Archives for July 2003


Word Map is mapping Australian regionalisms—words, phrases or expressions used by particular language groups.” Click on “Map search” at the left and you’ll get a map divided into regions; click on one to find words and phrases peculiar to it. There’s also an A-Z list, and if you’re a regional Australian you can add your own. (Via Taccuino di traduzione.)

Addendum. The comments contain an interesting query about the Kentucky dialect verb “gom” and possible etymologies.


I just heard an Italian say (in a news clip) “Questo documento rappresenta un escalation…” (the last word pronounced as in English). I would have thought that if the word were to be borrowed, it would be Italianized as escalazione. Do English words have the sort of cachet in Italian that French words have, or used to have, in English?


It seems to be slang week here at Languagehat; today, via the eternally prinsessor-smitten Des, the BBC’s Le Français Cool. From the La bouffe/Nosh section:

La barbaque: Bad meat. Old slang word, the origins of which are uncertain. It may come from the Romanian word “berbec”, lamb, that French soldiers brought back to France in 1855. But it may also be of Mexican-Caribbean origins, from the word barbecue. Again, French soldiers didn’t really appreciate meat cooked that way but they brought the word back from Mexico in 1862. Anyway, whatever the exact origins of this word, nowadays it means meat of very poor quality.


It seems like only yesterday that I was posting about six months of Languagehat; time flies when you’re having fun. I’d like to thank the same people I thanked then, as well as all the people who’ve commented or written since. I’ve had something like 43,000 unique visitors, more or less evenly divided between the old Blogspot site and the shiny new MT one; they come from 64 different countries (plus the Old Style Arpanet), including Mauritius, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, New Caledonia, and Brunei Darussalam (the top three foreign sources are Canada, Australia, and France). It’s a cliche, but the internet really is bringing the world closer together.

One thing I’d like to emphasize. People occasionally apologize for intruding on my time or say they don’t know enough to comment; I want to make it clear that I welcome everyone with an interest in the things I write about, whether they have any prior knowledge or not, and I love answering questions I get in e-mails—if your message comes at a busy time, I may take a while to get around to it, but I will answer it. And, of course, if you have an interesting link to pass along or a subject you’d like to hear about, let me know; I’m always on the lookout for new topics!

And we sit here…
     there in the arena

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The Library of Congress is having an exhibition “Ancient Manuscripts from the Desert Libraries of Timbuktu”:

These ancient manuscripts cover every aspect of human endeavor. The manuscripts are indicative of the high level of civilization attained by West Africans during the Middle Ages and provide irrefutable proof of a powerful African literary tradition. Scholars in the fields of Islamic Studies and African Studies believe that analysis of these texts will cause Islamic, West African, and World History to be reevaluated. These manuscripts, surviving from as long ago as the fourteenth century, are remarkable artifacts important to Malian and West African culture. The exhibited manuscripts date from the sixteenth to eighteenth century.

Many sample pages can be seen here. (Thanks, Mike!)


A correspondent recently said this in the course of an e-mail to me: “I’m not asking you to piss in my pocket…” In context, it clearly meant “I’m not asking for compliments,” but I found the phrase curious, to say the least. I looked it up in the invaluable Cassell Dictionary of Slang and found:

piss in someone’s pocket, to phr. [1940s+] (Aus.) to curry favour, to be extremely close to someone, to ingratiate oneself.

Now, I’ve always admired the Aussie way with language (see this recent post on slang), but this completely baffles me. In what context could the phrase “piss in my pocket” come to have such a meaning? Or is pissing considered a sign of respect and admiration Down Under? I am grateful in advance for any elucidation.


Luc Sante is always worth reading, and in the July 17 NYRB he has a particularly good review of Arthur Kempton’s Boogaloo. Now, the word “boogaloo” to me vaguely recalls a dance craze of the mid-’60s, but apparently it is used more generally to refer to African-American popular music (since it’s not in my Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate or the AHD, I’m deprived of lexicographical backup). Sante says:

The boogaloo is, or was, one of the thousand dances the land was full of in the 1960s, enumerated in inventory songs such as James Brown’s “There Was a Time” and the Isley Brothers’ “Nobody But Me”: the skate, the swim, the pony, the monkey, the camelwalk, the shing-a-ling. Arthur Kempton notes that it made its debut as the title of a million-selling but faintly remembered 1965 release by the Chicago duo Tom and Jerrio, a song that launched two major catch phrases of the era, “sock it to me” and “let it all hang out.” The boogaloo outlasted many of its competitor dances, or at least its name did, even making the transition into Spanglish as bugalú.

Somewhere along the line, perhaps around the time most people forgot its steps, the name metamorphosed into a sweeping term that could encompass almost all of African-American popular music, or at least everything that has arisen since World War II. The names of styles, which embody novelty, date more quickly than the substance they describe. “Soul” now sounds antique; “R&B” can be applied to the works of Wynonie Harris in the late 1940s, or to those of Mary J. Blige fifty years later, but not much in between. But because “boogaloo” is a term transmitted more often orally than in writing, it has enjoyed an immunity to the flux of fashion.

So my question is, are any of you familiar with the term in this wider sense, and if so, how would you delimit it? Does it really apply to anything since WWII? (I’m particularly hoping to hear from Avante Populi, a learned connoisseur of these matters.)

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This tour-de-force takes verses from the King James Bible and rearranges the letters to produce astonishingly apt equivalents. A couple of samples:

Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this. (Ecc. 7:10)
Wish not, in unrest, for the quaint cheer of ancestry: no beauty was there. Chew on this tasty truth: these are the good old times.
If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they. (Ecc. 8:1)
Ah, the evil Tenth District judge’s rotten, and forgives not harm.
Ah, another higher one’s joined in graft, and prevents the hope of the brave.
Ah, neither are the high, mighty Supreme Court potentates fit to help.

Via Incoming Signals.


These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have invented
Some comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Place in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.

John Ashbery

I came late to John Ashbery (as to Cecil Taylor); for years I read him impatiently when I came across his work, convinced he was putting something over on everyone. The older I get, the more I appreciate his light touch, his circuitous paths, his refusal to pander to our craving for the obvious. I am told by wood s lot that it’s his birthday, so: happy birthday, John Ashbery, and thanks for all the reticence.


A Kel Richards article maintains that “Aussie English remains resilient, vigorous and lively” despite incursions from America. There are references to all sorts of interesting usages (eg, “grouse” as a general term of approval, comparable to “cool” or “awesome,” which according to the superb Cassell Dictionary of Slang goes back to the ’20s or ’30s), and I’m sure he’s right about the robust health of slang Down Under; he is, however, seriously delusional if he believes this:

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