Saturday, 21 December 2013

Schleicher's Fable part 3

h₂óu̯is h₁ékʷoi̯bʰi̯os u̯eu̯ked: “dʰǵʰémonm̥ spéḱi̯oh₂ h₁éḱu̯oms-kʷe h₂áǵeti, ḱḗr moi̯ agʰnutor”.

dative plural of *h₁eḱu̯os "horse"
equine, hippo

zero-grade reduplicated form of Fortson *u̯ekʷ- "speak"
vocal, epic

first person singular present? of Forston *speḱ- "see"
spy, spectacle

clitic "and"

third person singular present? of Fortson *h₂eǵ- "drive"

heart, cardio


third person singular passive (I assume because it looks like the Latin passive) of Watkins *agh-¹ "to be depressed"?

h₂óu̯is h₁ékʷoi̯bʰi̯os u̯eu̯ked
sheep to-horses said
dʰǵʰémonm̥ spéḱi̯oh₂ h₁éḱu̯oms-kʷe h₂áǵeti
man I-see and-horses he-drives
ḱḗr moi̯ agʰnutor
heart my is-pained
"The sheep said to the horses: 'My heart pains me. I see a man, and he drives horses.’”

Sunday, 15 December 2013


Cuttlefish ink was used to make a brown pigment for painting, called sepia. The word is borrowed from Latin sēpia, borrowed from Greek σηπία (sēpia) "cuttlefish".
European cuttlefish
European cuttlefish Sepia officinalis

Saturday, 7 December 2013

untranslatable words

Here's an interesting list of untranslatable words. I haven't provided any translations, because they're untranslatable.

(Thanks to Bob Hale for directing me to this list.)

saudida (Portuguese) - untranslatable
sponsz (Hungarian) - untranslatable
rastapopoulos (Greek) - untranslatable
kûrvitaş (Turkish) - untranslatable
txunyayo (Hixkaryana) - untranslatable
avakṣana (Sanskrit) - untranslatable
tlhaqSoD (Klingon) - untranslatable
myludh (Sindarin) - untranslatable

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

female and male

are not related.

Latin fēmina "woman" took on the diminutive -ella suffix, becoming fēmella. This became Anglo-Norman femell, which was borrowed into English.

The English and Anglo-Norman words were also spelled femaile, female, femaul, by association with male (from Latin masculus). female and male have rhymed sine the 14th century. So although the words have different origins, you could argue that they are related now.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Schleicher's fable part 2

The next sentence!
só gʷr̥hᵪúm u̯óǵʰom u̯eǵʰed; só méǵh₂m̥ bʰórom; só dʰǵʰémonm̥ h₂ṓḱu bʰered.

singular accusative of Fortson *gʷr̥h₂u- "heavy"
guru, gravity

thematic accusative of *u̯eǵʰ- "vehicle, drive a vehicle"
wagon, weigh, vehicle

verb form of *u̯eǵʰ- "vehicle, drive a vehicle"

athematic singular accusative of *meǵh₂- "great"
much, major

thematic neuter singular accusative? of *bʰer- "carry, something carried"
bear, infer, metaphor

accusative of *dʰǵʰem- "man"
human, chameleon

accipiter, Ocypode

form of *bʰer- "carry"

gʷr̥hᵪúm u̯óǵʰom u̯eǵʰed méǵh₂m̥ bʰórom dʰǵʰémonm̥h₂ṓḱubʰered
one heavy vehicle drove one big something-carried one manswiftlycarried
"one pulled a heavy wagon, one (carried) a big load, one carried a man swiftly."

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

h₂áu̯ei̯ h₁i̯osméi̯ h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ né h₁ést, só h₁éḱu̯oms derḱt

Let's look at the first sentence of Schleicher's fable:

h₂áu̯ei̯ h₁i̯osméi̯ h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ né h₁ést, só h₁éḱu̯oms derḱt

Here are some notes on the words, as far as I can tell. Corrections are welcome.

dative (why dative?) singular of *h₂ou̯i- "sheep"
derivatives: ovine, ewe

dative? of the relative pronoun *i̯o-

suffixed zero-grade form of *h₂u̯elh₁- "wool" (Watkins *welə-¹)
wool, lanolin

sentence negator

root aorist? of *h₁es- "to be"

demonstrative pronoun

thematic accusative plural? of *h₁eḱu̯os "horse" (Fortson *eḱu̯os)
equine, hippo

root aorist of *derḱ- "to see"

So the first sentence can be glossed like this:
h₂áu̯ei̯ h₁i̯osméi̯ h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ h₁ést h₁éḱu̯oms derḱt
sheep on-which wool not was it horses saw
"a sheep that had no wool saw horses"

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

wool, lanolin, flannel

The word *h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ from Scheicher's fable is an extended zero-grade form of *h₂u̯elh₁- "wool". This became Old English wul and English wool.

The form *h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ became Latin lāna "wool" from earlier *wlāna. lanolin is formed from lāna plus oleum "oil" plus the chemical suffix -in.

*h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ became Proto-Celtic *wlanā and Welsh gwlân "wool". Add the individualizing suffix -en to get gwlanen "flannel", ie "something made from wool". gwlanen was possibly borrowed into English as flannel.

How to pronounce /wl/? A glide followed by a consonant seems impossible to me.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Shady Characters

The publicity department of W.W. Norton & Company has kindly sent me a review copy of Keith Houston’s Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks. Since anyone can write a book on language where they say whatever they want and no one checks, it's great to read a book about language that takes the subject seriously.

Shady Characters is a history of some of the lesser-known punctuation marks: the pilcrow ¶, the interrobang ‽, the # (whatever it's called), the ampersand &, the @, the asterisk *, the dagger †, the hyphen ‑, the dash —, the manicule ☞, quotation marks “”, and various marks that have been proposed to indicate irony and sarcasm.

Giving us the history of all these marks is a tall order, and Houston treats it seriously. This book has 68 pages of endnotes. Houston is careful to separate evidence from speculation: if an origin is speculative, Houston is careful to say so. Punctuation is a subject that gets some people very worked up, but Houston is admirably objective.

I learned so much from this book. It is a wonderfully entertaining trip into the worlds of typography, programming, design, Tironian notes, 17th century novels, the history of footnotes, and so much more.

How is Gutenberg's bible, the first book made on a printing press, so painstakingly justified? Why did the interrobang fall out of use? Which Latin word is the @ symbol a probable abbreviation of? What is the etymology of pilcrow? Why does English use quotation marks and French use guillements «»? What is the earliest proposal for an irony mark? What is the connection between the asterisk and baseball? What is the connection between dash the mark, and dash the swearword? All of these questions are answered.

There is one point that Houston doesn't address, and which I wish he had addressed: the relationship between smart quotes “” and straight quotes "".

Houston's objectivity means that his animosity toward the hyphen-minus jumps out as weird. There are a group of hyphens and dashes of various sizes (the hyphen ‐, the en dash –, the em dash —, the quotation dash ―, and the figure dash ‒), each of which has a specific use, and the hyphen-minus (-) replaced all of them on the typewriter keyboard. Houston calls the hyphen-minus “an ugly chimera” and complains about “the havoc it has wreaked on grammar and typography for more than a century”. This is at odds with his normally even-handed style. There is no mention of how it has perhaps simplified matters by replacing a confusing group of marks!

There are numerous illustrations throughout the book, usually images of manuscripts that show early uses of the marks in question. Unfortunately, a lot of the time the size of the image is too small for me to make anything out. Close-ups on parts of the images would have been helpful.

My favourite part of this book comes in the chapter on the asterisk. The Alexandrian scholar Aristarchus of Samothrace devised a system of three symbols to mark up text. One was a straight horizontal line, called the obelus (from Greek ὀβελός "roasting spit"). The others were the diple (διπλῆ "double") and the asterisk (ἀστερίσκος "little star"), and together these three are known as Aristarchian symbols. This made me wish I'd written this book, so I could call it Asterisk and Obelus.

Houston has an article in the New Yorker where he succinctly writes on the history of #, ¶, &, ☞, and >.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Schleicher's Fable

Andrew Byrd reads Schleicher's Fable:

This is the reconstruction he uses:
h₂óu̯is h₁éḱu̯ōs-kʷe

h₂áu̯ei̯ h₁i̯osméi̯ h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ né h₁ést, só h₁éḱu̯oms derḱt. só gʷr̥hᵪúm u̯óǵʰom u̯eǵʰed; só méǵh₂m̥ bʰórom; só dʰǵʰémonm̥ h₂ṓḱu bʰered. h₂óu̯is h₁ékʷoi̯bʰi̯os u̯eu̯ked: “dʰǵʰémonm̥ spéḱi̯oh₂ h₁éḱu̯oms-kʷe h₂áǵeti, ḱḗr moi̯ agʰnutor”. h₁éḱu̯ōs tu u̯eu̯kond: “ḱludʰí, h₂ou̯ei̯! tód spéḱi̯omes, n̥sméi̯ agʰnutór ḱḗr: dʰǵʰémō, pótis, sē h₂áu̯i̯es h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ gʷʰérmom u̯éstrom u̯ept, h₂áu̯ibʰi̯os tu h₂u̯l̥h₁náh₂ né h₁esti. tód ḱeḱluu̯ṓs h₂óu̯is h₂aǵróm bʰuged.
The Sheep and the Horses

A sheep that had no wool saw horses, one of them pulling a heavy wagon, one carrying a big load, and one carrying a man quickly. The sheep said to the horses: "My heart pains me, seeing a man driving horses." The horses said: "Listen, sheep, our hearts pain us when we see this: a man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep into a warm garment for himself. And the sheep has no wool." Having heard this, the sheep fled into the plain.
I assume that the *hᵪ in *gʷr̥hᵪúm is an unspecified laryngeal. btw *gʷr̥hᵪúm is "heavy" as in guru and gravity.

Friday, 13 September 2013

sadhu and ithyphallic

Sanskrit साधु sādhu is "holy man, saint" and eariler "effective, correct, good", from sādh "to be accomplished or fulfilled or effected or settled, be successful, succeed".

The Proto-Indo-European root is *sē[i]dh-, sīdh-, sədh- "to strive for a goal". This became Greek ἰθύς ithus "straight". This was borrowed in ithyphallic, describing the straight phallus carried on Bacchic festivals. It's also used for the poetic metre used in Bacchic hymns.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013


The Toronto Catholic District School Board, on its English courses page, has an animated GIF showing the word "welcome" in 29 languages.

Here are some etymological notes on these words. It's interesting that so many terms for "welcome" can be literally translated as an adverb "well/good" + a verb "come".

Corrections are welcome.

The well of welcome used to be will - as in "desire". Old English wilcuma was "one whose coming is pleasing or desirable; an acceptable person or thing". This changed to well under the influence of Old French bien venu. A parallel change happened in Dutch welkom.

The French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish words are derived from Latin bene "well" plus the past participle of ueniō “to come”. Latin ueniō is from Proto-Indo-European *gʷeh₂- "to go, to come" which is the source of English come.

The Persian/Urdu خوش آمديد ḵẖūś āmadīd is from Persian ḵẖūś "good, excellent" (as in cushy) and آمدن āmadan "to come" (I think).

The Pashto ښه راغلاست x̌ah rāğlāst is composed of x̌ah "good, pleasant" and I assume a form of راغلل rāğlal "to come".

The Czech vítame vás, Ukrainian вітаємо, radi vitati vas and Polish witamy all contain the element vita- which is found in verbs meaning "to greet". I don't think this is of PIE origin. vas "you" is cognate with Latin uōs from PIE *wōs-, an extended form of *yū- "you".

Russian and Serbian dobro means "good", from PIE *dhabh- "to fit together", and cognate with daft and deft. Old English gedæfte meant "mild, gentle", related to gedæftan "to make fit or ready, to prepare". daft went from meaning "mild, gentle" to "stupid, foolish", and deft retained the "fit" sense.

Serbian došli is a form of doći (доћи) "to come". Note that the Cyrillic spelling contains that well-known letter Ћ.

The Irish greeting fáilte was possibly (according to McBains, citing an article in Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung) borrowed from Latin ualēte "be well/healthy", in other words "goodbye". The Latin is from PIE *wal- "to be strong" as in English wield.

The Greek καλώς ήλθατε kalōs ēlthate is also written καλώς ήρθατε kalōs ērthate. The first word means "well"; in Ancient Greek it meant "beautiful", and gave us words such as Callisto and kaleidoscope. It's from PIE *kal(i/u)- "beautiful" and is found in Old English hæleð and German Held "hero". The second word is the suppletive aorist formal second person plural form of έρχομαι erkhomai "to come". This is from PIE *h₁er- "to move, set in motion", which found its way into English as are.

The Armenian Բարի եկաք bari ekak' is composed of bari "good" possibly from PIE *bher- "to bear, carry" as in English bear and bring. I think, but I know nothing about Armenian so I'm probably wrong, that the second word is a form of եկ- ek-, which is a suppletive part of the conjugation of գամ gam "to come". ek- is apparently derived from PIE *gʷeh₂- as in English come (and gam is derived from PIE *ǵheh₁- as in English go).

The Sinhala sadarayen piliganimu is composed of සාදරයෙන් sādarayen "respectfully" and පිළිගනිමු piḷiganimu, a form of පිළිගන්නවා piḷigannavā "to accept". I assume the first word is related to Sanskrit सादर sādara "respectful".

The Tibetan tashi delek is a representation of the pronunciation of the greeting spelled བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས་ bkra shis bde legs. The connection between Tibetan spelling and pronunciation will forever elude me.

I believe the Tagalog maligayang pagbabalik literally means "happy homecoming".

Here are the languages in the order they appear (with some help from Omniglot):

Bienvenue - French
欢迎 - simplified Chinese (huānyíng)
Բարի եկաք - Western Armenian (bari ekak')
خوش آمديد - Persian/Urdu (ḵẖūś āmadīd)
Benvenuti - Italian
ДОБРО ПОЖАЛОВАТЬ - Russian (dobro požalovat')
Bem Vindos - Portuguese
நல்வரவு - Tamil (nalvaravu)
Dobro dosli - Serbian/Croatian - should be dobrodošli
Kihn chao ong - Vietnamese, should be kính chào ông
Kihn Chao ba - Vietnamese, should be kính chào bà
مرحباً - Arabic (marẖabā)
Vítame vás - Czech
Вітаємо - Ukrainian (vitajemo)
Willkommen - German
Καλώς ήλθατε - Greek (kalōs ēlthate)
Welkom - Dutch
Witamy - Polish
أھلاً و سھلاً - Arabic again ('āhlān wa sahlān)
Failte - Irish/Scots Gaelic (fáilte/fàilte)
tashi delek - Tibetan (བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས་ bkra shis bde legs)
Maligayang Pagbabalik - Tagalog
Radi vitati vas - Ukrainian again? (раді вітати Вас)
歡迎 - traditional Chinese (huānyíng)
Hwan-Yong Ham Nee Da - Korean (환영합니다)
sadarayen piliganimu - Sinhala (සාදරයෙන් පිළිගනිමු)
ښه راغلاست - Pashto (x̌ah rāğlāst?) (this used to be rendered incorrectly but it's been fixed)
Hoş geldiniz - Turkish
Bienvenidos - Spanish

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

queer and truss

Proto-Indo-European *terkʷ- "to twist" had a possible metathesized form twerk-, which became Proto-Germanic *þwerh-, becoming German quer (from earlier dwer) "transverse, oblique, crosswise, at right angles, obstructive, (of things) going wrong, (of a person) peculiar" etc. This was possibly borrowed as queer.

*þwerh- became Old Norse þvert "across", borrowed as thwart.

The form *torkʷ- became Latin torqueō "to twist", the stem being tors-/tort-. This possibly developed in Old French trusser "to trusse, tucke, packe up, to bind or gird up or in" (Cotgrave), borrowed into English as truss.

There was another PIE root *twerḱ- "to cut", which became Greek σάρξ sarks "flesh" and σαρκάζω sarkazō "to tear flesh like dogs", as in sarcasm. Etymologically, sarcophagus means "flesh-eater".

Thursday, 29 August 2013

currency exchange

Here's a sign outside a currency exchange.

I think these are all from Google Translate, but they illustrate the dangers of using Google Translate when you don't know anything about the language in question.

I think the German and Spanish are ok, but isn't the normal French term bureau de change? My dictionary says the Italian should be cambiavalute.

The Hindi should be मुद्रा विनिमय mudrā vinimay - in the second word the vowels are joined to the wrong consonants. It's the same problem noted here and on Language Log.

Take the last line, reverse the direction, and you get Persian مبادله ارز mubādalah ārz. mubādalah is "exchange" and ārz is "value, price, foreign exchange". Is this the usual way to write "currency exchange"?

(When I first wrote this I misread the second word as ادز instead of ارز, which was confusing.)

Saturday, 24 August 2013

what they're saying about Bradshaw of the Future

"slice of dry white bread" - Gez
"tails off at the end" - languagehat
"quite neat" - Schrisomalis
"etymological opiates for the masses" - Mahendra Singh
"very cool and always informative" - Drew
"Ah, how the futuristic bradshaw brightens my day" - Adam Roberts
"informative without being too strident" - the engine room
"home-made penne all'arrabbiata with the sauce made from the best tomatoes on this planet" - bulbul
"desperate wrong-doer" - Lewis Carroll

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

atoll and esoteric

atoll is borrowed from Dhivehi އަތޮޅު atoḷu (related to Sinhala ඇතුල් ætul "inside"), possibly related to Sanskrit अन्तर antara- "interior". Or the Dhivehi word might be borrowed from Malayalam attālam "sinking reef" (or അടൽ aṭal "closing, uniting"), in which case it is probably not of IE origin.

Maldivian atolls

Sanskrit antara- is from PIE *en-tero- from *en- "in" plus *-tero- an adjectival comparative suffix. *en-tero- became Greek ἔντερον enteron "intestine", as in enteric, dysentery. It also became Latin intrō as in introduce.

The extended suffixed *ens-ō- (*-ō- being a form of the thematic suffix?) became Greek ἔσω esō "within". The comparative form of this is ἐσωτέρω esōterō (featuring the comparative suffix *-tero-) as in ἐσωτερικός esōterikos "inner, esoteric", as in esoteric.

Monday, 19 August 2013

frugal and brook

The form *bhrūg- "agricultural produce, to enjoy (produce)" (perhaps derived from PIE *bhreu- "to cut") became Latin frug- "profit, utility, fruit", and frūgālis "frugal, economical, useful".

The form *bhrūg-wo- became Latin fruī "to enjoy", frūctus "enjoyment, produce" and English fruit.

In English, *bhrūg- became brūcan "to enjoy the use of, make use of, profit by". Nowadays this is found in expressions where it means "tolerate":
The General… could ill brook the opposition of his son. - Austen, Northanger Abbey
The derivation of brook the noun is unknown.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

heddle, have, hawk, recipe

Proto-Indo-European *kap- "to grasp" became Proto-Germanic *haf- and Old English hefeld "thread used for weaving", metathesized to *hefedl, then English heddle.

The form *kap-o- became English have and behave.

Proto-Germanic *haƀ-uko-z became Old English heafoc and English hawk. The *-uko- suffix is also found in bullock, bollocks, paddock, etc.

The form *kap-yo- became Latin capiō "to take, seize, catch". From this was derived recipere "admit, give shelter" which found its way thru French into English as receive. The second person singular imperative of recipere was recipe. In English recipe was originally used by doctors to begin a medical prescription, for instance "Recipe brede gratyd, & eggis" (from The babees book).

Monday, 5 August 2013

celebrity non-English tattoos

It's time for more celebrities with non-English tattoos!

(Previously on celebrity tattoos.)

Hayden Panettiere has a Sanskrit Hindi tattoo on her right arm. I guess it is supposed to be जय गुरुदेव ॐ jay guru dev om, the mantra in The Beatles' "Across the Universe". It's not the nicest looking Devanagari, in my opinion. Also the रु looks weird.

Hayden also has an Italian tattoo: Vivere senza rimipianti, a mistake for Vivere senza rimpianti "live without regrets".

Angelina Jolie has a tattoo in Khmer (apparently a Buddhist Pali incantation), but it's been rotated. I know nothing about Khmer but I think it's rotated right in this picture.

Doda Elektroda has an unfortunate Sanskrit tattoo that one person says is अविनाशिता avināśitā "avowed, spoken for". Someone else says it might be अविनाशिन् avināśin "imperishable".

Kimberley Wyatt has Sanskrit lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu which apparently means "let all beings be happy and let my actions contribute to their happiness". लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु।

Freema Agyeman has Persian رَها rahā "liberation".

Rihanna has Arabic الّحريه في المسيح "freedom in the Messiah".

Rihanna has Tibetan དགའ་པོ་བྱེད་མཁན། dga' po byed mkhan, which means "fan" according to this dictionary. dga' po is "love" and byed mkhan is "doer, performer, author, someone who creates". So I guess it's meant to be "lover".

And of course Rihanna has a Sanskrit tattoo.

Mamtha Mohandas has Sanskrit श्री गणेशाय नमः śrī gaṇeśāya namaḥ.

Saif Ali Khan has his girlfriend's name Kareena. करीना?

Hrithik Roshan has a Tengwar tattoo!?

Shruti Hassan got her name in Tamil: ஷ்ருதி

Ajay Devgan has his daughter's name, apparently.

Sanjay Dutt has all kinds of tattoos.

Friday, 2 August 2013

veldt, piano, polka

veldt is an older spelling of Dutch and Afrikaans veld "unenclosed country or open pasture-land", cognate with English field, from Proto-Germanic *felþa- from Proto-Indo-European *pelh₂- "flat, to spread".

In Latin *pelh₂- became plānus "flat, level, even, plain, clear" and Italian piano "quiet". English piano is a shortening of pianoforte, so named because the instrument could produce both loud and soft sounds.

polka is the feminine form of Polish polák "Pole", but further etymology is uncertain.

In Slavic, *pelh₂- became Russian полый polyj "open, free, uncovered" and Czech pole "field". The AHD connects this with polka, but the OED says this is discredited. Another discredited theory is that it is from Czech půlka "half", as in "half-step" or somesuch.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


For years I've been reading about how text messaging is destroying the language. My favourite rant is John Humphrys' overwrought doomsaying:
It is the relentless onward march of the texters, the SMS (Short Message Service) vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.
Compare this to Johannes Trithemius's panic in the 15th century about how the printing press was going to make people lazy. Or Jonathan Swift's complaint about the "barbarous Custom of abbreviating Words". Or the panic over how the telephone might "break up home life".

David Crystal’s txtng: the gr8 db8 (2008) clearly and concisely explains how text messaging isn’t the threat to English that the linguistic Cassandras pretend it is.

When Ben Zimmer reviewed this book, he listed the main points Crystal makes:
Text messages aren’t full of abbreviations” – typically less than ten percent of the words use them. [Frequency Illusion]
These abbreviations aren't a new language – they’ve been around for decades. [Recency Illusion]
They aren't just used by kids – adults of all ages and institutions are the leading texters these days. [Adolescent Illusion]
Pupils don't routinely put them into their school-work or examinations.
It isn't a cause of bad spelling: you have to know how to spell before you can text.
Texting actually improves your literacy, as it gives you more practice in reading and writing.
In a striking example of how abbreviation isn't new, Crystal provides a list of abbreviations that appear in text messages and that also appeared in a dictionary of abbreviations from 1942. He doesn't mention how Roman inscriptions were heavily abbreviated, but he could have.

Furthermore, a lot of nonstandard spellings that are associated with text messaging, such as luv, gonna, thru, would of, are all much older than texting.

The interaction between texting and literacy in the standard language interests me the most. About spelling, Crystal notes that you can't use SMS in the first place unless you have some grounding in how to read and write. He cites some studies, which I summarize here:
In a comparison of texting and non-texting pre-teens, neither group had worse spelling or grammar than the other. (This is from a City University study by Veena Raval, which I can no longer find online.)

Texting is motivating for teenage boys, and provides opportunities for linguistic creativity.
(E.-L. Kasesniemi and P. Rautiainen (2002), 'Mobile culture of children and teenagers in Finland', in J.E. Katz and M. Aakhus (eds.), Perpetual Contact: Mobile Communication, Private Talk and Public Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 170-92.)

A series of studies found positive links between texting and the skills used for standard English in pre-teen children. “The children were asked to compose text messages that they might write in a particular situation - such as texting a friend to say that they had missed their bus and they we going to be late. The more text abbreviations they used in their messages, the higher they scored on tests of reading and vocabulary. The children who were better at spelling and writing used the most texting abbreviations.”
(Beverly Plester, Clare Wood, and Victoria Bell (2006), 'Txt msg n school literacy: does mobile phone use adversely affect children's literacy attainment?' and Beverly Plester, Clare Wood, and Puja Joshi (2007), 'Exploring the relationship between children's knowledge of text message abbreviations and school literacy outcomes'; both Coventry University Psychology Department.)
There should be nothing surprising about these results. As Crystal says:
I do not see how texting could be a significant factor when discussing children who have real problems with literacy. If you have difficulty with reading and writing, you are hardly going to be predisposed to use a technology which demands sophisticated abilities in reading and writing. And if you do start to text, I would expect the additional experience of writing to be a help, rather than a hindrance.
The last series of studies suggest that children are aware that texting is different from standard English, and that they have some sense of when to use each. This is sophisticated linguistic knowledge, which can only help them in their linguistic development.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is Crystal's many examples of funny and touching text messaging poetry. Here is one, written by an 86-year old woman:
O hart tht sorz
My luv adorz
He mAks me liv
He mAks me giv
Myself 2 him
As my luv porz
Additional: Milan Davidović drew my attention to an article about the effect of texting on literacy and about how teachers are using texting to teach about register and audience.

Saturday, 20 July 2013


shampoo is from Hindi चाँपो cāṃpo, the imperative of चाँपना cāṃpanā "to press, squeeze, knead".
Originally shampoo meant "To knead and press the muscles with the view of relieving fatigue".
"Shampooing is an operation not known in Europe, and is peculiar to the Chinese, which I had once the curiosity to go through, and for which I paid but a trifle. However, had I not seen several China merchants shampooed before me, I should have been apprehensive of danger, even at the sight of all the different instruments…
A Voyage to the E. Indies in 1747 and 1748. London, 1762, p. 226.

It's tempting to connect the Hindi word to Sanskrit jambh- "crush, destroy, bite".

This Sanskrit word is from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵembh- "tooth, nail", which gives us English comb. Sanskrit जम्भ jambha means "tooth, tusk".

Saturday, 13 July 2013


So Paul Mathis wants to use Ћ instead of the because it will save characters on twitter?

Ћ is U+040B CYRILLIC CAPITAL LETTER TSHE and it's easy enough to use on iOS already - just turn on the Serbian Cyrillic keyboard.

It's worth pointing out that 1000 years ago we used ꝥ - a þ with a stroke, which was an abbreviation for þæt, the ancestor of the. It can be seen in this passage from Cockayne, Leechdoms, wortcunning, and starcraft of early England:

enım beo æſan  apan · ⁊ æe  hƿıe ealu lee on ƿıð omena eƿelle.
(genim beor dræstan ⁊ sāpan · ⁊ æges ꝥ hwīte ⁊ ealde grut lege on wið omena geswelle.)

"Take beer dregs and soap and the white of an egg and old groats, lay on for erysipelatous swelling."

⁊ is an abbreviation for and.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

paraffin and few

He got up to go, and added: "Then I shall see you in the City before you go back to... Castra Parvulorum, was it? What a jolly name!"

"Unfortunately it isn't generally called that," the Archdeacon said. "It's called in directories and so on, and by the inhabitants, Fardles. By Grimm's Law."

"Grimm's Law?" Mornington asked, astonished. "Wasn't he the man who wrote the fairy tales for the parvuli? But why did he make a law about it? And why did anyone take any notice?"

"I understand it was something to do with Indo-European sounds," the Archdeacon answered. "The Castra was dropped, and in parvulorum the p became f and the v became d. And Grimm discovered what had happened. But I try and keep the old name as well as I can. It's not far from London. They say Caesar gave it the name because his soldiers caught a lot of British children there, and he sent them back to their own people."

"Then I don't see why Grimm should have interfered," Mornington said

- Charles Williams, War in Heaven, 1930
Full marks for creativity, but the Latin word would not have developed into the English word in that way. I wonder if Tolkien had something to do with this. (Tolkien and Williams were in the same literary group, along with CS Lewis.)

paruulī are chidren, the dimunitive of paruus "small". It's cognate with Greek παῦρος "little, small", from Proto-Indo-European *peh₂u-.

In English *peh₂u- became few.

Latin paruus made its way into English in parvi- as in parvovirus. And paraffin from parum+affinis, ie "small affinity". It got this name due to its small affinity with other chemicals, apparently.

I don't see a way to get English Fardles and Latin paruulī from the same protoform. If the English was Fartles (**pardu̯-) it might work.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

jealous, zealous, जादू

So a friend of mine was wondering when jealous and envious both came to mean "possessiveness about someone else's stuff". Only envious should be used in this way, he felt. I decided to look into it, because that's the sort of service we provide here at Bradshaw of the Future. But it turns out that Gabe at Motivated Grammar has already covered it, and covered it much better than I could. (Both words have been used this way since at least 1385.)

But I discovered a few other interesting things. For instance jealous and zealous are both derived from late Latin zēlōsus, the adjective form of zēlus which was borrowed from Greek ζῆλος (zēlos) "jealousy, fervour, zeal". jealous is thru Old French gelos (derived from zēlōsus), while zealous was borrowed straight from Latin zēlōsus.

The reason why we don't have a word *jeal to correspond with zeal is… well, I guess there is no reason. zeal is borrowed from late Latin zēlus, but an Old French reflex of zēlus, if one ever existed, wasn't borrowed into English as *jeal.

ζῆλος is from Proto-Indo-European *yeh₂- meaning "seek, request, desire" in the AHD and "to be angry, to be punished, also to invoke, to bless" in the IEW.

According to the IEW, derivatives include Sanskrit यातु yātu "witchcraft" and Avestan yā-tū- "magic". The semantic shift from either "seek, request" or "to invoke" to "magic" doesn't seem implausible to me.

The Avestan is related to Persian جادو jādū "magic", which was borrowed into Hindi as जादू jādū.

When I think of jadoo, of course I think of this magical song from my favourite Hindi film, Koi Mil Gaya. It will bewitch you.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

arrested devanagari

In one of the episodes of the new Arrested Development (the one where Tobias goes to India), we can see an authentic Indian airport, straight from Google Translate:
बाॅब होप हवाई अड्डे - "Bob Hope airport". It suffers from a rendering problem - the last vowel diacritic is hanging in space.

 There's another sign that's clear enough to read:
 टर्मिनल बी - "terminal B". The vowel diacritic is misplaced, probably because of a rendering problem. (Language Log has a detailed description of the issue.) And why not conjoin some letters once in a while?

 From the same episode:
निराशा अस्पता के सिटी "city of hopelessness hospital" - there's a letter missing, it should be अस्पताल. And why transliterate "city" instead of using the Hindi word शहर?

I need to find a name for this phenomenon, where software renders a script infelicitously, and no one knows enough about the script to fix it. These signs only appear for seconds on the screen, so it's not a big deal. When it happens in government publications or posters it's a bigger deal.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


There are four docks, each with a different etymology.

The structure used to receive ships is related to Dutch dok, Swedish docka, German Dock, further etymology uncertain. Skeat connects it to Latin doga "ditch" and Greek δοχή "receptacle".

The place where a criminal is placed during a trial is related to Flemish dok "rabbit-hutch, fowl-pen, cage".

The solid part of an animal's tail, also used a verb meaning "cut off, amputate" is related to Icelandic dockr "short stumpy tail" and German docke "bundle, plug, peg", further etymology uncertain.

The name for the herb (genus Rumex) is from Old English docce, perhaps from PIE *dheuh₂-.
Rumex patientia

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

footling and halibut

Quite hopeless. He has lost his grip completely. Only a couple of days ago I was compelled to take him off a case because his handling of it was so footling.
- PG Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves
footling is "driveling, blithering", from footle "to talk or act foolishly". This is possibly a variant of foutre, which the OED declines to translate, perhaps because French foutre is something of a taboo word. It's from Latin futuere "to have vaginal intercouse", possibly from Proto-Indo-European *bheh₂u- "to hit".

The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots says the Germanic extended form *ƀaut- became *butt-, a name for a flatfish. This became English butt "flatfish, turbot" and halibut - ie holy butt, so named because it was eaten on holy days.

How a word meaning "hit" came to be used for a fish is unclear.

Thursday, 23 May 2013


The Guardian has an article on Steven Wilhite, the inventor of the Graphics Interchange Format, who apparently insists that GIF should be pronounced with /dʒ/ and not /g/. Why? Because that's what the creators of the word intended.

The OED lists both pronunciations. But:
“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations,” Mr. Wilhite said. “They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.” 
There's even a song, where we're told "you can't go around using words all willy-nilly."

I'm not convinced by any of this. The notion that a word's pronunciation is defined by the creators of that word strikes me as a variant of the etymological fallacy. In order to determine how a word is used and pronounced, the origin of the word is irrelevant. What's relevant is how the speakers of the language use and pronounce it now. And speakers of the language have decided to use both pronunciations.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The ten coolest cephalopods

The sea’s full of saints and it’s been full of saints for years. Since longer than anything. Saints were there before there were even gods. They were waiting for them, and they’re still there now. 

Saints eat fish and shellfish. Some of them catch jellyfish and some of them eat rubbish. Some saints eat anything they can find. They hide under rocks; they turn themselves inside out; they spit up spirals. There’s nothing saints don’t do.
The gods don't owe us anything. That's not why we worship. We worship because they're gods. This is their universe, not ours.

- China Miéville, Kraken

Metasepia pfefferi (flamboyant cuttlefish)

It walks along the sea floor like it ain't a thing! Dressed like that!

(It can afford to walk around like that; it's really poisonous.)

Note how it's using its mantle as hind legs!

Sepioloidea lineolata (striped pajama squid)

Closely related to cuttlefish but it has no cuttlebone. It buries itself in the sand, presumably because it is too cute for the rest of the ocean.

Abdopus aculeatus

Enjoy these beautiful high-quality images of this octopus mating.

Abdopus aculeatus walks on two arms on the sea floor while mimicking a twig.
Watch it!
Or mimicking... I'm not sure what:

Octopus briareus (Caribbean reef octopus)

If you get the chance to go night diving or night snorkeling in the Caribbean, there is a good chance you'll see this octopus. It's very small with iridescent markings and it seems to ooze from place to place.

Argonauta sp.

The argonaut is a kind of octopus, the female of which secretes a beautiful transparent shell, which it uses to store eggs in. It resembles a nautilus, but the shells are not homologous.

The shells contain trapped air, which is apparently used for buoyancy.

Tremoctopus violaceus (common or violet blanket octopus)

Tremoctopus has beautiful webbing between some of its arms. The webbing is extended as a threat display.

Tremoctopus belongs to the same clade as Argonauta. The males of both are tiny, with detachable hectocotyluses (this is the arm that delivers sperm to the female). In the case of Tremoctopus, the male dies after the hectocotylus detaches, but the hectocotylus autonomously fertilizes the female. Three-fifths of the cephalopod brain is located in the arms.

So in other words, Tremoctopus's penis literally has a mind of its own. (OK it's not a penis, but it had to be said.)

Tremoctopus is immune to the poison of the Portuguese man o'war. The males tear off man o'war tentacles and use them for defense.

Grimpoteuthis sp.

Grimpoteuthis hippocrepium

Species in this genus are deep sea cirrate octopuses. Grimpoteuthis, along with Cirroteuthidae, are nicknamed “dumbo octopuses” because they have large fins that resemble ears.

Many of them live on the sea floor or swim gracefully just above it.

Grimpoteuthis sp.

They are quite beautiful; a slowly flying octopus.

Grimpoteuthis bathynectes

This is either Grimpoteuthis or Cirroteuthidae

Some sources say this little guy is Grimpoteuthis, but I think it is the closely related Opisthoteuthis, the flapjack octopus, or awww so cute octopus. It has a more flattened body than Grimpoteuthis and is found in shallower waters. It seems to be the inspiration for the octopus in Finding Nemo - except that Opisthoteuthis has no ink sac. In fact all cirrate octopuses lack ink sacs.

Opisthoteuthis sp.

Magnapinna sp.

These weird-looking squids have been found in four oceans over 2000 metres down. They are thought to be Magnapinnidae. More importantly, they seem to be the inspiration for the Martians in Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The alienness of this animal is partly an artifact of the position; seen from another angle, it looks much more traditionally squid-like:

Architeuthis sp.

This is the longest known living invertebrate with reported lengths of 18 m and weights of 500 kg. (But it's not the heaviest invertebrate; that would be Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni.) This is the squid that leaves sucker scars on sperm whales. Each sucker is lined with a row of sharp serrated chitin, all the better to wound its prey.

This squid is the inspiration for China Miéville’s novel Kraken. "Centuries of dissident cephalopod gnosis."

Melbourne Museum scientists dissect Architeuthis sp.

probably Ommastrephes bartramii

Squids in the Ommastrephidae family are some of the most important squids to the fishing industry. But I say don't eat them, watch them. Because they fly. Or glide tens of metres through the air, anyway. Ommastrephes bartramii, Todarodes pacificus, Sthenoteuthis pteropus and Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis all fly but these photos are Ommastrephes bartramii I think.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The ten coolest languages

Austronesian languages of Vanuatu
The languages of Vanuatu, like Vao, Tangoa, and V'enen Taut (Big Nambas), are I think the only languages in the world to use linguo-labial consonants. These consonants are made by touching the tip of the tongue to the upper lip. Listen.

Salishan languages
Here are some words in Klallam. (ƛ̕ is a lateral ejective /tɬʼ/, c is /ts/)

sƛ̕íƛ̕aʔƛ̕qɬ "child"
ɬq̕čšɬnát "Friday"
sk̕ʷc̕ŋíyɬč "cherry tree"

The orthography is an accurate representation of the pronunciation. There are no epenthetic vowels; the word for "Friday" really does begin with 6 consonants. (Have a listen.)

Here's a recording of a Klallam speaker reciting the myth of the flood.

The related language Nuxalk (Bella Coola) is famous for its consonant clusters. There are a lot of short utterances, like k'xct "they see you", sc'qc tx "that's my fat over there", that have no vowels. (Listen.)

This Nuxalk utterance is famous:

'he had had in his possession a bunchberry plant.'

Really? An utterance that long has no vowels, not even epenthetic vowels? In these recordings I can hear plenty of vowels (plenty of consonant clusters too). In particular a word like mts has a syllabic nasal, and scwm "to burn" sounds like [sxʷɘm] to me.

This Otomanguean language contrasts creaky and breathy voice vowels. Creaky voice, also called vocal fry, is used quite a lot in English and has been in the news recently.

ǃXóõ (Taa)
ǃXóõ has five basic click consonants, each of which can be modified in various ways, for a total of over 80 click sounds. Listen to clicks in the related language Zhuǀhõasi.

Dhivehi (Maldivian)
It’s an Indo-European language spoken in the Maldives, the furthest away from the geographical area I think about when I think Indo-European. It's written in Thaana, which looks a bit like Perso-Arabic script but is only partly derived from it.

Agul (Aghul)
The epiglottis is the flap of tissue that closes off the trachea when we swallow. And it also plays a role in speech: the Caucasian language of Agul is one of the only languages that has epiglottal consonants. Listen.

Hindi uses the passive to express incapacity or unwillingness. And the passive can be used this way with intransitive verbs!

मुझसे नहीं बैठा गया।
mujhase nahīṃ baiṭhā gayā
literally "was not sat by me"
"I couldn't sit down"

उससे वहाँ नहीं जाया गया।
usase vahāṃ nahīṃ jāyā gayā
literally "there was not gone by him"
"He couldn't (bring himself to) go there."

इतनी गरमी में किसी से नहीं सोया जाता।
itanī garamī meṃ kisī se nahīṃ soyā jātā
literally "in so much heat is not slept by anyone"
"Nobody can sleep in so much heat."

Sanskrit has a cool compounding system that can get pretty complex (I've probably spelled these wrong):

mṛga-pracāra-sūcita-śvāpadam araṇyam
literally, "the forest (is) one-in-which-the-beasts-are-indicated-by-the-movements-of-the-deer"
"the game in the forest has been tracked by the movements of the deer"

pratyāpanna-cetano vayasyaḥ
literally "(my) friend (is) one-by-whom-consciousness-is-regained"
"my friend has regained consciousness"

Because it has such a beautiful script.

An interesting feature of this script is how some consonants are conjoined. The word "ayurvēdik" is written అయుర్వేదిక్ where the character for v is a conjunct. It's the one that drops below the baseline. The character immediately to the left of that is the non-conjunct character for r. And the vowel diacritic (ē) is added to the non-conjunct consonant (the r) instead of the consonant whose syllable it belongs to (the v).

Like many Celtic languages, Welsh has a system of initial mutation where the first consonant in the word changes depending on its grammar or the preceding word. Welsh has three kinds of mutation: soft, nasal and aspirate.

So pen is "head":

fy mhen "my head" (nasal mutation, the initial /p/ has changed to a voiceless nasal)
dau ben "two heads" (soft mutation, the initial /p/ has changed to /b/)
ei phen "her head" (aspirate mutation, the initial /p/ has changed to /f/)

And those are my favourite languages. Feel free to add to the list!

Lots of further discussion at languagehat! And yeah, this list is completely subjective and arbitrary. It's just an excuse to list some things I find interesting.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Easter and aurora

Spotted on facebook:

Really? The name of the Akkadian deity Ishtar sounds a bit like Easter, so they're related? What about the German word for the holiday, Ostern? How is that related to Ishtar? Why do most other European languages use a completely different word for the holiday? (Italian Pasqua, Swedish påsk, Welsh Pasg, Greek Πάσχα, etc, all borrowed from Hebrew פֶּסַח pesakh)

The truth is that Easter is related to east. It's from Old English Ēastran, probably from Proto-Germanic *austrōn- "dawn", whence German Ostern, Old Dutch ōstermānōth "Easter-month", Old Saxon ōstarfrisking "paschal lamb".

east is from Proto-Germanic *aust-. Both *aust- and *austrōn- are from Proto-Indo-European *heus- "to shine" (the form is written a few different ways; this is how it's cited in Fortson's Indo-European Language and Culture).

Austria is related; it seems to be a Latinized form of German Österreich "Eastern Kingdom".

*heus- also became Latin aurōra, Vedic uṣas, Avestan ušah-, Greek ἠώς (ēōs), Irish Gaelic fàir, Welsh gwawr, Lithuanian aušrà, all meaning "dawn". In Germanic languages it came to mean "east", since that's where the dawn is.

Another idea that gets circulated about Easter is that there was a deity named Eostre who was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons at the vernal equinox. This comes from Bede:

a735   Bede De Temporum Ratione xv,   Eostur-monath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant, nomen habuit, a cujus nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquae observationis vocabulo gaudia novae solemnitatis vocantes.

"Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.  Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance." (translation)

Says the OED: "This explanation is not confirmed by any other source, and the goddess has been suspected by some scholars to be an invention of Bede's. However, it seems unlikely that Bede would have invented a fictitious pagan festival in order to account for a Christian one."

The Vedic, Greek and Latin derivatives (Uṣā́s, Ēṓs and Aurōra respectively) were used to refer to a goddess of the dawn, according to Fortson. So the idea that there was a Germanic equivalent doesn't seem too far-fetched.

Further: There is also talk of a Germanic goddess Ostara, from Old High German ōstara which is cognate with Easter. But as far as I can tell, we have no direct evidence of a deity named Ostara. Everything we know about her is from speculation by Grimm in his Deutsche Mythologie.

Saturday, 16 March 2013


Out of all the alphabets, this is my favourite letter.

Isn't it cute?

It's the Malayalam long vocalic R (U+0D60), the equivalent of Devanagari ॠ.

I assume it's only used for writing Sanskrit. It is pretty much ignored in Learn Malayalam in 30 Days through English, the only book for learning the language that I can find. This alphabet book covers the short vocalic R (in ഋഷി ṛṣi "wise man" and ഋഷഭം ṛṣabhaṃ "bull"), but skips the long vocalic R altogether.

There is one Malayalam word that uses this letter: ൠഭോഷന്‍ ṝbhōṣan "contemptible fool". It's apparently used in alphabet songs, so when children in Kerala sing the alphabet, the word they use for the coolest-looking letter ever is "contemptible fool".

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

National Grammar Day

OMG yesterday was National Grammar Day! I've been sick, so I have an excuse for missing it. Anyway, here's a fantastic post from Painting the Grey Area on literacy privilege. Literacy is not tied to intelligence, and "bad" English is not the result of laziness: "the idea that there is only one right way of doing English – and everyone else is doing it wrong – is inherently flawed. And by 'flawed' I mean illogical, elitist and even oppressive."

Sunday, 3 March 2013

dachshund and tissue

Proto-Indo-European *teḱs- "to weave, fabricate" possibly became Proto-Germanic *þahsuz "badger" ("the animal that builds") and German Dachs "badger". Dachshund means "badger-dog", probably because it was bred for hunting badgers.
The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots suggests that *þahsuz is more likely from the same source as Gaulish Tazgo-, Gaelic Tadhg, originally meaning "badger".
In Greek, *teḱs-na- became τέχνη tekhnē "art, craft, skill" as in technical
In Latin, *teḱs- became texere "to weave", becoming Old French tistre past participle tissu, which was originally used for a kind of rich cloth.

Thursday, 21 February 2013


It's only a sweatshirt with Tibetan on it!
བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས bkra shis bde legs - the Tibetan greeting often written tashi delek.

This shirt is advertising the Yak & Yeti restaurant in Disney World's Animal Kingdom. The "Asia" area of Animal Kingdom has decor meant to evoke India, Nepal and Tibet. This includes a lot of signs in Devanagari, although I couldn't make sense out of a lot of them.

आनन्दपुर दूरसंप्रेषण - Anandapur telecommunication

अब आगे कहाँ - where next

 कोका-कोला - Coca-Cola

नए सदस्यों का स्वागत है - new members welcome
शौचालय - toilet

They're even throwing some Ranjana up there! I don't know if you would ever see Ranjana on a public telephone sign, but I love how the Disney imagineers know that this script exists and decided to use it.

This is Nepali! 
रोक्नु - stop
बिहिबार बेलुका - Thursday evening