Thursday, 26 July 2012

cravat and Croat

cravat is borrowed from French cravate, which is a use of Cravate "Croat, Croatian". The OED tells us that cravats were worn by Croatian mercenaries, and the style was adapted by the French in the 17th century:

It came into vogue in France in the 17th c. in imitation of the linen scarf worn round their necks by the Croatian mercenaries. When first introduced it was of lace or linen, or of muslin edged with lace, and tied in a bow with long flowing ends, and much attention was bestowed upon it as an ornamental accessory. In this form it was originally also worn by women. More recently the name was given to a linen or silk handkerchief passed once (or twice) round the neck outside the shirt collar and tied with a bow in front; also to a long woollen ‘comforter’ wrapped round the neck to protect from cold out of doors.

French cravate was borrowed from German Krabate, borrowed from Serbian/Croatian Khrvat/Hrvat. Croatian Hrvat was adapted into modern Latin Croatæ, then borrowed into English as Croat.

Friday, 13 July 2012


I got an email from Grammar Girl last week to advertise her book 101 Troublesome Words You'll Master in no Time. The word in question was momentarily.

What's the Trouble? Momentarily is losing its original meaning.

Momentarily has its roots in the word momentary — as in the Pink Floyd album A Momentary Lapse of Reason — and it traditionally means "for a moment." However, it's more common nowadays to hear people use momentarily when they mean "in a moment." The Oxford English Dictionary says this is mainly an American problem.

What Should You Do?

Don't use momentarily to mean "in a moment"; you may confuse people. If you mean in a moment, say or write that. There's no need to use momentarily in such cases, and doing so will irritate language purists.
If it's more common for people to use momentarily to mean "in a moment", then why advise people not to use it that way? It seems that Grammar Girl is essentially saying "don't speak like everyone else in your speech community speaks." This seems counterproductive.

She gives two reasons. The first is that it might confuse people - but if most people already use it that way, why should it be confusing? The second is that it might annoy language purists - in other words, "speak like a small select group of people want you to speak", in other words, crazies win.

And it's not true that the word is losing its original meaning. The word has two meanings, both of which are normal English. Gabe at Motivated Grammar has a good discussion of the dispute, and he sensibly concludes that allowing for both meanings of momentarily won't cause a lot of ambiguity. I mean, if I'm on a plane and the pilot says "We'll be landing momentarily", I don't think that means the plane will land and then take off immediately. Yes, that's one way to interpret the sentence, but it's a way that doesn't tally with how I know the world works.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

rooibos, rorqual, erythema

Proto-Indo-European *h₁reudh- "red, ruddy" became Proto-Germanic *rauđaz, becoming English red and Dutch rood. rood became Afrikaans rooi, found in rooibos, etymologically "red bush", a southern African plant.

*rauđaz became Old Norse rauðr, which combined with hvalr "whale" in Norwegian Nynorsk røyrkval. This was borrowed into French as rorqual, and then into English as the name for baleen whales, such as the humpback whale and mink whale. Why a whale would be called red is unclear. The OED suggests that they might have been called red because of the meat and because of a taboo on mentioning the whale's name at sea.

The suffixed zero-grade form *h₁rudh-ro- became Greek ἐρυθρός "red" and ἐρυθημα "redness of flush upon the skin", borrowed as erythema.

Sunday, 8 July 2012


The poster for this new Hindi-language movie, English Vinglish, uses a combination of Roman and Devanagari in the poster. Not just in the name of the film, but also in the credits: इROS INTERNATIONAल & R.BALकी, the name of the director: GAUरी SHINदे, and the further credits at the bottom of the poster that are too small to read.

And there's a Telugu version: ENగLISH VINGLIష్.

And a Tamil version: ENGLIஷ் VINGLIஷ். Tamil has no letter for /g/.

The movie is about an Indian woman learning English, and it looks to be interesting for anyone who has tried to learn or teach English as a second language. I'm guessing that the title is a reduplication, similar to how I might say "English Shminglish".