4thofeleven: (Default)
Cerberus, the name of the three-headed dog that guards the river Styx, is the Latin form of the Greek 'Kerebos'. Some etymologists speculate that name is related to the Sanskrit word ‘karbarah/karvara’, and may be either derived from it or share a common root from the proto-Indo European language.

And what does that word translate as? ‘Spotted’.

Because, after all, even if you’re the god of the underworld, Spot is still a good name for your dog...
4thofeleven: (Default)
One of the curious things about Star Trek Online is how many Germans seem to play it. You can’t go half a sector without seeing a ship from the ‘Deutsche Flotte’ or with a name like ‘USS Swabia’ or somesuch. I’ve also seen a few Czech and Hungarian fleets (guild equivalent) – it gives the impression at times that the game’s an alternate timeline where the Habsburg Empire never fell and the Central Powers expanded into space. It’s an amusing image.

One German-language fleet name has made me wince somewhat, though. Was in a game the other day alongside a pair of ships that were listed as part of the Something-or-other ‘Sonderkommandos’ fleet. Now, I know Sonderkommando literally just means ‘special unit’, but to me, the term is linked pretty strongly to Nazi death camps and the SS. Does anyone know if the term’s just as tainted in modern German? I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I’d rather not play alongside Nazis if I can help it...
4thofeleven: (Default)

Reading Kate Burridge’s Weeds in the Garden of Words, a collection of oddities in the English language. Some interesting stuff on irregularities, pronunciation shifts, and changing attitudes regarding ‘unacceptable’ slang and sentence constructions.

One bit I found especially interesting concerns taboo words, and resulting pronunciation shifts. The example she offers is ‘coney’, the original English word for rabbit. It was originally pronounced to rhyme with ‘money’. It dropped out of use in the nineteenth century due to a perceived similarity to ‘cunt’ – ‘rabbit’ originally referred only to the young of the animal, not the adults. Before rabbit took its place, there were efforts to alter coney to allow it to remain acceptable, by changing the pronunciation to rhyme with ‘phoney’. The word ‘bunny’ may also have been originally a euphemism from the suddenly unacceptable ‘coney’.

This is interesting, because it’s an example of an intentional pronunciation shift, rather than the usual more gradual and undirected changes.

What was even more interesting, though, was that Burridge noted that this sort of euphemistic alteration of words that sound similar to taboo words is common in most languages, and offered the example of the Austronesian languages, specifically those of the Solomon Islands. Many cultures in this area have a strong taboo against using the name of the deceased. Since names are often derived from common vocabulary words, when a person dies, a great many words are suddenly similar to a taboo word. Apparently, this results in the languages of the Solomon Islands having an unusually high turnover of vocabulary and pronunciation, with new euphemistic pronunciations coming into use regularly to replace words rendered semi-taboo by a recent death.
4thofeleven: (Default)
Claiming that a split infinitive is improper English.

Alright, look. We all want to come across as intelligent. And, as we all know, one of the best ways to appear to be an arrogant prick knowledgeable is to correct other people’s grammar. The problem is when people take it upon themselves to ‘correct’ perfectly acceptable sentences, based only on a poorly remembered awareness of non-existent rules.

English has always used split infinitives. They’re a common aspect of the language. No, I don’t care if some grammar textbook from the nineteenth century insists the construction is unacceptable; while it might have been less common in the past, the construction has always been part of the language. Chaucer used them, Shakespeare used them. They’re fine.

What, you don’t like the descriptivism anarchy of accepting any grammar as long as it’s in common use? Well this isn’t a debatable or borderline case; split infinitives have been around as long as English; they’ve been in common use in both speech and print for more than two centuries. It’s far too late to remove them now, even if there was a valid reason to do so - and no, "It doesn't work that way in Latin" isn't a valid reason for imposing rules on English.

And if you’re still determined to correct people’s grammar, learn something about the language as it’s actually used before you start, yes?
4thofeleven: (Default)

Alright, so in English, we have two ‘voices’, the active voice and the passive voice. Ancient Greek has both, but it also has a third voice – the ‘middle’ voice. Middle voice verbs resemble passive verbs, but act more like active verbs. Since the middle voice doesn’t exist in English, they’re hard to translate, but generally a verb in the middle voice either implies that the action is being done to oneself (eg ‘I free myself’), or – and this is pretty neat – that the action is being done for one’s own benefit. The verb that means “To carry”, for example, when used in the middle voice has the implied meaning of “To win (eg, a trophy)”. The verb "To fight" only exists in the middle; presumably because once you're in a fight, you're acting to preserve your own life - it does have the interesting implication that one cannot selflessly fight in the defense of others in Ancient Greek; there's always the implication of self-interest.

I find it kinda interesting to have a form of a verb that’s concerned with the subject’s motivation as well as their actions – it’s an unusual concept; there aren’t, to my knowledge, any major modern languages that have a middle voice. Still, I kinda like it, though it is a pain to learn.

Still not sure why the course I'm taking teaches the middle voice before the passive voice, though – it seems to me it would be easier to teach the grammatical forms that also exist in English before moving on to largely untranslatable oddities…
4thofeleven: (Default)
Idly flipping through a book of euphemisms, I learned today that the word 'cleavage' was first recorded in the mid-1940s.

I find it hard to believe the English language survived for as long as it did before coining such a useful term.

I'm now wondering - do other languages have a word for cleavage, and do they predate the english term?


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David Newgreen

August 2017

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