HEBREW SLANG.

From the oldest Hebrew to the newest: the Forward had Judith Shulevitz, “a cultural critic and magazine editor who helped to start both Slate and Lingua Franca,” guest-edit a special section on Parsing Israeli Slang. At that page you will find links to Stuart Schoffman on haval al hazman ‘It’s a waste of time,’ Janet Aviad on ha-matzav ‘the situation,’ Philologos on Sa l’shalom ‘You can go now’ (literally ‘Go in peace,’ a phrase with an ancient pedigree), Gail Hareven on hazui ‘weird’ (literally ‘hallucinated’), Toby Perl Freilich on freier ‘sucker, naif’ (there is no mention of the different but comparable Russian фраер fraer ‘noncriminal,’ which presumably has the same Yiddish origin), Ruvik Rosenthal on ha-medina ‘the state’ (not slang, but an interesting cultural analysis), and Yossi Klein Halevi on large—yes, the English word, but borrowed as a measure of character: “‘Tihiyeh large,’ Israelis exhort each other: ‘Be generous, expansive, grand.’” Thanks for the link, Scott!

Comments

  1. there is no mention of the different but comparable Russian фраер fraer ‘noncriminal,’ which presumably has the same Yiddish origin
    Not very different. The Russian word certainly has the connotation of “naive” and “sucker.” See, for example, the wikipedia entry – http://ru.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D1%84%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%B5%D1%80
    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Israeli word actually “came back” via Russian.

  2. Yeah, I came in to say that too. The word is traditionally associated with Odessa, which is, of course, very Jewish.

  3. Thanks for the link! I’m in 2nd year Hebrew at my university and always looking for interesting slang expressions!

  4. I don’t quite follow the remarks on the subject of the Hebrew freier, here and at the link. Hat writes of the “different but comparable Russian фраер ‘noncriminal’” – but so far as I know the English “noncriminal” is used solely with the meaning “not a criminal”, and “criminal” has no positive overtones in any context I can think of (leaving aside Michael Jackson’s “smooth criminal”). So “noncriminal” doesn’t have any explanatory power here for me, in contrast to “naif” or “sucker”.
    At the link, Toby Perl Freilich starts his “One born every minute” with this:

    Nobody likes to be a sucker, but call an Israeli man a freier and you insult him to the core. Not only should he have gotten a better deal, you imply, but he has betrayed the cardinal rules of Israeli masculinity: don’t play by the rules and never let someone outsmart you. Being a freier in Israel is like being a coward in Sparta.

    My attempts to understand what is going on with freier are affected by my associating it with two German words that are only indirectly related to each other: the adjective frei and the noun Freier. I am here gradually working towards a suggestion that the negative connotations of the Hebrew freier may owe more to the German word Freier in its old and new senses, than to “noncriminal” or “free”.
    A person who doesn’t play by the rules is free. It’s rather confusing that in Israel someone who likes to think he’s not playing by the rules – a “criminal” – would be scornfully designated as freier = “free”. Freilich is also at a loss. He writes:

    I was puzzled. In my Yiddish-speaking home, freier was a disdainful reference to a non-observant Jew, literally “free” of the yoke of religious commandments. My 88-year-old uncle, a Yiddish journalist, confirmed that meaning but added, “Colloquially, it’s someone who is easily cheated, a naïf.”

    The German Freier originally meant “suitor”. It still does, but that meaning has been overwhelmed by the meaning “customer of a male or female prostitute”, i.e. “john”. In both senses, Freier has always been capable of being used with the additional suggestion of “naive, easily misled” – by women’s wiles, of course. That’s not a charge any masculinity, Israeli or otherwise, will take lying down.
    By the way, the German kriminell can be used as an epithet of grudging admiration.

  5. Another reason for resenting being called a Freier: no typical man (in the sense of Weber’s Idealtyp) appreciates the suggestion that he can’t rescue pussies from trees on his own merits, but has to pay for them to be delivered.
    The verb form from which Freier derives is freien = buhlen = “to court”. A Nebenbuhler is a rival in courtship.

  6. michael farris says:

    fwiw frajer is also used in Polish with the rough meaning ‘sucker’ or ‘loser’.
    I’d always assumed it was from German and/or Yiddish even before I found out about its use in Israeli Hebrew from this episode of This American Life
    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/222/suckers

  7. so far as I know the English “noncriminal” is used solely with the meaning “not a criminal”, and “criminal” has no positive overtones in any context I can think of
    Sorry, I should have made it clear that the term is part of criminal slang, so it’s a member of the class of “outsider” terms that includes Romanes gadjo ‘non-Gypsy,’ Yiddish goy ‘non-Jew,’ etc.
    It’s rather confusing that in Israel someone who likes to think he’s not playing by the rules – a “criminal” – would be scornfully designated as freier = “free”.
    No, you’ve misunderstood. It’s the person who insists on playing by the rules—who refuses to be a criminal, as it were—who is so designated. For the purposes of this lexical set, traditional Israeli manly men are “criminals” and the freiers are the suckers who play it straight.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    Somewhat like straight = non-hippie, non-gay, rather than straight as an arrow as a positive term.

  9. For the purposes of this lexical set, traditional Israeli manly men are “criminals” and the freiers are the suckers who play it straight.
    OK, I get it. But where does the connotation “free” come in, if at all ? Is freier for “the guys that play it straight” an ironic inversion, in that the “criminals” actually regard themselves as free ? Or is it a different kind of ironic inversion, in that the “criminals” regard themselves as not free (because they have to lead a dangerous life, knuckle under to the top guys etc) ?

  10. Perhaps my speculation about Freier was not that far off after all. Here are excerpts from Bin ich Jecke, bin ich „Freier“? by one Professor Raphael Nir of the Association of Israelis of Central European Origin. He takes German frei to be essential to the meaning and formation of Freier. Duden tells a different tale, as I understand the entry on Freier. Anyhoo:

    In seinem Buch „Ha-sira ha-leschonit“ (Die Spracharena), 2001 fügt Rosenthal hinzu (S. 141): „Ein Freier stellt den israelischen „Anti-Macho“ dar. Er ist der schwächliche, anständige Verlierer, der mit Schmach bedacht wird.“ Die Ironie will es, dass das Wort „Freier“, das zum Schimpfwort für die Jeckes wurde, aus dem Deutschen stammt, wo es aber etwas ganz anderes bedeutet. In älteren deutschen Wörterbüchern ist der Freier ein „Junggeselle, ein Bewerber (um ein Mädchen)“. … Das Wort hat eine Reihe semantischer Veränderungen durchgemacht. Anfangs war der „Freier“ jemand, der „frei“ war, ein freier Mann. Von hier wandelte sich die Bedeutung zu einen Mann, der noch frei war von den Fesseln der Ehe, ein Junggeselle und dann spezieller: ein Junggeselle, der um eine Frau wirbt. Dann hat sich die Bedeutung noch einmal verschoben, so dass heute derjenige „Freier“ genannt wird, der sexuelle Befriedigung bei einer Prostituierten sucht

    Wie ist das Wort zu seiner israelischen Bedeutung gekommen? Offenbar auf dem Umweg über das Jiddische. Das in Osteuropa gesprochene Jiddisch war vom Polnischen beeinflusst, welches sich wiederum das Wort aus dem Deutschen geliehen hat. Anfangs wurde es in der ursprünglichen Bedeutung benutzt, zu der sich im Laufe der Zeit die Assoziation ‚unsicher, unschuldig’ gesellte. Aus dem Polnischen übernahm das Jiddische den „Freier“ hauptsächlich in der konnotativen Bedeutung und so gelangte es schließlich in den heutigen hebräischen Slang und meint in etwa das Gleiche wie das englische Wort „sucker“ (die hebräische Bedeutung ist allerdings deftiger).

  11. Supposedly it entered Odessa slang when the original German/Yiddish meaning “suitor” was applied to someone starting out in the criminal underworld, i.e. “getting engaged” to start a life of crime – and then took on the connotation of “incompetent criminal” and from there “sucker” or “prey for real criminals”. And from Odessa it spread through Yiddish and Slavic languages of Eastern Europe, and eventually made it to Israel. So I’ve been told, but I can’t document it.

  12. It’s easy to get the meaning of ‘фраер’ if you compare it to ‘layman’.
    I’ve known the word since school, 1960s, – and was told off by my grandmother when I used it at home. Vanya’s account is what I would give too.
    The current popularity of ‘criminal jargon’ in russophonia stems from romanticising the criminal world since 1990s in popular culture as sufferers of the oppressive regime and Robin Hoods. I wouldn’t recommend though using either freier or any other such words in a normal polite conversation, they are highly coloured.
    Look at this clip called ‘Фраер’. The music is distinctly Odessan and men’s waistcoats look like a reminder of the местечко-steitel styles.

  13. “large” has been adopted in Danish as well. Often with a pronunciation closer to /lɑːʃ/ than the affricate.

  14. Older meanings of фраер (the only ones given in the Oxford Russian-English Dictionary) are ‘trendy chap’ and ‘boyfriend,’ which supports the Grumbly-vanya-Sashura hypothesis.
    “large” has been adopted in Danish as well. Often with a pronunciation closer to /lɑːʃ/ than the affricate.
    Don’t worry, we don’t expect Danes to pronounce anything comprehensibly.

  15. Well, you try talking backwards. It’s not easy being Danish

  16. What I don’t understand is why Danes don’t spit out the potato at birth. Surely it must make suckling difficult? But no, it remains in place until it’s removed by the undertaker and ceremonially planted in a separate tiny grave next to the big one.

  17. I’ve always assumed that the Hebrew frayer comes from a meaning like “one who does things for free”, i.e. someone who will do you a favor without asking what’s in it for them. But maybe this is just my own folk etymology. (I’m a native Hebrew speaker, but don’t speak Yiddish or German; can Freier mean something like the above in those languages?)

  18. As for “large”, by the way, I believe this is not a borrowing from English at all, but from French, where large can mean generous, expansive, etc.

  19. What I don’t understand is why Danes don’t spit out the potato at birth.

    And we don’t understand the US obsession with chopping off foreskins.
    Who are you to mock our sacred traditions?

  20. I think we can resolve this with a joint ceremony in which the foreskins are buried with the potatoes.

  21. It’s a nice collection of pieces – thanks for pointing it out, Hat. The flip side of Philologos, and any lover of their language, is his tendency to talk up the ancient-culture-made-new bit, over and over again. Yes, “sa le-shalom” might have a distant echo of the Rabbinic text he cites, but all it means is “Travel safe”: just what an American cop might say. This is the danger of trying to glimpse the Israeli psyche in a grain of sand.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    French, where large can mean generous, expansive, etc.
    The basic meaning of large in French is not “big” but “wide”, as in Le Corbeau et le Renard: the raven ouvre un large bec.
    If large is used metaphorically, it applies to things, ideas, etc, not to people (at least it did not when I was growing up).

  23. I defer to marie-lucie’s native knowledge, of course; but the French Wiktionary page for large does give the sense “qui aime à donner”, with the example “Il est large envers ses serviteurs”. (A dialectal difference?)

  24. marie-lucie says:

    TR: the French Wiktionary page for large does give the sense “qui aime à donner”, with the example “Il est large envers ses serviteurs”.
    I checked in the TFLI (Trésor de la langue française informatisé, see the blog list), and large with that meaning is very far down the list. I recognized the meaning in context, but it had not come to my mind earlier.
    For persons the word is more commonly used in talking about their intellectual qualities, eg être large d’idées, which means the same as avoir les idées larges (the opposite of being “narrow-minded”), so it is more often ideas than persons that are large.

  25. Hmm. I suppose the Hebrew word is still more likely to come from French than English, since English large isn’t used with this meaning at all. But it does seem a little strange that such a marginal sense would have been borrowed.

  26. What about the expression “living large” in English?

  27. Here’s what I wrote about “freier”:
    http://www.balashon.com/2007/10/freier.html
    I link to a great story about how to be (or not to be) a freier!

  28. “one who does things for free” … Yiddish or German; can Freier mean something like the above in those languages?
    Not in German. frei means “free”. “For free” is umsonst or kostenlos. It is common to do what could be called “substantivizing adjectives”, as in der Große da [the big one/person there], but such expressions actually feel more like ellipsis: here for der große Mensch da, der große Schrank da [wardrobe/cabinet]. Ein Freier could be used to mean “a free (person)”, say as contrasted with Ein Gefangener [a prisoner], but that sounds like furriner-speak for two reasons: in everday speech ein Freier just means “a customer of prostitutes”, and ein Gefangener just means “a prisoner”. They are not experienced as elliptical expressions or “substantivized adjectives”, although linguists say things like “that’s what they originally were”. The contrast would be expressed as ein freier Mensch over against ein Gefangener.
    “One who does things for free” would be ein Kostenloser: what a Freier always hopes to find.

  29. Bunuel made a film in silent French that I first thought was called Large Door.

  30. I just tumbled to the realization of how we Anglophones might get the idea that “large” means “expansive” or “generous” in French: the word largesse.

  31. marie-lucie says:

    Yes, largesse refers to bountiful generosity, while the meaning ‘width’ is largeur (which may refer to “width” of ideas also).

  32. I suppose the Hebrew word is still more likely to come from French than English, since English large isn’t used with this meaning at all.
    Not so; borrowings frequently distort the original semantics. Freier is a case in point.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    “For free” is umsonst or kostenlos.

    By far most of the time, it’s gratis.

  34. Thanks for the explication re Freier, Grumbly – looks like it was just my own folk etymology after all.
    LH, borrowings frequently distort the original semantics – true, of course. But in this case since the French word at least has the relevant sense (even if it’s rare), a French origin still strikes me as more likely, other things being equal. Plenty of French-speaking Jews came to Israel from North Africa, and I’m pretty sure Hebrew has some (other) specifically French loanwords, though I can’t think of any at the moment.
    Another Hebrew loanword whose origin I’ve wondered about is protektsia, which means roughly “having friends in high places”, i.e. acquiring something unfairly through favoritism, nepotism, or the like. ‘Protection’ doesn’t mean this in English – but maybe the corresponding word in some other (Slavic?) language does?

  35. By far most of the time, it’s gratis.
    These Austrians, they’ve always got to be doing things their own way. Hi David !

  36. protektsia, which means roughly “having friends in high places”, i.e. acquiring something unfairly through favoritism, nepotism, or the like. ‘Protection’ doesn’t mean this in English
    The German Protektion means “patronage”, with no negative connotations except for those you might add in context. Used as an adjective, the English “protection” means something similar: as in “protection racket”. For this kind of protection, you pay.

  37. Another Hebrew loanword whose origin I’ve wondered about is protektsia, which means roughly “having friends in high places”, i.e. acquiring something unfairly through favoritism, nepotism, or the like.
    It does have that meaning in Russian. Considering the intensity of interaction between Russian and Hebrew it may well be a borrowing from Russian. But you make an interesting point, because ‘protection’ (протекция), though of Latin origin, is most likely a borrowing from French in Russian. Its Russian derivative протеже (protégé) points to this. So French and Russian may have combined forces to put it in Hebrew. Of course, it’s theorisinig, only a study of first references would show the main source.
    The definition ‘having friends in high places’ has a down-top shade of meaning, but protektsiya, to me, implies a top-down patronage.

  38. borrowings frequently distort the original semantics
    In Japanese, there are English words that have obviously been imported to replace native words. The semantics of the borrowing is exactly that of the native word they are used replace, rather than that of the original English word. Two words I know that are like this (there are probably more) are:
    シビア shibia from English ‘severe’. It is used as a replacement for native 厳しい kibishii. However, kibishii has rather a different semantic range from ‘severe’. This leads to strange expressions like: “Can you have this done by Saturday?” “ちょっとシビアですね” Chotto shibia desu ne, literally “That’s a bit severe”. In fact, it’s simply the result of substituting shibia for kibishii. ちょっと厳しいですね Chotto kibishii desu ne is perfectly idiomatic Japanese, meaning “That’s a bit tight” or “That’s a severe (demand)”.
    カンニング kanningu meaning ‘cheating’ (in an exam). This is from English ‘cunning’. How did ‘cunning’ come to mean ‘cheating’? Well, the normal Japanese translation of the English adjective ‘cunning’ is ずるい zurui. The Japanese expression for ‘to cheat’ is ずるをする zuru o suru. ずる zuru is transparently related to the adjective ずるい zurui. So in a schoolboyish way, someone has come up with カンニングをする kanningu o suru as a variant of ずるをする zuru o suru ‘to cheat’.

  39. Sashura, just a little detail on technical IT jargon: the opposite of “top-down” is called “bottom-up”, for instance as applied to parsers.

  40. thanks, I thought it was, but just didn’t want this thread to weer off towards bottoms like it did with no bars holed.
    I know ‘bottom-up’ from management speak.

  41. “Bottoms up !” is a harmless British toast, or used to be. I have the impression that the Brits don’t feel it necessary to roll on the floor guffawing when they hear a slightly risqué expression – unlike many of their cousins.

  42. Philologos’s point depends precisely on the fact that sa l’shalom does not in fact literally mean “go in peace” but rather “go to peace.”

  43. Brits don’t feel it necessary to roll on the floor guffawing
    no, they crack up laughing at every mention of a crack.

  44. Yes, without wishing to start any trans-Atlantic squabbling, it has not been my experience that Ukanians are especially resistant to the lure of the naughty pun/interpretation. (See: Benny Hill, Monty Python.)

  45. (Nudge, nudge, wink wink, say no more!)

  46. Thanks, Sashura – I had suspected a Russian origin for this loanword (though as you say, it’s not clear where French might fit in).

  47. Ukainians, is it your idiolect, or is it used in Usainia?

  48. I wish I could claim credit for it, but it’s the coinage of one of my favorite wild-eyed thinkers, Tom Nairn, a Scottish nationalist who wants to abolish the British monarchy and has a great line in invective. The Wikipedia article says: “Here and elsewhere Nairn uses the term ‘Ukania’ to suggest the irrational and Ruritanian nature of the British constitutional monarchy. His original source for the term is the nickname ‘Kakania’ that Robert Musil uses for the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy in The Man Without Qualities.”

  49. Built on the traditional abbreviation k.u.k = kaiserlich und königlich for the dual monarchy, and the Greek kakós = “bad, evil”.

  50. thanks, I didn’t know. Ukainian struck me as close to Ukrainian.
    Kakania to a Russian, and possibly a French ear, sounds derived from кака – poop, shit, as in caca-dauphin, borrowed into Russian probably to replace ‘vulgar’ sounding native words.
    I suspect Nairn’s neologism was also a linguistic attack on Britain which includes Scotland. (am I right in not putting a comma after Britain?)

  51. Ukainian struck me as close to Ukrainian.
    Yes, that’s one reason it’s such a delightful creation—it has a familiar ring.
    Kakania to a Russian, and possibly a French ear, sounds derived from кака – poop, shit
    I think that’s a common term in Europe, and I’m sure Musil intended the association.
    I suspect Nairn’s neologism was also a linguistic attack on Britain which includes Scotland. (am I right in not putting a comma after Britain?)
    No, in US English, at any rate, there has to be a comma there. He’s attacking the UK, which he doesn’t think Scotland should be a part of.

  52. кака – poop, shit
    I think that’s a common term in Europe, and I’m sure Musil intended the association
    Like all the rest of them presumably, the German Kacke is related to the Latin cacare and Greek κακκάω. My electronic Handwörterbuch der griechischen Sprache (Pape, 1848) says the spelling with two k’s is “better”. I wonder if Pape thinks it “better” because the word is not related to kakós ?! I should withdraw my nano-learnèd claim that Kakanien builds on kakós. I myself had believed that cacare was related to kakós, but maybe not.
    κακκάω, bessere Form für κακάω, w.m.s.
    κακάω, besser κακκάω, kacken, Ar. Nubb. 1366. 1372.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    kaka, caca, etc
    These are basically “baby talk” words, and the adjectives (kakos) and verbs (cacare, kakkao, etc) are based on the baby words.
    Baby talk is what adults use to talk to infants: a hybrid of simplified adult speech and imitation of babies’ first utterances. Words in baby talk typically have a CV structure, often reduplicated (CVCV, as here). Another characteristic of baby talk is that it tends to be highly resistant to the changes affecting normal words through the centuries. For instance, the Latin verb cacare evolved into the French verb chier (considered very vulgar), but Latin caca is still French caca (normally, Latin ca- evolved into French cha- or che-, depending on other factors, as in lat. camera : fr. chambre, but caminu- : chemin). Spanish evolution was less drastic: cacare : cagar (with sp. g between vowels), but lat. caca is still sp. cacá.
    As for the forms that have -kk- (= -ck-) in the middle, the duplication of consonants is one feature of words with emotional connotations in some languages.

  54. kaka, caca, etc … These are basically “baby talk” words, and the adjectives (kakos) and verbs (cacare, kakkao, etc) are based on the baby words.
    I feel wild speculation coming on. Consider the fact that nowadays young children often say the strangest things, in the opinion of their parents. Let us assume that this has always been so, and remember that the most striking feature of infants for the Romans was the fact that they did not talk, earning themselves the epithet infans.
    But they don’t like that. Babies try to establish contact in every way possible, and their parents respond in kind. So we can imagine that, in this sense, one of the oldest forces in the development of communication was provided by the inventiveness of babies.

  55. marie-lucie says:

    Babies try to establish contact in every way possible, and their parents respond in kind
    It is a two-way street, as befits communication. If the parents/caretakers don’t talk (they are deaf, or deranged – there are documented cases – or there is some other problem for their absence) the babies won’t talk either. Babies understand some speech long before they start to talk, and they don’t speak in a universal “baby talk” but in a specific approximation of the adult language they hear around them. Many approximations of baby talk, like caca, are traditional as replacements of adult terms (some of them avoided in adult speech!) because they are important to the baby’s care and situation, but those terms (frequently embedded in adult speech toward babies, not just uttered in isolation) are not the only type of speech that babies hear from their parents and other people (including children).

  56. m-l:
    I don’t think it’s that baby talk is resistant to sound change, but that it’s re-created as the original phonological shapes are sound-changed enough to no longer be baby talk. For example, English mother, father, sister, daughter, brother and their reflexes in other IE languages are all PIE baby-talk words with a common suffix, but they are now so sound-changed that they have been replaced by new baby-talk forms. In Welsh the post-PIE baby talk has displaced the inherited forms completely, so the formal words are tad and mam, with third-generation baby-talk replacements such as dada.
    Larry Trask wrote an excellent paper (PDF) on the topic, assuming no knowledge of historical linguistics (so start at Section 6).

  57. marie-lucie says:

    JC: An excellent article indeed, and useful to introduce people to the history of words, but it deals with the near-universality of the form of baby words for the two parents (as an argument against a “Proto-World” ultimate origin), not with other elements of baby talk.
    According to the article (which builds on Jakobson’s early insight) , baby words like mama/nana and papa/tata result from the interpretation of a baby’s first babblings by the delighted parents, and the first recognizable sounds produced by a baby are labials such as [m] and [b] and [p], closely followed by dentals like [n], [d] and [t]. Fair enough, but there is a circularity here: the parents are not hearing the child’s utterances in a vacuum, they know from their own experience in their own language what they should be hearing: the words they themselves know and that they often have been urging the child to say. Hearing [ma], the mother in whose language [ma] means “father”, and “mother” is [na], will not interpret [ma] as an attempt to address her.
    The near-universality of the mama/papa etc pattern applies to these two terms of address, not to most of the other family words (unless words for the parents have been shifted to the parents’ siblings or the grandparents). While it is true that the PIE ancestor of mother and father is of the form “babyword + suffix” (eg ma-ter), it is unlikely that the other family terms (sister, etc), in which the root is more complex, are themselves based on baby words: a word for daughter cannot possibly be based on parents’ interpretations of a baby’s early vocalizations. And once a baby word is incorporated into general adult language, especially if it acquires affixes (as with ma-ter), the new word does follow the general changes occurring in the language, but the baby word may remain intact.
    The article does not explain the persistence of other baby talk words, such as caca, which cannot be said to be reinvented in the same way as mama etc: kaka is sometimes found for “father”, and perhaps more commonly for “uncle” (though presumably not in those languages which use caca). Similarly, there is no reason to think that French toutou “doggy” results from parents’ interpretation of a baby’s spontaneous utterance in the presence of a dog: the parents themselves (or older children) use toutou to name the animal for the baby.
    For the record, my daughter was raised bilingual in French and English, and her first word was [b∂] (“buh”) ‘bird’, while she pointed to a swallow’s nest which the birds had already left.

  58. Trond Engen says:

    kaka is sometimes found for “father”, and perhaps more commonly for “uncle” (though presumably not in those languages which use caca)
    With no relevance whatsoever: An old friend of mine spent a year in his youth as an exchange student in Costa Rica. After he came back he married (early) to a Chilean, and their children were raised bilingual in Norwegian and Spanish (at least when they were small, I haven’t met them for many years). My friend taught them to call me Tio Caca, which his wife found very naughty — there must have been more than fecal connotations to it. Next time I came around I called myself Tio Caca. That was even naughtier, apparently.

  59. marie-lucie says:

    Your friend (who was not a native Spanish speaker and had not grown up with the word) had a warped sense of humour. I can’t imagine French children being told to call a family member Tonton Caca, even though I don’t think the phrase would have “more than fecal connotations” (but perhaps I have lived a comparatively sheltered life). For a man to announce himself by that name (rather than being called that behind his back) would sound even more embarrassing to the children’s family.

  60. Trond Engen says:

    That there “must have been more than …” wasn’t clear to me immediately, and it still isn’t. I gave the two origins of his Spanish as a hint in case somebody would know of a local usage. (I meant to add it as an afterthought, but moved it when I added ‘apparently’ to the last sentence. Another bad editing choice.)

  61. New location for Trask paper.

    m-l, you are of course right that daughter can’t be baby-talk (indeed its PIE root is *dheugh- ‘press, touch, milk (v.)’), though it shares the same (now meaningless) suffix as father, mother, brother. Sister, however, does not; the /t/ is in the Germanic languages only, and probably a matter of analogy to the other words. Its exact form in Modern English suggests that it is a loan from Old Norse systir; cf. OE sweostor > ME suster, soster alongside sister. But the PIE form was *swesor > (inter alia) Skt svasā-, L soror (by rhotacism) > Fr soeur (one of the rare surviving nominatives; the accusative sororem would give rather *sereur), Spanish sor ‘sister in religion’, OCS sestra > Russian (displacing some native East Slavic form, I suppose), Lith sesů, OIr siur, W chwaer, Gk eor (from OED2 and Etymonline).

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