Another Language Quiz!

David Shariatmadari at the Guardian has one of those silly but enjoyable quizzes I can’t resist: Know your Hrvatski from your Old Norse? The first couple questions are relatively easy, but don’t get cocky — the only way you can get 100% is with the help of luck, since some require you to guess what year a word was first recorded. That said, I should have done better than 15/20; I tried to second-guess the quiz and got a little too tricksy. Don’t do what I did; if it seems right, it probably is right. Thanks, Trevor!

Missing Text.

Anatoly Vorobey sometimes says of his more recondite posts “вряд ли кому-то будет интересно” [unlikely to be of interest to anyone], and the same is probably true of this, but I have found a tear in the fabric of spacetime and I cannot be silent. Back in my college days, Natalya Baranskaya’s 1969 story «Неделя как неделя» (A Week Like Any Other, also translated as The Alarm Clock in the Cupboard) was famous not only among students of Russian like me but internationally, as a look into the daily life of a Soviet woman trying to juggle life and work; it was translated into many languages and much discussed. Now that I’m finally reading it, I imagine it’s pretty much forgotten, and it’s not easy to find a Russian text online. The only version I’ve found is copied from the 1981 collection Женщина с зонтиком [Woman with an umbrella], which I happen to own and in which I’m reading it. At the bottom of page 17, continuing onto the next page, in a passage about hurrying to work on a Tuesday morning, we find:

Когда мы утрясаемся немного, мне удается вытащить из сумки «Юность». Я читаю давно уже всеми прочитанную повесть. Читаю даже на эскалаторе и кончаю последнюю страничку на автобусной остановке у Донского.

When we’ve settled in a bit, I manage to pull Yunost′ [Youth, a popular magazine] out of my purse. I read a story long since read by everyone else. I read it even on the escalator, and finish the last page at the Donskoi bus stop.

Frustrating — one wants to know what that story was. Well, if we go back to the original magazine publication in the November Novy mir, which happens to be available online as a pdf, we find out; the passage reads there (pp. 31-32; I’ve bolded the part omitted in republication):

Когда мы утрясаемся немного, мне удается вытащить из сумки «Юность». Я читаю давно уже всеми прочитанную повесть Аксенова о затоваренной бочкотаре. Я не все в ней понимаю, но мне делается от нее вeceлo и смешно. Читаю даже на эскалаторе и кончаю последнюю страничку на автобусной остановке у Донского.

When we’ve settled in a bit, I manage to pull Yunost′ out of my purse. I read Aksyonov’s story about surplused barrelware, which everyone else has long since read. I don’t understand everything in it, but it makes me happy and amuses me. I read it even on the escalator, and finish the last page at the Donskoi bus stop.

So the story is Vasily Aksyonov’s famous 1968 Затоваренная бочкотара (translated as Surplused Barrelware; see this LH post), which everyone was indeed reading at the time. Why the different texts? Between them came the Metropol Affair of 1979, after which Aksyonov was a nonperson and couldn’t be referred to in such an approving context. Now that the Soviet Union and its stupid censorship are history, it’s high time to restore this nod to a fellow writer.

An interesting point: when Olga, the protagonist, complains to her husband that they never talk about anything other than the kids and the hassles of daily life, he tries to come up with counterexamples and says they’ve talked “О войне во Вьетнаме, о Чехословакии …” [about the war in Vietnam, about Czechoslovakia…]; I’m surprised that covert equivalence (Soviet troops had invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968) made it past the censors in either year.


My wife was scrolling through her news feed when she asked me “What’s a derecho?” I had no idea, though the context (something like “Destructive derecho brings 100 mph winds to Iowa”) implied a meteorological phenomenon, so I looked it up and found a Wikipedia page:

A derecho (/dəˈreɪtʃoʊ/ […]) is a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a fast-moving group of severe thunderstorms known as a mesoscale convective system.

Derecho comes from the Spanish word in adjective form for “straight” (or “direct”), in contrast with a tornado which is a “twisted” wind. The word was first used in the American Meteorological Journal in 1888 by Gustavus Detlef Hinrichs in a paper describing the phenomenon and based on a significant derecho event that crossed Iowa on 31 July 1877.

So now I know, but if it’s been around since 1888, how come I’ve never heard of it? How come the OED doesn’t have it (though the AHD does)? Questions, questions…

Incidentally, if you’ve ever wondered about -able vs. -ible, the M-W blog has a post about it.

Geoffrey Nunberg, RIP.

I am sad to learn of the death of Geoff Nunberg, a fine linguist and a longtime friend of the Hattery. I don’t know any details yet, but you can read Mark Liberman’s memorial Log post for a bit more (he says “after a long illness,” so apparently it wasn’t coronavirus, which is the first thing one thinks of these days).


I recently figured out how to view my unread Gmail, and was horrified to see how many links people have sent me have languished, apparently ignored and forgotten, because of my bad habit of letting them hang around until I need them. Here’s one the much-missed Paul Ogden sent me back in 2014 (!): Ampersand, An International Journal of General and Applied Linguistics.

Serving the breadth of the general and applied linguistics communities, Ampersand offers a highly-visible, open-access home for authors. An international, peer-reviewed journal, Ampersand welcomes submissions in applied and historical linguistics, phonetics, phonology, pragmatics, semantics, sociolinguistics and syntax. […] In response to the global thrust toward open source, open data and open access in science, Ampersand offers the opportunity for authors to make their research freely available to everyone, opening their work to a wider audience and increased readership.

Delving at random into the archives, I find “English language teacher development in a Russian university: Context, problems and implications” by Tatiana Rasskazova, Maria Guzikova, and Anthony Green, “English collocations: A novel approach to teaching the language’s last bastion” by Rafe S. Zaabalawi and Anthony M. Gould, and “Tweaa! – A Ghanaian interjection of ‘contempt’ in online political comments,” by Rachel Thompson; it looks like there’s lots of interesting stuff there, though I have no idea how well regarded the journal is by linguists. It’s too late to apologize to Paul, but I hereby issue a heartfelt “Sorry!” to all those who have sent me links and never heard back or seen them posted; hopefully they’ll be showing up belatedly in posts to come.

Calf of God.

A reader writes:

A nationally syndicated columnist here in Canada, born in Ireland and claiming to have some Gaelic, recently wrote this: “In Irish, the ladybug is the ‘Calf of God.’ Nobody knows why. Some other languages have similar names for this sweet insect. A linguistic mystery.”

Is that a mystery that languagehat could solve? I was interested in the point about “some other languages” and imagined you and your contributors might be able to add context.

So: thoughts on ladybugs?

Butty or Cob?

One of those “what do you call it?” quizzes that I so enjoy — Lincolnshire Live posted an image of a bun full of thick-cut French fries (as we Yanks call them) and asked for reader responses, and this is the result:

Chip butty and chip cob were by far the two most popular answers on our Facebook post (although there was a clear winner – see below) – but there was a lot of disagreement, and a lot of other names were thrown out there as well.

Teacake and barm cake were two others that got name-checked, while roll, batch, breadcake, bap, cake, muffin and even just bread all got votes.

One thing is for sure, though – everyone who voted thought they were right, and many mocked others for their answers! Indeed, some even suggested people should leave the county if they don’t use the ‘right’ word for it.

Which seems harsh to us.

It’s also got a useful map of names for bread rolls around the UK.

Ladino New York.

Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) YouTube playlist:

Judeo-Spanish (widely known as Ladino) was once spoken by the Jews of Spain — after the expulsion of 1492, most of those speakers moved to the Ottoman Empire or to Morocco.

By the early 20th century, with the arrival of tens of thousands of speakers from cities such as Salonica, Istanbul, and Izmir, New York had become one of the language’s global centers.

These are the stories of “Ladino New York” — in 12 episodes, the stories of those speak the language or remember the language and its major role in the history and future of Jewish New York.

In the first one, Stella Levi, “a native Ladino speaker from Rhodes now in her 90s,” starts off by introducing herself as “Leví, o Levi — los italyanos dizen Levi, ande vos otros era Leví.” And in the fifth, Alicia Sisso Raz, whose family was originally from Tetouan, Morocco, speaks Haketia, mentioned here back in 2003. Thanks, Y!

Subway Announcements from Around the World.

Bathrobe sent me these links, adding:

It’s interesting to actually hear and savour the sound of these languages (rather than just stare at the written forms) as they are used in making announcements. Of course, the enunciation is much clearer than everyday conversation, which is nice if you don’t know the languages.

Metro Announcements in European Languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Occitan, Basque, Catalan, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Sweden, Finnish, Czech, Polish, Hungary, Romanian, Greek, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Russian. (The Czech “dveře se zavírají” brings back my happy visits to Prague.)

Various Europe metro announcements: Budapest, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Oslo, Stockholm, Bucharest, Minsk, Prague, Barcelona, Rome.

Subway announcements from around the world: part 1, part 2 (European Edition), part 3 (European Extra Edition), part 4 (American Edition). As Bathrobe says, these are not as clear or well done; the transcriptions are often incorrect or missing, and Catalan is mistaken for Spanish. Furthermore, each comes with an annoying half-minute introduction. On the plus side, they show the trains.

Thanks, Bathrobe!

Greek xénos.

In a recent Log thread on words meaning ‘foreigner,’ Iranianist Martin Schwartz (see this LH post) said:

Indeed, the late Beekes’ seeing xénos as Pre-Greek is rendered untenable by the existence of a cognate in Avestan, however Wiktionary gives no further info on this. It was I who provided that Avestan cognate (the articles may be found on the internet), first in 1982 (“The Indo-European Vocabulary of Exchange, Hospitality, and Intimacy“, Proceedings of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 8), and, among other publications, in 2003, “Gathic Compositional History, Yasna 29, and Bovine Symbolism“, pp. 213-214, in which I reconstructed PIE *ksen-w-, this time with initial velar as against my earlier suggestion of a labio-velar, based on wrong comparison with Hittite kussan-. A further, very detailed account of the etymology and its role in Gathic poetics is […] awaiting publication in a Viennese festschrift. A takeaway is that the original meaning of the word, as evidenced clearly in Homer, is that xénos/xeînos was not ‘stranger, foreigner’, but someone who, as per the archaic gift-exchange institution, was one of two parties who were mutually tied by an ongoing relationship of hospitality etc.; in Avestan the cognate verb referred to reciprocity and provision of hospitality and further (like the archaic Greek) cultic relationship. For many years Calvert Watkins contested my etymology of the Greek word, himself favoring a connection a connection with PIE *ghosti-, another term of reciprocity, but he finally conceded in public that my etymology was to be accepted for phonological reasons.

(I added links for convenience.) That’s very interesting to me; I had always accepted the *ghosti- version, but I like this one. And Schwartz has a follow-up comment on Georgian (!) borrowings from Hebrew:

As for goy, goyim: An interesting deveopment is Georgian goimi, which seems to mean ‘an old fashioned, unstylish out-of-it person, a boor or yokel’, as I have learned from a Tbilisi native speaker. The word originated from ‘gentile’ among Georgian Jews, who apparently (like speakers of Judeo-Iranian languages) use the pl. form a a singular. It is noted online, inter alia in an entry “11 Georgian slang words to help you speak like a local” [and not like a yokel, M.S.]. The latter article also gives baiti for ‘living space’, which ultimately comes from Hebrew bayit (as the article indicates); I’m reminded of Viennese beisl ‘bistro, tavern, restaurant’, from the Ashkenazic pronunciation of the Heb. word, bayis.

Unrelated, but I just learned about the phrase “splice the mainbrace,” which I’d doubtless read without understanding:

Splice the mainbrace” is an order given aboard naval vessels to issue the crew with an alcoholic drink. Originally an order for one of the most difficult emergency repair jobs aboard a sailing ship, it became a euphemism for authorized celebratory drinking afterward, and then the name of an order to grant the crew an extra ration of rum or grog.

If you were as ignorant as me, now we’re both gnorant.