Sports Nicknames.

Ben Yagoda’s Lingua Franca post Why Don’t Athletes Have Good Nicknames Anymore? covers a subject dear to my heart (my answer to the titular question: because the good nicknames were given by the fans in the cheap seats back when sports were cheap entertainment, but now they’re big business and there are no cheap seats); it’s a funny piece and there are some good nicknames, but I’m really posting it for the final item:

And the best sports nickname of all time. In the 1950s, the Temple University Owls had a star forward named Bill Mlkvy. His brilliant handle? “The Owl Without a Vowel.”

So Pitted!

Brendan Leonard’s “The Unlikely Origins of Outdoor Slang” is not only a fun read, it’s based on actual evidence, which is refreshing in any piece on language in a popular periodical (in this case Outside). Leonard is up on recent discoveries, correctly pointing out in his opening paragraph that “dude” “started with, believe it or not, Yankee Doodle Dandy, then was adopted by cowboys and dude ranches, then surfers, and now everyone else” (see this 2013 LH post). He continues: “The adventure lexicon is full of words like that, whether they originated in the 1800s or in the minds of the Wu-Tang Clan. Here are 10 important ones.” They range from “gnarly,” known even to this indoors type, to “sandbag” (“the act of grading a rock climb easier than it actually is”), which was new to me. As was “pitted”:

A surfing term describing when a surfer gets barreled, or rides the hollow center of a breaking wave. Made virally famous (but not invented) by Micah Peasley, the surfer who was interviewed in 2002 on a morning news show in a clip that later went viral, forever dubbing Peasley the “So Pitted Guy.” As Peasley so eloquently put, “Oh, brah, it’s just like … dude, you get the best barrels ever, dude. It’s just like, you pull in and you just get spit right out ’em. You just drop in, smack the lip … waapah! Drop down … swoopah! And then after that you just drop in, ride the barrel and get pitted, so pitted, like that.”

Waapah! Swoopah! Thanks, Eric!

Revenge of the Copy Editors.

As a copy editor myself, of course I enjoyed this piece by Thomas Vinciguerra, which begins:

Backed by the cheery fiddle and guitar of Tom Moss’s “Gypsy Night Dance,” the bespectacled white-haired gentleman in a blue blazer, striped bow tie, and pocket square is holding forth on the language issue of the day.

“I’m sometimes asked,” he tells the camera, speaking patiently but gesturing intensely, “‘Is “data” singular or plural?’ The answer is yes.”

As soon as I read the description of the bespectacled white-haired gentleman, I knew it was John E. McIntyre, whom I have featured repeatedly here at LH (2010, 2013 [257 comments!], 2014); after introducing him, it continues:

McIntyre, the night content production manager at the Baltimore Sun, is one of an increasingly visible and robust breed of public masters of style and usage who have parlayed journalistic copy-desk expertise into an enthusiastic online following. In an age of texting and tweeting, these folks are trying to keep the mother tongue healthy, and their presence constitutes a refreshing renaissance for a profession that is generally underappreciated and rarely noticed—until, of course, a mistake shows up in print.

The thing about McIntyre, of course, is that he has an understanding of language informed by linguistic science, which is as rare among copyeditors as in the population at large; the article goes on to celebrate Mary Norris of the New Yorker, who has consistently irritated me with her stubborn insistence on every bit of peevery that has encrusted the magazine over the years, but heigh-ho. It’s all worth it for the end, which returns to McIntyre:

Admittedly, the copy editor’s lot generally remains a lonely one; whether working in graphite or keystroke, practitioners don’t often endear themselves to their writers. Ask John McIntyre, who served two terms as president of ACES [the American Copy Editors Society] from 2001 to 2005. Recently, he recalled the organization’s first conference 20 years ago in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for CJR.

“There were maybe 300 people,” he says, “and someone said that was probably the largest gathering of copy editors in one place in history. I came back and told that to my wife. And she said, ‘Except in hell.’”


A lovely epigram by Thomas Erskine:

The French have taste in all they do,
Which we are quite without;
For Nature, which to them gave goût,
To us gave only gout.

The Seipel Line.

In a recent comment, Aidan Kehoe linked to Coby Lubliner’s 2004 essay “Europe East and West: the Seipel Line,” which I found so interesting I thought I’d make a post of it. There’s no point trying to summarize it; what makes it so interesting is the accumulation of details, so I’ll quote a couple of paragraphs to give you the idea:

The Seipel Line does not penetrate very deeply into Italy. In various parts of mainland Italy there are long-established linguistic enclaves of speakers of Albanian, Greek, Occitan, and some German dialects, and in Sardinia the traditional languages are Romance but not Italian (namely, Sardinian and Catalan); and while these people may be attached to their languages, they show no sense of being national minorities: as in Aosta, they regard themselves as fully Italian. Non-Italian Romance languages are also spoken in the aforementioned regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige: Friulian in the former, Ladin in the latter (as well as in Belluno province in Venetia). Friulian-speakers are unswervingly Italian, but the Ladins, who under Austrian rule were considered a distinct nationality, are a curious special case. They number only a few tens of thousands; they live in five non-adjacent valleys in the Dolomite Alps, each with its own dialect and with no common standard language, divided among three provinces with different norms of language protection in each. In Belluno province they identify, by and large, as Italians speaking a minority language, but in Trentino-Alto Adige they regard themselves as something like a nationality, and in this region’s Bolzano province (South Tyrol) many of them are affiliated with the German community and give most of their votes to the Südtiroler Volkspartei (SVP), the province’s main German party, whose original platform called for reunification with Austria. (Shades of Habsburg nostalgia, perhaps.)

The segment of the line that is wholly in Italy may thus be regarded as extending no further than the southern boundary of pre-1918 Austria, with the Tagliamento, as it empties into the Adriatic, as the final stretch. The line then goes through the Ionian Sea into the Mediterranean.

Thanks, Aidan!

The Story of Dakhani.

A Tongue Untied: The Story of Dakhani is a film being made about “a vernacular form of Urdu spoken across the Deccan region”; as the website says:

Parodied and poorly regarded for centuries, Dakhani’s glorious history and rich legacy has been largely ignored. This film takes a close look at the continuing tradition of mazihiya shayri, or humour-satire performance poetry. From the early poets of the modern era such as Nazeer ‘Dahqani’, the badshah of Dakhani mazihiya shayri Sulaiman Khateeb, to the contemporary ones today including the seniors Mohd. Himayatullah and Ghouse ‘Khamakha’, the film looks at the wide range of humourists and satirists.

Including extensive travels across the Deccan plateau, interviews and conversations with poets, mushaira (poetry show) organisers, litterateurs, Sufi scholars, historians, linguists, actors, film directors, lyricists, playwrights, amongst others, the film also simultaneously uncovers the history of the language and of a composite culture.

From early mystical compositions of Sufi settlers of the 14th century, ornate fantasy tales by court poets, to romantic artistic creations of the sultans of the Deccan of the 15 & 16th centuries, the film traces the journey of the language over time till its precipitous fall in the early 18th century. The language is a marker of a great, rich mixed culture or mili-jhuli tehzeeb as it is commonly known; one that reveals the depth and beauty of syncretic Indo-Muslim traditions of central and south India.

It’s fun to watch the four-and-a-half minute video clip, with English subtitles, although most of the time I have no idea why people are laughing. Many thanks to Rajesh Devraj (of the blog Dick & Garlick) for the link!

Do the Koreas Speak the Same Language?

Deborah Smith, who translated a manuscript smuggled out of North Korea, discusses an interesting issue:

One question I’ve often been asked since I started learning Korean is: do the two halves of the peninsula speak the same language? The answer is yes and not quite. Yes, because division happened only in the previous century, which isn’t enough time for mutual unintelligibility to develop. Not quite, because it is enough time for those countries’ vastly different trajectories to impact on the language they use, most noticeably in the case of English loanwords – a veritable flood in the South, carefully dammed in the North. The biggest differences, though, are those of dialect, which have pronounced regional differences both between and within North and South. Unlike in the UK, a dialect doesn’t just mean a handful of region-specific words; conjunctions and sentence endings, for example, are pronounced and thus written differently. That’s a headache until you crack the code.

But while the original manuscript of The Accusation apparently contains around 200 words that the average South Korean would be unlikely to know, I was lucky to be working from a version that had already been edited for publication in South Korea. I also had a generous friend, Kyeong-soo, to consult in those few instances when even the internet drew a blank. Still, these blanks tended not to be drawn over anything to do with ideology, party rank or the apparatus of state. Rather the challenge was capturing details such as children playing on sorghum stilts – a specificity of a culture that is in danger of becoming shared only in memory, whose evocation reaches back to a time when north Korea meant simply the collection of provinces 100 miles up the country where the food was milder, the winters were colder, and where your aunt and uncle lived.

An interesting question, but frustratingly dealt with, in that she doesn’t give any examples; fortunately, Wikipedia comes to the rescue. (Thanks, Trevor!)

Stephen Fry on the Joys of Swearing.

Everybody likes Stephen Fry, right? Well, I do (see this 2008 post), and thanks to Bathrobe I can now favor you with a brief (two and a half minutes) video clip of him on one of my favorite subjects: “It would be impossible to go through life without swearing and without enjoying swearing.” Enjoy!

Wenzhounese in Italy.

This Victor Mair post at the Log is fascinating for two completely different reasons. First is the “Devil’s language” aspect:

Wenzhounese is the most divergent variety of Wu and is considered a separate language by some. It is not mutually intelligible with other varities of Wu. It preserves words from Classical Chinese that are no longer used in other varieties of Chinese, and its grammar differs significantly. It also has the most eccent[r]ic phonology, and as a result is considered the “least comprehensible dialect” for an average Mandarin speaker. These feature[s] are a result of the geographic isolation of the Wenzhou area.

There are links to a number of Log posts about the dialect. The second reason is the situation of the Wenzhounese who have ended up living in Italy:

What prompted me to write this post were the answers I received when I asked my informants whether their Wenzhounese relatives in Italy, of whom there are many, learned Italian, and they said, no, they don’t have to. They said that the Wenzhounese in Italy are so numerous and dispersed throughout the country that there isn’t a need to learn Italian. The networks and support services available to them are so extensive that they can easily get by just knowing Wenzhounese.

That’s a common phenomenon in many situations, of course, but I wouldn’t have expected it for the speakers of an obscure Chinese topolect in Italy.


Another tidbit from Goncharov’s Фрегат “Паллада” [The Frigate Pallada]: they’re in Manila and have finally found what is apparently the only inn/hotel in town, run by a Frenchman named Demien and his wife, and Demien recommends that after the siesta (when it’s too hot to go out and everything’s closed anyway) they take a look at the кальсадо [kal’sado], which he explains thus: “Это гулянье около крепости и по взморью: туда по вечерам собираются все кататься” [It’s a promenade around the fortress and along the seashore: everyone goes for a drive there in the evenings]. It’s transparently a Spanish word, and Goetze renders it Calzado, which seems reasonable, but as far as I know calzado means only ‘footwear’ (and the feminine form calzada means only ‘road(way)’). The phenomenon itself is familiar from all around the Mediterranean, where it is called volta, passeggiata, or korzo (see this 2009 post), and I suppose it’s possible calzado was a mid-19th-century term specific to Manila, but it’s not mentioned in La lengua española en Filipinas by Antonio Quilis and Celia Casado Fresnillo (CSIC Press, 2008), and I can’t find any other references to it by googling, so I suspect that Goncharov may have misunderstood/misheard what his host said. But I thought I’d bring it here so the Varied Reader can put in their dos reales.

Update. It turns out the original form is Calzada (feminine); as a quote found by Y in the comments below says, the Calzada was “what Hyde Park is to London and the Champs Élysées to Paris and the Meidan to Calcutta… the gathering place of the opulent classes… crowded with carriages, equestrians and pedestrians.” You can see an excellent image here.