ON NOT KNOWING THE MEANING OF WORDS.

In the comment thread for this post, Grumbly Stu wrote: “I just discovered that for my entire life I have mistaken the meaning of ‘scatty’. I meant disorganized / disheveled.” (Scatty is British slang for ‘crazy.’) I just ran across a remarkable example of this common phenomenon; in her diary entry for Jan. 27, 1941, Marina Tsvetaeva wrote:

I’m 48 years old, and I’ve been writing for 40 years, even 41, if not forty-two (honestly), and of course I am by nature an outstanding philologist, and just now, in a tiny little dictionary, in fact in three of them, I find that ПАЖИТЬ [pázhit’] is pacage [French for ‘pasture’], пастбище [pástbishche, Russian for ‘pasture’], and not at all ‘field’ […] So all my life I have thought (and, oh horror, perhaps written) пажить when I meant ‘field,’ and it’s really луг, луговина [‘meadow’]. But in spite of three dictionaries (unrelated: one French and old, another Soviet, the third German), I still don’t believe it. Пажить sounds like жать [zhat’, ‘to reap, cut, mow’], жатва [zhátva, ‘reaping, harvest(ing)’; in fact, пажить is related not to жать ‘reap’ but to жить ‘live.’].

(The original Russian is below the cut.)
So the next time we discover we have been mistaken about a word, we should remind ourselves that one of the great poets of the twentieth century, who considered herself philologically inclined, went through the same thing. And I love the fact that she grumpily refuses to entirely believe the fact she’s just discovered, because it just doesn’t sound right to her.

Мне 48 лет, а пишу я — 40 лет и даже 41, если не сорок два (честное слово) и я, конечно, по природе своей — выдающийся филолог, и — нынче, в крохотном словарчике, и даже в трех, узнаю, что ПАЖИТЬ — pacage — пастбище, а вовсе не поле, нива: сжатое: отдыхающее — поле. Итак, я всю жизнь считала (и, о ужас м‹ожет› б‹ыть› писала) пажить — полем, а это луг, луговина. Но — вопреки трем словарям (несговорившимся: один французский — старый, другой — советский, третий — немецкий) все еще не верю. Пажить — звучит: жать, жатва.

Comments

  1. Mine was “farrago” – I always thought meant a sort of combination of palaver and farce. I like the attitude shown by Tsvetaeva. How do you say, “there’s glory for you!” in Russian?

  2. This happens for me with regularity not too much diminished by the passage of years. There are a whole lot of words that are “part of my vocabulary” but on whose meaning I have only the loosest of grasps.

  3. Grumbly Stu’s not mistaken at all: the OED provides “Of a person: scatter-brained; driven distracted, mad; of a story, etc.: illogical and absurd.” And I’m glad, as I was half ready to be humbled, too.
    (I’ve just been told that links to “tumblr” are barred from here for questionable content!)

  4. When I was 13, someone told me that “similar to” does not mean “the same as”. This was clearly absurd, and I refused to believe it for some time.

  5. Ah, apologies! I hadn’t followed the link. I’m not certain it’s common to use “scatty” in that sense referring to a subject that isn’t a person. Be good to see if it is; I may have a look.

  6. I thought “fiduciary” meant merely “pecuniary” for a while. There’s an exciting one.
    Not the same phenomenon, but more embarrassing: I used to pronounce “desultory” with the emphasis on the second syllable, “salient” as “SALLY-unt,” and “tout court” as spelled. Now I don’t use any of them at all.

  7. When I was a kid I pronounced bedridden as be-DRIDD-en, assuming it was the past participle of a “bedride.” I’ve since discovered I wasn’t alone in that.

  8. I used to think that the word socialism meant something like “public ownership of the means of production, with the state acting as proxy on behalf of the public.”
    You can imagine my embarrassment over these last several weeks!

  9. When I was 13, someone told me that “similar to” does not mean “the same as”.
    And I that “over” doesn’t mean “more than”; though, again, that’s a different phenomenon, better filed under “prescriptivist poppycock.”

  10. Deep down, I still think of ‘painstaking’ as ‘pain-staking’.

  11. I like be-DRIDD-en, and may start using it. I also deliberately pronounce “crouton” with only the slightest hint of a schwa between the “t” and “n” so it sounds like an insult: the fucking crout’n.
    One more embarrassing one, for the longest time I pronounced “accoutrement” as though it were French: accoutrehmahhhhh….

  12. “Overweening” means fussily protective, like a mother. It does.

  13. Grumbly Stu says:

    You mean like overweaning, right? But withholding the teat of life should mean the opposite of “fussily protective”.
    As a kid, I knew the protagonist of the 1001 Nights as “skirts-er-ade”, like lemonade. Also my best Sunday suit had lapples on it.

  14. Grumbly Stu says:

    What is a “fucking crouton”? A fuckin cretin? A breadhead? A crumb?

  15. HP: I used to think that the word socialism meant something like “public ownership of the means of production, with the state acting as proxy on behalf of the public.”
    Now they’re called enterprise funds. In spite of a universal need for revenue in order to enact any government programs, a politician who “raises taxes” won’t get reelected, either here or in Canada, but an “enterprising” one will.

  16. Grumbly Stu says:

    I used to pronounce “desultory” with the emphasis on the second syllable

    Well, that’s how it’s pronounced, I don’t care who says different. This week, in the introduction to a late 50’s BBC film on Bertrand Russell, the moderatress said he was mis-CHIEV-ous. I exhort Amurricans to pass over such Briticizms in silence.

  17. I think “lapples” is the best yet. But about “overweening” there will be no discussion.
    What is a “fucking crouton”? A fuckin cretin? A breadhead? A crumb?
    A “fucking crout’n” is a crouton whose appellation I have temporarily forgotten, as in, “Hand me… you know, for the salad… the fucking… the fucking crout’ns!”

  18. jrfrqbradfz says:

    X57cTs jpulikzhhbkx, yhyhbxesgsdf.com

  19. Well, that’s how it’s pronounced, I don’t care who says different.
    Do people really pronounce it like that? (Checks Dictionary.com…) Yes, they do! Random House lists only the first-syllable pronunciation, but American Heritage lists both! Fantastic!

  20. Grumbly Stu says:

    Hat, do you have a sophisticated filter mechanism for posts like the last one? All those I’ve seen on this site have been like this. A recognizer would be “lots of slashes and very few words”.
    Of course to recognize “words” would require a some sort of a lexical search machine. Such a post could be quarantined pending verification of the url. Writing a recognizer wouldn’t be hard, given an API to a dictionary, but I don’t know if your filter (if you have one) is extensible.
    If contributors here would stick to the same email address, you could build up a list of acceptable ones. That would also help in winnowing out spam of the kind you get here.

  21. When I was wee, I was convinced that there was a verb “to misle”, meaning “to deceive”. I can still recall the shock when I heard someone pronounce “misled” with two syllables.

  22. Grumbly Stu says:

    a verb “to misle”, meaning “to deceive”

    That is the burden of the popular song:

    And I’ve gotta know, is it only the misletoe
    Don’t think so
    I gotta know
    Say it ain’t, say it ain’t … just the misletoe

  23. Grumbly Stu says:

    I used to think DESultory was a snooty up-East pronunciation (seen from Texas), same for misCHIEVous. Funnily enough, the OED gives DESultory, but MISchievous.

  24. Grumbly Stu says:

    Dammit. I find that I knew the meanings of “desultory” that the OED lists, but without the main nuance it had for me – something like “languid”.

  25. The website I use for my students has a very discriminating spam filter. It is so discriminating that if I write a comment from work without signing in first, it puts me in my own spam filter.

  26. Grumbly Stu says:

    Guess I associated it with sultry.

  27. the main nuance it had for me – something like “languid”.
    Yes, I used to think it had something of a “lazy” connotation as well — and I don’t think we’re alone.

  28. Actually it’s not that hard to figure: you’re more likely to do something (like watch TV or have a conversation) in a desultory fashion when you’re feeling lazy, listless, languid, etc.

  29. Actually — double actually — that’s probably exactly what you meant by “sultry.”

  30. joseph palmer says:

    When we use the word scatty we usually wish to emphasize that the person is befuddled in wits and that the result is a certain lack of organization.
    So I’m afraid people are mentioning red lines where there are really fine lines again. It seems probable that the Russian author was also in a rather grey area.

  31. Going Dotty in Kansas says:

    …or also, perhaps, in a pother.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    “sultry”: I think I have only seen this word in writing, usually in an expression such as “sultry temptress”. It does not seem to be used in a context other than that of a lazily sexy woman, as seen through male eyes.

  33. Grumbly Stu says:

    So I’m afraid people are mentioning red lines where there are really fine lines again. It seems probable that the Russian author was also in a rather grey area.

    That’s a rather desultory sequence of colourful observations. The entire discussion has been rather Abstract Expressionist – not to the taste of a drawing-master, I daresay. Where you see windmills, I feel only breezes.
    What is “mentioning” supposed to mean here? As opposed to “using”?

  34. marie-lucie says:

    There is a lovely anecdote about a child misunderstanding the meaning of a word, in one of Colette’s books about her youth: at the age of perhaps 5 or 6 she was puzzled about the word “le presbytère” that she sometimes heard used by adults. She decided that such an interesting word must mean the kind of pretty, yellow and black striped snail she often found in the garden. She brought one to her mother: “Regarde le joli petit presbytère que j’ai trouvé!” Her mother set her right: the word means the priest’s house! So she went to her favourite place to sit and rest on the garden wall and called it her “presbytère”, becoming “the priest on the wall”.

  35. Grumbly Stu says:

    Hi marie-lucie! Well, “sultry temptress” is only one genre. 16-year-olds chock-full of h*rmones, of both sexes, often look sultry to me, although a dispassionate observer (if such there be) might speak of sulky.
    Previously:
    Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content: h*rmone

  36. Marie-Lucie: Sultry is also used to describe hot, humid weather. The kind of weather where it’s so hot and sticky, you don’t feel like doing anything but sitting around, but then you’re sure there’s a thunderstorm brewing, building up, gradually, until you can’t stand it anymore, and soon all that humidity is going to explode in torrents of rain accompanied by the flash of lightning and crash of thunder, and afterward everything will be cool and refreshed, and you’ll just lie back and soak it in for a while before falling into a deep, restful sleep.
    So, no, I don’t understand the association with hypersexualized images of women either.

  37. So, no, I don’t understand the association with hypersexualized images of women either.
    Well, I understand it (it’s a cliche actually); but it isn’t the only way I’ve seen it used.

  38. HP, marry me.

  39. I suppose that will turn out to be another one of Emerson’s sock puppets.

  40. Sultry is female though. A man can’t be sultry. He could be steamy, I guess.

  41. Nijma: Oh, my heavens, no. John Emerson is an Internet legend. Whether it knows it or not, the word polymath was coined for his benefit, long before he (or I) was born. I could not bear that mantle. I don’t often comment, but tonight I feel inspired. I’ve been on a tear, across several blogs.
    But seriously, if you want to get married, we should talk. Like being John Emerson, being married to me is a terrific burden to bear. Many are called; few have answered. Fewer still have managed to put up with my crap.

  42. HP: Yeah, I’m gonna have to apologize for having been astonishingly dense (I felt inspired too; unfortunately I didn’t pay much attention to what anyone else was saying) — it’s been a long day…

  43. rootlesscosmo says:

    A character in Aldous Huxley’s novel Crome Yellow tells of having been fascinated by the word “carminative” on the label of a patent medicine he was given as a child. He took it to mean “warm, mildly spicy,” and other attractive things. Years later he looked it up, in a German-English dictionary–the only one to hand–and and was crushed to find it rendered as windtreibend, i.e. productive of farting.

  44. Inspired? I was swept away entirely. There was simply no adequate response and I typed the first thing that came into my mind.
    On reflection I would have to admit that I too have poor–actually no–nuptial references, my husband having been deceased these many years; however I have no way to gauge whether or not he finds this a burden.

  45. So, uh, until tonight, I was under the impression that ‘deSULtəry’ meant, roughly, ‘pouty’, or ‘grudgingly’. What’s maybe worse is I was only set right when I looked it up, not because it occured that I might be mistaken, but because I was wondering if I was pronouncing it wrong too. I am willing to stick by my pronunciation but I am clearly off base with the meaning. Our topic in action, unfolding in real time.

  46. And it’s neither “misCHIEVous” nor “MISchievous”. I don’t care what the OED says, it’s mischevious.

  47. Six million google hits can’t be wrong.

  48. Wait, wait, wait, wait wait.
    So, Nijima; You’re a widow? This changes everything.
    By which I mean to say that I am a wonderful man, entirely without faults, and you should engage me in email discourse forthwith.

  49. Siganus Sutor says:

    X57cTs jpulikzhhbkx
    (Posted by: jrfrqbrad*** at February 18, 2009 07:17 PM)
    Does someone around know the meaning of these two words?

  50. I have no attachments whatsoever and unfortunately no money either. My website is in my URL; the email addy is in the sidebar. Anyone may email me and many do–with various curious things in mind.
    Being a man is a good start; I do not marry women. So what do I look for? The Four Qualities: 1) rich 2) good-looking 3) intelligent and 4) obedient.
    How many wives do you have?

  51. X57cTs jpulikzhhbkx?
    Doesn’t mean anything in English, Sig, or any other language I recognize.

  52. Nijma: And it’s neither “misCHIEVous” nor “MISchievous”. I don’t care what the OED says, it’s mischevious.
    It’s incredible how much I agree with you. It’s somehow like “disgression“, which exists for many people despite what learned ones and MS Word can say.
    There are also people on the face of this earth who believe that “deception” means “disappointment”. Thank God there are marie-lucies around to rub their nose in it.

  53. It’s spam, Sig, but somebody started talking about it and how to do a better spam filter. Otherwise I’m sure Hat would have taken it out by now.

  54. I’m afraid French doesn’t agree with me, Sig, but fortunately we have you and marie-lucie.
    I may not know much about the OED, but I do know what I like.

  55. My favorite word misapprehension was made by a Russian friend who grew up in the Urals. He thought столица — the capital, i.e., Moscow — was the place where the 100 best people in the country lived: сто лиц.

  56. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    When I was wee, I was convinced that there was a verb “to misle”, meaning “to deceive”. I can still recall the shock when I heard someone pronounce “misled” with two syllables.
    I was well into adulthood (a lot more than wee, anyway) before I accepted that there was no verb “misle” for “misled” to be the past participle of. I was vaguely conscious that “misle” and “mislead” meant more or less the same thing, but it didn’t occur to me that their past participles would have the same spelling (but quite different pronunciations).

  57. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    My favorite word misapprehension was made by a Russian friend who grew up in the Urals. He thought столица — the capital, i.e., Moscow — was the place where the 100 best people in the country lived: сто лиц
    The word I remember from learning Russian half a century ago was not столица but страница. Is that quite wrong? It seemed as if a high proportion of the examples in Nina Potapova’s textbook contained this word.

  58. A “fucking crout’n” is a crouton whose appellation I have temporarily forgotten, as in, “Hand me… you know, for the salad… the fucking… the fucking crout’ns!”
    At the dinner table, jamessal ? Tut, tut …
    Nijma: And it’s neither “misCHIEVous” nor “MISchievous”. I don’t care what the OED says, it’s mischevious.
    There is no final “i” in the spelling, so why put one there ?

  59. If contributors here would stick to the same email address, you could build up a list of acceptable ones.
    I refuse to take any steps that might make my life slightly easier but would make it harder for people to comment here. Some of the best comments have come from people who didn’t even leave an e-mail address. I’d rather have to spend a little time weeding than limit the response.
    My favorite word misapprehension was made by a Russian friend who grew up in the Urals. He thought столица — the capital, i.e., Moscow — was the place where the 100 best people in the country lived: сто лиц
    That’s absolutely wonderful!
    The word I remember from learning Russian half a century ago was not столица but страница.
    That means ‘page,’ not ‘capital.’

  60. Oddly, страница ‘page’ is not in Vasmer’s etymological dictionary; in form it’s a diminutive of страна ‘country, land,’ which is a Church Slavic borrowing—the native Russian word is сторона ‘side.’

  61. marie-lucie says:

    HP: Sultry is also used to describe hot, humid weather. The kind of weather where it’s so hot and sticky, … – So, no, I don’t understand the association with hypersexualized images of women either.
    I was not thinking of images of women, but of women who might give the impression that they are “hot and bothered”. Just reread your own paragraph.

  62. Just reread your own paragraph.
    I think that was the point. I’m just glad I’m not the only one who missed it last night.

  63. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: sorry, I did not mean to embarrass you, just to clarify your meaning as the words might seem puzzling to others.

  64. Hat is one of the great heroes of the blogosphere. We all know this but it’s nice to say it out loud now and then.
    I also thought there was a word “misle”. I pronounced “schedule” as “schoodle”, don’t ask me why, and I still think that “mischievious” is the best pronunciation in a family context when referring to kids or pets, though not in public contexts.

  65. Hat is one of the great heroes of the blogosphere. We all know this but it’s nice to say it out loud now and then.
    I also thought there was a word “misle”. I pronounced “schedule” as “schoodle”, don’t ask me why, and I still think that “mischievious” is the best pronunciation in a family context when referring to kids or pets, though not in public contexts.

  66. I learned to read by look-say, and I frequently mispronounce words I haven’t heard if they’re multisyllablic and from a language I don’t know, for example American names borrowed from Algonquin. (I seldom watch TV or listen to the radio). I just learn to recognize these words as wholes without caring how they sound. Most notably, I pronounced “Chappaquiddick” “Chappadaquic” the first time I said it aloud.

  67. I learned to read by look-say, and I frequently mispronounce words I haven’t heard if they’re multisyllablic and from a language I don’t know, for example American names borrowed from Algonquin. (I seldom watch TV or listen to the radio). I just learn to recognize these words as wholes without caring how they sound. Most notably, I pronounced “Chappaquiddick” “Chappadaquic” the first time I said it aloud.

  68. Marie-Lucie, it wasn’t so much of an embarrassment and I’m glad you told me about it. That’s how you know who your real friends are: they tell you what’s useful to you even if they think you might not be delighted hearing it in the first place. I’d rather have you telling me that kind of stuff than saying that I’m good-looking. (Leave that to Kron.)
    [I’m off to my mirror. The day has to end somehow and, unfortunately, some people can’t spend too much time on LH — that mirror of a peculiar type.]

  69. Paul: There is no final “i” in the spelling [of mischievous], so why put one there ?
    Paul, I’m just like Nijma: I just feel the need to put an -i there and I always tend to pronounce it “mischievious” and I’m dead sure there are other words like that.

  70. Until just a few months ago I thought there was a verb “mull” which meant something like the verb “steep” – as in mulled wine (wine with herbs/spices steeped in it) and mull it over (to let something steep in one’s mind). I was mortified and dismayed to learn that these are apparently two different words, and neither means “steep.”
    I am still struggling with the mental image of having to laboriously grind a new idea over in my mind, rather than let it gently soak in.

  71. You’re metaphor’s nicer — I’d stick with it.

  72. Your

  73. marie-lucie says:

    There is no final “i” in the spelling [of mischievous], so why put one there ?
    One would have to make a count of words in -ious as opposed to words in just -ous to see which suffix is more frequent, and also check where the stress falls in those words. I learned the word as MIS-chievous which I think is standard, but somehow -ious sounds more natural in mis-CHIE-vious, with different stress and suffix perhaps caused by analogy with mys-TE-rious: consider the pattern MYS-tery: mys-TER-ious, hence MIS-chief: mis-CHIEV-ious, but mystery is a borrowing from Latin which cannot be analyzed in English while in mischief the mis- part is a prefix (as in mistake or misunderstand).

  74. marie-lucie says:

    I also deliberately pronounce “crouton” … so it sounds like an insult: the fucking crout’n.
    Actually, the word croûton “piece of bread crust” can be used as an insult in French: un vieux croûton is something like “an old fart”.

  75. Actually, the word croûton “piece of bread crust” can be used as an insult in French: un vieux croûton is something like “an old fart”.
    First deSULTory, now “crouton” as a genuine insult — oh, I am loving this thread.

  76. i loved “misle” as a verb. It always sounded so slimy, so underhand. “Mis-led” was such a disappointment, so clean and honest and straightforward. “Misled” (pr. “mizled”) was the perfect verb for a con man with stubble and shifty eyes – and then one day it vanished into thin air. I think I realized that this verb did not exist quite late, at 17 or so. I still miss it. (But then – all the instances I came across were in books. It’s not likely, but not impossible, that some of the authors were in fact using the verb pr. “mizled” rather than the wretched “mis-led”.)

  77. i loved “misle” as a verb. It always sounded so slimy, so underhand. “Mis-led” was such a disappointment, so clean and honest and straightforward. “Misled” (pr. “mizled”) was the perfect verb for a con man with stubble and shifty eyes – and then one day it vanished into thin air. I think I realized that this verb did not exist quite late, at 17 or so. I still miss it. (But then – all the instances I came across were in books. It’s not likely, but not impossible, that some of the authors were in fact using the verb pr. “mizled” rather than the wretched “mis-led”.)

  78. ulrich nusbaum story says:

    Euro geht langsam als papier
    von Raivo Pommer
    Ulrich Nußbaum wird neuer Finanzsenator
    Der frühere Bremer Finanzsenator Ulrich Nußbaum (parteilos) wird neuer Finanzsenator in Berlin. Das gab der Regierende Bürgermeister Klaus Wowereit (SPD) bekannt. Der 51 Jahre alte Jurist war von 2003 bis 2007 Finanzsenator in Bremen. Er war außerdem als Rechtsanwalt tätig und ist Vizepräsident der Handelskammer Bremerhaven. Er folgt Thilo Sarrazin nach, der zum 1. Mai in den Vorstand der Bundesbank in Frankfurt/Main wechselt.
    Sarrazin war sieben Jahre Finanzsenator in Berlin. Der Regierende Bürgermeister Wowereit sagte, Nußbaum kenne sichals früherer Finanzsenator von Bremen mit Problemen wie Verschuldungund Länderfinanzausgleich bestens aus.

  79. And here I thought “scatty” was some kind of porn reference.
    “i loved “misle” as a verb. ”
    Remember how the character Huw in “How Green was My valley” mis-says, in English, “MISled (mizzled) in stead of “misLED” and the whole class laughs at him?
    “There is no final “i” in the spelling [of mischievous], so why put one there ?”
    There is a final “i” in alumin[i]um, so why drop it?

  80. I don’t get the Nusbaum joke.

  81. I don’t get the Nusbaum joke.

  82. marie-lucie says:

    At one point I felt very pleased with myself for having correctly analyzed the word awry as a-wry rather than awr-y (rhyming with sorry) as I heard some other non-native speakers say it.

  83. Grumbly Stu says:

    I don’t get the Nusbaum joke.

    Someone may have had several browser tabs open, and posted the story in the wrong one.
    I am amazed that so many people got mizzled by misled in their youth. No other word has come up here that often. I suppose that, like the other words, “misled” was read long before it was heard. But what books were those kids reading, in all of which “misled” occurred? It belongs to a higher social register than, say, “tricked” or “fooled”. As to my “lapples”, I guess most kids had heard adults mention that part of a suit jacket, and had never seen the word. I have no memory of what I could have been reading where the word “lapel” was used. Maybe Sears Roebuck catalogues (actually, it could have been for the underwear section, now that I think about it. Well, it was El Paso, for pete’s sake).
    @Emmaeck: I don’t see why mull shouldn’t be invested with the meaning of steep. I bet many people in fact make that association already, including myself. In contrast, the current sense as in mulled wine is “not easy to connect satisfactorily”, as the OED says:

    [Of obscure origin.
        It is not easy to connect the sense satisfactorily with that of mull v.1 It has been suggested that the vb. is f. mull n.1 applied to the powdered spices used in mulling; but there is no evidence of such a specific use of the n. Another unsupported conjecture is that the original sense may have been ‘to soften’, ‘render mild’ (cf. Du. mul soft) of which mull v.2 might be another application. Quite inadmissible is the notion, which appears in all recent Dicts., that mulled ale is a corruption of moldale (mould n.1) funeral banquet.]
        trans. To make (wine, beer, etc.) into a hot drink with the addition of sugar, spices, beaten yolk of egg, etc.

    I particularly like “quite inadmissible is the notion …”. In those days, PF (pussyfooting) was not the fashion. To me, PC is three-quarters PF.

  84. Grumbly Stu says:

    the character Huw in “How Green was My valley”

    “Huw” will be among the first on the name pronunciation site. Is that like Hugh? Welsh, innit?

  85. There is a final “i” in alumin[i]um, so why drop it?
    Exactly.

  86. And here I thought “scatty” was some kind of porn reference.
    “scatological: dealing pruriently with excrement and excretory functions”?
    There is no final “i” in the spelling [of mischievous], so why put one there ?
    Because I say so. (and the 6 million google hits)(think also “devious”)
    There is a final “i” in alumin[i]um, so why drop it?
    The British spelling has an “i”, but not the American.
    http://www.answers.com/topic/aluminum-aluminium

  87. HP’s “sultry ‘weather'” narrative at February 18, 2009 08:54 PM:
    -Just reread your own paragraph.
    -I think that was the point.
    Yes, and very nicely done. A lovely tongue in cheek mixture of metaphor, irony, understatement, and double entendre. *Sigh.* I probably should have emailed him. Whatever he was drinking, I want some.

  88. marie-lucie says:

    I guess I missed the intent of the disclaimer after the paragraph! Congratulations, HP. You too, Nijma.

  89. A childhood friend of mine thought “picturesque” was pronounced “picture-skew”.
    My own favorite childhood misapprehension happened when my father had to go to a committee meeting where they would decide if he had “ten-year”. I understood this to mean that after you’d had had your job for ten years, they couldn’t fire you. The process puzzled me. Why did a committee have to decide whether he’d been there for ten years? Couldn’t they just look at a calendar? And if they did look at a calendar, they’d see that it had been less than ten years since we moved to that town. So I was very surprised when they granted him “ten-year” after all.
    (And by the way, hi. Nice blog.)

  90. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    “scatological: dealing pruriently with excrement and excretory functions”?
    What I like about “scatology” is that when translated into Spanish it comes out exactly the same as “eschatology”: “escatología”. I imagine the context tells people if excrement or the end of the world is under discussion.

  91. Grumbly Stu says:

    Equally delectable, as I recently discovered, is that the French words for sceptic and septic are indistinguishable in sound.

  92. I guess I missed the intent of the disclaimer after the paragraph!
    Of course you’re supposed to miss it–or pretend you do. Anything else would be lacking in proper decorum. After all, one may discuss sultry weather with all propriety.
    I don’t know a name for this type of literary device–not “reductio ad absurdum”, even though it demonstrates something while claiming the opposite–it’s not really a proof, more of a cognitive dissonance.
    Congratulations are hardly in order, though. Alas, my soulmate has delurked briefly, only to evaporate into thin air once again. Perhaps I was too quick to reveal the paucity of my financial reserves. Did I forget to mention the inheritance?

  93. Here’s a funny one: I read the word “respite” in books, and I pronounced it “reh-SPITE.” But I also learned the same word from adults around me, with the proper pronunciation of “REH-spit.” The latter pronunciation, I spelled, “restbit.” Because it’s a bit of rest, right? A restbit. So I was thinking there were two separate words. I didn’t learn they were the same word until I was reading one of those “commonly mispronounced words” lists in college. I still feel kind of annoyed that there’s an e on the end.

  94. marie-lucie says:

    one may discuss sultry weather with all propriety.
    I guess I have never lived in an area with really “sultry weather” as I was not familiar with that meaning of “sultry”.

  95. A.J.P. Crown says:

    ‘Huw Green Was My Valet’.

  96. Grumbly Stu says:

    Jeremy, you’re not serious!? I mean, LOL and all that, but Huw is pronounced “how”??

  97. Aluminium/aluminum The British spelling has an “i”, but not the American
    …which is curious because the -ium suffix denotes a chemical element or compound. Why aluminum and not “cadmum” or “lithum”, etc ? Was it just a lazy pronounciation way back when ?
    There is no final “i” in the spelling [of mischievous], so why put one there ? Because I say so.
    An absolutely definitive argument !
    AJP will appreciate: On my first visit to Oslo, I thought the station at the end of a major tram line was Major-stewer, rather than Mai-usta.
    respite … with the proper pronunciation of “REH-spit.
    REH-spite in British English …
    …and of course there is the famous Hymn: “Gladly my cross-eyed bear..”
    … and “lead me not into Thames Station”..

  98. Mai-usta …
    I forgot to say : spelled Majorstua.

  99. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I don’t think it’s that bad Paul, because ‘major’ the army rank would be pronounced mai-or, as well. I’d never thought of it. It’s a funny name for an area of a city, though: it means ‘major living room’, or something.
    In the Sixties, when Macmillan and Wilson were both PM, there was (allegedly) the kid who said ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Harold be thy name’.

  100. Other expats out there may experience the same problems I have, which is reading words or quotes and never hearing them pronounced or said aloud. I’m embarrassed to say that I came across Bush as “Dubya” several times and had no idea what it was. I pronounced it mentally in Russian (Дубя) Doob-ya. I finally wrote someone and asked what the heck it meant.

  101. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Huw is pronounced the same as Hugh.
    There was a Sir Hugh Greene (brother of Graham) who was the head of the BBC in the Sixties, at the same time as someone called Hughie Green was a quiz show host on ITV (the British commercial-tv channel at that time). Hughie Green, a Canadian, was recently revealed to have been the father of the late Paula Yates, a tv personality in her own right, validating scientific speculation that the qualities needed by a tv personality are for the most part inherited.

  102. Was it just a lazy pronounciation way back when ?
    It was the original name Davy gave it:
    1812 SIR H. DAVY Chem. Philos. I. 355 As yet Aluminum has not been obtained in a perfectly free state.

  103. marie-lucie says:

    more on suffixes with “optional” i:
    Without undertaking a statistical search, it seems to me that these suffixes are more likely to have i if they immediately follow the stressed syllable (mystErious, delIcious, urAnium, cAdmium, etc) but to lack i if they are farther away from the stress (fAbulous, mIschievous, carnIvorous, alUminum, etc). Words (or variants) which do not seem to follow these patterns (mischIEvous, alUminium) are more likely to be regularized by speakers (mischIEvIous, alUminum), whether or not the regularized version makes it into the standard, so British alUminium but American regularized alUminum. Or vice-versa: which was most prominent in naming the metal, the stress pattern (therefore alUminum or the pattern of scientific nomenclature with suffix -ium (therefore aluminium), since the two factors are at odds with each other?
    Incidentally, the reason people “can’t understand why” they pronounce this or that or the other is because they pay conscious attention to individual words but are largely unconscious of more general patterns which may govern their pronunciation: that’s one of the things linguists (especially those for whom the patterns are not totally internalized because they did not grow up with the language) try to pay close attention to in order to discover the actual (not artificial) “rules” of a language.

  104. A.J.P. Crown says:

    m-l: British alUminium but American regularized alUminum.
    But it’s British AluMINium.
    The way I heard it, Sir Humphrey first came up with ‘Aluminium’ for his name, but subsequently changed it to ‘Aluminum’ (or vice versa, I can’t remember). ‘Aluminum’ was faithfully picked up by Americans diligently following his whim. It’s really Sir Humph who’s to blame for this, but I’ve found that Americans get secretly criticised all over (ok, in Germany, Britain & Norway) for not being able to pronounce long words properly. They retaliate by saying our women are ugly, the swines. This is how world wars start.

  105. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: But it’s British AluMINium.
    I did wonder about this possibility. If so, the word conforms perfectly to the general -ium after stressed syllable pattern.
    If the identification and naming of the metal dates from the early 1800’s, then communication at that time was mostly on paper, so that most scientists concerned would not necessarily have been aware of each others’ (?) pronunciation.

  106. Or vice-versa: which was most prominent in naming the metal, the stress pattern … since the two factors are at odds with each other?
    Couldn’t agree more, Marie-Lucie. There is no good support for partisanship about this one, as there is about, say, preventive. See OED etymology for preventative: “[f. prevent v. + -ative. See also preventive, the preferable formation]”. (Superseded in current online version?) A gloss: we don’t have *preventation, so why insert -at- in preventive? Something (perhaps not parallel) could also be said about interpret[at]ive and the verb orient[ate]; but I don’t want to be “overly” “assertative”. (OED on overly: “Apart from O.E., Sc. and U.S. until the 20th cent., often regarded as an Americanism in the U.K.”; and OED records assertative, with two 19C citations.)
    Coroa, it’s like at Wikipedia, isn’t it? Your man Davy wrote the “stub”, so his whims don’t really count. The first “non-stub” version sets the weighty precedents.
    Marie-Lucie, why the query in each others’ (?) pronunciation? Uncertainty between others’ and other’s? I say that other’s fits the usually accepted norms, though I see why one might hesitate in the present case, which has invariably but problematically singular each, at least quasi-plural others, and singular pronunciation. The question is discussed well enough in M-W’s very catholic Concise Dictionary of English Usage.

  107. Stephen Mulraney says:

    I could add that it’s “British” (not only) /aljuMINjum/ as opposed to American /aLUMinum/. That is, the first ‘u’ us ‘yoo’.
    In Polish, for a long time I took the ubiquitous advertisements for “szkoły policealne” as referring to some kind of “police school” (actually, though would be “policyjne”). I wondered why there were so many of them… It turned out that it’s ‘post-secondary schools” (po post + licealny, adj. form of liceum, lycaeum).
    Anyway, I vote for mischievious. And for pain-staking. Pains-taking, indeed.

  108. Stephen Mulraney says:

    * actually, *that would be “policyjne”

  109. David Marjanović says:

    Not the same phenomenon, but more embarrassing: I used to pronounce “desultory” with the emphasis on the second syllable, “salient” as “SALLY-unt,”

    Uh-oh.
    How are they pronounced, then?
    <reads on> Desultory on the first syllable? Dessel-tory? :-S
    Ils sont fous, les…

    But seriously, if you want to get married, we should talk. Like being John Emerson, being married to me is a terrific burden to bear. Many are called; few have answered.

    ROTFL!

    Remember how the character Huw in “How Green was My valley” mis-says, in English, “MISled (mizzled) in stead of “misLED” and the whole class laughs at him?

    Crap, it’s stressed on the last syllable?

    My own favorite childhood misapprehension happened when my father had to go to a committee meeting where they would decide if he had “ten-year”.

    I’ve even seen someone spell it tenyear in a blog comment.

    Here’s a funny one: I read the word “respite” in books, and I pronounced it “reh-SPITE.” But I also learned the same word from adults around me, with the proper pronunciation of “REH-spit.”

    Urgh.
    Please, people, do carry on. Who knows how much else I’ll learn in this thread.

    I still feel kind of annoyed that there’s an e on the end.

    Didn’t Noah Webster want to abolish this nonsense?
    I remember being taught determine and intestine

    …and of course there is the famous Hymn: “Gladly my cross-eyed bear..”
    … and “lead me not into Thames Station”..

    …and to the Republican,
    Richard Sands,
    one vegetable…

    ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Harold be thy name’

    That makes the fourth possibility for what the H in “Jesus H. Christ” stands for.

    I’m embarrassed to say that I came across Bush as “Dubya” several times and had no idea what it was.

    I figured that out on my own! 🙂 🙂 🙂
    Probably I saw it in “George Dubya” the first time.
    ———————
    Davy first wanted to name it alumium. Someone quickly pointed out that derivation from alumen must yield aluminum, and that’s what he then published. Then the ending was uniformized to aluminium, but that was already too late for the USA…

  110. marie-lucie says:

    the famous Hymn: “Gladly my cross-eyed bear..”
    It is “the” not “my” in the hymn: the original means “I would gladly carry the cross [of Jesus] (if I could help him)”, not “carry my own cross”, which everyone has to do.
    respite: I am surprised: I never knew that this word was supposed to be pronounced as respit.
    each others’ (?): thank you, Noetica, the question mark does mean that I was not sure how to handle this and decided to rely on Hatters’ goodwill instead of trying to rewrite the sentence.
    alumin(i)um: so the first try with -um was influenced by the stress pattern (meaning Davy tried pronouncing it before he wrote it), and the rewrite by the general written pattern with -ium, which is awkward in terms of pronunciation unless the stress is placed on the min part. Perhaps this pronunciation was also influenced by MINium (a red paint used as rustproofing)?

  111. M-L: As you may know, “miniatures” in art history have nothing to do with size, but are so called because they were painted with minium.
    AJCP: That valley/valet pun doesn’t work in AmE.
    Linnea: You are not alone: a “tenured graduate student” is one who’s been around for a decade and still no Ph.D.

  112. I should have checked back on this thread more often. The perils of feed-readers.
    Nijma: I was drinking Old Overholt neat. Inexpensive, eminently drinkable, and the most effective inhibition-suppressant I’ve ever found. Yet morality compels me not to recommend it to others.
    Marie-Lucie: I am afraid I veered somewhat from the intent of the comment of yours that inspired me; I was, as they say, on a tear. My apologies for any misunderstanding this may have engendered.
    Nijma: Check your email. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life. (Oh, crap — the screenplay for Casablanca is taking over again . . . .)

  113. (Oh, crap — the screenplay for Casablanca is taking over again . . . .)
    And another beautiful friendship is hatched chez LH.

  114. Noetica, I am shocked — shocked — to learn that off-topic pastiche is going on in this thread.

  115. Yes indeed. Round up all suspicious characters and search them for stolen documents. Important.

  116. I think this is the beginning of a ….do you think he believed the part about the inheritance?

  117. Speaking of scatological, I nearly forgot the old chestnut about the “W.C.” which is what those wacky British call their powder rooms. And what do they call a “toilet”? If you check out any “for rent” sign on an apartment building, it will say “to let” in letters so close together that at first glance it looks like “toilet”.

  118. M-L: As you may know, “miniatures” in art history have nothing to do with size, but are so called because they were painted with minium.
    I must disagree. They are miniatures because they are very small. For a current definition, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miniature_art
    It refers to Hilliard, one of the greatest miniaturists.
    There is even a World Federation of Miniaturists.

  119. As you may know, “miniatures” in art history have nothing to do with size, but are so called because they were painted with minium.
    Paul is right—they are in fact so called because they are small; the word is from Italian miniare ‘to decorate with small images’ (OED). Now, the OED goes on to say (in small type):
    “Italian miniatura originally denoted the painting of small images to decorate the initial letters of chapters in manuscripts (compare the use of post-classical Latin miniare in the sense ‘to rubricate’). As these images were necessarily small, the term came to be used for small portraits, probably reinforced by an association by folk etymology with (ultimately classical Latin) min– in minore ‘minor’ adj., etc., which has probably also affected the development of the extended senses in English and in other languages.”
    So the etymology of the word goes back to minium, which I did not know and for which I thank you, but it’s incorrect to claim that that etymology has had any influence on the sense of the word since the transfer of meaning—the minium element has left no trace in the English use of the word (as recorded by the OED).

  120. A.J.P. Crown says:

    We’ve just inherited a Yorkshire terrier. It’s the size of a kitten.

  121. A real dog does not have floppy ears.

  122. Siganus Sutor says:

    Sapo: Paul is right—they are in fact so called because they are small; the word is from Italian miniare ‘to decorate with small images’ (OED).
    But Dauzat has this for miniature (in French of course):

    miniature 1645, Corneille (migniature) ; 1653, Oudin (miniature) ; en miniature, fin XVIIe s., Sévigné ; ital. miniatura, de minio, minium.

    Minium exists in French since 1547 (Petit Robert and TLF) or 1560 (Dauzat) — miniem since the 14th century — and, according to Dauzat again, it is the Latin word that replaced an older, already-Gallicized word: minie (attested since the 11th century), or mine.
    The Dico étymo, inventaire des étymologies surprenantes (Jean Maillet, 2008) has an entry for “Miniature ▬ n. f. Minium (latin classique : « vermillon »”, in which it says this:

    Cinnabar [cinabre] is a red mercuric sulphide out of which a red colouring substance could be extracted: vermilion (cf. vermeil*). To call this sulphide, Classical Latin had the word minium. As an imitation of this natural pigment, the Romans used lead tetroxide, a compound that was heated and ground to powder, and which they also called minium. […]
    This red pigment will be used a lot during the Middle Ages in the art of illumination [enluminure], these “capdelized**” [cadelées] letters (cf. cadeau) painted with bright colours in missals and other religious books. In Italian, these illuminations were naturally called miniatura, the verb miniare taking the meaning of “illuminating a parchment, a missal, an anthology”.

    So, what Marie-Lucie said wasn’t just lunacy, no? And what appears in my copy of the SOED (in fact called “The Oxford Universal Dictionary Illustrated”, 3rd edition, Caxton) doesn’t seem to be in contradiction with what is written above:

    Miniature, 1586. [Adaptation of Italian miniatura, adoption of medieval Latin miniatura, formed on miniare, to rubricate, illuminate; see Miniate. Probably influenced by the Latin min- expressing smallness (in minor, minimus, etc.)]

    The SOED is talking of the influence of some (god of) small things. It is not saying that miniature is cognate with minimus. The entry for the abovementioned Miniate also reads as follows:

    Miniate, v. 1657. [Formed on Latin miniat-, participial stem of miniare (formed on minium; see Minium + -ate.] transitive To colour or paint with vermilion; to rubricate or (more widely) to illuminate (a manuscript).

    “To rubricate”… Just as in ‘rubric’, isn’t there some redness floating around? Nothing to blush about though: rubricity doesn’t have anything to do with dirty thoughts.
     
     
     
     
    * Vermeil — vermilion in English, but also vermeil, i.e. gilded [covered with gold] silver — has a funny etymology too, since the Dico étymo says it comes from Greek apsinthion, “which cannot be drunk” (I wonder how true that is, added to the fact that there is no straightforward link with the following maggot), and from the small worm (vermiculus in latin) known as mealybug (cochenille), out of which a red colour was extracted (the cochineal). Gold is sometimes red but not vermicelli? How weird, Mr Heinz!
    ** I have no idea about how cadelé should be translated into English.

  123. Siganus Sutor says:

    In fact it wasn’t Marie-Lucie but John Cowan who said that the origin of the word miniature lied — or dipped — in the red minium.
    Paul, was it written too small?
    Miniaturisation might become problematic in our technology-driven societies.

  124. marie-lucie says:

    Indeed, I did not know about the relationship between miniature and minium.
    Vermeil — vermilion in English, but also vermeil, i.e. gilded [covered with gold] silver — has a funny etymology too, since the Dico étymo says it comes from Greek apsinthion, “which cannot be drunk”
    I wonder about the standards of the Dico étymo if it actually says that the word vermeil “comes from” Greek apsinthion. Usually, “comes from” means that a word has evolved from an earlier form, or, put another way, the current word is basically the same as an earlier one but has undergone phonetic transformation (compatible with similar transformations in other words). According to that definition, French vermeil “comes from” the root or stem verm of Latin vermis “worm” but there is no way that it is in any way related to Greek apsinthion (which appears to be the source of French absinthe, a bitter, green alcoholic drink). If there is a hidden relationship between the two words, it is certainly not an etymological (= genetic) one.
    [See final comment in thread for explanation re vermeil and apsinthion—LH.]

  125. Siganus and John Cowan (cc LH): I take the point, the origin is minium. But it does appear that in practice the minium origin faded away in favour of the other derivation of miniature, if I understand correctly the following from the Online Eytmology Dictionary.
    Miniature : 1586 (n.) “a reduced image,” from It. miniatura “manuscript illumination or small picture,” from pp. of miniare “to illuminate a manuscript,” from L. miniare “to paint red,” from minium “red lead,” used in ancient times to make red ink. Extended sense of “small” (adj.) is first attested 1714, because pictures in medieval manuscripts were small, infl. by L. min-, root expressing smallness (minor, minimus, minutus, etc.).
    Marie-Lucie: the proper term for W.C. in British English is lavatory, “toilet” being considered (by some) as non-U. See
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_and_non-U_English

  126. marie-lucie says:

    Paul, I do not recall commenting about WC, you must be confusing me with someone else.
    But now that you mention it: “toilet” has an interesting history. toilette in French first meant ‘little piece of cloth’, such as a facecloth, then ‘grooming and hygiene activities’ (faire sa toilette), then ‘place where such activities take place (including some water access)’, then ‘bathroom’ (in the euphemistic American sense where the main purpose is not bathing) and later (in the plural) ‘public facilities’.

  127. But Dauzat has this for miniature
    I’m not sure what you’re objecting to in my comment. I was not denying that miniature is etymologically from minium, I was pointing out that the comment “miniatures in art history have nothing to do with size, but are so called because they were painted with minium” is wrong on both counts—they are so called because of their small size, and minium has nothing to do with it.
    if I understand correctly the following from the Online Eytmology Dictionary
    You do indeed!

  128. Wow, I’m surprised no-one else has mentioned AWry,
    /ˈɔːɹɪ/. I said saBOTage, /səˈbɔtɪdʒ/ rhyming with cottage, as a 14-year-old, which would have been fine if it had been borrowed from the Normans.

  129. Wow, I’m surprised no-one else has mentioned AWry
    Actually, marie-lucie did away up there, but it’s not easy to keep track of these threads!

  130. marie-lucie says:

    Aidan: Wow, I’m surprised no-one else has mentioned AWry,
    /ˈɔːɹɪ/.

    No one else than who? I did, about halfway down this thread.

  131. marie-lucie says:

    (sorry, LH must have posted while I was still writing)

  132. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Marie-Lucie is suffering an awful battering here. We’re lucky it’s there in black and white for all to see what she’s actually saying.
    I was trying to explain what a euphemism is to my daughter the other day. I gave the example of toilet, bathroom, powder-room etc., but when she asked me what the non-euphemistic name is I couldn’t think of anything except ‘crapper’. Shit-hole’s no good because we don’t use a hole any longer. W.c., although it’s teetering on the edge of being a euphemism, is one of the more straightforward names.

  133. Marie-Lucie: Mes excuses, I didn’t check back on the thread properly.

  134. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Shellac is a resin made from beetles, that we used when I was an art student as a fixative for charcoal drawings.
    Nowadays, apparently, it’s a floorwax … and a dessert topping!

  135. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, that’s the trouble about euphemisms: one can end up having no “real words” any more for the same objects and topics.
    I think that slang words and euphemisms are two sides of the same coin: slang words tend to insist on some very concrete, often unpleasant characteristic, euphemisms to veil this reality. In your case you were left with a choice of either euphemisms or slang words, with no neutral term in between.

  136. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Yes. You’re right, of course.
    The thing I hate about euphemisms is not that some people feel obliged to use them; that’s their problem. It’s the implied criticism of me for not using them that I don’t like.

  137. Then there’s expert jargon, neither popular slang nor popular euphemism.

  138. Then there’s expert jargon, neither popular slang nor popular euphemism.

  139. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Expert jargon is unpopular slang.

  140. Grumbly Stu says:

    Expert jargon is unpopular slang.

    Very clever, except for one thing: slang of whatever kind is short-lived, expert jargon is forever.

  141. marie-lucie says:

    Expert jargon is sometimes classified together with slang as a type of special vocabulary, but there is a big difference in that expert jargon (whether of computer nerds or of fishermen or football players) is required by the specialized activities of those groups, while slang (and it counterpart euphemism) has strong social and emotional connotations.

  142. Grumbly Stu says:

    while slang (and it counterpart euphemism) has strong social and emotional connotations

    I think the functioning of slang in social groups is a “spezialized activity” no different, at this level of generalization, from the functioning of jargon in a “specialized activity” such as fishing. Note that I do not say “function” in either case, because I don’t want to imply goal-directed activity.
    There is a stock theme in popularizing TV programs on primate behavior, to the effect that “apes delouse each other, and so strengthen the social bonds between them”. That only makes sense if you have some notion like this: “first there were individual apes, who later discovered the advantages of social bonding, and then they (or the species) became aware of how delousing could be useful in strengthening social bonds, so they (or the species) employ delousing to that end”.
    What I’m suggesting here is not that there are no differences between the functionings of slang and expert jargon. Rather, I am suggesting that there is an invidious, fundamentally thought-hobbling comparision lurking beneath the distinction between what “expert jargon” is supposed to be doing (provide something “objectively needed by the activity”) and what slang is assumed to be doing (provide something “not objectively needed”). What advance in our understanding of human behavior is achieved by the view that social and emotional activities are not “spezialized”? Does this mean that you have to “know something special” as a fisherman, whereas “anybody can pick up slang”? Does it mean that the activity involves “transfer of knowledge” or is “goal-directed”, whereas the other one doesn’t?

  143. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly Stu, your comment is interesting but is not the point I was trying to make. As I see it, enabling bonding is not the primary function of either jargon or slang, although both forms of speech can end up doing so.
    If you get involved in some specialized activity, whether through your job or other pursuit, you will learn some specific terms for things or activities which are not generally engaged in by the general public: if you work in a hospital, you will learn a lot of medical vocabulary including shortcuts, etc. but there is no emotional value attached to those words in themselves. If you study linguistics, you will learn a lot of technical terms but also without emotional value. Similarly if you engage in bungee-jumping or baseball or whatever. Those technical terms may come to have some emotional meaning to you as symbols of a shared experience with friends, but they will leave other people cold.
    Slang words on the other hand do not usually have a meaning untranslatable into more general vocabulary without circumlocution but in many cases they are an additional vocabulary in parallel to the general one, and this vocabulary (although often originating in a particular group) is known to many people who nevertheless knowingly refrain from using it and try to enforce this restraint with their children. Hearing such words often causes an emotional reaction on the part of people who do not use them. Such is not the case when hearing expert jargon which one either does or does not understand: one may feel left out, but not shocked. And some parts of slang (bordering on group jargon) may come and go but some of it stays for centuries.
    I feel that euphemism is the opposite of slang precisely because even objectively neutral terms cause reactions because of their strong emotional content or connotations. Euphemisms try to gloss over painful or embarrassing realities while slang faces them head on and even emphasizes them.
    It is often said that men are taught not to show emotion as opposed to women: their (usually) greater use of slang can be viewed as a different form of showing emotion.

  144. AJP: shellac in floorwax? I don’t think so. The problem with shellac is that it’s not very durable and also it dissolves in alcohol. It’s mostly useful as an undercoat to prevent staining. Also here at least you can’t get it in flakes–apparently dissolving them is a long tedious process, much more work than just stirring a paint can. You would find shellac in a can already dissolved in alcohol. Shellac is also the base of the (relatively expensive) miracle product BIN primer.

  145. A.J.P. Crown says:

    ‘Floorwax & dessert topping’ was a quotation from a comment by Language, last week, as well as being in the wiki article on shellac.

  146. ‘Floorwax & dessert topping’ was a quotation from a comment by Language, last week, as well as being in the wiki article on shellac.
    I was quoting an old SNL episode (from the first season, when we were all just getting used to the concept of “fake ads”). It has apparently been removed from the Wikipedia article.

  147. Grumbly Stu says:

    Marie-Lucie, I did not put my point well, it appears. I was not attempting in any way to relate slang or expert jargon to “bonding”. The ape behavior example was intended rather to illustrate the reason why I wrote “the functioning of slang” instead of “the function of slang is to…”. I was trying to say that I do not see that goal-directed activity is the only activity that “counts”. So I was advancing a counter-argument to an argument that no one had made, or rather that I myself went on to imagine rhetorically only in a later paragraph. Not the best way to set out a line of thought!
    The idea I was trying to counter in advance was that expert jargon has some sort of objectivity or goal-directedness about it, of which slang has none, or if so of another kind. What you write seems to me to be written in the spirit of that idea, as in the argumentative transition:

    If you get involved in some specialized activity, whether through your job or other pursuit, you will learn some specific terms for things or activities which are not generally engaged in by the general public: if you work in a hospital, you will learn a lot of medical vocabulary including shortcuts, etc. but there is no emotional value attached to those words in themselves.

    Emotional value is here the “subjective” counterpart to the “objective” specific terms. Emotions are feely things, specific terms are hard things. If I understand aright, you say that “strong emotional content or connotations” tend to be combatted by euphemisms and reinforced by slang – with the implication that this is not the case and not necessary for expert jargons.
    In your initial comment, you wrote that “expert jargon (whether of computer nerds or of fishermen or football players) is required by the specialized activities of those groups, while slang (and it counterpart euphemism) has strong social and emotional connotations”. That is what I referred to as an invidious comparison. The one thing is required and neat, the other is optional and messy. In an attempt to put my message in a nutshell, I would say that both are necessary and messy (complex) – and that traditional dichotomies such as public/private, technical/emotional and necessary/unnecessary are hobbling our thinking and speaking. Some biologists have a way of distinguishing between teleonomic and teleological processes, which is a little dicey to my mind, but still slightly more thought-productive than the other distinctions.

  148. ‘Floorwax & dessert topping’–looks like I missed that episode of SNL.
    I do not recall commenting about WC, you must be confusing me with someone else. Uh, I was the one who brought up toilets. Thinking of that thread, wherever it is now, where Emerson decided “mischevious” was a word that would be used within the family, (and I agree, but having grown up less than three hours from his domain, it’s not surprising) there are probably words for toilet that would be used within the family too. “Rest room”, “wash room”, “the ladies” and “the men’s room” are all words for polite inquiries with strangers. For Minnesota I would add “powder room”, although that might be very local, and I have also heard “the little girls’ room” and “the little boys’ room”, although it grates. “Bathroom” and “toilet” are not impersonal enough for strangers.

  149. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly Stu, of course there will be some overlap and those dichotomies are not “written in stone”, but I think we have to agree to disagree. Most languages are full of dichotomies and separate compartments which do not necessarily make sense to speakers of other languages (which have their own way of slicing up the universe in order to make sense of it).

  150. HP: I was drinking Old Overholt neat. Where I come from that’s called Rotgut; Wild Turkey is the preferred brand. Although I’m not a rye drinker, I would have to say that not mixing whiskey with anything but water demonstrates good character.
    Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life. This actually scared me until I remembered that when it comes to romance, I’m very good at outliving people. So no, probably not for the rest of my life.

  151. Siganus Sutor says:

    Hat: I’m not sure what you’re objecting to in my comment.
    I’m not sure what I’m objecting to either. 🙂
    On the other hand, the left one, I might have just wanted to add my touch of paint.
    However, by reading what Paul wrote and what you wrote after him one could possibly be brought to think that miniature had nothing to do whatsoever with minium, which isn’t the case. And I’m not sure I agree with the statement that “minium has nothing to do with it” [how miniatures are called]. But maybe we are not talking about the same miniature, the contemporary one vs. the medieval one?
     
     
    Paul: it does appear that in practice the minium origin faded away in favour of the other derivation of miniature
    Of course it did, and in several languages. That’s the fun part of etymology and its surprises.
     
     
    Marie-Lucie: I wonder about the standards of the Dico étymo if it actually says that the word vermeil “comes from” Greek apsinthion.
    I think they missed a bit of proofreading and it was a printing error. This was the heading for the entry on vermeil and it is the same one that appears on top of the entry about “la petite fée verte” (i.e. absinth, the forbidden beverage once used and abused by Verlaine, Toulouse-Lautrec and some others).
     
     
    A.J.P.: I was trying to explain what a euphemism is to my daughter the other day. I gave the example of toilet, bathroom, powder-room etc.
    The first time I heard the expression “powder-room” it was in the mouth of a resort architect who always called the customers “guests”, never clients, as if the people coming to the hotel were invited by the owners. I suppose these guests were not supposed to pay for anything; they only made a gift when leaving.
    And it reminds me of a 1958 story told by French navigator Bernard Moitessier, who was invited for lunch by a hotel director on the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha. Having very little financial resources, Bernard and his friend Henry stuff themselves as much as they can, thinking that with this God-sent treat they might be able to skip a few meals. Alas, when everything is eaten and drunk, here comes the bill…

  152. John Cowan wrote:
    As you may know, “miniatures” in art history have nothing to do with size, but are so called because they were painted with minium.
    Paul responded:
    I must disagree. They are miniatures because they are very small.
    I responded:
    Paul is right—they are in fact so called because they are small; the word is from Italian miniare ‘to decorate with small images’ (OED). Now, the OED goes on to say […] So the etymology of the word goes back to minium, which I did not know and for which I thank you, but it’s incorrect to claim that that etymology has had any influence on the sense of the word since the transfer of meaning—the minium element has left no trace in the English use of the word (as recorded by the OED).
    I have bolded the portion of my comment which makes me wonder how anyone “could possibly be brought to think that miniature had nothing to do whatsoever with minium.” It has to do with it etymologically, not semantically. Once more, the original statement that miniatures “have nothing to do with size, but are so called because they were painted with minium” is completely wrong.

  153. marie-lucie says:

    Like rubrics, miniatures intended as embellishments for significant initial letters in manuscripts were red originally, but at least for the most significant ones (eg at the beginning of books or chapters rather than paragraphs) the red paint was soon joined by other colours, thus obscuring the original link of Italian miniatura with minium. By the time the word was adopted (and adapted) from Italian into French and then English the etymological meaning had completely disappeared in favour of the “small, tiny” one, emphasized also by the mini- at the start of the word, connecting it with Latin minimum and others.

  154. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: a resort architect who always called the customers “guests”
    This is typical hotelspeak. Customers only buy things, while guests are enjoying services generously provided to them.
    For a slightly different example of possible euphemism: in Canadian airports announcements are made in both French and English. On a recent trip I was surprised to hear that the French version (at least) had replaced the word passagers with clients (customers). Sometimes genuine improvements have been made to the French version of the announcements, but how that particular change was an improvement over the previous version is beyond me. Are passengers supposed to forget that they are going on a plane, but concentrate on their financial transaction with the airline? That seems counterproductive to me.

  155. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I hate to disagree with the devilishly handsome Sig, but in the spirit of learning, aren’t people staying at hotels always called guests? Sure, it’s euphemistic, like toilet, but what else are you going to call them: punters? A ‘customer’ in a hotel is someone in the hotel shop buying a newspaper. If the hotel wants to know if the customer wants the newspaper put on his bill they ask “Are you a guest here?”.
    In England there’s an expression that’s probably no longer used which is ‘paying guest’. It applies to two or three people who stay with a family or landlady at her house (in Brighton or one of the dreary British seaside resorts), during the season.

  156. A.J.P. Crown says:

    One odd thing I found when I was designing cruise ships is that ‘passengers’ is invariably written by everyone in the cruise business as ‘pax’.

  157. People who ride cruise ships should be called “victims”. This is a euphemism for something worse. In a sense, I do not blame Corona for making their lives miserable with his diabolical designs.

  158. People who ride cruise ships should be called “victims”. This is a euphemism for something worse. In a sense, I do not blame Corona for making their lives miserable with his diabolical designs.

  159. A few years back, hospital “patients” became “clients”.

  160. marie-lucie says:

    And soon they might be “health products and services consumers”.

  161. Hat: It has to do with it etymologically, not semantically.
    Very concise explanation, LH. Clarifies it for me.

  162. I wonder about the standards of the Dico étymo if it actually says that the word vermeil “comes from” Greek apsinthion.
    Jean Maillet, the author of Dico Etymo, writes to apologize for a misprint in the etymology of vermeil:

    The etymology I referred to in my manuscript was the following : “Vermeil, eille – Vermiculus (latin classique : « vermisseau »)”. There is obviously no relationship between “vermeil” and Greek “apsinthion”. I wonder how the etymology I mentioned for the french word “absinthe” happened to be resumed for “vermeil”.

    He promises that it will be corrected in the next edition.

  163. marie-lucie says:

    This thread was so much fun!

  164. I’m sorry I missed it; it was before my time.
    I knew someone who knew someone who pronounced “domestic” as if it were “dosmetic”. And I think it was the same person who thought squirrels were called squares.

  165. oh, I missed all the fun here too.
    it’s British AluMINium
    I’d thought that aluminum was something different from aluminium before someone explained to me the British/American difference.
    There is an old Soviet army joke where the sergeant assigns new conscripts to load aluminium onto a lorry. ‘You will load люминь (lyu-MIN’)’ he says. ‘Comrade sergent, it’s алюминий (aluminiy)’ says one soldier, straight from school. ‘And the smart ones will come with me and start loading чугунь (chugun’)’ says the sergeant. (chugun, without the soft n, is pig iron, cast iron).

  166. but Tsvetayeva is right, I’ve just checked in Dahl’s, pazhit means both pasture and field, it’s a field farther away from the village where there is more grass untrampled by the animals.

  167. Other expats out there
    We’ve been struggling for months to find an alternative word to ‘expat’, which, I think, at least in some countries, is just a cover word to avoid using ‘immigrant’ or ‘migrant’. If you pay local taxes, are within the local social security system, your children go to local school and not to the expatriate, embassy or foreign mission, school, you are not an expatriate (i.e. living outside of your native country for job requirements and expecting to go back to carry on with your life), but one of your newly adopted nation. Saying ‘expat’ is like saying ‘I’m not here, really’.
    Huw is pronounced the same as Hugh.
    not it isn’t, the Welsh name is KHEE-oo, not the English h’-YOOH.

  168. Sash, I believe “expat” is mostly used by the British, I can’t remember hearing anyone from the US or elsewhere use it. Anyway, I agree it’s an awful word with colonial associations. However, I certainly don’t regard myself as an “immigrant” either. I live in a house and I might move sometime. I didn’t adopt an entire nation when I started paying taxes for local services.

  169. @AJP Crown:
    “I believe “expat” is mostly used by the British, I can’t remember hearing anyone from the US or elsewhere use it.”
    ‘Expat’ is a very common word among Americans working in Saudi Arabia. However, it could well have originated with the Brits.

  170. Ah, thanks.

  171. But Crown, if you are neither an expat, nor an immigrant, what are you?
    Expat is widely used here in France to self-refer collectively to the British and other West Europeans living in the country including those living full-time and integrated in the French system.
    Expat is a horrible word because, among other things, it has a (self-)segregationist element in it. ‘We are in France, but are not part of France’. I am looking for a neutral word that could replace ‘expat’ and can’t find one.

  172. For me, expat has always implied that you are posted to a country with expat benefits. That is, your employer is a foreign company paying a big salary, you probably get a moving allowance, hardship posting allowance, etc. Also you probably don’t know the local language because you’re only there for a few years. Since I’ve always worked for local companies (or for foreign entities as a ‘local hire’), I’ve always made a point of learning the local language, and I don’t normally hang out at expat watering holes, I’ve never really considered myself an expat. A kind of reverse snobbery, I guess.

  173. There you are. But you aren’t an immigrant either, are you?

  174. I sometimes call myself a ‘long-term sojourner’. Not very snappy, I know.

  175. I think of expat in the same terms as Bathrobe, thanks.
    With free movement within the EU on the one hand, and old racist, nationalist prejudices still there on the other, there is clearly a gap which expat is trying to fill – and I don’t like it.

  176. I don’t like “expat”; but I see a need for another word than “immigrant” which like “expat” has tons of baggage that I don’t want to pick up.

  177. How about “glory”?
    (“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘long-term sojourner,'” Alice objected.)

  178. Having had a lousy spring and summer, Humpty-Dumpty had a…

  179. marie-lucie says:

    I have lived in Canada for the major portion of my life, but even though “immigrant” may describe my official status, it is not a word that I feel applies to me.

  180. @Sashura: In my 11 years in Saudi Arabia, I never felt that ‘expat’ had negative connotations. As a matter of law, even if a Westerner wanted to, it would be extremely, extremely difficult to become “part of Saudi Arabia” legally or otherwise.
    @Bathrobe: I did enjoy a good salary and benefits for which I am grateful. But, I didn’t hang out at “expat watering holes” and I made an effort to learn as much about the culture and language as possible. Although we had Saudi friends, there are cultural barriers that are hard to leap.
    It is true that many Westerners are there solely for the money and have no interest whatsoever in learning about the culture or mixing with “the locals.”
    I think it is possible to maintain one’s ethnicity without disrespecting or distancing themselves from the local citizens.

  181. George, thanks,
    Expat doesn’t have negative connotations in Saudi Arabia probably because noone there expects you to integrate. Is there a collective name for non-European workers, Arabs or Africans, for example?
    How about Saxons? The French often use Anglo-Saxons in reference to the British and the Americans in the context of ‘different cultural attitudes’?
    LH, what is this glory thing, I don’t recognise it? It’s not Alice in W learning that a word can mean anything one wants it to mean?

  182. I like “extra-terrestrial”. I might hang out at an extra-terrestrials’ watering hole.

  183. “Alien” also works for me.

  184. Ummites?
    Follow the crowd to Bugarach.

  185. @Sashura:
    “Expat doesn’t have negative connotations in Saudi Arabia probably because noone there expects you to integrate.”
    Exactly, and both legal and social obstacles are erected to prevent it from occurring.
    “Is there a collective name for non-European workers, Arabs or Africans, for example?”
    Not that I recall, but it is more commonly used for Westerners. Asians and other Arabs years ago were referred to as ‘TCNs’ (Third Country Nationals), but I think that is dying out.
    Saudis often divide the world into categories: Saudis, Arabs, Muslims, foreigners.

  186. It’s not Alice in W learning that a word can mean anything one wants it to mean?
    That’s exactly what it is.

  187. Except that it’s from Through The Looking-Glass.

  188. thanks, I was getting worried I’m losing it. That bit in AiW is my favourite – and very Hatty.

  189. I always liked to refer to myself as a gaijin or laowai. They are broad enough to encompass all types of foreign guest, but they do have the disadvantage of referring principally to white foreigners.

  190. Just discovered this exchange in Samuil Lurie’s Литератор Писарев [The writer Pisarev] (which is not nearly as good as his magisterial book on Nikolai Polevoy, but after all it was his first book, and he was only in his mid-twenties when he wrote it), and it reminded me of the Tsvetaeva quote in the post:

    — [Pisarev, in prison:] А что еще там делается, на наших литературных пажитях?

    — [Blagosvetlov, his publisher:] На пастбищах, ты хотел сказать? А все то же самое.

    “So what else are they doing out their, in our literary pastures [using the word pázhit’]?”

    “You mean in the pastures [using the synonymous pástbishche]? The same old thing.”

    I’m not sure why Blagosvetlov corrects him, unless the implication is that he misunderstood it similarly to Tsvetaeva.

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