Ax/Ox.

Emanuel Ax came up in conversation, and my wife asked me about his family name. Googling in English produced no results, but since he was born in (what’s now) Ukraine I thought of googling in Russian, and this page gave me the answer: it’s a variant of Yiddish oks ‘ox,’ and a translation of the Jewish rabbinical surname Shor (Schor, Schorr), the Hebrew word (שור‎) for bull or ox. If anyone with more patience wants to try to get this information onto Wikipedia, be my guest!

Comments

  1. John Cowan says:

    Ax is an interesting word; it violates the constraint that only function words can be spelled with less than three letters.

  2. J.W. Brewer says:

    The google books n-gram viewer suggests that “axe” remains the more common spelling, although its lead over “ax” is narrower than it once would. But “ox” would seem to violate the same alleged constraint, wouldn’t it? And without an “oxe” alternative.

  3. It would, as does “ad.”

  4. The spelling ax is better on every ground, of etymology, phonology, and analogy, than axe, which became prevalent during the 19th century; but it is now disused in Britain. [OED]

    The spelling ax, though “better on every ground, of etymology, phonology, & analogy” (OED), is so strange to 20th-c. eyes that it suggests pedantry & is unlikely to be restored. [Fowler]

    Interestingly, adz(e) shows the same alternation despite not having the three-letter constraint to contend with.

  5. Oxford Living Dictionaries (not the same as the OED) has a list of two-letter words here. Many of them are foreign words that have limited currency in English, and a fair number of others are shorter variant spellings. However, there are plenty of clippings (like ad and bi) that do not have longer spellings. There are also words of foreign origin that are nonetheless fully incorporated into English usage, although often with physical referents that are themselves of foreign origin (for example, aa, which unusual in having two syllables without being an initialism like ok). The only two-letter words that have a venerable history in English and are neither clippings, nor shorter alternate spellings, nor function words are go (which is borderline on the function word question) and ox.

  6. ” The only two-letter words that have a venerable history in English and are neither clippings, nor shorter alternate spellings, nor function words are go (which is borderline on the function word question) and ox.”

    “Venerable” is doing a fair amount of work there – “em”, I notice, goes back to the late 18th century and “jo” to the 16th.

  7. Also allowed by the letter of the rule as stated here (though surely not the spirit): ah, eh, ew, oh, oy, uh, um

  8. January First-of-May says:

    “Venerable” is doing a fair amount of work there

    And surely the European musical note names (do, re, mi, fa, la, and however you spell si – the list has three versions) are pretty old in English as well; they just don’t happen to be very commonly used lately.

  9. J.W. Brewer says:

    Most of the note names have non-function-word homophones in “regular” English, which I guess illustrate something about English orthography by showing that monosyllables of CV structure usually take more than two letters to spell, i.e. doe/dough, ray, far (non-rhotic, but maybe a function word anyway), sew, and tea.

  10. @ajay: While it is certainly old, I didn’t count jo because it is a clipping of joy (clipped right through the dipthong). It also has the three-letter spelling “joe,” but the two-letter form is probably older. The constraint against two-letter non-function words may be responsible for some pressure to respell it “joe.”

    The situation with em (and en, which must be of a similar age) is also interesting. Aside from the fact that I would not consider them truly “venerable,” they are actually respellings of the one-letter words M and N. Some people who work in typography still prefer the one-letter versions when there is no possibility for confusion. These M and N are slightly unusual cases of the rule that any letter may be used to spell a single-letter word that means the shape of its standard majuscule glyph. Some of these (such as O, T, V) are much more common than others, and there are other lengthening respellings, like vee. What makes M and N atypical in this sense is that they refer just to the sizes of the characters, not their lineal shapes.

  11. Aside from the fact that I would not consider them truly “venerable,” they are actually respellings of the one-letter words M and N.

    But they aren’t, though. They have different meanings. “M” is the thirteenth letter in the English alphabet. “Em” is a blank space of a certain width.

    I didn’t count jo because it is a clipping of joy (clipped right through the dipthong).

    Is “jo” a clipping, or just an alternate spelling?

  12. David Marjanović says:

    Is “jo” a clipping, or just an alternate spelling?

    How is it pronounced? If it’s pronounced “Joe”, as hinted at above, it’s a graphic clipping that has produced an altogether separate word.

    (What does it mean? Why would anybody clip joy “right through the diphthong”?)

  13. It’s pronounced “Joe”.

  14. U- (as in non-U) isn’t venerable but then the criterion Is it venerable? in the phrase “venerable history in English” has no place in a dictionary, living or dead. I suppose it’s a clipping of Upper- without an unclipped spelling.

    What about ur.

  15. Ur is a prefix – if you use it on its own, then you’re talking about the actual place, and proper nouns shouldn’t count.

    David Marjanovic: it means “dear, darling” as in the Robert Burns poem “John Anderson, My Jo”.

  16. Ajay, I assumed AJP was referring to the textspeak “ur”, but then that would be a variant spelling of “your”.

  17. ur gettin ur biliterals in ma dictionary

  18. Also ‘do’ as a noun — meaning either a hair-do or (in older British English, at least) a social event of some sort — “that was a very fancy do, that dinner”

  19. Ah yes. Nice one.
    And could we also have “go”? Meaning an attempt or a turn. “Give your brother a go at driving.” “I can’t open this, can you have a go?”
    An “at” is this symbol: @. (And it’s venerable, dating back to the 16th century in Italian.) But would it count as a respelling?

  20. J.W. Brewer says:

    I assume that “do,” “go,” and “at” would all in their core sense be “function words” (assuming arguendo that’s a coherent and meaningful category), so it doesn’t seem like extended senses of such function words (including the nouning of verbs etc.) would really be fair counterexamples to the original claim.

  21. John Cowan says:

    “M” is the thirteenth letter in the English alphabet. “Em” is a blank space of a certain width.

    In the second use it is a clipping for “em space”, which can also be written “M-space”.

    Another maybe-not-function-word is ay ‘ever’ (FACE word), often confused in writing with aye ‘yes’ (PRICE word).

  22. @John Cowan: Apparently, it’s probably actually a clipping of “M quadrat,” the meaning of quadrat in (letterpress) typography being “a small block of metal, lower than the face of the type, inserted by a printer to fill up short lines, adjust spacing, etc.”

  23. Id (the id, Freud’s coinage, not the Latin pronoun he got it off).

  24. David Marjanović says:

    Freud didn’t coin that, his English translator rendered Es, Ich and Über-Ich in Latin – contrary to Freud’s stated aim to avoid creating more impenetrable jargon.

  25. Yes, I complained about that back in 2005:

    It’s the same mentality that chose to render Freud’s Besetzung by “cathexis,” Fehlleistung by “parapraxis,” and Ich by “ego.” I wish translators would make the reader’s comprehension their main goal rather than seize the opportunity to show off their classical education.

  26. What, like a latter-day Descartes? Why did he use libido in German, btw? I can’t see how “Above-I” would be more accessible than Superego, Language. I learnt about Freud’s structural model of the psyche when I was about 13 (it was during the one week of the school year in which we were taught by our fellow pupils, the boys who were about to leave for university, and it wasn’t part of the curriculum) but since we were all well-acquainted with Superman it wasn’t such a stretch. I read in the Oxford DNB that Freud was greatly satisfied with The Standard Edition, James Strachey’s – he was the younger bro of Lytton (two of 13 siblings) and the cousin of Duncan Grant – & his wife Alix’s translation:
    During the first weeks of their analysis Freud asked James and Alix to translate some of his recent works into English, a request which signalled the beginning of one of the most heroic undertakings in the history of psychoanalysis […] Despite the fact that the Standard Edition remains a prime source of reference for numerous Freud researchers all over the world, owing to the translation’s consistency and its invaluable critical apparatus, many criticisms have been levelled at its terminology and the purportedly dehumanizing tendencies of Strachey’s scholarship. One of the principal stumbling blocks for many authors has been Strachey’s decision to render the common German words of Ich, Es, and Über-Ich, which Freud used to designate the three instances of his so-called second topography, with the Latin terms ‘Ego’, ‘Id’, and ‘Superego’, instead of adopting the more common-sense option of ‘I’, ‘It’, and ‘Above-I’. It remains to be seen whether the new complete English translation of Freud’s works, which was started in 2002 under the general editorship of Adam Phillips, will be able to overcome these problems, while maintaining coherence and consistency, and thus replace the Standard Edition as the Freud translation of preference within the Anglo-American world and beyond.

    No disrespect intended towards the great Adam Phillips but that would be typical of certain levels of academia, now that the entire world is well aware of the Latin names, to start using Above-I (yuck) and the others. That Strachey was using their translation to show off his top-notch classical education (he went to the same school as me but doubtless put in more effort in Latin) seems a pretty unlikely assertion. He was one of the Bloomsbury Group, he didn’t have anything to prove.

  27. David Marjanović says:

    I can’t see how “Above-I” would be more accessible than Superego, Language.

    I can see how it would be exactly as accessible as Über-Ich, which is just as clunky in the original; and I can see how misperformance would be a lot more accessible than parapraxis.

  28. Yeah, what David M. said. You’re used to “superego” and the rest, so you feel comfortable with them, but imagine a world in which you were used to better translations!

  29. I recall there was a study a few years ago finding that Finnish-speaking Finns got higher PISA scores than their Swedish-speaking compatriots despite their lower SES, and suggesting it might be because advanced concepts have more transparent and thus intuitive names in Finnish.

  30. But this apparently isn’t an example of bad translation at all (“the translation’s consistency and its invaluable critical apparatus”). In fact it’s so good that it’s still in use as the principal text for Freud nearly 100 yrs after it was made. The fact that you & Dave don’t like a bit of Latin & Greek is pretty moot. We all have professional jargon to put up with: one man’s parapraxis is another’s peripteros and neither is as bad as Paliperidone palmitate or any of the other idiotic drug names still being invented, or so I was led to believe at Language Log, by linguists. Actually peripteros is just fine and entirely appropriate.

  31. David Marjanović says:

    In fact it’s so good that it’s still in use as the principal text for Freud nearly 100 yrs after it was made.

    An installed user base covers all shortcomings.

    Isn’t para- outright misleading for Fehl-, “mis-“? I thought it only meant “beside”?

  32. Trond Engen says:

    ‘Over-I’ is better than ‘Above-I’, which is borderline ungrammatical. If you want to use ‘above’, it’s ‘the I Above’, but that’s too literal for the job. Say I with all the authority of a non-native speaker.

  33. But you’re ignoring the point that the original Über-Ich is just as bad.

  34. Trond Engen says:

    Not as much ignoring as not accepting. Über is übercommon in German as a prefix or first element of compounds, used both in its literal and its metaphorical sense. With the risk of overstating my case, over does much the same in English, though not quite as often due to the overlay of Graeco–Latinate terms. The above-mentioned above can’t do that at all, or just barely and in a literal sense.

  35. David: Isn’t para- outright misleading for Fehl-, “mis-“? I thought it only meant “beside”?

    Beside or beyond, yeah, but:
    para- in Medicine
    para-
    pref.
    Beside; near; alongside: paranucleus.
    Beyond: parapsychology.
    Incorrect; abnormal: paradipsia.
    […]
    – The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary

    Misperformance is the kind of inept literal translation you’re likely to find in the instruction manual for a German lawnmower. Obviously the Stracheys couldn’t use Freudian slip. Slip of the tongue would have been available, but they weren’t writing pop psychology and I’m guessing that as psychoanalysts they preferred a medical-sounding coinage, which in England in those days was normally taken from Latin & Greek.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    Beyond: parapsychology.

    How is that “beyond”? That’s “somewhere off to the side”…

    they preferred a medical-sounding coinage

    Now it makes sense!

  37. Yeah, that’s very likely, but not very defensible.

  38. Not defensible as names or as translations? (There’s a difference.)

  39. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Superman” is probably the most common Englishing of “Übermensch,” and the Latinate prefix doesn’t make it sound too clinical or high-register, imho. “Overman” would sound a bit weird, I think, and be a good illustration of how the morpheme that is transparently the indigenous cognate of the source-language morpheme is not always the best translation.

  40. Not defensible as names or as translations?

    I was saying preferring a medical-sounding coinage to make it seem all scientific is not defensible (though of course human, all too human).

  41. “Overman” would sound a bit weird, I think

    Again, this is because you’re used to “Superman.” If the original translation had gone the other way, I guarantee you’d feel “Superman” would sound a bit weird.

  42. Trond Engen says:

    I glossed over the difference between German über and ober, because my next-to-non-existing German doesn’t do nuances. It might be that they could be approximated in English by super and over, but on the other hand, it might be that they couldn’t. An over-achiever would be an über-whatever in German, while a super-achiever would (if we overlook the recent borrowing of ‘super’) be a hoch– or höchst-whatever.

    On a related note, English usage has changed substantially since Freud and Nietzsche. ‘Super’ is much more of a household morpheme today, not least because of the English translation of their terminology.

  43. J.W. Brewer says:

    We don’t have, e.g., overhighways or overmarkets. Super- has different semantics in AmEng than over- does. I will admit that I had forgotten the über v. ober distinction within German.

  44. I was saying preferring a medical-sounding coinage to make it seem all scientific is not defensible (though of course human, all too human).

    “Make it seem”? But the Stracheys were amusing psychoanalysts, gay scientists. Their translation is beyond good and evil.

  45. Trondle: the difference between German über and ober

    Über is a taxi company whereas Ober is a head waiter. Super is a building janitor.

  46. Super is a building janitor.

    Also in Cuban (I can’t stand English first thing in the morning).

  47. The super is not just the janitor, but the custodian—for whom janitorial duties are only part of the job.

  48. Like the Russian dvornik.

  49. The scale of the job depends on the size of the building and how rich its owners are. Concierge is a better equivalent to the US apartment building super than custodian is. Like the word superintendent, custodian can mean many things. For dvornik I get janitor and that it comes from from двор (courtyard). Courtyards & windscreen wipers.

  50. I wonder what Ultraman (Urutoraman) would have been if “Overman” had been chosen instead of “Superman”… “Way Over Man” (Uei ōbā man)?

  51. @AJP Crown: This bit from The Producers is literally the only time I have ever heard “concierge” used to mean something like that. So I have known since childhood that the usage exists, but I have never met it “in the wild.”

    @Bathrobe: When he was in eighth or ninth grade, one of my friends wrote a Dungeons & Dragons text adventure entirely in BASIC (old-fashioned BASIC with line numbers, not some kind of compiled version). It was impressively detailed, with four sizable dungeons, numerous monsters, and a surprisingly flexible adaptation of the combat system. The size of the program was ultimately limited by the amount of memory that could be allotted to the BASIC environment.

    Among the objects in the game were four magical swords (with increasingly powerful bonuses of +1, +2, +3, and +4). However, he decided that he did not want to use any game terminology in item names and descriptions, so just calling one a “sword +1” was out. Instead, he named them “magic sword,” “super sword,” “hyper sword,” and “ultra sword,” respectively. There was no sword +5 (the strongest normally available in the game) in his game, but he and I independently decided that the right name for that would be “mega sword.” (My brother later objected to “ultra sword” not being the strongest weapon possible, because of the etymology of ultra.)

  52. Modern dvornik is basically a street-sweeper (also windshield wiper), in ~19th century they’ve had more duties.

    This bit from The Producers is literally the only time I have ever heard “concierge” used to mean something like that.
    How is it translated in Maigret novels? … Just checked The Hotel Majestic on Google books, concierge it is.

  53. DO: “How is it translated in Maigret novels? … Just checked The Hotel Majestic on Google books, concierge it is.”

    Funny, I too had a Maigret* in my mind’s eye. It’s probably a British translator. They don’t use super in Britain.

    Brett: “This bit from The Producers is literally the only time I have ever heard ‘concierge’”

    Not surprising, because Americans usually say “super” and keep concierdge for the person at a hotel who deals with Jeeves’ jobs like suit-pressing and shoe-polishing (“valet” having been taken for parking and “Jeeves” for a search engine), but it’s the right word. I love that clip.

    *By the way the four (I think) Maigrets in which he’s portrayed by Mr Bean, Rowan Atkinson, are really worth watching. In some places they’re available on Netfux.

  54. Funny, I too had a Maigret* in my mind’s eye. It’s probably a British translator. They don’t use super in Britain.

    We don’t really have them in Britain, whatever you call them. Hotels have concierges, but it’s not common for blocks of flats to have them outside 1% territory.

  55. One obvious advantage to using “ego” rather than “I”; it doesn’t have any homophones.

  56. David Marjanović says:

    I wonder what Ultraman (Urutoraman) would have been if “Overman” had been chosen instead of “Superman”… “Way Over Man” (Uei ōbā man)?

    On the other hand, that would have deprived us of a stunningly ingenious pun.

    it doesn’t have any homophones

    Good point. “My eye!”

  57. January First-of-May says:

    Hotels have concierges, but it’s not common for blocks of flats to have them outside 1% territory.

    At the Moscow block of flats (um, is that the right term? the Russian is подъезд) that I’m currently living in, we do have someone called консьержка, but honestly I have no idea what her duties are, if any (aside from “sit in that room over by the front entrance sometimes”).

  58. More prestige attached, I presume, than to the fearsome/annoying дежурная of Soviet times.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    it doesn’t have any homophones

    How about “self”, though?

    (“And then I said to myself: ‘Self, …'”)

  60. “magic sword,” “super sword,” “hyper sword,” and “ultra sword”

    My firm stance is that the rightful third rank after super and hyper should be über.

  61. Americans usually say “super”

    Americans or just New Yorkers? Here in the DC area high-end condos are advertised as having 24-hour concierge service, and I’ve never heard anyone refer to a “super.” (I only know the word from doing the NYT crossword, where it sometimes comes up as “supe.”)

  62. How about “self”, though?

    Well, “my self” is a homophone for “myself”…

  63. I think it’s quite a good idea to use “id” and “ego”. When you are introducing a new and specific scientific concept (inasmuch as Freud’s writing counts as science which is not much, but let that pass), it’s not a good idea to give it the same name as an existing very common everyday concept. It’s “proton” not “first one”. “Species” not “kind”.

  64. When you are introducing a new and specific scientific concept (inasmuch as Freud’s writing counts as science which is not much, but let that pass), it’s not a good idea to give it the same name as an existing very common everyday concept. It’s “proton” not “first one”. “Species” not “kind”.

    But that’s what Freud did! If you’re translating Freud, you’re not translating some hypothetical person who would have made what you consider more sensible decisions about nomenclature, you’re translating Freud, and it behooves you to render what he wrote as accurately as possible, not invent a better Freud for yourself.

  65. David L:
    Americans or just New Yorkers?

    Yes, of course New Yorkers. In San Francisco – where there aren’t quite as many apartment buildings, but there are some – they’re sometimes called “building supervisors” which may be a hypercorrection of super(intendent). SF also calls its city council the Board of Supervisors; supervision is popular.

    I only know the word from doing the NYT crossword, where it sometimes comes up as “supe.”

    As an answer, for which the clue is “Where apt bdg empl. finds a fly”?

  66. David Marjanović says:

    “magic sword,” “super sword,” “hyper sword,” and “ultra sword,”

    I suppose that’s all orthogonal to the concept of BFS?

    “Species” not “kind”.

    It is of course “kind/sort” (Art) in German.

  67. My firm stance is that the rightful third rank after super and hyper should be über

    “Uber” has already been taken by a errm, ride-sharing company. I wonder whether Camp and Kalanick read Nietsche?

  68. AJ When you are introducing a new and specific scientific concept…
    Language: …it behooves you to render what he wrote as accurately as possible, not invent a better Freud for yourself.

    I agree with ajay. Dr & Dr Strachey were introducing scientific ideas from a German text into English. Freud the baggage-laden personality didn’t exist in England in 1920. He was no big deal. Ernest Jones’s biography (the first) wasn’t published until 1953 (the year of my birth). And, as I said before, this wasn’t a pop-psych paperback it was a text for docs.

  69. I should have added:

    from a German text into English, therefore they used the contemporary conventions of English medical textbooks.

  70. it was a text for docs.

    I think you mean “a text for quacks.” (I have little patience for Freudianism.)

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