 issue of Highlights’ High Five magazine (story by Marianne Mitchell)! So many other fine authors and illustrators contributed their work to this issue, too. Thanks, Highlights!

    (c) Highlights For Children

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    42. Thanks for the Scum of the Earth

    If you find that you need to ‘butter someone up’, or wonder if the elderly man is ‘as old as the hills’, at ‘death’s door’, or about to ‘bite the dust’, you are thinking in biblical terms. Surprised? I was.

    The Bible is a masterpiece of authoring and editing. Culturally so ingrained, often we don’t realize we are referring to it. Consider some of the phrases the Bible introduced into our lexicon:

    • Turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6
    • Apple of my eye (Deuteronomy 32:10
    • The root of the matter (Job 19:28
    • The skin of my teeth (Job 19:20
    • Fell flat on his face (Numbers 22:31
    • Pour out your heart (Psalms 62:8
    • Wits’ end (Psalm 107:27)
    • From time to time (Ezekiel 4:10
    • Blind leading the blind (Matthew 15:14
    • Scum of the earth (1 Corinthians 4:12-14)

    National Geographic has just highlighted these and other fascinating insights in its December 2011 issue.

    With re-readable plots and subplots, a balance of dialogue and description, and a thread that pulls the story from beginning to end, the original Bible text was, in some cases, inscribed on papyrus.  Notwithstanding those tedious chapters on lineage, and even with divine inspiration, how do you pull that off in a draft or two? 

    In addition to the Greek and Hebrew-speaking authors, Latin and English translators (e.g., default editors) deserve some credit. Under King James I in England, the well-known English translation was first produced more than 400 years ago. And today, over 100 million Bibles are sold or given away each year. 

    Since to everything there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3:1), Thanksgiving seems an appropriate time to stand in awe (Psalms 4:4) of the writers and editors of the Bible.Happy Thanksgiving!

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    43. Coffee or tea?

    By Anatoly Liberman


    It’s tea now.  Once again I have little to add to what anyone can find in the OED and other easily available sources, though it will be a pleasure to continue singing praises to Hobson Jobson, and there is a redeeming quality to this post: at the end I’ll say something about tea caddy.  But first here are three quotations.  “That excellent and by all physicians approved China drink called by the Chineans Tcha, and by other nations tay, alias tee, is sold at the Sultana Head Coffee House, London.” (Mercurius Politicus, Sept. 30, 1658; The Century Dictionary).  “I remember well how in 1681 I for the first time in my life drank thee at the house of an Indian chaplain, and how I could not understand how sensible men could think it a treat to drink what tasted no better than hay-water” (1726), and finally, “There is among our people, and particularly among the womankind a great abuse of Thee, not only that too much is drunk…but this is also an evil custom to drink it with a full stomach; it is better and more wholesome to make use of it when the process of digestion is pretty well finished…. It is also a great folly to use sugar candy with Thee” (1672; the last two quotations are from Hobson Jobson).  In 1545 Chiai was said “to remove fever, headache, stomach-ache, pain in the side or joints,” and many other ailments, including gout.  I remember reading similar nineteenth-century ads, except that they recommended cigars for alleviating pain and clearing the lungs.

    It will be seen that the main question about tea is the same as about coffee, namely: How did the form tea conquer its numerous rivals?  And the rivals were indeed many, though they can be divided into two groups: those beginning with ch- and sounding cha, chai, and the like, and those beginning with t- and spelled tee, tea, thee, etc.  Both variants are still known in the European languages: for example, English has tea (like Malay te), while Russian has chai (like Chinese Mandarin chha, according to one system of transliteration), homophonous with the first syllable of the word China.  In this case, the Malay may have been an intermediary between China and the rest of the world, but the word’s source is Chinese, for, as Hobson Jobson explains, “te [is] the utterance attached to the character in the Fuh-kien dialect.”  Knowing nothing about Chinese, I can only repeat what specialists say, and they seem to be unanimous in explaining the origin of the two variants.

    The numerous forms of coffee (see them in the post for November 23) show that there was no progression in the development of the English name of this beverage.  We only witnessed different episodes in the history of its adaptation—a usual process in the fortunes of exotic articles of trade, plant and animal names, and so forth.  The same holds for tea.  Different forms coexisted, were affected by the pronunciation and spelling of the word in other languages (in English, Dutch and French influence has to be reckoned with), and at long last one such form became standard.  The state of “peaceful coexistence” is testified to by the first of the three quotations given at the beginning of this post and by an almost identical ad in The Gazette, which, also in 1658, advertised a China drink, “called by the Chinese Toha, by other nations Tay, alias Tee.”  Apparently, the norm had not yet solidified.  In 1711 Alexander Pope rhymed tea with obey.  In 1720 the rhyme tea / pay occurred.  In 1770 Samuel Johnson extemporized the verses in which tea was coupled in rhyme with me

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    44. Answers On What Is Important In Self-Editing A Novel.

    First and foremost, publishers will look for the mighty sense of your written story. Answers from Elena Ornig. “… I want a book so filled with story and character that I read page after page without thinking of food and drink, because a writer has possessed me, crazed me with an unappeasable thirst to know what happens next.” – Pat Conroy. A well written novel flows as a melody and the only way to comprehend and to feel the rhythm of a well written narrative is to read as many great novels as possible and analyse why they are great. Analyse by reflecting back on your own feelings: which characters did you like and why, which descriptions of the scenes were the best and why, how the developing plot of the novel kept you wondering to the end; or simply, what was it in general, and also specifically, that was so likable about ... Read the rest of this post

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    45. Rotten Row

    By Anatoly Liberman


    Some time ago, a colleague asked me what materials I have on the place name Rotten Row; she was going to write an article on this subject.  But her plans changed, and the article did not appear.  My folders contain a sizable batch of letters to Notes and Queries and essays from other popular sources dealing with Rotten Row.  I am not a specialist in onomastics, and, if I am not mistaken, the question about the etymology of Rotten Row has never been answered to everybody’s satisfaction.  Still a survey, however incomplete, may be of some interest to our readers, and perhaps somebody has new ideas on the derivation of this place name and will share them with us.

    In a way, the etymological chase being offered below looks like an exercise in futility, for Rotten Row perhaps means what it says, that is, “rotten row,” but there is no certainty; besides, most etymological investigations look like rivers that fail to reach the sea.  As noted, I am mainly indebted for my information to Notes and Queries, this “unique meeting place of British ignorance and scholarship,” as John A. Walz, a Harvard professor of German, called it in 1913, Chambers’s Magazine, and dictionaries.  The main difficulty in a search for the origin of Rotten Row is that streets bearing this name are numerous in the north of England and in Scotland.  Rotten Row in Hyde Park goes back to the end of the eighteenth century, while the place name, distinct from the street name, occurs as early as 1561, and the variants of Rotten Row in Glasgow were known a hundred years earlier; thus, the fashionable bridle path in the capital could not be the model other towns emulated.  The borrowing went in the opposite direction.

    Here are some of the derivations of Rotten Row I happened to come across. 1. From Latin Ratumena Porta, allegedly called this in memory of some Ratumena, a charioteer who died at that gate in Ancient Rome.  The accident was sad, but, as far as we are concerned, can be dismissed without much regret.  2. From Latin rota “wheel” (compare Engl. rotate) and “chariot.”  This guess has no advantage over the previous one.  Latin place names are numerous in Britain, but they are old, while no record of Rotten Row has been traced to the Anglo-Saxon times.  In Medieval Latin, rota also meant “road,” but why should an undistinguished road have been given a bookish foreign name?  3. From the woolen stuff called rateen.  The etymon of the English word is French, and in English rateen turned up too late to be of use in the present context, but a Rateenrow seems to have been mentioned in 1437 in Bury St. Edmund’s, which was the great cloth mart of the northeastern parts of the kingdom.  4. From the Old Germanic word rot “a file of soldiers” (compare German Rotte; many meanings, including “pack; herd,” otherwise, a common military term).  Although Engl. rat “a file of soldiers” occurred regularly in the seventeenth century, it hardly has anything to do with Rotten Row.  A similar derivation connects Rotten Row with the verb rottaran “to muster.”  I am not sure in which language this verb has been attested, but the famous William Camden, the author of this etymology, could not have invented it.

    5. A folk etymological “corruption” of French Route du Rois “King’s Way” (an explanation one can read in numerous editions of Baedeker’s guide to London); a similar Irish Gaelic etymon, with the transliteration Rathad’n Righ, has also been proposed.  The streets called Rotten Row were, most certainly, not meant for royalty, while London’s Rotten Row is relatively recent (see above).  6. From Rother Row, rother being an old word for “cattle

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    46. Masculine/Feminine Rhyme: Who Knew?

    Just when you thought it was safe to break out your rhyming dictionary (or start running all your rhyming endings alphabetically through your head), someone tells you there's gender to contend with in the rhymes you write. What's up with that? After all, the last time you paid any attention to linguistic gender was Spanish class in the ninth grade---or was it when you ordered that beer during Spring Break in Puerto Vallarta?

    No matter. The last place you thought gender would be an issue had to be rhyme, right? Well, fear not. It's not quite as problematic as you may anticipate. In fact, except that someone back in the day must have thought structural endings and sounds ought to be classified according to gender, it's unlikely that anyone would even notice. But just out of curiosity, it might be fun to try and sleuth out who among the ancients decided gender was important---and why.

    So, where did the whole gender in rhyme thing originate? Did the early Chinese rhymers grapple with gender in their day? Although some of the oldest surviving Chinese poetry contains lyric aspects, because the written language is character based, any gender association to poetic form may be difficult to tease out. Left with that uncertainty, is the male-female poetic structure primarily western in origin? Could it simply be a non-functioning, vestigial "leftover" from Old Latin which etched its subtle tracks on the English language as romantic entanglements ebbed and flowed across Europe?

    According to one source in the English Department at Carson-Newman College, (http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/lit_terms_R.html) the word "rhyme" itself originates "from Old French, rime meaning 'series,' in turn adopted from Latin 'rithmus' and Greek 'rhythmos'." Given some of the other gender assignments in Greek and Latin, might we ascribe gender features to the rhyming verses penned by the early Greeks and Romans?

    No doubt, the definition of gender in rhyme could probably be argued until the cows come home, with a break taken only for milking before the debate starts again. As is true with virtually any sorting out of why words in any language might be classified as masculine versus feminine, rhymes are no different. One thing seems clear: at least in English, gender in rhyme seems to have little or nothing to do with the gender rules found in some romance languages.

    That is, whether a line of verse in English ends in an "a" or "o" or other gender laden vowel or consonant, doesn't really matter as much as it does in the Spanish language. And speaking of word endings, despite its compromise value in the Italian language, the use of a neutral vowel (such as the letter "i") at the end of the plural form of both masculine and feminine words is not a gender-driven issue in English rhyme. But you have to admire the logical recognition of not being able to sort out gender in groups.

    In the French language, the definition suggests line ending words which end in "e" are feminine and those that don't are masculine. Some sources also refer to "e" endings and unaccented ending syllables as being weak. Although I was a French major in college, I'll leave the "why" of those "differences" to others who know far more about the origins of the French language and who don't mind getting their shins kicked.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, although the reasoning might be debatable, the rules regarding gender in English rhyme are remarkably clear. According to the Collaborative International Dictionary of English, a female rhyme has a rhyming set in which the rhyming lines end in double-syllable words (ego, amigo). A male rhyme, on the other hand, is one where only the last syllable in the line endings agree (stand, demand). No doubt you have noticed the difference in where the stress is placed---keep reading.

    The definitions are extended slightly in Brande and Cox (A Dictionary

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    47. Denim venom: future products in the style of jweats

    By Mark Peters


    Word blends are the bunnies of language: they breed like motherfathers.

    During the recent American Dialect Society meeting in Portland, plenty of blends were singled out. Assholocracy is an apt description of America, especially in an election year. Botoxionist refers to a doctor specializing in the forehead region of vain people. A brony is a bro who loves My Little Pony. That word was voted Least Likely to Succeed, but you can bet similar words will keep sprouting, particularly in the world of fashion.

    Jeggings. Photo by Funkdooby. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

    As fashionistas have lamented, jorts, jeggings, and junderwear—jean shorts, jean leggings, and jean underwear—have assaulted eyeballs and sensibilities for years. Last year, jweats (jean sweats) and even jor-jeggings (an unholy jorts-jeggings hybrid) joined the party. Forget the Mayan doomsday; it’s clear as a crystal skull that we’re living in an ongoing denim-pocalypse.

    These atrocities aren’t going to stop. I predict the following items will be on sale soon.

    (FYI, if any of these are plausible ideas, please call my agent, because I’d gladly sell my soul to the denim industry).

    jear muffs
    They’re not warm, but fashionistas are warmed by style, not warmth. For the elderly, how about jearing aids?

    jonocle
    Could be a little itchy for you Mr. Peanut types, but it can’t be worse than peanut allergies. So that evens out.

    jape
    Maybe Christopher Nolan can work this in to the new Batman movie.

    jevlar vest
    It doesn’t block bullets, which could be a problem given the recent rise in fashion police brutality.

    jinnamon rolls
    These will be less fattening than cinnamon rolls because they are inedible.

    joon
    If we can put a man on the moon, we can put a team of fashion scientists on the moon to change its chemical composition.

    jipple
    Some say nipples can’t be improved. They’re probably right, but it’s worth a shot.

    joodle
    The designer dog world, which pumps out teacup malti-poos, toy pitdoodles, and more word blends than a denim-only catalog, could easily mix some denim DNA into one of their hellish kennels of canine copulation.

    jystal meth
    Jeans and meth are both blue, so this seems like a natural idea that could be the plot of a future Smurfs movie.

    jaby
    A beautiful, intelligent, precious denim baby. It will look so good with the rest of your jamily.

    Mark Peters is a lexicographer, humorist, rabid tweeter, language columnist for Visual Thesaurus, and the blogger behind The Rosa Parks of Blogs and The Pancake Proverbs.

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    48. Can you speak American?

    A wide-ranging account of American English, Richard Bailey’s Speaking American investigates the history and continuing evolution of our language from the sixteenth century to the present. When did English become American? What distinctive qualities made it American? What role have America’s democratizing impulses, and its vibrantly heterogeneous speakers, played in shaping our language and separating it from the mother tongue? Bailey asked himself these questions, now it’s time to ask yourself how well you really know your American English. We’ve composed a quiz for some Friday fun. Now, can you speak American? –Alice & Justyna

    What’s “the blab of the pave”?

    a. A description of the talk of Okies and others moving west during the Great Depression, typically used by urbanites in a derogatory way
    b. A popular expression for how young “delinquents” talked in Northern California during the 1950s
    c. Walt Whitman’s description of the way New Yorkers speak
    d. A description of the way cement settles in intense heat used in the South, particularly around New Orleans

    Which great event determined whether Shakespeare should be performed in American or British English in the US?

    a. American. The Astor Place Riot in New York in 1849, which pitted actor Edwin Forrest (American) against actor William Charles Macready (English).
    b. English. 1823 legislation, for which aristocratic Carolinians educated in England lobbied, that Shakespeare’s plays be performed “in the manner in which they were written.”
    c. American. Competing theaters set each other alight during the Great Chicago Fire, but the Wicker Park neighborhood rallied to save the Liberty Theater, then staging an American English production of Hamlet.
    d. English. Following the introduction of sound in the 1920s, MGM’s British English movie production of Romeo & Juliet out-earned its American English competitors, so all studioes switched to English actors for future Shakespeare productions.

    Which of the following is true?

    a. Alaska cotton is a species of grass growing in the Alaskan wetlands.
    b. Alaska candy is strips of smoked salmon.
    c. An Alaska divorce is liberating oneself from marriage by murdering the spouse.
    d. Baked Alaska is a dessert in which a quickly baked meringue encases a blob of frozen ice cream.

    Where does the word “buckaroo” come from?

    a. Slang for ranch hands on the American frontier who were initially paid a dollar (“a buck”) to work for a rancher
    b. Name given to young men at the stage of their equine apprenticeship when they would handle young male horses in the Colonial South
    c. Buckra, meaning someone with power or knowledge in the Efik language of West Africa, which passed into American English via Barbados Creole
    d. An invention of screenwriter and dime novelist John Grey for the silent western “Canyon of Fools”

    What is “bisket”?

    a. A Boston expression for unleavened bread made from flour, salt, and water
    b. A Yiddish expression for dough, sometimes found in New York English
    c. A Chinook expression for a day when it doesn’t rain during the winter months
    d. An alternate spelling of “biscuit” found in rural Alabama and Mississippi

    In the 1980s, the song “Valley Girl” about the singer’s teenage daughter and her affinity for Valspeak (a word blend of “San Fernando Valley” and “speak”), unintentionally lead to an enormous popularity for this style of English. Which singer

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    49. Up Cat & Up Dog both by Hazel Hutchins

    Today is a “Two-Fer” Day.  From Annick Press, author Hazel Hutchins, and illustrator Fanny we have two delightful board books for toddlers and young kids.  Both are simply in story and text, which can be the hardest to write.  The important word in each is the word up.  Being repetitive, it helps the youngest kids [...]

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    50. Pardon My French -- a poem about language



    PARDON MY FRENCH

    Do I parlez-vous Français?
    Well, I really couldn't say.
    I know that checkers are passé,
    And what a fencer says: "Touché!"

    Merci gives someone my thanks.
    Money used to be called francs.
    (Now they've euros at their banks).
    Beyond these words, my mind's a blank.

    No, wait! A lot is said "beaucoup,"
    And ballerinas wear tutus.
    When you're mad, shout, "Sacrebleu!"
    That's enough of French -- "Mon Dieu!"

    © Mary Lee Hahn, 2012


    Poem #15, National Poetry Month, 2012

    This poem goes out to Josie's husband, Jim. He gave me the title...or should we say, gave it BACK to me, since I'm the one who said it first?!?

    The poem has nothing to do with the original context, but that's probably for the best...




    Cathy, at Merely Day By Day, is joining me in a poem a day this month. Other daily poem writers include Amy at The Poem Farm, Linda at TeacherDance, Donna at Mainely Write, Laura at Writing the World for Kids (daily haiku), Liz at Liz in Ink (daily haiku), Sara at Read Write Believe (daily haiku), Jone at Deo Writer (daily haiku)...and YOU?

    4 Comments on Pardon My French -- a poem about language, last added: 4/16/2012
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