Archives for November 2004


This CBC News story made me quite happy:

This is a tale of two cities — or, rather, of two cities’ names. And it reveals how we sometimes have a dickens of a time spelling foreign nouns in English.
The story begins many months ago, when the CBC was preparing to broadcast the Summer Olympics from Athens. Like a relay runner sprinting toward the baton pass, we glanced ahead to the next Games in 2006.
Our announcers and writers would inevitably refer to the host city in Italy. And it quickly became clear that a decision was needed for a smooth handover.
Some people were calling the 2006 Winter Games the Torino Olympics. Others opted for the Turin Olympics.
Neither was actually wrong, unless you happen to publish or broadcast in Italian. But which was right for us?

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An excellent place to investigate non-European poetry:

The Poetry Translation Centre at the School of Oriental and African Studies was established in February 2004 thanks to a generous grant from the Arts Council, London and support from SOAS. The Centre will concentrate on translating contemporary poetry from non-European languages into English to the highest literary standards through a series of innovative collaborations between leading international poets and poets based in the UK…

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Joey Comeau (of the online comic A Softer World) composes strange cover letters for jobs he’s seen advertised; this one is
To: Human resources, The University of Victoria
Re: Linguistics Professor

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Or, in its own words, Langue sauce piquante: Le blog des correcteurs du the blog of the proofreaders of Le Monde. If you know French, or are trying to learn, this is a great way to immerse yourself. A recent entry discussed the history of the multivalent word sacre (carrying both the positive and negative connotations of Latin sacer); another explains why you sometimes have to use the singular even when it seems you’re talking about something plural. I have to say, though, that I’m not sure they properly understand the quaint sexist outcry “Va va voom!” (or, as they have it, “Va va voum !”), since they include it in an entry on onomatopeia; like the similar “Hubba hubba!” it’s more a venting of primal emotion in assonant syllables than an attempt to represent a natural sound, like “oink.” (Thanks to Mark for the link!)


Roy Blount Jr. has a combined review (in last Sunday’s NY Times Sunday Book Review) of The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English (University of Tennessee Press, 2004), edited by Joseph S. Hall and Michael B. Montgomery, and Suddenly Southern: A Yankee’s Guide to Living in Dixie (Fireside, 2004), by Maureen Duffin-Ward; he praises the former and eviscerates the latter, all the while tossing in handfuls of succulent dialectal expressions taken from the dictionary:

Under ”splunge,” for instance, we read: ”She would fill the kittel to the crack with muddy water and splunge chips and leaves down deep into it with her hands and watch it close till she said it was done enough to eat.”… Under ”wonderly” we read: ”I have been thinking what a wonderly sight it will be to sit by the fire and look at the snow through all them new glass winders!”

He expends a good deal of energy on Duffin-Ward’s annoying contention that y’all is singular:

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I should have posted something about the death last month of Anthony Hecht; he’s one of the poets who’s helped me through the past few decades, not only by his reliable craftsmanship (a rare trait these days, shared with the too-little-appreciated Richard Wilbur) but by his dogged investigation of the darker side of human behavior (prompted by what he saw during World War Two, including both heavy fighting and the liberation of a concentration camp). But I had problems of my own and couldn’t even begin to frame a post, so I let it go.
Now, reading the NY Times Sunday Book Review (this week a special Poetry Issue, though as my wife says most people will toss it out thinking it’s a particularly cheesy advertising supplement with its hideous yellow-and-red cover), I come across an appreciation by David Yezzi that does a better job than I would have done:

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The Urdu Poetry Archive collects ghazals and nazms (see Uma’s Ghazal Page for a good introduction to the genre, and the Novice Nook at the Archive for more information):

Welcome to the Urdu Poetry Archive! Urdu poetry is like a vast ocean. Walking along its shores on the sands of time, I have gathered a few gems that I would like to share with you.
The ghazals and nazms in the Urdu poetry archive have been indexed alphabetically as well as by poet. As of 17th August, 2003 there are 1814 ghazals and nazms by 343 poets in the archive… The ghazals and nazms are written in transliterated Urdu (Urdu written in the English script).

Unfortunately, there are no English translations, but if you’re adventurous you might try using the online Urdu-English dictionaries available at Urdu Poetry Resources (if you know any Persian much of the vocabulary will be familiar), and you might find some translations on the web if you google an author’s name. (Via plep.)


I had always understood (as the etymologies in dictionaries told me) that the word kamikaze means ‘divine wind’ in Japanese, originally referred to the storms that hit the Mongol fleet in 1281 and saved Japan from invasion, and was later used to refer to Japanese suicide pilots during World War Two (the only sense in English). Now I learn (from Hippietrail) that this is misleading, that (according to feedback he’s gotten on Wikipedia) in Japanese the reading kamikaze refers only to the thirteenth-century event and for the suicide pilots the same characters are read shinpū… except that others say the correct Japanese term is tokkōtai. (Relevant Wikipedia discussion threads here and here.) I’m hoping my readers who are knowledgeable about Japanese will chime in here with more information.


A NY Times story by Pam Belluck discusses what is said to be the longest place name in the US, Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg in Massachusetts. There’s a picture of a misspelled sign, lyrics from “The Lake Song” by Ethel Merman and Ray Bolger (“Oh, we took a walk one evening and we sat down on a log/ By Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg”), and an etymological excursus:

There is more consensus on the meaning of Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, but it turns out the consensus is wrong. In the 1920’s, a reporter for The Webster Times, Lawrence J. Daly, wrote that it was a Nipmuck Indian word meaning “You fish on your side, I fish on my side and nobody fishes in the middle.” That stuck even though Mr. Daly confessed repeatedly that he had made the whole thing up.
The real meaning, said Paul Macek, a historian in Webster, a community of about 17,000 just northwest of where Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts intersect, is “English knifemen and Nipmuck Indians at the boundary or neutral fishing place.”

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The Great Vowel Shift: See and Hear the GVS, What Is the Great Vowel Shift?, Dialogue: Conservative and Advanced Speakers.

This dialogue does two things. First, it gives the listener four slices of time and shows how vowels would be pronounced in each of these periods. You can click on a time link and get text, sound, and phonetic transcription for the dialogue as it would have taken place in that time. You may also click on a word within the text and get pronunciations of that word (or a similar one) across time.

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