Archives for January 2005


TechJapan has a nice entry on corporate etymology:

In this article, we dive deep into the corporate names of seven of the world’s most well-known electronics companies:
* FujiFilm
* Fujitsu
* Hitachi
* Panasonic
* Mitsubishi
* Sanyo
* Toshiba
Inside, we investigate two main areas for each company: what the characters that compose their names actually mean, and how the companies actually got their names.

One of the explanations will have a drastic effect on my pronunciation habits:

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I am often perceived as a wild-eyed descriptivist, ready to embrace any utterance by a native speaker as valid. Not so! Geoff Pullum wrote an excellent Language Log entry going into detail about what it means for a speaker to make a mistake; as he says, “Speakers will sometimes speak or write in a way that exhibits errors (errors that they themselves would agree, if asked later, were just slip-ups).” I present for your delectation a fine specimen of such an error, hot off the presses of the august New York Times. A Murray Chass story, “Marlins Don’t Mind Being Rated as Underdogs in the N.L. East,” begins with a rather labored riff on the similarity of the names of Jeffrey Loria, owner of the Florida Marlins (a baseball team, for those of my readers not immersed in the minutiae of American sports), and Jeffrey Lurie, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles (a football team). The third paragraph ends: “Loria and Lurie have never met, never spoken. Once, they recalled, they were confused for the other.”
Now, that second sentence makes no sense whatsoever. You want to change it to “…they were confused for each other,” which would be perfectly grammatical, but turns out to be misleading, implying as it does that there was one occasion on which Loria was taken for Lurie and vice versa. It turns out, as Chass goes on to explain, that there were two separate incidents: ten years ago Loria, then in minor league baseball, was called by a reporter under the impression he had just bought the Eagles; this winter, Lurie was congratulated by a waiter under the impression his team had just won the World Series. As pointless as these recollections are, if you’re going to try to jam them into one sentence you have to do better than “Once, they recalled, they were confused for the other.” (For one thing, you can’t use “once” to mean “on two separate occasions” and “they were” to mean “each was.”) Off the top of my head I’d say “Each has recalled being confused for the other,” but I’m sure there are other possibilities. At any rate, what we have here is a stretch of words that begins with a capital letter and ends with a period, but it is not a valid English sentence.


I’ve learned a new word, this time from that delightful (and heroic) writer Nicholson Baker. I was reading the title essay in his collection The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber when I came across this sentence: “And since a large thought seems to wish to pierce and acknowledge and even to replenish many more shoots and plumules of one’s experience, some shrunken from long neglect (for every thought, even the largest, tires, winds down, and hardens into a hibernating token of chat, a placeholder for real intellection, unless it is worried into endless, pliant movement by second thoughts, and by the sense of its own provisionality, passing and repassing through the many semipermeable membranes that insulate learning, suffering, ambition, civility, and puzzlement from each other), its hum of fineness will necessarily be delayed, baffled, and drawn out with numerous interstitial timidities—one pauses, looks up from the page, waits; the eyes move in meditative polygons in their orbits; and then, somehow, more of the thought is released into the soul, the corroborating peal of some new, distant bell—until it has filled out the entirety of its form, as a thick clay slip settles into an intricate mold, or as a ladleful of batter colonizes cell after cell of the waffle iron, or as, later, the smell of that waffle will have toured the awakening rooms of the house.”
(Pause to admire the waffle smell making its way up the long corridors of the meandering sentence.)
The word “plumule” struck me; it turns out it’s pronounced PLOOM-yule [/”plu:myu:l/], and it means ‘rudimentary shoot, bud, or bunch of undeveloped leaves in a seed’ (it’s from Latin plūmula, the diminutive of plūma ‘small soft feather, down’), so that “shoots and plumules of one’s experience” is a very tasty phrase, incorporating both the visible (as it were) and the embryonic shoots sprouting up from the depths of our lived lives and mulish memories.
And now, for my own pleasure and hopefully yours, I’m going to reproduce the opening paragraph of the essay:

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I just discovered an important fact about the pronunciation of a common English word—something that doesn’t happen very often any more. A comment in a (silly) MetaFilter thread informed me that the word trait was traditionally pronounced exactly like tray, at least in the UK; in other words, the final -t is (or was supposed to be) silent. (The OED lists both pronunciations, “tray” first; the 1998 edition of the Cassell Concise lists both, but in the reverse order.) This is not surprising for a borrowing from French, but I had never run across it, and I doubt many Americans have. So what I want to know is: are my UK readers familiar with this pronunciation? If so, is it current, a bit old-fashioned, or something they said back in grandfather’s day? (And of course if any Americans are familiar with it, I want to know that as well.)


A Wordorigins thread introduced me to an interesting word with a disputed etymology, sharawaggi (with g pronounced like j). The OED does not try to define it, sending the reader instead to the first citation, from 1685: SIR W. TEMPLE Gard. Epicurus Misc. II. ii. (1690) 58 “The Chineses.. have a particular Word to express it [sc. the beauty of studied irregularity]; and where they find it hit their Eye at first sight, they say the Sharawadgi is fine or is admirable.” As you can see, Temple spoke of the word as Chinese, but the OED’s etymologists, while throwing up their hands, cast doubt on that: “Of unknown origin; Chinese scholars agree that it cannot belong to that language. Temple speaks as if he had himself heard it from travellers.” In the latest edition they add: “For a discussion of etymological hypotheses see 1949 Archit. Rev. CVI. 391/2.” I don’t have access to that number of the Architectural review (if anyone does, I’d appreciate hearing from them), but in the Wordorigins thread Douglas Wilson linked to an article, “A Borrowed Vista” by Ciaran Murray (HTML version of a pdf of issue 27 of the Kyoto International Cultural Association newsletter) that provides a very plausible theory:

There have been a number of attempts to fit Chinese characters – kanji – to this word, but none of them sounds close to sharawadgi, and none of them means what Temple meant. However, an English teacher who lived in Japan 70 years ago, a man called E.V. Gatenby, suggested that sharawadgi was a Japanese word. He thought it might be the older form of sorowanai desho – that the two halves of a design did not match. This form was sorowaji.

That’s all he said. He was tracing words of Japanese origin for the Oxford English Dictionary, and he never took the matter any further. When I tried to do so, I immediately ran into trouble. Historians of the Japanese language told me that the form sorowaji died out four hundred years ago. Temple wrote a hundred years later. So how could he have heard a word which was no longer in use?

Now I was like the character in the Arabian Nights who cannot remember the phrase ‘open, sesame’ which will disclose a door in the rock and give him access to a treasure inside. I could sense the treasure inside, but the phrase I had didn’t seem to be working. I puzzled over this for a long time, until at last a friend who taught at Tokyo University introduced me to Professor Kanai Madoka. Professor Kanai was involved in copying the documents of Dejima, which are still kept in the Netherlands, and bringing a set to Japan. And he was the one who supplied my ‘open, sesame’.

Professor Kanai told me that yes, it was true that sorowaji had died out four hundred years ago – but only in standard Japanese. It had stayed alive in the dialect of Kyushu. Now if you try to pronounce sorowaji in kyushu-ben, what do you get? Shorowaji. And if you try to pronounce shorowaji in Dutch, you get what Temple got – sharawaji. And Temple, you remember, was ambassador to Holland.

Now, I have no idea if any of the Japanese is accurate, but if it is, I’d say the etymology is pretty well nailed down (though the Dutch bit seems dubious). And the next time you see an image with a pleasing asymmetry, you can say “Ah, what shawaraggi!”

2009 Addendum. David Paquette of writes to tell me that

sharawadji is included in the list of sonic effects proposed by Jean-François Augoyard and Henry Torgue in their book Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005). They define it (and I quote) as “An aesthetic effect that characterizes the feeling of plenitude that is sometimes created by the contemplation of a sound motif or a complex soundscape of inexplicable beauty.” They attribute the term to 17th century travelers returning from China, and they also mention Wiliam Temple, as well as an article by Louis Marin, “L’effet sharawadji”, in Traverses no. 4-5, Paris (1979). So the term is now also used to refer to sonic sources – the authors of the book also being architects, I would assume they found the term in their literature and applied it to sound.

Thanks, David!


The Logos Universal Conjugator takes any verb you give it and conjugates it. Well, not any, of course, but a lot of common ones. I put in “go” and got a full conjugation in English; then I tried “anar” and got:

The infinitive of the verbal voice you chose is one of the following, please select the language you prefer.
* Catalan: anar
* Swedish: ana

So I clicked on the first and got a full conjugation in Catalan. And — my goodness! — I just discovered that if you click on one of the verbal forms, in this case anat, you get a selection of Catalan passages using it! Wonderful stuff, and I can’t thank Songdog enough for alerting me to it.


Unfortunately, the trial period is half over, but there are still a couple of days of free access:

Free Open House – Access millions of articles from thousands of publications including journals, magazines, newspapers, images and more, For Free January 24 – 28! HighBeam Research is celebrating its first anniversary with a present to you: This week only, you get total access, totally free to all the full-text sources plus powerful members-only research tools on HighBeam Research, the most powerful research engine on the Web.

A search on the great linguist Leonard Bloomfield turned up (as the ninth hit out of 1,649) a paper from Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies by Hildegard L.C. Tristram called “Diglossia in Anglo-Saxon England, or what was spoken Old English like?” Bloomfield is only mentioned in passing, but the paper is extremely interesting; here’s the abstract:

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A Blogchina article discusses the 1977 round of simplified Chinese characters, which was rescinded in 1986. The details of the characters won’t mean much to non-readers of Chinese, but the Unicode situation might:

Scholars using Unicode will find themselves able to discuss the length and breadth of China’s Glorious Five-Thousand Years of history, and yet there is one period about which they must remain silent: the vast majority of the characters in the 1977 simplification draft are simply not present. The first sixteen characters in the quiz are all present in a full Unicode font, although 13-16 are in the Extension space. The remaining sixteen I pieced together with eudcedit.
The sinograph section of Unicode has always been a hotbed of political controversy, mostly in the form of nationalism on the part of Japan and the traditional-simplified struggle among China and her outlying regions. I suspect our situation here is much the same, whether through active efforts to exclude the characters, or a simple indifference. With electronic composition and transmission, scanning and indexing integral parts of current-day research, this decade-long orthographic experiment is as if it had never even existed.

Thanks go to Nelson (whose blog, now unfortunately on hiatus, inspired a lengthy LH post on the name Vietnam) for the link.


Christopher Sundita’s Salita Blog “is dedicated to his thoughts about the language situation and the over 160 languages in the Republic of the Philippines.” His “obligatory introductory post” says:

Salita is a Tagalog word. Its meanings include word, speech, talk/speak and language. I wanted a word that not only reflects the subject of this blog, but also something that is found in a number of Philippine languages. So far, I have found six more; Ilokano (sarita), Kapampangan (salita), Pangasinan (salita), Rinconada Bikol (sarita), Botolan Sambal (halita), and Tina Sambal (salita).

(If I’m reading my Tagalog dictionary aright, it’s pronounced /salitá’/, with stress on the second /a/ and a final glottal stop.) Chris is a man after my own heart; the bio at the end of his essay “Languages or Dialects?” says: “He is fluent in English, Tagalog, French, and Spanish and has a working knowledge of other languages like Japanese, Bikol, Ilocano, Korean, Portuguese, Catalan, Italian, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Hindi and others.” I wish him luck in his study of linguistics, and I hope he’ll update the blog regularly—there are recent entries on Christmas and New Year greetings in various Phillippine languages and a very interesting entry on noun markers in Waray-Waray and other languages.
I found his blog via a typically meaty post at Sauvage Noble, which uses the discovery of Chris’s blog as a springboard for a discussion of Sanskrit loans in Tagalog, including a transcription of a pop song (!) about such loans.


Mitrius, in his (Russian-language) blog, has a nice post on “сакральные имена в советском тексте” [sacred names in the Soviet text]. I thought the rules were interesting enough I’d provide a summary for English-speakers:
Politburo members’ names were pronounced without the normal reduction of final -o: Chernenko pronounced -/ko/, not -/k@/.
Important names could not be broken between lines.
In the ’40s and early ’50s they could not be abbreviated as were other encyclopedia entries (after the first mention): always I.V. Stalin, never simply S.
There were similar rules for Soviet institutions; eg, Вооруженные Силы [Armed Forces] with two capital letters when referring to the military of the USSR, Вооруженные силы with one capital when referring to other socialist countries, and plain old lower-case вооруженные силы for capitalist countries. Another interesting point is that the adjective from Bolshevik is большевистский [bol’shevistskii] rather than the morphologically expected большевицкий [bol’shevitskii]; apparently the -цкий ending was felt to have a negative tinge. (Thanks go to Avva for the link.)