The word dooryard is well known to me as a lexical item, but I had no idea what exactly it meant; as ktschwarz said in this Wordorigins thread, “like probably most Americans outside New England, I associate it mainly with Walt Whitman’s ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’.” Fortunately, in the same thread cuchuflete linked to this 2017 FB post from the Bangor Maine Police Department:

The term “dooryard” has such a simple and clear meaning to me that I had no idea the phrase could be so misunderstood. Door + Yard = Dooryard. A concise term, crafted over time by our ancestors. I even received a few notes that hinted of frustration in my use of the term without a definition attached. I feel wicked bad. So stinkin’ bad – that I now have to write an entirely separate post to clear up the confusion.

Dooryard (sometimes pronounced Doah-Yahd – don’t do this) simply means the area of yard adjacent to the most commonly used door exiting the home where you are currently dwelling. It could be the front door, it could be the side door, and it might even be the back door. It also could be the yard(s) located by each and every door in your home. You make the determination of where the “dooryard” is at your home, and if your uncle Mervin stops by, he might only consider the dooryard to be the area near the side door.

The best indicator of the area of which the person speaks would be to pay attention to the movement of their head or shoulders when they use the term. Pointing is too obvious. If the person is indicating the dooryard near the side of the house, he or she might glance in that general direction. You will know, but only if you pay attention.
When you arrive at a home in Maine (and I have arrived at many in many different towns during my time as an investigator) you need to look for door with the most worn path in the grass or mud.

Just because there are pavers or crushed rock leading to a door does not mean that it is the clear choice in entry and exit for the homeowners. You must find the dooryard. Screw it up, and you will not be welcomed. […] Whatever you do, do not try to pronounce “dooryard” like Tom Bosley did in “Murder She Wrote.” Do not try to use a Maine accent if you do not have a Maine accent. It actually can get you into trouble. Actually, don’t even try to use the term “dooryard” unless you know where it is. If you use the term regularly, you understand. If you don’t, that’s cool as well. […]

The OED (in a 1897 entry) defines it as “A yard or garden-patch about the door of a house” and gives the following citations:

c1764 in T. D. Woolsey Hist. Disc. (1850) 54 The Freshmen ..are forbidden to wear their the front door~yard of the President’s or Professor’s house.
1854 J. R. Lowell Cambr. 30 Years Ago in Prose Wks. (1890) I. 59 The flowers which decked his little door-yard.
1878 Emerson in N. Amer. Rev. CXXVI. 412 We send to England for shrubs, which grow as well in our own door~yards and cow-pastures.
1913 R. Frost Boy’s Will 9 How drifts are piled, Dooryard and road ungraded.
1941 T. S. Eliot Dry Salvages i. 7 The rank ailanthus of the April dooryard.

The Dictionary of American Regional English labels it “chiefly NEng, NY” (and Whitman, of course, was from NY). We previously discussed the word in 2018. And in connection with the last citation, I will remind people that in that title Salvages has penultimate stress and “long a” (or, as Eliot annoyingly puts it, “Salvages is pronounced to rhyme with assuages” — why not use wages as the rhyming word rather than one nobody knows how to pronounce?).

Duolingo’s Yiddish Course.

Jordan Kutzik writes for the Forward about Duolingo’s new Yiddish course:

Although the course is significantly shorter than many of the site’s 39 other languages, Duolingo Yiddish is still massive. Altogether, it encompasses 70 sections called “skills,” with each skill featuring five levels. The 350 levels have three to six lessons each. With every lesson requiring at least five to seven minutes, the roughly 1,300 lessons will take a minimum of 250 hours for the average student to complete. […]

The course gives a thorough overview of Yiddish grammar. Taught through a series of exercises built like a video game to incentivize memorization, Duolingo Yiddish begins with standard greetings, home and food vocabulary and regular day-to-day topics from telling time to describing family members, shopping trips and vacations. Specifically Jewish vocabulary is introduced fairly late, with the first such lesson, on Shabbos, appearing about halfway through. […]

Duolingo is known for prompting students to translate funny and even bizarre sentences, and its Yiddish edition doesn’t disappoint. The sentence “di yidn zenen mid” (the Jews are tired) is destined to become a meme on Twitter and “mayn vayb iz keynmol nisht tsufridn” (my wife is never pleased) sounds like the opening of a classic albeit decidedly dated Borscht Belt routine. “Ver voynt in an ananas untern yam?” will get a laugh from many younger millennials who grew up watching “SpongeBob Square Pants.” It translates to the first line of that show’s theme song: “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?” […]

[Read more…]

Languages in Tsarist Kazan.

Robert Geraci’s Window on the East: National and Imperial Identities in Late Tsarist Russia looks good but too specialized for me to want to read the whole thing; looking through the Google Books preview, however, I found a few bits worth quoting here:

The word “Tatar” was also used far more inclusively than it would be later. Muscovite officials often referred to all local peoples in this way, regardless of their religion or language. The word was associated with the Mongol invaders of the thirteenth century and therefore with all the Golden Horde’s successor states. In reality, though, by the time of the Kazan khanate the Horde had become a mixture of Mongol, Turkic, and Finnic peoples originating in disparate parts of Eurasia. Only later—when Russian scholars and officials began to use a more specific vocabulary for the indigenous peoples of the region—the word “Tatar” came to refer primarily to the Turkic-speaking people who had dominated the Kazan khanate. Yet the erroneous assumption that they were essentially Mongols persisted for centuries. Later ethnographers would also decide that many of the people referred to as “Tatars” in earlier Russian documents had really been—regardless of their religion—Chuvashes, Cheremises, Votiaks, Mordvins, or members of some other ethnic-linguistic group. […]

In the mektebs, or Koranic elementary schools, boys were taught to memorize the holy book. Traditionally the schools used only Arabic, the sacred language of Islam. The “syllabic” method of teaching Arabic in the schools enabled pupils to pronounce the language but not understand it; they learned to read Arabic phrases without ever actually learning the alphabet systematically. (Typically, the mullah’s wife would teach local girls in her home in a similar fashion.) The mektebs had no set curriculum or schedule, and most of their pupils did not finish the course of study. Those boys who did finish the mekteb usually advanced to a medresse, or higher school. These schools often kept students (shakirds) well into their adult lives, and many of their graduates became mullahs. Medresses were not as numerous or widespread as mektebs; they existed mainly in cities, where wealthy benefactors were available to fund them. They taught a wider range of subjects than the mektebs, but only within the rubric of ancient Islamic learning. As in the mektebs, the colloquial Tatar language was not used. […]

After Catherine’s death, her son Paul I continued her policy of religious toleration, in 1799 legally depriving the Russian church of its prerogative of seeking new converts to Orthodoxy. In 1800 the government responded to Tatar petitions by by allowing the establishment of an “Asian publishing house” (Aziatskaia tipografiia) in Kazan and sending the necessary typefaces from St. Petersburg. Placed under the control of Kazan University’s press in 1829, the publisher produced books in Tatar, Arabic, Turkish, and Persian. Formerly books in such languages had mostly been imported from Bukhara and Istanbul. Until the twentieth century, the university press and one private Russian press in Kazan together produced nearly all books sold to Muslims in the Russian empire. Members of Kazan University’s Department of Eastern Languages served as censors, and when the department moved to St. Petersburg University at mid-century, so did the censorship.

Anybody know this word “shakird”? I can’t google up anything useful. (By the way, if you’re wondering about the name Geraci, I learned from this YouTube clip that it’s pronounced /dʒəˈræsi/, like “Jurassic” without the final -c and rhyming with “classy.”)

Also, via Lev Oborin’s Лучшее в литературном интернете: 10 ссылок недели, a terrific new resource, Mandelstam Digital: it’s got texts from eight different editions, with links to critical essays, commentaries, and other good things (eventually they’ll have a concordance as well).


From Bill Poser’s Facebook post:

I learned a new English word. In the terminology of admiralty law, the Ever Given did not “collide” with the bank of the Suez Canal. It “allided” with it. Admiralty law distinguishes between “allisions”, in which a ship strikes something else, and “collisions”, in which two ships strike each other. This makes etymological sense, but the distinction is not made as far as I know outside of admiralty law.

Interestingly, the original OED had a very brief entry presenting it as a word found only in dictionaries:

aˈllide, v. Obs.⁻⁰ [ad. L. allīd-ĕre to dash against, f. al- = ad- to + līdĕre = læd-ĕre to dash or strike violently.] ‘To dash or hit against.’ Bailey 1721; whence in Ash 1775, etc.

But in September 2012 they updated it as follows:

Origin: A borrowing from Latin. Etymon: Latin allīdere.
Etymology: < classical Latin allīdere to dash or strike (against), to be shipwrecked < al-, variant of ad- ad- prefix + laedere to hurt, injure (see lesion n.). Compare earlier collide v.

rare⁻⁰ before mid 20th cent.

intransitive. To hit against something. Now Maritime Law: (of a vessel) to collide with another which is stationary, or with a static object or structure.
1721 N. Bailey Universal Etymol. Eng. Dict. Allide, to dash or hit against.

1962 Amer. Maritime Cases Apr. 974 The Court finds that the New Zealand Victory..allided with the westernmost of the two gantry cranes on that pier.
1986 Federal Reporter 2nd Ser. 778 1116/1 When a moving vessel allides with an anchored vessel.
2008 Michigan Lawyers Weekly (Nexis) 28 Jan. A vessel allided with a dock owned by defendant.

I wonder what happened in mid 20th cent. to bring it into actual use?


My wife and I saw the enjoyable proto-noir movie Pépé le Moko the other night; to get the obvious question out of the way, moko is, as that Wikipedia article says (perhaps too prominently), “slang for a man from Toulon, derived from the Occitan amb aquò (‘with that’), a term which punctuates sentences in Provence and which, in Toulon, is pronounced em’oquò.” (Y provided the same etymology here in 2014). The movie is set in French-occupied Algiers in the 1930s, and specifically in the famed Casbah; of course, I wondered about the etymology of that word (which the OED insists on spelling kasbah), and it turns out (per Wiktionary) that it’s from Arabic قَصَبَة‎ (qaṣaba), a singulative derived from قَصَب‎ (qaṣab, ‘stalk’), itself a back-formation from قَصَّاب‎ (qaṣṣāb, ‘butcher’), borrowed from Aramaic קצבא‎ / ܩܰܨܳܒܳܐ‎ (qaṣṣābā), and a doublet of indigenous Arabic قَضَبَ‎ (qaḍaba, ‘to cut off, to trim’). Messy stuff!

Also, at one point at the start of the movie, when a local cop is trying to explain to a high-handed visitor from Paris why they haven’t been able to collar Pépé despite knowing where he lives, there’s a montage of the winding streets and arched alleys of the Casbah (doused with plenty of exoticism — the movie should be avoided by those with tender sensitivities about colonialism and orientalism) in which the narrator mentions odd names like rue de l’Impuissance, r. de la Ville de Soum Soum, r. de l’Hôtel du Miel, and r. de l’Homme à la Perle; naturally, I was curious as to whether these piquant names really existed, and googling turned up this wonderful (if exasperatingly coded — you can’t copy text) webpage about the traditional street names of the city (sadly replaced by French officialdom), and it turns out all four names are genuine: see r. de l’Aigle, r. d’Ammon, impasse El-Azel, and r. de la Grenade respectively. How I love old street names! See my posts on Salonica and Vilnius; I welcome such resources for other cities (I have a two-volume book on Paris streets).

Hidden Language Skills.

I really had no intention of just reposting everything Joel put up at Far Outliers, but the excerpts from A Death in the Rainforest (see this post) are so striking I can’t resist; here’s one about an unexpected linguistic situation:

Not only were young villagers eager to narrate; it turned out that all but the very youngest of them were also able to narrate in Tayap. Many of the narratives were short, and most of them were scaffolded by the narrator’s relatives and friends, who sat on the floor with them and helped the teller remember what things were called and figure out how verbs were inflected. But what emerged in the narrative sessions was that all young people in the village over age eighteen have some active competence in the vernacular, and some of them have excellent active competence—even though they never use it.

Several of the young villagers in their mid- to late twenties were highly proficient storytellers. They spoke relatively unhesitatingly, they had a broad vocabulary, they used a variety of tenses and verbs of motion (which are often irregular in Tayap and very tricky to inflect correctly) in the stories they told, and they also commanded other features of the grammar that showed unexpected mastery of Tayap. The truly curious thing about the speakers is that outside of these sessions, they never displayed their command of the language. I once asked Membo, a twenty-six-year-old woman, what she thought about her twenty-five-year-old husband Ormbes’s competence in Tayap. Membo laughed dismissively. “Oh, he messes it all up,” she told me, “He doesn’t speak Tayap.”

I later asked Ormbes to tell me a story in Tayap. He narrated an almost flawless tale of how he and his brother went hunting in the rainforest and speared a pig. Ormbes turned out to be one of the most fluent younger speakers in the village. That his wife, who not only had been married to him for ten years but also had grown up with him and had known him all her life, was convinced that her husband didn’t speak Tayap, was remarkable—and telling.

[Read more…]

Labia simul.

I am easily annoyed by April Fools foolery, especially on the internet, but I enjoyed Grove Music’s spoof article contest:

For the first time in the history of the contest, our judges split three ways. After some internal squabbling rational, well-reasoned argument, we selected “Lip Synch” by Lisa Colton, Reader in Musicology and Director of Graduate Education at the University of Huddersfield. Although Colton’s article misses one key Grove style point—all Grove articles begin with a definition sentence that succinctly explains the subject—it made us laugh so long and so loud, that we feel it is indeed deserving of this great honor. “A quite clever and evocative parody of a performance practice article, replete with medieval terminology, Latin texts, and modern drag references,” noted Judge Root. Judge Cusick called it “an imaginative pseudo history of the performance practice as originating in a queerly illicit mix of ecclesiastically silenced nuns and the monks on the other side of many monastic institutions’ walls; parodies the ventriloquization of women in music studies, the quest for origins that drives a certain kind of musicology, the elision of technology that characterizes another kind of musicology and the elision of gender that characterizes still another kind. Needs only a mention of the theorist/practitioner of the genre, Lypsinka, whose name before monachization was John Epperson.”

Lip Synch

The popular origins of Lip Synch, or Lip Synchronization, lie in the violent Crumhorn Battles of early modern Flanders, but comparable practices can be found much earlier in northern Britain, probably arriving there with the Vikings during the tenth century. The socio-cultural impetus for combining the voice of one singer with the performance of another individual seems to have been in the exclusion of women from all vocal performance, especially in religious settings, between the edict of St Paul and the reversal of that rule by second wave feminists in 1965. Giraldus Cambrensis (De rebus a se gestis, c1204) provides the fullest description of what he termed labia simul: the Gilbertine nuns he visited at Shouldham in 1201 opened their mouths in unison, making the shapes of words, while the canons in the adjoining church provided the musical sounds themselves. Matins would begin each day with the cantrix intoning Psalm 69 (Vulgate), Domine, labia mea aperies (“O Lord, open my lips”), in secret, and thus the combined liturgical rituals would commence in a broadly synchronized fashion. The technical challenge presented by the wall separating the male and female chambers of Gilbertine houses was obviated by a revolving hatch, through which feedback from the cantor and cantrix would be exchanged with appropriate modesty. A handful of examples of their notes are extant, typically employing the high-status, Anglo-Norman vernacular. One such memorandum (now DRu-P.a.UL), dating to the Feast of the Circumcision, 1243, reads simply: “Chantez, restez”, with the appropriate liturgical response proper to the day, “Sachez awez”.


P.J. Nixon: ‘Giraldus Cambrensis on Music: How Reliable are his Historiographers?’, Medieval Studies: Skara 1988, 264–89

Margolyes: Hildegard von Bingen and The Flaming Lips (Tunbridge Wells, 1983)

Visage: Lip Synchronization: A Surprising History (London, 2020)

I also enjoyed the runner-up, a biography of Johann Egbert Bach Bach-Bach [b Eiburg, Prussia 1755; d Bauernomelett, Prussia 1823], German musician and composer (“His works were catalogued by Otto Hahnrei and given a Bach Musik Werk number: BMW”).

How a Language Dies.

Again via Far Outliers, another quote from Don Kulick’s A Death in the Rainforest (see this post):

The first casualty of the villagers’ increased acquisition of Tok Pisin was their competence in other local languages. Before the arrival of Tok Pisin, Gapuners were a highly multilingual people. No one in the surrounding villages bothered to learn their little language—a situation that suited Gapuners just fine since it meant that they could employ Tayap as a secret code that nobody else understood.

To communicate with people from other villages, men and women in Gapun learned the local vernacular languages that those people spoke. During my first long stay in the village in the 1980s, I listened to old people who had grown up before the Second World War confidently speaking two other local languages that were unrelated to Tayap or to each other, and I also heard those old people responding to one or two other languages, which they clearly understood even if they couldn’t speak them.

In the generation born after the war, when Tok Pisin “came up big,” competence in other village vernaculars plummeted. People no longer needed to learn local languages because, at that point, it was easier to communicate in Tok Pisin. Women lagged behind men, and they continued to learn other vernacular languages for another generation, largely because women in the area generally still did not speak Tok Pisin as easily as men did. By the 1970s, though, even Gapun women’s active competence in other vernaculars was eclipsed by Tok Pisin.

[Read more…]


Particuliterate is a resource I wish I’d had when I was studying Greek; from the About page:

While there is not much information in learning materials on Greek particles, there is a wealth of material elsewhere. In journals, monographs, conference proceedings, and reference sources, one will find a number of fascinating arguments about how to understand the meaning of particular particles. And yet, most students do not know where to look for these, and if they find them, the jargon and background information which the reader is assumed to know pose difficulty to the student just beginning to dip their toes into Greek scholarship.

This website is aimed primarily at that student. Its goal is to aggregate the discussion of particles, which is often spread out and hard to track down, into one place, where the views of various scholars can be summarized in a succinct and understandable manner. Particles entries include extensive hyperlinking to the Glossary page, which includes definitions for common terms and explanations of theories which underlie the arguments being described.

Yet this website is not only aimed at that student. Experienced scholars who wish to follow up on the summaries will find full bibliographies accompanying each entry.

In general, one particle entry will be added to the site each week. A schedule is provided in the Particle Directory page. Occasionally, the schedule may be disrupted by a desire to write a more general post not devoted to a single particle, or be delayed due to my other commitments, but regular updates can be expected starting on Apr 1.

Of course, you can find detailed analysis in Denniston’s The Greek Particles, but that’s over seventy years old now and perhaps a little dense for the average student. (Via Sententiae Antiquae.)


Victor Mair at the Log posts about what sounds like a very stimulating book, Mareshi Saito’s Kanbunmyaku: The Literary Sinitic Context and the Birth of Modern Japanese Language and Literature. From the author’s Introduction:

The chief aim of this book is to consider the language space of modern Japan from the perspective of what I am calling kanbunmyaku 漢文脈 in Japanese, translated here as “Literary Sinitic Context.” I use the term “Literary Sinitic” to designate what is often referred to as “Classical Chinese” or “Literary Chinese” in English, wenyan 文言 in Mandarin Chinese, kanbun 漢文 in Japanese (sometimes referred to as “Sino-Japanese” in English), and hanmun 漢文 in Korean. The Context in Literary Sinitic Context translates the -myaku of kanbunmyaku, and usually implies a pulse, vein, flow, or path, but is also the second constituent element of the Sino-Japanese term bunmyaku 文脈 meaning “(textual, literary) context.” I use the term Literary Sinitic Context to encompass both Literary Sinitic proper, as well as orthographic and literary styles (buntai 文体) derived from Literary Sinitic, such as glossed reading (kundoku 訓読) or Literary Japanese (bungobun 文語文), which mix sinographs (kanji 漢字, i.e., “Chinese” characters) and katakana. In addition to styles I also consider Literary Sinitic thought and sensibility at the core of which lie Literary Sinitic poetry (kanshi 漢詩) and prose (kanbun 漢文), collectively termed kanshibun 漢詩文.

From the publisher’s blurb:

Saito Mareshi demonstrates the centrality of Literary Sinitic poetry and prose in the creation of modern literary Japanese. Saito’s new understanding of the role of “kanbunmyaku” in the formation of Japanese literary modernity challenges dominant narratives tied to translations from modern Western literatures and problematizes the antagonism between Literary Sinitic and Japanese in the modern academy. Saito shows how kundoku (vernacular reading) and its rhythms were central to the rise of new inscriptional styles, charts the changing relationship of modern poets and novelists to kanbunmyaku, and concludes that the chronotope of modern Japan was based in a language world supported by the Literary Sinitic Context.

(Minor gripe: I don’t see the point of italicizing kanji and katakana, which are perfectly good English words, when the poor reader is already faced with a slew of genuinely foreign italicized terms.) I’m fascinated by this stuff, and I hope readers who know East Asian literatures and their history will have things to say.