Saturday, June 28, 2008

moderate minusculization

Anybody having a passing acquaintance with the German language knows that all nouns are capitalized and not just proper ones as in English. Over the past decade or two, I have noticed a tendency in some 19th century German books towards only capitalizing words which begin a sentence and proper nouns (e.g., this page from the forward to Jacob Grimm’s deutsche grammatik (link). I had asked a couple of Germans (though not Germanists or linguists) if they knew why this was, but none of them even knew about it. So, it was only today that I finally decided to look into it.

This article in the Berliner Zeitung (August 13, 2004, link) is a good place to start. It turns out that capitalizing nouns is a fairly recent event. It started in the Baroque period and its origins seems to have been one of the fear of upsetting God (Gottesfurcht). In fact, in some Baroque texts, Gott is spelled with two initial capitals GOtt. Reading this and some German Wikipedia articles increased my vocabulary by quite a bit. First we have Majuskel and Minuskel for an upper- or lowercase letter, though the former can also be called Versal (in printers’ terminology) or Großbuchstabe for a more German look and feel, and the latter Kleinbuchstabe. Capitalization is Großschreibung and its antonym (which we don’t really have a word for in English) is Kleinschreibung, though I have seen minusculize for the verb and minusculization for the abstract noun). And because this is German we’re talking about there is something called gemäßigte Kleinschreibung (which yields the title for this blog entry), and furthermore, as soon as I started off down this slippery slope I ran across some groups advocating moderate and radical minusculization reforms for German orthography (d.h., deutsche Rechtschreibung): der bund für vereinfachte rechtschreibung (link and die kleinschriftbewegung (link). Finally, CamelCase (or NerdCaps) is Binnenmajuskeln or Binnenversalien.


Saturday, June 7, 2008


Adyates over at De Grypis blog has a post (link) about the etymology of Latin tenebrae. It’s an extended comment on Chris Jones’ post at the blog (link). Let’s see what some of the authorities have to say.

Alois Walde offers this (in the 2nd edition of Lateinisches etymologisches Wörterbuch): “Lat. tenebrae zunächst aus *temefrā (*temafrā) durch Dissimilation von m gegen folgenden Labial (Niedermann BB.XXV, 87, Contrib. à la crit. de gloses lat. 31)”.

Ernout & Meillet (in their Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine: Histoire des mots): “Lat. tenebrae repose sur *temə-s-rā-; le passage de -m- à -n- fait difficulté; car il suppose l’intervention d’une forme où la voyelle de syllable intérieure était syncopée, à moins qu’on n’admette une dissimilation, tout hypothétique, de m en n par la labiale *f, d’où est sorti b; on ne peut restituer le détail des faits”.

Tucker (in his A Concise Etymological Dictionary of Latin 1931): “Possibly *temsrā > *tensrā & anaptyxis occured (v. umerus). [It is not, however, entirely out of the question to suppose a compound t-enebh- (cf. nebula, νεφος), similar to δ-νοφος, κ-νεφας]”. But, Chaintraine (in his Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque) discusses these two Greek words: “Fait penser à la fois à ζοφος, à κνεφας : les mots de ce genre se prêtent à prendre des formes variées par une tabou linguistique. Tout effort pour préciser (croisements des mots, etc. ?) est malaisé, v. Güntert, Reimwortbildungen 112 sq., Petersen, Am. J. Ph. 56, 1935, 57 sqq.”.

Finally, Mallory & Adams (in their Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture) reconstruct the PIE root tómhxes- ‘dark’ with an unknown laryngeal.

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