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1. Monthly Gleanings, Part 2: October 2011

By Anatoly Liberman

Last week I answered only the questions that needed relatively detailed answers.  Today’s “issue” will be devoted to shorter queries.

Riparian. Some letters we receive are so brief that I am not sure whether my explanations satisfy the writers.  For example, a recent query contained only one word, namely RIPARIAN.  It will be remembered that the protagonist of one of H. K. Andersen’s tales, a merchant’s son who played ducks and drakes with his inheritance (in the direct sense of the word: he loved to toss golden coins into water, to watch the rings), one day, when his prospects had become truly grim, received a gift from an old friend, a coffer to which the shortest note possible was pinned: “Pack up.”   This was easy, for the only thing the man still possessed was his old dressing gown.  He put it on, got into the coffer, and the coffer flew up into the air.  What happened to the merchant’s son after he landed in Turkey is irrelevant to my story, but I wish to ask our correspondents to give more details when they ask questions.  However, since the email had the subject ETYMOLOGY REQUEST, I assume that I am expected to discuss the origin of the word riparian.  This adjective usually means “pertaining to or situated on the banks of a river,” for it goes back to Latin ripuarius, from ripa “bank.”   The medical term riparian “pertaining to a ripa of the brain; marginal, as a part of the brain” (it is used in anatomy) is an extension of the same sense.  I may add that ripa is not related to Engl. rib and that river, a Romance cognate of ripa, is not related to rivulet.

Tell, its senses, tally, and the noun till.  Both senses of the verb tell—“count” and “narrate”—were already present in Old English.  Since tell was derived from a noun and this noun (Old Engl. talu, cognate with Old High German zala and Old Icelandic tala “tale”) also meant “reckoning” and “talk,” it is hard to disentangle the meanings, but, most probably, the semantic kernel was “ordered, or numerical, sequence,” from which “things told in order, a connected narrative” developed.  Therefore, from a historical point of view, “number” (as in German Zahl) seems to have preceded “speech” (as in Dutch taal).  In English, the sense “count” has been almost ousted by “narrate, recount” (compare count and recount!)  But the biblical usage, retained in he telleth the number of the stars and so forth, the phrases tell one’s beads, all told, and untold riches (wealth), as well as in the noun teller, remind us of tell “count.”  Talk has the root tal-, followed by the suffix -k, but tally traces to a Latin etymon (talea “cutting, rod, stick”; tailor, from French, literally “cutter,” as is still seen in Italian tagliatore, is its cognate).  Keeping count by notches on a stick was a universal procedure in the past.  Since Latin t does not correspond to Germanic t (either Germanic th- or non-Germanic d- is needed), tally cannot be a cognate of talea, but it is not absolutely improbable that the Latin word was very early borrowed into Germanic (in such cases one expects identities rather than correspondences).  The origin of talu ~ tala remains, to a certain extent, unknown.  Although its Latin provenance is possible, tale may be a native Germanic word related to Latin dolo (dolare) “to chop,” and, if so, we return to the idea of notches.  Be that as it may, in the history of tale and tell, the idea of counting must

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