Sunday, October 19, 2008

tags or elements

Finally a web-meme I can get into! Over at Mother Tongue Annoyances (a blog) I found the following meme (link) tacked on to the end of a funny rant on Henry “Dick” Miller:

A simple, two-step approach for generating your own, fully personalized, 21st century, Web 2.0-based reading list:

  1. Make a list of the top three books that have influenced your life, and make a note of the authors’ names
  2. Visit Literature-Map, plug each author name into the text box (one at a time, naturally) and generate a cloud of related authors. That ought to keep you busy for a while!

Thanks for playing. Have a nice day.

OK. Easy enough. My three life-changing books, off the cuff, were:

  • Voltaire, Candide. [map]
  • Joris-Karl Huysman, À Rebours. [map]
  • Aldous Huxley, Time Must Have a Stop. [map]

The first thing which struck me was the name juxtaposed to Voltaire’s, i.e., Scott Adams. In Paris, I once stayed at a hotel on the quai de Voltaire (across the Seine from the Louvre), and that key was named so because the building in which Voltaire spent the last years of his life and in which he died, then housed a café on its ground floor. I ate a lovely breakfast there, with strong coffee, croissant, and plum preserves. On the other hand, I once taught a Java class for a cohort of masters students from Pacific Bell, before it morphed into SBC and finally lapsed back into AT&T. Knowing that the author of Dilbert had worked there for years, I asked each student on the first night of class to introduce themselves, give any programming experience, and tell me the best story they knew about Scott Adams when he worked there. The only memorable story was that one of the students knew the woman engineer that the character Alice was based on. Go ahead and check out the maps for each of my three chosen authors. I did and enjoyed the fact that I had read works by about 50% of them.

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denominal adjectival suffices

What is it about words changing their lexical category (or part-of-speech-hood), especially by way of zero morphology, that lights a fire under the tails of word snoots and their ilk? Somebody was just blogging about the use of crater as a verb (as in something the world economy just did), and just generally pissing and moaning about language change and word use. The first thing I thought about was Greek κρατηρ ‘mixing bowl’, which in turn led to a reverie on the sacro catino in the Duomo di San Lorenzo in Genova, one of four or so candidates for the Holy Grail. But when my mind returned to linguistics, I marveled how the participial suffix -ed in English could be applied to nouns to create adjectives. (What is it about adjectives and verbs and their transgressive relationship with one another?) For example, cratered, bearded, horned, etc. Then I realized something similar happens in Latin: aurītus ‘long-eared’ < auris ‘ear’, barbātus ‘bearded’ < barba ‘beard’. This was not the first time I had wondered about verbal suffixes pulling double duty with nouns and adjectives: cf. -l- and -n-.


Saturday, October 18, 2008


Over at Bradshaw of the Future, goofy has a post about the etymology of butterfly (link). I looked in a bunch of books and googled about online, and here’s some of the stuff I ran across.

  • The idea of butterflies stealing milk or butter is is connected with a dialectal German word for the insect Molkendieb ‘milk-thief’. I found a great collection of German archaic and dialect words for butterfly (link). Some connect schmetterling with the German Schmetten ‘cream’, cf. Schmand ‘sour cream’, Czech. smetana, but others with the verb schmettern ‘to gossip, prattle; dash (in sports)’.
  • The Dutch word butterschijte ‘butter-shit’ has a curious parallel in Slavic: Russian мотыль, Polish motyl, et al. Here’s what Vasmer has to say about its etymology Wohl aus ‘Mistfalter’ mit -jo-Bildung zu aruss. motyla f. motylo n. ‘Mist’, ksl. motylo κοπρος r.-kslav. Motylьnikъ κοπρωνυμος (s. Srezn. Wb. 2, 179), das zu abg. metǫ, mesti ‘werfen, fegen’ gehört, vgl. MiEW. 194, Meillet MSL. 14, 333, Brandt RFV. 22, 156 (nach ihm: ‘sich hin- u. herwerfen’), Brückner KZ. 42, 342ff. (als ‘Krautscheißer’).
  • Pokorny IEW p.801: Wörter für ‘Schmetterling’: redupliziert lat. pāpiliō, -ōnis m. (*pā-pil-); germ. *fīfalðrōn- in aisl. fīfrildi n., ags. fīfealde, ahd. fīfaltra, mhd. fīfalter, nhd. Falter; lit. petelìškė ds., lett. petelîgs ‘flatterhaft’ (*pel-tel-); von derselben Wurzel die balto-slav. Wörter (*paipalā-) für ‘Wachtel’: lit. píepala f., lett. paîpala, apr. penpalo (dazu apr. pepelis, Pl. pippalins ‘Vogel’); čech. přepel, křepel, slov. prepeliíca (auch ‘Schmetterling’) usw. The PIE root in Pokorny is *pel- ‘to pour, flow, fill’ whence English fleet, float, and flutter. (Shades of the folk etymological flutter by.)
  • Latin pāpiliō means both butterfly and tent. (It’s from the latter meaning that our pavilion comes.) Some think there is a parallel between Greek σκηνη ‘tent, booth; stage’ and σκην ‘butterfly’. The Classical Greek word for butterfly is ψυχη and the Modern Greek word is πεταλουδα.



Languagehat’s recent posting (link) on an article in the San Francisco Chronicle (link) got me wandering down memory lane. Why? Because I took an earlier incarnation of this self-same Introduction to Field Methods class at Cal almost thirty years ago. Jesse O. Sawyer taught it then. Our informant was a grad student in the math depart, and the language he spoke (his fourth) was Kiswahili. We used old reel-to-reel analog tape recorders. But, there was one high tech innovation: our class had a joint UNIX account. I was the only one who ever logged in or used it, including Jesse. I used it to write papers (marked up in troff and edited with vi). (Bill Joy wrote vi while he was at Berkeley, and years later I would work at a company he co-founded, Sun.) I could log in in the linguistics department office (in Dwinelle) using a huge terminal with an acoustic-coupled 100-baud modem, or I could trudge off to the basement of Evans and sit at one of the faster and smaller terminals there. I really had no concept of an operating system at the time, and I thought the computer itself was called Eunuchs, which I thought was a pretty cool name for a computer. I just printed those papers off at the printing-terminals located the ends of the tables on which the CRT terminals sat. Two things stand out in that article: (1) that they still teach a field methods class in my old linguistics department and (2) that there are still “unknown” languages to be recorded.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

redistribution of wealth

My good friend and ex-coworker, Liz, has a new blog (Suburban Insurgency), and—boy howdy!—is she aggregating (link). I haven’t been blogging much. The combination of work and the political climate have conspired to put me off the whole process. I did watch Ze Frank being interviewed (the other day for me, but back in July for him) by Jesse Thorn on the Sound of Young America (link). Today, stuck in sluggish pre-commute traffic, heading north on 880, I just found the whole rhetorical atmosphere of this fortnight and a half before the US presidential election too much to endure. Some pundit was blaming the current deregulatory mess on Carter. Main Street USA™ was whining en masse about golden parachutes and the greed of capitalism. Imagine that, who’d’ve thought, capitalists are not altruistic poet-philosophers. Bailout, financial rescue, terrorist pals, troopergate, etc. I can’t wait for it to be over.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

hump day link

An XML edition of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (link) in TEI P4 markup.