Friday, 27 June 2008


This short article in the Globe and Mail talks about how Japanese teens use abbreviations of the romanization of Japanese phrases:

Dubbed KY, the teen lingo is created by spelling out Japanese phrases using the English alphabet and then abbreviating these words to form acronyms. KY stands for kuuki yomenai, literally translated as "can't read the air," which means "not in tune."

Others include
HR: 一人ランチ (hitori ranchi) lunching alone
KW: 気持ち悪い (kimochi warui) gross.

Japanese is not the only language where this is done. On the right side of this Indian box of sweets is the Hindi लक्ष्मी मिष्ठान भण्डार, and on the left are the Roman letters LMB.

लक्ष्मी मिष्ठान भण्डार, meaning "Lakshmi sweet store", is romanized as lakṣmī miṣṭhān bhaṇḍār. So the first letters of the Roman transcription of the Hindi phrase are used as the initials of the store.

This is a building in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. I assume it is part of Bishambhar Nath Shambhu Dayal Inter College. The lowest sign says बी.एन.एस.डी.कालेज (bī en es ḍī kālej). Read out loud, this is "BNSD College". The Hindi name, romanized to "Bishambhar Nath Shambhu Dayal", is turned into an English initialism, then spelled out phonetically in Hindi.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

zen and semantic

The Proto-Indo-European *dheih₂- "to see, look" in the metathesized form *dhyeh₂- became Pali jhāna, related to Sanskrit ध्यान dhyāna "meditation". With the spread of Buddhism eastwards, the Pali word was borrowed into Mandarin as chán "quiet; silent meditation; Zen". This was borrowed into Japanese as zen (禅).

*dhyeh₂-mn̥- became Greek σῆμα sēma "sign, mark, token", then σημαντικός sēmantikós "significant". English semantic was borrowed from French sémantique, which first appeared in 1897 in Essai de sémantique by Michel Bréal.

Pokorny suggests that *dheih₂- also became Greek θαυμάζω thaumázō "to wonder, marvel", the source of thaumaturge, and θέᾱ théā "viewing, play", the source of theatre.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008


Language hat has an awesome overview of the many and related words for the eggplant, including how the Italian word, melanzana, was folk-etymologized as mela insana "mad apple".

Of the origin of aubergine he says

This is, as you might guess, borrowed from French; the French word is from Catalan albergínia, which is from Arabic al-bādinjān (with the definite article al-), itself borrowed from Persian bādingān, which is probably from Middle Indo-Aryan *vātiñjana-, vātingana-; most sources attribute the latter form to Sanskrit, but I don't find it in my dictionaries.

Same here, altho I did find हस्तिवातिङ्गण hastivātiṅgaṇa in the Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon.

The Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary says the source of बैंगन baiṃgan "eggplant" is Pali vātiṅgaṇa-, with a Dravidian origin. No other source mentions a Dravidian origin, so I don't know how certain that is. Tamil has வங்கம் vaṅkam, வார்த்தாகம் vārttākam and கத்திரி kattiri.

Monday, 23 June 2008

scherzo and coruscate

Proto-Indo-European root *(s)ker- "to leap, jump about" (homophonous with *(s)ker- "to cut") became Proto-Germanic *skert- and Middle High German scherzen "to leap with joy". This was borrowed into Italian as scherzare "to joke". English scherzo and scherzando are borrowed from the Italian word.

In Latin the o-grade form *kor- became coruscāre "to vibrate, glitter", and coruscate.

(From the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.)

The initial *(s) is in brackets because it appears in some reflexes and not in others. It's known as s-mobile.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

tongue and language

Proto-Indo-European *dn̥ǵʰuh₂- "tongue" became Proto-Germanic *tuŋǥon, Old English tunge, and then tongue. The substitution of o for u before the n was a medieval scribal habit to avoid too many vertical strokes in a row.

In Latin, the root became lingua "tongue, speech, language". The change from /d/ to /l/ also happened with PIE *daḱru- "tear" becoming Latin lacrima. lingua became Old French langue, then langage, borrowed into English as language. The -age suffix is also found in baggage, carriage, damage, etc.

Dńghū is a group interested in bringing a "reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language to its full potential, and teaching it as a second language for all European Union citizens." They call this language Modern-Indo-European. I wonder what the Basques, Finns, Hungarians, Estonians, Maltese and Turks think of this.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

radish and licorice

Proto-Indo-European *wreh₂d- "branch, root". The Latin derivative, rādix "root" was borrowed into Old English as rædic which became radish.

Greek had the almost identical ῥάδιξ rhadix. Another Greek derivative is possibly ῥίζα rhíza "root" (as in rhizome). This combined with γλυκύς glukús "sweet" (as in glycerine, from PIE *dlkú- "sweet") to create γλῠκύ-ρρῑζα glŭkú-rrīza "sweet root, licorice", borrowed into Latin as glycyrrhiza, which became late Latin liquiritia, becoming Anglo-Norman lycorys, and then English licorice. Modern Italic languages have metathesized forms: French réglisse, Italian regolizia.

But ferst he cheweþ grayn and likoriȜe
To smellen swoote or he hadde kembt his here
(But first he cheweth cardamom and licorice / To smell sweet, ere he had combed his hair)
- Chaucer, The Miller's Tale, c1390

While looking up licorice I found lickerish, a word from the 16th century meaning "dainty, greedy, lecherous". It was formed from the 13th century word lickerous by replacing the -ous suffix with -ish. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology tells us that it was "Perverted to liquorish (XVIII) to express fondness for liquor."

lickerous was borrowed from Anglo-Norman *likerous, a variant of lecheros "lecherous", which was borrowed from Proto-Germanic *likkōjan "to lick". (lick is from the same source.) The Proto-Indo-European root is *leigʱ- "to lick". One of the Greek cognates, λίχν-ευμα (líkhn-euma), also meant "dainty".

And sikerly sche hadde a likerous yhe
(and surely she had a wanton eye)
- Chaucer, The Miller's Tale, c1390

liquor is unrelated to either licorice or lickerish.

Monday, 9 June 2008

snark revisited

After I wrote about snark, I was informed that Fernando Soto had already covered the same ground in The Consumption of the Snark and the Decline of Nonsense: A Medico-Linguistic Reading of Carroll’s ‘Fitful Agony’ in The Carrollian 8.

In that paper, Soto mentions that The Dictionary of Early English traces snark to snirt. snirt means

To laugh in a suppressed manner, to snicker. 18th and 19th centuries. In the same period, snirtle, to laugh even more quietly (but mockingly), to snigger. All these words are echoic; also sniff; snark; snork; snort; snur, to snort; snurt, to snore, to sneer, to snore. Snurt was first written in the 15th century; a snurter was a snorer...Also snite, to wipe the nose; snot, to blow the nose. Snot, also snat, nasal mucus was common (but not vulgar) from the 15th through the 17th century; earlier it meant the snuff of a candle, the burnt part of a candle wick.

Curious about The Dictionary of Early English, I had a look - it's freely available here. It was written by Joseph Twadell Shipley and published in 1955. It covers terms from the 8th to the 18th centuries that have fallen out of use. Check out the entry for snark!

snark. See snirt. But also, to find fault - a 19th century use. Beware of the Boojum!

Indeed. Anyway, we're dealing with two snarks here. The OED says:

snark v. dial. [Corresponds to MLG. and LG. snarken (NFris. snarke, Sw. and Norw. snarka), MHG. snarchen (G. scharchenschnarken), of imitative origin: cf. SNORK v.]
1. intr. To snore; to snort
1866 N. & Q. 3rd Ser. X, 248/1 I will not quite compare it [a sound] to a certain kind of snarking or gnashing. 1907 Westm. Gaz. 9 Nov. 4/1 All of a sudden she (the mare, I suppose he meant) snarked an' begun to turn round.
2. intr. and trans. To find fault (with), to nag.
1882 Jamieson's Sc. Dict. IV. 314/2 To Snark, fret, grumble, or find fault with one. 1904 E. NESBIT Phœnix & Carpet x. 185 He remembered how Anthea had refrained from snarking him about tearing the carpet.

Altho both snarks might be "of imitative origin", another possible etymology of snark2 is from an alternation of nark "to annoy; to complain".

So we have two snarks: one older and perhaps dialectal, and one newer and in common use (it was used by Nesbit). I tend to think that snark2 formed the phonological inspiration for Carroll's Snark.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

cynic and hound

Proto-Indo-European *ḱwon- "dog" became κύων kúōn in ancient Greek, and then κυνικος kunikos "doglike". This word was applied to the Cynic philosophers, and there are two theories as to why. The ODEE says

- Gr. kunikós dog-like, currish, churlish, Cynic (the application being derived from the gymnasium (Κυνόσαργες) where they taught or from certain dog-like qualities), f. kun-, kúōn dog (HOUND)

So the word for the gymnasium, Kunósarges (Cynosarges), was applied to the philosophers who taught there. It seems that the name of the gymnasium comes from κύων ἀργός (kúōn argós) "white dog" (ἀργός from PIE *h₂erǵ- "to shine".) Alternatively, the Cynics were thought to have "certain dog-like qualities" - I'll let the AHD explain this.

Meanwhile *ḱwon- became *hunđaz "dog" in Proto-Germanic, then Old English hund and English hound.

Also related is corgi from Welsh cor "dwarf" and ci "dog". And the Celtic hero Cúchulainn, from Irish Gaelic cu Chulainn, "hound of Culann". And canary, from Latin canis "dog". Canaries are native to the Canary Islands, from Latin Canāriae Īnsulae, "islands of dogs".

Monday, 2 June 2008


pens to the angry one is penne all'arrabbiata. But what about pants?

This English menu for the restaurant Pizzeria Le Macine in Terni lists pens to the angry one among its dishes, but the most interesting-looking dish is "pants".

Pant to the ham
Pant mushrooms and ham
Pant to the sausage
Pant to the spinaches

The Italian menu identifies this as calzoni. My dictionary translates calzone, plural calzoni as "pants, trousers." But calzone is also a kind of stuffed pizza crust.

What I don't understand is how they got the singular "pant".