RED HERRING.

I have just run across Michael Quinion’s post at World Wide Words about the phrase “red herring”; I have seen the implausible explanation that herrings were dragged across trails to confuse hounds (who would do that, and why?), and Quinion (with the help of Gerald Cohen, Robert Scott Ross, and the Oxford English Dictionary) clears the matter up. A seventeenth-century treatise by Gerland Langbaine on horsemanship “suggested a dead cat or fox should be dragged as a training-scent for the hounds, so that the horses could follow them”:

If you had no acceptably ripe dead animals handy, he added, you could as a last resort use a red herring…

Robert Scott Ross and the OED now trace the figurative sense to the radical journalist William Cobbett, whose Weekly Political Register thundered in the years 1803-35 against the English political system he denigrated as the Old Corruption. He wrote a story, presumably fictional, in the issue of 14 February 1807 about how as a boy he had used a red herring as a decoy to deflect hounds chasing after a hare. He used the story as a metaphor to decry the press, which had allowed itself to be misled by false information about a supposed defeat of Napoleon; this caused them to take their attention off important domestic matters: “It was a mere transitory effect of the political red-herring; for, on the Saturday, the scent became as cold as a stone.”

This story, and his extended repetition of it in 1833, was enough to get the figurative sense of red herring into the minds of his readers, unfortunately also with the false idea that it came from some real practice of huntsmen.

So now you know. (There is considerably more at Quinion’s post, including a discussion of the phrase “neither fish, nor flesh, nor good red herring” and of what a red herring actually is.)

Comments

  1. Excellent! Here‘s a direct link.

  2. David Marjanović says:
  3. “neither fish nor flesh” made me think of Falstaff and the Russian idiom (ни рыба, ни мясо) probably hinting to the same — something nondescript that can’t be classified as either edible or not during the Lent. I didn’t know this referred to religious practices; incidentally, that makes Falstaff’s exchange with the inn-keeper even funnier…

  4. ignoramus says:

    The rumor, when I be young, was to confuse the dogs with aniseed, when the hunt was running amok after the gillies had fox scented a trail.

  5. J. W. Brewer says:

    There’s also the Wall St. meaning of “red herring,” i.e. a preliminary version of a prospectus with some details like final pricing missing and a disclaimer (traditionally printed on the cover in red ink) that the registration statement has not yet gotten through the SEC review process. I assume this started as a running joke, but I don’t know how ancient the name is or at what point it became lexicalized and was just the standard informal name for that sort of document among lawyers, investment bankers, financial printers, and others who would deal with them.

  6. Richard Hershberger says:

    Possibly old news, but it is also worth noting that Cobbett wrote one of the more amusing English grammars, using writings of his political opponents as examples of (supposed) bad grammar.
    As a side note to this side note, this grammar was later reissued, edited by Goold Brown. Brown had recent stumbled across the idea of the that/which distinction we know and don’t love to this day. He was quite enchanted by it, so in his edition of Cobbetts grammar he went through and appended retroactive “corrections” to Cobbett’s text. Modern commentators often ascribe the supposed that/which distinction to Fowler, but this was over a half century earlier.

  7. Danish has “hverken fugl eller fisk” – neither fowl nor fish.
    Speaking of Danish (he said casually):
    In addition to Ordbog over det dansk Sprog, the historical dictionary of Danish, Den danske ordbog, its modern counterpart is now online. It has shorter I(more easily comprehensible) etymologies as well as usage examples and ‘judgements’. The pronunciation guide is availabel too. (Modified IPA, but not Dania.) To my great surprise and embarrassment it looks like I’ve always mixed up /ɔ/ and /ɒ/. So I have a nasty feeling that my pronunciation and/or my transcriptions have been wayyyyy off for a while. Also in that list, I have trouble hearing any difference in my /ɒ/ and /ʌ/.(Oh, and ‘stød’ is transcribed with the superscript glottal stop here for what it’s worth).
    Finally, Shaw speaks.

  8. Oh – I forgot, penultimately, to link to the article in Politiken that led me to this news. The hook they use is ‘pendulum words’ or ‘dionyms’ – there doesn’t seem to be a set name for the phenomenon – words that not only change their meaning, but switch to the diametrically opposite sense of the ‘original’.
    The tone is very permissive and non-prescriptive. It does make a point of mentioning the present outcry about these changes and how that seems to have stopped one of them in its tracks. More effectively they start with an example that today has changed for everybody to illustrate that this is a natural development.
    For what it’s worth I got “furore” ‘wrong’ – I have what turns out to be the modern sense of that word and didn’t even know that to be the case. I got “virak” ‘right’, but only because it’s been discussed (and decried). The original meaning would not be natural to use for me. (And I got “foreholde” wrong too, but I’m not sure what happened there. Though, I guess I ‘just’ mixed it up with “forholde” as seems to be the encroaching case.)

  9. David Marjanović says:

    To my great surprise and embarrassment it looks like I’ve always mixed up /ɔ/ and /ɒ/.

    Took me a long time to figure those out, because 1) the spelling suggests the opposite (o is closer to [a], and aw/al/ar/wa are closer to [o]); 2) I was exposed to a range of accents in school, but was never taught what their systematic differences are, so I didn’t even understand how many phonemes there are in there (…it goes without saying that we were also never taught what a phoneme is, which obviously made it even harder); 3) German has two “o-like phonemes”, while many Englishes have three, a count otherwise reached only by Hungarian; 4) of the many different IPA transcriptions of English, all use the symbol [ɔ], but that sound (widespread almost all over Europe) hardly occurs in any kind of English outside, I don’t know, Scotland.

    Also in that list, I have trouble hearing any difference in my /ɒ/ and /ʌ/.

    They’re indeed similar, and length seems to be a fairly important part of the difference.

  10. Thanks, ~, I was writing from memory of the Danish uninformed discussion.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    To my great surprise and embarrassment it looks like I’ve always mixed up /ɔ/ and /ɒ/.
    Do you mean that, for instance, you mix up cot and caught? You don’t have to be embarrassed, it is typical of several North American varieties, including most Canadian English.
    If you are doing the same in Danish, then there may be a similar “merger” occurring in Danish, at least for some people.

  12. Trond Engen says:

    There are two important processes going on in Danish: All vowels are merging, and all non-initial consonants are being vocalized.

  13. Tak ska’ du ha’, Sili. I have bookmarked those sites for later use, and in the case of the Politiken artikel for reading tomorrow or the next day, as it is late and I am still tiring easily in the wake of a light case of swine flu a few weeks ago. I shouldn’t even be up at this hour, and I would be a fool to try to read an article in Danish on changing word usage when I am this dead tired.
    Trond, what sort of time frame are we talking about with those two sound changes you mentioned? (The last time I was in Denmark was 20 years ago and the last time I really spoke the language was 15 years ago in college classes.)
    I wonder if the voicing of all non-initial consonants would account for my having initially perceived the final sound of “Tyrkiet” as an /l/. I remember it as being identical, or at least very close, to the final sound in “mad.” Come to think of it, the final sound in “kommet” is pretty soft as I pronounce it. Actually, I guess all of those past participle endings do sound pretty much like /d/’s, now that I think about it. I’d never noticed it before. However, I remember certain final consonants, such as in “tak” and “godt” being pronounced with significant aspiration. Is that pronunciation fading? I can’t think of an example word, but I can remember noticing that there were words ending in a glottal stop where I was aspirating the glottal stop. I wonder why, because, IIRC, the final glottal stop is mainly an allophone of word-final /d/ when preceded by a consonant, but I might be missing something because I spoke Danish a long time ago and it is currently a quarter to midnight.
    Is this voicing of all non-word-initial consonants causing these to become identical to their voiced counterparts, or are the voced sounds lenis enough to cause a distinction?

  14. As for all the vowels in Danish being in the process of merging, I foresee some difficulties down the road when the Danish language is left with only one vowel 😉
    As if Danish vowels weren’t muddy enough to begin with they have to go and merge.

  15. Trond Engen says:

    Not voiced, vocalized. Voicing went before. And you shouldn’t believe all people tell you on the Internet.
    The final sound in Tyrkiet is, I believe, a “blød d” (“soft d”). To Danish ears i’s close to the English voiced th, since it’s more alveolar and even (I think) slightly lateral, English speakers tend to hear it as /l/. Or so I’ve been told — I’m notoriously bad with Danish phonology.

  16. As the Sweedes say, Danish is easy, all you have to do is say /əːːːːːːːːːːːːː/.
    I think what Trond is on about is the trend to replace /ɛ/ with /a/ – mostly after /ʁ/. There’s a note about it in the pronunciation guide.
    I specifically don’t have a cot/caught merger. I’ve just swapped /ɔ/ and /ɒ/ in my mapping to Danish phonemes – that is, I would have used /ɒ/ when transcribing, say, “låne” and /ɔ/ in “vor”. To me at least the vowels in D”vor” and E”for” only differ in length.

  17. I have been told that Danish sounds like Norwegian spoken with your mouth full of potatoes. Potatoes tend to merge vowels, culinary phonologists have found.

  18. The Danes have never understood the potato explanation. The way they hear it, Norwegian sounds like normal speech only with no potatoes in your mouth.
    My own analogy is that Danes sound like they’re talking Norwegian backwards.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    They’re indeed similar, and length seems to be a fairly important part of the difference.

    Oops. I thought you were talking about /ɑ/ rather than /ɒ/ (…which have merged into [ɑ] for many Americans).

    I foresee some difficulties down the road when the Danish language is left with only one vowel 😉

    But Sanskrit was almost there.
    And Ubykh was remarkably close to having a single vowel phoneme (all minimal pairs seem to involve a loanword). There’s even an analysis of Mandarin as having a single vowel phoneme; I haven’t seen that paper, but I once tried just in my head to blame all fronting and rounding of Mandarin vowels on the consonants and got shockingly far.

    Can you give me an example or two of all non-initial consonants in Danish being vocalized so I can get a feel for what we are talking about?

    The placename Bagå is pronounced [ˈb̥äʊ̯ɔ], as if it started with German Bau. [g̊] > [g] > [ɣ] > [ɰ] > [w] > [ʊ].

  20. marie-lucie says:

    I now think that Sili meant that he confused the two phonetic symbols for transcription, not that he was pronouncing the two differently from other speakers.

  21. Trond Engen says:

    There’s even an analysis of Mandarin as having a single vowel phoneme; I haven’t seen that paper, but I once tried just in my head to blame all fronting and rounding of Mandarin vowels on the consonants and got shockingly far.
    Long time sci.lang contributor Bart Mathias has told on a couple of occasions that he and some fellow tudent did such an analysis — for sports, I think — in their student days half a century ago.
    The placename Bagå is pronounced [ˈb̥äʊ̯ɔ], as if it started with German Bau. [g̊] > [g] > [ɣ] > [ɰ] > [w] > [ʊ].
    And slowly and securely it’s merging with words like
    bag, bage, bager, bar, bare, bede, beder, bær, bære, bæret et probably cetera, but I’ll concede that for the time being front and back vowels seem to be kept apart in accented syllables.

  22. Trond Engen says:

    English, OTOH, is losing final and initial s.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    But Sanskrit was almost there.

    And so was Old Persian, except for the length difference (long /a/ is also common in Sanskrit, I think):

    adam \ Dârayavauš \ xšâyaϑiya \ vazraka \ xšâyaϑiya \ xšâyaϑiyânam \
    xšâyaϑiya \ dahyunâm \ Vištâspahyâ \ puça \ Haxâmanisiya \
    ϑâtiy \ Dârayavauš \ xšâyâϑiya \ Auramazdâmaiy \ xšaçam \ frâbara \
    tya \ vazrakam \ tya \ umartiyam \ mâm \ xšâyaϑiyam \
    ahyâyâ \ bûmiyâ \ akunauš \ vašnâ \ Auramazdâhâ \ imâ \ dah
    yâva \ tyaišâm \ adam \ xšâyaϑiya \ abavam \ Pârsa \
    Uja \ Bâbiruš \ Aϑurâ \ Arabâya \ Mudrâya \ Sparda \
    Yauna \ Mâda \ Armina \ Katpatuka \ Parϑava \ Zraka \
    Haraiva \ Uvârazmiš \ Bâxtriš \ Suguda \ Gadâra \
    Θataguš \ Harauvatiš \ Hiduš \ Skudra \ Yaunâ \ taka
    barâ \ …

    “I [am] Darius, the great king, king of kings, king of countries, son of Hystaspes, Achaemenid. Quoth Darius, the king: “A[h]uramazdâ gave me [mostly a list of countries that is so long it’s not even completely preserved].”
    I wonder if taka barâ means “[and] so on”. It’s not translated where I got it from.

  24. I wonder if taka barâ means “[and] so on”.
    ‘shield-bearing’, I believe. (A different group of Greeks than the previously mentioned.)

  25. David Marjanović says:

    Wrong, it’s translated: yaunâ takabarâ, the Ionians with sun hats, are the Macedonians.

  26. I see, Dutt says the Macedonians are the Ionians who wear their shields on their heads. Kent said it wasn’t an IE word. Here‘s a whole paper on it.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    English, OTOH, is losing final and initial s.
    ????

  28. Trond Engen says:

    English, OTOH, is losing final and initial s.
    ????
    It’ omething that’ easily een in tudent.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    It’ omething that’ easily een in tudent.
    Where?

  30. David, could you choose less megalomaniac grammatical examples?

  31. Not voiced, vocalized. Voicing went before. And you shouldn’t believe all people tell you on the Internet.
    Nor should I believe everything I mis-read at half an hour til midnight. I told you I was up too late.
    Can you give me an example or two of all non-initial consonants in Danish being vocalized so I can get a feel for what we are talking about?

    Sili,
    I just checked my own pronunciation (repeatedly, and in phrases, and stopping in the middle of the vowel and drawing it out so I could really hear and feel what I was doing) of “låne” and “vor.” I pronounce the vowel in “vor” definitely lower (almost down in the throat) and the vowel in “låne” higher up somewhere somewhere in the region of region of [ɔ]. So far so good, but if, before I read what you wrote about having your having those phonemes reversed, anyone had asked me which one of those was the lower vowel, I can promise you that I would have answered that /å/ was the lower of the two, even though I definitely pronounce it as the higher vowel, so it doesn’t seem in any way shocking to me if you have actually reversed them in your pronunciation. (Incidentally, how difficult do you think this is going to be for you to get the two phonemes reversed into their proper places in your pronunciation if your pronunciation is indeed off? Actually, the first question to ask is whether you have only been transcribing them reversed — and I know I would have even though my pronunciation for each seems to be within what is probably an acceptable range — or whether you actually pronounce the reverse phoneme.) Are you a native English speaker like myself? I wonder if that could account for our problems with the two phonemes. I know where /o/ is pronounced in English, and I suppose I must have just looked at /o/ in Danish and assumed that it appeared in the same basic vowel space when I bothered to think about it (since it’s spelled the same way) and, in my mind, assigned that “odd vowel space practically down in the throat” to the unfamiliar-looking letter “å.”

    I’m wondering if a better example word than “vor” might be either “bog” or “bo” since there is no interference from a post-vocalic /r/ in those words.

  32. Trond Engen says:

    It’ omething that’ easily een in tudent.
    Where?
    It’s a fairly recent development. It all started in my reply to David.

  33. spoken with your mouth full of potatoes
    This reminds of a line from a Wodehouse novel. It is just before an inebriated Augustus Fink-Nottle addresses the grammar school on the occasion of the annual prize-giving*:
    “From the fact that he spoke as if he had a hot potato in his mouth without getting the raspberry from the lads in the ringside seats, I deduced that he must be the head master.”
    Are the Danes perceived as talking as if they hot potatoes in their mouths, or as if their mouths are full of potato? I believe these would be two very different effects.
    * The prizes were books, but not apparently atlases.

  34. Probably david is looking up
    kālo ‘smi lokakṣayakṛt pravṛddho; lokān samāhartum iha pravṛttaḥ
    ṛte ‘pi tvā na bhaviṣyanti sarve; ye ‘vasthitāḥ pratyanīkeṣu yodhāḥ

    but I got there first.

  35. Ø: I believe these would be two very different effects.
    Danes are perceived by the Norwegians as talking as if they had one (1) hot potato in their mouth. I perceive it as if they are very drunk and slurring their words. I think it must be very hard pronunciation to learn as a foreigner, but that’s probably only because I don’t know the rules.

  36. Trond Engen says:

    Danes are perceived by the Norwegians as talking as if they had one (1) hot potato in their mouth.
    “Danskene snakker med en varm potet i halsen”
    In their throats rather than their mouths, actually. The one (1) part, en, is unstressed and better rendered as the article a. Grammatically (syntactically, or whatever) it’s a distributive singular – they each speak with a hot potato in the throat.

  37. No, I didn’t mean they all had to use the same potato, like “Can I borrow the potato next Tuesday, I’m giving a speech in Brussels?”.

  38. This has been very helpful. I had always assumed that Danish vowel-merging was the result of mashed potatoes and gravy in the Danish mouth. How wrong I was!

  39. The Danes I know perceive themselves as “barking’ rather than “singing” as the Norwegians are perceived. I don’t know how the potato fits in here if at all.
    Of Human B0ndage is perhaps best known for having been banned at one time. This is perhaps not the best book for an atlas-seeking thirteen-year-old to choose for a book report. I certainly would not have shrunk from reading banned books at the age of thirteen, or any other age, for that matter, but the successful book report choice is more a matter of “register”, as I believe the linguists call it. The only specific book I remember presenting in class at the age of thirteen (and our book reports were a normal part of classwork and not for atlases) was Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind during a chapter on the civil war, and it was well received. Of course the teacher had already mentioned it a dozen or so times in the class, so it was a no-brainer, but I was very glad to have been introduced to the book, even though the dialect was hard to read at that age. Brown-nosing is always best combined with a genuine thirst for knowledge.

  40. Brown-nosing is always best combined with a genuine thirst for knowledge.
    Words to live by, truly.
    More thoughts on the subject:
    I can say, with Joni Mitchell,
    I’ve looked at brown-nosing from both sides now,
    From nose and ???, and still somehow
    It’s brown-nosing’s illusions I recall …
    Then there are Goethe’s lines (bear with me, it’s not so often that I have a quotation to offer that’s not from Wodehouse or Austen):
    Mephistopheles:
    Will einer an unserm Speichel sich letzen,
    Den tun wir zu unsrer Rechten setzen.
    (back to work now)

  41. On Danish: Posting to the Conlang list, I once made the hasty assumption that Copenhagen was Cheapinghaven. Lars Matthiesen (aka Thorinn) corrected this to Cheapmanhaven, whereto I replied that most unfortunately I could not hear the man morpheme through the potato. On another occasion, he asked how the list members thought his name was pronounced. I promptly replied “[ləːʔ məːʔəʔə]”. He conceded that it probably sounded like that to foreigners.
    Ø: I assume the ??? in your little verse is a self-censored representation of anus, rectum, buttocks or some monosyllabic equivalent thereof.
    The extreme form of brown-nosing is called brown-necking.

  42. self-censored
    I wanted to leave something to imagination, and also I didn’t have a strong personal preference. Maybe “ass” or “bumcrack”.

  43. On Danish: Posting to the Conlang list, I once made the hasty assumption that Copenhagen was Cheapinghaven. Lars Matthiesen (aka Thorinn) corrected this to Cheapmanhaven, whereto I replied that most unfortunately I could not hear the man morpheme through the potato. On another occasion, he asked how the list members thought his name was pronounced. I promptly replied “[ləːʔ məːʔəʔə]”. He conceded that it probably sounded like that to foreigners.
    You know, the first time I saw one of your comments here, I remembered you from Conlang. I haven’t had time for that list in years. I can’t remember whether I witnessed that particular exchange or not. In any case, I do remember Danish potato jokes being flung around the list on occasion.
    I had always been told that København (Copenhagen) came from something like købmanshavn which I would translate as “merchant’s harbor.” I’m trying to track down the etymology of the name online, and I keep getting useless results. And I look at the clock to discover that it is shockingly late once again. Does anyone have the answer to this one?
    As far as your transcription of Lars Matthiesen’s name, I can hear some extra consonants that you didn’t and some vowels that aren’t schwas, but I think you got the the glottal stops in all the right places.
    I think it’s worth considering that the glottal stops in Danish might be secondary to the potatoes: an artifact of attempting to cough the potato just far enough up to get some breathing room.
    I swear, I’ve often felt that low back vowel that Sili and I were talking about the other day was attempting to slip right down my throat and choke me.

  44. I perceive it as if they are very drunk and slurring their words. I think it must be very hard pronunciation to learn as a foreigner, but that’s probably only because I don’t know the rules.

    A.J.P., I don’t know that I found the pronunciation that difficult to learn. But every language has its oddities, and I’m happy enough that I didn’t have to be pronouncing the Swedish /sj/ sound constantly. It’s a pretty cool sound and I think it’s probably comparable in difficulty to learning to pronounce the various allophones of /d/ in Danish.

    As for knowing the rules, I don’t think I was ever taught many of the spelling rules. I think I just kind of absorbed them. It also helped considerably that Danish television in any language (including Danish) was always subtitled. This meant that I could hear the words and read them at the same time, which helped me a great deal in correlating the spelling and pronunciation of Danish words. I think I extrapolated a lot of the pronunciation/spelling rules unconsciously, as I did when learning to read English. Personally, I have always perceived Danish spelling as being about as phonetic as English spelling and thus not a real problem.

    Some of the rules involve certain consonants disappearing in one context (e.g. end of word) and then re-appearing as a vowel to form a diphthong with the preceding vowel when the same word is prefixed to another during compounding. If you want examples, I will be quite happy to take the time to look them up and check correctness, etc. Otherwise I will consider that I already write posts that are far too long and far too digressive.

    And speaking of digressions…

    [When I say that nothing was dubbed and everything presented in its original language with subtitles, I mean the children’s programming as well. I found it very amusing and very sweet to see older siblings reading entire chidren’s TV programs to their younger siblings. Actually, we’ve run into this ourselves watching Heros because my son doesn’t read as quickly or automatically as he should for his age and intelligence. So we take turns reading the subtitles on the Japanese dialog for him. Sometimes I forget that he isn’t there and start reading aloud anyway.]

    As a foreigner who already speaks Danish, I think that I would almost certainly experience great difficulty in learning either Swedish or Norwegian. I find that when confronted with a name in either of those languages I automatically mispronounce it as if it were Danish. It might be different if I were hearing instead of seeing, as I am a decent mimic when given enough input from native speakers.
    I never perceived Danish as sounding slurred or drunk, but I *have* spent the last 20 years characterizing it as “a very blurry language.” I never had any particular difficulty understanding it spoken. It’s just that each language or dialect has its own characteristic sound and Danish sounds “blurry” to me – just like French sounds…”fuzzy” maybe.

    “Danskene snakker med en varm potet i halsen”

    That’s funny, Norwegian uses a different word for “potato.” In Danish, it’s “en kartoffel.”

    This has been very helpful. I had always assumed that Danish vowel-merging was the result of mashed potatoes and gravy in the Danish mouth. How wrong I was!

    Definitely not the result of mashed potatoes. In my own experience, Danes do not consume very many of their multitudinous potatoes mashed. Nineteen nights out of twenty the potatoes were boiled (in or out of their jackets) and served whole without skins with gravy or cream sauce. The other one night out of twenty, we ate the potatoes fixed some other way.

    [begin digression]
    The best cook that I lived with — among five different host families — would make the sauce for the potatoes by deglazing the meat pan with cream. She also baked her own rubrød – with whole rye kernels baked into it for texture – and made her own leverpostej. It was pretty incredible. The only things I can remember not liking that came out of her kitchen were rødkål and rødebeder (red cabbage and beets, respectively) and I just don’t like those vegetables unless the beets are featured in a very good borsht. The one dish she made occasionally that I wasn’t fond of was øllebrød. I could tell that she made a very good version of it. It’s just not one of my favorite Danish dishes, but, who knows, I might like it better now. I really miss Danish food. I can’t even go into an American supermarket – or even the local meat market/butcher – and buy pork liver to try to make my own leverpostej. All they sell are chicken livers.
    [end digression.]

    The Danes I know perceive themselves as “barking’ rather than “singing” as the Norwegians are perceived. I don’t know how the potato fits in here if at all.

    I have to admit that it rather sounds like you’re being barked at, until you get used to the sound of the language. Once you get used to it you can tell when someone’s tone actually indicates that they are wanting to bite your head off versus when they are just speaking Danish in an ordinary way. Usually they’re just speaking Danish. I think it may have something to do with all the creaky-voice in the language. As a matter of fact, I learned just last month that stød (creaky-voice used in Danish as a prosodic feature) is the Danish version (from a common Norse ancestry) of the tonal word accents (which I do not understand anything about) in Swedish and Norwegian. I’ll venture a guess that this accounts for Danes “barking” and Swedes and Norwegians “singing.”

  45. Some of the rules involve certain consonants …If you want examples, I will be quite happy to take the time to look them up and check correctness, etc.
    I’d be very interested.
    Does anyone have the answer to this one?
    Only that Cheapside and Eastcheap are well-known streets in the City of London (i.e. where the Stock Exchange, Lloyd’s, The Bank of England and other business-related institutions still are nowadays). Wiki says about its etymology that
    Cheapside is a common English street name, meaning “market-place”, from Old English ceapan, ‘to buy’ (cf. German kaufen, Dutch kopen), whence also chapman and chapbook.
    I thought the Danish was å købe. Anyway, they say they got this information from A Glossary and Etymological Dictionary: Of Obsolete and Uncommon Words William Toone (Bennett: London, 1834)

  46. I had always been told that København (Copenhagen) came from something like købmanshavn which I would translate as “merchant’s harbor.”
    Yes, that’s correct; the earlier form was Kjobmannshavn. (Information from my bible for these things, Pospelov’s Geograficheskie nazvaniya mira.)

  47. “Cheapening” was used by Samuel Johnson, IIRC, to mean “shopping for”. So maybe there was an evolution “merchant –> “buying and selling” –> “shopping” –> “looking for a low price” –> “low price.” Though I doubt that the progression was as linear as that.
    And apparently the same in the potato-mumbling language.

  48. Is there any lending of words that came about because of the Hansiatic League?

  49. Trond Engen says:

    Kjøpmannshavn
    I think that some see the the local low register pronunciation with [-w-] or [-β-] or some such as a reflex of /-pm-/.
    Is there any lending of words that came about because of the Hansiatic League?
    Lots. Modern Scandinavian is replete with Low German loans. But not this one. Bjorvand and Lindeman says it’s inherited within Germanic but in the end probably an old Latin loan.
    Germanic had a pair of verbs, the strong *kaupo:n- and the weak *kaupijan-. The forms are mixed, but differently, in the attested languages. Both verbs probably derive from the word that yielded OHG koufo “innkeeper, merchant”. This in turn is a loan of Lat. caupo: “innkeeper, petty salesman or winedealer” with a derived verb caupona:ri: “barter, trade in small”. But the origin of the Lat. word is uncertain.
    The weak verb is in form a causative to (the stem of) the strong. I’d venture to guess that the noun came into Germania denoting travelling salesmen. The strong verb was coined (or just borrowed) for their activity, “trade”, and the weak was derived for “make (someone) trade”. (Not either “buy” or “sell” since trade was exchange of goods — this also goes a far way in explaing the mix-up of forms.)

  50. David Marjanović says:

    I see, Dutt says the Macedonians are the Ionians who wear their shields on their heads. Kent said it wasn’t an IE word. Here’s a whole paper on it.

    WTF. I’ll spend the entire day tomorrow reading, I fear.

    David, could you choose less megalomaniac grammatical examples?

    Why? It’s great to be King (M. Brooks).

    Modern Scandinavian is replete with Low German loans.

    I see snakker above. That has a cognate in Low German, but not in Middle or High German as far as I’m aware… unless you count the dialectal schnackseln (a fossilized frequentative), which means… let’s try “boinking”.
    So cheap is cognate to kaufen… I had no idea… Where does buy actually come from?

  51. I think that the colloquial “cop” (to get, to obtain, to steal) probably comes from the same root, probably via Yiddish.

  52. Etymology of buy, with interesting note about “abide”.

  53. an evolution “merchant –> “buying and selling” –> “shopping” –> “looking for a low price” –> “low price.”
    This is reminiscent of the presumed evolution of a sense of value (influenced by the phrase, or at least the concept, value for money):
    “worth” –> “high worth, considering the price” –> “low price, considering the OK quality” –> “low priced item”

  54. marie-lucie says:

    Isidora, couldn’t you just recommend a reference or two? It seems like a lot of work you are taking on, and the consonant rules are probably explained in grammars of Danish for foreigners, or in journals of Scandinavian linguistics.

  55. No, I didn’t mean they all had to use the same potato, like “Can I borrow the potato next Tuesday, I’m giving a speech in Brussels?”.
    But I’m not certain I would be willing to entirely rule out the possibility of potato-sharing.
    One day some of my schoolmates and I were down on the waterfront in Roskilde, and we stopped by a kiosk to buy ice cream bars. We probably each ended up with a different sort. After we’d been eating for awhile, one of the girls asked me if I’d like a taste of her ice cream. I don’t think my shock really registered on my face, or if it did, I hope that it was interpreted as me requiring a little extra time to process the question due to being a foreigner who was still learning Danish. I politely refused.
    [For those of you who don’t understand this anecdote due to cultural reasons, you need to know that Americans are fairly germaphobic and generally quite averse to/disgusted by the idea of eating after anyone not closely related to them. I will eat after my husband and children and vice versa (unless someone is actively sick and probably contagious), but I will usually no longer eat food that my parents have been eating off of. (I think it’s because they have not been members of my immediate household for many years now and I know that we don’t share the same set of germs.) Some Americans will not even eat after close family members belonging to their own household.]
    I told my host-sister, who had lived in America as an exchange student, about the ice-cream incident, and discovered that American germaphobia was news to her. She seemed rather bemused by the information. She said something along the lines of, “So that’s why my friends never took the ice cream [I offered them]; I always thought they just didn’t want any.”

  56. Isidora, couldn’t you just recommend a reference or two? It seems like a lot of work you are taking on, and the consonant rules are probably explained in grammars of Danish for foreigners, or in journals of Scandinavian linguistics.
    That is really what I wold prefer to do. But this assumes that I can locate a good online reference. I would think that the consonant rules would be explained in grammars, since they are, in many ways, rather straightforward, if a bit involved. Unfortunately, I don’t own a Danish grammar. Though I was taught certain things by a variety of people, I simply absorbed the greatest part of my grammar and especially the orthography (not to mention vocabulary) while I was in the country. When I was in college, I was exempted from the first 10 credit-hours of Danish (two semesters of accelerated learning) by going and having a chat – in Danish, of course – with the professor. The second year (eight credit-hours) had a lot more focus on literature than on grammar. For this reason, I do not even own a book on Danish grammar except a very slim one that we used very occasionally in the second year of Danish courses. I actually wish I did. I did get a degree in linguistics, but Danish was not one of the languages that we spent any time analyzing.
    I don’t have access myself to most academic sources because I have no affiliation with any academic institution. The preliminary internet searches I’ve run so far keep coming up emptyish. I’m going to try again tomorrow when I can think more clearly about how I must be using the wrong search terms.
    What A.J.P. can tell me (or Trond Engen, I suppose) is whether Norwegian pronunciation is just about what you would automatically expect from looking at the spelling. If that is the case, then I’m guessing that a lot of the issues with Danish spelling and pronunciation, from the point of view of other Scandinavians (and other nationalities, I am sure) is that Danish consonants regularly interact with the vowels (and the word position) in ways that would be unexpected to the unfamiliar, but which are relatively predictable once you’re familiar with the system.

  57. Some of the rules involve certain consonants …If you want examples, I will be quite happy to take the time to look them up and check correctness, etc.
    I’d be very interested.

    In which case, I’ll be happy to put some work into it. This is going to take a couple of days, among other reasons because I still tire ridiculously easily after having had the swine flu last month. (I suppose my entire family now has the dubious honour of having been participants in a pandemic.) I’m also trying to juggle three children much of the time. And it’s going to take a bit of time because I want to be certain that I’m not giving you wrong information. I suppose I’m also going to have to be finding a good way of typing IPA.

    I thought the Danish was å købe.

    It is. “at købe,” actually. “to buy” Is “å” the infinitive marker in Norwegian? In Danish, “en å” is a stream or brook. My great-great-grandparents owned a dairy farm named Sønderåen in Ugilt sogn in Jylland. Their daughter emigrated to America with her husband and the two children that had already been born to them in 1910 when my grandfather was 2. His younger sister was born in America. (Sorry about the stream of consciousness. It sort of tends to happen to me.)

  58. Take it easy with the extra work, Isadora. It’s supposed to be fun. Don’t worry about making mistakes for my sake. I rarely sue Language Hat contributers; only John Emerson, really.
    Yes, the pronunciation of Norwegian is as close to the spelling as German or Italian is; however, it’s slightly complicated by dialects being tied to either bolmål (the written language that’s very close to Danish) or nynorsk (the written form that’s closer to older Norwegian). But in both bokmål & nynorsk you pronounce all the letters; it’s nothing like English or French in that respect.
    Å in Norwegian is the same as ‘at’ in Danish as well as being a small river (mange bekker små gjør en stor å = every little helps). En ås, on the other hand, is a ridge or escarpment.

  59. That’s bokmål (I should be wearing glasses).

  60. Bademantel says:

    I took it as short for bollocksmål.

  61. But in both bokmål & nynorsk you pronounce all the letters
    Well, except for a lot of final consonants.

  62. En ås, on the other hand, is a ridge or escarpment.
    Or (according to my Haugen dictionary) an Old Norse god, or a beam or axle.

  63. Not to mention a municipality in Akershus.

  64. After we’d been eating for awhile, one of the girls asked me if I’d like a taste of her ice cream.
    The Norse are sexually very liberated — this is a code word. It’s probably well you turned her down. Did she throw you a lewd wink when she made the proposition?

  65. marie-lucie says:

    Isidora, if you learned Danish in Denmark, a Danish grammar intended for Danes might not mention the pronunciation difficulties that learners would have. Surely someone here is in a position to look for a Danish grammar for foreigners (I am not).

  66. you pronounce all the letters
    Well, except for a lot of final consonants.
    Okay, final Ds and Gs and the V in sølv (silver) aren’t pronounced. There are probably a few more, but it’s no big deal.
    We know a woman called Åsild who’s mad on ‘orses so we call her Horsild. Or I do, anyway.

  67. And the -t in det.

  68. does it only have the positive sense?
    Yes, kind of. It’s not ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’.
    is the noun-adjective word order (bekker små) normative in Norsk?
    No, quoth he, it’s like the equivalent in English, stylised 19th century poetry.
    The Danish word is now spelt “gør”
    That’s interesting. No, in Norwegian gjør is pronounced ‘yør’, with a trilled R.
    The big question I have is whether the the final d’s g’s and v’s that aren’t pronounced are simply word-final or whether they are not pronounced only when they occur between a consonant and the end of a word. Which of these d’s do you not pronounce in Norwegian?
    Gud
    sild
    sind
    hund

    Hmm, yes you’re right. It’s the latter, it’s only not pronounced between a consonant and the end of a word. So, sild & hund don’t pronounce the D — but ‘sind’ (angry?) is sint in Norwegian, and the T is pronounced.
    lav
    sølv

    Same again, only the V in sølv is dropped.
    personlig
    valg

    Neither g is pronounced.
    I remember my late father-in-law joking about our dog, “Er det en han hund, eller en hun hund?” (Is it a male dog or a female dog?) “hun” and “hund” being pronounced the same.
    Gul for yellow is pronounced nearly like ‘gyl’ and gull for gold is more like ‘gool’. I wish I knew the IPA signs, but it’s too late now.
    Have they truly dropped out, or have they done something to otherwise influence the pronunciation of the word?
    No you’re right, they haven’t dropped out.
    A good example (and I’ll give a bunch more later because I think it’s a lot of what would make Danish spelling incredibly unintuitive to a Norwegian-speaker) is those final d’s which don’t actually go silent but are pronounced as stød. (glottal stop, creaky voice.)
    Yes the norsk is exactly like that, but not so exaggerated as in dansk. With stød (it’s støt på norsk, but I’ll stick with stød) there’s no glottal stop or creaky voice, you just leave your tongue on the roof of your mouth and you don’t take it away again as you would if you were voicing the D.
    Det is pronounced ‘de’, with a schwa in norsk, not ‘di’.
    I hope Trond will back me up on this. I’m a bit deaf to high frequencies and that means I don’t hear consonants as well as I do vowels.

  69. Take it easy with the extra work, Isadora. It’s supposed to be fun. Don’t worry about making mistakes for my sake. I rarely sue Language Hat contributers; only John Emerson, really.

    I’ll take it easy, but this sort of thing is fun for me. I was never thinking of giving a full account of Danish spelling to pronunciation rules in the first place.

    I can understand why you might sue John Emerson, especially after I’ve just seen his interpretation of Scandinavian ice cream as sexual in nature.

    mange bekker små gjør en stor å = every little helps

    Can this also have a negative meaning, along the lines of “don’t keep adding one thing to another or it will get overwhelming” or does it only have the positive sense?

    Also, is the noun-adjective word order (bekker små) normative in Norsk? In Danish, one must (at least in the contemporary usage) say “små bække.” On the other hand, I’ve seen some fossilized forms such as, “Fader vor, du som er i himmlene…”

    I also just noticed the “j” in “gjør.” Is that still fully pronounced in Norwegian? The Danish word is now spelt “gør”, but I know that it used to have a “j” (or an “i”) in it, as did an awful lot of Danish words. The jods and i’s were gotten rid of in a spelling reform sometime because they were no longer pronounced. So those j’s or i’s are all over the work of H.C. Andersen and Ludvig Holberg (as well as all the Nouns beginning with a capital Letter), but I have no idea when those jods stopped being pronounced.

    Last night, while checking an online dictionary to be certain that I had the correct gender for “å” (actually, I think “et å” is the letter) I came across a Danish saying: “at gå over åen efter vand” meaning to make things more difficult than necessary. (literally “to walk over the stream for water”)

    That’s bokmål (I should be wearing glasses).

    That’s alright. I was wearing glasses and didn’t notice it until you corrected it. I would make a terrible proofreader.

    you pronounce all the letters
    Well, except for a lot of final consonants.
    Okay, final Ds and Gs and the V in sølv (silver) aren’t pronounced. There are probably a few more, but it’s no big deal.

    The big question I have is whether the the final d’s g’s and v’s that aren’t pronounced are simply word-final or whether they are not pronounced only when they occur between a consonant and the end of a word.

    Which of these d’s do you not pronounce in Norwegian?
    Gud
    sild
    sind
    hund
    Which of these v’s are not pronounced in Norwegian?
    lav
    sølv
    Which of these final g’s are not pronounced in Norwegian?
    personlig
    valg

    If you want to add to these sort of patterns to give me more data, please feel free. I came up with these word-sets by using google translate English->Norsk on words that I knew had the consonant configurations I was looking for in Danish. The g’s were by far the hardest to find. The d’s gave me some surprises, such as “gul” and “gull” for yellow and gold. I’d like to take the opportunity to ask just how you pronounce the difference between those two words. (as well as “sin” and “sind”) In Dansk the pairs are “gul” and “guld” and “sin” and “sind.” The d’s are pronounced as stød. [My pronunciation dictionary confirms for me that “hun” is pronounced without stød and “hund” with stød, but it is also telling me that “hunden” and “hunnen” are pronounced identically – both with stød on the first syllable. I never knew that, probably because I never knew that “hun” can be a noun meaning “a female.” I just knew it as a personal pronoun. That was worth learning. Now I can say “the female” in Danish. I guess I didn’t watch many nature shows while I was there.]

    Which brings me to a last question. You are saying that some of the final consonants are “not pronounced” in Norwegian. Have they truly dropped out, or have they done something to otherwise influence the pronunciation of the word? A good example (and I’ll give a bunch more later because I think it’s a lot of what would make Danish spelling incredibly unintuitive to a Norwegian-speaker) is those final d’s which don’t actually go silent but are pronounced as stød. (glottal stop, creaky voice.)

    And the -t in det.

    Any others? It would be useful while I’m collecting data. 😉 By the way, Hat, thanks for the confirmation of the etymology of “København.” (And thanks to everyone else for the connection with “cheap.” That was fascinating. I would never have guessed.)

    Danish doesn’t pronounce the t on det either. “det” is pronounced [de]. But “de” is pronounced [di] approximately. How does Norwegian pronounce “det”?

  70. Trond Engen says:

    I don’t know if I can support anyone or anything. My usual take is that urban Eastern Norwegian is a mess, and the same goes for its written standard Bokmål. That’s what I speak and write, mind you, but it’s still a mess.
    I don’t think there is one synchronic rule. Several systems coexist, an old Danish-based reading pronunciation, loans from spoken Danish as heard by Norwegian ears, reading pronunciation of inherited Norwegian words and inherited pronunciation. The results are an infinite number of idiolectic varieties and an almost randomiced process picking the word that gets established as standard. Sometimes the variants acquire different meanings, when a pragmatic choice based on register becomes lexical specialization.
    First Isidora’s examples:
    (I use [L] for the retroflex lateral “tjukk l”, [S] for the alveo-palatal (or whatever) sibilant and [C] for the unvoiced palatal fricative. (The two latter are merged for many young speakers.)
    Gud “God”
    [gu:d] reading pronunciation, a/the deity
    [gu:] inherited, interjection
    sild “herring”
    [sil:] inherited
    sind What is this?
    hund “dog”
    [hun:] inherited
    lav “low”
    [la:v] reading pronunciation of Danish
    [lå:g] inherited, now only in a couple of compounds
    sølv “silver”
    [søl:] borrowed Danish pronunciation
    [søLv] inherited, obsolete
    personlig “personally”
    [pæ’So:nli] I think the loss of the g in the suffix is inherited, but I’m not sure. Weakly pronounced Danish consonants are borrowed as Ø.
    valg “choice, election”
    [valg] reading pronunciation of Danish, especially obvious since the Danish -g is analogic from the verb Da. vælge and the spelling of that is artificial — the g is (or was) mute and the inherited group is -lj- with -j- from the IE causative suffix.
    [vaL] inherited, stone dead in E.No., but cf. Sw, val
    I’ll add a few myself. The corresponding verb is interesting:
    velge “choose, elect”
    [velge] reading pronunciation of Danish
    [væLje] inherited, rare
    A parallel that isn’t (to show the arbitraryness):
    salg “sale” (parallel history to
    Similar to the last one is salg
    [salg] reading pronunciation of Danish’
    [sa:L] inherited, all but extinct
    selge “sell”
    [selle] borrowed Danish pronunciation
    [sæLje] inherited, rare
    Another example of this “false g” is
    ferge/ferje “ferry”
    [ferge] reading pronunciation, thriving
    [ferje] inherited, thriving
    In this last example I think the inherited form has been helped by the existence of an accepted written form. But that this is accepted may be because it’s not phonologically obvious which is inherited and which is Danish, since there’s no [L].
    selv/sjøl “(-)self”
    [sel:] loan from spoken Danish
    [SøLv] inherited, distinctly rural, dwindling
    [Sø:l] inherited, slowly losing ground.
    [Sæ:l] inherited, slowly losing ground.
    I don’t understand the long vowel in the two latter. One idea might be that they are sociolinguistic compromises between the the Danish and the rural forms.
    l and rd after any vowel except i and y used to be [L], but loans from Danish and reading pronunciations have made it unpredictable. Final rd is now usually [r] for most speakers, but many keep the older pronunciation [L] in some words, e.g. jord [jo:r]/[jo:L] or hard [ha:r]/[ha:L].
    I could keep going but this is too much detail and too little system. Just a couple of quirks of the spelling:
    The neuter definite suffix is written -et but is uniformly pronounced [-e] (except for a recently retired populist politician, that is). Some of the Nynorsk pioneers and also some writers on the radical wing of Bokmål did without the -t, but the change didn’t stick.
    Initial hv- is pronounced [v-], gj is pronounced as [j] and kj as [C]. The same sound is written g and k respectively before i and y (but these are slowly losing out to reading pronunciations). Also tj is [C]. Both sj and skj are [S].

  71. Good lord, Trond, that’s impressive and frightening in equal measures. I’m not sure I dare try to learn my mormor tongue.

  72. Thank you so much A.J.P. and Trond for all the data. That was impressive. What’s truly daunting about it is the variability of spoken Norwegian. I had no idea. I spent my time entirely in the Greater Copenhagen Area (plus Roskilde) and routinely interacted with people ranging in age from five to 60 or above. I could hear some differences in pronunciation and vocabulary choice mainly based on age. I wasn’t really exposed much to regional dialects. I was told that Jutlanders have a very different sort of speech, but I don’t know what it sounds like. I’m not certain how much my ear could have picked out different dialects at that stage anyway. Danish also doesn’t have the issue that Norwegian does with having two official versions of the language in addition to regional dialects.
    And, Hat, I had no idea that you were one quarter Norwegian. I’m one quarter Danish, but in my case it was min farfar. I wouldn’t be too worried about trying to learn it if you wanted to. The grammar, based on what I know from Danish, is very comfortable for native English speakers to accustom themselves to, and the vocabulary isn’t bad either. (The more you know about older forms of English, the easier it all is, in my opinion.) And since it’s Norwegian, not Danish, there are no potatoes needed so you don’t need to be worried about the tendency of certain of the sounds to slip down your throat and attempt to choke you if you let your guard down.
    And, before I forget, I have to ask A.J.P. why why he is suddenly (Mrs). This has always puzzled me when I have seen it before.
    By the way, this Åsild (Horsild) that you know, is that name supposed to be understood as “å sild” “river herring” or as “ås ild” “ridge fire”? (Hat dug up a couple more obscure meanings for “ås,” one of them being the name of a Norse god, so another good possibility for the meaning might be “fire of Ås.”) I hate to have to ask, but is Åsild her first name or last. (I automatically assumed that it was a first name.)
    The Danish word is now spelt “gør”
    That’s interesting. No, in Norwegian gjør is pronounced ‘yør’, with a trilled R.

    That is truly interesting. Trond says that this is a regular sound pattern in Norwegian. It looks like g before j weakened to the point of dropping out/becoming indistinguishable from the following “j”, while Danish ended up dropping the j altogether.
    Considering the time of night and the fact that Trond gave answers to some questions that I should have asked in the first place (such as Consonant+j combinations and -rd), I will be taking tonight to sleep on his data.
    sind What is this?
    This is a mistake. It’s Danish. Google Translate tells me that the Norwegian is “sinn.” But then when I went to make up the sets of words, I got confused and forgot that the norsk for “mind” did not end in -nd and typed in the Danish word instead. I’m sorry for the confusion I caused. (But at least I learned that the Norwegian for “angry” is “sint.” The Danish is “vred.” You can also use “sur” for a milder form of anger or state of being upset. It’s simply the word for sour, but I don’t know where “vred” comes from.)
    It would be helpful for me to know how -øy is pronounced in Norwegian. (I’m hoping that -øy is the norsk equivalent of the dansk -øj — as in høy “high”? This is off of Google Translate, so human confirmation makes me feel a great deal more confident.) Does Norwegian use the letter y as a consonant equivalent to j (as “høy” might lead me to believe) or only as a vowel.
    Does the sequence -øg exist in Norwegian, and if so, how is it pronounced? (I’ve been having trouble eliciting final g’s and d’s in Norwegian from google translate. I keep getting k’s and t’s where Danish has the voiced phonemes. That’s taught me something useful about Norwegian, but hasn’t always been getting me the examples I needed.)
    Yes the norsk is exactly like that, but not so exaggerated as in dansk. With stød (it’s støt på norsk, but I’ll stick with stød) there’s no glottal stop or creaky voice, you just leave your tongue on the roof of your mouth and you don’t take it away again as you would if you were voicing the D.
    Now I have I desire to go locate the two nearest Norwegians and listen to them speak. Actually, I have more of a desire to sleep.
    Good night, good morning, or whatever it is in your part of the world. Once I collect my thoughts tomorrow (and figure a way of transcribing the words I’m talking about) I’ll start trying to describe situations where Danish consonants do things you probably weren’t expecting them to do.

  73. gak. I should preview. The bit about wanting to go grab a pair of Norwegians was my own and should not have been in italics.

  74. And, before I forget, I have to ask A.J.P. why why he is suddenly (Mrs).
    Originally it was in response to someone’s comment, but I can’t remember what it was. Now it’s just one of many suffixes to AJP that pops up as a suggestion on my Firefox and Safari browsers from time to time.
    Either that or I’m a married lady.

  75. Åsild’s her first name. I expect it’s ridge fire, but I like river herring a lot. Smoked herring is of course kipper; Horsekipper would be a fine unusual first name; imagine being able to say “and these are my children: Elizabeth, James and Horsekipper”.

  76. Trond Engen says:

    Åsild is a variant form of åshild, a compound of áss m. “(Germanic) god” and hildr f. “battle; a valkyrie”.

  77. “Sur” is also Norwegian (and German, saur).
    Øy from Wiki:
    En øy eller ø (bare i riksmål) er et landområde som er mindre enn et kontinent og større enn en stein eller et skjær, og som er helt omgitt av vann ved normal vannstand.
    So it’s an island. There’s a rather nice but kind of snooty rich place on the west side of Oslo called Bygdøy. I used to work with a guy who lived there and he always called it ‘Bygdø’, which I guess is an old usage but it always sounded pretty snobby (= Danish-type Norwegian) to me. Another yuppyish man I know always uses ‘efter’, the Danish word, instead of ‘etter’ the Norwegian for ‘after’. To answer your question ‘-øy’ is pronounced ø-ee; as in høy, meaning high or hay.
    There’s no ‘øg’ in Norwegian; however øgle is apparently a brontosaurus, as well as an archaic word for gargoyle, so it’s probably related to ‘ugly’. Og meaning ‘and’ can be pronounced with or without the g sounded. Some people always pronounce the g, some never do, some sometimes do.

  78. And, Hat, I had no idea that you were one quarter Norwegian.
    Half, actually; my mother was pure Norsk but third-generation, so she didn’t speak it and it’s not my mother’s tongue. (Her parents actually offered her and her brothers a penny for each Norwegian word they learned, but they all stubbornly refused—and you know how stubborn Norwegians can be.)

  79. stubborn Norwegians
    The most impermeable substance known to science is said to be a quarter inch of Norwegian skull. Having myself had a Norwegian mormor, I can attest that I am well served by even a quarter of that capability. Also the worst family feuds seem to be on the Norwegian side, although we no longer have blood feuds, at least not prolonged ones, as in the days of the sagas.

  80. The 5 year old Jordanian child down the street refuses to speak Arabic, even though his older brothers, born in Jordan, are quite fluent. It seems to be a fairly common phenomenon. I wonder what that’s about.

  81. Trond Engen says:

    Good lord, Trond, that’s impressive and frightening in equal measures. I’m not sure I dare try to learn my mormor tongue.
    I. Not that frightening. The bottom line is that we’re used to variation. No matter what you come up with, it will probably be a reasonable outcome after one of the competing rules.
    II. Not that impressive either. Similar types of dissolved diglossia is commonplace, I think. The special thing may be how the prestige language interacts with the written language.
    III. Your mormors language was western Norwegian of 100 years ago, not modern day Oslo dialect.
    Øy from Wiki:

    En øy eller ø (bare i riksmål) er et landområde som er mindre enn et kontinent og større enn en stein eller et skjær, og som er helt omgitt av vann ved normal vannstand.

    So it’s an island. There’s a rather nice but kind of snooty rich place on the west side of Oslo called Bygdøy.
    A peninsula, actually, connected to the mainland at Skøyen, but it must have been an island at high tide until a few centuries ago. For a long time it was called Ladegaardsøen after Ladegaarden “The breeding farm”, what is now Bygdøy Kongsgård “Bygdøy Royal Farm” — one of the royal residences. It served as a leasure area for the wealthier citizens of Christiania until their old summer houses became permanent homes. The museums were established there as part of a plan, and with a twist of history and probably some public money the peninsula could have developed like Stockholm’s Djurgården, incorporating the museums into a giant recreational area.
    I used to work with a guy who lived there and he always called it ‘Bygdø’, which I guess is an old usage but it always sounded pretty snobby (= Danish-type Norwegian) to me.
    The fjord zone in Oslo’s wstern parts is generally high class residential areas. The neighbouring peninsula is called Snarøen, and I think I’ve heard people from Nesøya say Nesøen. The same goes for the forest rim. Holmenkollen is hardly ever pronounced with a retroflex l, even if Holmen is.
    Another yuppyish man I know always uses ‘efter’, the Danish word, instead of ‘etter’ the Norwegian for ‘after’.
    efter is not so much Yuppie as it’s Old Civil Service, and Old Money, or petty bourgeoisie working for Old Money, or people aspiring to be percieved as either Old Civil Service or Old Money. But you’re right, that latter may well be Yuppie.
    This pronunciation is also common in Finnmark, no doubt because a large portion of its citizens used to speak Saami or Kvensk (archaic Finnish dialects) at home and were taught Danish by the book in school.
    To answer your question ‘-øy’ is pronounced ø-ee;
    Except that it’s a diphthong.
    as in høy, meaning high or hay.
    The “high” word can also be written høg, which is the inherited form and the only form in Nynorsk, but this pronunciation isn’t found in Oslo.
    The “hay” word has an inherited diphthong in Norwegian.
    There’s no ‘øg’ in Norwegian;
    Oh, yeah, there is, even in the higher Oslo varieties. The past of smyge has three varieties:
    smaug inherited, now only in Nynorsk
    smøyg modern Eastern colloquial, replaced the above as a variant form in Bokmål
    smøg High sociolect. Bokmål/Riksmål
    however øgle is apparently a brontosaurus, as well as an archaic word for gargoyle, so it’s probably related to ‘ugly’.
    Øgle means lizard. It’s an inherited word (with feminine gender and retroflex l) that for some reasom has -gl- from -ðl-, so it’s supposed to sound like Swedish ödla. No connection to ‘ugly’.
    Og meaning ‘and’ can be pronounced with or without the g sounded. Some people always pronounce the g, some never do, some sometimes do.
    The pronounced g sounds affected to me, at least from easterners and in high frequency. Note that those who say it are just as likely to use it for the infinitive marker å.

  82. A.J.P. changes his/her sex like other people change their underwear, more frequently in fact. You can’t change your underwear with the click of a button.
    The information on Norwegian is fascinating. The textbook version is that there are two standards, Nynorsk and Bokmal. It doesn’t tell you that this is actually an idealisation of reality. If people would keep their categories separate (haha!), Norwegian would be Norwegian and Danish would be Danish. Instead, the reality is what Trond described — the unprincipled mishmash that is life.

  83. David Marjanović says:

    On the other hand, I’ve seen some fossilized forms such as, “Fader vor, du som er i himmlene…”

    That’s also the only occasion in German where anything adjective-like occurs behind its noun: Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel… Must be a literal translation from Latin (Pater noster qui es in caelis/caelo; note also the wrong word order behind the comma, which fits the monotonous rhythm), unless it goes all the way back to Gothic (Atta unsar…), but that would be on the surprising side of things, and the Gothic version (like the Latin one) has got to be a literal translation of the original Greek anyway.

  84. marie-lucie says:

    Åsild: i thought it must be Åshild. I met a Norwegian girl called Åshild. “Valkyrie” seems to be a step up from “Horsekipper”.
    Her parents actually offered her and her brothers a penny for each Norwegian word they learned, but they all stubbornly refused
    This means that the parents did not speak Norwegian to the kids, for whom learning Norwegian one word at a time was a pointless exercise. What were they supposed to do with those individual words, besides showing off in front of their elders? You can’t hold a conversation if you only know the dictionary.
    The 5 year old Jordanian child down the street refuses to speak Arabic, even though his older brothers, born in Jordan, are quite fluent. It seems to be a fairly common phenomenon. I wonder what that’s about.
    This means that the older brothers speak Arabic with their parents or grandparents but English with the little brother (and probably between themselves). So the youngest child’s immediate role models (linguistically and otherwise), his older brothers, interact with him in English, as do any other children of this age that he encounters. Why should he try to speak like an adult or elderly person?

  85. There is a mother and son that I know from the last parish we attended. She is a Russian immigrant married to an American. I know she spoke Russian to her son probably more than she spoke English to him. I think his father didn’t know much Russian. In any case, she found herself a bit frustrated when he was 4 or 5 years old because he understood Russian as well as any child that age ought to, but he would only speak in English. This became an issue when her mother came to visit because Baba didn’t speak any English at all. So the boy could understand his grandmother just fine, but he wouldn’t or couldn’t speak Russian for her. Someone had to translate his speech for her.
    That was several years ago. When his mother and I caught up with each other last year, I learned that once he got older he started speaking in Russian as well. Sometimes young children are just quirky.

  86. The pronounced g sounds affected to me, at least from easterners and in high frequency.
    Yes, me too. It’s irritating, but I didn’t want to be the first one to say so.
    Note that those who say it are just as likely to use it for the infinitive marker å.
    Ha, ha. I know small children get confused writing the two. I didn’t know it extended to adults.
    efter is Old Money
    That’s what I figured he’s shooting for. His elder brother doesn’t use it (but he does say only ‘pike’ and never jenta).

  87. “”Sur” is also Norwegian (and German, saur).”
    In German, it’s “sauer”. However, and this takes us right back to the topic (sort of), there is a French expression for pickled herring “hareng saur”. It seems though, that in this instance, “saur” does not refer to the taste. According to Wikipedia, it relates to the colour, while le Petit Robert says: sor XIIIe; moy. néerl. soor « séché », so it refers to the drying of the fish. There’s a painting by the Belgian artist James Ensor, “Squelettes se disputant un hareng saur”: http://www.museumsyndicate.com/item.php?item=799

  88. I knew that, Bruessel, but must have blocked it because sauer means ‘sheep’ in Norwegian.

  89. marie-lucie says:

    there is a French expression for pickled herring “hareng saur”. It seems though, that in this instance, “saur” does not refer to the taste. According to Wikipedia, it relates to the colour, while le Petit Robert says: sor XIIIe; moy. néerl. soor « séché », so it refers to the drying of the fish.
    The hareng saur is not a pickled herring, but a dried and smoked one. When I was very young it must have been the cheapest source of animal protein you could get. In every fish store there were piles of those rigid, split open fish with a coppery sheen along the main part of the body. You don’t see them so much nowadays as most people can afford other kinds of fish.
    “Two skeletons fighting over a hareng saur“: the dried food would match the dried, shrunken bodies.

  90. It’s “et får” and “flere får.”
    I wouldn’t try that in Norway. It would be “one mutton’ and “several muttons”, sort of like French.

  91. Marie-Lucie,
    It’s not quite herring, but when I looked up dried cod, look what I found:

    Dried cod and the dishes made from it are known by many different names, as it became part of the cuisine of many European nations. For example, it is known as bacalao (Spanish), bakaiļao(Basque), bacallà (Catalan), morue (French), baccalà (Italian), bacalhau (Portuguese), klippfisk/clipfish (Scandinavian), saltfiskur (Icelandic), bakalar (Croatian), and buljol (Caribbean).
    The word compound bacal- and its variants are of unknown origin; explorer John Cabot reported that it was the name used by the indigenous inhabitants of Newfoundland.[1] When explorer Jacques Cartier ‘discovered’ the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in what is now Canada and claimed it for France, he noted the presence of a thousand Basque boats fishing for cod.

    Bacalao (so called) is extremely popular in Norway, both home-made and sold pre-assembled in boxes in the supermarket.

  92. marie-lucie says:

    When I was very young, dried smoked herring (le hareng saur) was popular mostly in the North and dried salted cod (la morue salée) in the South. You had to soak the latter in water for quite a while to make it soft enough to cook. It was often mixed with mashed potatoes, perhaps to offset the strong salty taste.
    Another French term for la morue is le cabillaud, which is not used for the dried fish.
    The Basques are supposed to have been the first Europeans on the Newfoundland fishing grounds, where there was so much fish that the Basque presence did not interfere with the native fishery. A thousand Basque boats 400 or 500 years ago hardly made a dent in the extraordinary abundance of cod in the area, but overfishing in the 20th century caused the collapse of the Newfoundland fishery, which was eventually closed by the Canadian government. The allowable catch by local fishermen has been minuscule since then, in order to let the fish population regenerate – a slow process.

  93. I knew that, Bruessel, but must have blocked it because sauer means ‘sheep’ in Norwegian.

    Talk about having things blocked…I read what you wrote and tried to come up with the Danish word for “sheep.” I utterly failed. And I was certain that it wasn’t a situation like “squirrel” where I had heard the Danish word and had even probably more or less known it at one time but it wasn’t a real part of my core vocabulary because, for whatever reason, the people around me never talked much about squirrels.

    But I knew that I should remember the word for “sheep.” (Though I don’t believe I had any more contact with sheep than with squirrels, I knew that the word was once a firm part of my vocabulary, active and passive.) I even knew that the plural form was the same as the singular in Danish as in English. I finally had to look it up. It’s “et får” and “flere får.”

    It’s really scary when that sort of thing happens. With all of this Danish and Norwegian on my mind, I had this long dream a couple of nights back that was set in Denmark, with people I knew from my time there. They kept speaking in English, and it was hard to get them or me to say anything in Danish. Once upon a time, I used to dream almost exclusively in Danish.

    I’m afraid I’m going to lose the language almost entirely if I don’t start doing something now to get it back. At least these days it’s a lot easier to find useful resources for de-rusting a language. I have access to a lot of Danish – spoken and written – on the internet.

  94. Bacalhau is also part of Portuguese cuisine in Macau. It was disappointing (awfully salty) and left me with a distinct preference for fish cooked Cantonese style.

  95. Not that frightening….Not that impressive either…not modern day Oslo dialect
    Sounds like the first three posts for a new blog.
    I had started writing up a listing with transcriptions of Danish consonant behavior in different contexts, but I ended up saving that to a file so that it can’t get lost…
    Perhaps it’s time for a new free blog from wordpress.com?
    Has everyone seen Sig’s Martian blog? Ja, ja, I know it’s not for everyone, but if you want you can have a private one where you just keep stuff sorted out in the back room.

  96. Note that those who say it are just as likely to use it for the infinitive marker å.
    Ha, ha. I know small children get confused writing the two. I didn’t know it extended to adults.

    Kind of like the large number of native English speakers (I’m American and can speak for other nationalities, but we’ve got a ton of it here) who will write “could of” for “could’ve” or “could have” and for other similar constructions.

    I wouldn’t try that in Norway. It would be “one mutton’ and “several muttons”, sort of like French.

    I didn’t eat a lot of lamb or mutton there, but a look in the dictionary shows no French-derived alternatives. However, I have eaten both oksekød and bøf. Looking up “pork” in an online bilingual dictionary got me the typical “svinekød” that I expected but also an entry for “pork butcher” as “charcuteri,” which is obviously of French origin. There was also “svineslagter” for “pork butcher.” I am not certain that all of the terms have exactly the same meaning.

    I had started writing up a listing with transcriptions of Danish consonant behavior in different contexts, but I ended up saving that to a file so that it can’t get lost if the computer restarts suddenly, but I simply can’t continue working on it in any meaningful way today. My attention is just too fractured at the moment. (I am likely in the beginning stages of a migraine, and my children are driving me nuts in any case. Fortunately the latter has an easy remedy: I’m going to go play with them.) So I will continue to work on the Danish stuff and put it here as soon as I can.

  97. Isadora, if you’re worried about losing work on your computer, that’s a very good idea of Nij’s. Just get yourself a private blog at wordpress.com.
    About mutton, I just meant that mouton is the French word for sheep, so for an English speaker it’s odd to see a French text where moutons graze the mountain pasture. In Denmark får is sheep, but in Norway får is only mutton, or the meat of a sheep, and (en) sau is a sheep. So it might seem odd to a Norwegian to read of ‘får’ running around in fields.
    There is no deadline for reading about Danish consonants; if it’s this year or next is the same. I will be filing it with Sili’s explanation of Danish vigesimal counting which I still refer to occasionally, because I forget things, but is accessible from my desktop.

  98. Well, I may look into something on wordpress, private or otherwise. Thanks for the suggestion. My energy and attention are so limited today. I knew to expect a 6-8 week recovery period after influenza, but I am constantly surprised and dismayed by this getting a full night’s sleep and then being ready for a nap a few hours later. It’s not conducive to genuine intellectual activity – or physical activity for that matter.
    A.J.P. Now I understand your explanation of how odd it would seem to a Norwegian to have “får” running around the hillsides. English speakers would certainly be disconcerted either to have mutton or beef grazing the pastures or to find pork taking a mudbath.
    The typical Danish pattern that I’ve seen is that the stuff that you eat at table is the name of the animal compounded with -kød “meat.” Pork is svinekød, beef is oksekød, etc.
    Now, if you want to hear about disconcerting word meanings, I can tell you about the first time I was taken to church in Denmark. (Danes are not much of a church-going people as a general rule, but one of my host-families took me to church for Christmas, I think, and the last family I stayed with went every week and were very active in their parish. So I got to participate in that side of Danish culture too.) Or perhaps I was reading the Bible in Danish. In any case, during Communion the (state Lutheran) priest saying, “This is my body…This is my blood…” there was no issue there, because they are completely equivalent semantically to the English words that I had been hearing my whole life in the Presbyterian church and had never thought much about. But then we got to the bit about “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood shall have eternal life…” This was never a problem in English. Flesh has something of a peculiar meaning in English-language Christian usage and doesn’t trigger any , um, associations – even when the next phrase is about drinking blood. However the Danish from John 6:53 is, “Den, der spiser min kød or drikker mit blod…” In Denmark one also “spiser kød” (eats meat) at the dinner table. That word usage really gave me a nasty jolt. Makes one realize why it was that early Christians were accused of cannibalism.

  99. marie-lucie says:

    …. eat my flesh
    In French the equivalent phrase is manger mon corps “eat my body”.

  100. In French the equivalent phrase is manger mon corps “eat my body”.

    Actually, I am thinking that I have heard that phrasing in one of the multitude of English Bible translations.

    I’m guessing that the French phrasing is not likely to elicit any sort of visceral response from a native speaker. But I don’t think I’ve ever asked a native Danish speaker whether they found the phrasing “ulækkert” (literally “un-delicious”, but in reality it means anything from “distasteful” all the way to “disgusting”). I suspect that they don’t even think about it that way, and I am certain that they would not have back in the days when people went to church from childhood and were used to the words — just like I never truly thought about what it was I was hearing.

    Foreigners simply perceive things differently, and often get surprised by the same word having what seem to them like extra meanings. I’ll never forget how one of the earlier words I learned was “ren” (clean – it’s both an adjective and a verb). I had known the word for a couple of months and used it regularly. I was therefore greatly amused one day to take a carton of orange juice out of the refrigerator labeled “100% ren apelsinsaft.” It was immediately obvious to me that “ren” was equivalent to more than just the English word “clean,” and the semantics made intuitive sense, but I was still greatly amused. Still am, I guess.

    There were other instances. One among many ways of politely asking for something at the dinner table is “Må jeg bede om (x).” (May I ask for x) But in other contexts “at bede” means to pray, for instance to God. So an American friend of mine used to joke (not at the table) by translating the sentence directly into English as, “May I pray for a piece of bread?” I had never noticed how funny the two facets of the meaning of that verb could be until she made that joke.

    And speaking of polite ways of asking for things in Danish, can any speakers of Swedish or Norwegian tell me whether there is a simple way to say “please” in either of those languages? We were dismayed to discover that there was no single word meaning “please” in Danish. You kind of have to wait until you can construct an entire grammatically correct sentence in Danish (and there are about half a dozen types of these sentences in common use) in order be able to request something politely. Danish has nothing so telegraphic as “potatoes please” for those who are still learning the language. At least saying “thank you” is easy.

  101. Living in Germany I never got over their cannibalistic-sounding word for meat, which is Fleisch. Tom Waits did a creepy Threepenny Opera-like song using the phrase ‘ein bisschen Fleisch’ that I’ve forgotten the name of.
    There’s no real one-word imperative ‘please’ in Norwegian, just as there’s no real English equivalent to the (norsk) “Værsågod” or German “Bitter(schön)”, except a rather lame “There”, or “Here you are …”. It’s all Kan du ikke vær så snill (å sende meg noe)?, as in Danish. It’s a cultural thing as well as a word thing; ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are partly regarded as slippery foreign fake-politeness words, rather like Nij’s feeling about the British use of “Sorry”, as in, for instance “I’m sorry, your standing in my way” (meaning “Move!”).

  102. marie-lucie says:

    Sorry …
    I think that in Canada you would be more likely to say Excuse me to the person standing in your way.
    One thing I really dislike is the young salesgirl who makes an obvious error (such as ringing up the wrong total) and says “Sorry about that!”, her intonation and bright smile showing that she is not sorry at all. An older saleswoman would say “I am so sorry”, looking and sounding mortified at having made the error. (I don’t have as many occasions to interact with male salesstaff).

  103. mortified at having made the error
    I feel the same as you do about this, yes I do, but if I were rational I’d have to ask how mortified I really want someone to be about something relatively trivial. If it also means they aren’t fearful of losing their job, then we’re living in a better world.

  104. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, I don’t mean that I want them to be mortified (that can be overdone too), just that the breezy “Sorry about that!” says to me “I couldn’t care less!” when I am the one faced by an extra zero on my bill.

  105. “German “Bitter(schön)””
    Small spelling mistake, it’s “Bitteschön” (or “Bitte schön”), you can also say “Bitte sehr”.

  106. David Marjanović says:

    Anyone still reading this?

    Living in Germany I never got over their cannibalistic-sounding word for meat, which is Fleisch.

    Or, rather, the difference between “meat” and “flesh” (French chair, viande) simply isn’t made. There’s just one word for both.

    German “Bitter(schön)”

    Bitte(schön). Bitter means exactly what you think.

  107. David Marjanović says:

    Argh. The other way around: viande “meat”…

  108. David Marjanović says:

    Also, “distinction”, not “difference”.

  109. That’s a good point about the extra zero, m-l.
    Sorry about the ‘bitter’. It’s because I’m English, it’s all the same if you’re non-rhotic.
    You could all be non-rhotic if you’d just try harder. Life’s much better for the non-rhotic. Rhotic peoples of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your arse.

  110. Trond Engen says:

    I find a heavily trilled r most, eh, rhotic.
    And life’s bitter in New Zealand.

  111. You could all be non-rhotic if you’d just try harder. Life’s much better for the non-rhotic. Rhotic peoples of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your arse.

    I wish I’d known this years ago – before spending many thousands of dollars in speech therapy to improve our son’s /r/’s. Could’ve saved a lot money.

    He actually does suffer from non-rhoticity (or at least semi-rhoticity.) We speak a clearly rhotic dialect, and it wasn’t just the post-vocalic /r/’s that were under-pwonounced. Unfortunately, my being a linguist worked against us, since I knew from school that /r/ was one of the the very last phonemes to develop in a child, so it didn’t trouble me that he reached the age of 7 years with his /r/’s still largely mispronounced. He had to be privately evaluated for a reading disorder and the therapist told us that the /r/’s were a problem. According to the therapist, the public schools around here (he was homeschooled at the time) will generally take a 7 year old with /r/’s like his and wait another year to see if the speech improves before agreeing to start therapy. (I’ve learned since then that a child generally has to be in the 9th percentile or below in speech before the schools will offer even a minimum of speech therapy.) She didn’t feel that it was either a good idea or professionally responsible on her part as a private therapist to wait a year.

    After his therapists got his /r/’s significantly improved (they’re still not quite right), he told me that he did have other kids ask from time to time if he were from England.

    One thing that seems to be improving his /r/’s is taking Mandarin this year in school. It has a retroflex /r/, and in trying imitate its pronunciation he is becoming more aware of what’s going on inside his mouth. If he had the patience to listen (he has the intelligence), I think I could teach him some basic phonetics, even at his age.

    A.J.P., your use of the word ‘arse’ has reminded me of something I have wanted to know for a long time but had no one to ask. How relatively crude are ‘arse’ and ‘ass’ in British English. I know that they are completely different words with completely different meanings in British English. In American English, there is only ‘ass’ with two different meanings, both of them definitely beyond the bounds of politeness. (Okay, there is also the nearly antiquated meaning of ‘ass’ as the animal. It was so funny that our kids managed to reach the age of 9 or 10 not knowing that the word had any other meaning or could be obscene. Those days are long past.)

  112. scarabaeus says:

    A red herring: also known as a Yarmouth Capon
    Yarmouth is a famous place for curing herrings.
    http://vulgar.pangyre.org/y/

  113. marie-lucie says:

    Isidora, the various and varied phonetic renditions of what is commonly considered an “r” are notoriously difficult to produce, and many children (especially boys) take quite a while to master the one(s) they need to in their own language. The reason that schools wait to send children to a therapist is that they know that the vast majority of children will eventually speak just like adults, especially if they have trouble with only one sound. So your son may have needed a little push (the therapist), but he should eventually speak just like other children his age. But there is no reason why he can’t learn a little basic phonetics if you present the topic in an appropriate manner, within the context of usefulness and fun. He is also getting to the age when most children are confident enough in their mastery of their language to enjoy language play (eg Pig Latin, etc). So I hope that both of you can make phonetics and its practice fun.

  114. I wonder how your son would have fared in England or even in Boston.
    I only know one naughty meaning for ‘ass’, which is slang for bottom, the same as ‘arse’ in England. If you said ‘You silly ass’ in England it would mean a donkey; people said that when I was young, but I think it’s a bit dated nowadays. ‘Arse’ has always had a popular, classless following in Britain; I remember the masters at school using it in the 1960s, as well as the boys. Nowadays, I still can’t imagine the Queen using it in a speech, but that’s about the only occasion anyone might raise an eyebrow.

  115. Oh, brilliant. When will I learn to use the preview button? I could have sworn that I had the HTML tags right, but the amount and placement of italics in my above comment would say otherwise. I am so sorry. (And not in the bright, cheery I-just-put-an-extra-zero-on-your-bill way. That is incredibly difficult to read. Ack.)

  116. Finding the use of “at bede” strange in the meaning “please” suggests a need to get back in touch with one’s linguistic roots. The expression “Pray may I have a piece of bread” is old-fashioned but not totally outlandish in English. And “please” is surely not totally divorced from its roots as “May it please you to pass me a piece of bread.”
    Both of these sound old-fashioned, but not so much that Danish has to be made fun of for being closer to the way we used to speak.

  117. And I’m not having a go at Isidora or her friend — merely that I found it strange that the English usage “Pray may I…” was forgotten in the humour.

  118. I only know one naughty meaning for ‘ass’, which is slang for bottom, the same as ‘arse’ in England. If you said ‘You silly ass’ in England it would mean a donkey; people said that when I was young, but I think it’s a bit dated nowadays.
    Is someone likely to take offense if you call them a ‘silly ass’?
    If you call someone an ‘ass’ or ‘jackass’ in American English, it an offensive (or at least coarse) synonym for fool, idiot, jerk, etc. Either word, when applied to a human being, is mild swearword beyond the bounds of what is generally considered acceptable language in civilized society. (Either that or I am an insufferable prude. Prude or not, I have been known to refer, on more than one occasion, to one of our Honorable Senators from the Commonwealth of Kentucky as an ‘ass’, because I can simply find no other word to adequately characterize him. I just don’t do it in front of the children.) Using either ‘ass’ or ‘jackass’ to refer to the animal is non-offensive, but, like the correct usage of ‘bitch,’ may elicit surpressed giggles from children too young to know that those are not always swear-words.
    ‘Arse’ has always had a popular, classless following in Britain; I remember the masters at school using it in the 1960s, as well as the boys. Nowadays, I still can’t imagine the Queen using it in a speech, but that’s about the only occasion anyone might raise an eyebrow.
    It would appear that American ‘ass’ and British ‘arse’ are equivalent in meaning, but not in register. I cannot imagine my son’s teachers (or any that I had) ever using it as an anatomical term for any living creature. ‘Ass’ is always a very coarse or offensive term. And we seem to have developed some confusion over or merging of the two obscene meanings of ‘ass’ in American as witnessed by ‘asshole,’ which is a synonym for both ‘ass’ (buttocks) and for ‘ass’/jackass’ – only more obscene than either of them.
    So where does ‘arse’ come in terms of relative politeness with other synonyms available in British English. For example, in American, we have ‘rear end, ‘backside,’ and ‘bottom’ which are all non-offensive. ‘Buttocks’ might get a strange reaction, because it’s in a strange register; it’s a quasi-anatomical term, and mostly non-offensive, but some people might perceive it as being a bit indelicate because it actually directly names the anatomy in question. Then we come to ‘butt.’ I would perceive it as inappropriately coarse if a first grade teacher used the word in speaking to her students, but if my son’s teacher told him sternly, “Sit your butt down and get to work,” I wouldn’t take offense because he’s not a little kid anymore. ‘Ass,’ of course is a swear word, but not among the worst swear words that come immediately to mind. British English also has ‘bum’ as another synonym.

  119. Okay, I think I know what I am doing wrong with the HTML tags, and I will not repeat it. (And I am taking under consideration A.J.P.’s perception that HTML looks like hatemail. I think I hate it at the moment. I checked those tags at least three times.)
    The paragraph about American ‘ass’ and British ‘arse’ is mine and not a continuation of the quote from A.J.P. I apologize for the confusion. I need to not be posting after midnight.
    Oh, and my question about whether one would take offense or not if called a ‘silly ass’ should not be in italics either.
    I apologize for the confusion.

  120. @Bathrobe
    I’m pretty sure that I was already aware, even as a 17 year old, of the old fashioned English sense of ‘to pray.’ I had had far less trouble reading Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan in British literature class in my American high school the year before I was in Denmark than most of my classmates. (And I have had far less difficulty than before with literature from any period of the English language ever since learning Danish.)
    I recognized while learning Danish that Modern Danish had held onto certain grammatical constructions which Modern English has abandoned. I’ve actually always been very fond of the way that Danish is closer to the way we used to speak in English. (One of our language teachers that we had for the language camp we went to for our first two weeks after arrival told me that Modern Danish was closer to Old English than Modern English is, but that is beyond my ability to perceive.)
    I guess that some background that I didn’t give was that both this particular friend and I had learned Danish far better than most of the exchange students who had arrived with us, and by the end of the year it felt natural to both of us to converse with each other in Danish, rather than English, even when it was just the two of us. (We’d switch into English or just insert English into a Danish sentence if we needed to.) There were a number of the other exchange students who were like that, but quite a lot of the North Americans were more comfortable speaking English when they had the chance. If the students from the Southern Hemisphere felt less comfortable speaking Danish, it was because they arrived and departed during their own summer, so by May they had not had the time that we had to learn Danish.)
    This other girl, and another that we were close to, probably dreamed predominately in Danish, as I did at that time. I don’t think I ever thought to ask. We had worked hard to learn Danish, and we loved the language and the country. So the joke about praying for bread was in the realm of bi-lingual word-play (and post-adolescent humor: we were pretty young.) It was intended whimsically and affectionately. If the joke was not made around Danes it was either because we were not certain whether they would understand that the joke was affectionate or more likely because every time the two of us were together it was at an exchange student event, so there weren’t many Danes around.
    I suppose it is possible that it occurred to her to make the joke and never to me because I knew the older senses of “to pray” in English. Perhaps she didn’t.
    I’m sure I’ve been rambling, but I need to go to bed. I have another long day to face tomorrow and something that might become a migraine that has been hanging over me for days but refuses to either come or go. I’ll be pleased when it finally does one or the other.

  121. Isidora, the various and varied phonetic renditions of what is commonly considered an “r” are notoriously difficult to produce, and many children (especially boys) take quite a while to master the one(s) they need to in their own language.

    Which is why I was entirely unconcerned to have a seven year old who had very unformed /r/’s in all positions. Our professors had always taught us that /r/ was basically the last sound to develop, but they didn’t say when they usually develop by. SLP’s are taught that.

    So your son may have needed a little push (the therapist), but he should eventually speak just like other children his age.

    I’m hoping for that, but he will be 13 next month and his /r/’s are still noticably under-articulated in all positions. It’s not bad like it was when he was younger, but it is noticable, and we haven’t been able to afford therapy for it for the last couple years. Sometimes it causes me to mistake which word he is saying. Last month, one of his classmates told him that his /r/’s made him sound stupid and gay. It was in the lunchroom and my son looked meaningfully over the other boy’s shoulder and the bully looked behind him to see the Assistant Principle – the one in charge of discipline – approaching 🙂 The school has a very strict anti-bullying policy.)

    He is also getting to the age when most children are confident enough in their mastery of their language to enjoy language play (eg Pig Latin, etc).

    He adores Pig Latin. He likes language play, for the most part, but he has some degree of difficulty with a lot of language play due to the fact that he has Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s been known to interpret jokes or turns of phrase literally and become quite offended. The thing that always throws me is that I live with him and cannot predict at all when he will entirely misinterpret a joke and take offense versus when he will be amused by it.

    But there is no reason why he can’t learn a little basic phonetics if you present the topic in an appropriate manner, within the context of usefulness and fun…So I hope that both of you can make phonetics and its practice fun.

    Actually, he was the one who brought up basic phonetics last month. He asked me about the /r/ in Mandarin, which he has the privilege of being able to take in school. He was trying to get a better pronunciation of it, and I was able to explain how to make a retroflex sound. He also asked about how to make the /r/’s in our dialect of English. At some point during this, he asked if I could show him where I was putting my tongue inside my mouth, so I made sure that we had good light and let him see inside my mouth. When he concentrated on it that night, he produced American /r/’s ranging from very good to perfect. He was exultant when I told him that the last one had been perfect to my ear. He was the one driving the whole session, too.

    I talked with him this evening about the idea of learning phonetics in 5-10 minute lessons several times a week, and he thought that sounded like a good idea.

    I wonder how your son would have fared in England or even in Boston.

    Better, I am sure, because the incomplete rhoticity in his postvocalic /r/’s would simply not be an issue. Though he doesn’t have enough rhoticity for a rhotic dialect, he has more rhoticity than would be correct for a non-rhotic dialect, and I suspect that he would simply never have developed rhoticity if he had grown up in one of those dialects. However, he would still have a problem, since non-rhotic dialects do have a full [r] sound in front of the vowels, and he doesn’t.

  122. However, he would still have a problem, since non-rhotic dialects do have a full [r] sound in front of the vowels, and he doesn’t.
    It’s fairly common in England to meet people who “can’t pronounce their Rs”, as it’s called, and who would say “wansack” for ransack or “Woe-mans” for Romans, for example. The woyal wesidence was wansaked by Womans would be typical, if slightly provocative.

  123. I live with him and cannot predict at all when he will entirely misinterpret a joke and take offense versus when he will be amused by it.
    For different reasons I sometimes have the same uncertainty about my daughter. It’s very hard to deal with, I think.

  124. For some reason, I’ve always found ‘buttocks’ to be a most peculiar word. As a child I was told never to say ‘bum’ and I don’t use it. So I have my own personal code. And for all these words, I don’t think it’s any longer possible to classify them in order of public acceptability, either; what’s acceptable in the schoolyard or on television may not be accepted at home; and even at home confusion can also reign (particularly in homes where there’s more than one culture). One man’s arse is another man’s buttocks.
    He’s an ass
    I have a friend in New York who only ever uses this phrase to mean, with differing emphasis, “he’s a pompous, self-important buffoon who isn’t half as smart as he thinks he is”.
    Is someone likely to take offense if you call them a ‘silly ass’?
    Unless it’s said in fun they’re supposed to, but whether they would would depend partly on the context. From Oliver Twist, when Mr. Bumble is told “the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction”, Bumble replies “If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass — a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.”

  125. Isidora: I fixed your tags; what you were doing was ending itals with i/ rather than the correct /i. I hope you got a good night’s sleep!

  126. There’s still one half way down the third para of 11.59 PM that you missed, Langwidge.

  127. Got it, thanks!

  128. I fixed your tags; what you were doing was ending itals with i/ rather than the correct /i. I hope you got a good night’s sleep!
    Thank you so much, language hat! The problem with the tags would be my left/right, east/west confusion kicking in again. (Seriously, my son and I were playing a text adventure / interactive fiction game the other night and started making a map of the game world. We started in the first room and moved to the east, then east again, and we both drew east to the left until we realized what we had done and corrected it. After that, he got smart and drew a compass rose in the corner of the map.) I think I might need to make an HTML cheat sheet and keep it near the computer to avoid a repeat performance of last night. The implementation of that solution is going to be complicated by finding a way to keep my extremely active preschooler from commandeering my cheat sheet for drawing paper — in the same way that she has just taken the paper towel I was using as a napkin with my lunch and is now sitting next to me contentedly drawing on it. Maybe a plastic sheet protector…
    And, yes, I did get a good night’s sleep. Thanks for asking. I may need a nap in a couple of hours, but I really needed to catch up on my sleep and I feel better for it.
    And the preview shows me that I did finally get the tags right. Hooray!

  129. marie-lucie says:

    buttocks, etc
    The turn this thread is taking, coinciding with the announcement of the passing of linguist and anthropologist Dell Hymes, who wrote a grammar of the Kathlamet language (formerly spoken along the Lower Columbia River), are coming together in the following recollection: a few months ago I was studying texts in this language, recorded and translated by the famous linguist and anthropologist Franz Boas about 100 years ago. Many native stories were too uninhibited for the prevailing taste at the time, so even if all the episodes were translated into English (and not, for instance, in Latin for the “naughty bits”), there were a lot of euphemisms in the translations. One of the stories is almost impossible to understand if one literally follows Boas’ translation : two characters exchange their “buttocks”, then exchange them back, and in the process one of them loses his “buttocks”, which end up drifting in a river along which some children use “them” for target practice, in a game which is described as “shooting through a ring”.

  130. That’s a good one, m-l. Target practice with bows and arrows? I’m still not sure what “buttocks” was intended to disguise, but I get the rough idea.
    One of my problems with saying the word buttocks is that the US pronunciation is different. At least in England it’s slurred; it’s got a schwa in the middle, sort of “butteks”. In the USA it’s more “but-ox” or “but-åx” which, for a word I don’t even like saying, is far too precisely defined for my taste.

  131. No, the standard US pronunciation has a schwa. I’m always taken aback when I hear someone use a full vowel; it sounds childish to me. (Not meant to cast aspersions on any readers who say it that way; I’m describing an instinctive reaction, not a linguistic judgment.)

  132. I agree with Hat, although I might think “hick” rather than “child”. OK, I am casting aspersions.
    I don’t actually hear the word that often. It’s a funny word. Bottoms are intrinsically funny; the word has a funny sound, sort of formal, but sort of goofy, no matter how you pronounce it. A doctor can use it, but if it’s used at home it sounds like deliberate avoidance of one of the everyday terms.
    An overheard snatch of aquatic instruction “Keep your buttocks up!” from a stranger to her child who was trying to learn to float became something of a family saying for us.

  133. In the US we sometimes call someone a jackass. Maybe this serves to head off the possible confusion between the equine “ass” and the “ass” that is “arse”.
    The “ass” that is “arse” functions in expressions like “get your ass out of here” or “sit your ass down”. Also you can call someone an “asshole”, which is quite different from a jackass. And you can say “he doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground”. Do the British use “arse” in any of these ways?

  134. I’m glad to know not everyone does it, perhaps it’s a kind of spelling aid, like the man on WNYC NPR who says ambulAnce (Marty Wayne?).
    The British use “arsehole”, which I find much more vulgar for some reason than asshole. There’s also the expression, that I saw non-grumbly Stu using recently, “I can’t be arsed”, meaning I can’t be bothered (to do something). As with “bothered”, I don’t think there’s a well-used positive version.
    Like “hole in the ground” there’s an expression “he can’t tell his arse from his elbow”, which may also be used in the US, I don’t know. I once used a literal translation of this into German to someone in a business-related telephone call to utter incomprehension from the other party, but it caused much curiosity in my office and I couldn’t really explain how it might have come about. It’s something like er versteht nicht den Unterschied zwischen sein Arsch und Ellbogen.

  135. “It’s something like er versteht nicht den Unterschied zwischen sein Arsch und Ellbogen”
    As you rightly pointed out, this expression does not exist in German, but if I tried to translate it, I would say “Er kann seinen Hintern nicht von seinem Ellbogen unterscheiden”. I would never use “Arsch” in a business-related conversation.

  136. That’s interesting. I don’t think that phrase is in any way a peculiar thing to say in England. But it’s true that I’m a marginal figure in business conversations the world over.

  137. David Marjanović says:

    Sorry about the ‘bitter’. It’s because I’m English, it’s all the same if you’re non-rhotic.

    I am non-rhotic (not quite as far as the Danes, but at least as much as the Queen). Still, -e and -er are kept apart in German: the former is /ɛ/, the latter /ɐ/.
    The former is some kind of reduced vowel for most Germans, like [ɘ] or [ɵ] (I’m not sure if anyone really says [ə]); the latter has merged into /a/ or even /aː/ for some people, who have also lowered unstressed /ɛ/ to almost [ɐ]. Merkel appears to be one of those. Another’s accent is described here (in German).

    surpressed

    Surprised, suppressed, or (most likely) both? :o)

    It’s fairly common in England to meet people who “can’t pronounce their Rs”, as it’s called

    They don’t quite use [w], though. They use [ʋ].

    The problem with the tags would be my left/right, east/west confusion kicking in again.

    Really? I have such a confusion, too (all the way to rather uncomfortable errors during driving lessons), but it doesn’t enter writing – I think of writing in terms of “before/after”.

    The implementation of that solution is going to be complicated by finding a way to keep my extremely active preschooler from commandeering my cheat sheet for drawing paper — in the same way that she has just taken the paper towel I was using as a napkin with my lunch and is now sitting next to me contentedly drawing on it.

    At least she remembers to put paper under her pencil when she gets the urge to draw. :o) (Allusion to a an autobiography of a comic author in comic form where the author shows himself having drawn on the table and suddenly realizing he had forgotten to put paper in between, again.)
    ================
    Every body part that occurs in an English figure of speech can be replaced by arse/ass to express contempt. Half-hearted can become half-arsed/assed (I’ve seen both in the wild)… And then, of course, you can just add it to other figures as a pars pro toto.
    We’ll sue his ass. And then we’ll sue the rest of him.

  138. A general formula for a smart-ass adolescent retort:
    Somebody says something that contains a certain noun phrase.
    Your reply is “Your ass is _______,”, where the blank is filled by the same NP.
    If you use it enough (and I know somebody who used to), you will occasionally say something funny.

  139. Half-hearted can become half-arsed/assed (I’ve seen both in the wild)
    “Half-assed” is good, but I do not think of it as a variant of “half-hearted”.

  140. -Assed isn’t the same as -hearted, although they’re related. “Half-hearted” is an intention, while half-assed refers, in particular, to a result.
    My German declensions are half-arsed, because my attempt to learn them was half-hearted.

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  142. Trond Engen says:

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  143. Trond Engen says:

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  145. Trond Engen says:

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