How to Name Animals in German.

This is a funny flowchart.

Comments

  1. J. W. Brewer says:

    A college classmate of mine who is now a tenured professor of German literature says learning that Waschbär was the word for “raccoon” was what first made her fall in love with the language as a girl.

  2. marie-lucie says:

    At one time I was a fan of the Dutch detective novelist Jan Willem van de Wetering, who wrote in very simple, often unidiomatic but credible ESL-type English about happenings in the Netherlands. Then he moved to the US and the next novel (I have forgotten the name) sounded like it had been rewritten for the American market, thus losing a major feature of its stylistic charm. I forget the plot, which took place in a rural area with a lake, except that there was a character whose last name was Wash, and a crucial mystery was solved when this name was associated with ‘bear’, ‘washbear’ meaning “raccoon”. Of course this feature of the plot was unrealistic if the reader was not aware of this equation in Dutch or German.

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Japanese work for “dolphin, porpoise”, iruka, is written 海豚 sea+pig. The word in Japanese has nothing to do with the sea or with pigs, so this is presumably because dolphins and porpoises are seapigs in Chinese. LH’s many Sinophone readers will know …

    I wonder if dolphins would have quite the same positive image if they were called seapigs in English?

  4. It always struck me as incongruous that the Russian name for Alaskan porpoise literally means “White-winged sea pig”. A floating pig may sound passable, but a winged one?

  5. David Eddyshaw: I wonder if dolphins would have quite the same positive image if they were called seapigs in English?

    A short answer would be: yes, maybe, why not ?

    It seems to me an artifice of etymology, or perhaps “analysis of Japanese words”, to say that 海豚 “is written sea-pig”. In a sense that is true (I’m relying on your statement, since I have no Japanese), but in a sense it is not true, as you yourself go on to remark: “The word in Japanese has nothing to do with the sea or with pigs”. One can look at the word from the outside of Japanese, or from the inside.

    I would venture to say this: what a word in a language “means” to its speakers, and whether it “has a positive image” for them, is a function of one hell of a lot of things in and around the language – how countries and cultures use and have used it over hundreds of years.

    The German word for “seal” is Seehund. Perhaps a German child might think the word funny when first encountering it, taking it to mean “a dog at sea” but an adult won’t think twice about it, except when “analyzing” or “etymologizing”. The word has simply been in the language for too long.

    If animals called “dolphins” In English had always been called “seapigs” instead, why should the associations be different ? Why balk at “seapig”, but not at “an old sea dog” ? Now that “sea dog” has occurred to me, I wonder whether the original association was with an old dog trotting around the oceans, or perhaps was formed in analogy with Seehund (or t’other way around).

    There’s an old German saying: aus einem Seehund wird keine Landratte (= “landlubber”). This is a play on the animal associations of the words that are usually not present to the mind.

  6. As for falling in love with German because its word for raccoon is Waschbär – well, it’s a nice anecdote, but perhaps today the professor of German literature might feel that she fell in love with the right language for the wrong reasons. I make bold to claim that no average German speaker experiences the word Waschbär as special or cute. It’s merely the word for a certain species of animal. When a TV documentary shows such an animal occasionally behaving as if it were washing something, then one thinks “oh, waschen” – and that’s it.

  7. David Eddyshaw says:

    A rose by any other name … not true, of course. Roses wouldn’t smell the same at all if they were called “stinkflowers.”

    The odd writing of “iruka” is not confined to this word; it’s an oddity on top of the general unhelpfulness of the Japanese writing system called “ateji” and turns up in various places including some other animal names. Less common animal names are (I think) officially supposed to be written in the katakana syllabary, and one can see why …

    The writing does indeed strike Japanese children as funny, to judge by the fact that I actually first came across it in the highly-to-be-recommended anime Azumanga Daioh, where it is the subject of a somewhat surreal joke.

  8. David Eddyshaw says:

    Assuming (I don’t know, but others will) that in Chinese a dolphin is actually called a “sea pig”, and further assuming that the structure of the word is transparent to Chinese speakers, it occurs to me that (unlike dolphins) they sound … edible.

  9. A rose by any other name … not true, of course. Roses wouldn’t smell the same at all if they were called “stinkflowers.”

    Not a rose by any other name. That’s loading the dice, the result being a dicey argument. “Smellflowers” might do. Not all roses have a smell anyway. And old sea dogs might bark, but not like seals.

  10. it occurs to me that (unlike dolphins) they sound … edible.

    Dolphins are edible, even though they may not sound edible. Just like chickens.

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    It is indeed a loaded argument – after all Juliet is trying hard to convince herself that it doesn’t matter that Romeo is Romeo Montague.

    Mind you, without going all Sapir-Whorf, it doesn’t seem implausible to me that the accidental associations conjured up by a name like “sea-pig” might affect one’s perception of the animal in question rather more than the opaque “dolphin.” I suppose as Stu Clayton imples it depends on how far the term has got denatured in actual usage and the meaning of the components has fallen out of sight. I expect that varies from case to case depending on just how clear the structure is to native speakers, and how familiar the animal is.

  12. it doesn’t seem implausible to me that the accidental associations conjured up by a name like “sea-pig” might affect one’s perception of the animal in question rather more than the opaque “dolphin.”

    That depends on the associations conjured up by “sea” and “pig”. They will be different for a seasickness-prone vegetarian and a seafaring German.

  13. It’s true, Stu, that butterflies rarely make me think of butter. Though now that I think of it Schmetterling sounds like something pretty greasy.

  14. J. W. Brewer says:

    David E.: my impression is that traditional Chinese cuisine is about as completely free of “we don’t eat that particular animal because of a cultural taboo” limitations as it’s possible to be.

    Stu: this was an anecdote she told recently and in a positive way (although it may have been in a context where she was trying to encourage undergraduates to latch onto some superficial wackiness of the German lexicon as a way of drawing them in deeper – it’s perhaps not unlike the way I loved loved loved that “Wasserstoff” was what they called an actual Official Scientific Periodic-Table Element when I first learned that lexical fact as a teenager). But as far as I know she does not write scholarly journal articles on the theme “Goethe’s work suffers from its comparative lack of vignettes involving raccoons.”

  15. One of my falling-in-love-with-German moments was when I found out that the word Wort has two plurals, one for words that are working together and one for words that just happen to be together.

  16. David Eddyshaw says:

    “That depends on the associations conjured up by “sea” and “pig”. They will be different for a seasickness-prone vegetarian and a seafaring German.”

    Very true – but in both cases the associations will have been called up by the creature being called “sea-pig” and not “dolphin.” In the fist case, the nausea will be enhanced, in the second, the excitement, the hunger …

  17. Empty, like many another anglophone who enjoys looking at butterflies, is probably better off not knowing that what’s buttery about them is their excrement. Compare the Middle Dutch word, which is boterschijte (Modern Dutch vlinder, dialectal English flinder). But too late now. “‘Tis a far, far butter thing I do than I have ever done….”

    Stu: The oldest sense of sea-dog in English is indeed the harbor seal, and then a variety of shark (which one is not known): those go back to 1600 or so. Not till 1659 is it applied to pirates and privateers (dogs, therefore, in the sense of predators), and the first use for old sailors in general is not until 1823. What’s more, the four citations the OED1 gives for this sense are all from literary authors, and only one (Richard Henry Dana) had been a sailor in real life (the others are James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Kingsley, and Sir Walter Besant).

    JWB: It’s annoying enough to an anglophone to have to memorize that sodium is Na, potassium is K, and tungsten is W, all of them transparent in German. But it must be far worse to have to memorize the symbols for Wasserstoff, Stickstoff, Sauerstoff as the arbitrary-looking H, N, O! The names may be more transparent, but not very helpfully so, since it is not oxygen that makes acids, though Lavoisier thought it was when he named it.

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    marie-lucie: Is a phacochère different from a warthog?

  19. marie-lucie says:

    David: Even if I have occasionally seen the word (le) phacochère I only had a vague idea of what kind of animal it was and where it lived, and had to look it up to make sure, while warthog (which I am sure I have encountered a little more often since I read more English than French) calls to my mind an unmistakable picture of the vaguely boar-like animal and its “warts”. This picture is enhanced by remembering a song by the British duo of Flanders and Swann, about an dance attended by many animals, during which the lonely, shunned male warthog is overjoyed to meet a lady warthog. I am pretty sure that if the warthog was known in English exclusively as Phacocherus it would be much less memorable.

  20. David Marjanović says:

    I wonder if dolphins would have quite the same positive image if they were called seapigs in English?

    While we are at it… “porpoise” in German: Schweinswal.

    Though now that I think of it Schmetterling sounds like something pretty greasy.

    That’s its etymology (from a Slavic “cream” word like Czech smetana), which is utterly intransparent to most German speakers. I’ve read that the reasoning behind it was that butterflies were associated with witches, who, as everyone knows, make the milk go sour. *shrug*

    One of my falling-in-love-with-German moments was when I found out that the word Wort has two plurals, one for words that are working together and one for words that just happen to be together.

    Well. Prescriptively, Wörter refers to countable words, and Worte to whole sayings: zwei Worte Goethes, aus fünfzig Wörtern bestehend (“two Goethe quotes, consisting of 50 words”) is the example usage I largely remember. Descriptively, Wörter seems to be completely unknown in much of Germany, while farther south Worte is the literary word for “words” and Wörter the colloquial one.

    Ort “location, village/town” used to have the plural Örter, but that is entirely extinct and replaced by Orte.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve read that the first part of Seehund isn’t cognate to sea, but to seal. But of course that’s hardly on any native speaker’s mind.

    I am pretty sure that if the warthog was known in English exclusively as Phacocherus it would be much less memorable.

    That said, the exceptions that prove the rule are the platypus (Ornithorhynchus, since it was discovered long ago that the name Platypus is preoccupied by a beetle) and the several species of echidna (Tachyglossus and Zaglossus, with a similar history).

  22. marie-lucie says:

    David, I don’t find these “exceptions” convincing since in each case all the names are Greek and therefore completely opaque to most speakers, unlike “warthog” in comparison with “Phacocherus”.

  23. Jonathan D says:

    Stu, what David was getting at was that the Japanese written form 海豚 is borrowed from the Chinese word made up of ‘sea’ and ‘pig’, even though the pronunciation does not have that etymology in any sense. All the written form and and the pronunciation have in common is the meaning dolphin. Since ateji are not exactly uncommon, this is probably less striking than, say, an English word written ‘seapig’ and pronounced ‘dolphin’, but it is still something a child learning to read (both insde and outside Japanese?) would find more remearkable than written words that do reflect their pronunciation and/or meaning more transparently.

    My understanding was that in an academic/scientific context these days, all species names are written in katakana, even the common ones.

    And while I don’t actually read Chinese, the Chinese Wikipedia page for 海豚 when it comes to eating seems to have a lot to say about the Japanese and a little bit about Peru.

  24. I’ve always assumed that Seehunde bark and Seelöwen roar.

  25. The analogy I like to how Japanese writing works is this: “Imagine how it would be if we wrote σφυγμομανομετρον and pronounced it either ‘sphygmomanometer’ or ‘blood pressure meter’, depending on context.”

  26. In America, physicians did that all the time, as I remember from my father’s circle. No big deal when you’re accustomed to it.

  27. Correction: they never wrote σφυγμομανομετρον, but did write or say ‘sphygmomanometer’ or ‘blood pressure meter’, depending on context.

  28. Much discussion about language is conducted from a point of view that might be called commonplace exotic. Foreign languages are experienced as exotic, but to experience them this way has become second nature. Thus an English speaker with little German finds it natural to marvel at words like Waschbär and Schmetterling.

    Discussions in German about Waschbär and Schmetterling may contain marvelling, but of a rather different kind. It is said that science begins with wonder, but one may well wonder whether that is true – in view of the fact that wonder is as conducive to mysticism as to science.

  29. I like Nacktschnecker for slug. Norwegian calls both slugs and snails ‘snegler’ which saves words but can occasionally be a tiny bit confusing.

  30. Nacktchnecke. Schnecke. Not Schnecker.

  31. Incidentally, I never found Schmetterling to be an ugly word, as Germans will tell you by comparing it to fjäril or papillon or other foreign names for a butterfly. It would be worse if it were Rausgeschmettert or something like that, with a G.

  32. Stefan Holm says:

    Since we have borrowed a lot from German, you could as well ridicule the Swedes. So is Waschbär = tvättbjörn, Stinktier = stinkdjur (well, skunk is also used), Meerschweinchen = marsvin, Schildkröte = sköldpadda, Tintenfisch = bläckfisk, Fledermaus = fladdermus.

    A particular one not borrowed from German is killer whale, which in Swedish is ‘späckhuggare’ (litt. ‘lard hewer’). Which makes me think of former cancellor Helmut Kohl who, if I remember right, during two weeks every autumn went – not to a spa – but on ‘Abspeckung’ (de-fattening or de-baconing). I admire the straight-forwardness of the Germans.

  33. Alon Lischinsky says:

    Racoons are also ositos lavadores ‘little wash-bears’ in Spanish; the more adult-sounding mapache seems to have always been more common, though.

    @David Eddyshaw: I don’t suppose anyone has a negative view of manatees, despite their being called ‘sea cows’. I concede they are a much more obscure order.

  34. GeorgeW says:

    Stu Clayton: “I make bold to claim that no average German speaker experiences the word Waschbär as special or cute. It’s merely the word for a certain species of animal.”

    I agree. Second language speakers, particularly learners (after the critical period), are much more analytical about words – derivations, literal meanings, etc.

    For example, I find it interesting that the Arabic root عذب has derivations meaning both ‘pleasant’ and ‘agony.’ I have mentioned words like this to native speakers who find them completely unremarkable.

    During the Gulf War, more ore than one Western commentator noted the literal meaning of Saddam’s (Hussein) name ‘collision, clash.’ I don’t think a single native Arab even noticed, or found it interesting.

  35. Stu Clayton: Correction: they never wrote σφυγμομανομετρον, but did write or say ‘sphygmomanometer’ or ‘blood pressure meter’, depending on context.

    That’s no different from the observation that English-speakers sometimes say “automobile” and sometimes “car” for the same object — or any other case of synonyms whose use varies depending on context. That has nothing to do with the analogy that John Cowan was making (except to show that, yes, both Japanese and English have synonyms).

  36. Which makes me think of former cancellor Helmut Kohl who, if I remember right, during two weeks every autumn went – not to a spa – but on ‘Abspeckung’ (de-fattening or de-baconing). I admire the straight-forwardness of the Germans.

    Here is another example of the seemingly exotic taken at face value, as if it evidenced a common disposition of German speakers. But it’s not exotic to a German speaker. And straightforwardness is, among other things, a gloss put by the hearer on what the speaker says. The speaker does not always intend to be “straightforward”.

    Let me try to show how non-straightforward this business is of Speck. Merely Speck by itself is ambiguous, referring neither to fat or bacon particularly.

    What one could call the basic notion of Speck refers to the fatty tissue between the muscles and the skin of an animal, particularly a pig. There are many cuts available at butchers and supermarkets, taken from different areas of the pig and treated in various ways (or not): fetter Speck (pure lard), durchwachsener Speck (pork belly), both of these perhaps geräuchert, and other kinds.

    More generally, and in a *jocular* way, Speck can refer to fat on a human – belly, hips and so on. The word abspecken means “lose weight” – again in a jocular but everyday sense – but also “make leaner”. A company head could say: Wir müssen unsere Lagerbestände abspecken meaning “we need to strip down our stock”. This is almost neutral, metaphorical but not jocular since it does not refer to humans.

    Abspeckung would be a nonce noun from abspecken in the sense of “lose weight”, when applied to Kohl’s activities during his two-week autumn break. The word is amusing, not straightforward or “brazenly honest”.

  37. Stu Clayton: It is said that science begins with wonder, but one may well wonder whether that is true – in view of the fact that wonder is as conducive to mysticism as to science.

    There’s nothing contradictory or counter-factual in the idea that “science begins with wonder” and that wonder can also lead to mysticism. In the days before air travel, the only way for Europeans to get to the Americas was by ship; this was true even though ships could also take them to, say, Australia.

    More generally, people get excited about certain fields, scientific or otherwise, for all sorts of reasons, many of them irrational. I don’t think it’s really necessary or useful to disapprove of this, as long as their mature practice in the field isn’t just an unexamined continuation of that initial irrationality.

  38. Stefan Holm says:

    Stu: Through compounds we can make just as many (and long) words in Swedish as in German. ‘Avspäckning’ would be perfectly understood by every native as getting rid of body fat. But noone would use it as an alternative to a spa visit other than as a joke or even derogatory.

  39. Peter Erwin: More generally, people get excited about certain fields, scientific or otherwise, for all sorts of reasons, many of them irrational. I don’t think it’s really necessary or useful to disapprove of this …

    I agree. Where did you get the idea that I disapproved ? My remarks were as neutral as I could formulate them. In particular: “It is said that science begins with wonder, but one may well wonder whether that is true”. Clearly I too am in the wonder game.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    Alon: Racoons are also ositos lavadores ‘little wash-bears’ in Spanish

    I only know ratón lavador, which could be either a calque or the original of French raton-laveur. Perhaps a calque, since Spanish ratón means ‘mouse’, and the animal is considerably larger than a mouse.

  41. In Irish, a “yellow creature” is a hare; a “blue creature” is either a water flea or a blue whale. A generic whale is a “big creature”; I guess “big blue creature” sounded too silly to be worth resolving the ambiguity.

  42. Marie-Lucie: I beleive the van de Wetering novel was “The Maine Massacre.” I thought it was qute a good novel, though, as you say, rather different from the earlier ones.

  43. Asimov began one of his books on science with the sentence “Almost in the beginning was curiosity”, and this is more true than, perhaps, he realized. Here’s the OED1 showing the development of senses (quotations suppressed, but with the first and last dates given):

    I. As a personal attribute.

    †1. Carefulness, the application of care or attention. Obs. c1430—1747

    †2. Careful attention to detail; scrupulousness; exactness, accuracy. Obs. c1400—1694

    †3. Proficiency attained by careful application; skill, cleverness, ingenuity. Obs. 1603—1772

    †4. Care or attention carried to excess or unduly bestowed upon matters of inferior moment.

    a. Undue niceness or fastidiousness as to food, clothing, matters of taste and behaviour. Obs. c1386—1766

    †b. Unduly minute or subtle treatment; nicety, subtlety. Obs. 1605—1680

    5. Desire to know or learn:

    †a. In a blamable sense: The disposition to inquire too minutely into anything; undue or inquisitive desire to know or learn. Obs. c1380—1756

    b. In a neutral or good sense: The desire or inclination to know or learn about anything, esp. what is novel or strange; a feeling of interest leading one to inquire about anything. 1613—1875

    c. Inquisitiveness in reference to trifles or matters which do not concern one. ?1577—1887

    †6. Scientific or artistic interest; the quality of a curioso or virtuoso; connoisseurship. Obs. a1684—1781

    †7. A pursuit in which any one takes an interest, or for which he has a fancy; a hobby. Obs. 1646—a1661

    †8. A desire to make trial or experience of anything novel; trifling interest or desire; a fancy, a whim. Obs. 1605—a1718

    II. As a quality of things.

    †9. Careful or elaborate workmanship; perfection of construction; elaborateness, elegance; artistic character. Obs. c1380—1695

    †10. Careful accuracy of construction; nicety, delicacy. Obs. 1593—1807

    11. The quality of being curious or interesting from novelty or strangeness; curiousness. 1597—1858

    III. A matter or thing that has this quality.
    †12.

    a. A curious question or matter of investigation; a nicety of argument; a subtlety. Obs. c1380—1700

    †b. A curious or ingenious art, experiment, etc. 1605—1641

    †13. A matter upon which undue care is bestowed; a vanity, nicety, refinement. Obs. 1474—1705

    †14. A curious detail, feature, or trait. Obs. 1653—1747

    15.

    a. An object of interest; any object valued as curious, rare, or strange. 1645—1869

    †b. collect. = Curious things. Obs. 1786—1786

    c. Applied to a person who is ‘queer’ in his appearance, habits, etc.; cf. oddity n. 1873—1873

    As you can see, this word has included not only to the disposition to inquire, but the care and caution, that make up scientific practice.

  44. This picture is enhanced by remembering a song by the British duo of Flanders and Swann, about an dance attended by many animals, during which the lonely, shunned male warthog is overjoyed to meet a lady warthog.

    It’s actually the lonely, shunned female warthog who is overjoyed to meet a male warthog: lyrics, video (sung by Ian Wallace).

  45. David Eddyshaw says:

    Via Wikipedia, I discover that a dolphin was a sea-pig in English too once upon a time

    https://www.wordnik.com/words/mereswine

    It’s interesting that the same term turns up in such widely separated languages and cultures. I wonder if the Chinese term (or the Germanic form, for that matter) is a calque? I remember being surprised by the term “wisdom tooth” turning up in Japanese and discovering that it seems to go back to Arab medicine, whence it has spread both West and East.

    Or maybe dolphins just do look a whole lot like pigs and I just can’t see it …

  46. Or maybe dolphins just do look a whole lot like pigs and I just can’t see it

    There are many different species (varieties ?) of pig, The huge kind we see on tv documentaries about industrial pig-raising in Germany and America did not, I believe, exist before the 20th century. Perhaps other kinds, thousands of years ago, looked more like dolphins. Or the dolphins looked more like pigs.

  47. Or perhaps the Ancient Language words translated as “pig” sometimes had a more general meaning, such as “sleek, noisy animal that moves fast”.

  48. Sorry, I just realized that it’s time for me to tell the pig story again: My mother once heard a conversation between a stranger and her child on a visit to a farm:

    Child: Look how dirty they are, Mommy!

    Mother: Yes, dear, that’s why they call them pigs.

  49. Where did you get the idea that I disapproved ?

    I was alluding to your earlier suggestion that “… the professor of German literature might feel that she fell in love with the right language for the wrong reasons”, which seemed slightly disapproving to me. My apologies if I was misreading that.

    Clearly I too am in the wonder game.

    Yes, I saw what you did there ;-)

  50. marie-lucie says:

    LH: The warthog : Thank you for the link to the song! I had not heard it for decades, forgot the details, and I must have misremembered “a gentleman warthog” for “a lady warthog”.

  51. … the term “wisdom tooth” turning up in Japanese and discovering that it seems to go back to Arab medicine, whence it has spread both West and East.

    Various sources (e.g., the Online Etymological Dictionary) suggest that “wisdom teeth” actually goes back to ancient Greek medicine (sōphronistēres, later translated into Latin as dentes sapientiae, and then from Latin into English) — from where it could very naturally have entered Islamic medicine, of course.

    For what it’s worth, this page:
    http://japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/6704/why-are-wisdom-teeth-called-親知らず-in-japanese
    translates the Japanese term as something like “unknown to the parents” (supposedly because children may have moved out of the house by the time the teeth come in).

  52. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Or perhaps the Ancient Language words translated as “pig” sometimes had a more general meaning, such as “sleek, noisy animal that moves fast”.”

    Interesting thought. Like “deer” has acquired a much narrower meaning in English, from starting out like “Tier.”

    Come to think of it, the very flow chart that started this off is evidence that German “Schwein” at least at some point in its history had a broader semantic range than modern English “pig.” Or that Germans have greater powers of analogy ….

    The Wikipedia article on “guinea pig” prays Duden in aid of the theory that dolphins were called sea pigs in German because their grunts were felt to be piglike. Hadn’t thought of that …

  53. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Peter Erwin: the word I mean is 知恵歯 chieba rather than the synonym 親知らず oyashirazu. I discovered the former when looking up the latter in the dictionary. I assumed initially it was a recent calque from some European language but it seems much more venerable.

    Wouldn’t be surprised if you’re right about the origin being Greek.

  54. David Eddyshaw says:

    That link is interesting! I’d come across the first explanation, viz that wisdom teeth are call parents-don’t-know because you’ve moved out of your parents home by the time you get them, and found it pretty unconvincing. I hadn’t encountered the explanation that they’re actually called don’t-know-parents because they don’t replace corresponding milk teeth, which seems a good bit less farfetched.

  55. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @marie-lucie: I didn’t know ratón lavador. Google Ngrams seems to think it’s not very frequent, and none of the major dictionaries include it, but then they don’t include oso lavador either.

  56. David Eddyshaw says:

    The good and deserving Zompist has “wisdom tooth” on this page, which seems to be based on the OED, as being a translation of a Latin calque of an Arabic calque of the original Greek

    http://www.zompist.com/arabic.html

    thus following the same path of transmission to the West as much else of ancient Greek wisdom, and which conveniently means that I’m right, though Peter Erwin is even more right.

  57. The very fact that what we now call dolphins were once called seapigs demonstrates indirectly that the folks who called them so knew that dolphins are not fish. Same with Seehunde (seals). There must have been more attentiveness, more at work than vague “powers of analogy”, which can equally well suggest that dolphins are fish.

  58. Stefan Holm says:

    The bottlenose dolphin (the one you find in a zoo) is in Swedish and Danish öresvin / øresvin. I haven’t found any Sw. etymology since our academy after 120 years is still struggling with the letter ‘T’ in the alphabet. The Da. Ordbok over det danske Sprog however gives the etymology dizzy pig. Yr (dial. ör), Da. ør = dizzy. It obviously referes to the whale’s playful movements.

  59. Stefan Holm says:

    Damn those attempts of mine to link. This is the copy-and-paste address: http://ordnet.dk/ods/

  60. tetri_tolia says:

    Some Dutch people told me that in the dialect of a certain Dutch city, dinosaurs are sometimes referred to as “grote kankerbeest”, kanker (cancer) being used, in the Dutch way, as an expletive, i.e. “big fucking animal” or something. This is a story which has been too good to check and which I am now repeating.

  61. Dizzy pig: Porky in Wackyland.

  62. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Stu Clayton:

    Perhaps the knowledge came by eating (there are precedents …)

    Powers of analogy are not of themselves necessarily vague, and to possess them abundantly would seem to me to be a pretty good thing.

  63. marie-lucie says:

    MattF, you are right about the novel’s title. I did not say it was a bad book, only that the written style was quite different from the earlier ones in terms of the author’s command of English, and as a result I missed the characteristic style of the previous books and what it seemed to reveal both of the author’s personality and his observations of Dutch culture and customs (since the new book took place in the US).

    Alon, I have heard raton lavador from Spanish-speaking friends, but I see that the Spanish Wikipedia article gives entirely different names ( i was not aware that the animal’s range extends into Central America). The corresponding French article derives “raton” as an adaptation of the Algonquian word borrowed into English as raccoon, therefore having nothing to do with mice or rats. It is likely that the Spanish phrase is just a translation of the French one.

  64. David Eddyshaw says:

    @tetri_tolia:

    Better name than “dinosaur”, certainly. “Terrible lizard” forsooth. Not much more impressive than “vicious hamster.”

    Japanese dinosaurs are 恐竜 kyouryuu “fear dragon.” Much better. Worthy adversary for Godzilla.

  65. Stu,
    “Perhaps other kinds, thousands of years ago, looked more like dolphins. ”

    Indeed. The native pigs in Hawai’i, or rather the ones the ancient Hawai’ians brought, are about the size large dogs. When I saw one I finally understood the expression “long pig” – they are considerably shorter when stretched out in an imu than a human … would be.

  66. This is probably the shortest post I’ve ever made, and it bids fair to have one of the longer threads. Blogging is fun and unpredictable!

  67. It’s not so difficult to tell that seals, sea lions, and walruses are mammalian. Many of them have obvious hair or fur, and if you cut them open, the anatomical similarities to land mammals are pretty obvious.

    For dolphins, porpoises, manatees, and whales, the situation is a bit murkier. However, I learned one very obvious distinction between aquatic mammals and fish from watching the Chuck Jones cartoon The White Seal in first grade. (After seeing this film, based on one of the stories from The Jungle Book—volume two, I believe—several times as a kind and really enjoying it, I was pleases to discover it on a cheap DVD a few years ago.) The fish have vertical tails, while the mammals’ tails are horizontal. If people noticed this similarity between the obviously mammalian amphibious animals and the fully aquatic ones, they might notice other, less obvious (and, again, possibly internal) things that suggest that cetaceans and such are not fish.

  68. I was not aware that the animal’s range extends into Central America

    Opossums actually evolved in South America at a time when it was still separate from North America, and came north during the Great American Interchange three million years ago. At the time, there were no placental (ordinary) mammals in South America, and although marsupials had once existed in North America and Eurasia, they had become extinct. The marsupial colonization of Antarctica and Australia happened before they separated from South America.

  69. J. W. Brewer says:

    I’m pretty sure whoever coined the name “seahorse” for the creature in question wasn’t doing so on the supposition that it was a marine mammal.

  70. marie-lucie says:

    JC, Oppossums are indeed marsupials, but raccoons are mammals.

  71. Tom Recht says:

    The very fact that what we now call dolphins were once called seapigs demonstrates indirectly that the folks who called them so knew that dolphins are not fish.

    But so, probably, does the name “dolphin”: δελφίς seems to mean “the wombed one” (δελφύς “womb”, as in Phil-a-delph-ia).

  72. marie-lucie says:

    I understand that Philadelphia analyzes as ‘phil-adelph-ia’ where the ‘adelph’ part is from Greek adelphos ‘brother’ (or perhaps ‘sibling’), a word most likely derived from the one for ‘womb’. So the meaning of the name, chosen by Quakers, is something like ‘brotherly love’, not ‘love of the womb’.

  73. Tom Recht says:

    That’s right, but adelphos itself is a-delph-os, “same-womb one”; the a- (PIE *sm, unlikely as that looks) is cognate with same.

  74. Weirdly, the Online Etymology Dictionary claims that “sea-lion” originally meant, ca. 1600, “a kind of lobster”, and was only applied to the sea mammals starting in the 1690s. (Can anyone with access to the OED confirm this?)

    (Antlions, though not aquatic, would be another example of something named after a mammal which is not actually a mammal. The Wikipedia article has some interesting discussion of the name in various languages — e.g., the Malayalam name is supposedly a word which translates as “pit elephant”, while the pit dug by the larva is apparently know in both Korean and Japanese as “ant hell”.)

  75. Sir JCass says:

    Some of these names may have arisen from the old belief that for every land animal there was a corresponding sea animal. As Chet Van Duzer explains in Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps:

    “Many of the sea monsters that appear on medieval maps are hybrids such as the sea dog, the sea lion, and the sea pig, and the source of many of these creatures was the ancient and medieval theory that every land creature had its equivalent in the sea. The theory is explicit in the Natural History of Pliny the Elder […] The idea is repeated by Isidore of Seville […] and by Gervase of Tilbury (c.1150- c.1228) in his Otia imperialia: […] ‘there is no form of any creature found living among us on dry land whose likeness, from the navel upwards, may not be observed among the fish of the ocean off Britain.’ This theory, which was a fruitful generator of exotic sea creatures, continued to find supporters in the sixteenth century.”

    The index to Duzer’s book contains entries for sea bears, sea bulls, sea chickens, sea cows, sea dogs, sea dragons, sea elephants, sea frogs, sea goats, sea hares, sea horses, sea lions, sea panthers, sea pigs, sea rabbits, sea rams, sea roosters, sea serpents, sea stags, sea tigers, sea unicorns and sea wolves.

  76. Sir JCass says:

    Here’s Sir Thomas Browne refuting the belief in Pseudodoxia Epidemica. In this section he touches on some of the points people have made in this thread:

    “As for Sea-horses which much confirm this assertion; in their common descriptions, they are but Grotesco deliniations which fill up empty spaces in Maps, and meer pictorial inventions, not any Physical shapes: sutable unto those which (as Pliny delivereth) Praxiteles long ago set out in the Temple of Domitius.For that which is commonly called a Sea-horse, is properly called a Morse, and makes not out that shape. That which the Ancients named Hippocampus is a little animal about six inches long, and not preferred beyond the classis of Insects. That which they termed Hippopotamus an amphibious animal, about the River Nile, so little resembleth an horse, that as Mathiolus observeth, in all except the feet, it better makes out a swine. That which they termed a Lion, was but a kind of Lobster: that which they called the Bear, was but one kind of Crab: and that which they named Bos marinus, was not as we conceive a fish resembling an Ox, but a Skait or Thornback, so named from its bigness, expressed by the Greek word Bous, which is a prefix of augmentation to many words in that language.”

  77. Porpoise is from Latin porcopiscis or pig fish.

    The general public often use the words dolphin and porpoise interchangebly. The more technically inclined use them to refer to different families of small cetaceans with generally distinguishable body and tooth shapes http://www.knewance.com/comparisons/dolphin-v-porpoise.html

  78. David Eddyshaw says:

    Nice catch. Wish I’d noticed that a porpoise is a pigfish …
    Porcus marinus in proper Latin too.

    Persian for dolphin is گراز دریایی “marine hog”, according to Google Translate, anyway.

    I’m beginning to feel I belong to a small minority in never having noticed the piggishness of dolphins.

  79. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Peter Erwin:

    In Japanese 蟻地獄 arijigoku “ant hell” seems to mean primarily the ant-lion larva itself and secondarily the pit it makes. My dictionaries have some appropriately horrid pictures of the creature, quite enough to give an ant nightmares.

  80. On another matter, the turtle = “shield toad” (Schildkröte) caught my eye, because some California Indian languages have the same word for turtles and toads/frogs—not much stranger than calling a whale a fish.

  81. Being a city dweller of a non-nature-observing disposition, I am to this day unsure what is meant by Kröte. I know a Frosch when I see one, and a Schildkröte, but what is a Kröte ? A turtle without a shell ?

    Before any helpful soul here explains to me what a Kröte is, I would like to know what the cash value might be, to a city dweller of my disposition, of understanding the difference between toads and frogs. Could it be as small as that of understanding the differences between daisies and marigolds, or between consubstantiation and transsubstantiation ?

  82. Or might the cash value be at least as great as that of understanding the differences between object-oriented and functional programming ?

  83. Stu:

    One never knows. The value of abstract knowledge often isn’t apparent at the time. I spent some time learning how to adapt the free bitmap fonts of X Windows to an “ASCII art” program called FIGlet, purely for hack value; that turned out to be just what I needed to know in order to successfully program the news ticker at the New York Daily News newsroom several years later.

    The vernacular distinction between frogs and toads doesn’t at all align with the Linnaean taxonomy. There are some 5000 known species of anurans, all of which look more or less froggy or toady. They are divided into 28 families, of which Ranidae are the “true frogs” and Bufonidae are the “true toads”. The other 26 are referred to as “frogs” or “toads” on an impressionistic basis.

    We cannot usefully carve the anurans into frogs on the one hand and toads on the other. For example, a group (suborder) of four closely related families comprise the tailed frogs, the fire-bellied toads, the painted frogs, and the New Zealand primitive frogs, for instance. Considering just the fire-bellied toads, there are nine species, of which seven are called toads and two frogs.

    But if we confine ourselves for the moment to true frogs and true toads, we can say that frogs jump whereas toads hop. Furthermore, frogs have moist smooth skin and live mostly in the water or in moist land environments, whereas toads have dry bumpy (warty) skin and live mostly on dry land. Frogs have bulging eyes, toads have poison glands behind their non-bulging eyes. There are other differences, but that should do to go on with.

  84. @ Sir JCass:
    Excellent finds!
    (I think I actually gave the Chet Van Duzer book to a friend as a birthday present,
    but I didn’t have a chance to read it.)

    @ David Eddyshaw:
    Thanks for the explanations about the Japanese words; my Japanese is, needless to say, entirely minimal. (The Wikipedia article about antlions did offer two words from Korean which supposedly meant “ant demon” for the insect and “ant hell” for the pit…)
    (I am reminded of the classic black-and-white Japanese film Woman in the Dunes, in which a man studying antlions ends up trapped in a human-scale version of the pit… Sadly, I have no idea what Japanese words were used for the pit.)

  85. Rodger C says:

    @John Cowan: In pre-interchange South America, the carnivores were marsupials and the herbivores were placentals. That’s where we also got armadillos.

    And if someone has mentioned this, I missed it: The French word for “porpoise” is (I’ve always heard–my French isn’t biological) marsouin, a Norse borrowing.

  86. marie-lucie says:

    I am not entirely sure of the difference between dolphin and porpoise, or in French between dauphin and marsouin. It is possible that one is Mediterranean and the other inhabits other seas. In any case I think the differences are minor.

  87. Surely frogs are green and have flippers whereas toads are brown and have tiny toes.

  88. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Peter Erwin:

    The Japanese title is just 砂の女 Suna no Onna “Woman of the Sands” and the hole is just a 穴 hole in the film.

    According to Japanese Wikipedia the entomologist hero is studying tiger beetles.
    Not sure if the eponymous Woman is such a bad fate to end up with. Prettier than the pictures of Ant Hells, anyhow.

  89. Sir JCass says:

    @Peter Erwin – Thanks. The Van Duzer is a nice book.

    I’ve just looked up the original passage in Gervase of Tilbury and he continues:

    “There too is the pig-fish, which they call a dolphin [illic porcus, quem dalfinum nominant]: the people say that this fish is born as a knight, and puts on its piggish appearance secretly among the waves of the sea.”

    Gervase then tells a story about a sailor who spears a dolphin for fun during a voyage in the Mediterranean. A storm suddenly blows up and the crew of the ship fear for their lives. A knight riding a dolphin appears and says they will be saved if the sailor who threw the spear hands himself over. The guilty sailor agrees and he is taken to a distant land where he is shown a knight lying sick in bed with a spear protruding from his side. The sailor removes the spear and he is brought back to his ship. From then on sailors have thought it bad luck to harm dolphins.

  90. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Stu Clayton, John Cowan:

    Indeed the value of abstract knowledge can be hard to predict. What could be more abstract than a Hilbert space, with a countably infinite number of dimensions

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilbert_space

    – fundamental in the mathematics of quantum mechanics … atomic bombs …

  91. Well, although the formalism of quantum mechanics is pretty much based on Hilbert space, I doubt the atomic bomb’s makers had any important use of the concept (even if they certainly were aware of it). Calculating anything concerning nuclei of more than two or three nucleons from the first principles of quantum mechanics is nearly impossible without sophisticated numerical models and powerful computers. And not needed when the nuclear masses and fission energies can relatively easily be measured experimentally with better precision than any numerical model is capable producing even today. For atomic bomb you need mostly experimental particle physics to be able to measure and calculate cross sections and neutron flows, perhaps thermodynamics and special relativity, and lots of engineering.

  92. David Eddyshaw says:

    You can’t have a “sophisticated mathematical model” conjured out of thin air – it needs to be based on an understanding of the physics, which of necessity in this case will mean quantum mechanics. Hilbert spaces really are a pretty basic part of the mathematics involved. The solutions of the most basic equations are vectors in a Hilbert space

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_state

    There really isn’t any doubt that the Manhattan project guys treated them as intimate friends …

    “Powerful computers” were not much of a thing in 1945.

    Anyhow, nobody would have had the idea that an atomic bomb was even possible without quantum mechanics. No amount of atheoretical tinkering would have led to that conclusion.

  93. David Eddyshaw says:

    That came over as a good bit more snippy than I meant to, sorry. I’m sure you’re right that there was a good deal of duct tape involved in Los Alamos.

    But the fact remains that nobody would even have been trying without the quantum physics. So Hilbert spaces are still to blame …

  94. GeorgeW says:

    Okay, to add to the porpoise corpus, Arabic isخنزير البحر ‘pig of the sea.’

  95. @marie-lucie:
    Well, the scientific difference is that dolphins and porpoises are two different families within the “toothed whales” suborder. There are only about six species of porpoises and about forty of dolphins; the latter include some animals commonly named whales (pilot whales, killer whales). Morphologically, dolphins tend to have pointier beaks, conical teeth, curved dorsal fins, and echolocation clicks (sonar) that people can hear, versus shorter beaks, spade-shaped teeth, triangular dorsal fins, and ultrasonic sonar for porpoises.

    Porpoises are found in most oceans, but not the Mediterranean, I think; dolphins are found pretty much everywhere (including some rivers). The ancient Greek and Roman depictions generally seem to show common dolphins (which is nicely consistent with the Greek name).

    Of course, this is a relatively modern systematization; I’d imagine that the various original terms (including all the “sea pig” ones) were generically applied to whatever small, toothed cetaceans were found nearby, so that most “sea pigs” were really (what we now classify as) dolphins.

  96. David Marjanović says:

    The analogy I like to how Japanese writing works is this: “Imagine how it would be if we wrote σφυγμομανομετρον and pronounced it either ‘sphygmomanometer’ or ‘blood pressure meter’, depending on context.”

    The analogy I know is ♥ for both “heart” and “cardiac” (and presumably “cordial” as well).

    Schildkröte = sköldpadda

    Dutch schildpad.

    In German, Schildpatt was a material made from the horny layer of the shell of sea turtles, especially Caretta caretta.

    “deer” has acquired a much narrower meaning in English, from starting out like “Tier.”

    At the same time, though, I’ve read that German hunters use Tier in an even narrower sense: “adult female red deer”.

    Better name than “dinosaur”, certainly. “Terrible lizard” forsooth. Not much more impressive than “vicious hamster.”

    I’m told “terrible” is not a good translation; “imposing” works better, and I forgot what the best is.

    Japanese dinosaurs are 恐竜 kyouryuu “fear dragon.”

    Same in Chinese (Mandarin pronunciation kǒnglóng).

    Opossums actually evolved in South America at a time when it was still separate from North America, and came north during the Great American Interchange three million years ago. At the time, there were no placental (ordinary) mammals in South America

    That’s far from true; marsupials and placentals seem to have arrived at about the same time in South America – both are there at the beginning of the Cenozoic. The South American “ungulates”, now all extinct (but some so late that humans are likely to blame), were placentals, and so are the xenarthrans (armadillos, anteaters, sloths).

    That’s right, but adelphos itself is a-delph-os, “same-womb one”; the a- (PIE *sm, unlikely as that looks) is cognate with same.

    Huh. Syllabic m turning into a is expected, but why did the s disappear instead of becoming h?

    There are some 5000 known species of anurans

    6430 as of today. Check back every few weeks; the number keeps growing at an astonishing rate.

    589 of these 6430 are bufonids, 365 remain in Ranidae which has been split multiple times in the last 10 years.

    They are divided into 28 families

    55 according to the same source, though families are even more subjective than species.

    We cannot usefully carve the anurans into frogs on the one hand and toads on the other.

    Incidentally, having a third word doesn’t help. (German has Unke for the fire-bellied toads [the European Bombina and perhaps the East AsianBarbourula]; French has rainette for the treefrogs, the 945-as-of-today species of Hylidae.)

    For example, a group (suborder) of four closely related families comprise the tailed frogs, the fire-bellied toads, the painted frogs, and the New Zealand primitive frogs, for instance.

    “Archaeobatrachia” hasn’t been recognized in years, because it’s paraphyletic: the tailed frogs (Ascaphus) and the New Zealand frogs (Leiopelma) together form the sister-group to all other anurans taken together, among which the fire-bellied toads and painted frogs (together with others: Discoglossoidea or Alytoidea or Bombinatoroidea or Costata) are the sister-group to the rest.

    The clawed toads (Xenopus and Silurana) are called Krallenfrösche in German; and within German, Pelobates has been called both Schaufelfußkröten and… Krötenfrösche. (Wikipedia applies the former name to Pelobates and the latter to Pelobatoidea, a larger group that includes the spadefoot toads of North America.)

  97. That’s far from true

    Yeah, it’s my day for misreading things: coons vs. possums to start with.

    why did the s disappear

    S mobile

    split multiple times

    No keeping up with you guys, is there.

    “Archaeobatrachia” hasn’t been recognized in years

    I should have realized it’s just the basal lineages.

  98. marie-lucie says:

    Peter Erwin: Thank you for the precisions about dolphins and porpoises. I meant that the Mediterranean ones must be dolphins (a Greek word), but I knew that there are dolphins elsewhere too. I think that both exist in the North Pacific (a region I know), where porpoises are also known locally as blackfish.

  99. Crown, John: Surely frogs are green and have flippers whereas toads are brown and have tiny toes. … frogs jump whereas toads hop

    Now those are useful criteria for the city-dweller. I will just add that TV documentaries also show tiny South American frogs in neon orange and blue jump-suits.

    David: Krötenfrösche

    ?? <* schlägt Hände über dem Kopf zusammen *>

  100. There are lizards that are indeed terrible (in the older sense of terrifying), notably the Komodo dragon. As for hamsters, they are omnivores with cannibalistic tendencies.

  101. In German, Schildpatt was a material made from the horny layer of the shell of sea turtles, especially Caretta caretta.

    Tortoiseshell. Structurally similar to alligator scutes.

  102. This “awaiting moderation” business is so annoying. Merely because my comment had more than one link.

    In German, Schildpatt was a material made from the horny layer of the shell of sea turtles, especially Caretta caretta.

    Tortoiseshell. Structurally similar to alligator scutes, see the WiPe on “scute”.

  103. marie-lucie says:

    JC: about adelphos‘ from *sm-delph-os: why did the s disappear? –
    “S mobile

    I could not open the link to S-mobile, but in my (limited) understanding of PIE structure this s is an apparently optional (or at least poorly understood) component of a root which may appear as CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) or sCVC with little semantic difference. I don’t think that the alleged prefix *sm- would qualify, since its two consonants are root-consonants in the full root which ended up as sem or sim in Latin, same in English, and others. The Greek equivalent, with *s > h, is the prefix hom(o)- ‘same’. Does anyone derive the a- prefix in adelphos, etc from an earlier *ha- from *hm-?

  104. Stu, German Schildpatt for tortoiseshell reminds me of Norwegian skilpadde for a tortoise or turtle (Norwegian “ski” is pronounced like German “schi”). But then tortoise in German is Schildkröte, “shield toad”, Kröte being toad, which is padde in Norwegian (shield would be skilt).

  105. @marie-lucie:
    It looks like I was a little too sweeping in my “no porpoises in the Mediterranean” claim — apparently there is a small population of harbor porpoises (Phoceona phocoena) in the Northern Aegean, a fact clearly established only in the last couple of decades. This is an outlier of the larger population in the Black Sea. (There are also common and bottlenose dolphins in the Black Sea, just to keep things confusing.) Since the Black Sea porpoises could only have gotten there from the Mediterranean, there must presumably once have been a larger Mediterranean population, connected to the North Atlantic and West African populations.

    Also, Aristotle described harbor porpoises — as φώκαινα, meaning something like “big seal” — and distinguished them from dolphins, so there’s a precedent for the modern scientific distinction. Interestingly, he mentioned harbor porpoises as specific to the Black Sea, which suggests they were rare in the Aegean even then.

    Since harbor porpoises are commonest in coastal waters, and even swim up rivers sometimes, I’m getting the impression that the various Western and Northern European “sea pig”/”pig fish” words we’ve been discussing often did refer to (Atlantic) harbor porpoises, as well as to dolphins.

  106. David Eddyshaw says:

    @John Cowan:

    Komodo lizards I grant you.

    Incidentally on looking up the creature to find out what they’re called in Japanese, I discovered that one (ateji) way of writing “tokage” “lizard” is 石竜子 stone+dragon+child. Perhaps I should show more respect to lizards. And possibly hamsters.

  107. I could not open the link to S-mobile

    Fixed. Also, for those who don’t know, the “mobile” there is three syllables: MO-bil-ee.

  108. marie-lucie says:

    LH, thanks for fixing the link. I see that my earlier comment is compatible with the description and examples in the article.

  109. marie-lucie says:

    And Peter Erwin, thanks for the tutorial in “dolphinology”!

  110. David Marjanović says:

    No keeping up with you guys, is there.

    Nope.

    Also, there are brown frogs – indeed, Rana is nowadays restricted to the brown frogs like the common frog. The green frogs are now Pelophylax.

    I don’t think that the alleged prefix *sm- would qualify, since its two consonants are root-consonants

    I guess it could work if the meaning was forgotten early enough and the initial consonant cluster *smd- was reinterpreted as containing an s mobile

  111. That pretty little beetle called ‘ladybug’ in English goes by a bevy of endearing names in other European languages. A search in the Hattery archives turned up a post from 2004. The link there had succumbed but the article it pointed to is yet with us: http://forward.com/articles/5541/the-adorable-moses-cow/

  112. David Eddyshaw, to what extent did actually QM formalism inspire the research of nuclear bomb? I don’t mean it as rhetorical question – although I am a former physicist, I haven’t been interested in details of history, so I don’t know. But I can easily imagine fission being discovered experimentally without any idea about Hilbert spaces (radioactive decay was known decades earlier, even before Bohr and Planck, and it is a related process after all). And once you know about fission, nuclear masses and special relativity, you know how much energy is stored in nuclei and the potential for building a massively destructive weapon becomes apparent. Perhaps there comes a moment when the Schrödinger equation is handy within the liquid drop model or something (although the equation itself also predates Hilbert space formalism), but from what I have heard, the most difficult problems with the contruction of the bomb were how to effectively separate isotopes and how to hold the exploding fissile material together as long as possible.

    Back to more linguistic matters, has anybody like me analysed “warthog” as war + thog? Native speakers would be immune against this mistake, but for a person absorbing English mainly through reading the chances might be quite high, as “war” is much more common than either “wart” or “hog”. Of course, I didn’t know what “thog” was, but “thug” is a thing, after all.

  113. For us North Americans, the paradigmatic frog is probably Lithobates catesbeianus, or Rana catesbeiana if you think Lithobates is a subgenus of Rana rather than its sister taxon. (Infinite are the arguments of mages). The American bullfrog has a variety of colors. However, cartoon frogs and such continue to be green.

  114. David Eddyshaw says:

    @prase:

    I have to respond with a resounding “don’t know.” However, the Wikipedia account suggests pretty strongly that your implication is correct

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_nuclear_weapons

    In particular, Szilárd’s concept of a chain reaction (he patented it! who knew?) seems to belong more to the world of duct tape than the world of Hilbert spaces.

    OK, you were right.

    Hilbert spaces are innocent.

  115. tetri_tolia says:

    I always knew the Georgian for dolphin as დელფინი delpini, but looking it up just now I learnt they can also be called ზღვის ღორები zghvis ghorebi… sea pigs! I’ll be jiggered.

    Ladybug is ჭიამაია chiamaia, of which the first part ჭია currently means worm but I’ll bet meant insect in older Georgian, and the second part I can’t link to anything recognizable. Maia is a popular girl’s name in Georgia but likely that has nothing to do with it.

  116. David Eddyshaw says:

    I suppose Riemannian geometry started out as pretty pure maths, until it got coopted for General Relativity. I’m having some difficulty thinking of striking everyday applications dependent on an understanding of General Relativity, though.

    The maths behind catastrophe theory is pretty abstract too, what with folding of manifolds in higher dimensional spaces, and I think it predated any practical consequences rather than having been developed in response to practical problems (like calculus.)

  117. David Eddyshaw says:

    @tetri_tolia:

    Ladybirds/ladybugs apparently are named for Mary (Our Lady) in English, with similar names in other European languages. Might the second bit of the Georgian name be connected?

    The Japanese name is テントウムシ/天道虫/tentoumushi which looks as if it should mean “way of heaven bug” or maybe “sun bug” – no idea why. Presumably a name of good omen, anyhow.

  118. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ah, Paul Ogden’s link has it all. Should read before I post …

    German “Sonnenkindchen” matches the “sun bug” meaning for the Japanese word, which the Japanese Wikipedia article for 天道 in the sense of “sun” states as fact. Googling just seems to turn up various Japanese people asking why the insect has the name it does, which seems only to elicit replies on the level of “it flies upwards, so showing the way to heaven.”

  119. The Georgian for Mary is Maria(m), per Wikipedia.

  120. marie-lucie says:

    The ladybug has two names (that I know) in French: la coccinelle, its official name (but widely known), and la bête à Bon Dieu, literally ‘the Good God’s beastie’. The word coccinelle sounds very cute in French.

  121. marie-lucie says:

    DavidM:
    m-l : I don’t think that the alleged prefix *sm- would qualify, since its two consonants are root-consonants
    DM: I guess it could work if the meaning was forgotten early enough and the initial consonant cluster *smd- was reinterpreted as containing an s mobile…

    Ingenious, but not very convincing, as you are probably aware since you are using “…”. If *smd- was interpreted as *(s)md-, it would mean that *md- was considered a root, hardly likely in a word where the stem (delph-) was still recognizable. Also, any word with a similar structure *sm-C… would have undergone the same reinterpretation.

  122. I find the Norwegian name for ladybird quite interesting and perhaps related by its metaphor to the Georgian: it’s marihøne – ‘Mari’ being a girl’s name and the same biblical figure Mary or ‘lady’… and then høne meaning ‘hen’.

  123. @ David Eddyshaw:
    I’m having some difficulty thinking of striking everyday applications dependent on an understanding of General Relativity, though.

    You actually need General Relativity for the calculations that make GPS work — you have to correctly account for the fact that the atomic clocks in the GPS satellites are running faster than ground-based clocks, because the gravitational field is weaker up at their altitude. (There’s also a smaller effect in the opposite direction due to Special Relativity: because the satellites are moving relative to receivers on the ground, their clocks appear to run slower. However, the GR effect is about 6 times the SR effect, given the actual orbits, so the net effect is still satellite clocks running faster.)

    As I understand it, this is handled by carefully resetting the satellite clocks prior to launch, so they run slightly slow, enough to compensate for the combined GR – SR effects. (Apparently what’s actually done is to redefine the second: normally, one second is a set number of atomic vibrations, but in the satellites the number is increased so that the satellite clock reports seconds at a slower effective rate, and ends up “ticking” more slowly.)

    http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~pogge/Ast162/Unit5/gps.html

  124. I love the fact that General Relativity is being discussed — not something I would have expected from this thread (or, indeed, at LH in general)!

  125. All knowledge is one, not because you can do physics by the standards of literary criticism or vice versa (so far so Aristotle), but because it forms a single system.

  126. John: does anybody know that all knowledge is one ? It seems one must assume that someone does (whether or not they do), since otherwise that would be something no one knows, and all knowledge would be only 0.999, or at least strictly less than one.

  127. David Eddyshaw says:

    @marie-lucie:

    “la bête à Bon Dieu” is maybe as good a match for the Japanese tentoumushi as “Sonnenkindchen”: 天道 can mean “the God of Heaven, God who supervises Heaven and Earth, Providence” as well as “sun”, although the Japanese dictionary which is usually most accurate in giving meanings in order of frequency rather than age actually gives “sun” first. So a Sun Bug or a God’s Bug. Or both.

    Once again it seems a bit eerie that similar names should turn up on opposite sides of the world. But I suppose there’s always been a lot more diffusion of ideas throughout the Old World than one tends to think.

    Or maybe ladybirds just do look just like the sun. I can’t see it, but then I didn’t think dolphins looked like pigs, either. What do I know?

  128. Or maybe ladybirds just do look just like the sun

    What does the sun look like ? Is there much to choose between a ladybird and this ?

  129. David Eddyshaw says:

    On diffusion of culture, I found a Kusaasi folk story when I lived in Ghana with pretty much the same plot as the Pardoner’s Tale from the Canterbury Tales. I gather the ultimate source is a Buddhist Jataka story; it will have got to the Kusaasi via the Arabs (along with the wisdom teeth) who will have got it via Syriac and Persian. It still gave me an odd feeling at the time.

    I’ve just discovered from the Wikipedia article on the Pardoner’s Tale that the existence of African versions of the tale seems to be old news, which is a bit disappointing ..

  130. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Stu: of course! how can I have been so blind?

  131. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Stu:

    Your proof that someone must know that all knowledge is one has uncanny echoes of St Anselm …

    I’ve always maintained that it is mathematically certain that we are all equally ignorant:

    1. There is (undoubtedly) an infinity of things that might be known.
    2. The most knowledgeable of us knows only a finite number of them
    3. Any infinite set which sheds a finite number of elements remains infinite (in fact has just the same cardinality as before)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradoxes_of_set_theory#Je_le_vois.2C_mais_je_ne_crois_pas

    4. So we are all equally ignorant

  132. “What,” it will be Question’d, “When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?” O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying, `Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.’ —William Blake, A Vision of the Last Judgment

  133. David Eddyshaw says:

    I imagine Blake would have been rather pleased at the idea of a Ladybird as a representation of both the Sun and Divine Providence. I can easily imagine one of his splendid crazy poems on the theme …

  134. David Eddyshaw: I used only quantifiers, not transfinite arithmetic. With the latter, I would reason as follows:

    1. There may be an infinity of knowable things.
    2. The most knowledgeable of us may know only a finite number of them.
    3. Therefore each of us may know only a strict subset of what is knowable.
    4. Or contrariwise.

  135. In any case, to assume that the most knowledgable of us may know only a finite number of things is a bit hasty. We might use axiom schemes to argue against this. Each of them generates an infinite number of statements which are, by stipulation, true and known. So on this view we know more than a finite number of things.

    One question is then whether stipulation is knowledge. Another is whether knowledge is stipulatory. A third question is: WTF ?

  136. Wittgenstein said “Tell me, why do people always say that it was natural for men to assume that the sun went around the earth rather than the earth was rotating?”

    His friend said “Well, obviously, because it just looks as if the sun is going around the earth.”

    To which Wittgenstein replied, “Well, what would it look like if it had looked as if the earth were rotating?”

  137. Stu,

    I believe that logicians distinguish between truth and provability.

  138. empty: yes, but merely inasmuch as provable statements are a subset of the true ones, and sometimes a proper subset. I was talking about statements proved from (consistent) axiom schemes, i.e. true statements. Consistency, now there’s a fourth question.

  139. marie-lucie says:

    Wiitgenstein: “Tell me, why do people always say that it was natural for men to assume that the sun went around the earth rather than the earth was rotating? … what would it look like if it had looked as if the earth were rotating?”

    “Looks” is only part of the problem. We, living on the earth, our point of reference, so much bigger than we are, cannot perceive the rotation of the earth, any more than its shape and extent, with any of our senses. We would have to be on another planet, or somewhere in space, to see the motion of the earth. We can only see the apparent motion of other heavenly bodies, so it is “natural” for us to conclude that they are moving while the earth remains motionless. It took other kinds of observation to conclude that the earth was round and did in fact rotate.

    Did Wittgenstein answer his second question?

  140. David Marjanović says:

    German “Sonnenkindchen”

    I’ve never encountered that word before. I only knew Marienkäfer, where Käfer means “beetle”.

  141. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Stu:

    Axiom schemes will only disprove my thesis if the infinity of knowable things is countable …

    “A third question is: WTF ?”

    This point, however, is irrefututable.

  142. That’s a nice French connection: “irrefoututable”.

  143. In fact, both a fixed-earth theory and a rotating-earth theory are consistent with observation; we adopt the rotating-earth theory because mathematically it is much simpler. Similarly, both the Newtonian and Tychonic theories of the solar system are consistent with observation (at least of the solar system itself); in the latter, the Sun and Moon orbit the motionless Earth, and the other planets orbit the Sun. A theory in which the planets orbit the Earth is not consistent with observation, though it takes a telescope to make the relevant observations (namely, that Venus has phases like the moon).

    Alleged proof of a stationary earth which fails because the author does not understand Galilean relativity, though it is familiar enough to anyone who has ever walked through a train corridor.

  144. Stefan Holm says:

    If we today only had Einstein’s special theory of relativity to rely on, nobody could object to the statement that Earth is a fixed point and the rest of the universe is moving relatively to it. His common theory of relativity however, taking into account gravity or – if you prefer – the curvature of four-dimensional room-space, makes this standpoint untenable.

    Ladybird by the way is in Swedish nyckelpiga, literally ‘key maid’. She was the one among the female servants who was entrusted to keep the keys to the house. Oldest attested name is however Jungfru Marie nyckelpiga, ‘The maiden Mary’s key maid’. We have obviously all around the globe been poetically inspired by this dotted bug.

  145. David Marjanović says:

    common theory of relativity

    “General”, not “common” in English.

    In fact, both a fixed-earth theory and a rotating-earth theory are consistent with observation; we adopt the rotating-earth theory because mathematically it is much simpler.

    Nope. While steady movement is relative, acceleration is not, and any change of the velocity vector counts as acceleration (in some direction).

    Besides, if the Earth were fixed, anything farther away than… I think it was Neptune would be faster than light.

  146. Stefan Holm says:

    Sorry – ‘common’ should of course be ‘general’ theory of relativity. This error is exactly what you could expect from a silly Swede since our word ‘allmän’ means both common and general. I may though add that the creator of this marvelous theory in his own native language used the word ‘allgemein’ and not ‘generell’.

  147. Stefan Holm says:

    David: You surely know that in the Allgemeine Relativitätstheorie ‘acceleration’ and ‘gravity’ are indistinguishable or – spinozean spoken – two aspects of the same phenomenon. Neither of these aspects are dealt with in the Spezielle Relativitätstheorie. Sorry for not emphasizing acceleration in my comment.

  148. Did Wittgenstein answer his second question?

    I think it was rhetorical, m-l. He was saying that it wasn’t necessary for any view of the earth to look any other way than it does.

  149. It is often stated that an observer on Earth cannot even unambiguously determine whether the Earth is rotating. Then the readily observable fictitious forces (such as the Coriolis force that affects large-scale weather patterns) would be replaced by tidal forces caused by the universe rotating around the Earth. This (and other claims that we cannot really known whether something is accelerating) appears to be based on an extrapolation of Mach’s principle. It’s not exactly wrong; you can write down a description of the universe that has a stationary Earth and the universe accelerating around it. However, it has the Earth placed unnaturally at the center of everything. It also has very strange boundary conditions at spatial infinity. These make it unnatural, and the fact that there is no observable differences from what would be seen in the simpler case of an accelerating Earth suggests that this model be ruled out on positivist grounds.

    Also, the special theory of relativity is perfectly capable of handling any kind of accelerations. It just tends to be awkward, because the kinds of acceleration that are straightforwards to treat in special relativity are so frequently associated with gravity. However, electromagnetic forces (classical or quantum) and the corresponding accelerations are routinely treated using special relativity methods.

  150. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: Wittgenstein’s second question: of course it must have been rhetorical, that’s the point. LIke a Zen koan: paradoxical, with no logical single answer.

  151. David Eddyshaw says:

    Wittgenstein’s question is certainly rhetorical, but plainly does expect a single answer: “Exactly the same.” I think the question is pursuing the same line of thought as his famous duck/rabbit. It’s of a piece with one of his central lines of attack, asking what we are talking about when we say we see something “as” something.

    I don’t think Wittgenstein really does paradox, at least not on purpose. His whole effort was to try to weed out imaginary paradoxes and confusions supposedly inhering in our philosophy, often by trying to show that the problem was really a sort of side-effect of using language in a way too far detached from any properly rooted usage: stretching our metaphors too far, as it were. He’d have regarded himself as a deparadoxifier. I think.

  152. David Eddyshaw says:

    Thinking about the analogy with Koans …

    I’m handicapped by knowing even less about Zen than I do about Wittgenstein, but if ignorance were a reason for not posting, what would become of the Internet?

    Maybe there is a common purpose, in a way, between Wittgenstein and Zen Koans.

    Advertising execs and people of that sort talk glibly about “thinking outside the box,” but Wittgenstein was actually trying to do it. He thought that our language and our conceptual universe incorporate false analogies and other traps to thinking which conjure up whole realms of philosophical difficulties which are fundamentally illusory. But to discuss these issues at all, much less resolve them, you have to use the very instruments, our language, our concepts, which are the source of the mischief. This effort to transcend language by using language is enormously difficult, which is what gives reading his writings that peculiar combination of excitement and frustration. He’s like a fish trying to see the water and explain it to the other fish.

    Now (I imagine) Zen Koans are also trying to free the student from his preconceptions, which may be so powerful that the only reasonable way to help the poor fellow when he asks about enlightenment is to break his arm.

  153. Your search – “the zen of Wittgenstein ” – did not match any book results.

    You’ve got an opportunity begging to be taken advantage of.

  154. David Eddyshaw says:

    Indeed – though I’m surprised nobody has got there before me.
    I would think the work would sell well to advertising executives …

    For my next work: “The Bushido of Jane Austen.”

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