Language in a Time of Climate Change.

Rob Nixon’s Aeon piece has an obvious premise — glaciers are moving faster, so we shouldn’t use them as a symbol of slowness — and runs it into the ground, but I can’t resist posting it because of the first paragraph:

Language bends and buckles under pressure of climate change. Take the adjective ‘glacial.’ I recently came across an old draft of my PhD dissertation on which my advisor had scrawled the rebuke: ‘You’re proceeding at a glacial pace. You’re skating on thin ice.’ That was in 1988, the year that the climatologist James Hansen testified before the United States Senate that runaway greenhouse gases posed a planetary threat.

Just a decade earlier, my own advisor was reproaching me on similar grounds, though he never used that metaphor as far as I recall. At any rate, people are going to go on using the phrase “glacial pace” in its old sense; glaciers still move pretty darn slowly, and more importantly, language doesn’t work that way: metaphors don’t keep up with the news. (Thanks, jack!)

Comments

  1. J.W. Brewer says:

    I’m not thinking of a great example off the top of my head, but many languages have already experienced “climate change” because of the migration of their speakers and/or adding new speakers outside their original geographical/climactic range by language shift. English, for example, no doubt had as of a few centuries ago all sorts of metaphors and idiomatic fixed phrases that presupposed the usual range of weather and usual range of the seasons in … (wait for it) … England. What has happened to those bits of language as English has come to be spoken in parts of the world where the weather and/or seasons are radically different. How are phrases like “when hell freezes over” understood by tropical Anglophones who have never seen a pond or river frozen over? (The improbability metaphor works because freezing over is an unremarkable and potentially annual condition for lots of things, with the exception of things that are stereotypically extremely hot.)

    What would have happened if French colonialists had retained post-1790’s the revolutionary calendar with its month names (Brumaire, Thermidor, etc etc) that referred to either the weather or some relevant agricultural development at the specified time of year at the latitude of Paris? Would those same month names still be used in Tahiti or French Guiana as purely arbitrary conventions not conforming to the local climate?

  2. I’m sure they would; why wouldn’t they? Do we think of the etymological implications of our month names?

  3. January First-of-May says:

    What would have happened if French colonialists had retained post-1790’s the revolutionary calendar with its month names (Brumaire, Thermidor, etc etc) that referred to either the weather or some relevant agricultural development at the specified time of year at the latitude of Paris? Would those same month names still be used in Tahiti or French Guiana as purely arbitrary conventions not conforming to the local climate?

    Supposedly, a few of the month names of the Islamic lunar calendar refer to specific seasons of the original (lunisolar) calendar.
    Those months had not corresponded to the relevant seasons for most of the last fourteen or so centuries. But the names are still used to this day.

    I wonder if there is a significant non-Russian Slavic (e.g. Ukrainian, Belarussian, Croatian…) expat community anywhere on another continent (preferably outside of Canada, which has a relatively similar climate to Eastern Europe)… their use (or non-use) of historical Slavic month names would probably be the closest to your theoretical question.

    and more importantly, language doesn’t work that way: metaphors don’t keep up with the news.

    I wouldn’t be very surprised if there are people who say “putting the cart before the horse” but aren’t actually quite sure what carts are, or where do horses go in them.

    Every so often, a metaphor ends up so far behind the news that it ends up reinterpreted – not necessarily in a meaningful way.

  4. People who speak of “taking a different tack” or “putting the cart before the horse” often have never seen a sailboat, or a horse cart, or even a horse. Not many English-speakers of any era have ever seen a glacier.

  5. Excellent examples all.

  6. Trond Engen says:

    Those months had not corresponded to the relevant seasons for most of the last fourteen or so centuries.

    I’ve wondered if there’s ever been a significant movement of Islamic scholars or scientists claiming that the prophet was misunderstood by his successors and advocating that the Islamic calendar should be (re-)aligned with the solar year, but with a leap day instead of the leap month of the Pre-Islamic era.

  7. Bathrobe says:

    Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote

    You have to imagine yourself transported to merry England to appreciate this line.

    Incidentally, what is April like in St Louis? Is that what prompted Eliot to write this?

    April is the cruellest month, breeding
    Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
    Memory and desire, stirring
    Dull roots with spring rain.

    Any Hatters in Missouri?

  8. Bathrobe says:

    Incidentally, at the article Nixon writes:

    An inert metaphor such as ‘hotbed of radicalism’ conveys very little: we can no longer feel the blazing temperature between the bed sheets

    He really ought to have done a little research:

    Hotbed: noun. 1620s, from hot + bed (n.); originally “bed of earth heated by fermenting manure for forcing growing plants;” generalized sense of “place that fosters rapid growth” is from 1768.

    I guess we can chalk it up to journalistic licence — or was it Orwell’s mistake?

    And he’s a bit too confident in declaring:

    When scientists refer to ‘calving glaciers’, we do not typically visualise a Wisconsin dairy herd: as the phrase became routine, the calves have vanished from view.

    Well, I do. Perhaps not Wisconsin cows, but a process where something breaks off from the mother, like a cow giving birth to a calf. Is it because I grew up on a farm?

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    The ancient Egyptians used a solar year of 365 days, with no leap years. Accordingly, the first day of the first month of Inundation (of the Nile) steadily moved out of synch. The entire cycle took 1461 years to come back into alignment. The last time it was right before the abandonment of the system was in 139 AD.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sothic_cycle

  10. Are glaciers moving faster, though? They are receding and at a heightened pace, but that’s a different thing. On a hot day, water evaporates faster, but drops with more or less the same speed. Wiki informs us that on average glaciers move 1 meter a day, faster than grass grows, and about as fast as paint dries. Of course, glaciers are extremely large and they move slow in comparison to their size; and as the size shrinks…

  11. Christian Weisgerber says:

    English still bears the imprint of the British Empire or, more generally, a Eurocentric perspective. I vaguely remember an American remarking how objectively strange it is that “Western countries” are to his east while the “Far East” is to his west. And North Americans still appear to associate the “Antipodes” with Australia & New Zealand.

  12. In Australian English, terms like Middle East and The West are treated as absolute rather than relative. By this I mean, Middle East refers to the Arab world and Israel, and not to some region that is actually eastwards of Australia. Similarly, the “Roman” month names are used, but with this difference: dec-feb are associated with summer, and june-aug are the cold months.

    Regarding expat Croatians in Australia, in my experience they usually use the English month names in conversation. When Croatian names are used, they are used with no change, ie. In their absolute sense.

  13. SFReader says:

    Antipodal point for Massachusetts or New York is in Indian Ocean about 1000 miles from Western Australia.

    So they are actually right.

    For California though the antipodal point is somewhere close to Mauritius.

  14. Bathrobe says:

    Regarding expat Croatians in Australia, in my experience they usually use the English month names in conversation. When Croatian names are used, they are used with no change, ie. In their absolute sense.

    You mean the Croatians use the Croation word for “December” to refer to June? (I would call that relative rather than absolute, so I’m not sure what you mean.)

  15. SFReader says:

    November is Studeni (literally “the freezing cold month”) in Croatian.

    Sounds really absurd in Australian November.

  16. Bathrobe says: You mean the Croatians use the Croation word for “December” to refer to June?

    Sorry – let me explain: By absolute, I mean December is December – “prosinac”, so it’s not related to the actual local climatic or natural conditions. Similarly, “listopad”, literally “leaf-fall”, is used by Croatian Australian for October and “studeni” (“very cold” month) is November. So, there is no difference from standard Croatian usage. As an aside, there is no obvious leaf falling season in Australia, because hardly any native trees are deciduous. My own view is that the European 4 season system does not really work that well everywhere in Australia. In the Perth region, for example, the native Nyungar people used a 6 season system which correlates much better to the local climate.

    It’s interesting that in Croatia itself, the Slavic month names appear to be in a relative position (ie. related to the local natural conditions). By this I mean, they are shifted forward by one month when compared to other Slavic languages, so that “listopad” is one month earlier when compared to the more northern Slavic languages. It would appear that this is the case because spring starts earlier in Croatia than in the Slavic homeland, with the consequence that the month names were shifted forward by one month.

    On a different note, I’ve often seen misspellings “Croation” and “Dalmation”. I wonder why that is, because you don’t see misspellings like “Laotion”, “Egyption”, “Italion” or “Tunision”. And to clarify, I’m not picking on you for the misspelling; I’m just wondering why it occurs. In my mind, “-ion” is a noun, while “-ian” is characteristic of adjectives; is this something that may be disappearing as a feature of English?

  17. SFReader says:

    “Brazillion” made a good George Bush joke.

  18. Maybe because of the similarity to “creation” and “damnation”?

  19. There’s also the Bagration dynasty of Georgia, and the Sambation River of Jewish legend, which maybe connects back to Greek b~mb in another current thread here.

  20. Bathrobe says:

    Ok, understand. So the Croatian names (where used) are used exactly the same as the English ones, i.e., according to the calendar, and not according to the literal seasonal sense.

    Yes, I mistyped. Twice, as it happens, but I fixed the first one. It happens a lot with familiar sequences where I type without thinking but I’m not sure why “Croatian” got this treatment where “Laotian” might not — although I just mistyped Laotian. It could be the “ation” sequence.

  21. January First-of-May says:

    Antipodal point for Massachusetts or New York is in Indian Ocean about 1000 miles from Western Australia.

    So they are actually right.

    It so happens that mainland Australia is not actually antipodal to any land; its antipodal area is entirely within an island-less part of the Atlantic Ocean.
    IIRC, a small island near Bermuda is antipodal to an island just off the coast of Australia, but even that might still be a few miles away.

    I wonder how China had achieved a reputation for being antipodal, as in “digging a hole to China”; eastern China is, of course, antipodal to parts of South America, but this is probably not what is usually intended.

    It could be the “ation” sequence

    It probably is – so many words end in “ation” that words ending in something subtly different can easily be accidentally changed to that.

  22. AJP Crown says:

    I wouldn’t be very surprised if there are people who say “putting the cart before the horse” but aren’t actually quite sure what carts are, or where do horses go in them.

    Oh, I don’t agree.

  23. AJP Crown says:

    Australia is not actually antipodal to any land

    Melbourne & Canberra are under 400 miles from being antipodes of somewhere in the Azores (Portuguese).

    This is a good time to mention my idea of a globe with its polar pivots horizontal and the names printed running N-S. You’d view the globe (mostly) from east of Greenwich. It’s win-win: northerners get to see all the land from a different angle and southerners, additionally, don’t have their homes disappearing underneath.

  24. I was confused when I first came across a reference to a “dog’s breakfast.” It didn’t seem to be referring to a metal bowl filled with identical brown pellets. Dog expressions generally seem to refer to creatures completely unlike those I have known: dog’s life, sick as a dog, dog tired.

    Twentieth century metaphors can lose their way. My teenage son recently complained that his teacher sounded like a broken record. He used the expression correctly, but had no idea that it referred to a specific kind of corrupted sound file.

  25. Twentieth century metaphors can lose their way.

    All metaphors lose their way. Language is basically a graveyard of metaphors.

  26. SFReader says:

    I wonder how many young people understand what “dial” actually meant.

  27. January First-of-May says:

    Melbourne & Canberra are under 400 miles from being antipodes of somewhere in the Azores (Portuguese).

    Yes, and Perth is even closer to being an antipode of Bermuda (and IIRC there are several other similar close calls), but no land is exactly antipodal to any part of mainland Australia.

  28. I’m not even sure what sense “under 400 miles from being antipodes” makes. If you said to a genie “set me down on the other side of the earth” and you found yourself in the middle of the ocean, you probably wouldn’t find it much consolation to be told “Australia is less than 400 miles away!”

  29. Rodger C says:

    @Bathrobe: Not Missouri but Indiana. I knew a student from California who, on experiencing her first Midwestern April (1972–80F one day, spitting snow the next), said, “Oh, I finally understand ‘April is the cruelest month!'”

  30. January First-of-May says:

    If you said to a genie “set me down on the other side of the earth” and you found yourself in the middle of the ocean, you probably wouldn’t find it much consolation to be told “Australia is less than 400 miles away!”

    It will actually be around 100 miles (and 50 to Flinders Island), assuming you’re starting from Flores, but that’s not helping much.

    Starting from Bermuda you’d end up about 20 miles out to sea from the southern suburbs of Perth, and might be able to see hills on the eastern horizon. (The genie would probably point them out.)

  31. David L says:

    I wonder how many young people understand what “dial” actually meant.

    Kids today — they have no idea of the physical effort it took to dial a telephone number! And the waiting — my God — when you had to call someone whose number had a lot of 8s and 9s in it, and turn the dial all the way around, and then wait for it to come back before you could even start on the next number!

    Young people can’t possibly the understand the hardships of life in the distant past.

  32. SFReader says:

    I wonder what’s the most outdated technology used by you guys.

    I sent and received telegrams, mailed with pneumatic post, started car by hand crank, typed on mechanic typewriter, lighted kerosene lamp and rode on a train with steam locomotive.

    Who can boast something more exotic?

  33. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    One of the curious things is that despite Australia’s great size it doesn’t have any antipodes on land.

    (I typed this before seeing that the point had already been made.)

  34. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Our telephone number has a 0, a 9, two 8s and two 7s in it. It would take half the day to dial it in the stone-age way.

  35. I wonder what’s the most outdated technology used by you guys.

    I sent and received telegrams, mailed with pneumatic post, started car by hand crank, typed on mechanic typewriter, lighted kerosene lamp and rode on a train with steam locomotive.

    Who can boast something more exotic?

    You’ve got me beat; I’ve sent and received telegrams and typed on manual typewriters, but the rest is beyond my personal ken. (I’ve been in a room where someone played an Edison cylinder, but that doesn’t count.)

  36. @Bathrobe: Despite now being situated in South Carolina,* I lived the first two thirds of my life at various locations in America, all north of Fort Mandan. And I never understood “April is the cruelest month.” The characterization of the March (“comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb”) seemed more reasonable as the month with the most mercurial (not a metaphorical usage, in this case) weather.

    Of course, Old Possum wrote very useful annotations of his own poetry, so it is probably possible to see what Elliot himself had to say about the matter. (My personal memories of Elliot’s self-annotated verse are dominated by one night when I had to check my father into the small hospital in Estes Park, Colorado. We—me, my brother, and Dad—were there for a mountain-climbing vacation, and on the first night we were there, my father was hit with his first kidney stone. He insisted on driving himself to the hospital, but after he was shot up with morphine, I—at age 19—had to take care of all the paperwork. The most amusing part of the whole process was when I had to collect my father’s medical history. Most of it I knew, but there were about a half dozen questions that I had to ask him about. For every single question, I would ask him, and he would start to answer, before falling asleep. The first time this happened, I spent a fair amount of time waiting for him to finish. But after that, I would wake him up and repeat the question, which he would then finish answering. After all this was finished, my brother and I spent most of the night waiting to hear from the doctors, and since my brother had brought along a self-annotated edition of Elliot’s poetry, we both read it all the way through while we waited. His comments on his own work were remarkably objective and thoughtful, we both agreed.)

    @David L: I had never thought about the time required to dial rotary phone numbers until I read that, when area codes were first assigned, the largest cities in America got the fastest-dialing codes: 212 for New York, 312 for Chicago, and 213 for Los Angeles.

    There was still a rotary phone on the wall of one of the labs I worked in as an undergraduate, which looked very silly in 1998. I also remember seeing a rotary phone hanging on the wall of the Captain’s trophy hall in the Doctor Who story “The Pirate Planet.” In that case, there was nothing wrong with a phone being rotary; it was just the presence of a wall telephone from around 1980 in what was supposed to be a futuristic environment. They filmed other parts of that serial in a nuclear power plant, representing the engine room of the titular pirate planet, which looked fairly reasonable. (What I learned from the DVD commentary was that the explosion that features in the story’s climax was deemed too dangerous to film in the BBC studios, so they filmed it at the nuclear power station instead!)

    * Three members of my high school graduating class, from Salem, Oregon, have gone on to become professors at research universities. Oddly enough, my two friends and I all ended up at institutions in the Deep South. (I admit to a certain professional chauvinism in not counting the several other people who teach at the college level but are not in research positions.)

  37. Trond Engen says:

    I helped my grandfather start the tractor by winding the handcrank when I was about six. I’ve written on a mechanical typewriter myself. I still maintain and light kerosene lamps. I’ve also traveled by steam train, but that was a museum line, so it doesn’t count.

  38. The quick-dialing phone prefixes weren’t merely a matter of size, they were a matter of political power. New York got the shortest one because it could.

    P.S. I occasionally use a crank Victrola (among other sound players). There are good 78s out there. I have used a portable sundial to tell the time, but I find it too modern anymore.

  39. Lars (the original one) says:

    The fact that you could dig a hole straight down (from Copenhagen) and come out in China were a part of children’s background knowledge when I was little, and I just asked my mother (born 1935) who was told that too. Hans Christian Andersen has a similar story in his autobiography:

    Jeg havde hørt af en gammel Kone, som skyllede Tøj i Aaen, at Keiserriget China laae lige her under Odense Aa, og nu ansaae jeg det for slet ikke umuligt, at en maaneklar Aften, som jeg der sad, kunde en chinesisk Prinds grave sig igjennem Jorden op til os, høre mig synge og saa tage mig ned til sit Kongerige, og gjøre mig rig og fornem, men saa igjen lade mig faae Lov til at besøge Odense, hvor jeg vilde boe og bygge et Slot.

    I had heard from an old woman who was rinsing clothes in the river that the Chinese Empire was right here under Odense Å, and now I did not at all think it impossible that some moonlit evening as I sat there, a Chinese prince would dig through the ground up to us, hear me sing and then take me down to his kingdom and make me rich and famous, but then again give me permission to visit Odense where I would live and build a palace.

    This will have been in the 1810’s.

    China was the most exotic place you could imagine so it would make sense if it was the place on earth that was farthest away — but my mother tells me that when very young she (just like for Andersen) thought that China was actually very close, just under the paving stones maybe; antipodal points did not figure into the idea yet. When I was the same age we knew about the earth being round, though maybe not how big and how hot inside it is, and my guess is that the factoid of being antipodal to China was born from the older stories.

  40. Another obsolete metaphor among thousands (from LL): to rule out. I’ve crossed out sentences many times, but never ruled them out.

  41. when you had to call someone whose number had a lot of 8s and 9s in it, and turn the dial all the way around, and then wait for it to come back before you could even start on the next number

    Never had a patience for that. Dragged the stupid dial back by the hole as fast as I could. At least half of people around me did the same thing for digits large and small.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    We had a rotary phone until we moved in 1993. Years later, I taught myself to type on a typewriter, with my mom’s textbook which she still had. I skipped at least half ot the exercises, though, and got the necessary practice on computers later.

    A few times a year in most years, I light a tiled oven that is necessary to make the room it’s in inhabitable.

  43. Oh well, if we’re talking about heating technology, I spend winter days feeding logs into the wood stove that keeps our house warm.

  44. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve cut wood for that stove… but with an electric circular saw.

  45. David L says:

    Never had a patience for that. Dragged the stupid dial back by the hole as fast as I could.

    The problem there is you might exceed the acceptable bit rate that those old electromechanical systems could handle and cause the system to fail. Then you had to reboot, which involved clanking the headset onto the rest repeatedly and swearing violently.

  46. AJP Crown says:

    If you said to a genie “set me down on the other side of the earth” and you found yourself in the middle of the ocean, you probably wouldn’t find it much consolation to be told “Australia is less than 400 miles away!”

    If, instead, you knew a genie with half a brain, they’d sail you from this island in the Azores to a certain point 350 miles away and THEN drop you down the hole. You’d end up in Canberra or, with any luck, Melbourne. And if it weren’t necessary to land in a city, you could skip the sailing leave from the Azores and end up in the outback. Probably save some money.

    Plus why is everyone so compulsive about going EXACTLY thought the centre of the earth? It’s really hot in there.

  47. Bathrobe says:

    At one place we lived when I was a kid we used to ‘boil the copper’ late every afternoon to have hot water for bathing in the evening. The copper being a very large metal basin over a fire. I’m sure Hatters are old enough to have such experiences.

    Then there was the outside dunny, which had to be emptied from time to time. I seem to remember newspaper used as toilet paper.

  48. AJP Crown says:

    You can’t split logs with an electric circular saw. You’d go mad.

    when you had to call someone whose number had a lot of 8s and 9s in it, and turn the dial all the way around, and then wait for it to come back before you could even start on the next number

    The big question in Britain was why 999 for the police, the ambulance & the fire brigade? Why not 111? It was never answered as far as I know (the question, not the phone).

  49. anhweol says:

    The explanation I’ve seen for 999 rather than 111 was that 111 was too easy to be generated by accident – wires brushing together, small children playing with phones, etc. Some more technical suggestions at https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-20071,00.html

  50. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    A series of 9s is possibly the easiest thing to dial without looking – just get the dial round as far as it will go.

  51. John Cowan says:

    Actually 99 used to work fine, and maybe still does. The extra 9 was in case you were inside a PBX (private business exchange) and needed to dial 9 to get an outside line.

    By international agreement, 112 is a universal emergency number on all GSM phones, even in 911-land.

  52. My grandmother used to talk about “hanging” the dinner, when she was placing the saucepan on the cooker. This phrase goes back to the days when you’d have to hang a pot over an open fireplace.

    In Croatian, i still use the phrase “pulling the water” to describe flushing the toilet. This goes back to the times when you’d have to pull a chain to release the water from the tank to flush the toilet.

    And does anyone remember the drudgery of getting off your seat, walking up to the (black & white) tv set and changing the volume or tv stations BY HAND?

  53. The quick-dialing phone prefixes weren’t merely a matter of size, they were a matter of political power. New York got the shortest one because it could.

    Why didn’t Congress exercise political power to get an area code faster than 202 for Washington, DC?

  54. SFReader says:

    Depressing thought: some of you might have traveled on supersonic passenger jet.

    21st century slowpokes don’t make them anymore.

  55. I’m not as old as many here, but I did use a slide rule in high school chemistry, and I recall watching commercials for cigarettes on a black and white tv.

    A doubly lost metaphor: Broadcasting, once a farmers’ method of distributing seeds on a field, then the activity of a radio or tv station sending its signals through the atmosphere equally in all directions, for anyone to perceive. Now one can broadcast to one’s facebook friends.

  56. SFReader says:

    Speaking of outdated French technology – did anyone use Minitel?

  57. John Cowan says:

    I believe the U.S. area code assignment was technical rather than political: New York, Chicago, and L.A. received far more long-distance phone calls than Washington did back in the 1940s. Note that area codes were assigned before long-distance subscriber-dialed calls were even possible: a subscriber would call the operator, who would then dial the 10-digit number on the subscriber’s behalf. It took until the early Sixties for most cities and large towns to have direct distance dialing.

  58. SFReader says:

    facebook friends

    Perhaps in not so far future, “friend” would mean exactly that.

    And some other word would have to be found for the traditional meaning of “friend”

  59. John Cowan says:

    It so happens that mainland Australia is not actually antipodal to any land

    Indeed. What is more, the contiguous 48 states of the U.S. are likewise not antipodal to any land except for the northern part of Kerguelen Island and a few rocks. Thus Quine in Quiddities, s.v. “Longitude and Latitude”:

    Imaginations have been fired by duller facts than these. One imagines a great cylindrical core of the earth, one end of it submerged under the North Atlantic and the other end protruding to form Australia — as if the core had got nudged downunderward. One imagines a similar core with one end under the Indian Ocean and the other protruding to form our fair land and environs, as if it had got nudged upoverward.

    And the South Pole, come to think of it, is on a high continent, whereas the North Pole is in a broad sea. Here we have a case for a third core, nudged southward. The three cores intersect at the center of the earth, and here one’s imagination boggles and grinds to a halt. The monument at Chambéry, with its four life-size elephants impossibly intersecting in a four-square triumphal arch, presents a discouraging model. One savors the facts and lets the theory go.

  60. John Cowan says:

    And some other word would have to be found for the traditional meaning of “friend”.

    Camarado in Poul Anderson’s short story “A Tragedy of Errors” (surf here and search locally for the title). Friend, however, is a recently reintroduced term meaning ‘pirate’.

    My keyboard devices began with a mechanical typewriter, then an electric one, then a Model ASR33 teletype with paper tape reader and punch, then a DECwriter LA36 (all printing devices), then VT50, a VT52, and a VT100 terminal in turn. Rotary phones of course, kerosene lamps, black and white TVs without remote controls. Now I’m considered a technopeasant because my cell is a dumbphone that flips — but people are rather more impressed when I hurl it down on the floor full force and nothing happens to it.

  61. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    The fact that you could dig a hole straight down (from Copenhagen) and come out in China were a part of children’s background knowledge when I was little,

    The fact? I know China is big, but it’s not that big. My wife was born in Santiago, Chile, quite a long way from Copenhagen, but almost exactly antipodal to Xian.

  62. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Speaking of outdated French technology – did anyone use Minitel?

    At the time, everyone did. We, or at least, my wife, continued to use it into the 21st century, but most people had moved on by then. Indeed, our Minitel was a gift from someone who was going to throw it away.

  63. Father Jape says:

    “In Croatian, i still use the phrase “pulling the water” to describe flushing the toilet. This goes back to the times when you’d have to pull a chain to release the water from the tank to flush the toilet.”

    I think that this is still true for most tanks in the Balkans.

    Anyway, in my family home, there’s still a perfectly functioning black bakelite rotary phone, which my mom occasionally uses.

  64. SFReader says:

    Russian conscript soldier tries to use old phone at the army base.

    https://youtu.be/ss8uJS81dqE

  65. David Marjanović says:

    I seem to remember newspaper used as toilet paper.

    My dad once visited the university of Kiev in the 1960s. The toilet paper was Українська Правда.

    You can’t split logs with an electric circular saw. You’d go mad.

    We bought them split; I just cut the pieces, a bit over a meter long, in half so they’d fit into the ovens (one tiled and in the living room, the other not tiled and in the cellar).

    “pulling the water”

    I still say herunterziehen, “pull down towards me”.

    And does anyone remember the drudgery of getting off your seat, walking up to the (black & white) tv set and changing the volume or tv stations BY HAND?

    Yes, except it was in colour. My parents could have bought a remote extra back in 1980 or so, and quite understandably decided not to.

    I also remember Marlboro Man and “the taste of freedom & adventure”, but I’m not sure if that was on TV or only on billboards.

  66. SFReader says:

    I watched Marlboro Man ad on West German TV in 1989. Didn’t realize it was something historic until now.

  67. When we returned to the US from Japan in the sixties, my family sat down to watch TV in the hotel room — it was the first color TV I’d seen, and I still remember the shock of seeing the NBC peacock in actual color.

  68. Bathrobe says:

    “pull the water”

    Well, in English we used to say “pull the chain”. Not sure if it’s still current.

  69. My wife was born in Santiago, Chile, quite a long way from Copenhagen, but almost exactly antipodal to Xian.

    In The Invention of Science, David Wootton notes out that the European discovery of South America killed off the popular late medieval “two spheres” model of the world, precisely because parts of South America were antipodal to parts of East Asia. (This, in turn, may have helped turn the phrase “the high seas” into an obsolete metaphor.)

    The assumption, based on Aristotelian physics, was that the sphere of earth was smaller than the sphere of water (which in turn was smaller than the sphere of air, and so on out to the celestial sphere). But if the sphere of earth were perfectly concentric within the sphere of water, there shouldn’t be any land above the water. So people argued that the sphere of earth was displaced away from the center of the sphere of water, allowing land (Eurasia + Africa) to stick up out of the water on one side. (Wootton suggests this is the origin of the phrase “the high seas” — if you headed out into the Atlantic, you were effectively traveling uphill.)

    But in this model, you can’t possibly have antipodal lands. (The realization that the Caribbean and Central/North America were real and not part of Asia obviously made the two-sphere theory pretty untenable, but the mapping of South America introduced the most direct possible contradiction: land above the oceans on opposite sides of the Earth.)

  70. Father Jape says:

    We didn’t have a remote until, I think, 2002-2004 or so.

  71. My Uncle Gene in the ’60s rigged up a wire with an on-off switch so he could mute the ads on the TV, and he called it “the blab-off”; it was only in this thread that I learned the history of that word.

  72. SFReader says:

    Wall radio speaker!

    Almost every apartment in the Soviet Union had it and it was on all the time.

    Similar to fictional telescreen in “1984”:

    Inside the flat a fruity voice was reading out a list of figures which had something to do with the production of pig-iron. The voice came from an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall. Winston turned a switch and the voice sank somewhat, though the words were still distinguishable. The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely.

  73. Lars (the original one) says:

    Back 30 years or so, the emergency number in Denmark was 000 — probably because we had 0 on the slow end of the dial, but so did everybody except Sweden, Oslo and New Zealand, so what’s with the 999 story? Also 00 was the international prefix (still is on land lines) and 0 was the usual way to get an outside line from a PBX… of course automatic PBX’s only became common after DTMF dialing came in, so your mistakes happened a lot faster.

    @David L, can we call it a 10Hz pulse rate? One symbol is between 67 and 967ms with a minimum inter-symbol distance of 240ms, so it you assume that all digits are equally common, you get something like 1.3 baud and 4.4bit/s.

    @Athel C-B: Well, we knew it was a fact. Turns out we were wrong, of course.

  74. AJP Crown says:

    one tiled and in the living room

    A kachelofen? I believe they were a German invention. The round white Swedish variety stand in a corner of the living room in many prewar Oslo apartment buildings. Even though they’re all over northern Europe I’ve never seen one in Britain or the US.

    a fruity voice was reading out a list of figures which had something to do with the production of pig-iron. There was no way of shutting it off completely
    We had this system at my school in 1970. It was terrifying.

  75. I had a wall radio in my apartment in Johannesburg when I was there 1974-75. You could get three stations SABC in Afrikaans, SABC in English, or Radio Highveldt with alternate sentences in the two languages.

  76. We didn’t have a remote until, I think, 2002-2004 or so.

    Interesting. My grandparents had one by the late 1970s, and, like all those early models based on audio frequencies, it “clicked” audibly when you changed the channel. Hence, to this day I call a remote a “clicker,” though it’s been decades since they made any noise at all…yet another dead metaphor for those of a certain age.

  77. David Marjanović says:

    I watched Marlboro Man ad on West German TV in 1989. Didn’t realize it was something historic until now.

    The EU has cracked down really hard on tobacco ads.

    Also, Marlboro Man himself died a pretty long while ago. …Yes, of lung cancer.

    kachelofen

    Imagine basically that one, except built into the wall and much lower.

  78. Stu Clayton says:
  79. The emergency number in Australia is also 000 for all three emergency services.

  80. John Cowan says:

    That’s because in Deep Misery, Oz., the first 0 got you the local operator, the next 0 got you an operator in the nearest town, and the last 0 got you an operator somewhere where the emergency service could dispatch an airplane or whatever. Even if you lived where you didn’t need all three zeros, dialing them all was pretty much guaranteed to work.

  81. historical Slavic month names

    For comparison purposes:

    Kovas (March) may derive from either the noun kovas, the rook, or the noun kova, meaning battle.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithuanian_calendar

  82. Lars (the original one) says:

    There are lots of things I did in the old days and use something else now, but it’s not really obsolete since there are still people doing it in summer houses or when camping or because the newfangled ways lack some quality they want (cooking with gas, straight-razor shaving (though I never did that), wood stoves, …)

    And Trond has done all the other stuff too 🙂

    I guess that cooking with coke gas is one, though — there is still a gas distribution network in Copenhagen, but people had to change their burners because it’s now a mixture of natural gas and biogas from household waste (so mostly propane instead of the old mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide).

    Taking in the milk that the milkman had delivered — that’s not been a thing in Denmark since about 1970.

  83. Taking in the milk that the milkman had delivered — that’s not been a thing in Denmark since about 1970.

    Oh yeah, my wife and I like to reminisce about that: the nice glass bottles, the cardboard top, the layer of cream…

  84. J.W. Brewer says:

    I am now recalling that there was some prior thread (maybe here, maybe at LL) about fixed phrases derived from obsolete technology (with the same point that the literal meaning of the metaphor had become opaque to most users), so let me make the same contribution again. I have myself (many decades ago) used the sort of old-fashioned hand-operated water pump that needed to be primed (with water) in order to operate effectively, but it seems plausible that most people who employ “priming the pump” metaphors these days have not done so or even e.g. seen it done in a movie. By contrast whenever pump-priming became a common economic/political metaphor (circa the 1930’s?) pumps like that were ubiquitous, and widespread familiarity with them was presumably necessary to the metaphor originally catching on. I should add that I’m not sure if those pumps are completely obsolete as opposed to socially/geographically marginal. Maybe even now approx 40 years later those pumps still exist out in off-the-grid places because they remain the best technology (in terms of being fairly cheap and reliable and not needing electricity) for certain contexts? I think I encountered them primarily on Boy Scout trips to rustic locations, but they made sense in those locations. It wasn’t like other stuff we did in Scouts that was self-consciously archaic technologically (e.g. kindling a fire with flint and steel rather than new-fangled safety matches) and thus done for sort of educational purposes.

  85. I am now recalling that there was some prior thread (maybe here, maybe at LL) about fixed phrases derived from obsolete technology (with the same point that the literal meaning of the metaphor had become opaque to most users), so let me make the same contribution again.

    I thought perhaps you were remembering this thread, in which the topic arose (“And I think first of a water pump: ‘handles’ suggests to me the lever with which one draws water out of a well using a certain kind of old-fashioned pump”), but though you contributed to it, you didn’t rise to that bait.

  86. SFReader says:

    Some time ago, I had to translate some very boring stuff about cranes, lifting and rigging equipment and in the process learned a lot of absolutely useless words and terms (or so I thought).

    Now, funny thing, I was reading recently Aubrey-Maturin books and I suddenly discovered that I actually do know a lot about rigging of sailing ships.

    Apparently almost all of rigging terminology in cranes and lifting equipment came straight from the sailing navy – jibs, beams, booms, hoists, spars, masts, gantry, etc.

  87. John Cowan says:

    Wootton suggests this is the origin of the phrase “the high seas” — if you headed out into the Atlantic, you were effectively traveling uphill.

    That sounds over-complicated to me. High sea is of OE date, and I think it’s just an over-literal translation of mare altum, the deep sea, the domain of admiralty law (as contrasted with the land and its shores and harbors) and of international law (as contrasted with the shallow sea). Indeed, the OED says that hēah sometimes means ‘deep’ but gives no citations for this sense.

    I had a phone at one time which had the now-standard grid of buttons, but which could generate either 20 Hz pulses or tones, reflecting a time when lines that accepted tones cost more. In pulse mode there was enough buffering that you could punch in a phone number at full speed, even though it took a while for the pulses to catch up. If you then needed to communicate with a long-distance carrier or call director, you would switch the phone to tone mode.

  88. I guess the most obsolete piece of technology I used is a dip ink pen. Not a quill, of course, a metal one. One was just laying around the house and I’ve learned to write with it (don’t remember where I’ve got ink). Not the best penmanship either, but I have a terrible handwriting in general (my elementary school teacher dismissed this bit of my failure with the remark that Lenin also had a terrible handwriting). This has nothing on people who learn how to write on the birch bark, who have nothing on people who have learned how to write on clay tablets…

  89. My wife and I both used such pens as kids.

  90. SFReader says:

    I actually used abacus a lot. Liked to play with it as a child (abacus makes great toy car!), then learned to count on it.

  91. Well, abacuses were in common use at least until the fall of the Soviet Union, and I imagine still are in its remnant states. I remember them clacking away in every shop I visited there in 1971.

  92. AJP Crown says:

    My school from 1960 to 1964 had ceramic inkwells full of navy blue ink. They were inset into the desks at the top. Scratchy brass-nibbed pens were also supplied. Call it coincidence, but even at the age of seven I noticed that the kids who were moved into the ‘A’ set were the ones who didn’t make a hideous, depressing mess while they were doing their sums. I expect they were more imaginative and later became entrepreneurs, joined the circus or both.

    I’m so old that I think STD stands for Subscriber Trunk Dialling.

  93. Anthony Argyriou says:

    I’ve flown on a commercial flight in a DC-3.

    I remember as a kid discovering that you could dial a number on a rotary phone by quickly pressing the pegs on which the handset would rest. It was tricky – you had to press them most but not all the way down, release them not too soon, but not too late, and not take too much time between clicks or between digits. I managed to dial 411 a few times that way, but never managed a full 7-digit number.

  94. David L says:

    At my primary school in the mid-sixties, the desks still had those inkwells but they were longer used. We had to write with fountain pens, though. Ballpoints (or ‘biros’ as we called them) were terribly lower class. If you started using them at the age of seven or so you would certainly be condemning yourself to a life of menial labor and quite possibly crime.

    In fairness, ballpoints back then tended to blot and blotch quite a bit. I don’t think the ink-delivery technology had been perfected at that time. Of course, fountain pens in the hands of small children also led to splotching and running and what not, but that was permissible.

  95. Trond Engen says:

    Fountain pens and desks with inkwells in my primary school years in Norway from 1975. And blotting paper for that final smudging. I probably still have ink blotches somewhere.

  96. J.W. Brewer says:

    When I lived in Tokyo as a boy in the ’70’s, many small shops still used abacuses (operated extraordinarily quickly) to total up bills and calculate change due — this despite the fact that Japan had probably already supplanted the US as the world leader in designing and manufacturing electrified cash registers and adding machines.

  97. January First-of-May says:

    In pulse mode there was enough buffering that you could punch in a phone number at full speed, even though it took a while for the pulses to catch up. If you then needed to communicate with a long-distance carrier or call director, you would switch the phone to tone mode.

    Even to this day I can hear the pulses my home phone makes after I’ve dialed a number.

    “Tone mode” (тоновый режим) was definitely a thing until at least the mid-2000s, at least in name (and might well still be for all I know); IIRC, even up to the early 2010s we still had to wait for a few seconds after the initial 8 in long-distance calls to let the line enter tone mode (though I’m not sure if it was actually tone mode, as, IIRC, I could still hear the pulses).

    For what it’s worth, we had a rotary-dial phone for several years in the 1990s (then we switched to a button-based one), and for a while in the late 2000s (up to 2012 or thereabouts, IIRC) we used a rotary-dial phone as a backup secondary receiver (but hardly ever actually received calls on it, and I’m not sure if we ever ended up dialing any numbers there).

    Well, abacuses were in common use at least until the fall of the Soviet Union, and I imagine still are in its remnant states.

    I think I’ve seen a village store actually using an abacus once in the early 2000s (or maybe the late 1990s). Even by then, I thought it had to be pretty obsolete technology. Most places used calculators.

    That said, IIRC, abacuses are still common as toys for children.

  98. I’ve flown on a commercial flight in a DC-3.

    Me too, and I remember it with fondness, noisy as it was — I’m probably imagining this, but I seem to remember air whistling through the riveted joints of the hull.

  99. David L says:

    And blotting paper for that final smudging.

    Blotting paper is an excellent example of an invention that must have sounded good in theory but in practice failed miserably. Especially when put in the hands of children.

  100. Bathrobe says:

    I’m so old that I think VD is another way of saying STD.

  101. January First-of-May says:

    I’m so old that I think VD is another way of saying STD.

    Are you referring to the abbreviation, or the expanded term?

  102. Bathrobe says:

    The abbreviation, needless to say. VD is definitely not another way of saying “Subscriber Trunk Dialling” (which, by the way, is the non-American term for Direct Distance Dialing). Interestingly, Wikipedia has separate articles for “Subscriber Trunk Dialling” and “Direct Distance Dialing”, which goes against its normal practice.

  103. David Marjanović says:

    Fountain pens (though there’s no way to get them to make a fountain) with ink cartridges inside still were standard in elementary school 20 years ago, and perhaps still are. Blotting paper comes with them, though it’s soon forgotten.

    In the 5th year (so after the 4-year elementary), I was taught to use dip ink pens with black India ink for drawing. They were never used again.

    I have often seen empty spaces for ink wells (probably always in university buildings), but never ink wells in use.

  104. vrai.cabecou says:

    Ooh, the Minitel! What a wondrous thing it was in the 1990s, along with our CompuServe email.

    When I was growing up, we used a party-line telephone.

  105. When I was growing up, we used a party-line telephone.

    My wife did too, but I never had that pleasure.

  106. SFReader says:

    I used fax, never used pager and have only faintest idea what telex is.

    I think I’ve seen plotter used and even studied how to program plotter commands in my computer class, but never printed anything on it.

  107. AJP Crown says:

    In architecture schools and offices, we used “ink pens”; the European brand was Rotring. Their workings were capricious; they would unaccountably clog up at 2 am and I would waste drawing time stripping down and cleaning them. Suddenly, in the early 1990s, Pilot Point, a cheap & reliable fibre-tipped alternative with a full range of thicknesses came on the market and wiped out the ink-pen industry (then came Autocad).

  108. @Anthony Argyriou: Speaking of incomplete switching on phones, I discovered when I was a kid that our first TouchTone phone tended to misbehave when I tried to “dial” it. It would sometimes not recognize a number press (although the tone was certainly produced), and once that had happened, I needed to hang it up and start over. However, nobody else in the house had the same problem.

    Eventually, I figured out what was going on. Each of the tones produced by the buttons actually consists of two overlapping notes with different pitches. If the system had used pure tones, it would have been too easy for phreaks to make free payphone calls. (The OED entry for phreak is, perhaps surprisingly, completely updated; moreover, it notes that the transparent etymology of the word may have been, secondarily, “punning on free call.”) With our phone, the two notes were actually triggered completely separately, at slightly different points in the button press. So, because I tended to push the buttons in very slowly, sometimes the first note would start too far ahead of the second, which would ruin the dialing attempt. (The fact that mistiming the double tones broke the dialing process completely, requiring a complete restart, might or might not have been a deliberately intended feature, there to prevent phreaking with pay phones.)

  109. Lars (the original one) says:

    I may actually have placed a call to a subscriber on a manual exchange — when my grandparents bought a summer house in 1969, there was still an old telephone there with just a handset and a crank to get the attention of the operator, though I cannot be sure I saw anybody use it on the occasions that we visited. But from home (on a “demi-automatic” exchange) I did under strict supervision I dial 0 for the intercity switchboard (mellembys) and ask for Fårevejle to get patched through to that exchange and ask for the subscriber number.

    Fårevejle got a fully automatic exchange in 1971 (when I was 11) and we could then dial the full 8-digit number. The line itself is still in operation (though probably digitized from the closest wiring box) and the last 3 digits are still the same.

  110. No one has mentioned Fortran coding sheets and punched cards yet.

  111. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Not only do I still use a fountain pen, but I bought a new one a few months ago when I was in Paris.

  112. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t write by hand every week anymore. Perhaps not even every month.

    beams, booms

    What a nice etymological doublet, I forgot to mention!

    a party-line telephone

    Is that when 4 neighbors share a line, so only one of them can use it at a time? That’s how our dial phone was connected.

  113. Lars (the original one) says:

    Fortran coding sheets — yeah, I forgot those things. I assume that punched cards are still in use somewhere in the world, maybe even for batch job submission, but I hope the times when lowly programmers were not allowed access to the holy keypunch are long gone. (I had a one-week “school practice” in 1973 or so where I used coding sheets, except I think it was COBOL, and in high school we had a real Teletype input terminal, but by 1979 when I got a real job it was CRT terminals already. Though for my third year university project (1984) I did use small physical card decks with @ELT,U commands to fix my Univac 1100 COBOL programs when all the demand terminals were occupied — like an ed script, or LINEDIT, if you’re old enough to remember those).

    I have also programmed for a Tektronix 4010 storage tube display — the fancy model with a serial interface module in discrete components!

  114. January First-of-May says:

    I’ve been taught some Fortran back when I was around 5 years old, but I don’t recall much of those lessons, so I have no idea if we had any coding sheets.

  115. No one has mentioned Fortran coding sheets and punched cards yet.

    That’s how I learned computer science in 1968-69!

  116. John Cowan says:

    Me too, only without the actual punch cards. I learned Fortran from a textbook about Watfor (Waterloo Fortran) and its punning successor Watfiv. Actual punch cards I met a a few years later: they were used at Case Western Reserve in the fall of 1976, where I programmed in Univac Algol on the 1108. They (and especially the 029 keypunch) already seemed completely antiquated to someone used to Teletypes. Nevertheless, “It is 11:08: Abs, Alphabetic, Arccos, Arcsin, Arctan” is a chant I still repeat if I happen to see a clock at the right moment; it contains the names of the first five functions in the Algol library.

    In fountain pen, the first word means ‘reservoir’.

    If the system had used pure tones

    … twelve different tone generators would have been required instead of just seven, one for each row and column. The actual choice of tones ensured that none was a harmonic of any other, which would make misdetection more likely. The rare phones with A – B – C – D buttons to the right of the standard keypad had an eighth generator. They were used in military and government circles, where pressing A gave your call priority for a trunk line over people who had pressed B, C, or D, and so on down the hierarchy, which could reflect either rank or need-to-use.

    My wife says ink pen regularly for pen, as many people with the pin/pen merger do. The counterpart term can be any of sharp, straight, safety pin, depending.

  117. Trond Engen says:

    I worked with punchcards at work practice in eighth grade in 1982. I had said “maybe something with computers”, so I ended up at the data handling office of a chain of department stores. I blame that week for my stubborn insistence to let the home computer revolution pass by me.

  118. As a teenager I had a summer job in (I think) 1973 at a government research lab near where I grew up. Two things I recall:

    A radioactivity counter that recorded data on paper tape. In a long experiment we would end up with yards and yards of the stuff. I then had to gather it all up and feed it into a reader connected to the computer. It was a rare and joyous day when I could get 50 feet of paper tape through the reader without a hitch.

    The computer was a PDP-11, if I remember correctly. When it was idling a string of red lights on one of the panels cycled around in an orderly manner, but when it was ‘thinking’ the lights flashed on and off chaotically. One of the scientists told me it was a joke: the lights didn’t actually mean anything but they made it look like the computer was working hard. If the computer had to be restarted (I’m pretty sure we didn’t have the word ‘reboot’ back then), you had to set an array of lever switches up and down in a prescribed pattern, which was written on a piece of paper taped to the machine.

    I can remember using punch cards as late as 1984 or 85.

  119. @ John Cowan:
    That sounds over-complicated to me. High sea is of OE date, and I think it’s just an over-literal translation of mare altum, the deep sea, the domain of admiralty law (as contrasted with the land and its shores and harbors) and of international law (as contrasted with the shallow sea). Indeed, the OED says that hēah sometimes means ‘deep’ but gives no citations for this sense.

    Possibly, yes. I do think it’s curious that the corresponding terms in German, Spanish, and French are Hochsee, alta mar, and haute mer, all of which use adjectives meaning “high” or “tall” rather than “deep”. So it seems plausible to me that these terms might reflect translations from mare altum, with a common understanding of the ocean being “high” rather than (or in addition to) being deep. (The Two-Spheres Theory necessarily has the water getting deeper as one moves away from the land.)

    There’s a series of posts on “Copernicus and the high seas” at the Vatican Observatory Foundation blog (Parts I, II, and III) which has a few quotes (from the 17th and 18th Centuries) referring, as one of them puts it, “that Philosophical Problem which keeps so great a noise in the Schools, viz. That the Sea is higher than the Earth”, which suggests to me that the phrase wasn’t just some fossilized mis-translation. (There’s also, in the first and second posts, some nice illustrations of the idea, including how it was supposed to explain inland springs.)

  120. Thanks, I just read the first post and it was extremely enlightening.

  121. SFReader says:

    I remember PDP-11!

    Read a book on PDP-11 architecture once.

    It was pure curiosity on my part – I just wanted to know how computers really worked and the book delivered exactly that.

  122. AJP Crown says:

    My wife says ink pen regularly for pen, as many people with the pin/pen merger do.

    Huh. Interesting. Thanks. I’m glad I mentioned it. Does she also use the verb to ink (eg a drawing)? Unless she’s a designer probably not, I’m guessing.

    I’m so old that for me VD is a car licence plate from the canton of Vaud (snigger).

  123. J.W. Brewer says:

    Circa 1984 I knew an undergraduate computer science major who had a by-then-presumably-obsolete PDP-11 in his dorm room, in that early iteration that had to be rebooted (the word existed by then, I think) in the fashion referenced above. But this was sort of a personal/hobbyist eccentricity – he had salvaged it for free when someone was getting rid of it, and whatever university-owned machines the CS students were given access to by that point were I believe a few generations more advanced. (I think this was the same academic year a few more affluent students who weren’t even CS obsessives started owning MacIntoshes, but he probably looked down at those, as so dumbed down they could be operated by non-specialists.)

  124. vrai.cabecou says:

    “Is that when 4 neighbors share a line, so only one of them can use it at a time? That’s how our dial phone was connected.”

    Yes. I think our party line was shared with just other household, but it was annoying to never know when you lifted the handset if the line was already occupied.

  125. Lars (the original one) says:

    Wikipedia references a manual from 1953 for the term bootstrap for the process of using a very minimal program (entered from console switches or a hardwired card) to read in larger and larger parts of the operating system. I don’t know when it was shortened to booting.

    MOV #RKCMD,R0
    MOV #READ|GO,(R0)
    LOOP TSTB (R0)
    BPL LOOP
    CLR PC

    14 bytes. DEC had a UNIBUS card with 128 diodes you could dike out selectively to hardwire your bootstrap at 760000 (I think). (Set 5 switches up, 13 down, press GO).

  126. John Cowan says:

    I do think it’s curious that the corresponding terms in German, Spanish, and French are Hochsee, alta mar, and haute mer, all of which use adjectives meaning “high” or “tall” rather than “deep”

    In Latin altus means both, and indeed the difference is a matter of perspective: when we normally stand at the bottom of vertically-long things, we call them high; when at the top, we call them deep. However, all the Romance languages except Italian lost the sense ‘deep’ except in calques like this one. (The h aspiré in French and Arpitan is from a Germanic word cognate to hoch, high.) ‘Deep’ is covered by a reflex of Latin profundus lit. ‘before the bottom’ or bassus ‘thick, fat, short, low’ (a late word of unknown etymology, possibly < Greek basis).

    Well, fundus isn’t quite ‘bottom’ either; it’s the part of a vessel furthest from the opening. The fundus of the stomach is, in human beings, at the top of it. Semantic differences between supposed lexical equivalents can be subtle.

    Does she also use the verb to ink (eg a drawing)?

    Not that I remember hearing, though I’m sure she would if she had need for it. She’s a teacher of English reading and writing to adults who already speak and understand English.

    When it was idling a string of red lights on one of the panels cycled around in an orderly manner, but when it was ‘thinking’ the lights flashed on and off chaotically.

    When the front panel was in use, the lights indicated whatever was relevant: an address to be read or altered or jumped to, or the contents of a previously specified memory location. There was a method of setting the lights to whatever you wanted, and different PDP-11 operating systems used different patterns in their idle loops: RSTS/E, for example, counted in binary.

    The reason that blinkenlights are no longer in use is that computers are too fast: the RUN lamp on DEC machines literally flickered once for each clock cycle.

  127. David Marjanović says:

    Well, fundus isn’t quite ‘bottom’ either;

    It does happen to be its cognate, though.

  128. John Cowan says:

    From Boswell’s Life of Johnson:

    Talking of a very respectable authour, he told us a curious circumstance in his life, which was, that he had married a printer’s devil [an apprentice].

    REYNOLDS. ‘A printer’s devil, Sir! Why, I thought a printer’s devil was a creature with a black face and in rags.’

    JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Sir. But I suppose, he had her face washed, and put clean clothes on her. (Then looking very serious, and very earnest.) And she did not disgrace him;—the woman had a bottom of good sense.’

    The word bottom thus introduced, was so ludicrous when contrasted with his gravity, that most of us could not forbear tittering and laughing; though I recollect that the Bishop of Killaloe kept his countenance with perfect steadiness, while Miss Hannah More slyly hid her face behind a lady’s back who sat on the same settee with her. His pride could not bear that any expression of his should excite ridicule, when he did not intend it; he therefore resolved to assume and exercise despotick power, glanced sternly around, and called out in a strong tone, ‘Where’s the merriment?’

    Then collecting himself, and looking aweful [sic], to make us feel how he could impose restraint, and as it were searching his mind for a still more ludicrous word, he slowly pronounced, ‘I say the woman was fundamentally sensible;’ as if he had said, hear this now, and laugh if you dare. We all sat composed as at a funeral.

  129. I don’t know why they sat composed instead of ROTFLMAO (in this case should be laughing their bottoms out)

  130. J.W. Brewer says:

    Huzzah for internet-aided quick solutions to passing curiosity. Boswell (accessible online) gives a specific date for the dinner at which Dr. Johnson made these remarks, making it possible to figure out from wikipedia which right reverend gentleman was at the time Bishop of Killaloe and indeed his wiki bio mentions the Johnson connection. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Barnard

  131. I just discovered that when I read dialogue by Dr. Johnson, my brain automatically puts in the voice if Robbie Coltrane, as he played the doctor in Blackadder. Such are the contrafibularities, I suppose.

  132. In Latin altus means both, and indeed the difference is a matter of perspective: when we normally stand at the bottom of vertically-long things, we call them high; when at the top, we call them deep. However, all the Romance languages except Italian lost the sense ‘deep’ except in calques like this one.

    My suggestion was that if the medieval meaning of mare altum was normally “high/tall sea” rather than “deep sea” (and, for what it’s worth, I get the impression that “high/tall” was the primary meaning of Latin altus and “deep” a less common secondary meaning), then the translations/calques make more sense. (If everyone understood the primary meaning to be “deep sea”, then why isn’t the German calque Tiefsee, and why doesn’t the French term use profond?)

    (And one could argue that from the perspective of medieval philosophers writing in places like Paris or Oxford, the sea really was higher according to the Two Spheres Theory; they weren’t normally having these debates on ships far out in the Atlantic, after all.)

  133. I wonder whether the two meanings oh high seas are related. Besides the “international waters” meaning, there is the (basically compositional) meaning of waters where the waves are of (possibly unusually) large amplitudes.

  134. J.W. Brewer says:

    Of course “high” has been used in somewhat metaphorical senses for quite a long time. There is an apparently unresolved etymological debate about whether “highway” is based on a fossilized notion that such a road (dating back to Roman times) is generally somewhat more elevated than the surrounding fields it traverses or whether it’s just “high” in a purely metaphorical sense of “principal” or “important” – the BrEng usage “high street” to mean what AmEng calls “main street” is possibly suggestive of the latter since (from what little I know of traditional British urban topography!) one would not generically expect a village’s high street to be any further above sea level than the village’s other streets. High seas as contrasted with shallow coastal waters might be taken to mean (legal issues aside) more or less “the real thing,” which is reasonably congruent with the principal-or-important sense, and doesn’t require “high-as-synonym-for-deep.”

  135. @J.W. Brewer: I am pretty sure high street was modeled on the much older highway/high way (a same-language calque, you might say). So the meanings imputed to high do not need to have been the same at the times the terms were coined.

  136. John Cowan says:

    I don’t know why they sat composed instead of ROTFLMAO

    Well, as Oliver Goldsmith (another member of The Club, later known as The Literary Club) said, “There is no arguing with Johnson, for when his [rhetorical] pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt of it.” Or as G. K. Chesterton said much later, much is heard of Johnson’s incivilities, but too little of his apologies. He was also a large and powerful man, quite capable of delivering a physical drubbing if words should happen to fail him. “If you dare” was probably meant (by Boswell) quite literally.

    My suggestion was that if the medieval meaning of mare altum was normally “high/tall sea” rather than “deep sea” (and, for what it’s worth, I get the impression that “high/tall” was the primary meaning of Latin altus and “deep” a less common secondary meaning)

    The evidence, such as it is, is that mare altum had long been non-compositional. The Duilian inscription (which commemorates a naval battle of the First Punic War in -280 won by the consul Gaius Duilius) says of the battle IN ALTOD MARID PUGNANDOD, with the Old Latin -d of the ablative singular: this must mean ‘fought on the high sea’. However, this inscription is known to have been recopied in the Emperor Claudius’s day and may have been “antiqued” by him or his scribes.

    Nevertheless, alta maria is already in Livius Andronicus, who was writing tragedies in Latin in -240. The first quotation definitely meaning ‘deep’ that doesn’t involve the sea is from a lost tragedy of Ennius from about -200 quoted by Cicero: Acherusia templa alta Orci ‘deep Acherousia, sacred places of Orcus [a god of the underworld who punished broken oaths]’.

    Compounds when first created are generally compositional, and I do not believe that whoever coined the expression originally was thinking of any meaning except ‘deep’, but when mare altum was calqued into various premodern languages, it would naturally produce an equally non-compositional calque.

    Both highway and high street appear in Old English. Even though way is native, until the 17C it simply meant ‘direction’, as still in “Which way did they go?”, which does not mean “by which road”. Street was probably borrowed from Latin already on the Continent and applied to the Roman roads by post-Roman Germanics as well as by those who spoke the lingua romana rustica. However, Old Irish srath and Welsh ystrad, both ‘river valley, plain, street’ are said to be cognates rather than yet more borrowings.

  137. Bathrobe says:

    until the 17C [way] simply meant ‘direction’

    So it didn’t mean manner or fashion? “It depends on the way you say it”.

    laughing their bottoms out

    Shouldn’t that be “laughing their bottoms off”?

  138. David Eddyshaw says:

    Welsh ystrad … said to be cognate

    I’d always assumed it was a loan from Latin (after all, it would have made sense for it to be, and we’re talking about a language that didn’t draw the line at borrowing its ordinary word for “children” from Latin), but you’re absolutely right (according to the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru); and now that I think of it, if it had been a loan from Latin strāta, it should have been *ystrod. Like ystrad, OIr srath seems to mean primarily “valley bottom”; I guess the “street” sense is a case of borrowing the meaning of the Latin and forcibly incorporating it into the meaning of a Welsh word that sounded similar and had a vaguely kindred meaning.

    There must surely be a neat technical term for that kind of borrowing, but for the life of me I can’t think what it is.

    Not exactly the same, but a similar sort of phenomenon in Welsh is senedd (as in our glorious Welsh Assembly), which means “senate”, but seems etymologically to be “synod”, albeit with some mangling in any case. I will now agitate for the Welsh Assembly to be officially called the Welsh Synod in English. It’s got a ring to it …

  139. David Marjanović says:

    I have no trouble imagining that highway and high street mean the same thing as via strata: not simply a path trodden on the ground, but one with stuff strewn (stratum) on it so that it ends up higher than the surrounding fields.

    Even though way is native, until the 17C it simply meant ‘direction’

    Even though German Weg does mean “path”, and is sometimes used for “method” (not as often as in English, but still Mittel und Wege “ways and means”) but never for “direction”?

  140. David Marjanović says:

    There must surely be a neat technical term for that kind of borrowing, but for the life of me I can’t think what it is.

    There ought to be one, but I don’t think there is. I’ve seen many proposed etymologies that involved this, and it’s only ever explained in terms of “influenced by” and “contaminated with”.

  141. David Eddyshaw says:

    Now that I think of it, if the Latin “senatus” had been adopted into Welsh, you would expect (I think) the regular outcome in Modern Welsh to be synod. Spooky …

  142. John Cowan says:

    So it didn’t mean manner or fashion? “It depends on the way you say it”.

    Of course it did: that was a complete brain fart on my part. And way ‘road’ is certainly also OE: the Martyrology says ond his swustor bebyrgde his lichoman on þæm wege þe æt Rome is nemned Salaria ‘and his sister buried his body on the way/road that at Rome is called the [Via] Salaria’. Note that nemned, now lost, is a doublet of namod > named; the latter was a rare verb in OE and ME.

    What is 17C or just before is the use of road, the most usual modern word for a path (wide enough for horses or wider) leading to a particular place: in Henry V Pt I, Shakespeare says “the most villainous house in all London road”, meaning the road to London; but we hardly hear of it in that sense before him, only as an abstract noun ‘act of riding’ > ‘expedition, journey’, or the place where ships are anchored (as in Hampton Roads).

  143. January First-of-May says:

    There must surely be a neat technical term for that kind of borrowing, but for the life of me I can’t think what it is.

    I’m not sure if that’s the actual neat technical term for it, but it is surely the same thing as what is described in this comment as “phonosemantic matching”.

  144. David Eddyshaw says:

    phonosemantic matching

    That’ll do nicely. All we need to do now is to popularise the term. I’ll get on it directly.

  145. January First-of-May says:

    All we need to do now is to popularise the term.

    Well, it does appear to be already on Wikipedia

  146. laughing their bottoms out

    Shouldn’t that be “laughing their bottoms off”?

    Yes, of course.

  147. dainichi says:

    > And does anyone remember the drudgery of getting off your seat, walking up to the (black & white) tv set and changing the volume or tv stations BY HAND?

    Despite digital voice operated home assistants and whatnot, I think most people still operate their remotes manually. I think I spend more time looking for the remote now than I did walking up to the TV in the old days. I’ve even thought about attaching the remote to the TV so I know where it is 🙂

    Apropos obsolete technologies, I remember watching my grandmother manually typeset and print my grandfather’s Japanese newspaper, before they started using a typesetting shop. I really wish it had occurred to me to ask her about things like how the sorts were organized so she could find them, how many they had of each glyph, and such.

  148. AJP Crown says:

    I’m guessing the explosion of English thoroughfare names (Avenue, Terrace, Crescent, Way, Place etc) was a result of planners utilising romantic associations for middle-class urban developments that occurred around London and elsewhere during the early-mid 19C. These names never caught on in the US, I don’t know why except that right from the start settlers were more systematic and if you’re starting from scratch with a grid, there’s no reason for more variation than to name the x-axis ‘streets’ and the y- ‘avenues’, as they did in 19C Manhattan. About road & street, is there an explanation of why streets nowadays only occur in urban areas while roads are ubiquitous? Except for Watling Street of course, the Roman, er… road.

  149. Lars (the original one) says:

    Right — I was even entrusted with turning the handle on the mimeograph when my Dad had laboriously typed up an issue of the scout division newsletter. (I did learn to type properly myself, but by the time I had to produce handouts for anything I could use a laser printer).

  150. SFReader says:

    Had to look up mimeograph pictures.

    I think I’ve seen them, but didn’t know what they were and how they were used.

  151. David Marjanović says:

    Ah, the unforgettable stench of mimeographs…

    already on Wikipedia

    Oh. I completely forgot about the “black guest”!

    But Coca Cola coming to mean “taste and enjoy” is shamefully missing. (No more “bite the wax tadpole”.)

  152. The Croatian word for mimeograph is šapirograf, named after the inventor. Alternatively it’s called hektograf. The wikipedia page shows that it’s called something different in just about every language.

  153. John Cowan says:

    Mimeography stricto sensu and hektography are two different processes. A mimeograph is basically a small rotary printing press using a stencil cut with a typewriter and fastened to the ink-covered cylinder. I typed many of these stencils on my mother’s old manual typewriter so that she could mimeo them for her German classes, scrupulously typing “sz” for every handwritten es-zett in the copy. There was even special corflu [“correction fluid”] for mimeo stencils that filled in the hole cut by the typebar, distinct from the white goop used when typing on paper.

    Hektography (also colorfully called jellyography) uses a flatbed press, usually purple “ink”, and that unique and unforgettable odor.

  154. SFReader says:

    I foresee great future for new genre devoted to office technologies of pre-PC era.

    Let’s call it officepunk

  155. Lars (the original one) says:

    Hektograf also rings a bell as a Danish word, but according to Wikipedia it was a different (earlier) technology — using a gel bed to hold ink transferred from the original, instead of pressing ‘new’ ink through openings in a transfer stencil like a mimeograph (Danish duplikator) or transferring dye directly from an original like a spirit duplicator (spritduplikator).

  156. @AJP Crown: A wide variety of street name words are actually very common in America. I think your impression may have been misled by the atypical example of New York, which is overrepresented in media depictions of the United States.

    In places, such as Manhattan, where there is a large preplanned grid of streets, it is common (but by no means universal) to name all of them according to a fixed rule or pattern. (It could be letters, numbers, tree types, Revolutionary War generals, or almost anything else, actually.) This naturally tends to limit the choice of street designations to two (like “Streets” and “Avenues” running perpendicular in Manhattan), but in places without such a specific pattern, pretty much anything goes.

    The selection of street terms is not quite the same as in Britain though. For example, “Crescent” is quite rare. Nor do the individual terms that are used necessarily have the same typical implications as in Britain. “Street,” “Road,” “Avenue,” and “Way” are used pretty freely and are found in the names of all different kinds of streets. “Court” is a very common designator for streets that end in cul-de-sacs (of the pouch type; simple dead ends are not “cul-de-sacs” in American English). “Loop” and “Circle” do not have form complete, closed circuits, but they do need to double back on themselves; Lemongrass Loop, near where I grew up, branched off from a main road, made an irregular three-quarters circle, and then merged back into the main thoroughfare. “Boulevard” is largely limited to major roadways, usually fairly straight ones. Other, less common, suffixes exist as well, but they often have to be spelled out in full on street signs, since there is no universally standard abbreviations for “Trail,” “Pike,” or even “Crescent.”

  157. SFReader says:

    Boulevard

    In Russia (and I believe in most of Europe), boulevard has to have trees along each side.

    Just being major and straight isn’t enough.

  158. John Cowan says:

    Hektograf also rings a bell as a Danish word, but according to Wikipedia it was a different (earlier) technology — using a gel bed to hold ink transferred from the original

    Yes, that’s the one I had in mind. The problem with it is that you can only make a few tens of copies before the original has no more ink to give you. Mimeography can easily run to hundreds of copies, and more if you are willing to tolerate inkblots in the centers of letters like “g” and “a” and “o”.

    This naturally tends to limit the choice of street designations to two

    Not in Queens, though, where there are six. Thus Ellis Parker Butler, the immortal author of Pigs Is Pigs:

    In Queens, to find locations best
    Avenues, roads and drives run west;
    But ways to north or south ‘tis plain
    Are street or place or even lane;
    While even numbers you will meet
    Upon the west and south of street.

    In general, 35th Road will be found, if at all, between 35th Avenue and 36th Avenue; 35th Drive will be found, if at all, between an avenue and a road.

  159. I think the prototypical American “Boulevard” might be lined with trees, although it is certainly not a requirement. (My high school was on a very treeless Boulevard.) Really, the key thing about a street with that epithet is that that it is supposed to be classy.

  160. J.W. Brewer says:

    The Queens system is not what I’d call user-friendly even though it’s possible to learn the conventions.

    I currently live on an “avenue” that is only one block long and not notably wider than some other bits of pavement nearby that are merely “streets.” Growing up we first lived on a “road” and then on a “lane.” Whether the developers who laid out my “avenue” (I think more than a century ago) had loftier goals of classiness than the developers who platted my boyhood neighborhoods in the mid-20th-century is unclear. It may just have been that different words were in vogue to connote classiness in different decades and/or in different parts of the country.

  161. AJP Crown says:

    I forgot Row, Mews, Circus, Hill, Gardens, Embankment, Court, Corner, Acre, Square and Lane (not that I was trying for the complete list). The Mall in London is a boulevard in the Parisian sense, but they just don’t use the word there. You’d think the American usage might come via L’Enfant except that I can’t think of any Boulevards in Washington.
    There’s always, thanks to Jefferson, the influence (you might call it a grip) of the Paris École des Beaux-Arts on late 19C American architectural education so it could come from Haussmann; or maybe Daniel Burnham had boulevards at the Columbian exhibition.

    I understand your point, Brett but I’m not convinced. Besides, to a New Yorker there’s something paradoxically beautiful about the yuge differences between say W52nd St and W57 St. Or E8th St and W9th Street – totally different cups of tea. I like Lemongrass Loop, though. You wouldn’t get either of those nouns in an English street name.

  162. PlasticPaddy says:

    David 6 March
    Although Germans “fragen nach dem weg” and we ask (for) directions. Have you looked at other dialects or older usages of Weg?

  163. David Marjanović says:

    Why did the chicken cross the road?

    RICHARD NIXON: The chicken did not cross the road. I repeat, the chicken did not cross the road.

    BILL CLINTON: The chicken didn’t cross the road. Not a single time. Never (it was a boulevard).

    Although Germans “fragen nach dem [W]eg”

    I’ve always interpreted that as asking for a complete description of the path one should use, not like the joke about the desert where you “go straight ahead, and in two weeks you turn left”.

  164. I had a time in my childhood when I deeply, madly wanted a pantograph, but I didn’t even see one until much later, when nothing mattered any more.

  165. @AJP Crown: I certainly accept that Britain uses a wider variety of street words than America. Most of the additional ones you listed are straight-out impossible here, although a “Lane” would be normal for anything except a major thoroughfare. Square is not used for roadways, only plazas (or intersections), and so are not part of addresses.

  166. J.W. Brewer says:

    There’s a very pricey condo in Manhattan whose street address is “15 Union Square West.” This is presumably the same pattern that causes other streets to be named (for part of their total length) “Central Park South” and the like. (Up in Harlem you still have e.g. “Mount Morris Park West” in street addresses even though the park across the street from the houses has been renamed for Marcus Garvey.)

    In the suburbs, the venerable Rochelle Park neighborhood of New Rochelle, N.Y. (platted circa 1885, per the internet) has streets ostentatiously and arthrously named without further specification e.g. “The Boulevard” and “The Circle” — and also “The Serpentine,” which sounds weirdly Anglophilic, innit? Several other municipalities in Westchester have streets you might think boulevard-like (with a central median with grass and trees) named simply “The Esplanade.”

  167. Bathrobe says:

    Many places in China also follow the convention of naming north-south and east-west streets differently.

    If I remember rightly, 街 jiē ‘street’ is normally east-west while 路 ‘road’ is north-south.

    I’m sure they’ve copied the Americans.

    In Inner Mongolia the Chinese naming is faithfully reproduced on Mongolian-language street signs as zeel ‘street’ and zam ‘road’ (although I can’t say with 100% certainty which is which). Gudamj, which is the normal word for ‘street’ in Ulaanbaatar, is used for small streets or lanes (those known in Chinese as 巷 xiàng). This appears to be the original meaning. Zeel, by the way, is now generally used in Mongolia to mean ‘market’.

    There is a certain fascination about these divergences in usage…

  168. @J.W. Brewer: It’s reasonably well known that, e.g., Eighth Avenue changes its name to “Central Park West” while it forms the western boundary of the park, with a different numbering scheme than the rest of the avenue. (Apparently, the building from Ghostbusters is 55 Central Park West.)

    However, I was not aware that Manhattan did that with roads bordering squares. Moreover, I have not seen that kind of naming convention anywhere else. In particular, Boston, which has plenty sizable squares, does not change the street names as they run along the squares’ perimeters. The old Boston Public Library, across from Copley Square, has an address on Dartmouth Street.

  169. I’ve never met anyone who’d used a polar planimeter, though they certainly were used during my lifetime.

    As a teenager, I talked to an old meteorologist who still had a Campbell–Stokes solar recorder at his weather station. He said that he only keeps it to show students what not to use.

    Someone in my family still has a spinthariscope, but it needs repair.

  170. John Cowan says:

    It’s pretty much true of any rectangular park of sufficient size in NYC that its surrounding streets and avenues will be renamed <park name> North/South/East/West locally.

  171. SFReader says:

    Mongolian zeel has two meanings – “to borrow, loan” which I assume is from Chinese 借了jièle (“borrowed”) and “main street, marketplace” which looks like another borrowing from Chinese – 街路 jiēlù (street; road; avenue).

  172. ktschwarz says:

    boulevard has to have trees along each side

    Aha! *That’s* why von Kármán suggested that the Kármán vortex street — a very famous effect in fluid dynamics — might be called “Boulevard d’Henri Bénard” in French, when Bénard pointed out that he had studied the phenomenon earlier. A boulevard, not simply a rue, because there are vortices along both sides of a line behind a bluff body in a flow.

    Arthrous streets: I always thought Boston’s “The Fenway” was the coolest street name ever (I was even lucky enough to live on it for a year).

  173. AJP Crown says:

    I think Riverside Drive is the coolest street name. Any -Drive sounds sophisticated in a William Powell & Myrna Loy sort of way – there was once a brand of working-class ciggies in Britain called Park Drive – and “Riverside” sounds like a good time is guaranteed.

    I remember in a 1980s NYT column William Safire said that the abbreviation of Avenue is Ave. in New York but Av. in Boston. Unfortunately I’ve never had cause to write to anyone in Boston so I’ve never tested Av.

    Brett: a “Lane” would be normal for anything except a major thoroughfare
    And perhaps you’re thinking of Chancery Lane or Park Lane in London; a BIG road, the latter, you wouldn’t want to cross it on foot. Park Lane is really a Boulevard, now I come to think of it.

    There are lots of Wegs in Hamburg. Mittelweg is one, and I worked on a building on the corner of Heidenkampsweg and Wendenstrasse – a ref. to the town of Wenden not to Slavic tribes called Wends.

  174. David Marjanović says:

    Gudamj, which is the normal word for ‘street’ in Ulaanbaatar, is used for small streets or lanes (those known in Chinese as 巷 xiàng).

    Those are called Gasse in German – except in Vienna, where Gasse is the normal word for streets of any size, including the enormous Neilreichgasse which is probably just a bit too ugly to count as a boulevard in the American sense.

  175. anhweol says:

    Does Vienna have any Gässchen to compensate for the expansion of Gasse? Prague used to have Gasse for sizeable streets on the same model as Vienna (with “ulice” as Czech equivalent), requiring diminutives for something actually small like the Goldenes Gässchen/Zlatá ulička.

  176. @AJP Crown: I don’t recall seeing “Av” on Boston street signs, but it may have been used sometimes. (The Boston area, though, is known for often not having street sign as intersections at all, especially intersections involving major thoroughfares.) What is definitely the case is that Bostonians are quite likely to pronounce avenue names with a single-syllable “av.” This is part of a more general phenomenon of abbreviating street names with monosyllables. For example, the two main roads that intersect at MIT are known as “Mass Ave” and “Mem Drive.”

  177. Yeah, spoken “ave” is common here in the Worcester area too. New York has P[ɑː]k Avenue, we have P[aː]k Ave.

    And of course the state is usually “Mass” in common speech as well.

  178. David Marjanović says:

    Does Vienna have any Gässchen to compensate for the expansion of Gasse?

    Not that I know of. Linz has one, though, and it’s positively tiny.

  179. David L says:

    I can’t think of any Boulevards in Washington

    I was going to say there’s MLK Jr Boulevard but I misremembered, it’s Avenue.

    However, it turns out there’s a tiny street in SE DC called “Boulevard Lane.”

  180. J.W. Brewer says:

    Lenox Avenue in Harlem (so named since 1887, sez the internet) was in the late 20th century “co-named” (i.e. not “renamed” because both the old name and the new are somehow supposed to co-exist) Malcolm X Boulevard. The motive for the Ave.-to-Blvd. shift is not clear, but I guess the default assumption is that the latter was thought to sound more impressive. Whether that same judgment would have been made a century previous and there was less felt need for impressiveness, or whether the relative degree-of-impressiveness overtones of the words had shifted over time is not clear to me.

    At least two other Harlem thoroughfares (running parallel but further west) underwent similar Ave.-to-Blvd. transformations at around the same time.

  181. Those are called Gasse in German

    Are Lithuanian and Latvian the only ones to preserve the labial?

    *gatwǭ

  182. David Marjanović says:

    As it says there, so does Finnish (katu). The trick is that word-final and everything like it became *u in Northwest Germanic, and apparently any resulting *-wu promptly simplified to *-u.

    Shade and shadow are a doublet caused by this (OE nom. sceadu, gen. sceadwes).

  183. David Marjanović says:

    …and now that I look at it, the d in sceadwes is already copied in from the nominative, because *dw would have undergone West Germanic consonant lengthening, as indeed it did in German (Schatten, *-dw- > *ddw > tt plus a gratuitous change from *u-stem to *n-stem because German loves that).

  184. I believe Finnish is a different case. If I understand it correctly, Finnish borrows (some) Swedish words in the form of the plural minus the -r:

    gata -> gator -> katu
    ros -> rosor -> ruusu
    skinka -> skinkor -> kinkku
    krona -> kronor -> kruunu

  185. Of course, if a word contains a front vowel, vowel harmono kicks in:

    hylla -> hyllor -> hylly

  186. Trond Engen says:

    These are all weak feminines with -u also in the genitive (/compound).

  187. David Marjanović says:

    A beautiful hypothesis destroyed by two harmonious facts!

  188. There is also a Russian word gat’ ’causeway’, probably unrelated to the *gatwǭ.

  189. It is touched upon here (in Russian), but the discussion smacks of goropism.

  190. EPISODE 207 Mar 08, 2019
    The Evolution Of Language
    This week’s guest: Dan Everett | Charity of the week: SurvivalInternational.org

    http://www.herewearepodcast.com/

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