Flawed Approximation.

Elisa Wouk Almino describes a fascinating installation:

In 2015, Asuka Goto began translating her father’s novel, Elizabeth, from Japanese to English. Over the course of three years, Goto annotated the book’s 200-plus pages and translated the words by hand. Rather than complete a separate manuscript, she left her rendition alongside her father’s, revealing the thought and labor that goes into a translation. These pages are now spread from floor to ceiling at Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Bushwick, the walls vibrating with so much writing. As a translator myself, I found the project profoundly satisfying and at times anxiety-inducing.

Any translator will likely identify with Goto’s torrent of notes: the repeated question marks next to words; the multiple phrasings to express the same thing (“to reach; to amount to; to befall; to happen to; to extend”); the flying lines across the page. A translator’s annotations are like that of an obsessive, deep reader. That is, after all, what we are doing.

Among literary translators, there are two main camps: those who wish to revise a canonical text and those who want to introduce something entirely new. Goto, however, happens to be the kind of translator I identify with the most: one who translates to gain a deeper understanding of the language spoken at home.

Goto has titled her project lost in translation and calls it a “flawed approximation” of her father’s novel. As we shuttle between the Japanese and English words, connected by asterisks, arrows, and circles, we begin to grasp how bewildered, uncertain, and insecure Goto was while translating. There is this sense she will never be content with her rendition, that there is no exact equivalent to the original Japanese words.

The images are striking, and if I were still in NYC I’d definitely have a look. If you’re in the vicinity, you’ve got a week before it closes. Thanks, Trevor!

(While we’re on the topic of translation, I can’t resist mentioning that Google Translate renders “Почки и сережки дерев” [‘Buds and catkins of trees’] as “Kidneys and earrings of trees.”)

Comments

  1. Bathrobe says:

    Hat, do you happen to know this Katrina Dodson person…?

    ロスでの悔しさをボストンでというわけだ。

    The meaning on the surface is “It was a case of (missing verb) the frustration in Los Angeles in Boston”.

    Her mother says: “His translation doesn’t make sense to me so he’s thinking of another way to say it”

    The context is that someone Japanese was showing off his white girlfriend to his Japanese friends in Boston because (it appears) he wanted to make up for some kind of humiliation in Los Angeles. 悔しさ is a hard word to translate — it’s shown in her notes as meaning “bitterness, frustration, vexation, mortification”.

    But if you don’t know exactly what happened in Los Angeles it’s hard to know how to translate the sentence.

  2. Hat, do you happen to know this Katrina Dodson person…?

    Heh, I was wondering if anyone would catch that. Never met her, no relation as far as I know!

  3. Quick googling discovered that her father’s name is Stephen Dodson.

    Hmm…

  4. My mistake. Stephen Dodson is her brother, her father is [a different] guy

    [link removed by request — LH]

  5. I don’t know if I’d like to have my family details discussed on an open web forum.

  6. Haven’t thought about that. Please remove the link.

  7. Done!

  8. A kindred spirit! I would have loved to be able to go to this exhibit. I took a very similar approach (both stylistically and in the apparent brute-force nature) to translating Kazakh pop songs. (links are to the texts, not the audio versions). I even had one or two “Mom” text moments!

  9. Bathrobe says:

    Le flaneur is fascinating, especially the potted grammars, which accurately and succinctly convey the gist (generally better than how most textbooks explain it). I liked Tagalog. (Incidentally, ‘It’s a bit far’ in Japanese should be sukoshi tōi desu.)

  10. The Russian is full of errors, though, so take it all with a grain of salt. E.g.:

    Phrases like “I want (lit. will be)” take the ACC. Ex. Я буду рыбу (fish.NOM is рыба).

    That’s so messed up I don’t even know where to start correcting it.

  11. Indonesian, according to Le flaneur, consists entirely of singular personal pronouns, which at least confirms the received wisdom that Indonesian is a simple language to learn.

  12. I’m glad I linked to it, I knew there’d be errors, but not ones that elicited such a reaction from the Hat himself! Callooh! Callay!

    @Bathrobe – Thank you! What’s the difference between 遠い and 遠く? I found a post on Yahoo, but my Japanese/Google translate isn’t up to the task (nor have I really looked at adjectives/adverbs in Japanese yet).

    @Hat – What is wrong with that statement? If I’m remembering correctly, that particular bit comes from the Babbel lesson on ordering food, if context matters. I found a passage in a book that seems to reflect that usage:

    Рыбу или мясо? – Я буду рыбу. – Тогда и я буду рыбу.

    @Ian – And Greenlandic consists of only two letters 😉

  13. @Hat – What is wrong with that statement? If I’m remembering correctly, that particular bit comes from the Babbel lesson on ordering food, if context matters. I found a passage in a book that seems to reflect that usage:

    Ah, I see what’s gone wrong. That exchange you cited is in a very colloquial register in which a verb like ‘have,’ ‘eat,’ etc. is elided, so you have simply “I will […] fish.” Я буду is not “I want (lit. will be),” it’s just ‘I will’; ‘I want’ is (я) хочу. It’s as if you were to see “Me? Fish” in an English text and conclude that “Me?” means ‘I want’ in English.

  14. Bathrobe says:

    Just like you can say “Watashi wa sakana desu” in Japanese — literally ‘I am a fish’.

    Tōi is the normal form of the adjective. Tōku is the -ku form, which is used adjectivally but also in other contexts, such as negation and linking sentences (‘This is far and that is near’). Not a European language.

  15. Thank you both for your answers! I will keep on keepin’ on.

  16. On that Russian grammar site there is a thing much funnier than “буду рыбу” . They have the paradigm for the verb быть in present tense!

  17. With exception of est’, all other forms listed (esmy, esm’, esi, este, sut’) became obsolete in Russian since 15th century, IIRC

  18. Ah, I see what’s gone wrong. That exchange you cited is in a very colloquial register in which a verb like ‘have,’ ‘eat,’ etc. is elided, so you have simply “I will […] fish.” Я буду is not “I want (lit. will be),” it’s just ‘I will’; ‘I want’ is (я) хочу. It’s as if you were to see “Me? Fish” in an English text and conclude that “Me?” means ‘I want’ in English.
    One could argue that it’s pragmatically correct – it’s the usual way to express your preferences when ordering food or drinks or for asking about those preferences (Кто будет чай?) and pragmatically corresponds to English want in that specific situation (or rather to “I’d like” – my impression is that буду is more polite than хочу in that situation). But as you say, it’s limited to that situation and doesn’t correspond to English “want” outside of that situation.

  19. SFReader says:

    English equivalent to “я буду кофе”

    -Would you like coffee or tea?
    -I’ll have coffee.

  20. “Watashi wa sakana desu”
    Or, more (in)famously, Boku wa unagi da.

  21. Rodger C says:

    “Myself, it’s eel.”

  22. Trond Engen says:

    As for me, it’s fish.

  23. Interestingly enough “буду рыбу” is not a very good example of accusative because depending on the object noun one can use genitive or partitive (a minor, not one of the “school” cases) in this construction.

  24. @D.O.: Are there people using the partitive (чаю, меду) in everyday speech? I can’t remember ever having encountered it outside of books. FWIW, my exposure to speakers of Russian is mostly to speakers from Central Asia (including ethnic Russians) and to Russian speakers living in Germany (many of them with an ethnic German background), so that may skew my impressions.

  25. Ya vypil by vodki seem quite unmarked to me. (Personally, i’d rather have ch’ach’a.)

  26. Hans, I think you have to ask a linguist about that. There is some change under way on the borderline between genitive and accusative and maybe partitive is caught up in that too, but that is the extent of my knowledge. My everyday experience with Russian is greatly skewed toward educated city speech and there is not much partitive in there… On the other hand, even educated Russians use sometimes diminutive to make their speech more relaxed and partitive might be more natural there (in other words сахарку/сахарок might be greater than сахару/сахар, but it just a guess on my part).

  27. @Juha: I didn’t ask about the partitive use of the genitive – that is indeed unremarkable. I was asking about the special partitive forms in -у / -ю besides the usual genitive in -а / -я like in чашка чаю “a cup of tea”.
    @D.O.: Thanks! So your everyday experience seems to be similar to mine as to the rarity of the partitive. And now that you mention it, I remember now hearing the partitive used with diminutives, the word basically always чайку, the diminutive of чай (but as far as I remember, not after words for measures or containers like чашка “cup”, but after verbs meaning “like” or “want”.)

  28. David Marjanović says:

    Good to know. I was still taught чашка чаю as the only option in the late 90s.

  29. When the food arrives and the waiter seems confused about who gets what, you can say I’m the ice cream in English or Wǒ shi bīngqílín, its exact parallel, in Mandarin. Even more elliptical, Tā yě shi yíge Měiguo zhàngfu can mean either ‘He is also an American husband’ or in proper context ‘She is also [a case of being married to] an American husband’.

  30. SFReader says:

    Tā yě shi yíge Měiguo zhàngfu
    ‘She is also [a case of being married to] an American husband’.

    I don’t remember this mentioned in grammar books I’ve read (and I can’t recall ever seeing such constructions in Chinese)

    Are you sure this is legit Mandarin grammar?

  31. Bathrobe says:

    The example is from Yuen Ren Chao’s 中國話的文法 (Section 2.4). So I think it’s pretty legit. That is a rather old book and he does use a character for ‘she’ that would now only be used for males, but I don’t think Chinese has changed that much.

  32. SFReader says:

    Yes, googled it and indeed it says exactly that.

    Sometimes, ellipsis results in a looseness of subject-predicate relation which would be ungrammatical in another language. A very common form consists of the use of a substantive when its possessive followed by another substantive would be the fuller form, as “he is a Japanese woman” when the speaker mean “his servant is…”.
    他是一個美國丈夫 “She is (a case of being married to) an American husband”

    Thankfully, author then notes that this is bad grammar and a purist (especially if he knows some Occidental language) would correct such usage by his children, but then will go on and use it himself.

  33. SFReader says:

    “He is a Japanese woman” ought to be a meme…

  34. Here are YRC’s other examples:

    You(r shoes) are also worn through.

    I have — my meatball has — fallen into your spoon.

    I am (my pencil is) sharper than you(rs).

    If you(r little pine tree) should die, look me up.

    (The language of) this coal stoker is not the language of a workman.

    The next section, on the directionality of transitive verbs, is almost as interesting: in Chinese one can say either “Ten people eat two pounds of meat” or “Two pounds of meat eat (i.e. feed) ten people.” (In English, a bed can be said to sleep two, but only a few verbs are neutral in this sense.)

  35. “Chunky Soup: The soup that eats like a meal.”

  36. That’s an intransitive use of eat. YRC gives this anecdote in English showing that infinitives are neutral for voice:

    “Is a trout big enough to eat when it’s three inches long?”

    “No.”

    “Then how does it grow up?”

  37. Bathrobe says:

    a purist (especially if he knows some Occidental language)

    Banishing such constructions on the basis that they are not found in Occidental languages is a strange kind of “purism”.

  38. No stranger than an Englishman banishing constructions on the basis that they are not found in Latin.

  39. David Marjanović says:

    The next section, on the directionality of transitive verbs, is almost as interesting: in Chinese one can say either “Ten people eat two pounds of meat” or “Two pounds of meat eat (i.e. feed) ten people.” (In English, a bed can be said to sleep two, but only a few verbs are neutral in this sense.)

    Or we could interpret this as showing that, even though there’s no inflectional morphology, word order in Chinese is no more restricted than in German, and the object has been fronted in the second version because…

    …because it’s the topic. Perhaps thinking about Chinese word order in terms of subject or object is altogether wrong, and the true word order of Chinese (well, Mandarin at least) is topic-verb-comment, just like how comment-topic-verb the true word order of Yodaspeak is.

    Hey, just to stay within Sino-Tibetan, Japhug rGyalrong isn’t nominative/accusative or ergative/absolutive either. It’s direct/inverse, which is about as scary as it sounds.

  40. SFReader says:

    Thinking of Chinese ellipsis realized that it’s simply an omission of 的 after 他.

    So the examples above become

    His is a Japanese woman.

    Hers is an American husband.

    Mine is in your soup.

    Still awkward, but meaning is perfectly clear given context provided in previous conversation.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    a strange kind of “purism”

    You just mentioned “a character for ‘she’ that would now only be used for males”. The idea of having separate characters for “he” and “she”, a distinction no Sinitic spoken language has ever made, was copied from Occidental languages in the explicit hope of importing some “progress” that way.

  42. Bathrobe says:

    No stranger than an Englishman banishing constructions on the basis that they are not found in Latin.

    Yes, I had that in mind when I wrote that.

    Yuen Ren Chao was the linguist who famously proposed that the subject in Chinese is the first noun in the sentence, or something to that effect. No, not the topic, the subject. If what many would consider the semantic object of the verb is preposed, YRC would regard it as the subject of the sentence. People have been trying to get to grips with that ever since.

    This treatment is totally unintuitive to speakers of Western languages, including linguists, who feel that such “subjects” only get to where they are through grammatical processes such as topicalisation. (SFReader suggests that the YRC’s sentences can all be explained as the elision of 的.) The problem is that, while this works fine in theory, it gets fuzzier if you start looking at raw linguistic material. As David pointed out, rigid structures like “Subject Verb Object” might not be totally applicable to Chinese, where the processes are much more fluid.

    Randy LaPolla’s paper On categorization: Stick to the facts of the languages, which Hat admitted threw him for a loop when he featured at On Categorisation, is about precisely this aspect of Chinese. Perhaps it’s time to revisit it.

  43. dainichi says:

    > 他是一個美國丈夫“She is (a case of being married to) an American husband”

    Can this only be parsed as 一個 modifying the husband? I would have thought it modified… well… the case. So more like “She is a (case of being married to an) American husband”.

    @Trond: As for me, it’s fish.

    At first glance, “Boku wa unagi da” seems explainable by calling “boku” a topic because of the “wa”, not a subject. But the construction is possible with “ga” (traditionally the “subject marker”) in non-matrix sentences too:

    > Kimi ga unagi nara, boku mo unagi da. (“If you’re having eel, so am I” or “If you’re an eel, so am I”)

    So the topic/subject distinction is a red herring. In fact, even at matrix level

    > Boku ga unagi da

    works, meaning something like “I’m the one who’s having the eel”.

  44. SFReader says:

    Tā shì yīgè měiguó zhàngfū [de nǚrén]

  45. When the food arrives and the waiter seems confused about who gets what, you can say I’m the ice cream in English
    Works in German as well, although one would rather use the past tense (Wer war das Eis? – Response: (Das Eis war) ich.).

  46. While we’re on the topic of translation, I can’t resist mentioning that Google Translate renders “Почки и сережки дерев” [‘Buds and catkins of trees’] as “Kidneys and earrings of trees.

    Had to come back and dig up this thread, as I just came across сережки translated in a similar way by the very formidable Yuri Slezkine on p. 236 of The House of Government (which I’m very much enjoying): “…it is like a young birch covered with tender leaves and adorned with little earrings; it is the most powerful and beckoning of springs.” So, can we blame Google Translate for the boo-boo when even the truly bilingual are not immune? (Speaking of…genitive plural should be деревьев, no?)

  47. David Marjanović says:

    No, neuters like feminines have endingless g.pl; and there’s no way to get ь into the declension of дерево.

  48. *whacks David Marjanović with ruler*

    Yes, деревьев is the modern gen. pl. (nom. деревья); дерев is from the obsolete plural дерева (with stressed final -a).

  49. with ruler
    A poleno will do just as well.

  50. Heh. (For DM’s benefit: the plural of полено ‘log (for fire)’ is поленья.)

  51. Yes, деревьев is the modern gen. pl. (nom. деревья); дерев is from the obsolete plural дерева (with stressed final -a).

    The modern plural is contaminated with the Old Russian collective деревиѥ (which would have given modern *деревьё, had it remained singular). Another de-collective plural is листья ‘leaves’.

    Proto-Slavic formed such collectives with the suffix *-ьje. In Polish, the suppletive plural of człowiek ‘human being’ is ludzie ‘people’ < *ljudьje, an ex-collective of lud ‘a people’, coopted as a plural. The word for ‘leaf’ used to be list. When the collective liście < *listьje replaced the original plural, a new singular, liść, was back-formed from it. Śmieć ‘piece of rubbish’ is likewise back-fromed from śmiecie (collective), which coexists with the variant śmieci ‘rubbish’ (both gramatically plural). The expected nom.pl. of the old singular śmiot would be *śmioty in the modern language, since the nom.pl. of non-“virile” masculines has merged with the acc.pl. in -y. Śmieci is therefore a relic form reflecting the Old Polish plural in -i, now orphaned and synchronically irregular (morphologically opaque).

    Other Slavic languages also show a lot of confusion between the *-ьje collectives and “genuine” plurals.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    Filler text to escape the spam filter. More filler text to escape the spam filter.

    деревья

    Oh. Like братья? Looks like it was swept under the carpet when I was in school. We did learn the города́, директора́, профессора́ pattern, and endingless gen. pl. all the way to озёр, before you despair completely.

  53. DM, you are confusing me. город-а́, директор-а́ are masc. nom. pl. and their gen. pl. are город-ов, директор-ов. озер-о (sg.) is neut. it’s plural nom. is озёр-а and gen. pl. is озёр as you are saying. Because masc. with consonant ending (or, more precisely, with 0 ending) and neuter have almost the same declension patterns in singular they are combined into single 2nd declension, but it seems to be more confusing then enlightening. I am too lazy to research the history of the 2nd declension, but my default hypothesis is that before yer (ъ) was dropped at the end of nom. masculine, the two patterns looked more similar and then “grade-school grammarians” forgot to change the definitions of declensions.

  54. David Marjanović says:

    We weren’t taught to number the declensions, but were taught four: one per gender (plus some irregular plurals like -а́, plus complications of spelling for -ь and -й of course) and the one for feminine words in ь plus the masculine путь.

    Historically, ъ is the gen. pl. ending of the now endingless gen. pl.; it descended directly from PIE ones. That was quite the revelation for me when I found out.

  55. ktschwarz says:

    can we blame Google Translate for the boo-boo when even the truly bilingual are not immune?

    I guess he didn’t know the word “catkins” in English. I didn’t, until this thread — though I should have, considering how they’ve been all over the sidewalks and car windshields and doormats for the last few weeks.

    Google Translate does a surprisingly good job on slawkenbergius’s Russian story about the Israeli army psychologist, the young immigrant recruit, and the learned cat that walks around an oak tree on a chain. Its translation is not only good enough to show why the original was funny, it’s good enough to be funny itself. And this is a tricky translation, since it contains a few Hebrew words transliterated into Cyrillic: the machine recognizes all but one of them as non-Russian and therefore transliterates them into the Latin alphabet.

  56. It’s not that it recognizes them as non-Russian, but that it does not recognize them at all, and therefore transliterates them. Sufficiently obscure echt-Russian words are treated the same way.

  57. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    There’s a new online machine translator in town, https://www.deepl.com/translator . It doesn’t do Russian (yet?), but it does Polish. I’m finding the results more idiomatic sounding than Google translate.

  58. I put in the first paragraph of Die Leiden des jungen Werther and got:

    I’m so glad I’m gone! Best friend, what is the heart of man! To leave you, whom I love so much, of whom I was inseparable, and to be happy! I know you’ll forgive me. Weren’t my other connections chosen by fate to scare a heart like mine? Poor Leonore! And yet I was innocent. Could I do that while her sister’s obstinate charms provided me with a pleasant conversation, that a passion formed in the poor heart? And yet – am I completely innocent? Didn’t I nurture their sensations? Did I not be annoyed by the very true expressions of nature, which so often made us laugh, so little ridiculous they were? I have not – what is man that he may complain about himself! I want to, dear friend, I promise you, I want to do better, I don’t want to chew a little evil that fate presents to us again, as I have always done; I want to enjoy the present, and the past shall be gone from me. Surely you are right, Bester, the pain would be less among men if they were not – God knows why they are so made! with so much eagerness of the imagination to recall the memories of the past evil, rather than to endure an indifferent present.

    Which is mostly fairly impressive but is studded with bits of terrible (“of whom I was inseparable,” “Did I not be annoyed,” “so little ridiculous they were”).

  59. Surely you are right, Bester
    Ouch. That really sticks out.

  60. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Nice test. Here’s the Google Translate attempt:

    How happy I am that I am gone! Best friend, what is the heart of man! To leave you, whom I love so much, of whom I was inseparable, and to be glad! I know you forgive me. Were not my other connections rightly chosen by fate to frighten a heart like mine? Poor Leonore! And yet I was innocent. Could I, that while the stubborn charms of her sister gave me a pleasant amusement, that a passion formed in the poor heart? And yet – am I completely innocent? Did not I nourish her sensations? Have I not taken pleasure in the very true expressions of nature that so often made us laugh, no matter how ridiculous they were? I have not – oh, what is man, that he may complain of himself! I want, dear friend, I promise you, I want to get better, do not want to ruminate, as I have always done, a little evil that destiny presents to us; I want to enjoy the present, and the past must have passed me by. Certainly, you are right, dearest, the pain would be less among the people, if they do not – God knows why they are so made! – occupied with so much lethargy of imagination, recalling the memories of the past evil, rather than enduring an indifferent presence.

  61. Of course in extremely modern English it would be bestie.

  62. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Or in Swedish bästis, which IKEA reappropriated to name a lint roller.

  63. ktschwarz says:

    More about catkins, which are no longer on the trees or even the sidewalks, having all blown or washed away: here is a little tour through the Wikipedias. Many languages call them a diminutive of “cat” since they look like cat tails, including all Germanic languages as well as French chaton = “kitten” and Occitan caton, Polish kotka, Belarusian каташок, Turkish kedicik = “kitten”, Slovenian mačica, and Arabic عسيل = “pussy”. Persian شاتون is pronounced ‘shatton’ so I’m guessing it was borrowed from French.

    Other languages using words for animals or tails:
    Czech: jehněda, I’m guessing from jehně = “lamb”
    Vietnamese: hoa đuôi sóc = “squirrel tail flower”
    Japanese: 尾状花序 “bijōkajo” = “tail flower”

    All other Romance languages use amento from Latin amentum = “thong”, “strap”; does this mean it goes back to Romans writing about botany using that word?

    Besides Russian, the other language using the same word for tree-catkins and earrings is Hebrew (עָגִיל). Coincidence or loan-translation?

    The Scandinavian languages seem to just describe the shape: Danish and Norwegian rakle = “long, thin” ? and Swedish hänge = “hanging” ? Is that right?

    Bulgarian, Macedonian, and Serbian have реса, which also means fringe, tuft, or tassel.

    Finally, these languages are opaque to me; anyone know the etymology?
    Lithuanian: žirginys Is it related to zirgs “horse”? A horse tail?
    Finnish: norkko
    Estonian: urb

    Let me know if I got anything wrong, thanks!

  64. marie-lucie says:

    catkins

    * English: Does anyone know why the nouns in “pussy willows” are in that order?

    * Occitan: caton : in most of the Oc area the pronunciation is likely [katu] (stress on last syllable).

    * Nisqa’a (Tsimshianic language, Canadian West Coast, next to Alaska):

    usa w’aasan lit. ‘willow dog’ (?us ‘dog’, -a LINK, w’a:san ‘willow’ – stress on last syllable)

  65. Lithuanian: žirginys Is it related to zirgs “horse”? A horse tail?

    Presumably, but the Lithuanian word for ‘horse’ is žirgas (zirgs is Latvian).

    Finnish: norkko
    Estonian: urb

    Don’t know the etymology of either, but the usual Finnish word appears to be urpu, an obvious cognate of the Estonian word.

  66. January First-of-May says:

    I always thought that they look a lot like caterpillars. I wonder if any language made that metaphor…

    (…Just in case, I decided to check, and yes, apparently, the “cat” part of the word “caterpillar” does, in fact, come from similarity to cats – and the etymology given by Google mentions catkins [as a similar example] explicitly.)

  67. Da rakle does not really feel like it means or is derived from anything besides ‘catkin’ — there is ranglet = ‘long and thin’ of a person, but that’s more like sound symbolism and not one being derived from the other.

    One special term is gæsling = ‘gosling’ for immature willow catkins at the stage that looks like little tufts of down emerging from a covering bud. It’s a tradition to cut willow branches before the buds break and have them in a vase indoors as harbingers of spring– they will emerge early because of the warmth but as far as I remember they don’t grow to be full length catkins. Example.

  68. marie-lucie says:

    The fuzzy willow catkins get a little bigger or look that way when the yellow pollen emerges, but they don’t get to be long and pendant like those of hazel and a few other trees.

  69. marie-lucie says:

    January: “Caterpillar” is supposed to comme from Old French “chatte pelue” ‘furry (female) cat’, or rather its Norman equivalent “catte pelue” (Norman French did not undergo the change k > ch as did the rest of Northern French).

  70. Japanese 尾状花序 bijōkajo is a highly technical (scientific) term meaning “caudate inflorescence”. It doesn’t quite count for this exercise.

    Chinese uses 柳絮 liǔxù ‘willow floss/cotton’, which I find much more explanatory.

  71. @marie-lucie: I always thought the ordering of pussy willow was transparent; willow is approximately what they are (being plants, after all), and that they are cat-like is a modifier, so pussy goes first.

  72. willow catkins […] don’t get to be long and pendant — true, partly because they sit directly on the branch and don’t have a stalk to hang from. But when the branch is cut and kept indoors they don’t even get to the pollen stage, they stay small and downy.

  73. David Marjanović says:

    @marie-lucie: I always thought the ordering of pussy willow was transparent; willow is approximately what they are (being plants, after all), and that they are cat-like is a modifier, so pussy goes first.

    But the willow is the whole tree. The fluffy part looks like a kitten (doublet of catkin), not like a tree.

    Pretty much only willow catkins are called Kätzchen in German. In fact, they end up as Palmkätzchen, because willow branches with catkins are associated with Palm Sunday (right before Easter) as a substitute for palm fronds which tend not to be available in German-speaking latitudes.

  74. the usual Finnish word appears to be urpu

    pajunkissa

  75. Thanks! So what’s the relationship between norkko, urpu, and
    pajunkissa?

  76. David Marjanović says:

    Palmusunnuntai! ^_^

  77. marie-lucie says:

    pussy willow : Indeed this order suggests a description of the tree, not of the catkins.

  78. marie-lucie says:

    David M: Palmkätzchen, because willow branches with catkins are associated with Palm Sunday (right before Easter) as a substitute for palm fronds which tend not to be available in German-speaking latitudes

    France is approximately at the same latitudes as Southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria, but the substitute for the palm fronds is boxwood (le buis), a small shrub with tiny evergreen leaves much used for (low) garden hedges. Palm Sunday is le jour des Rameaux, the last word referring to small branches with leaves. Another common use of this word is in le rameau d’olivier ‘the olive branch’.

  79. David Marjanović says:

    A one-time use of that word referred to metaphorical branches without leaves, Charles Depéret’s (1907) rameaux phylétiques that stood at the beginning of biology’s descent into phylopessimism: Depéret wanted to “see” tiny parts of the phylogenetic tree “directly” in the fossil record where it was good enough to (presumably) preserve all intermediate forms, but paid little attention to the big picture. A bit like the Americanist tradition in historical linguistics.

  80. @David Marjanović, marie-lucie: In English, the name of a tree is always also the name for pieces of material cut from that tree (unlike meat, where there is sometimes a difference, as in pig versus pork). Nowadays (and maybe historically; I don’t really know) this almost always means a reference to the lignacious (a word not in the OED!) wood of a plant. Sometimes the materials meaning is primary; tiger oak, for example, refers to oak cut in a particular crosscut fashion, not to a particular species of tree.

    Willow, however, since the tree’s massive wood is rarely used in crafting or construction, can refer to cuttings taken from a willow tree. I associate this usage particularly with the stories of Robin Hood. Among the merry men, archery contests did not use the usual bullseye targets; instead, an archer was supposed to split a “willow” or a “wand of willow” from thirty paces. The OED recognizes this usage with the definition 1.b. for the noun willow: “The wood or osiers of any tree of this genus.” Unfortunately, the definition of osiers only includes the relevant sense as “(also) a flexible branch of any of these willows,” rather than as a primary sense.

  81. marie-lucie says:

    Brett, if I understand correctly, pussy willow could mean a willow branch that has catkins on it, rather than the catkins themselves.

    About the animal/meat situation, the difference is not a usual one in most languages. It has long been observed that the “animal” words are of Germanic origin, the “meat” ones of French origin, dating back from a time when the servants who looked after the animals spoke English, but the lords who ate the meat spoke French (as explained in one of Sir Walter Scott’s novels, and confirmed by historians of the English language). The “meat” words are based on the French names referring to both the animals and their meat.

  82. @marie-lucie: Yes, I should have mentioned that pussy willow should refer to a branch/osier with catkins on it, not to the catkins themselves.

    And of course, you are right that the English distinction between food words and meat words is derived from the fact that in the centuries following the Normal conquest, a meat-heavy diet was associated with the French-speaking nobility. When Richard II was coming home from his crusade, he and his retainers disguised themselves as monks. However, they were found out and the king was held for ransom in Austria, because one night when they were sheltering with some locals, Richard insisted on a roast chicken for dinner.

  83. Pussy willow can mean the individual ament (catkin), the branch, or the whole tree, but clearly the last meaning is the basic one, with pussy modifying the basic Germanic term willow.

  84. It seems norkko is the usual term in botany (hedenorkko ‘male /stamen catkin,’ eminorkko ‘female /pistil catkin’):

    http://tieteentermipankki.fi/wiki/Kasvitiede:norkko

  85. David Marjanović says:

    the Normal conquest

    Ha, autocorrect!

  86. That was the autocorrect in my brain, this time.

  87. Trond Engen says:

    No. gåsunger “goose kids”, but also kattelabber “cat paws”, puselabber “pussycat paws”, and, presumably by cross-contamination, kattunger “kittens”. These are used for aments of Salix species like sallow and willow. Rakle is used as the Norwegian technical term for ament, hence encompassing gåsunger. In non-technical use, rakler and gåsunger are distinct concepts.

  88. So what’s the relationship between norkko, urpu, and pajunkissa?

    A norkko is the general term for flower clusters of this sort, while pajunkissa only applies to the small fluffy ones on willows. Urpu is, in my usage at least, the term for catkins in the winter, before they bloom. (They are at this time fed on by a bird called urpiainen, which, now that I check, is in English called a redpoll.)

    I think there’s been some broken-telephone transmission at some point in here on what exactly is the relationship between cats and catkins, already between English and German I would guess. I had always assumed this term refers to the soft fluffy “fur” on the ones on willows, instead of having anything to do with the shape of the ones on other tree species such as birches.

    The fuzzy willow catkins get a little bigger or look that way when the yellow pollen emerges, but they don’t get to be long and pendant like those of hazel and a few other trees.

    There are many species of willows, including some that do end up on the droopy side. The bay willow (Salix pentandra) is a prominent example in my mind.

  89. Thanks!

  90. The OED says that catkin was specifically calqued from Dutch by Henry Lyte for his translation of Rembert Dodoens’ Cruijdeboeck, and moreover that the fuzziness of the flowers, rather than their drooping posture is their primary identifying characteristic:

    Etymology: Taken by Lyte from Dutch katteken ‘kitten’ and ‘catkin’ of hazel, willow, etc. (in Dodoens), diminutive of katte cat. The 16th cent. Latin catulus, French chaton (< chat ), and German kätzchen , have the same two senses; the catkin being named from its soft downy appearance….

    Bot. A unisexual inflorescence, consisting of rows of apetalous flowers ranged in circles along a slender stalk; the whole forming a cylindrical, downy-looking, and generally pendant part, which falls off in a single piece after flowering or ripening; as in the willow, birch, poplar, pine, hazel, etc.; a deciduous spike; an amentum. (Called by Turner 1568 tagge, and by various 16–17th c. writers aglet.)

    1578 H. Lyte tr. R. Dodoens Niewe Herball vi. lviii. 733 Leaues spring foorth after the Catkins, agglettes, or blowinges.
    1578 H. Lyte tr. R. Dodoens Niewe Herball vi. lxvii. 743 Withy..his flower or blossom is lyke a fine throm or thicke set veluet heaped vp togither about a little stemme, the which when it openeth is soft in handling, and lyke downe or Cotton, and therefore the whole flower is called a Chatton, Kitekin or Catteken.

  91. David Marjanović says:

    That was the autocorrect in my brain, this time.

    Ha, dissimilation like in Hittite lāman “name”!

    🙂

  92. The Chechen for a ‘(kind of) flat earring; catkin; (bird’s) wattle’ is ḥalqa (pl. ḥalqanash):

    http://www.chechnyafree.ru/old/html/Dic/18.htm

  93. Which is, most likely, from Arabic ḥalqa:

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/halka

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