Archives for February 2011


Michael Everson has a new blog, þ, that… well, let me quote his first post: “For many years I have been a devotee of the noble letter þorn and its history. This blog will celebrate the letter þorn and will, from time to time, be updated with þorny þings of interest.” He does not neglect eð, ƿynn, and ȝogh, either. His latest post, Old English anachronism on the Wikipǽdia, is a fine rant: “This is ridiculous. In the first place, the substitution of ƿynn is incomplete, as we still have betwixfolcliċra. But what on earth is ȝogh doing there? There was no ȝogh in Old English.” If this is the sort of thing you enjoy—and it certainly should be—you will enjoy this blog. Hwæt!


I don’t know how I’ve managed to go almost a year without noticing the existence of Fully (sic), but now that it’s come to my attention (via a message that they had started following the LH Twitter feed—I am bemused by the world I live in), I hasten to tell you about it. Their About page says:

Welcome to Crikey‘s very own language blog for discerning word nerds. Sit back and enjoy the spectacle of Australian linguists getting all hot and bothered about the way we communicate.

And their second post explains the Australianism “fully sick”: “For those out of the loop, ‘sick’ is an expression of enthusiasm or admiration. Eg, “Have a listen to this song, it’s sick”. The obligatory intensifier for ‘sick’ is ‘fully’.” Looks well worth following, and I’m adding it to the blogroll.


Dave Wilton of has done an admirable job of sorting out the history of main street (primarily US) and high street (primarily UK) in this post. His conclusion:

More likely the divergence between the British High Street and the North American Main Street is simply due to the opening of a lexical niche with the creation of cities and streets in the New World and the decline in the use of high to mean “principal.” The streets on the new continent had to be named something, and Main just happened to gain a beachhead, perhaps because at the time the meaning of high was being narrowed, and its use as a descriptor seemed more enigmatic. Once established in Boston and a few other cities on the eastern seaboard, Main Street was then carried westward to new towns.

But by all means read his whole post and enjoy the details.


Dmitry Chesnokov has an article on the “End of Russian player names as we’ve known them”:

From the IIHF:
Q: So what has been wrong with how the names were transcribed until 2010?
A: Simply, the English transcription didn’t reflect how Russians really pronounce their names. And this is the whole point of transcription — to write Russian names with Roman letters so it comes as close as possible to the original pronunciation.
Q: Can you give some examples of that?
A: Take a name like Fyodor. It most places it was “Fedor” which is wrong. The Pittsburgh Penguins star Malkin’s first name must be spelled Yevgeni and not “Evgeni” or “Evgeny”. Very few Russian first names start with an “E-sound”. Two examples are Enver and Eduard. The first sound in the original spelling of Malkin’s first name is Cyrillic “E”, which looks like the Roman “E” but is pronounced “Ye”. Thus: Yevgeni.
The IIHF added, “We are three years away from the first Olympic hockey tournaments in Russia. We felt that come Sochi 2014, the names of the hosting country should be transcribed correctly. It’s long overdue already. But primarily, we wanted to get it right.”

The idea that this is “right” and the former system “wrong” is of course absurd. But the change is certainly worth it for people like Washington Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who was tired of being called Semen. Who can blame him? (Thanks, Keith!)


There are books in my collection which I’ve owned for decades and which spend most of their working lives sitting quietly on a shelf, usually in a back row, thinking their dusty thoughts until, once every five or ten years, I need to consult them, at which point, having determined after some trial and error behind which of the limelight-hogging volumes they are to be found, I pull them out and locate the desired information. Such a book is William Veitch’s Greek Verbs, Irregular and Defective. (I have linked to the 2001 Adamant reprint of the 1871 third edition, which seems virtually identical to my 1967 Georg Olms reprint of the 1887 fourth edition; there are a number of cheaper reprints of the 1848 first edition, like this, but getting one would be false economy—the book was much expanded and improved in later editions.) Veitch (pronounced /viyč/, “veech”) was an interesting guy; you can read a nice eight-page obit of the “Old Grammarian” here (“There passed away on the 8th of July last one of Edinburgh’s notabilities… Dr. Veitch was born in 1794, and died therefore at the good old age of ninety-one…. He came of a good Border stock. His father was a Seceder, and a ‘stieve’ one, in the matter of fasting and the religious observances ‘of the most straitest sect’ of Presbyterians….”). But the reason I bring him and his book up is this wonderful entry on page 130 of my edition:

Βδέω To emit an offensive smell, Ar. Plut. 703, βδεῖς Anth. 11, 415; βδέων Ar. Eq. 898; Hierocl. 237, -έουσα Ar. Plut. 693 : fut. (βδέσω) : aor. βδέσε Anth. 11, 242, and ἔβδευσα if correct, Hierocl. 233. 240. 241 (Eberh.) Pass. βδεόμενος Ar. Eq. 900. This verb is, luckily, very limited in its range. Epic, Trag. and genteel prose never name it, but Hierocles, and sometimes Galen professionally of course.

On the history and range of this fine old Indo-European (PIE *pezd-) verb for ‘fart silently,’ see this LH post with its links; as an example of why you should not get a reprint of the first edition, here’s the corresponding entry there (page 37):

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Conrad asks, “have you come across the US pronunciation of poem as ‘poiem’ (an approximation of course)? It’s a subtle difference, with a ‘y’ glide from the o to the e, rather than a ‘w’. [Such people] don’t pronounce ‘poet’ in this way, curiously.” I have heard it, but I had never thought to wonder about it, so I put it to the Varied Reader: do you use this pronunciation, and/or are you familiar with it?


I’ve referred to it before, but Frank Jacobs’s Strange Maps site really deserves a post of its own. My initial impetus was the latest entry, “It’s 10:15 in Germany. Do You Know Where Your Isoglosses Are?,” perfect for LH with its clear presentation of the areas of the German-speaking world that say viertel nach zehn, viertel elf, viertel ab zehn, and viertel über zehn for 10:15. (As lagniappe, it throws in a map of the many words for indoor slippers.) But scroll down and admire the maps of Clapham Common (“Ground Zero of the Saints”), Europe’s Many Midpoints (“Early 1900s: German geographers concluded that Europe’s midpoint was not located in the Austro-Hungarian Empire but in – what a surprise – Germany: near the Frauenkirche in Dresden”), Nazis Up the Mississippi And Other Axis Invasion Scenarios, and Fanlands: Football Supporter Map of London (the post includes as well the strikingly simple Barassi Line dividing Australia between followers of Australian rules football and rugby football). And there’s hundreds more where those came from. If you’re at all interested in geographical visualization, you need this site bookmarked.


A correspondent asked me about the gender of the Russian word for ‘coffee,’ and having copied out the very enlightening discussion on pp. 109-10 of The Russian Language in the Twentieth Century by Bernard Comrie, Gerald Stone, and Maria Polinsky (see these earlier LH posts: 1, 2, 3) I thought I’d share it here:

All the deficiencies of the neuter group notwithstanding, at least one word, and a very common one, has almost completed its shift from masculine to neuter; it is the word ко́фе ‘coffee’. Borrowed from English or from Dutch (koffie) in the beginning of the eighteenth century, the word originally had the form ко́фий or ко́фей, which allowed one to identify it as a masculine noun, by analogy with other nouns in -й. The form in -й is commonly found in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century language; SAR (1806-22) lists only the form кофей. The analogy with чай ‘tea’ was probably a contributing factor that added to the stability of кофей (кофий) in nineteenth-century language; the two words were sometimes juxtaposed in folklore (чаю-кофию). The form кофе, the rise of which is due to pronunciation reduction of the unstressed final segment, is cited as primary in SRJa (1895-1927); the word кофей (кофий) is explained by reference to кофе. In SSRLJa (1948-65), кофей (кофий) is still cited but as prostorečno [nonstandard colloquial]; other dictionaries (e.g. Ožegov (1972)) do not even mention it. The spread of the form кофе, which resembles other nouns in the neuter, created a conflict between the form and the earlier masculine gender of the word. As an attempt to resolve the conflict, кофе was increasingly used as a neuter noun in spoken Russian. Normative handbooks, however, were very slow and reluctant in acknowledging this change and stubbornly insisted on the masculine; the first mention of neuter, as a permissible variant alongside with masculine, occurs in the Academy Grammar (Русская грамматика 1980: i. 469); see also Zaliznjak (1980) and Borunova et al. (1983).

In this AskMetaFilter question about “What determines the gender of a neologism?” I mentioned the Russian word and told the following joke:

A Georgian goes up to the counter and asks for “один кофе” (odin kofe, ‘one coffee,’ using the masculine form of ‘one’). The woman behind the counter is (like most Russians with any education) a raging prescriptivist, who seethes over the fact that so many people think кофе is a neuter noun because of its ending and say одно кофе (using the neuter form, odno). She is thrilled that this fellow knows the correct gender, and compliments him effusively as she pours his cup. He then says “и один булочка” (i odin bulochka, ‘and one bun,’ again using the masculine form of ‘one’ but this time with the glaringly feminine noun булочка, proving that he simply uses один with every noun).

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Almost seven years ago, I had a post linking to somebody else’s posting of Coptic resources online; alas, that blog is defunct, but a correspondent has remedied that by sending me (presumably in celebration of recent developments in Egypt) an up-to-date list of links, which I will share here:
Remenkimi (“we thought of building this website to share it with more people and promote learning and reading Coptic… you can join the Remenkimi Group, but first you need to install Coptic Fonts so that you may read/write in Coptic.”): started as a Yahoo Group
Coptic alphabet
Coptica (“Le site personnel COPTICA est destiné à tous les étudiants et amateurs de langue et littérature copte. Les uns y trouveront des textes et indices nécessaires à la poursuite de leur cursus universitaire, ainsi que des liens essentiels. Les autres y trouveront informations et outils de travail.”): texts, documents
Coptic YouTube videos (annoyingly, the one for numbers doesn’t include any pronunciations, just background music!)
Pisakho Internet resources (“This page is intended to provide you with links to aid the study of the Coptic language on the internet.”)
In an amazing instance of synchronicity, I am at this very moment engaged in proofreading a set of apocryphal gospels in Coptic, so this comes in very handy. Thanks, Paul!
Addendum. I’ve discovered Metalogos: The Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Truth, which has complete editions of those Coptic gospels with English, Spanish, and Greek translations and hyperlinks to Walter Ewing Crum’s A Coptic Dictionary and J.M. Plumley’s Coptic Grammar.


Keith Gessen, one of the editors of the Brooklyn-based magazine n+1, thought I would like it and sent me a couple of issues, Number One (from 2004) and Number Nine (from 2010). He was absolutely right, I like it very much, and if I’d happened on the first issue when it came out, back when I was still a citizen of New York and frequenting its literary bookstores (and a corporate wage-slave with money to throw around), I certainly would have bought it, and probably subscribed. It starts off with a nice short Editorial Statement (every new cultural venture needs a manifesto) which nobly states that “civilization is the dream of advance—to find the new, or take what we know from the past and say it with the care that only the living can claim” (and goes on to quote Herzen, which of course won my heart). This is followed by a regular feature, “The Intellectual Situation,” which begins exhilaratingly with an acerbic dissection of The New Republic, a magazine for which I feel a helpless and anachronistic affection, despite the dismal swamp into which it has sunk, because when I was in high school it was genuinely exciting, opposing the Vietnam War before it was fashionable to do so and publishing excellent poetry and criticism. And n+1‘s analysis is so penetrating because they feel the same sadness: “It didn’t have to be this way: if only they had allowed more positive individuality, cultivated something new, and still kept an old dignified adherence to the Great Tradition, running continuously to them (as they hoped) from the New York Intellectuals, whose ashes were in urns in the TNR vaults if they were anywhere. This was a magazine that began with Edmund Wilson!” I’ll quote their paragraph on James Wood, a critic about whom jamessal and I have had more than one discussion (jamessal respects him more unreservedly than I do, or at any rate he used to):

Poor James Wood! Now here was a talent—but an odd one, with a narrow, aesthetician’s interests and idiosyncratic tastes. He got crowned the Last Critic. The magazine’s chief writer on fiction since 1996, he became a man of whom it could be said, as Hemingway said of Mencken, “so many young men get their likes and dislikes from him.” They liked his swift, impacted style, to be sure (it was perfect for online reading), but also, perhaps, his ready assimilation to the youth culture’s mode retro. His lodestars were invariant, Coleridge and Hazlitt, Tolstoy and Flaubert—not just because they were on his school reading list, but because Wood seemed to want to be his own grandfather. In the company of other critics who wrote with such seriousness, at such length, in such old-fashioned terms, he would have been less burdened with the essentially parodic character of his enterprise. But there was no one else, or they were reviewing movies. His only way out was the hit-piece, to which Wood alone brought dignity. He came on with sword and dirk, a courtly eviscerator: to see him stab a writer’s flaws was a Roman delight. The one author he really championed and helped canonize was Sebald, whose deadpan pessimism pastiched a 19th century Gothic style no actual writer ever practiced. Yet it was instantly recognizable as a style we long for from the past, like Wood’s own—the silhouette of an intellectual world that was once rumored to exist.

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