Archives for June 2009

IT DOESN’T EAT BREAD.

Chocolate & Zucchini, according to the About page, “is a blog written by Clotilde Dusoulier, a 29-year-old Parisian woman who lives in Montmartre and shares her passion for all things food-related — thoughts, recipes, musings, cookbook acquisitions, quirky ingredients, nifty tools, restaurant experiences, ideas, and inspirations.” It shows up here because of Clotilde’s penchant for explaining food-related French idioms; those posts are conveniently listed here. I am unfamiliar with most of them, so it’s a good resource for me; I liked, for instance, “Ça ne mange pas de pain“:

Literally translated as, “It doesn’t eat bread,” it is used to say that a thing or an action can’t hurt: it may never amount to much or be of much use, but if it costs nothing and entails no risk, why not?
It is a colloquial expression that is usually delivered with a shrug, and when spoken, the ne and the de are often swallowed, so that you will hear it as, “Ça mange pas d’pain.”
Example: “Passe un coup de fil à ton médecin, ça ne mange pas de pain !” “Give your doctor a call, it doesn’t eat bread!”

And there’s a widget that allows you to hear the phrase and sample sentence spoken, a nice touch. (By the way, note the space before the exclamation point in the French sentence; that’s an example of French spacing, and that is one of the more thorough and informative Wikipedia articles I’ve read lately.)
If you’re interested in cooking blogs qua cooking blogs, you should of course have Caviar and Codfish bookmarked; it’s run by the impressive Robin Damstra, who cooks on a regular basis for LH commenter jamessal, the lucky dog.
(Thanks for the idioms link, Jon!)

TIP OF YOUR TONGUE.

Chirag Mehta has come up with a nifty word-search tool at Tip of My Tongue (“Find that word that you’ve been thinking about all day but just can’t seem to remember”). You can enter letters you think are or aren’t part of the missing word, as well as elements of the meaning, and you get a list of words with definitions (some of them hitherto unknown to me: “scrimshank British military language: avoid work,” “Bawson A badger”). I’m puzzled, though, by his insistence on spelling blog with an initial apostrophe (see his About page). Yes, it’s shortened from weblog; I’m guessing, though, that he doesn’t write ‘phone, ‘plane, or ‘flu’. (Via MetaFilter.)

TRACKING LANGUAGE CHANGE.

I just read an interesting post at Anatoly’s blog (whose ever-changing name is now “Somehow Keats will survive without you”). He’s rereading The Twelve Chairs (something I keep meaning to do) and has realized that the dvornik‘s “Ходют и ходют” [Khódyut i khódyut, ‘They come and they come’] at the end of the novel provides valuable information about the chronology of a change in Russian pronunciation. Until some time after the 1917 Revolution, it was standard (especially in Moscow) to pronounce unstressed -ят (-yat) in third person plural verbs as -ют (-yut) (and, similarly, unstressed -ящий in participles as -ющий—see Comrie et al.). Ushakov in 1935 gives this as the only acceptable pronunciation, but Avanesov in 1947 says it’s less widespread, and in 1950 calls it archaic. As Anatoly points out, Ilf and Petrov’s use of it as a marker of nonstandard speech shows that it already seemed old-fashioned in Moscow in 1928.

VINEGAR(R)OON.

The Daily Growler’s latest post talks about the creatures that inhabit the Southwest: “the coyote, the bobcat, the puma, the Gila monster, the vinegaroon…” Hold on, said I, “vinegaroon”? Not in M-W, so I tried Wordnik, and there it was, cited from the Century Dictionary: “1. A corruption of vinegerone.” And vinegerone is “The whip-tailed scorpion, Thelyphonus giganteus: so called on account of the strong vinegar-Iike odor of an acid secretion noticeable when the creature is alarmed. Also called vinaigrier and vinegar-maker.”
Now, the interesting thing is that when I checked the physical AHD (since it’s not online anymore) I found the following entry:

vinegarroon also vinegarone n. A large whip scorpion (Mastigoproctus giganteus) of the southern United States and Mexico that emits a strong vinegary odor when disturbed. [American Spanish vinagrón, from Spanish vinagre, vinegar, from Old Spanish, from Old French vinaigre. See VINEGAR.]

Even though, when a human looks at a physical dictionary, the entry is obviously what is wanted, the search engine would ignore it because of the extra -r-. (I wonder how the spellings migrated from the century-old Century‘s vinegaroon/vinegerone to the AHD’s vinegarroon/vinegarone?)

SOMEWHAT CALIGINOUS.

A delightful quote, cribbed from Anatoly:

Professor Edgeworth, of All Souls’, avoided conversational English, persistently using words and phrases that one expects to meet only in books. One evening, Lawrence returned from a visit to London, and Edgeworth met him at the gate. “Was it very caliginous in the Metropolis?”
“Somewhat caliginous, but not altogether inspissated”, Lawrence replied gravely.
—Robert Graves, Good-Bye to All That, p. 372.

I presume this is the Edgeworth in question; this biographical sketch includes a nice quote: “Besides we owe him something, like a good German he knew that the Greek k is not a modern c, and, if any of you at any time wonder where the k in Biometrika comes from, I will frankly confess that I stole it from Edgeworth. Whenever you see that k call to mind dear old Edgeworth.”

THE FIRST MS.

Congratulations to Ben Zimmer, who’s been hunting the elusive “first known proposal for using the title Ms. to refer to a woman regardless of her marital status”; he’s found it on page 4 of the Springfield (Mass.) Sunday Republican of November 10, 1901: “There is a void in the English language, which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill…” Visit his post for a scan of the article and an account of the search, which was finally resolved because the the Republican “had been digitized by America’s Historical Newspapers (Readex/NewsBank), the same database that yielded the 1916 citation for jazz from the New Orleans Times-Picayune.” Ain’t antedating fun?

CUYAHOGA.

My local public radio station had one of those segments where they respond to messages from listeners, and they acknowledged a flood of complaints from Cleveland about their pronunciation of “Cuyahoga,” in a story about the Cuyahoga River, as /ˌkaɪəˈhɒɡə/ “KYE-ə-HOG-ə”; the listeners insisted that the correct pronunciation was /ˌkaɪəˈhoʊɡə/ “KYE-ə-HOE-gə.” The announcer defended the station’s usage, saying they’d checked with locals; since receiving the complaints, they’d called every official source they could think of and found them pretty much evenly divided: for instance, if I recall correctly, the mayor’s office used -HOE- and the post office -HOG-, though I may have it reversed. At any rate, it was obvious that both were in use. One of their contacts suggested there was a preference for -HOE- on the east side of the city and -HOG- on the west side; the Wikipedia article linked above claims that -HOG- is the preferred current pronunciation, -HOE- being “older.” Does anybody know of any research on this, or have personal convictions on the matter? (We stipulate in advance that yes, the burning river was funny, but the locals are tired of hearing about it—that was a long time ago, and it’s one of the cleanest rivers around these days.)

WORDNIK.

A couple of years ago, lexicographer Erin McKean (a LH favorite, quoted here many times) gave a TED talk about the evolution of language and the shortcomings of traditional dictionaries (an hour long, well worth your while). Since then she has been working on an entirely new sort of online dictionary to address some of those shortcomings, and it’s now gone live (in beta) as Wordnik (great name). In the words of Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, “A crowdsourced toolkit for tracking and recording the evolution of language as it occurs, its goal is to gather as much information about a word as possible — not its mere definition, but also in-sentence examples, semantic “neighborhoods” of related words, images, statistics about usage, and more.” I gave it a trial run by entering the word sculpin (which came up in this LH thread) and was pleased to find not only the American Heritage Dictionary definition but a couple of sample sentences (“‘You sculpin-mouthed hyena, blowing up men’s property”; “Go along you old sculpin, and turn out your toes”) and a set of Flickr images of the unprepossessing-looking fish. Check it out for yourself. (Disclaimer: I consider Erin and Grant Barrett, the site’s editorial director, pals and have helped out in a minor way with the site.)

WILLARD WALKER, RIP.

I recently learned of the death of linguistic anthropologist Willard Walker, who specialized in Native American languages and cultures. Here‘s his obit in the newsletter of Wesleyan University, where he taught for many years, but I particularly liked Stephen Christomalis’s memorial post at his blog Glossographia:

One of the more remarkable facts about literacy in colonial and pre-modern North America is the extreme paucity of independently developed writing systems and numerical notations. In contrast to West Africa, where there are dozens of examples of individuals creating indigenous scripts after being exposed to the Roman or Arabic scripts, there are relatively few indigenous North American scripts, and of these, the Cherokee syllabary (in which each sign encodes a syllable rather than a single phoneme) has been one of the most successful. Walker’s work was an effort to explain the development of Cherokee writing that was respectful to Sequoyah (George Guest), the script’s inventor, while steering clear of ‘great man’ fallacies and attempting to understand the sociocultural context of the script’s invention and acceptance…. A major part of his life’s work was comparative, showing the ways in which Cherokee interest in literacy contrasted with grave ambivalence about the practice of encoding oral traditions in written texts among many other peoples of the Americas.

He has a fascinating discussion of the Cherokee numerals, which were created by Sequoyah but rejected by the Cherokee: “they display a remarkable structural resemblance to the system of numerals used by the Jurchin of northeastern China, who developed a script in the 12th century, and who were later known (famously) as the Manchu when they ruled China…. If I were to make the case for cognitive constraints interacting with cultural and linguistic variability to produce remarkable and unexpected parallels, this would be a good example. Theoretically, then, the Cherokee numerals are extremely important even though no one actually used them, as far as we can tell.” (Via Savage Minds.)

ARTICLES NOT INCLUDED.

Jeff Koyen has a post about one of the more amazing screw-the-writer gimmicks I’ve heard of. Koyen got a message from Eastgate Publishing in the Philippines, wanting to reprint a piece of his on travel taboos in their new travel magazine Mango. They offered US$0.15/word, but then followed up with this clarification:

Dear Mr. Koyen,
My sincerest apologies, but I failed to mention that the words “a”, “and”, and “the” are not included in the rate. Would you still be interested in writing this piece for us?

(Thanks, Michael!)