Thursday, 27 December 2012

impregnable and impregnate

Are wholly unrelated!

The first is borrowed from French imprenable, with the negative prefix in- plus prenable "able to be taken".

The second is borrowed from Latin impraegnāre "to make pregnant", with a different prefix in- meaning "into" plus praegnāre "to be pregnant".

Additional: Grammar Girl has twitted this post, and Anna Key has expressed skepticism that these words could be wholly unrelated. They are. prenable is from Latin prehendere "to grasp" from Proto-Indo-European *ghend- "seize, take" and praegnāre is probably from prae "before" plus gnāscī "to be born" (OED) from *ǵenh₁- "to give birth, beget".

Saturday, 15 December 2012

I feel a sadness on me

This is from The Invisibles volume 1 issue 4:

"I feel a sadness on me," says Tom. "That's how the Irish people say it. In their language, you can't say, 'I am sad,' or 'I am happy'. They understood what we English have long forgot. We're not our sadness. We're not our happiness or our pain but our language hypnotizes us and traps us in little labelled boxes."

I'm reminded of Geoffrey Pullum's awesome response to a piece about how the Gaelic word sgrìob, apparently meaning "the tingle of anticipation felt in the upper lip before drinking whisky" says something profound about Gaelic ways and priorities.

In Irish Gaelic, tá gruaim orm translates word-for-word as "sadness is on me" (I think). Scots Gaelic does something similar: Tha an t-acras orm translates word-for-word as "hunger is on me", that is "I'm hungry". Dè an t-ainm a th'oirt translates word-for-word as "What (is) the name that is on you", that is, "What's your name?"

Pity us English speakers, having long forgotten something the Irish understood… except that we haven't forgotten. It's easy enough to say "I feel a sadness on me", in fact Tom himself said it! It's not hard to figure out what it means. And it's possible to find other examples:

Sadness on the soul of Ida fell. - Tennyson, The princess
sorrow and sadness sat upon every face - Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year
A search for "sadness fell on me" in google books gets a number of results.

If our language traps us in little boxes, they're boxes made of tissue paper, easy to break out of.

Tom's claim that Gaelic speakers can't say "I am sad" just doesn't hold up. If it was true, it would mean that Gaelic speakers think in English, and just translate their English thoughts word-for-word into Gaelic when they talk. tá gruaim orm translates word-for-word as "sadness is on me", but its meaning is "I am sad".

Saturday, 1 December 2012

silurid, dodo, arse

In an earlier version of this post, I wrote that silurid and Silurian were related. They're not!

Silurus lithophilus

Silurus is a genus of sheatfish, and silurid is a term for a kind of catfish.
Silurus and silurid are from Greek σῐλουρος "river fish, sheatfish", probably from οὐρά "tail" with an obscure first element. οὐρά is from PIE *ors- "buttocks, backside".

*ors- became English arse and ass. According to the American Heritage Dictionary it also became Dutch dodors (from dot "tuft of feathers" plus ors "tail"), borrowed into Portuguese as dodó, and English dodo.

Silurian has a completely different origin. It's borrowed from Latin Silures "an ancient British tribe which inhabited the south-eastern part of Wales". The OED provides this citation, which helps explain the word's connection to a geological period:
1835 Murchison in London & Edinb. Philos. Mag. July 48, I venture to suggest that..the term ‘Silurian System’ should be adopted as expressive of the deposits which lie between the old red sandstone and the slaty rocks of Wales.
I wonder what this "ancient British tribe" looked like. Could they perhaps have looked something like THIS??