1. Inspired by this LH post, Joel of Far Outliers has posted a very useful summary of the history and uses of the Japanese kana syllabaries.
2. It turns out the word ramen does not have a firm etymology. Wikipedia:
Though of Chinese origin, it is unclear when ramen was introduced to Japan. Even the etymology of the term “ramen” is a topic of debate. One hypothesis and probably the most credible is that “ramen” is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese 拉麺 (lamian), meaning “hand-pulled noodles” (a name that is still used in Chinese for these sort of noodles). A second hypothesis proposes 老麺 (laomian, “old noodles”) as the original form, while yet another states that ramen was initially 鹵麺 (lúmiàn), noodles cooked in a thick, starchy sauce. A fourth hypothesis is 撈麵 (lāomiàn): 撈 means to “dredge up” and refers to the method of cooking these noodles by immersing them in boiling water before dredging them up with a wire basket.
Now, this is Wikipedia, so I’ll let those qualified to judge say which of those etymologies are credible and which are just silly, but the OED says “prob[ably] f. Chinese lā pull, stretch, lengthen + miàn noodle,” so the basic fact of uncertainty seems pretty certain.
3. I’ve just run across another piece of incredibly bad annotation in the Bunin diary. In the April 24/May 9, 1919, entry (p. 123) Bunin describes a Bolshevik poster attacking the White general Denikin and finishes up by saying “The inscription says: ‘Don’t hanker, Denikin, for land that is not yours!’ ‘Don’t hanker’ must mean ‘don’t think to bury yourself.’” Now, think about that for a moment: what would be the point of “don’t think to bury yourself”? What is the point of the whole bit I’ve quoted? In the translation, it’s completely unintelligible. But the footnote explains all: “In Russian, “don’t hanker” is “ne zaris’,” and “don’t think to bury yourself” is ne zar’sia.” Ahahahaha! So what’s happened is that Bunin is correcting the Bolsheviks’ bad grammar: the correct imperative of зариться [zárit'sya] is зарься [zár'sya], not the зарись [záris'] of the poster; the hapless annotator, true kin to Kinbote, has mistaken зарься for the imperative of зарыться [zaryt'sya] ‘to bury oneself,’ which is actually заройся [zaroisya]. The only burying here is the burying of the truth in cartloads of ignorance. (You’d think the fact that Bunin follows this up with “I swear by Michael the Archangel himself that I will never accept the Bolshevik orthography” might have provided a hint that form rather than content was under discussion, even if the incoherence of the “explanation” wasn’t enough of a clue.)
4. Helen DeWitt describes the way things used to be in jolly old England:
I went up to Oxford to read Literae Humaniores in 1979. Britain has a higher voltage than the US (230V rather than 120), which means it is possible to heat water quickly in an electric kettle; one of the first things any undergraduate does on going to university is buy an electric kettle. So I went into the Woolworth’s in Cornmarket, bought an electric kettle, took it back to my college and took it out of the box — only to find a cord ending in three wires where an American expects to find a plug.
Yes. In Britain, in those far-off days, electrical appliances could not be sold with a prefitted plug. The buyer had to buy the plug separately (making sure it had the right number of amps). The buyer ALSO had to buy a tiny screwdriver. The back of the plug had to be unscrewed, tiny screws inside had to be loosened, coloured wires threaded under the appropriate screws, the screws retightened, the back of the plug screwed back on, and an hour or so later the novice electrician was either sitting down to a nice hot cup of ground cockroach or frying on the floor. It’s said that electrical fires were a common source of death.
Once you got the electric kettle up and running, of course, you appreciated it in a way that you wouldn’t if you hadn’t had to work for it. On the one hand, just switching it on was a source of pride; on the other hand, you always wondered if it was about to blow up.
I know this has nothing to do with language, but it’s just so batshitinsane I had to pass it on. Does anybody happen to know why appliances were not sold with plugs??