Archives for July 2006


A correspondent sent me a link to a fascinating story (at Ioram’s blog A pair of eyes in the Middle East, which seems to have gone silent since May). It starts:

It’s no big secret that nobody likes the newcomer. In this land one can say it has been a long-standing tradition, perfected with each turn of History. A famous sketch known to practically any Hebrew-speaking Israeli, done by the now-defunct comedy group “Lool” (“Coop”) shows how each wave of immigrants arriving since the beginning of Zionism is received with contempt by the previous immigrants, who now regard themselves as “locals”. The first Zionist pioneers, singing folk-songs in the Russian style are looked down at by the local Palestinian Arabs who express their anger and scorn by spitting the insult “Il’an babour illi jabak”, which means, literally “Curse the ship that brought you”.
The classic sketch then shows how the first Jewish settlers show their contempt at the next wave of Jewish immigrants, coming from Poland, how the Polish Jews are then quick to curse the German Jews coming in the 1930s. The German Jews (nicknamed “Yekes”, maybe for their propensity to cling to their jackets, stiff and stifling in the local heat) then curse the Yemenites who are quick to learn the drill and curse the Moroccans who then curse the Jews from the Georgia and so on. Each group curses the previous one, and the sketch is funny not only in painting the characters, accents, quirks and stereotypes, but in that they all use the same curse in Palestinian Arabic: “Curse the ship that brought you.”

It goes on to discuss the history of the Arabic word babur (from French vapeur), of steamships, and of inter-ethnic resentment, and concludes with a moving tribute to “one of the best Arab restaurants in the country,” called Al Babour, “The Steamer.” Well worth the read.


Of mother tongues and other tongues is the blog of a young man living in Finland and learning the language—and when I say “learning the language,” I mean doing it up right: he’s got nearly the complete set of the Finnish etymological dictionary (and I’m jealous). He has a post comparing Finnish and its cousin Hungarian:

There’s a sentence that gets quoted a lot showing relations between Hungarian and Finnish, as each language retains similar words. It and more such sentences can be found here, along with more of those fancy -v- words. Pretty nifty!

Hun.: Jég alatt télen eleven halak úszkálnak.
Fin.: Jään alla talvella elävät kalat uiskentelevat.
‘In wintertime living fish swim under the ice.’
Ki ment mi előttünk?
Ken meni meidän edessämme?

‘Who went before us?’

Thus, I must suggest the possibilities for Northern Sámi: jieŋa vuolde dalvet ealli guolli vuodjala, and gii manai min ovddas.
The first sentence (or at least my version) is not so transparent/related. In NS, alde is probably actually related to Finnish yllä ‘under, below’; similarly vuodjalit ‘to swim (freq.)’ might well come from another root (relating to Finnish ajaa?).

Fun stuff!


At least according to an unbelievably silly BBC story from the year 2000:

An American professor has developed a theory that Germans are bad-tempered because pronouncing German sounds puts a frown on the face.
Professor David Myers believes that the facial contortions needed to pronounce vowels modified by the umlaut may be getting the Germans down in the mouth…
Saying “u” [ü?—LH] – one of German’s most recognisable sounds – causes the mouth to turn down. But the English sounds of “e” and “ah” – expressions used in smiling and laughing – have the opposite effect.
Professor Myers told the Royal Society of Edinburgh on Thursday that frequent use of the muscles which the brain associates with sadness can adversely affect a person’s mood…
“This could be a good reason why German people have got a reputation for being humourless and grumpy,” said Professor Myers, who heads Psychology at Hope College, Michigan.

The story is illustrated with photographs of Michael Schumacher (looking wry, I’d say, rather than grumpy), Gerhard Schroeder (pensive), and Helmut Kohl (definitely grumpy).

[Read more…]


Claire of Anggargoon is back from her planned hiatus (as I am back from my unplanned one), and her first post after the “I’m back” announcement was to this “online exhibition” of Ancient Manuscripts from the Desert Libraries of Timbuktu. The images themselves are beautiful, and the accompanying descriptions give a sense of the variety of the libraries’ holdings. I found particularly interesting Ahmad al-Bakayi ibn Sayyid Muhammad ibn Sayyid al-Mukhtar al-Kunti’s nineteenth-century [thanks, Levana!] Jawab Ahmad al-Bakayi ala Risalat Amir al-Mu’minin Ahmad al-Masini (The Response of Ahmad al-Bakayi to the Letter of Amir Ahmad, Ruler of Massinah):

This document is a reply to the ruler of Massinah [usually spelled Macina–LH], Amir Ahmad, who ordered the arrest of a German traveler, Heinrich Bart[h], suspected of spying for the British. The author of the reply cites Islamic law as making the arrest illegal and declines to obey the amir. The scholar states that a non-Muslim entering the domain of Muslims in peace is protected and may not be arrested, have his property confiscated, or to be otherwise hindered.

Welcome back, Claire!
Addendum. I just realized I’ve already posted this. Oh well, it was almost three years ago; consider it an oldie but goodie.


Thanks to the efforts of Songdog and the excellent people at Insider Hosting, my humble blog is once more operational. I thank you all for your concerned e-mails; you may now resume your normal commentary. As for me, I have a deadline tomorrow, so I have to do some work before I post anything more substantial, but hopefully there will be no further unexplained silences.