Ben Zimmer has a Slate article about the use of “X Czar” to mean “official in charge of dealing with X” (“drug czar,” “energy czar,” etc.). There’s all sorts of interesting history in there, but what grabbed me was this:

Czar first entered English back in the mid-16th century, soon after Baron Sigismund von Herberstein used the word in a Latin book published in 1549. The more correct romanization, tsar, became the standard spelling in the late 19th century, but by that time czar had caught on in popular usage, emerging as a handy label for anyone with tyrannical tendencies.

As it happens, Herberstein’s book, Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii, is online (you can find versions in other languages linked from the end of the Wikipedia article), and sure enough, he writes “Czar Rhutenica lingua regem significat” [‘in the Ruthenian language czar means king’; the entire paragraph is below the cut].

The question is: why on earth did he choose such an odd spelling? (Incidentally, there’s an amusing dispute about the proper rendition of the word at Latin Vicipaedia.) Any ideas?

The full Herberstein passage:
Czar Rhutenica lingua regem significat. cum autem communi Slavonica lingua, apud Polonos, Bohemos, & alios omnes sumpta quadam consonantia, ab ultima, & ea gravi quidem syllaba Czar, Imperator seu Caesar intelligatur: unde omnes qui Rhuteni cum idioma seu literas non callent, item Bohemi, Poloni, atque etiam Slavi regno Hungarico subditi, alio nomine regem appellant,nempe Kral, alii Kyrall, quidam Koroll: Czar autem solum Caesarem, seu Imperatorem dici existimant: unde factum, ut Rhuteni interpretes audientes Principem suum ab externis nationibus sic appellari, coeperunt & ipsi deinceps Imperatorem nominare, nomen que Czar dignius esse quam Regis (licet idem significent) existimant.


  1. The version I heard was that Czar, just like German’s Kaiser, was a variation of Latin’s Caesar. Hence the sense of ruler, king.

  2. Well, царь used to be цьсарь, but I’ll admit that doesn’t really get much closer. Herberstein may just have combined the spelling conventions of German and Slovene, languages he was familiar with.

  3. I can’t get very far with the Latin (six not-very-intensive months seven years ago didn’t leave much of a mark on my brain, apparently) but from von Herberstein’s 1557 German translation:

    „Er nent sich in seiner sprach CZAR/ das ist lauter bey allen jren schrifften/ das solches wort ainen Khuenig außspricht/ Weil aber in andern Nationen/ auch der Slauonischen sprach/ der Khünig anderst genent wirdt/ als in Behaim / Polln / auch Hungern / Khral / Khorol / Khyral / so will der Großfuerst mehr dann ain = gemainer Khünig genent werden/ Vnnd so dieselben Wenden oder Slauen ainen Khaiser KESSAR nennen/ khumbt es gar nahend zu dem CZAR/ als waere dasselb wort Khaiser/ gekhuertzt. Auß dem nennen jr vil alle Tatterische Khuenig/ die man auch CZAR nent/ auff Teutsch Khaiser/ auß vnuerstand des worts CZAR.“

    Could he have been deliberately, consciously etymologising, trying to introduced a bit of ambiguity as to whether he meant the pronunciation /ksar/ or /tsar/, supporting his link to Kaiser with the first and to the actual Russian pronunciation with the second?

  4. Why is “tsar” the more correct Roamization? Doesn’t the word come from the Latin “caesar”? If so, it would seem that the more nearly correct Romanization would be “csar/czar.”
    Or am I missing something?

  5. You’re missing the fact that the word is pronounced tsar. The derivation from Caesar is of purely historical interest.

  6. John Emerson says:

    Easy! “C” in pinyin means the “ts” sound. The “z” is also included for some reason.
    You well may ask why a Slovenian was using pinyin when writing in Latin 5 centuries ago. You well may ask.

  7. John Emerson: Was that meant to be a joke? Pinyin was designed in the 1950s, but Slavic languages written in the Latin alphabet had been using C to represent [ts] for a long time before that. Ditto for Hungarian, Albanian and probably others I don’t know.

  8. Was that meant to be a joke?
    Yes Pau, that was a John Emerson joke. The clue:
    You well may ask why a Slovenian was using pinyin when writing in Latin 5 centuries ago. You well may ask.
    Look out also for mention of a Dravidian diaspora, and you’ve soon have the hang of it, like us old hands.

  9. you’ve > you’ll

  10. Could anyone with sufficient facility in Latin translate the Herberstein passage and that dispute on Vicipaedia? I only know a couple hundred Latin roots, and a few minor tidbits about declension, and I’m sure you all know how worthless online translators are…

  11. The use of the digraph /cz/ to represent the sound [ts] dates from the middle ages. In Hungarian it was used until the late 19th century, when it was replaced by ‘c’. In Croatian (the kajkavski dialect of Zagreb and northern Croatia) it was also used to represent the same sound, and was only replaced by ‘c’ when Ljudevit Gaj’s ‘organic’ spelling was adopted in the 1830s.
    I can only assume that the medieval German spelling was also cz. At some point this diverged so that native German words were spelled with a ‘z’ (eg. zehn = ten), while words derived from Latin still retain ‘c’ (eg. ‘circa’, pronounced ‘tsirka’).

  12. Michael Farris says:

    “You’re missing the fact that the word is pronounced tsar”
    In what language? AFAIK Russian c =/= t+s
    And in English, I pronounce it with initial z (for which cz seems better than ts)

  13. Czar Rhutenica lingua regem significat. cum autem communi Slavonica lingua, apud Polonos, Bohemos, & alios omnes sumpta quadam consonantia, ab ultima, & ea gravi quidem syllaba Czar, Imperator seu Caesar intelligatur: unde omnes qui Rhuteni cum idioma seu literas non callent, item Bohemi, Poloni, atque etiam Slavi regno Hungarico subditi, alio nomine regem appellant, nempe Kral, alii Kyrall, quidam Koroll: Czar autem solum Caesarem, seu Imperatorem dici existimant: unde factum, ut Rhuteni interpretes audientes Principem suum ab externis nationibus sic appellari, coeperunt & ipsi deinceps Imperatorem nominare, nomen que Czar dignius esse quam Regis (licet idem significent) existimant.
    Czar in the Russian language signifies king, but in the common Slavonic language, among the Poles, Bohemians, and all the rest, charged with a certain consonance by the last, and the important syllable Czar is understood as Emperor or Caesar. Whence all who are not skilled in Russian idiom or letters, such as the Bohemians, Poles, and also the Slavs who are subject to the kingdom of Hungary, call the king by another name, namely, kral, others kyrall, even koroll: but they think Czar names a single Caesar, or Emperor; whence it happened that the Russian interpreters hearing their prince thus called by foreign nations, began themselves to call him so too, and they think that the name Czar is more worthy than king (although they mean the same).
    «Слово «царь» на русском языке значит «король», rex. Но на общем славянском языке, у поляков, богемцев и всех других, под словом «царь» понимают императора или цесаря от созвучия этого слова с последним долгим слогом слова «Caesar». Оттого все, которые не понимают русского языка и не знают русских букв, как-то богемцы, поляки и славяне, подвластные венгерскому королевству, называют rex’a другим именем: одни — кралем, другие кираллем, некоторые королем, и полагают, что царем называется только один цезарь или император. От этого произошло, что русские переводчики, слыша, что иностранцы называют их государя императором, начали и сами именовать его так, полагая, что имя царя почетнее, чем имя короля (хотя они и значат одно и то же).»

  14. Perhaps it came from the word Caesar… as a shortened form. (I don’t see if someone else has made this distinction.)
    Cesarz is the Polish for Caesar. It could be done mishearing the pronunciation. TSE-sarzh. (To my ear it’s possible.)
    Just a thought.

  15. Huh, the Latin and the German do vary a little. Here’s a translation of the German above, for reference. (Corrections from natives welcome!)
    ‘He calls himself “czar” in his language. It is clear that in all their texts this word means “king.” But because in other Slavic nations “king” has a different translation—as in Bohemia, Poland, Hungary “Khral”, “Khorol”, “Khyral”—the Great Prince would prefer to title himself something higher than an ordinary king. And so, since the same Wends or Slavs call an emperor “kessar”, this is close enough to “czar” that it looks like it is the same word, shortened. Apart from this, they call many Tatar kings (of which one also uses “czar”) “Kaiser”, in German, from a misunderstanding of the word “czar”.’

  16. A.J.P. Crown says:

    …as a shortened form’
    One of the things we learnt in my Russian class, nearly forty years ago (we were learning Russian just in case Russia took over the world, only some of us were too lazy to do the homework. I gave up after a few months, I figured I could always join the Resistance), was that the words in Eastern Slavonic languages are often similar but more squished together than in the Western Slavonic ones (like Polish).

  17. I should have translated quam Regis, ‘than [the name] of king’.
    Given which, ‘Czar’ may be a(n unmarked) genitive, rather than an (unmarked) accusative in apposition, such that nomen … Czar dignius esse quam Regis would be ‘the name of Czar more worthy than [the name] of king’.
    If this is correct, then ‘Czar’ in ab ultima, & ea gravi quidem syllaba Czar, could also be genitive (thus explaining the punctuation), so ‘Czar’ would be disyllabic for Herberstein. That would make the etymology entirely relevant (czar – цьсарь – цѣсарь – caesar – καῖσαρ, rather than czar – царь, &c.).

  18. In Maltese, Czar has been (erroneously) transliterated from English as Kżar, which suggests the spelling pronunciation [ksar] ot [gzar]. Dotted z is [z] in Maltese, while dotless z is [ts]. “Zar” would of course be more to the point.

  19. Stephen Mulraney says:

    Khrystene: rz in Polish represents the sound you write as zh . So Cesarz is rather TSE-sazh than TSE-sarzh (and accounting for the final devoicing, TSE-sash). As for the source of the final rz, it’s the usual fate of middle/early modern German final -r when adopted into to Polish: e.g. Soldner (or something similar) (soldier) > Żołnierz

  20. Michael, Russian ц (transliterated as c) is pronounced /ʦ/.
    zyxt’s explanation seems good enough: in Old High German writings, the /ʦ/ or /sː/ sound has sometimes been represented by cz, but I don’t think this has survived into Middle High German; certainly not into the Early New High German Herberstein knew.
    The discussion on Vicipaedia:

    Why are you using the word Tsar? Wouldn’t it be better to use Caesar or imperator? usor:Bohmhammel 15 Kal. Mart. 2006, 21.55 h (UTC)

    Not “tsar” but “tzar” (often “czar”). For example, see [1]. Also have a look at the discussion of the word “tzar” on my Talk page: Disputatio_Usoris:Alexander_GerashchenkoAlexander Gerascenco 03:33, 16 Februarii 2006 (UTC)

    I agree with usor:Bohmhammel…The etymology clearly points to [?] caesar, and I think that is the best form.– Ioshus Rocchio 04:06, 16 Februarii 2006 (UTC)

    In medieval Latin writings the “царь (tsar)” of Russia (Muscovy) is traditionally called “czar” or “tzar”, for example “Czar Rhutenica lingua regem significat. […] & ea gravi quidem syllaba Czar, Imperator seu Caesar intelligatur”, “nimirum ipsis interpretibus vocem Czar, quae Regem significat, Imperatorem vertentibus” (Herberstein’s “Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii”), etc. The inscription on a 17th century Russian medal reads “PETRUS ALEXEII FILIUS D G TZAR ET MAGNUS DUX TOTIUS RUSSIAE”. That is just the traditional way.

    But I agree, it would be good to substitute “caesar” (or “rex”, but not “imperator”!) for “tzar”. If necessary, I can call the “Tzars” of Russia “Caesares” (or “Reges”) in Latin and change the page titles accordingly. Alexander Gerascenco 08:01, 16 Februarii 2006 (UTC)

    The discussion on Alexander Gerashchenko’s talk page is in English.

  21. Thanks very much for the translations, fiosachd, Aidan, and lukas! And I agree, zyxt’s explanation is pretty convincing.

  22. michael farrsi says:

    “Michael, Russian ц (transliterated as c) is pronounced /ʦ/.”
    I was thinking of Polish, where
    /c/ [ts] is not the same thing at all as /ts/ [t + s]
    /c/ is alveolar and /t + s/ is dental (and a cluster)
    minimal pairs aren’t easy to find (but in testing pronunciation, it’s clear that /c/ is not /ts/
    cz [tS] is not the same thing as trz [t+S] there is a minimal pair or two there
    trzy [t+Si] three
    czy [tSi] whether
    Is it different in Russian? If so, I would imagine that /c/ could be eliminated from the phonemic inventory (no need to keep it if it’s homophonous with a cluster)

  23. michael farris says:

    Oops, I forgot. Yes, I realize I’m being very pedantic. Usually that’s encouraged (or at least tolerated thru clenched teeth) here.

  24. Oh, pedantry is more than welcome. But since czar/tsar is intended to represent a Russian word, I’m not sure how relevant Polish is (though your remarks are definitely interesting!).

  25. Or rather, Polish is of course relevant to the question of why the word was originally spelled that way, since Herberstein was discussing Slavic languages in general, but I was responding to Timothy’s question about the current English word, which represents Russian.

  26. John Emerson says:

    In the high and far-off times, best beloved, the first Pole and the first Finn were drinking and gambling around a campfire. At the end of the night, the Pole had all of the consonants, and the Finn had nothing left but vowels. And to this day the Finns are taciturn and grumpy, while the Poles are two different adjectives stereotypically characteristic of Poles but not Finns.

  27. Yay, pedantry! I’m no expert on Russian phonology, but I don’t think there’s any difference in Russian pronunciation between тс and ц. The тс cluster even tends to lose all palatalization (ц cannot be palatalized in Russian). For example отсюда (otsʲuda) is often pronounced отсуда (otsuda), and reflexive verbs in -ться (-tʲsʲa) are always pronounced -тса (-tsa).

  28. John Emerson says:

    Actually, those are the clenched teeth of envy. We all wish we were just a little more capable of pedantry than we actually are.

  29. John Emerson says:

    Actually, those are the clenched teeth of envy. We all wish we were just a little more capable of pedantry than we actually are.

  30. It would be remiss not to mention two items:
    – That the British Czar proposed to be responsible for traffic congestion was to be known as the “Czar of All the Rush-hours”.
    – And that Britain now has so many Czars that a Co-ordinating Czar would need to be appointed. This person would be called a “Czars’ Czar”, or a “Gabor”.

  31. Lukas, that sounds about right to me. I’m studying Russian for my second year right now, and I’ve asked probably a dozen native speakers how ться or тся are pronounced and they’ve all removed the palatization.

  32. Here are a couple of Czar things I’ve copied from a Mother Jones post on Czar:
    From September 1, 1926, New York Times:
    Determined to “clean house” and obtain the favorable opinion of the public, the Milk Chamber of Commerce, an organization of Independent milk dealers in New York, has decided to appoint a supreme arbiter of the industry who will work on lines similar to those of Will Hays in the motion-picture field.
    Thomas Brackett Reed, (October 18, 1839 – December 7, 1902), occasionally ridiculed as Czar Reed, was a U.S. Representative from Maine, and Speaker of the House from 1889–1891 and from 1895–1899. He was a powerful leader of the Republican party but was unable to stop the Spanish-American War. [from wikipaedia]

  33. And fuck the horse it rode in on:
    1. Caesar = the curly-headed one
    2. Caesar = Kaesar
    3. Caesar = King, Emperor, Vojvoda etc.
    4. King George VI = Kaiser – i- Hind
    (until August 1947)
    5. QED

  34. Saif, if you remember, Queen Victoria was made Empress of India, by Disraeli, so that she wouldn’t be lower down the table than her daughter, the Kaiser’s wife. It was a disgusting, Hanoverian display of vulgarity.

  35. One of the things I regret about the nineteenth century, the British, and the Germans, is that no journalist had the imagination, the interest in Indo-European, and the audience to render »das deutsche Reich« as “the German Raj” in English and to have that widely adopted. I hope some day to get over this.

  36. AJP 'jewel in the' Crown says:

    Gosh, I never thought of that. Are Reich and raj related, then?

  37. John Emerson says:

    I blame the copy-editors, Aidan.

  38. scarabaeus says:

    john to ivan via jo- ahn , ju-an, evan, iian, ewan etc;
    some luv te say each ‘vowal’ others luv to sluff off, an’ say all the ‘vowals’ in one breath.
    so me take on caesar to tsar via csar be a nice bit off sluffing , it Kae-Sar or kSar, [why waste vowels, not enough in the font.]
    from lingo of the plowed field.
    {‘untin’, physhin’ }
    {Or was it? wot yer say: Sar, say it again matey , Kay /Sar. yer blithering idiot.}
    just like aeroplane got dun in to airplain

  39. DoseofCommonSense says:

    It’s a hedline word, silly. In government, it’s czar. If in private industry, including criminal activity, they are kings.
    It’s all about the count.

  40. The victim count?

  41. John Emerson says:

    What’s the Finnish word for czar? By my theory they would have sluffed off some consonants and added some vowels. “Aruo”, perhaps. Or “uar”.

  42. John Emerson says:

    In fact it’s “Tsaari”, with two extra vowels but the same consonant.

  43. AJP Crown says:

    So that’s the key to Finnish? Just add vowels?
    i worked with an engineer called Hiatasaari in Finland, it means sand island.

  44. John Emerson says:

    I assume that the double vowels really represent single vowel sounds, like our “ee” and “oo” in English, but nonetheless.
    I was a big Eli Grba fan because of his name, and I once met a man named Hrdy. There’s a primatologist of that name too.

  45. John Emerson says:

    Kron, for example is kruunu in Finnish. Easy.

  46. “the count”
    ..probably refers to the number of letters in the headline. How may newspapers would a “drug specialist” or “drug administrator” headline sell? They would probably have to print it so small you would have to walk right up to the newspaper box and squint in order to read it. But you could probably read a “Drug Czar” headline from the bus stop across the street.
    Also you probably want something that can be understood on about a 10th grade level. Who would want to join a street gang called the “Latin Miscreants”? On the other hand the “Latin Lords” has been able to attract numerous graffiti specialists.

  47. AJP Crown says:

    I knew a guy called Lrl. He was a total Count.

  48. David Marjanović says:

    First of all, writing cz for /t͡s/ (in random alternation with z and tz) was somehow fashionable in Early New High German, which is precisely what von Herberstein used. This is where the Croatian and Hungarian usages come from. And of course, Russian царь is pronounced [t͡sarʲ].
    Second, in Russian and BCSM, there is no phonemic difference between |ts| ( = random collision of the two phonemes /t/ at the end of a morpheme and /s/ at the beginning of the next) and |t͡s| ( = the single phoneme, therefore here transcribed with a tie bar that most of you will probably see as a square); the difference is morphological (and orthographic).
    Third, I haven’t found such a difference in my brief encounters with Polish; indeed, |ts| is mercilessly written c (as in Czech and Slovak), for example student + –ski is studencki. (In Russian and BCSM, ts is written instead.)
    Fourth, the Polish phonetic difference between cz and trz is that the former is the usual common-or-garden postalveolar affricate (for all practical purposes, at least, identical to English ch) that should be, in full pedantry mode, transcribed with the “retracted” diacritic (a minus) under the well-not-actually-[t]-because-it’s-postalveolar-rather-than-“dental”: [ṯ͡ʃ]. (Even fewer of you will see that displayed correctly.) The latter, however, is an affricate that really honestly does start with a “dental” [t], and then the tongue retracts into the [ʃ] position. It is the true [t͡ʃ] (no retraction diacritic this time) that probably doesn’t occur in any other language outside of British Columbia. It takes slightly longer to pronounce than the common [ṯ͡ʃ], because the tongue has to move. If I pronounce it too slowly, the result is on the order of [t͡sɕʃ]. Many sources will try to tell you that trz is not an affricate; of course it is — the [t] is released directly into the fricative, just like in cz.
    (Incidentally, most sources will try to tell you that the Polish postalveolars are retroflexed like the Russian and the northern Mandarin ones. They’re all lying.)
    Fifth, Finnish distinguishes long and short vowels (and consonants), and the long ones are spelled double (without any regard to etymology). This is similar to what English sometimes did before the Great Vowel Shift, except that it’s mercilessly regular.
    Sixth, Reich and raj are related, going back to the Proto-Indo-European root /regʲ/- which crops up in words for “king” (Latin rex, |regs|, for example) and “reign” all over the place.
    Seventh, “soldier” is Soldat in German, but there is a word Söldner which means “mercenary”… I wonder if the endings –arz (Polish) and –ář (Czech) for German –er come straight from Latin –arius; after all, the ř sound is derived from [rʲ]. Cesarz could be a hypercorrectivism or account for the rest of the declension: Caesaris, Caesari, Caesarem, Caesare… where the r is always followed by a front vowel.

  49. David Marjanović says:

    And eighth, that

    […]I would imagine that /c/ could be eliminated from the phonemic inventory (no need to keep it if it’s homophonous with a cluster)

    That’s not how it works! To use an example I know anything about, the German /t͡s/ is a separate phoneme even though it cannot be distinguished from the cluster |ts| acoustically. That’s because it behaves like a single phoneme. For example, it can itself participate in consonant clusters. Yet more importantly, it can occur behind long vowels & diphthongs, something that consonant clusters are incapable of*. I think that an actual linguist could give you a few more reasons.
    * Never mind the sole exceptions of Ostern “Easter”, österlich (adjective thereto), and Österreich “Austria”. The clearly related Osten “east” and östlich “eastern” have short vowels. No idea what’s going on here, perhaps some kind of dialect mixture — after all there’s the city of Oostende in Belgium.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    Oops. I wanted to write “that… [quote] …is not how it works”.

  51. AJP Crown says:

    Thanks, Dave. You’re a mine of German and Latin info.

  52. AJP Crown says:

    David, don’t go away! You’re needed towards the end of the Helen DeWitt post.

  53. David, you get the coveted Comment of the Week award.

  54. michael farris says:

    David, when I (informally) elicited info on this from Poles (without telling them what I was after) I didn’t find a single one that merged /c/ and /ts/ (or the voiced equivalent). They differed in place of articulation and in juncture. I’ll check with the phoneticians I know who go over this kind of thing and see what they say. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people merge them in rapid/informal speech (the same way that cz and trz can be merged) but the possibility of distinguishing them is most definitely there.
    Interestingly, if anything Polish /c/ (and /dz/ as a unitary phoneme) emphasize the stop and de-emphasize the fricative, all but eliminating it (many Poles hear an English aspirated /t/ as /c/ and complain that Americans say /cak/ instead of /tak/ for ‘yes’.
    And cz, sz and dż can be retroflex. It’s not the most common or most approved of pronunciation but it does occur (though not generally with rz/ż).
    I was just being provocative with the claim that if /c/ = /ts/ it can be eliminated from the phonemic line up but I’m not sure what kind of arguments could keep it there (that work for Russian).
    Interesting point with German /c/ and vowel length (not one I would have picked up with my poor perception and production of German long and short vowels. Does /pf/ ever occur after a long vowel?

  55. Michael, most speech is rapid and informal, rapid and informal speech really should be regarded as the norm for studying a language as spoken. Otherwise you get crazy things like French speakers asserting that consistent use of « ne … pas » and not « pas » reflects standard spoken French.

  56. Siganus Sutor says:

    Twinkle, twinkle, little czar,
    How I wonder what you are.
    (Ce qui cause mon tourment.)

  57. The real answer is because Z is the most fun letter, and people will take any opportunity to use it.
    Witness the gratuitous use of Z in Scandinavian advertizing, particularly with foreign (mostly English) words. Sometimes it makes sense, other times it requires pronouncing the Z as a Scandinavian would (as an unvoiced S), rather than as a native speaker of English would (as a voiced S).
    LetZ Sushi:
    and, the real treasure trove, Zelected Foods: http://www.spize.se/

  58. AJP Crown says:

    Wow, that’s interesting, Anne B. Another thing I can complain about to my wife and daughter. And another thing: why the ‘j’ on the end of Trotskij? Is it closer to the Russian ‘ий’ in Тро́цкий?

  59. Yes, people familiar with the German/East European use of j = /y/ tend to use it for Russian (see my gripes here), so you get Jurij and Marija and Trotskij.

  60. AJP Crown says:

    Ali & Nino sounds great. I loved that comment, ‘like bathing in someone else’s bathwater’, good metaphor, although my great-uncle’s family in Australia (4 kids) used to actually have to do that during droughts — with the jackaroos and jillaroos, including my mother, she said it was about ten people to one shallow tub of water, fairly infrequently.

  61. John Emerson says:

    The Varangians observed by Ibn Fadlan in Bulgar ca. 800 AD all washed their faces in the morning in the same basin. The leader washed his face in the clean water, rinsed his mouth, and spit. Then the #2 man washed in the less-clean water. The last man washed in not very clean water at all. Many Varangian traits reminded me of the Hells Angels or similar groups, or rather, what those groups wished they could be.
    Everyone should read Ibn Fadlan and nobody should go to Crichton’s horrible movie.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    crazy things like French speakers asserting that consistent use of « ne … pas » and not « pas » reflects standard spoken French.
    I think that is because people do not reflect on how they sound when speaking fast in casual conversation, but only when speaking slowly and deliberately. Another factor relates to what people actually hear outside of conversation: announcers and commentators on radio and TV are trained to speak relatively slowly and much of what they say is read off a prepared document. In school too, since everything is written in a standard manner, children learning to read get to read all the ne‘s even though they may not use them in their own speech but the teacher does when speaking slowly to the class. Additionally, people of Southern French origin (with an Occitan substrate even though few of them do speak the language) whose parents and/or grandparents learned French in school, do pronounce all the e‘s which are written. As a result of all these factors, hearing (and therefore pronouncing) a lot of e‘s in various contexts (including that in ne) is becoming more common. For instance, I have always said à d’main (“till tomorrow”) and maint’nant (“now”) but the younger members of my family (even the not so young anymore) pronounce à deumain and mainteunant which I find extremely pretentious. Another thing heard on radio and TV is an insistance on “liaison”, often resulting in hypercorrection as words that don’t really belong together are linked. These things are also heard in dubbed foreign films or TV series, where the characters often sound unnatural compared to those in French-made shows. All in all the influence of the oral performance of written text and the dialectal confusion in Paris is reversing centuries of phonetic evolution.
    Personally, I say both j’sais pas (often = “chchais pas”) and je n’sais pas, the first very casually and the other when more deliberate, but either of them comes naturally when speaking for instance to my father or sisters, probably depending on the context of the conversation (eg if asking for the salt as opposed to discussing a book). In a more formal situation and in reading aloud I would use the second. I think this is typical of educated French people, who both use and omit the ne depending on various (often barely conscious) factors.

  63. John Emerson says:

    My brother tells me that he was about six before he realized that “OK, see you, bye” was not one word: “okaiseeyuhbie”.

  64. John Emerson says:

    Actually it would be “kaciabye” with a stress on the “ci” and a stronger stress on the “bey”.

  65. marie-lucie: around here, it’s something like [ʃ̩ːpɑː] (when the parents aren’t listening 🙂

  66. In lolcatspeak it’s “kthxbai”.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    Yes, lukas, I know that one too. I bet the parents are insisting on a hypercorrect pronunciation under the impression that that is what Standard French is (a very formal variety with no room for familiar expressions or phonetic shortcuts).

  68. The Varangians observed by Ibn Fadlan
    Ibn Fadlan can go put it where it will see the light of no day…and that goes for the horse he rode in on, “Eaters of the Dead”, too. Ibn Fadlan was a fussy, ethnocentric, Felix Unger sort of guy whose idea of proper washing had to do with the Islamic rituals that require running water for ablutions. He went on a camping and hunting trip with a bunch of guys who were roughing it and then used his experience to make generalizations and look down his nose at an entire culture. I think Ibn Fadlan was expecting to see one thing, but saw something else, and mistook what he saw. Unfortunately he is one of few eyewitnesses.
    As far as The Thirteenth Warrior video which I saw in the Middle East, which I understand Crichton himself had a hand in, the version I saw had an elitist condescending Ibn Fadlan tracing the word “Allah” in the sand as the “primitive” Vikings ooohed and ahhhed at seeing written language for the “first” time. Unfortunately for Crichton, the archaeological record does not bear this out. Translations of carved wooden tags found at Bergen show that the runes were not just for the elite, but were also used for labeling bundles of merchandise. Why would these be labeled if the laborers unloading the boats couldn’t read? Also found was a carved wooden message from a Viking wife telling her husband it was time to leave the tavern and come home, one of several indicators that Viking women were also literate.
    When I read “historical” fiction, I don’t expect it to go contrary to the historical record. Crichton is a big grownup writer with enough money to pay people to look things up; he doesn’t have any excuse for not having his homework done. Viking reenactors will not touch Crichton’s stuff.

  69. John Emerson says:

    Sorry, Nijma, your ancestors stunk. They also had sex in public and conducted orgiastic human sacrifices (a kind of suttee). I’m sure that they were otherwise fine people.
    I suppose it’s ethnocentric and culturally insensitive to point these things out, but I’ve lived my entire life among the Norse and I know the truth. The Norse Mafia has covered it up for too long.
    Crichton’s errors were all deliberate, I’m willing to bet. He just didn’t care. He totally wasted a fantastic movie possibility. The truth was vivid enough.

  70. Emerson, Emerson, that wouldn’t be Irish, by any chance.

  71. AJP Crown says:

    He is, in fact, Emerson McEmerson. ‘John’ is just a sock puppet.

  72. My ancestors had the unfortunate habit of enslaving the Irish–and I’m afraid the British too. So convenient for the unpleasant task of working the peat bogs for iron ore. We don’t do that anymore of course, we just marry them.

  73. michael farris says:

    You marry peat bogs?

  74. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

  75. Actually, Aimericson. I am a direct descendant of Amerigo Vespucci.

  76. Vespucci–Italian, then. As far as I know none of my ancestors ever sacked anything in Italy. I’m supposed to be a direct descendant of Rollo.

  77. That peat bog ore stuff is impossible. If you read a saga where the fight scene has to be interrupted while the hero straightens out a bent sword, well, that was the effect of the bog ore. It contained a great number of impurities as well, and if the blade was struck at that exact point, the weapon could shatter. Much better the Wendish (?) iron.

  78. The Vikings did sack one place on the NW Italian coast. They thought it was Rome. The Arabs stiffened up their defenses at Gibraltar and on the Atlantic and shut that kind of thing down.

  79. David Marjanović says:

    I’ll try to find the Helen DeWitt thread tomorrow…

    Interesting point with German /c/ and vowel length (not one I would have picked up with my poor perception and production of German long and short vowels.

    You would have picked it up, because the long vowels are tense and the short ones lax (except for /a/, for which the long and the short version really differ only by length for many, perhaps most, speakers). It is also fairly easy to reconstruct from the spelling, although — except obviously for the diphthongs, which always behave as long vowels — the treatment of vowel length by the German orthography is rather chaotic (sometimes length is marked in one of several possible ways, sometimes shortness is marked, sometimes nothing is marked and you have to know if the syllable is stressed and so on…).

    Does /pf/ ever occur after a long vowel?

    No, but that’s because its ancestor, pp /p:/, never did. It can, however, occur in impressive consonant clusters, and IIRC Wikipedia offers a few more reasons. I’m too tired to look them up and will go to bed soon.

  80. David Marjanović says:

    I’ll try to find the Helen DeWitt thread tomorrow…

    Never mind, I just found it and supplied the invaluable information on the difference between Wand and Mauer.

  81. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, and…

    Herberstein may just have combined the spelling conventions of German and Slovene, languages he was familiar with.

    Slovene had no spelling conventions, and more or less no writing at all, at that time.

  82. The hacek was only invented a little before the first defenestration, and reached Slovenia considerably later than that.

  83. David Marjanović says:

    Never mind the sole exceptions

    Actually, there are a few more: Trost, trösten “solace, to console”. These are just as strange as the abovementioned ones, because the unrelated but otherwise, one should think, practically identical Rost, rösten “rust, to roast” have short vowels.
    Interesting that these exceptions all occur before /st/ (and not /ʃt/, but actual /st/).
    In northern Germany, a few words with er– in front of a consonant or two, such as erst, werden, Pferd, have the long version (/eːɐ̯̯/ instead of /ɛɐ̯̯/), but that seems to be a Low Saxon (Plattdeutsch) accent, even though it has become so prestigious that even some Austrian TV news speakers occasionally imitate it.

  84. On second look, it is entirely possible that one of my ancestors may have sacked one of Mr. Emerson’s ancestors. Looking back at the story of the sack of Luna, the whole thing was the summer cruise adventure of Bjorn and Hastein in 859-862 with 62 yachts before returning to their base on the Loire. Oh dear, that might have been us. While on vacation, Pisa was sacked, (note my use of the passive voice), and Luna on the Ligurian coast was destroyed. There is no reason to believe the story of them gaining entry into the town of Luna by pretending to have a dead chieftain requiring a Christian burial who leapt out of the casket with a sword. This story was also told of Harald Hardradi and the Varangians. But no harm done, heh? We are both obviously descended from those who survived any unfortunate encounters that might have occurred.

  85. AJP Crown says:

    D.M.: a Low Saxon (Plattdeutsch) accent … has become so prestigious that even some Austrian TV news speakers occasionally imitate it.
    What is the reason for its prestige, David?

  86. I too am curious about the reason for Plattdeutsch prestige (and impressed by the pillager/pillagee relationship between the Nijmassons and the Emersons).

  87. AJP Crown says:

    yeah, but note he didn’t actually say Plattdeutsch, which hardly anyone even in Hamburg speaks nowadays, he only said the accent.

  88. the pillager/pillagee relationship between the Nijmassons and the Emersons
    I too was surprised by this. I have always thought my ancestors had a predilection for pillaging the British coast, and I’m pretty sure at least one of them, a descendant of the Normandy bunch that sacked Paris, actually invaded and settled there.
    I once saw it written down somewhere that one of my direct ancestors accompanied William the Conqueror on his camping trip to England in 1066. It was supposed to be a nephew or grandson or something of Rollo. The Norwegians called Rollo Hrolf, or Gange Hrolf (Hrolf the Walker) and the French called him Rollon, so if the thing I saw said Rollo, that’s what the Brits called him, and it probably means I’ve got some British blood somewhere, probably in my left pinkie finger. It is also possible that other ancestors of mine pillaged the north of England as well, but if there was, no whisper of it has come down to us in the family tradition. Just the Norman boating and hiking trip.
    But it’s funny the Brits either don’t remember or don’t care about what must have been several hundred years of invasions/migrations, while the Italian memory is very long for something of relatively short duration that happened 200 years earlier.

  89. AJP Crown (Mrs) says:

    The trouble with David Marjanović is he disappears. Here today, gone tomorrow.

  90. That’s why we call him Gange David.

  91. I’ll try, but David probably knows this stuff better than I do… This I seem to remember (I hope I remember correctly):
    Standard German was begotten by the Kanzleisprache (chancery language) of the Principality of Saxony, a written language used for official documents in that realm. In the 16th and 17th centuries this language spread across most German jurisdictions (including Switzerland and Austria) for various reasons: the printing press, increasing literacy, the Reformation (and Luther’s Bible translation into a folksy-ish variety of kanzlei German), and emerging nationalism are all contributing factors.
    This language was not spoken at first: it did not correspond to any spoken German dialect but rather showed a mixture of features from the different middle and upper German dialects spoken in Saxony.
    But soon enough, the educated middle classes adopted it for daily speech, starting in the protestant north. Here, this written language was different enough from the vernacular Low German that it had to be learned almost like a foreign language. As a result, written and spoken language are very closely related in the North, and the Low German characteristics that have persisted concern mostly phonology and intonation. In the South, however, the relative closeness of the written language and the vernacular favored the emergence of a continuum between High German and the vernacular dialect, and the daily speech of most educated speakers there has always featured a certain amount of vernacular influence.
    When people started worrying about the uniformity and the purity of the German language (we are in the 18th century now, nationalism is rampant), the Northern variety came to be seen as the purest form of German due to the perceived absence of vernacular features and its relative uniformity (and, well, Prussia had unified most of Germany from the North). This development was cemented by the influential 1898 pronunciation dictionary Deutsche Bühnenaussprache (often called “Siebs” after its editor, the linguist Theodor Siebs) that prescribed a rigid Low German type phonology for German pronunciation.
    Radio, TV and schools adopted slightly modified versions of the Siebs as their standard, and the rest is history.

  92. David Marjanović says:

    What is the reason for its prestige, David?

    I can only add detail to what lukas said: in places like Hannover, the upper class has this kind of Standard German as its mother tongue, which therefore lacks any influence from underlying Middle or High German dialects and was thus considered a model of purity. The strong influence of Low German went unrecognized (not just by Siebs) because people outside of where it’s spoken didn’t know what Low German was like, and people inside that area didn’t know that High German was spoken differently elsewhere.
    This is also where the silly habit of calling Standard German “Hochdeutsch” comes from: in northern Germany, it fits, because the standard language comes from places that are higher in altitude than the North German Floodplain, and from there this usage has spread. My dialect, in contrast, is considerably higher than Standard German, and anyone from Zürich or beyond who reads this will have started snorting and giggling by now.

    In the South, however, the relative closeness of the written language and the vernacular favored the emergence of a continuum between High German and the vernacular dialect

    Depends. I’ve seen a book that demonstrated a large number of intermediate stages between dialect and standard language that are used somewhere in Germany in different situations (or at least were a few decades ago); but where I come from (Linz — 200 km west of Vienna), there is no continuum, just dialect and Schriftsprache (“script language”), which are neatly kept apart for use in different situations. As its alternative name says, the standard is almost only written and read aloud; it’s also used on TV, in official situations, and with foreigners (more or less meaning those who don’t speak a Bavarian-Austrian dialect) — note that the first two potentially boil down to the third. In Vienna, the situation is yet different again; because of the class differences in Vienna that are practically lacking in Linz, and because of everyone’s desire to become a member of the upperclass, the generation of my parents mostly spoke and still speaks Standard German to their children — and produced a very peculiar result, though one that any linguist would have expected: my generation speaks something that at first looks like Standard German, but is better described as dialect without the extra vowel [ɒ̈̈]. A continuum exists between this and the actual standard.
    There are a few (under 10) families in Linz that speak Standard German natively, and I really mean the standard as spoken by TV and radio newscasters. The number of Viennese families that do the same is probably very similar (I know one case).
    I haven’t mentioned yet that there are regional differences in Standard German — mostly between the three main German-speaking countries. These are concentrated in the presence or absence of a few words (especially, of course, terms of bureaucracy) and a large number of small differences in phonetics and occasionally phonology — the Ausspracheduden (Duden-Aussprachewörterbuch, pronunciation dictionary by the dictionary publisher that’s most prestigious in Germany), the modern successor of Siebs used e. g. by Wikipedia, describes (if not prescribes) a pronunciation that is quite alien to me.

  93. (we are in the 18th century now, nationalism is rampant)

    That would be the 19th, of course.

  94. AJP Crown (Mrs) says:

    That’s why we call him Gange David
    Gange. An Irish term for a complete idiot, coined by Andy Wilson from Belfast, ( Urban Dictionary).
    Gosh, Language, that’s a bit harsh. Can’t you just dock his pay?

  95. AJP Crown (Mrs) says:

    Thank you very much, both of you, lukas and David for going to the trouble of explaining that.
    I had thought that David was talking about a trendy accent, sort of an equivalent of Estuary English, but this history is much more interesting to know about.

  96. Gange David
    Perhaps I should have said Göngu-Hrólfr. He was the “walker” because he was supposedly too fat to ride a horse, although there are those who say he was merely too huge. It does seem like all of the stuff attributed to Rollo–sacking Paris, a pilgrimage to Jerusalem after his conversion–would be strenuous enough to get him in shape. Of course the “sack” of Paris was pretty sloppy. The King pretty much went in and out of Paris as he pleased, in spite of a “blockade”. Still, he gave Hrolf his daughter and Rouen to make him go away.

  97. mollymooly says:

    “BCSM” is a great abbreviation. Can we rename Croatian “Dalmatian”?

  98. michael farris says:

    Just today I was (finally) able to consult with a Polish phonetician who assured me that (using Polish ortographic conventions and treating them as phonemics even though rz=sz in the examples)
    /c/ =/= /ts/ and that odseparować /otseparować/ ‘separate out (from)’ is not normally pronounced /oceparować/.
    He did say that under the influnce of a following fricative a stop may turn into an affricate, so that /trz/ could be /czsz/ (roughly [tSS]
    and /ts/ could become /cs/ (rougly [tss] but those are clearly different from [ts] and [tS] respectively.
    Some (maybe even a significant minority) might merge /ts/ and /c/ (just as /trzy/ and /cz/ might merge in rapid speech but it’s not the norm statistically.
    The phonetician is not a prescriptivist and has pointed out lots of interesting things to me in the past so I trust his judgement (which also jibes with what I hear).

  99. If you can find post-war recordings of Oskar Schindler, a Sudeten German, he doesn’t sound remotely German in the Piefkinesisch sense, but it is reasonably clear that he’s consciously speaking a standard version of the language, not least because this speaker of Berlin German can understand it! Given that, I’m not particularly certain that the prestige of a North German pronunciation is as old as David and Lukas seem to describe it, in the non German-Empire parts of the German-speaking world.
    (My memory of his pronunciation is from a Deutschlandfunk program from the last year or so; I can’t find the details right now.)

  100. Aidan, the prestige of North German pronunciation has a long history, but it was only with the advent of mass media (radio in the 30s, TV post-WW2) that it really took off. Schindler was born in 1908… Even today, many German speakers from Switzerland, Austria and Upper/Middle Germany, especially older or rural folk, have kept a distinctive local flavor to their German. For example, listen to Michael Glos (interview starting at about 1:05), Minister for Economics and Technology (born 1944).

  101. A pointless comment inserted to test the recently revised Recently Commented Posts software (which has been buggy for a bit), and to encourage the Hattics to reread this wonderful thread.

  102. Well, I have a substantive comment anyway: I’ve always assumed that Ralph Ganger was so named because he was too tall (and so had legs that were too long) to ride one of those European pony-like things that were called horses before the Arabian Stallion got into the bloodlines.

    I am rather tall myself (6’1″ = 185 cm) but have rather short legs (30″ = 76 cm). Indeed, my wife and I can trade trousers, even though she is a mere 5’6″ = 167 cm. Consequently, anyone who sits behind me in an auditorium doesn’t see much.

  103. John, I think I understand your point, but I don’t think your wife’s pants can impair anyone’s ability to see.

  104. David Marjanović says:

    Question from long, long ago…

    Does /pf/ ever occur after a long vowel [in German]?

    Thanks to non-rhoticity, there is an example: Karpfen, “carp”. In rhotic accents, it gives you /pf/ behind a consonant, which is no less remarkable.

    In Old High German, /pf/ was the regular outcome of */p/ behind a consonant, but all words except this one later changed /pf/ in this environment to… /fː/. This was quickly shortened to /f/, like /fː/ from */p/ behind long vowels & diphthongs, in the northern half of OHG; this was promptly reflected in the spelling and still is (scarpf > scharf “sharp”; Dorf “village”, cognate with -thorp(e)…). In Upper German, however, it remains long to this day, except exceptions (Central Bavarian shortening of all consonants that were word-final in late southern versions of Middle High German; Carinthian reinterpretation of the whole sound system in Slovene terms, thus wholesale loss of consonant length). This is mercilessly carried over into Austrian Standard German: scharf [ʃaːf] with short /f/ from Central Bavarian shortening, but Dörfer [d̥œɐ̯fːɐ] with long /fː/ behind a (phonetically rather short) diphthong, and even Dorf [d̥ɔɐ̯fː] with the length leveled in from the plural.

    Why Karpfen escaped the whole process, I have no idea.

  105. January First-of-May says:

    After some thought, I think I’ve finally figured out a (somewhat strained) minimal pair between /ts/ and /ʦ/ in Russian: подсорить “to add some trash” and поцарить “to briefly be a czar”.

    (Yes, both words appear to exist. I checked.)

    (And yes, I deliberately used the spelling “czar”.)

  106. pf after a consonant
    Not remarkable if the consonant is /m/ (Kampf, Krampf, schimpfen, schrumpfen; Sumpf, Strumpf, stumpf…..). Of course, many varieties of German have [mf] in these words; I’m not sure whether this is more or less widely spread than having [f] for word-initial /pf/.

  107. David Marjanović says:

    many varieties of German have [mf] in these words

    I didn’t even know that.

  108. John Cowan says:

    /mpF/ ~ /mF/ (where F is a voiceless fricative) has essentially no functional load in English and frequently they are in free variation: I usually say warmpth and drempt (as distinct from dreamed), but my wife doesn’t. The English names of Dupont and Dupond are Thompson and Thomson, both ‘Tom’s son’, and unless being careful to distinguish them I would use /mps/ for both names. In glimpse it is also intrusive < ME glimsen, but I have heard people say it with no /p/.

  109. David Marjanović says:

    Large-scale consonant insertion is also a thing in large parts of Germany, as I learned only recently: there are people who pronounce Pils “Pilsner beer” the same as Pilz “mushroom”.

  110. January First-of-May says:

    and drempt (as distinct from dreamed)

    As (probably) seen in (the Phantom’s words from) Lewis Carroll’s Phantasmagoria:

    “Spectres of course are rich, and so
    Can buy them
    [wings] from the Elves:
    we prefer to keep below –
    They’re stupid company, you know,
    For any but themselves:

    “For, though they claim to be exempt
    From pride, they treat a Phantom
    As something quite beneath contempt –
    Just as no Turkey ever dreamt
    Of noticing a Bantam.”

    (It’s not clear whether “they” in lines 4 and 6 refers to the Spectres or to the Elves; the general context of the poem slightly suggests the former, but it’s tempting to compare this description with more recently popular depictions of the latter.
    “Bantam” is a general term for miniature breeds of chicken; presumably they would not be particularly favored by turkeys – though admittedly it’s likely to be a rare turkey that would favor a chicken in the first place.

    Incidentally, I have apparently posted [part of] those lines previously on LH, though in a slightly different form due to my slightly faulty memory.)

  111. PlasticPaddy says:

    Unfortunately, just a test wiki.

  112. SFReader says:

    Of all the various bureaucratic “czars” devised from time to time in Washington D.C., the funniest title was “the USSR czar”, a position which some guy in the State Department held in 1990.

    It meant that he was to be the main person coordinating all relations with the USSR in the federal government.

    I wonder what the Soviets thought reading his name card.

  113. David Marjanović says:

    Unfortunately, just a test wiki.

    Unfortunately last edited 3 years ago, unless that just applies to the main page.

  114. Of all the various bureaucratic “czars” devised from time to time in Washington D.C., the funniest title was “the USSR czar”, a position which some guy in the State Department held in 1990.

    I’m afraid you must have gotten that information from Radio Erevan. As far as I can tell there is no record of such a title, and even if had existed it would have been unofficial, so not on name cards.

  115. SFReader says:

    They wouldn’t even put czar on name cards?

    OK, I lost all respect for czars.

  116. Lars Mathiesen says:

    The fake RP I learned in Danish school ignores the epenthetic -p-‘s in the Latin participles of emo and temno. At a guess they weren’t pronounced for a millennium or more but were inserted in classicizing French spelling, and some people pronounce them now. But Carroll may not have — I would rather adduce the rhyme with dreamt as evidence that he didn’t.

  117. Interestingly, in U.S. politics, the czar was first notably used as a nickname for the extremely powerful Speaker of the House, Thomas Brackett Reed. It was the also applied to Joseph Cannon, who was Speaker four years after Reed and was (at least initially) perceived to be another extremely forceful and successful Republican leader.

    The first executive-branch czar was probably Bernard Baruch (who is little known nationally but is a big deal here in South Carolina), who managed industrial production during the First World War. The term was used sporadically after that for a long time, until 1982, when “drug czar” (coined by Joe Biden, apparently) became the term used for the person overseeing the federal War on Drugs. This eventually led to the 1989 creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, whose director was known almost universally as the “drug czar.” With the standardization of the drug czar as a permanent position, the number of executive oversight jobs that were informally referred to as “czars” began to balloon.

  118. January First-of-May says:

    But Carroll may not have — I would rather adduce the rhyme with dreamt as evidence that he didn’t.

    I considered this option (and would have mentioned it in my comment, but couldn’t find a good place to insert it), but wasn’t aware that there was any etymological reason for it.

  119. I can rhyme those three lines with or without the /p/ sounds, in Standard American English. (There is, however, the caveat that dreamt is limited to archaic or, as in this case, poetic diction.)

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