Ureilite.

My brother sent me this fascinating article about remnants of “a long-lost planet as large as Mars — a 4.5 billion-year-old relic that was destroyed during the earliest days of the solar system,” and I was gobbling it up until I came to this sentence and was pulled up short: “Almahata Sitta belongs to a class of rocks known as ureilites.” It didn’t bother me that the word was unfamiliar to me; the meaning was clear enough from the context. No, it bothered me that I had no idea how to pronounce it: you-RAIL-ite? YOU-ree-il-ite? So I looked it up and it wasn’t in any of my dictionaries — too specialized, I guess, because it’s not a new word; Wikipedia says “This dark grey or brownish meteorite type is named after the village Novy Urey (Cyrillic: Новый Урей), Mordovia Republic of Russia, where a meteorite of this type fell on 4 September 1886.” But that just adds to the confusion, since now there’s also the possibility of oo-RAIL-ite, or even OO-railite. I can’t even find out how the Russian word Урей is pronounced — the Russian Wikipedia articles Урей 3-й and Урей don’t indicate stress (and the word isn’t in any of my Russian reference books either). So: if you happen to know how the English word is said by the people who deal with the thing itself, please share, and the same goes for anyone who might know the Russian stress (though that’s probably much less likely).

Comments

  1. On YouTube there are a few videos from people talking about meteorites that mention ureilites. I am not sure of their background, but as a biologist, I can tell you that most US/UK biologists disagree about how to pronounce even the basic amino acids, and the rest of the community is all over the place. But, everyone agrees when it is written down.

  2. No idea how to stress these words in either language, but looking around I found Dictionary of geographic names of the Republic of Mordovia by D.V. Tzygankin. “Dictionary…” is a second part of the title, the first one is somewhat pompous “Memory imprinted in the word”. Anyway, the entry for Urey has this etymology.

    **** Russian text excised, because. If LH rescues my original comment then…****

    Translation: The name is of Finno-Ugric origin. urei ~ urai, oxbow lake* which reconnects to the river in the spring; water divide [I don’t understand this one, maybe valley-floor divide?], anabranch. Possible etymological relation to Mansi urai, oxbow lake.

    *billabong in Oz, by which a jolly swagman camped with his Waltzing Matilda.

  3. The river Urei is apparently located in Moksha speaking area. According to rules of Moksha grammar, if the word has ‘wide’ vowels, then the stress is on the first ‘wide’ vowel. I take it to mean that it should be pronounced with a stress on second vowel.

  4. SOED (5th ed.) has ureilite. Pronunciation is /’jʊərɪɪlʌɪt/. So four syllables.

  5. I’ve never heard hauyne / haüyne pronounced, either. The OED says it’s /ˈhɑːwɪn/.

  6. Yes I too was fascinated by that article. Sorry can’t help with the pronunciation.

    How does a fragment of millions-of-years old proto-planet manage not to crash into anything in the Solar System for so long?

  7. Stu Clayton says:

    One fragment can crash only once, this one did so on the earth. There may be other fragments that have crashed elsewhere, and still others that have not crashed at all. Of the latter, some may never crash.

    Sad but true.

  8. I concede space is big — unimaginably big; against that, the Solar System is relatively crowded, with plenty of massive objects likely to capture such fragments.

    I concede that likelihood is still tiny, but we must multiply it by unimaginable millions/billions of years. The effect is that rather a lot of objects have crashed (luckily long before we arrived); the remainder got pulled into never-crashing compensatory orbits. How come there’s anything left? (I exclude stuff getting here from outside the Solar System, like the recent ‘Oumuamua.) Just askin’.

  9. Stu Clayton says:

    There are still unimaginable billions of years to follow. On what grounds do you treat the present instant as a special one, at which “the remainder [should have] got pulled into never-crashing compensatory orbits” ?

    This is teleological thinking of a special kind, where the present is always the telos. “Look at how marvelously well-adapted the shark is” etc. Well, if that’s so, why is the solar system not infested with sharks ?

  10. No this is not teleological thinking/now is not a special instant: it’s a declining exponential distribution. All the planet-sized stuff crashed in the “early days” after the big bang; the wipe-out-the-dinosaurs-sized stuff crashed tens of millions of years ago; we should by now be down to burn-up-in-the-atmosphere sized stuff. (Anthropogenics and extra-Solar System excepted.)

    How did a (sizeable) fragment of planet survive ’til just last decade?

  11. Stu Clayton says:

    Because a “declining exponential distribution” is not an itemization, but a statistical shape ?

  12. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    /’jʊərɪɪlʌɪt/: two /ɪ/s in a row? Color me a bit skeptical.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    List of “common Moksha expressions” with stress indicated. There seems to be a rule that e attracts the stress preferentially to a, and a to u.

    most US/UK biologists disagree about how to pronounce even the basic amino acids

    Or some of the most widely known dinosaur names (Diplodocus, Deinonychus). Or “data”, found with three different stressed vowels in the US alone.

    Well, if that’s so, why is the solar system not infested with sharks ?

    Sharks do have pretty much a monopoly on what they do. “Adapted” doesn’t and can’t mean “adapted to everything”.

    How did a (sizeable) fragment of planet survive ’til just last decade?

    First, space is big enough for a lot of long-term stable orbits between the planets. Second, the asteroid belt exists because Jupiter is so heavy it creates tidal forces that break everything apart that gets too big.

    two /ɪ/s in a row?

    If you try to render u-re-i-lite as /jʊriːɪlɑɪ̯t/ but stress the first syllable*, the /iː/ won’t survive as such for long.

    * Analogy to “urea”?

  14. | How did a (sizeable) fragment of planet survive ’til just last decade?

    First, space is big enough for a lot of long-term stable orbits between the planets. Second, the asteroid belt exists because Jupiter is so heavy it creates tidal forces that break everything apart that gets too big.

    Yes what I said: that doesn’t explain why this fragment departed from its stable orbit. (Most comets/meteors are hypothesised to have been dislodged, by Neptune and that very same Jupiter, from the Kuiper belt/outer disc. Too small/too cold/too far away to have ever been part of a large molten mass whose cooling/shrinkage formed the “tiny diamonds”. )

  15. David Marjanović says:

    “Long-term stable” does not mean forever. The solar system is a chaotic place in the really long run.

  16. I’m confused by the argument that the last major impact was some millions of years ago and thus all objects that size should be gone by now — assuming exponential decay, even if the young solar system had a trillion trillion times more such objects, there would still be 40% left of those that existed 65 million years ago.

  17. SOED (5th ed.) has ureilite. Pronunciation is /’jʊərɪɪlʌɪt/. So four syllables.

    Thanks, my question is answered — and I’m enjoying the discussion of fragment survival.

  18. * Analogy to “urea”?

    Urea is usually stressed on the second syllable.

  19. Not to get too much into the technical details here, (which I don’t really understand)… but there is a well-defined and stable category of dynamical evolution, known as ‘quasiperiodic’, which is somewhere between chaotic and periodic. So, given a set of random intial conditions, one may find that a stable subset of the rocks orbiting the sun can continue in more-or-less stable motion, more or less indefinitely. If you want more details, look up the
    KAM Theorem.

  20. Eli Nelson says:

    The “two /ɪ/s in a row” is just because the entry uses the old-fashioned convention (reflecting an old-fashioned pronunciation) of transcribing the “happy” vowel as /ɪ/. It’s a perfectly valid sequence of sounds; e.g. it also turns up in the last two syllables of “Nereid” or “Cepheid”. Oddly, the OED gives /iːɪ/ in its transcription of the pronunciation of “cuneiform” with secondary stress on the initial syllable; I wonder if that’s an error: (/kjuːˈniːɪfɔːm/ /ˈkjuːniːɪfɔːm/). The transcription in the entry for the related word “cuneus” has the expected /i/: /ˈkjuːniəs/.

  21. In the quantitative/qualitative convention, /i/ is an unstressed vowel only; its stressed counterparts are /iː/ and /ɪ/. So /i/ cannot appear in cuneiform, but can and does appear in cuneus.

  22. If I remember correctly (a large assumption) much of the asteroid belt is assumed to consist of fragments of protoplanets that didn’t last long or else bits and pieces that never aggregated into planets. Orbits in the asteroid belt are sort of stable (in that they keep going and going for a long time without major upset) but also chaotic (in that they wiggle around a lot, due to all the competing gravitational forces, within some general range of orbital parameters).

    The net result is that although the asteroid belt is seemingly stable, every now and then it will spit out a chunk of rock that happened to get a big enough kick, or series of kicks, from its neighbor(s). I would guess that the ejection rate, after the asteroid belt has settled down from the early solar system confusion, would be more or less constant per unit time.

  23. Eli Nelson says:

    @John Cowan: One of the pronunciations of “cuneiform” has stress (I mistakenly wrote “secondary stress” in my previous comment, but actually it’s the primary stress) on the second syllable, but another has stress on the first syllable. I’m surprised that the OED transcribes the vowel in the second syllable as /iː/ even in the pronunciation where it is unstressed: /ˈkjuːniːɪfɔːm/.

  24. Re: ureilite, it’s odd that they’d use the old-fashioned HAPPY [ɪ] side by side with [ʌɪ], their hip new bad approximation of Estuary PRICE.

  25. Eli Nelson says:

    @Lazar: I would guess that the /aɪ/ of older editions has been automatically replaced with /ʌɪ/ in all OED entries, but that the replacement of /ɪ/ with /i/ when it represents the “happy” vowel is something that is done manually, and the editors haven’t gotten around to it yet for this entry.

  26. The name is of Finno-Ugric origin. urei ~ urai, oxbow lake* which reconnects to the river in the spring;

    This is a bit mystifying. If there’s more evidence for this from toponymy, I could belive this, but AFAIK in actual Moksha or any other nearby Uralic language there is no such word for ‘oxbow lake’. The phonetically closest terms in Moksha might be ура /ura/ ‘squirrel’ and уре /uŕä/ ‘slave’. Word-final /-ej/ is a common adjectival ending in Erzya, but does not occur in Moksha as such (the cognate ending is /-i/).

    The Mansi term is real enough, but also spoken rather far away, on the other side of the Urals. I know there is a speculative tradition of hunting for placenames of supposed Mansi origin widely across Komi Republic… but all the way to Mordovia seems even more farfetched to be what is going on here.

  27. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    The “two /ɪ/s in a row” is just because the entry uses the old-fashioned convention (reflecting an old-fashioned pronunciation) of transcribing the “happy” vowel as /ɪ/.
    Thanks for the explanation. I’m not a fan of that convention, which didn’t occur to me.

  28. SFReader says:

    The Mansi term is real enough, but also spoken rather far away, on the other side of the Urals. I know there is a speculative tradition of hunting for placenames of supposed Mansi origin widely across Komi Republic… but all the way to Mordovia seems even more farfetched to be what is going on here.

    The article on Urei river in Erzya language Wikipedia (oh, the things I read!) says that ‘urey, uray’ is a Russian dialect word of Finno-Ugric origin with that meaning, presumably from Mansi.

    Of course, on historical grounds it is very unlikely that Russians named the river.

    Perhaps there was a great Mansi empire in the Dark Ages….

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