Tron!

David Munns at Aeon tells the story of the once ubiquitous suffix –tron:

In contemporary usage the term actually springs from ancient Greek, with the invention of the first vacuum tube or ‘kenotron’ around 1904; its creator came up with the name by combining the Greek words for ‘empty’ (keno) and ‘tool’ (tron). Subsequently, the radiotron, thyratron, klystron and the rhumbatron went on to become vital components of the radio industry in the 1930s, while the resonant cavity magnetron was at the heart of every radar set in the Second World War. Don’t be deceived: these components bear scant relationship to elementary particles such as the electron, neutron and positron, all of which really end in the suffix ‘-on’; their names are a red herring, akin to the old rumour that the Mustang car was named after the fighter aircraft and not the horse.

‘Tron’ began to attain wider cultural recognition around 1933 with the cyclotron, a machine that accelerated charged particles through a magnetic field. The name started out as laboratory slang at the University of California, Berkeley, but the device itself went on to become one of the most famous instruments in the history of science. It was a catalyst for innovations ranging from cancer treatments to the atomic bomb, and begat a lineage of postwar technologies that ended up dominating the study of nuclear physics. Newer and larger accelerators such as the synchrotron, the Cosmotron, the Bevatron and the Tevatron offered Cold War physicists in the US the possibility of creating new elements and peering further inside the atom. Later came the torsatron and the Vintotron, to study controlled nuclear fusion. In the 1980s, particle physicists sought out and found a large patch of desert in Texas for the next generation of particle accelerator; they dubbed the (now abandoned) facility the Desertron.

There’s much more, including the phytotron, the Eggatron, the pyrotron, and the algatron (“a nearly forgotten piece of 20th-century space technology”), none of which I had heard of. Of course the Greek stuff is wrong (the word is kenos, not keno, and more importantly, there is no Greek word tron ‘tool’ — –tron is a suffix in Greek just as it is in English), but never mind that, the article is about the English words, and it’s full of good things (and of course it mentions the Disney film, which was so cutting-edge in 1982). Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. I won’t look up the rhumbatron. I don’t want my beautiful illusions shattered.

    Unrelated, but there’s also the waitron.

  2. The name “positron” is actually malformed. It should be “positon,” but the –tron suffix for instruments presumably interfered. The name was not invented by any of the discoverers, but was apparently suggested by a editor or referee of one of the discovery papers from Carl Anderson’s group. At the moment, I can’t think of any other names for quanta that end in an unetymological –tron, nor are there any on Wikipedia’s list of real and hypothetical quanta names, although my gut feeling was that there were a handful of others.

    The film TRON, by the way, is still an artistic masterpiece. The computer animation is, naturally, nowhere near as sophisticated as even cheap productions can managed today. (At the time TRON was made, it required the work of essentially all the computer animation companies in Hollywood.) But the designers made the computer animation into something really interesting, giving it a unique look that still really stands out artistically. Moreover, the film also includes countless frames of traditional animation; the scenes inside the computer were all filmed in black and white on all-black sets. All the color and the scenery was painted in by hand, in a way styled to match the computer animation results.

  3. Positron is a portmanteau of positive and electron. The latter accidentally shares the -tr- of its root with neutron, but otherwise -on is the standard suffix for particles, including elementary (muon) and abstract ones (phonon).

  4. Synchrophasotron escaped into Soviet popular culture because of a 1979 song (Pesn’a pervoklassnika, google the Russain spelling if you want). I didn’t know for a long time that it was a unique device in Dubna, not a generic name…

  5. @D.O.: The generic term, “synchrotron,” is short for “synchrocyclotron,” because it’s a cyclotron that requires synchronization. The low-energy cyclotron was a really easy accelerator to build, because nonrelativistic charged particles revolving in a constant magnetic field have an orbital period that is independent of the orbital energy. (As the particles move faster, their orbits get proportionally bigger, keeping the speed:distance ratio constant.) So you can just apply an oscillating electric field at that correct frequency (determined by the particle masses and the magnetic field strength), and the particles will gain energy continuously.

    However, this falls apart as the moving charges become relativistic. At speeds approaching that of light, the orbital period gets longer as the energy increases. (The orbit is continuing to get bigger, but the speed can only approach c.) So the electric pulses that add energy have to be slowed down as the particle energy goes up. They have to be synchronized with the motion in the beam tunnel, hence the name “synchrocyclotron.”

  6. Eli Nelson says:

    One thing I find interesting about “klystron” is that many people apparently pronounce the vowel in the first syllable as /aɪ/. This is fairly unexpected if we compare it to the pronunciation of a single vowel letter before a word-medial consonant cluster starting with “s” in almost any other word from Greek or Latin (e.g. “crystal”, “system”, “prostate”): even though “sC” clusters are valid onsets in English and Latin, intervocalically they tend to behave as phonologically heavy consonant clusters for the purposes of stress or, in English, vowel “length” (unlike “mute and liquid” clusters, which are typically treated as light). In fact, it seems that some speakers do use /ɪ/ in “klystron” as I would expect (Collins and Random House list it, for example), but I’ve wondered what might be the best way to explain the use of /aɪ/. It’s possible that some people tend to associate the letter “y” in stressed syllables with /aɪ/ more than with /ɪ/, due to it occuring “as a vowel letter” mainly word-finally (as in “try”, “fly”, “cry”, “by”, “my”); but it seems a bit odd to me that this association would affect the pronunciation of new Greek-derived words despite the two relatively common counterexamples listed above (“crystal”, “system”) and many others like “mythic” and “mystic”. Maybe people didn’t/don’t intuitively recognize klystron as a Greek-based word of the same type as “crystal”; the initial “k” seems to me to give it less of a classical look than if it were spelled “clystron”.

  7. Clytemnestra is pronounced with /aɪ/, too.

  8. Eli Nelson says:

    @Y: Well, in “Clytemnestra” the “y” isn’t before a consonant cluster starting with “s”, so its pronunciation as /aɪ/ doesn’t violate the “rule”/”tendency” I was thinking of—although it does go against another rule relating to vowel length and stress, the famous “trisyllabic laxing” phenomenon (or whatever you want to call it; that terminology is associated with certain theoretical perspectives that may be disputed). I wonder if the heavy consonant cluster -m.n- after the second syllable has any relevance; although the dictionaries I checked give the vowel as reduced, I feel like I have a tendency to pronounce the start of the name as /ˈklaɪtɛm/ with an unreduced /ɛ/, and maybe an unvoiced /t/–although my intuition about whether or not to voice the /t/ is very uncertain. My impression is that the trisyllabic laxing rule fails particularly often when the syllable after the stressed syllable has an unreduced vowel—I’m thinking of words like relaxation, resistivity, retardation, deportation, deformation, receptivity, where the first syllable can have a “long” vowel despite coming two syllables before another stressed syllable. I’d guess that it’s possible to formulate an explanation of this tendency in terms of foot structure; unfortunately, I haven’t studied theories of English foot structure enough to be able to do that. (Although, after thinking about it a bit more, I think I remember seeing a lot of these examples explained instead by cyclic derivation, which doesn’t seem particularly likely to be relevant to the pronunciation of “Clytemnestra”. A bizarre idea: maybe it is treated like a compound word in contemporary English phonology: “Clytem-nestra”?)

    But “Clytemnestra” does have a “short e” in the penultimate syllable, which provides another example of the tendency towards using a “short” vowel before clusters like -str- (although it is a different vowel letter and a different vowel phoneme).

  9. Touching on this, maybe, how about maestro /ˈmaistroʊ/? Of course it’s guided by the spelling, but it ends up with a fairly ‘natural’ pronunciation of a foreign word.

  10. @Brett. Yes, indeed. I just thought they all were called “synchrophasotron”.
    Wiki gives us a very funny list of hypothetical (or just proposed) -trons. To wit
    Eloisatron (cyclotron that plays “Für Elise” while going around it’s business)
    Fermitron (was an accelerator sketched by Enrico Fermi on a notepad in the 1940s proposing an accelerator in stable orbit around the earth). True description. Funny as it is.
    Planckatron (a device playing baseball. For some reason the author, who was probably German or Russian, didn’t know that the thing you play baseball with is called “bat”, not “plank”. Also couldn’t spell)
    Zevatron (from Russian zevat’. Means yawn. Also to miss something because of inattention)

  11. The Angel Metatron.

  12. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Clytemnestra might just be the result of the famous ‘magic e’ – there aren’t many words which go -yte rather than -ite, and the most common one (byte) is quite modern, but it still looks plausible that the vowel should change (and then there’s ‘cycle’, despite the two consonants before the e!)

    (ETA: I forgot to look for words with other single consonants… acolyte, lyre, type…)

  13. David Marjanović says:

    A bizarre idea: maybe it is treated like a compound word in contemporary English phonology: “Clytem-nestra”?

    That seems to be the default for long unanalyzable words in German.

    The Angel Metatron.

    I’ve long wondered about that one.

  14. …intervocalically they tend to behave as phonologically heavy consonant clusters for the purposes of stress or, in English, vowel “length”.

    But not without exception, especially when a historically low vowel is involved; see pastry, Hastings, and words with secondary length before a final /st/, as in paste, taste, chaste, but also in Christ, with a lengthened high vowel in Middle English. Note the variation in tryst, which may be pronounced with the vowel of KIT or KITE.

  15. Re: Planckatron: Surely an allusion to Max Planck is intended here?

  16. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mellotron 1963 “… became more popular after the Beatles used it on several tracks. It was subsequently adopted by the Moody Blues, King Crimson and Genesis, “

  17. Trond Engen says:

    I’ve been called Megatron by Englishbrats.

    The Swedes have smultron. And hjortron. And ostron.

  18. From my student days at the Warsaw Polytechnic I remember humorous proposals to dignify circuit components and various devices with names ending in -tor or -ter by substituting -tron for those suffixes.

    Examples: transistron, resistron, generatron, computron.

    P.S. That was before The Transformers.

  19. January First-of-May says:

    Yes, indeed. I just thought they all were called “synchrophasotron”.

    The way I recall it (from a Soviet popular science book about large hadron colliders*), the difference between synchrophasotrons and regular synchrotrons is that they use different kinds of synchronization (IIRC, one is electric, and the other magnetic, but I forgot which was which).

    [EDIT: best I can tell from Russian Wikipedia, synchrophasotrons are the ones that use the mechanism Brett described, while synchrotrons vary the magnetic field itself to make the orbits the same size, which means the period is also fairly stable (as by that point the speed is very close to c), and there’s no need to vary the frequency.
    It also appears that “synchrophasotron” had fell out of use as a generic term, and is now associated with the Dubna cyclotron specifically.]

    computron

    I wonder if computronium, the now-common term for the sci-fi kind of computing substrate, is derived from computron in some way – all the other origins I could think of would make it either **computonium or **computeronium.
    [EDIT: Wiktionary explains it as a portmanteau of computer and neutronium, which is an origin I didn’t think of. There was apparently an actual thing called the Computron – a single-purpose calculating machine from the 1940s – but it had nothing to do with computronium.]

    the angel Metatron

    I thought that this particular name had a Hebrew origin, but apparently it doesn’t; one of the two etymologies in Wiktionary contains Greek meta-, and the other has a suffix very distantly related to Greek -tron, but I don’t think meta-tron makes sense in Greek, anyway.

    And hjortron.

    My favorite berry.

    *) Lowercase ones, obviously, since the uppercase Large Hadron Collider hadn’t been made yet; and technically the book didn’t use the term “collider”.
    Though I’ve often been wondering – is the Large Hadron Collider a large collider of hadrons, or a collider of large hadrons?

  20. Could the word “catoptron” be added to the above group of words? I had no idea it was also used in English, but I’ve found out it’s given as an alternative to “catopter”, a reflecting glass, a mirror.

  21. Well, the LHC is a large machine by any standard, just the main magnets have a mass of 33 thousand tons.

    On the other hand, protons and anti-protons are the only hadrons that it’s practical to accelerate, because decay — the particles only make one hundred thousand circuits of the ring per second, even pi mesons would only get 1/400th of the way around on average(*). So in that sense it cannot collide large hadrons.

    But the LHC can also accelerate ions (which aren’t strictly hadrons but are composed of them) — at the energies involved they behave as a very large bunch of quarks when they collide. You could say that one goal of the LHC was to perform large collisions of hadrons, though that’s a reading that the noun phrase cannot strictly support.
    _________
    (*) Of course particles experience time dilationwhen at full energy, one source claims about 7000 for protons at 7TeV — but it takes 20 minutes to get to that point, so it doesn’t help the pi mesons.

  22. What I find interesting is that two separate morphemes have fused. There was a thread a few years ago where we discussed whether or not “-en” was becoming a marker of male personal names in English; if we say there is, then it has a number of converging sources.

    These suffixes – almost lexical affixes – are new in English. We also have “-thon” for an arduous process cf. “telethhon” and my favorite, “-zilla” for monsters. That one’s pretty productive. I once saw a drag show where one of the queens was named “Glamazonia” and the other one called her “Glamorella” by way of throwing shade. (No idea how the “-e-” crept in.)

  23. Is a clytemnestron a particle that passes from the electron shell of one atom to another’s?

  24. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Well, both Wiktionary and the OED think that the English word ‘Metatron’ is a borrowing from Hebrew. They’re just a bit doubtful about where the Hebrew word comes from!

  25. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Is Glamorella not on the model of Cinderella, rather than bridezilla? (Unless your ‘r’ is a mistake?)

  26. There is, unsurprisingly, a website where you can find ‘all words ending with TRON’:

    https://lotsofwords.com/*tron

    Needless to say, there could be other words, but this list is reasonable starting point.

  27. January First-of-May says:

    We also have “-thon” for an arduous process cf. “telethhon” and my favorite, “-zilla” for monsters.

    I think “-gate” for scandals is in the same category.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    Metatron

    I wondered about the origin too, but according to Wikipedia, it is Hebrew borrowed from Greek. Isn’t that unusual, in a religious context?

  29. I recall there’s a joke about Metatron sounding like the name of a robot in Pratchett and Gaiman’s Good Omens

  30. Cinderella

    Also “Barbarella”.

    -thon

    And “-oholic”.

  31. -scape (soundscape), -burger (fishburger), -cade (motorcade), -zine (fanzine), -tard (creotard) etc. Arnold Zwicky has coined a catchy term for this class of “liberated” word fragments: libfixes.

  32. Metatron will always be Alan Rickman to me.

  33. P.S. See also this article (with special emphasis on Dutch).

  34. Ian Myles Slater says:

    I am not sure of the present status of the question (there is a large, and growing, literature), but Gershom Scholem (1897-1982), a considerable authority on Jewish mysticism, warned that there may never be a satisfactory etymology for Metatron.

    He suggested that it is an example of glossolalia.

    The name seems to have originated in the traditions of those who cultivated visions of the heavenly palace and God enthroned above the angels, as described in the Merkavah or Hekhalot texts. Scholem cited other angelic names from the Merkavah literature which are without apparent meaning, such as Sandalfon and Adiriron. Indeed, even a quick look at James R. Davila’s “Hekhalot Literature in Translation: Major Texts of Merkavah Mysticism” (2013) reveals that they are full of “secret names” of God and angels, many of which apparently cannot be broken down into meaningful units, or even reliably vocalized.

    Scholem’s suggestion appeared in “Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism” (1946, pages 67-70). He repeated it in his article “Metatron” for the first edition of “Encyclopedia Judaica” in (I think) 1974. The article, with his other contributions to the Encylopedia, was collected in a volume titled simply “Kabbalah” in 1978 (pp. 377-381), from which I cite it. It may not have been his last word on the subject.

  35. Trond Engen says:

    Jim: These suffixes – almost lexical affixes – are new in English. We also have “-thon” for an arduous process cf. “telethhon” and my favorite, “-zilla” for monsters. That one’s pretty productive. I once saw a drag show where one of the queens was named “Glamazonia” and the other one called her “Glamorella” by way of throwing shade. (No idea how the “-e-” crept in.)

    Interesting. I wonder if this is a productive rule in English. I think you could take any long word and back-form a morpheme from the last (primary or secondary) stressed syllable or so, Or maybe not any word. I think it has to start as a pun or a rhyme, which gradually alllows the forming of new words according to a pattern rather than to a pun on the original,

    school-monia ? Nah.
    flumonia? Overplaying a flu to be home sick? Or a serious flu? Yes.
    bluemonia? Same, but caused by a depressive feeling? Yes.
    schoolmonia Same, because school. Yes!

    car-o-lith? Nah,
    man-o-lith A huge guy? Yes.
    can-o-lith A huge can? Yes,
    van-o-lith A huge van? Yes.
    car-o-lith A huge car? Yes.

    That, ot a part of the word takting on a life on its own, Burger, of course, but also e.g. mayo.

    Cream-o-naise, ketch-o-naise, jam-o-naise, coff-o-naise (caugh!), Brie-o-naise, you name it,

  36. Let’s all take the word Brie-o-naise to our graves, whispering it to no one. The world is in enough peril already.

  37. Eli:
    Another way to look at system vs. shyster etc. is: /ɪ/ mid-syllable, /aɪ/ syllable-finally. Hence /klaɪ.strǝn/ but /sɪs.tǝm/. Except the exceptions, naturally, which Piotr described.

    Of course, this just converts the problem to one of syllabification.

  38. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Metatron could be both glossolalia and Greek, i.e. some speaker-in-tongues unconsciously came up with a phrase that the back of his brain knew meant something in Greek.

    The word sure has a certain je ne sais quoi, a non-Semitic Sprachgefühl.

  39. Metatron is also a corporation in John Crowley’s Aegypt tetralogy.

    There is or was a brand of garbage bags called Bagzilla.

  40. Eli Nelson says:

    @Piotr:

    But not without exception, especially when a historically low vowel is involved; see pastry, Hastings, and words with secondary length before a final /st/, as in paste, taste, chaste, but also in Christ, with a lengthened high vowel in Middle English. Note the variation in tryst, which may be pronounced with the vowel of KIT or KITE.

    My impression was that many words from French spelled with “st”, like paste, taste, chaste, came to be pronounced with long vowels before the /st/ in English because of phonetic characteristics of the corresponding French words at the time they were adopted. Is that correct, or am I off in this assumption?

    I know French developed long vowels in many contexts before /s/, in a way similar to the English trap/bath split. (Although the quantitative distinction has either been lost, or supplemented or replaced by a qualitative distinction for certain vowels in many present-day varieties of French, I don’t think that is relevant to the way the English pronunciation of these words developed.) If, at at the time paste, taste, chaste entered English, they were pronounced in French with something like [aːst], this would explain why they were adopted into Middle English with /aːst/. This explanation would imply that long vowels before -st- should not be expected in words that were not taken from French and don’t even look like they were taken from French (such as “klystron”).

    In terms of the present-day synchronic spelling system of English, I have the impression that some people interpret the “silent e” at the end of words spelled with “aste” as an orthographic signifier of the vowel length. “E” and “O” before st in monosyllabic words of French origin seem to have been similarly adopted in ME with long /ɛː/ and /ɔː/, but their spelling patterns are different: feast and beast are spelled with “east”, roast and toast are spelled with “oast”, and host is just spelled with “ost” (like native English most and ghost). But usually, before intervocalic -st- in more Latinate/Latinized words, a long vowel doesn’t seem to occur, so feast corresponds to festive (with /ɛ/, unlike secretive “secretory” which has /iː/), and beast to bestial (which can have /ɛ/, although it can also have /iː/, I assume by analogy with/modeling after beast).

    There seem to be some other ways in which words in the French layer of the lexicon behave differently from words in either English or Latin layers of the lexicon with respect to long vowels/diphthongs. For example, I have read that the diphthong /oɪ/ tends to occur mainly in words of this type. As far as I can see, the sequences /aʊnt/ (e.g. mountain) and /aʊns/ occur only in words from French, as well as the sequence /aɪnt/ in the single word pint. Even though /aʊst/ is not common, it does occur in the word oust, from French, and also in the present-day pronunciation of the word joust, although the OED suggests this is a spelling pronunciation and it was formerly always pronounced with /ʌst/.

    Pastry is historically, and I think relatively transparently synchronically, composed of paste and the suffix -(e)ry, and there don’t seem to be many cases where a word ending with this suffix is pronounced with a different vowel than the unsuffixed word (e.g. bravery is pronounced with the vowel of brave, masonry is pronounced with the vowel of mason). So I think an explanation of the “long a” before word-final -st in paste also accounts for the long vowel before the st in pastry.

    But some of the other examples you gave do pose problems for the account I gave above. Tryst seems to have an unclear etymology, and Hastings in Sussex an English one. Perhaps “Hastings” has been influenced by the pronunciation of the word “haste”, or maybe the place-name was influenced by French pronunciation despite not originating from French in its ultimate etymology. Tryst is another example where the vowel is spelled with “y”, although I don’t know how relevant that is or was to how people pronounce it. Christ also doesn’t fit in clearly with the account I gave above, although some amount of French influence seems possible as it is a word shared between French and English. The word post seems to have different etymologies for its different meanings, despite having only one pronunciation in present-day English: I don’t know if it’s plausible to suggest the pronunciation with a “long o” is ultimately derived from French influence that ended up affecting the pronunciation of all of the homographs.

    It does still seem to me that after taking out words from French, the list of examples of “long vowels” before sC clusters in English words is greatly reduced (although GOAT does seem to be a clear example of a long vowel that occurs in non-French words in this environment, as a reflex of Old English ā).

    Of course, there are a number of examples not from French with digraph spellings like “maestro” mentioned above, “meister”, I assume “Pleistophora”, and for some British English speakers words spelled with “ae” pronounced /iː/ like “aestival”, but those seem even more likely to be exceptions rather than examples of the typical vowels found in this context.

    @Y:

    Another way to look at system vs. shyster etc. is: /ɪ/ mid-syllable, /aɪ/ syllable-finally. Hence /klaɪ.strǝn/ but /sɪs.tǝm/. Except the exceptions, naturally, which Piotr described.
    Of course, this just converts the problem to one of syllabification.

    I agree; if the word were morphologically divisible as kly-stron in the way that shyster is morphologically divisible as shy-ster, that would explain the use of /aɪ/. The problem as I see it is that -stron doesn’t seem to be a suffix, while -tron is, as Hat’s blog post demonstrates. However, perhaps the suffix -tron is rare enough that not everyone who first encountered “Klystron” mentally divided it as “klys-tron”.

  41. David Eddyshaw says:

    I wondered about the origin too, but according to Wikipedia, it is Hebrew borrowed from Greek. Isn’t that unusual, in a religious context?

    There are actually a good number of Greek words in Rabbinical Hebrew (not too surprising, really, when you thing about it.)
    A personal favourite of mine which certainly has religious significance is אפיקורוס apikoros.

    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/apikoros

  42. David Eddyshaw says:

    (Think about it, I meant. I haven’t corrected it, for fear of my link-containing post being sent to Blog Gehinnom with those of other Apikorsim.)

    גימטריה Gematria springs to mind as another Greek loan with religious significance.

  43. Rob Solheim says:

    Since Barbarella was mentioned, we can’t not also mention the orgasmatron.

  44. Non-high vowels which were long in Old English usually retained their length before /st/, as in east, Easter, priest, least, most, ghost etc., though high vowels were often shortened: dust, fist. In some words (breast, must) shortening took place at a much later date, in Early Modern English. We find sporadic lengthening before /st/ in inherited monosyllables (yeast); beestings (OE bȳsting) seems to require (1) pre-cluster shortening (> bisting) and (2) open-syllable lengthening (> bẹ̄sting), both in the same segmental environment! It seems as if /st/ were free to be syllabified either /.st/ or /s.t/, depending (not quite deterministically) on factors like vowel height. If one believes in word-final extrametricality, then eithet the /t/ alone or the whole cluster may be extrametrical. In other words, post-OE /st/ often (but not always) behaves like a unitary segment. The clusters /sp/ and /sk/ (the latter rare in inherited words because of the [sk] > [sc] > [ʃ(ː)] change) do not show such double treatment. When intervocalic, they are clearly /s.p/, /s.k/, and they regularly cause vowel shortening: OE āscian > ME asken ‘ask’.

  45. Eli Nelson says:

    Oh, I had totally forgotten about words like “least” and “easter”! It’s interesting that high vowels were more prone to shortening in this evironment, and apparently more prone to staying short in open penult syllables/syllables followed by a single consonant and schwa (like “driven” vs. “raven”), even though high vowels seem to have lengthened more consistently than low and mid vowels before “nd”.

  46. I remember once looking at a list of Archangel names, and “Metatron” just jumped out at me as appearing Greek, not Hebrew.

  47. Marja Erwin says:

    The list lacks Westron.

    I suspect that some people pronounce Klytemnestra with an ai instead of e or i due to taboo, rather than regular sound laws.

  48. David Marjanović says:

    Standard German has a very short list of long monophthongs before /st/: Ostern “Easter”, Kloster “monastery”, Husten/husten “cough” (noun/verb), Schuster “shoemaker”, and that’s pretty much it. All are from earlier diphthongs. Osten “east” is not on the list (anymore).

    Though I’ve often been wondering – is the Large Hadron Collider a large collider of hadrons, or a collider of large hadrons?

    A large collider of hadrons. Otherwise it would be the Large-Hadron Collider.

    …if one of the approximately three people was involved who know where the hyphen key on the keyboard even is, let alone how to use it. Grmpf.

    I think “-gate” for scandals is in the same category.

    Also “-ghazi” for manufactroversies.

  49. Also “-ghazi” for manufactroversies.

    Not Arabic, but the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition uses as its acronym ESPGHAN, a plausible (but not actual) Persian word. I haven’t managed to convince anyone else in .ie to use اسپغان as how to pronounce it, but I keep trying, any day now!

  50. Marja Erwin,

    Taboo avoidance seems possible here, though, somewhat ironically, Gk. κλειτορίς has a long vowel in the first syllable.

    What’s peculiar about Κλυταιμ(ν)ήστρᾱ is that all the vowel quantities are reversed in the English version of the name. It’s /ˌklaɪtəmˈnɛstrə/ for /klytaimέːstraː/.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    Piotr: beestings (OE bȳsting) seems to require (1) pre-cluster shortening (> bisting) and (2) open-syllable lengthening (> bẹ̄sting), both in the same segmental environment!

    I don’t think I have ever seen this (or thought of it) as a single compound word rather than two separate words. I wonder how native speakers feel about it.

  52. Marie-Lucie,

    I don’t mean bee stings but colostrum.

  53. Marie-Lucie, I think most native speaker are (like me) completely unfamiliar with the word.

  54. Back in the heyday of comet Hale-Bopp, Art Bell’s radio show was full of talk about how a UFO was accompanying the comet. At that time I was sort of roped into attending a concert of new age music that was channeled from someone aboard the UFO. I forget what sort of a being he was supposed to be, but his name was Metatron.

    To me it sounded like a typical Silicon Valley start-up name, and if I hadn’t been sort of being paid to be there, I might have said something like “I think I know someone who used to work for them”.

    Since the music channeler was not the kind of person to read Jewish mystical literature, I think it shows that the name Metatron is rattling around in the odder corners of our group consciousness.

    I also learned that when you channel music instead of composing it, it’s OK to say “Wow, this part is really good!” during the performance. Oh, and never participate in a fire-walking session organized by someone who’s never done one before.

  55. Beestings is derived from OE bēost (cf. German Biest(milch)) with the same meaning; speakers of Old and Middle English must have been closer to nature than we are. I used to be similarly unfamiliar with the (archaic or dialectal) Polish word mleziwo < Proto-Slavic *melzivo ‘colostrum’. The root here is *h₂melǵ- ‘to milk’, the same one which underlies *melko ‘milk’. The Slavic ‘milk’ word, however, must be a Germanic loanword (non-Satem treatment, evidence of Grimm’s Law), while the ‘colostrum’ word is clearly native. There must be some untold language-contact story behind this curious situation.

    So much for colostrum — or shall I say colostron, in the spirit of this thread?

  56. NB: Metatron מְטַטְרוֹן is more accurately transcribed mᵊṭaṭrōn. The e is an epenthetic schwa, unlike the ε of Greek μετά.

  57. I should note that, in current usage “synchrotron” is mostly used attributively to refer to any situation that involves relativistic charges revolving in a B field. Synchrotron motion, synchrotron radiation, synchrotron processes–and none of these have to be inside a human-built accelerator.

  58. marie-lucie says:

    Piotr: Beestings is derived from OE bēost (cf. German Biest(milch)) with the same meaning; (colostrum)

    Do beest, bēost, Biest (all Germanic) have cognates in other languages or families?

  59. marie-lucie says:

    Also: speakers of Old and Middle English must have been closer to nature than we are

    At least many more of them raised animals and were therefore familiar with the circumstances of their reproduction and birth.

  60. new age music … Metatron

    It doesn’t sound quite the same, and you’d probably have remembered seeing him in concert, but the angel Metatron instructed Santana to make “Supernatural.”

  61. David Marjanović says:

    I had no idea of a German Biest other than “beast”. City child of several generations.

    Metatron מְטַטְרוֹן is more accurately transcribed mᵊṭaṭrōn.

    The Wikipedia article contains this claim: “The identification of Metatron with Enoch is not explicitly made in the Talmud although it does reference a Prince of the World who was young but now is old. However, some of the earliest kabbalists assumed the connection. There also seems to be two Metatrons, one spelled with six letters (מטטרון), and one spelled with seven (מיטטרון).”

  62. Trond Engen says:

    Piotr: speakers of Old and Middle English must have been closer to nature than we are

    marie-lucie: At least many more of them raised animals and were therefore familiar with the circumstances of their reproduction and birth.

    Colostrum is sweeter and richer in protein than other milk, so a delicacy as well as a resource. It still is in some places. One of the perks of knowing a dairy farmer is having occasional supply of råmjølk (colostrum), which can be made into a pudding called kalvedans or råmelkspudding, similar to Creme Brulée. Googling for colostrum pudding gives me hits in Norway and India, so it’s obviously of common IE heritage.

    Nynorsk Wikipedia has the synonym koda, which I didn’t know., but my dictionary says it’s from ON kváða, which also means “sap (in conifers)”, modern kvae. Around here, back in the fifties and sixties, the dialect form of kvae, koe, meant chewing gum.

  63. Beestings have been or are still used regionally (also in some parts of the British Isles) as the basis for puddings, custards, sweet cheeses and the like. In Irish, the variety of dairy-related terminology used to be quite amazing. They had, for example, a general term for ‘beestings’, maothal (visible here and there in Irish toponymy), but also distinguished ‘first beestings’, gruth núis, from ‘yellow curds’ (or second beestings), gruth buí, and had different culinary uses for them. By the way, the former term is cognate to Manx groosniuys (a local delicacy also made of beestings). There’s a traditional Ukrainian cow-colostrum cheese called molozyvo (= Polish dialectal mleziwo, mentioned above, often folk-etymologised as młodziwo, as if from the adjective ‘young’). The modern Polish technical term for colostrum (animal as well as human) is siara, but I have only encountered it in medical/obstetric use. I have no idea if our modern dairy industry has any use for colostrum.

    Marie-Lucie, Proto-NWGmc. *βeusta- is as far as comparative reconstruction takes us. Guus Kroonen, in his etymological dictionary, cites some not very convincing attempts to relate it to the ‘breast’ word (PGmc. *βreusta-). Indeed, there seem to exist inner Germanic cognates like *βeustra-, which might have developed via dissimilation from earlier *βreustra- (with a suffix complex reminiscent of Latin colustra, colostrum). In order to get *βeusta-, however, one would have to account for the loss of the second *r as well.

  64. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks Piotr.

    I have no idea if our modern dairy industry has any use for colostrum.

    According to Wikipedia, no human use, but cattle breeders pay close attention to it as the first food for newborn animals.

  65. How could I forget Finland?

    In Finnish there can easily be found at least six names for bovine colostrums. Also the cheese that is made using beestings has many names such as oven cheese (uunijuusto), beestings cheese (ternijuusto), cup milk (kuppimaito), calf’s dance (vasikan tanssi) and bull’s bump (sonnin töyssy or mullin töyssy). In Eastern Finland and the Karelian cow’s beestings has also been called resin milk (pihkamaito): the name refers to the beautiful golden colour of the milk. However, resin milk has previously not been commonly used, but it has either been fed to the calves or even thrown away as useless pagan milk. In these regions milk has only been used a few days after the cow has given birth, so that the milk would be regular type, not nutritious beestings. Nowadays this treat however is very appreciated and rare, and it is not usually used for anything else than the oven cheese. Of course beestings make delicious pancakes, cheese soup and milk for different types of casseroles. The asset it has is that it won’t need eggs.

    Raimo Anttila suggest a less innocent literal translation of sonnintöyssy, but never mind.

  66. Trond Engen says:

    There’s a lot of shared concepts between Finnish and Scandinavian. This is no exception. I mentioned No. dial. koda “colostrum” = kvae “resin”. I also mentioned kalvedans “calves’ dance; colostrum pudding” above. Other Norwegian words include kjelost and pottost, both “(lit.) pot cheese”.

    Could *βeusta- be analyzed as *βi-justa- “by-cheese”, with the “cheese” word shared by Scandianavian and Finnish?

  67. That’s another possibility mentioned by Kroonen.

  68. Trond Engen says:

    PNGmc. *justa- m. < *jú:sta- m. (-u:- shortened before -st) < PIE *yuH2s- “soup, stock, juice”, says Bjorvand & Lindeman.

    The form with -t- and the meaning “cheese” from the “juice” word are unique to North Germanic within IE, so here’s a thought: Norw. jur “udder” < ON jú(g)r < PGmc. *euder- : *u:der-/*u:den-, from a PIE stem *H1ewHdh-. B&L refer Melchert’s view that Hitt. uwa “wet nurse” < *H1ewH- “suckle”. So maybe it isn’t *ju:s-ta- but *ju:-sta- “what’s being suckled”, preserved in Germanic for some fraction of the milk, most probably the curd.

    And *bi-justa- came to mean colostrum, either directly or from an earlier meaning “whey”, which it resembles in its yellow colour and low fat content.

  69. David Marjanović says:

    Nynorsk Wikipedia has the synonym koda, which I didn’t know., but my dictionary says it’s from ON kváða, which also means “sap (in conifers)”, modern kvae. Around here, back in the fifties and sixties, the dialect form of kvae, koe, meant chewing gum.

    IIRC, there’s a long tradition of birch resin as chewing gum…?

  70. Trond Engen says:

    Spruce resin. There’s been found resin lumps with chewing marks in stone age dwellings.

  71. Long indeed; at least 5,000 years: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6954562.stm

    It’s birch-bark tar rather than resin, but I suppose humans will chew anything chewable.

  72. marie-lucie says:

    At least in one language of the Canadian West Coast, the same word sgyan means “spruce resin” (or “spruce gum”) and “chewing gum”.

    Indeed Piotr, it seems that humans will chew anything chewable. But not being much of a chewing-gum chewer, I have not tried spruce gum.

  73. Michael Hendry says:

    One amusing but not-very-productive suffix no one has mentioned: -henge. Many of you will already know of Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska, but there’s also Foamhenge, a supposedly exact replica of Stonehenge made of foam rubber. It was in Natural Bridge, Virginia for years, but has now been moved to Centreville (near Dulles Airport). I drove through Natural Bridge a few years ago and somehow failed to find it, even with detailed directions from Google Maps. According to Roadside America, it closed for the season today and won’t reopen until mid-April (Saturdays only).

    P.S. 5 minutes later: this Roadside America story lists twelve (12!) ‘Important American Stonehenges’.

  74. There is a scene in The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, where an American Indian boy who is teaching the white protagonist about how to survive in the woods cuts off some evergreen sap or tar and divides it between them to chew. After I read this, I tried chewing many different kinds of pine, fir, and spruce sap, but I never found one that had anything resembling the right consistency.

  75. m.-l.: Gum and chicle are both names of resins which came to mean ‘chewing gum’. (Wiktionary traces gum back to Egyptian.) Mastic interestingly goes the other way around, from ‘chew’ to ‘chewing gum’ to the mastic tree.

  76. MMcM: Carlos Santana is a great musician and I love his stuff. Whatever his inspiration, he turns out some excellent music. I don’t know what inspires him, but whatever it is, it works. Unlike the the person I was talking about. Whatever he was channeling, it was mostly chromatic scales. If that is what the aliens have to offer, give me Fats Domino any day.

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