Wenzhounese in Italy.

This Victor Mair post at the Log is fascinating for two completely different reasons. First is the “Devil’s language” aspect:

Wenzhounese is the most divergent variety of Wu and is considered a separate language by some. It is not mutually intelligible with other varities of Wu. It preserves words from Classical Chinese that are no longer used in other varieties of Chinese, and its grammar differs significantly. It also has the most eccent[r]ic phonology, and as a result is considered the “least comprehensible dialect” for an average Mandarin speaker. These feature[s] are a result of the geographic isolation of the Wenzhou area.

There are links to a number of Log posts about the dialect. The second reason is the situation of the Wenzhounese who have ended up living in Italy:

What prompted me to write this post were the answers I received when I asked my informants whether their Wenzhounese relatives in Italy, of whom there are many, learned Italian, and they said, no, they don’t have to. They said that the Wenzhounese in Italy are so numerous and dispersed throughout the country that there isn’t a need to learn Italian. The networks and support services available to them are so extensive that they can easily get by just knowing Wenzhounese.

That’s a common phenomenon in many situations, of course, but I wouldn’t have expected it for the speakers of an obscure Chinese topolect in Italy.


Another tidbit from Goncharov’s Фрегат “Паллада” [The Frigate Pallada]: they’re in Manila and have finally found what is apparently the only inn/hotel in town, run by a Frenchman named Demien and his wife, and Demien recommends that after the siesta (when it’s too hot to go out and everything’s closed anyway) they take a look at the кальсадо [kal’sado], which he explains thus: “Это гулянье около крепости и по взморью: туда по вечерам собираются все кататься” [It’s a promenade around the fortress and along the seashore: everyone goes for a drive there in the evenings]. It’s transparently a Spanish word, and Goetze renders it Calzado, which seems reasonable, but as far as I know calzado means only ‘footwear’ (and the feminine form calzada means only ‘road(way)’). The phenomenon itself is familiar from all around the Mediterranean, where it is called volta, passeggiata, or korzo (see this 2009 post), and I suppose it’s possible calzado was a mid-19th-century term specific to Manila, but it’s not mentioned in La lengua española en Filipinas by Antonio Quilis and Celia Casado Fresnillo (CSIC Press, 2008), and I can’t find any other references to it by googling, so I suspect that Goncharov may have misunderstood/misheard what his host said. But I thought I’d bring it here so the Varied Reader can put in their dos reales.

Update. It turns out the original form is Calzada (feminine); as a quote found by Y in the comments below says, the Calzada was “what Hyde Park is to London and the Champs Élysées to Paris and the Meidan to Calcutta… the gathering place of the opulent classes… crowded with carriages, equestrians and pedestrians.” You can see an excellent image here.


Rhododendron threat raised in Dáil” is a brief but piquant news story well summed up in the first sentence: “Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae has claimed that the spread of rhododendron in Killarney National Park is so bad that the army may have to be called in to sort it out.” I bring it here solely for the accompanying video clip, less than half a minute long, which presents, as Trevor, who sent it to me (thanks, Trevor!), says, “a reminder of what a strong Kerry accent sounds like.” It’s truly a thing of wonder; as I said in response, I love the way he says the word rhododendrons.


I’m on the home stretch of Rieber’s The Struggle for the Eurasian Borderlands (see this post), and in the course of reading up on the Great Eastern Crisis of 1875 and its consequences (which ultimately included the First World War and the entire last century’s worth of awfulness) I’ve run across items that satisfy my addiction to both long-forgotten, short-lived territorial entities (in this case the Republic of Tamrash, which seceded from the almost equally obscure Eastern Rumelia) and splendidly sonorous aristocratic monikers (see, for instance, this 2014 post, with Louis Phélypeaux de Saint-Florentin; le duc de Fitz-James; and la princesse de Salm-Salm, duchesse de l’Infantado, among others, and this 2003 one, with Astrid Pouppez de Ketteris de Hollaeken, la baronne Laetitia de Villenfagne de Vogelsanck, and Gioia Sardagna von Neuberg e Hohenstein Ferrari). I give you the family Khevenhüller:

Khevenhüller is the name of a Carinthian noble family, documented there since 1356, with its ancestral seat at Landskron Castle. In the 16th century, the family split into the two branches of Khevenhüller-Frankenburg, Imperial Counts (i.e. immediate counts of the Holy Roman Empire) from 1593, and Khevenhüller-Hochosterwitz, raised to Imperial Counts in 1725 and, as Khevenhüller-Metsch, to princely rank (Fürsten) in 1763. […]

Johann IV von Khevenhüller zu Aichelberg (born ca 1420-1462) was the first to hold the family title “of Aichelberg”, yet Johann V Khevenhüller (died 1462), son of Wilhelm II Khevenhüller and Margareta von Auersperg, was Burgrave of Federaun, whereas his son, Augustin Khevenhüller, who died 1516, is referred to as Herr (i.e. Lord) of Hardegg. His mother was one “Miss” von Lindegg, who together with her grandson Sigismund III, Herr Khevenhüller in Hohen-Osterwitz (1507–1558) appears among the ancestors of Prince Charles. Her youngest grandson, Bernard von Khevenhüller (1511–1548) was “Herr auf Sternberg and Hohenwart”; her eldest grandson, Christoph Khevenhüller (1503–1557) was Lord of Aichelberg.

Khevenhüller-Hochosterwitz! Burgrave of Federaun! Herr of Hardegg! “Miss” von Lindegg! Further down is Bartlmä Khevenhüller, but the real gems come in the Spanish branch: Don Camilo Ruspoli y Khevenhüller-Metsch, Marescotti-Capizucchi y Liechtenstein, dei Principi Ruspoli! Don Luigi Ruspoli y Godoy, de Khevenhüller-Metsch y Borbón, dei Principi Ruspoli, 3rd Marquis of Boadilla del Monte! Don Adolfo Ruspoli y Godoy di Bassano, de Khevenhüller-Metsch y Borbón, dei Principi Ruspoli, 2nd Duke of Alcudia! The last-named was a Grandee of Spain First Class, as well he might be.


In his Фрегат “Паллада” [The Frigate Pallada], Goncharov uses Ликейские острова for what are now called острова Рюкю, the Ryukyu Islands. I found the old name curious, and when Goncharov goes on to say “Что это такое Ликейские острова, или, как писали у нас в старых географиях, Лиеу-Киеу, или, как иностранцы называют их, Лю-чу (Loo-Choo), а по выговору жителей ‘Ду-чу”‘?” [What are these Likei Islands, or as the old geographers wrote, Lieu-Kieu, or as foreigners call them, Loo-Choo, or in the local accent Du-chu?] I turned to Wikipedia, where I found this section on “Historical usage”:

Ryūkyū” is an exonym and is not a self-designation. The word first appeared in the Book of Sui (636). Its obscure description of Liuqiu (流求) is the source of a never-ending scholarly debate over what was referred to by the name, Taiwan, Okinawa or both. Nevertheless, the Book of Sui shaped perceptions of Ryūkyū for a long time. Ryūkyū was considered a land of cannibals and aroused a feeling of dread among surrounding people, from Buddhist monk Enchin who traveled to Tang China in 858 to an informant of the Hyōtō Ryūkyū-koku ki who traveled to Song China in 1243. Later, some Chinese sources used “Great Ryukyu” (Chinese: 大琉球; pinyin: Dà Liúqiú) for Okinawa and “Lesser Ryukyu” (Chinese: 小琉球; pinyin: Xiǎo Liúqiú) for Taiwan. Okinawan forms of “Ryūkyū” are Ruuchuu (ルーチュー?) or Duuchuu (ドゥーチュー?) in Okinawan and Ruuchuu (ルーチュー?) in the Kunigami language.[13][14] An Okinawan man was recorded as having referred to himself as a “Doo Choo man” during Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s visit to the Ryūkyū Kingdom in 1852.[15]

From about 1829 until the mid-20th century, the islands’ English name was spelled Luchu, Loochoo, or Lewchew. These spellings were based on the Chinese pronunciation of the characters “琉球”, which in Mandarin is Liúqiú, as well as the Okinawan language’s form Ruuchuu (ルーチュー?).

All of which is complicated enough, but none of it explains the Russian term Ликейские острова [Likei Islands] (and the Russian Wikipedia article doesn’t address the issue). Any thoughts?

Bill of Goods.

My wife and I were out walking when one of us mentioned somebody being “sold a bill of goods” and we looked at each other in that this-is-a-case-for-Languagehat way and said “How did that expression arise?” We surmised, correctly, that a bill of goods is literally a consignment of merchandise (in the words of Merriam-Webster), but how did it come to mean (to quote their second definition) “something intentionally misrepresented : something passed off in a deception or fraud”? Anybody know the history of this?

Two Japanese Questions.

1) In Jangfeldt’s Mayakovsky bio, he says “After his return from Berlin in May 1924, Mayakovsky met with the Japanese author Tamisi Naito, who was visiting Moscow.” (In the original: “Efter hemkomsten från Berlin i maj 1924 träffade Majakovskij den japanske författaren Tamisi Naito, som var på besök i Moskva.”) I can find no reference to such an author elsewhere, and I suspect the name may have gotten garbled; anybody know who this might be?

2) In Goncharov’s Фрегат “Паллада” [The Frigate Pallada] (see this post), he repeatedly refers to a cry of Japanese oarsmen, “оссильян” [ossil’yan], which Goetze renders “ossilian.” The -l- makes this impossible Japanese, of course, and I suspect there are other distortions; anybody know what the original word or phrase is?

(The hapless Goetze transliterates Хагивари, the name of one of the Japanese officers [the Russian word for ‘officer’ here, баниос, is borrowed from Dutch banjoost, but I have no idea what that’s from], three different ways: Kagivari, Chagivary, and best of all Charivari. He also omits large chunks of text — several pages on what Goncharov perceives as similarities between Chinese and Japanese, half a dozen pages on the need for Japan to open itself to the outside world, and every passage in which a fellow member of the expedition, Goshkevich, makes an anti-Semitic remark. For shame!)

Dictionaries Are Hot Again.

Katherine Rosman has a piece for the New York Times on the current popularity of dictionaries:

At a time when many are questioning the definition of common words they thought they understood, after years of the English language being degraded by text messages and hashtags, dictionaries have made a surprising comeback in the United States.

On dictionary apps and websites, “lookups” (which, according to Merriam-Webster, is one word) of words or phrases related to news events have precipitously increased. Bibliophiles are becoming social media stars. Sales of print dictionaries remain brisk and are a profit center for some publishers.

“Dictionaries are not regarded as sexy or interesting, but what dictionaries are known for is telling the truth,” said Jesse Sheidlower, a lexicographer and past president of the American Dialect Society. “Right now there are a lot of questions about what is true. We want clear statements about what things are, and dictionaries provide that.”

The most commonly used dictionaries, whether in print or digital, reflect what is known as “descriptive lexicography,” meaning that editors study the way people use words and determine their meaning based on that evidence.

Social media has been revolutionary in changing the access lexicographers have to the evolution of how words are used. Yet the process of evaluating evidence and writing definitions in a clear and unbiased manner remains the objective, said Katherine Connor Martin, head of American dictionaries at Oxford University Press.

And there’s a great quote from Sheidlower at the end: “In times of stress, people will go to things that will provide answers. The Bible, the dictionary or alcohol.”

Triplex Confinium.

I’m in the middle of reading The Struggle for the Eurasian Borderlands: From the Rise of Early Modern Empires to the End of the First World War, by Alfred J. Rieber; it’s very dense and very informative, and I’m learning all sorts of things I didn’t know. Herewith a few of LH interest:

1) Triplex Confinium is one of the best toponyms I’ve ever seen; it’s an early modern term for the region where Romania, Hungary and Serbia come together [actually the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Empire, and the Habsburg Monarchy, as J.W. Brewer points out in the comments], and it means ‘triple border’ in Latin.

2) We all know about the Vlachs (I posted about them in the very early days of LH), but I did not know that the Venetians called them Morlacchi (per Wikipedia, Morlachs) and that “the Catholic Vlachs were called Bunjevichi” (p. 304).

3) I knew the Ionian Islands were not part of independent Greece until 1864, but I did not know that from 1800 to 1807 they were under joint Russian and Ottoman rule as the Septinsular Republic! (Rieber calls it the Republic of the Seven Islands, perhaps for poetic effect.) The idea of the Romanov and Ottoman empires, which fought wars every couple of decades for centuries, joining in even so short-lived a venture is astonishing to me. And from a footnote in that part of the book I learned about Avgusta Stanislavskaya’s Русско-английские отношения и проблемы Средиземноморья (1798-1807), which Rieber thinks very highly of and which it turns out is available as a pdf download here, in case anyone else is interested.

Norwottuck II.

A decade ago I posted about the local place name Norwottuck (“Or something like that”); now I’ve come across what seems to be a knowledgeable discussion in Alice Nash’s “Quanquan’s Mortgage of 1663” in Marla R. Miller (ed.), Cultivating a Past: Essays on the History of Hadley, Massachusetts. On p. 29 Nash says it’s properly Nolwottog, with the accent on the second syllable, and on p. 31 she writes:

Nolwottog is also known in the literature as Norwottock and Nonotuck, with orthographic variations on the three names. The 1653 deed calls the place Nonotuck. This is not a misspelling. The Algonkian languages spoken by indigenous peoples in New England have three major forms, or reflexes. The most obvious difference to the nonspecialist is that one uses n where the others use l or r. John Eliot, the Protestant missionary, wrote, “We in [eastern] Massachusetts pronounce the N; the Nipmuck Indians pronounce L; and the Northern Indians pronounce R.” Similarly, the endings –ogg or –og, –ock, and –uck are all variants of a locative ending, indicating the word refers to a place. When documents were written by Englishmen who knew the land and its people well, such as John Pynchon and the fur traders who worked for him, they wrote Nolwottogg, because that was what they heard. Nonotuck, the n form used in the 1653 deed, is an historical remnant, reflecting a kind of internal colonialism. When Englishmen such as John Pynchon and his father, William, first began to buy inland tracts in the Connecticut River Valley, they often hired the services of Native men from eastern Massachusetts as interpreters and to aid in the negotiations. The earliest interpreter, a Wampanoag man named William Ahhaton, understood the dialect spoken by the people of Nolwottog, but he pronounced their name as Nonotuck. The name was written as Ahhaton pronounced it. Although John Pynchon later recorded the name as Nolwottog, the alternate spelling persists to this day. Ironically, the Nolwottog have been better known by what others called them than by what they called themselves.

We discussed “Wampanoag” in 2005.