Looking for ‘Arses.

No, not the arses you think; from BBC Radio:

Ian McMillan goes on a quest to find one of Britain’s strangest linguistic features. Somewhere between Sheffield and Chesterfield, people stop saying house and say something that sounds a lot more like ‘arse. It’s an isogloss, a kind of linguistic boundary line where accent and dialect changes. Ian calls it the house / arse interface, and with his friend the musician Ray Hearne and linguist Kate Burland in tow, he sets out to track it down. But can it really be as simple as crossing a line on a map?

Thanks, AJP!

Comments

  1. In Cockney-type London English house sounds very similar to the American pronunciation of ass instead.

  2. “In Cockney-type London English house sounds very similar to the American pronunciation of ass instead.”

    For years I thought that a BrE ‘arse’ and AmE ‘ass’ were variations of the same word based on rhotacism. But, your comment prompted me to check the OED. Apparently, the two forms have different etymologies. With reference to buttocks, it seems the BrE version has much greater antiquity (c1000). The AmE version ‘ass’ is only attested to 1860.

    I now wonder if we Yanks got there by metaphor (based on the animal), a phonological process, or wrongly assuming that the Brits had inserted the intrusive /r/.

  3. John Cowan has covered this in another thread somewhere.

  4. John Cowan has covered this in another thread somewhere.

    We could put that at the top of all new threads and save a lot of time.

  5. “Hyperrhotic” persenepe for passe-nep (itself a folk-etymological deformation of pastinaca) is first attested ca. 1500. The conditioned sporadic loss of /r/ before /s/ preceded modern /r/-vocalisation (non-rhoticity) by some 300 years. Note that it produced no compensatory lengthening or diphthongisation: the /r/ just dropped out and a preceding short vowel remained short; its quality wasn’t affected. (H)oss (as in the Obby Oss Festival) has the vowel of LOT, unlike mainstream British horse.

  6. David Marjanović says:

    With reference to buttocks, it seems the BrE version has much greater antiquity (c1000).

    Obviously cognate to German Arsch (where /rs/ > /rʃ/ is regular).

  7. “Obviously cognate to German Arsch (where /rs/ > /rʃ/ is regular).”

    Yes. According to the OED:

    Etymology: Common Germanic: compare Old High German, Old Norse, Danish, Swedish ars, Old Frisian ers, German arsch, Old Germanic *ars-oz, cognate with Greek ὄρρος, *ὄρσος

  8. David Marjanović says:

    Ein Fischer stand
    am Nordseestrand
    mit einer Angel in der Hand.
    Er wollte fangen einen Barsch.
    Das Wasser stand ihm bis zum Knie.

    “Aber das reimt sich doch gar nicht!”

    “Ja, aber warten Sie ‘mal, bis die Flut kommt!”

    [I’m so tired I might as well be drunk. Translation later, if necessary.]

  9. I didn’t know Barsch, but I’d seen it in the comment John Cowan linked.

  10. A fisherman took his stand
    On a North Sea strand
    With fishing-rod in hand.
    He fondly hoped to catch a bass.
    The water reached up to his knee.

    “But that doesn’t rhyme !”

    “No, but it will when the tide comes in !”

  11. Also Hittite arra-s < PIE *h₁orso-. Arse longa, vita brevis, to quote Roger Lars… excuse the hypercorrection… Roger Lass, of course.

    http://tinyurl.com/ot49sry

  12. Arse longa, mentula brevis

  13. “< PIE *h₁orso-."

    "The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots" gives PIE *ors- 'buttocks, backside.'

  14. Ah, Roger Lass. Forty years ago he was, in my experience, the only member of the Indiana linguistics department who wasn’t an arse.

  15. “The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots” gives PIE *ors- ‘buttocks, backside.’

    That’s right, more or less (the AHD list of lexicon of IE roots was one by Calvert Watkins, which means that it’s generally reliable). The initial laryngeal (*h₁) is the one that doesn’t show up even in Hittite, so a reconstruction without it is defensible. But a word is more than a bare root (I almost wrote “a bare…” — never mind). The word in question is a “thematic” noun, which means that it has a stem extended with a vowel (*h₁ors-o-), to which inflectional endings are added (nom. sg. *h₁ors-o-s, acc.sg. *h₁ors-o-m, loc.sg. *h₁ors-o-i, even voc.sg. *h₁ors-e! if you ever need to address that fragment of your anatomy).

  16. list of lexicon of IE roots was one

    I wanted to write “lexicon of IE roots was done”. Type in haste, repent at leisure.

  17. “The word in question is a “thematic” noun, which means that it has a stem extended with a vowel (*h₁ors-o-), to which inflectional endings are added (nom. sg. *h₁ors-o-s, acc.sg. *h₁ors-o-m, loc.sg. *h₁ors-o-i, even voc.sg. *h₁ors-e! if you ever need to address that fragment of your anatomy).”

    *me *h₁orsos! (when surrounded by ‘polite’ company)

  18. “Er wollte fangen einen Barsch.”

    Wow. We have a sound correspondence!

  19. We have a sound correspondence!

    And a very sound one too.

  20. Trond Engen says:

    regular sound correspondence, e.g. No. ferje, OInd. *pāráyati

  21. Trond Engen says:

    Forget the asterisk. That one’s attested.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    even voc.sg. *h₁ors-e! if you ever need to address that fragment of your anatomy

    That need arises fairly commonly in Vienna when you need to address other people. ^_^ Alas, after many, many rounds of apocope, the vocative now lacks an ending and is only distinguished by its lack of an article.

    Similarly, the Czech influence has caused the locative replacement to become the description of where everything broken is.

    Barsch, incidentally, also means “perch” – first and foremost Perca fluviatilis, but also the cichlids and so on and so forth.

  23. the Czech influence has caused the locative replacement to become the description of where everything broken is.

    Es ist im/am Arsch” = “It’s broken/out of order”. “Er ist im/am Arsch” = “He’s totally exhausted [physically] / [his business or some project of his has failed, run out of resources]”

  24. Anthony Burgess, in one of his early novels, I think it is The Doctor is Sick, has characters saying ‘arris’ for ‘arse’, and it’s explained as double rhyming slang coming full circle. Arse becomes ‘bottle and glass’, which is then shortened to bottle, as in ‘he lost his bottle’, meaning ‘he lost his courage’; and then bottle becomes Aristotle, which is naturally abbreviated to arris. Whether Burgess made up the last stage I have no idea. Bottle is still common in UK but nobody remembers it comes from ‘arse’.

  25. “Arse becomes ‘bottle and glass”

    Ah, I (AmE speaker) hadn’t thought it through that the /r/ is deleted in BrE. This may explain the development of the American ‘ass.’ Maybe, we began to spell it like we heard it and the vowel changed (ɑs > æs) like the vowel in glass.

  26. Though there is no written proof, circumstantial evidence suggests that the /r/ was deleted in arse in some British dialects long before the loss became universal in the normative accent. It gave rise to a different pronunciation — with short /æ/ rather than long /ɑː/ (the latter is used in arse today in standard British English). The non-standard pronunciation reached America with colonists who spoke some regional variety of 17th-century English, and it evolved together with words like class, pass, glass, etc. It was a word that was more often heard than seen on paper, so little wonder that the spelling was influenced by the colloquial pronunciation rather than the other way round,

  27. It’s not so simple, alas.

    The vowel /ɑ/ of palm, father, start did not exist in Early Modern English, the common ancestor of the English varieties of today. There was only /a/, short as in trap /trap/ or long as in face /faːs/, just as in German Mann (short) and Glas (long). Then the Great Vowel Shift changed all the long vowels, separating them from the short ones and eventually giving face its modern pronunciation.

    In most varieties, most instances of short /a/ moved to /æ/, giving the American pronunciation of trap today. (In Scotland, however, short /a/ remained unchanged, so that psalm and Sam sound the same.) This has been subject to further developments in different varieties in certain words, as for instance the “aig” pronunciation of egg that we discussed a few posts ago. But what we are interested in here are the exceptional cases.

    In all cases before /r/, and variably and inconsistently before either a fricative (pass, father) or a nasal+fricative (dance), /a/ did not develop to /æ/ but instead lengthened, producing a new kind of long /a/ unrelated to the former long /a/. This group merged with certain words that had /au/ in Early Modern English but did not develop to /ɔ/ as most words (all, paw, laud, lawn) did. Most of these words had had historic /l/, as shown in the spelling of half, calf, palm; this /l/ was sometimes restored and sometimes not. The new long /a/ remained as such in Eastern New England, but was backed to /ɑ/ in most other varieties.

    Now we can look at arse vs. ass. The original pronunciation was /ars/, with short a. Early loss of /r/ gave us the variants /ars/ and /as/, both with short a. The first developed to /ɑrs/ (the pronunciation in Scotland today) and then /ɑs/; the second to /æs/. No variety that I know of retained both, but when there has been a semantic separation, as in burst/bust and parcel/passel, both may be retained.

  28. “Early loss of /r/ gave us the variants /ars/ and /as/, both with short a.”

    What do you mean by “short a,” vowel length or quality?

  29. I dodn’t express myself clearly. The development was as follows:

    Late Middle English: /ars/
    Early Modern English: /ars/ and /as/ (thanks to early /r/-deletion before /s/)
    Further changes: /ɑrs/ and /æs/
    Non-rhoticity (after 1700): /ɑːs/ and /æs/

    In southern England, /ɑːs/ may in theory have two sources:
    (1) lengthening and retraction of /a/ in the variant /as/, caused by the following voieless fricative (as in pass, path, after);
    (2) loss of /r/ in /ɑrs/ (with compensatory lengthening) in the 18th century.

    In most of North American English (and in some parts of England) pre-fricative lengthening took place but did not prevent the vowel from fronting. The result is a tense [æː]. The American variety often undergoes raising and diphtongisation, drifting towards [eə] or even [iə].

  30. Stefan Holm says:

    The two modern Swedish varieties for this the very unmentionable are arsle or arsel, both from original ars + hål, ‘hole’, reduced to ‘l’ but with an epenthetic ‘e’ added before or after. Pronunciation is /’aʃ:əl/ or /’aʃlə/ (both with ‘double tone’ prosody), reflecting the combination ‘rs’ in Swedish always being supradental / retroflex / postalveolar (call it whatever you like – to me it is an ‘s’ after drawing the tip of your tounge a bit upward/backvard as in going from ‘see’ to ‘she’). The same goes for the combinations ‘rd’, ‘rl’, ‘rn’ and ‘rt’ in Swedish (as in dialects of English).

    I was surprised to hear from David that Barsch in German could ‘also’ mean perch. I thought it was rhe only thing it meant. Speaking of it I’m thrilled by the conformity between German Hechtbarsch and English pike-perch. The Germans also use ‘Zander’ but why don’t the English have a simple name like Sw. gös for such a delicious fish. (I’m talking about the species Sander lucioperea).

  31. The Germans also use ‘Zander’ but why don’t the English have a simple name like Sw. gös for such a delicious fish.

    Presumably because they’re not indigenous to English-speaking areas. We also use the term zander, and the Wikipedia article ends with this piquant anecdote:

    In July 2009 in Switzerland, a zander attacked tourists in Lake Maggiore, sending two people to the emergency room; the worst cut inflicted was about 10 centimeters long. The 70-cm 8-kg fish was later caught by the local police who cooked it and offered it to the tourists for the trouble it caused. It is very unusual for zander to attack humans.

    The Russian name is судак [sudák], and Vasmer says the German word is considered to be a loan from Slavic (specifically Polish sandacz); note that the fish is native to the region of the Oder, Elbe, and Vistula.

  32. Stefan Holm says:

    Oh, I see. SAOB says that Sw. gös is related to Icel. verb gjósa, ’stream forward’, referring to the contents of its stomach (due to the extension of its swim bladder) being thrown up when catched. Despite of that it’s a damn good fish.

  33. The Russian name is судак [sudák], and Vasmer says the German word is considered to be a loan from Slavic (specifically Polish sandacz); note that the fish is native to the region of the Oder, Elbe, and Vistula.

    Funny. I’ve always thought the German name had something to do with teeth (zand- < *tanþ-). The Polish spelling (sand-, rather than sąd- or sęd-) suggests a loan. I’ll have to do some checking. But of course it’s a relatively common fish in these parts, and delicious, too.

  34. Pike / Hecht / Zander: Isn’t there a Russian or Polish word along the lines of ‘shchupak’ that indicates this fish?

  35. David Marjanović says:

    “Es ist im/am Arsch” = “It’s broken/out of order”.

    Exactly; so maybe the Viennese occurrence of this (im only) should be blamed on the Frankish settlement in the 9th century. 🙂

    “Er ist im/am Arsch” = “He’s totally exhausted [physically]

    Never encountered that.

    the “aig” pronunciation of egg that we discussed a few posts ago

    Oh, that (obliquely) reminds me: Wendy Davis pronounces Texas and taxes identically (both with [æ]). I wonder if that’s hurting her chances to become governor of the former.

    I was surprised to hear from David that Barsch in German could ‘also’ mean perch. I thought it was rhe only thing it meant.

    I just checked: in de:wikipedia, Seebarsch redirects to the basses, some of which have names in -barsch (and all of which are perciforms, for what that’s worth).

    I used to wonder about the suspiciously similar Brasse, but no, that’s neither marine nor a perciform, it’s a bream – probably in Low Saxon, in which case everything is phonetically regular, no rogue metatheses required. ^_^

    The Polish spelling (sand-, rather than sąd– or sęd-) suggests a loan.

    Sure, but why would /ts/ be borrowed as /s/ when Polish is full of initial /ts/? In the other direction, this unexpected correspondence could make sense as folk etymology (from “tooth” as you suggest), or perhaps the borrowing happened in MHG before /s/ from *-t- and /s̠/ from *s merged… I’m thinking of Zwettl, thought to have been borrowed from svetla, though that has a more obvious phonological motivation.

  36. We discussed bream here.

  37. “Oh, that (obliquely) reminds me: Wendy Davis pronounces Texas and taxes identically (both with [æ]).”

    This might explain her difficulty in the polls. When she says she lovesTexas, voters thinks she loves taxes (which may also be true, but probably best left unsaid).

  38. “Er ist im/am Arsch” … never encountered that.

    Hier etwa: “Dann geht mir der Pinto nicht aus dem Sinn… Er ist noch viel zu jung für die Rennbahn… Ein Jahr, und er ist am Arsch… Meine Hand tut immer noch verdammt weh… Ich kann noch nicht mal gescheit ein Pferd satteln…”

  39. With regard to the meaning “He’s totally exhausted [physically]”.

  40. David:

    I have just discovered that the spelling sędacz was formerly frequent. Linde’s dictionary (1812) treats it as the main variant of the word (beside sendacz, sandacz, sądacz, sądecz). This is of course fully compatible with Russian and Ukrainian sudák (ORus. sudók) and strengthens the possibility of Slavic being the source of zander. Association with teeth or sand on the West Germanic side would then be folk-etymological. If the word is Slavic, it’s *sǫd- (most likely from earlier *sond-o- or *ḱond-o-) plus some common suffixes. I don’t know why Vasmer rules out cognacy with OE hentan (< *xant-ī/ija- 'pursue, hunt'). It would need a little more support, but doesn't look obviously "mistaken", as far as I'm concerned.

  41. On second thoughts, hentan, as well as Modern English hunt and hint, probably belong together with OE hūþ ‘booty’ (< *xunþō) and Goth. (fra-)hinþan ‘capture’, so the final consonant of the root must have been *t in pre-Germanic, and Germanic *t/*þ is a consequence of Kluge’s Law. If so, the zander word can’t be related.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    Makes sense.

  43. ““Es ist im/am Arsch” = “It’s broken/out of order”. “Er ist im/am Arsch” = “He’s totally exhausted [physically] / [his business or some project of his has failed, run out of resources]“

    There is exactly this expression in AmEng – “He’s on his ass.” I have only heard it in Army settings, and not from Southerners as I recall.

    Question for the thread – does this expression exist in the UK? If not it may be yet another Germanism in AmEng.

  44. Jim, could be, but “exactly” is not exact. Im means “in”, am means “at/next to”. “On his ass” would be auf dem Arsch. But maybe the am audiomorphed into “on” for GIs.

    Er ist am Arsch in the sense of “completely exhausted” is very common in the Rheinland. It may not be so in Austria, as I conclude from David’s comment.

  45. For example, someone who had taken part in one of the running marathons they have here might say afterwards: Danach war ich vollkommen am Arsch.

  46. Of course am does not mean “at” or “next to” in the fixed expression am Arsch sein. The meaning of a fixed expression is often not a summation over meanings of its parts.

  47. “Er ist am Arsch in the sense of “completely exhausted” is very common in the Rheinland.”

    Is ‘arsch’ considered vulgar in Germany?

  48. J. W. Brewer says:

    I may have mentioned this in some other context previously, but when I spent a teenaged summer in West Germany long long ago (1982, to be precise) I became familiar with Schwoißfuaß, who were at the time perhaps the most prominent rock band to sing in Swabian dialect. One of their big songs (their “größter Hit,” says German wiki) was Oinr Isch Emmr Dr Arsch (= standard „einer ist immer der Arsch“). I found it amusing both then and now that “Arsch” was the only word in the song title that was identical (at least orthographically) in Swabian and standard/prestige Hochdeutsch.

  49. Is ‘arsch’ considered vulgar in Germany?

    Not any more, if TV ads are anything to go by.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    Oh! I forgot something important! 🙂

    The initial laryngeal (*h₁) is the one that doesn’t show up even in Hittite, so a reconstruction without it is defensible.

    Maybe it does show up in Hieroglyphic Luwian: there’s a sign that apparently stood for /ʔa/ and apparently matches *h₁. Too bad I don’t have access to the paper.

    Recently I also read that Hittite spellings with initial e-eC- may correspond to *h₁eC-; that was probably here, except that Google Books now gives me a different preview and doesn’t show me that part (or indeed most of the chapter it was probably in).

    am means “at/next to”

    Except, interestingly, in Vienna, where auf dem and auf den (“on(to) the”) contract to am and people don’t even know that’s not (yet?) standard.

    Not any more, if TV ads are anything to go by.

    That ad is… weird.

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