1. An excellent list of names for special characters, for example ! = “exclamation (mark), (ex)clam, excl, wow, hey, boing, bang, shout, yell, shriek, pling, factorial, ball-bat, smash, cuss, store, potion&, not*+, dammit*” (in my proofreading days, we mostly said “bang”). Don’t miss the explananations at the bottom of the page:

& donald duck: from the Danish “Anders And”, which means “Donald Duck”
* Nathan Hale: “I have but one asterisk for my country.”

(Via Transblawg.)

2. In a recent Avva post he mentions how Bill Murray has aged since Den’ surka, which I realized must be Groundhog Day. I looked up surók and found it defined in Oxford as ‘marmot.’ In this case, Katzner was more helpful, giving ‘marmot; woodchuck; ground hog.’ In picky editor mode I must remark that groundhog is one word and that this entry is an excellent example of why definitions should employ commas as well as semicolons, in this case between the last two items, because woodchuck and groundhog refer to the same animal, Marmota monax (as you can see from the genus, the animal, under whatever name, is a member of the marmot family). I admit I have a hard time remembering this fact, because I am familiar only with the words, not with the actual creatures, and the words are tied to completely different contexts (like dove and pigeon): “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck” and the groundhog seeing its shadow, respectively. Here’s the Regional Note from the American Heritage definition:

The woodchuck goes by several names in the United States. The most famous of these is groundhog, under which name all the legends about the animal’s hibernation have accrued. In the Appalachian Mountains the woodchuck is known as a whistle pig. The word woodchuck is probably a folk etymology of a New England Algonquian word—that is, English-speaking settlers “translated” the Indian word into a compound of two words that made sense to them in light of the animal’s habitat.

I will end my discussion of this subject by remarking that the Russian word that started me off on this zoological excursus, surók, is probably onomatopoeic in origin and thus the equivalent of whistle pig.

3. In perusing the American Heritage I happened on the word lumma, an Armenian coin (a hundred of them make up a dram). This word has been around, and gotten banged up in the process: “Armenian lumay, small coin, from Syriac lumâ, from Greek nomos, noummos, custom, current coin.” The change from n-m to l-m is called “dissimilation” (changing one of two sounds to make them less similar, in this case changing the first nasal to a liquid), and it’s a common phenomenon; as a matter of fact, if it hadn’t happened in Syriac first, it could have happened within Armenian—compare holm ‘wind’ (with l-m) and Greek anemos (with the original n-m). And they said that semester of Classical Armenian would never be of any use to me!


  1. The Special Characters list is fascinating, but omits ‘lunulae’, familiar to anyone who’s read John Lennard’s engaging history of the parenthesis, But I Digress (1991).

  2. Ah, yes. I remember ‘bang’, ‘query’, and other pronounced punctuations from my own grad school days of double-proofing dense descriptions of new insects and fish in science journals. Little did I know at the time that that would lead to a more promising career than linguistics would.
    BTW (not pronounced bee-tee-dubya), I’ve blogged a bit about acronyms in Asian languages over at Far Outliers.

  3. So you have, and I liked it enough to make it my next entry. Thanks for mentioning it.

  4. Fontaine Fox says:

    In Time-Life proofreading style the exclamation point was “slam” and the question mark was “quirk.” At least that was the case before the proofreaders were all disposed of some fifteen years ago (their bodies will eventually come to light).

  5. My favourite name of a punctuation mark is for Unicode character U+203D (‽), the “interrobang.”

  6. Regarding Point 3, don’t forget 2004 is the year Armenia has chosen to celebrate the 1600th anniversary of its alphabet. I think the government is minting a coin for the occasion.
    And they said that semester of Classical Armenian would never be of any use to me!
    How hard is Classical Armenian (compared to, say, Classical Greek or Latin)? I’ve only had a look at modern Armenian.

  7. Hm, holm and anemos? That looks like a surviving laryngeal to me.

  8. How hard is Classical Armenian (compared to, say, Classical Greek or Latin)?
    I wouldn’t know, since we (ahem) didn’t actually learn Classical Armenian, we just read our way through Meillet’s Esquisse d’une grammaire comparée de l’arménien classique, checking off the etymologies and correspondences against our knowledge of other IE languages, eagerly looking for some bit of arcane vocabulary we could someday buttress a thesis with. We were Indo-Europeanists, you see, not Armenianists.
    That looks like a surviving laryngeal to me.
    Well, Meillet, the only authority I have at hand, lists (p. 38) a bunch of words where initial h- corresponds to vowels elsewhere: hum ‘raw’ (Gk. omos), hot ‘odor’ (Lat. odor, Gk. odme), haw ‘bird’ (Lat. auis), &c, and talks about “la singulière faiblesse du h initial arménien,” so I don’t know how much we can lean on it.

  9. When I was involved in a group read of “Mason & Dixon” there was quite a bit of discussion about names for compound punctuation marks: the “commash” = “, –” is one I remember, there was also “? –” which I forget the name of and “! –” likewise.

  10. Bang is also known as a (point or mark) of admiration. Here’s an illustrative quote from Patrick O’Brian’s Post Captain — sleepy Stephen is reading lovelorn, less-literate Jack’s letter:

    The lines seemed to crackle with life and happiness, but still they swam. ‘Wish me joy!’ Well, so I do, too. ‘You will never guess the news I have to tell you!’ Oh yes I shall, brother: pray do not use so many points of admiration. ‘I have the best part of a wife!! viz, her heart!!’ Stephen sniffed again.

  11. Well, I would replace “is” by “was two centuries ago,” but it’s a good term and an excellent quote.

  12. Exclamation marks used to be ‘screamers’: see Murder Must Advertise, where the headline “Over-Work and Over-Worry waste Nerve-Power!” is dictated over the phone by the copywriter to the printer, ending “Goudy 24 point upper and lower, lower-case w,a,s,t,e, capital N,e,r,v,e, hyphen, capital P,o,w,e,r, screamer. That OK?”
    A lot of these terms must have disappeared now that journalists can file their copy electronically rather than having to read it down the phone.

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