Responding to a recent Language Log post by Geoff Pullum (perhaps a tad overheated: “Why do people yearn so desperately to believe that there is some kind of incredible profusion of words for such things among hunter-gatherer peoples, when they have never been shown a single scintilla of quantitative evidence?”), Mark Liberman discusses Somali words related to camels, and the metaphorical use thereof. For instance the verb doobbadillaacso, meaning ‘to reach sexual maturity (of a camel),’ etymologically ‘to uncork one’s rutting-froth,’ “or in a more contemporary idiom ‘to bust a froth’,” is used of humans to mean ‘to reach intellectual maturity; be capable of speaking in public.’ (I note for the benefit of those who like trying to pronounce exotic words that the Somali letter c represents a voiced pharyngeal fricative like Arabic ‘ayn; you can hear it, and the other Somali consonants, here.) A more striking example is “the verbal form foolbaxso, glossed as ‘to rub the oil of fried coffee beans onto one’s face and body (when eating breakfast)’.” Liberman at first derives this from foolbaxsi ‘agitated circling movements of a pregnant camel prior to giving birth’ but then decides it’s from another fool, meaning ‘face; brow, forehead; front tooth, incisor.’ No matter: the oil-rubbing is intriguing enough. I may try it myself.


  1. Did you notice the English speaker’s pronunciations of “store” and “soup”? (“shoup” in the latter case, and something like a frightening “KHHHHSHHHtore” in the former… rather Klingonian, really.)
    I can remember going through a Hopi course on cassette in the language lab at Berkeley, and the translator had such an exotic southwestern accent to his English that I was sometimes distracted from the task at hand.

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