A Portrait of Tenochtitlan.

Thomas Kole’s Tenochtitlan site is a thing of beauty and something I wish could be done for every city with a suitable history. But this isn’t UrbanHat, and what enables me to bring it here is the fact that it’s presented in three languages, English, Spanish, and Nahuatl. The first paragraph in each:

The year is 1518. Mexico-Tenochtitlan, once an unassuming settlement in the middle of Lake Texcoco, now a bustling metropolis. It is the capital of an empire ruling over, and receiving tribute from, more than 5 million people. Tenochtitlan is home to 200.000 farmers, artisans, merchants, soldiers, priests and aristocrats. At this time, it is one of the largest cities in the world.

Es el año 1518. Mexico-Tenochtitlan, que alguna vez fue un modesto asentamiento en el Lago de Texcoco, es hoy una bulliciosa metrópoli, capital de un imperio que gobierna y recibe tributos de más de 5 millones de personas. Tenochtitlan alberga a 200,000 habitantes dedicados a la agricultura, el arte, el comercio, la guerra, el sacerdocio y el gobierno. Es una de las ciudades más grandes de su tiempo a nivel mundial.

Ipan xihuitl 13 Tochtli (1518), Mexico-Tenochtitlan huehcapan altepetl. Ye huecauh, zan altepetontli nepan Tetzcoco atezcatl. Inin ialtepenanyo in Excan Tlahtoloyan, ye tlahtoani, ye cecentlalia miec in centzonxiquipilli tlatlaca intlalcalaquil. Ompa chantiah cempohualli huan macuilxiquipilli miltecah, tlamatilizmatinimeh, pochtecah, yaoquizqueh, tlamacazqueh ihuan pipiltin. Zan cana huey altepetl yuhquin Tenochtitlan.

I’m curious about why “a portrait of” is rendered as “In ixtli, in yollotl in”; does Nahuatl require two words to convey the idea? (Via MetaFilter.)


  1. I think it means something like “the face and the soul of”. I’m not sure about the last in.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    The last in goes with Tenochtitlan.

    Nahuatl in fact does this sort of thing a lot, viz expressing a single concept with a pair of words, e.g,


    “It is water, it is a hill”, i.e. “it is a city.”

    This kind of metonymy is characteristic enough of Nahuatl to be mentioned specifically by both Launey and Andrews.

    Having said that, the only meaning I know of for this particular collocation is “human being”:


  3. Stu Clayton says

    “It is water, it is a hill”

    This can mean “it is a city” as well as “human being” ? Help me out here, I can’t identify the single concept behind water, hill, city and human being.

    But wait: let’s assume that a nation is the same people living in the same place. People live in cities, which can be on hills, and there has to be drinking water nearby – although rarely on top of the hill. Perhaps the meaning is “San Francisco” ? Or “Times Crossword clue” ?

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    Another (from memory, I am far from my books at present) is in xochitl in cuicatl “it is a flower, it is a song”, conventionally meaning “it is poetry.”

    @Stu: two different collocations. The site doesn’t use the “city” one, but the (AFAIK) “human being” one. Maybe it means something like “image” or “picture” in yer yoof-of-today modern Nahuatl. I only speak Classical. (Ah, the fun we used to have, sacificing to Huitzilopochtli in the old days! Young people just aren’t interested any more. I blame the Internet,)

  5. Nahuatl in fact does this sort of thing a lot, viz expressing a single concept with a pair of words

    Ah, thanks — I was hoping it was something like that!

  6. Here (visible, I hope) is Miguel León-Portilla on the difrasismo. In ixtli in yollotl would seem by extension to mean “character”. (As another treatment based on León-Portilla puts it, “a balanced character and an embodied expression of self”.) León-Portilla’s treatment of the difrasismo appears to be quite influential and to have inspired others to use the concept of in ixtli in yollotl in their studies of identity and the struggle for rights and justice among indigenous peoples and people of indigenous heritage of Mexico and the Southwest of the US.

    I am wondering about the syntax. I guess in ixtli in yollotl remain in the absolutive (rather than being possessed as in iix in iyollo) because Tenochtitlan is technically a locative? (“The character (of the place, of things) in Tenochtitlan.”)

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    Thanks, Xerîb: that explains the site’s usage pretty well.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    The term seems to have undergone a rather similar ideological development to ubuntu “being a person.” Many a group likes to imagine that universal human attributes are specifically a product of their own particular culture. Brits seem to think that nobody else has the concept “fair play.”

    It’s much more forgivable when deployed on behalf of cultures seriously threatened by the SAE gray goo, though.

  9. “expressing a single concept with a pair of words” Classical scholars call that hendiadys. Vi et armis, literally by force and by arms, but meaning by armed force. The Wikipedia article mentions Shakespeare’s “full of sound and fury” for “furious sound”, and ger v’toshav, “an alien and a resident”, meaning a resident alien, at Leviticus 25:47.

  10. I am wondering about the syntax.
    The possessive form (i.e. without the absolutive suffix) is used only when the personal possessive prefixes are attached.

  11. David Eddyshaw says


    I think the Nahuatl construction is a bit different, as it involves a rather more complex kind of semantic relationship, specifically involving metonymy, After all, a city is neither a kind of water, nor a kind of hill. The examples you cite are all instances of a purely syntactic simplification.*

    Admittedly, one type shades into the other at the edges.

    * Kusaal actually freely uses nouns like saan ‘alien’ as adjectives, so long as the head noun has human reference. There’s no formal difference between the resulting compounds (attributive adjectives regularly form compounds with their noun heads in Oti-Volta) and appositional compounds of two noun stems, and (unlike with “real” adjectives) you can swap the order of the components with no change of meaning.

  12. David Marjanović says

    The site doesn’t use the “city” one

    Is altepetl a contraction of atl tepetl?

  13. Is altepetl a contraction of atl tepetl?

    So it is.

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    @David E.: I think of “fair play” (in the idiom “fair play to X”) as specifically an Irishism rather than a Britishism? But maybe I’ve been exposed to an unrepresentative batch of stimuli? Admittedly that idiom may have a somewhat different scope than the abstract concept of “fair play”?

  15. In answer to my question about why ixtli and yollotl stay in the absolutive and are not possessed in the instance we have been discussing (“A Portrait of Tenochtitlan”), here is the Spanish translation of Launey’s grammar on the topic (Introducción a la lengua y a la literatura náhuatl, 1992, p. 89, section 10.5.d, p. 90):

    d. Un locativo no puede ser poseedor. Se dirá entonces:

    in Cuauhnāhuac cihuâ “las mujeres de Cuernavaca”
    in Mexìco tētēuctin “los senores de Mexico”
    in nicān tlācâ “la gente de aquí”
    no se dice
    *in Cuauhnāhuac īcihuāhuān,

    (īcihuāhuān, 3rd person possessed plural of ‘woman’, absolutive sg. cihuātl, absolutive pl. cihuâ (with final glottal stop), following Launey’s orthography for convenience.)

    (The 3rd sg. possessed forms I mentioned are used here in a poem of León-Portilla using the phrase iix, iyollo coatl ‘face, heart of a snake’ (‘character of a snake’?).)

  16. “fair play to them” isn’t in my idiolect (as a Brit). So I’m prepared to believe it’s an Irishism.

    “fair play” simpliciter (which is what @DavidE introduced) is in my idiolect. etymonline says 1590’s from Old English fæger; no suggestion of Irishism.

    Aus/NZ has ‘fair go’ Interjection “Used in protest to implore or demand that someone act with more fairness or reason, or desist in something considered outrageous.”

    And there’s a long-running NZ TV consumer-oriented show ‘Fair Go’ (something like Esther Rantzen) aiming to call retailers and big business to account for underhand practice or misleading advertising.

  17. “Many a group likes to imagine that universal human attributes are specifically a product of their own particular culture.” – or vice versa.

    As I told, at least online (on sites visited by people who express the desire to “learn more about other cultures”) any cultural difference beyond culinary preferences (but including dress-code) makes people believe they’re talking to an asshole. This was a shocking discovery for me, given this sincere “learn more” intent.

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    I’m prepared to believe it’s an Irishism.

    It’s common in Welsh (“Chwarae teg iddyn nhw”), though that may just be calqued on English. “Teg” is “fair” as in “pretty”, but the “just” sense does go back to Middle Welsh, though, so that’s not recent English influence, at any rate.

    However, I wasn’t really thinking of the wording but the related smug attitude, by which a certain kind of Brit would vigorously deny “fair play” to be characteristic of mere Celts:


    (One of the many reasons I greatly dislike this poem is that the title is purloined, without understanding, from a much superior poet who is a particular favourite of mine,)

  19. inque brevi spatio mutantur saecla animantum
    et quasi cursores vitai lampada tradunt.

  20. Though I cast a skeptical eye at “vitaï” for the Plain Man’s “vitae” — ‘ere, matey, let me see yer poetic license!

  21. PlasticPaddy says

    cothrom na Féinne -the idea is that a dispute between factions is settled by both sides choosing a champion and the two champions fighting without anyone else interfering. This is not the most usual sense of fair play in English (or even for the jingoist soldier survivor in the poem).

  22. related smug attitude, by which a certain kind of Brit would vigorously deny “fair play” to be characteristic of mere Celts

    Did Celts invent cricket? I thought not. All those centuries of exclusive access to acres of green sward and … nothing. Golf maybe: a dubious pursuit at the best of times.

    Do Americans play cricket? Baseball seems to involve all sorts of underhand tricks. Talking of underhand(arm): Australians don’t seem to have got the memo about “fair play”.

    So I think Brits of my generation can be deservedly smug. And then there was the bodyline series; and then Thatcher; and now it’s all gone to blazes. A tiny residue of “fair play”/”fair go” remains in NZ.

  23. yiddish has a far semantically simpler version of that construction: for example “a yid a talyen” [literally: a jew a hangman] for “a jewish hangman”, or “a moyd a sheyner” [literally: a girl a beauty] for “a beautiful girl”.

  24. To Americans (in sports as in the courts), playing fair means playing by the rules. Taking advantage of whatever the rules permit is part of it.

  25. David Marjanović says

    Do Americans play cricket?

    Nobody beyond the lorst par of the British Empar plays cricket.

    Baseball has a similar distribution: US, Japan, I think the Philippines, and… uh…

  26. and..Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela. Also Taiwan and S. Korea (presumably due to the Japanese Empire)

  27. J.W. Brewer says

    Cricket is actively played in New York City, although these days almost exclusively by New Yorkers of either South Asian or West Indian origin or ancestry. But those are both fairly numerous groups given the city’s current demographics.

    Re the geographical spread of “fair play to X,” wiktionary has examples both Irish and Great-British, the latter of which include one with the qualification “as they say in Wales” but another from the Derby Evening Telegraph (not published in Wales ..), which seems to be a quote from the soccer player Liam Watson. Wikipedia tells me Watson was born in Liverpool and is back in that area working in a managerial capacity for Southport F.C. I reckon Liverpudlian dialect might be prone to Irishisms? https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/fair_play#Phrase

    Wiktionary also implies that the phrase “good on you” is a reasonably close synonym to “fair play to you.” Since neither is in my idiolect I can’t really assess the semantic overlap or explain the semantic/pragmatic difference, if any.

  28. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t think they’re anything like synonymous.

    “Fair play to you” is “I don’t altogether approve, but I understand where you’re coming from.”

    “Good on you” is “Well done, especially in the circumstances.”

    It occurs to me that my own verbal tic “to be fair to …” may be a Celticism (or it may just reflect a half-hearted attempt to be less Zoilist.)

  29. “South Asian or West Indian ”

    – “Indian” does not mean Indian,
    – Indian is not called “Indian”

    P.S. “fair play” in football context has been borrowed into Russian as is.
    They call so what Zlatan Ibrahimović does on the field (though I would call it differently).

  30. J.W. Brewer says

    Re the internationalization of baseball, this wiki article has a table giving countries of origin (>29% from outside the “U.S.,” defined narrowly to exclude Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands etc.) of the 1,057 guys who were on a major-league 26-man roster at some point during the 2022 season. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_active_Major_League_Baseball_players_by_country_of_birth

    A few notes:

    1. Japan is probably underweight on this list compared to its talent pool, because if you are Japanese and talented you can make a reasonably good living playing ball in Japan — so the Japanese players who end up in the U.S. tend to have already become established stars there, unlike the situation with e.g. the Dominican Republic and Venezuela where the U.S. clubs sign up and import hundreds of promising teenagers, paying them an initial pittance to play single-A ball and play the percentages that some of them will develop into being good enough for the majors.

    2. Curaçao does very well for itself on a population-adjusted basis. Aruba not quite as well, but still good on a per-capita metric.

    3. By chance, I saw the one Taiwanese guy who would have been in the 2022 dataset (張育成, who goes by Yu Chang in English) play last Thursday night for the AAA Worcester Red Sox (who lost to Norfolk 4-0).

  31. David Eddyshaw says

    The point of “South Asian” is to include Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, so avoiding “Indian” is both sensible and accurate. I agree it’s not a brilliant term, though.

  32. J.W. Brewer says

    David E. is no doubt accurately reporting the facts of his own idiolect but the meaning he ascribes to “fair play to X” does not make very much sense in many of the example sentences collected at wiktionary. Admittedly Van Morrison’s use of “Fair play to you,” which he rhymes with “Killarney’s lakes are so blue,” is sufficiently “poetic” as to be difficult to gloss reliably.

  33. @DE, I know, but Pakistan and Bangladesh are historical India (which, historically, was not ‘a state’).

    I neither object to it nor sympathise, merely note that we reversed it: now West Indians are “Indians” because they are not Indians (the term can be used without [political] confusion) and Indians are not, because they are (so the term can cause confusion).

    Drift of “India” out of the Indus valley is also noteworthy:)

  34. “Nor sympathise” because 1. why would I sympathise to reserving a geographical term for a political entity?
    2. I find “Pakistan” an unfortunate name – for people outside of it at least. India sounds like history and culture, Pakistan is [the list of associations with Pakistan, from nukes to radicals to politics]. Maybe it is better for English speakers: Pakistan was not a Soviet ally.

  35. PlasticPaddy says

    I can read all those quotations in de’s interpretation, although replacing his Calvinist disapproval with a shoulder-shrugging non-committal stance. I think the novelist is signalling impertinent, incautious or thrusting behaviour (this behaviour might be considered normal confident behaviour in a “Yank”😊). The sportsman is saying he hates the other side and wants them to lose, but they played well.

  36. J.W. Brewer says

    Ah, but Pakistan is the “land of the pure” and exists only because the activists who successfully advocated for its separate existence viewed India (at least implicitly, although I expect some of them were explicit …) as the land of the impure.

    Separately, the “Indian” in “West Indian” is not the adjective corresponding to “India” but the identical one corresponding to “Indies.” The replacement of “East Indies” with “Indonesia” in popular use has created a certain asymmetry. (“East Indies” as a geographical term may have historically had a somewhat larger scope than the current boundaries of the Indonesian state, but still seems to have largely fallen into desuetude.)

  37. David Eddyshaw says

    PP’s interpretation has my imprimatur; note that Calvinist mere lack of approval is not at all comparable to Calvinist disapproval, traditionally expressed by burning at the stake and stern lecturing.

  38. @JWB, yes, but it changes nothing. I don’t mean that there a modern term “India” referring to something else than India.
    Just the historical development.
    Historically two Indias seem to appear in antiquity, three of them in the Middle Ages.

  39. Years ago, when I was looking at Philadelphia newspapers from 1876 for some details on the Centennial Exposition/Exhibition, I came across reports of cricket matches between local clubs. But baseball had taken over by the end of that century.

    This fair play is of (northern) Irish origin.

  40. […] Calvinist disapproval, traditionally expressed by burning at the stake and stern lecturing.

    In any particular order? Remember to pillage before you burn.

  41. Pakistan and Bangladesh are historical India

    “South Asia” also includes Nepal and Sri Lanka, which are not.

  42. It’s impressive how many things are ultimately named after the Indus River, both in South Asia and all over the globe.

  43. Nepal on a population-adjusted basis has an impressively-sized diaspora in NYC (about 8K Nepal-born per 2017 stats, compared to 54K for Pak, 84K for Bangla and 94K for the current “India” — none of these numbers include US-born children of immigrants), but I don’t know how prevalent cricket-playing is among the Nepali immigrants (some of whom, I suspect, are ethnic Tibetans born in refugee camps in Nepal). Sri Lanka has a less impressive 5K, and Bhutan must be lumped into the 4K from “Asia, Other & Unspec.”

  44. This fair play is of (northern) Irish origin.

    This link no URL.

    The WP article “History of baseball outside the United States” is pretty comprehensive. I note that Canada is not even mentioned above, perhaps because at the professional level it is a mere extension of the U.S. (or to put things more politely, it is the continental game of North America).

    See also Henry Chadwick’s article for an example of someone who successfully transitioned from amateur cricketer to early baseball reporter and entrepreneur. He worked as a cricket reporter for The New York Times until 1856, when he was watching one of the first games of (fairly) modern baseball, played at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken. (Words cannot convey how comic this sounds, given the reputation of Hoboken both in the 20C and today; it’s up there with the idea of pirates from Penzance — smugglers yes, pirates no — a few decades later.)

    As a talented amateur statistician, Chadwick invented and popularized the box scores, a detailed listing for each inning (baseball has nine per game) of the number of hits, runs, etc. made by each team which aficionados peruse to this day. He attempted to no avail to debunk the Great Abner Doubleday Creationist Myth, but pretty much failed, though the fact of evolution from rounders-type games is well established by now. (In the somewhat less gender-bound environment of the Victorian Age, rounders was not yet confined to girls, and Chadwick had played it in his youth.)

  45. Oops, herewith the Missing Link.

  46. David Marjanović says

    Obsolete in German (still in my school atlas of 1993): Front India, Rear India. Apparently there was also Inselindien for the Malayan Archipelago; in French I’ve seen Insulinde in actual use a few times.

  47. David Marjanović says

    Ye huecauh, zan altepetontli nepan Tetzcoco atezcatl.

    What. Texcoco is actually Tetzcoco? How did that happen?

  48. @David Marjanović: It might be another difference between closely related speech varieties, in this case perhaps the local Nahuatl dialect versus the Mexica standard.

  49. See Monzón, Registro de la variación fonológica en el náhuatl moderno, p. 45 (and see map 2, p. 21):

    Los alófonos que se localizan en el área son los siguientes:
    [ć] Africada alveopalatal sorda.
    [ś] Fricativa alveopalatal sorda.
    La presencia de [ś] en lugar de [ć] ante consonante afecta a toda la zona. Las comunidades de Ac[atitla], Atlan[ca], Mi [San Andres Mixtla/Mistlan], Ma [Santa María Magdalena Temimilucan], y Te[quila] la poseen en alto grado, mientras que Ay[ahualulco], Pix[cuautla], So[quiapa], Tla [Santa María Magdalena de Tlaquilpan], y Za[camillola] son comunidades en las que más raramente se encuentra.

    ed.: Oops. That’s <ch>, not <tz>.

  50. I vaguely remember (translated: it would be too much trouble to look it up) that a decade or so ago, the leading riders in the Tour de France were sabotaged by somebody throwing tacks onto the road. Bradley Wiggins, an eminent English rider, persuaded most of the others to stop and give the leaders time to repair the damage. French newspapers had comments about “le gentleman Wiggins” and “le fairplay Brittanique”.

    A few Continentals. I think maybe Spaniards, went on regardless, won that stage, but were not well esteemed. Not sure what, if anything, that proves.

  51. I assumed that “Indies” refers to two/three Indias (as in DM’s link), that is sailors sailed to “[both] Indias”, so the place was eventually called “Indies”.
    But maybe I’m wrong.

    Also it is unclear to me, what English “India” meant to various Muslims.

    It is not difficult to attach it to (1) British colonialim (2) older Muslim colonialism (3) the idea of a unified state (4) Hinduism. So what about 2 and 4? If they associated India with Hind, Hindustan, did they see Muslim Hindustani or Hindu as the referents?

  52. Juan Bautista Pomar, who was from Texcoco and perfectly bilingual, states in his Relación de Texcoco (page 4, paragraph 13) that the meaning of the name of his city is unknown.

    The Spanish Wikipedia page for Texcoco offers this:

    Con base en la etimología náhuatl y en los códices, así como en las reglas fonéticas, Texcoco tiene las siguientes raíces: tē- (gente), tsikoa (retener), -ko (locativo), por lo que su traducción sería “lugar donde se retiene gente”.

    (Links to dictionary entries for tē-, tzicoa, and -co.) A form of this etymology appears Manuel Orozco y Berra, Historia antigua y de la conquista de México, note 9, p. 495 here, but I have not bothered to trace it further. In particular, I wonder about the syncope of i in the tzico-… Considering the composition of the glyph for Texcoco, Orozco y Berra also suggests some complicated scenario from which we might conclude that the texco- of the modern name might folk-etymological, ultimately from texcalli? I haven’t been able to trace this word texcotlijarilla’ he mentions into old sources. This does not seem like a promising line of inquiry to me but maybe others with more time would like to follow it up.

  53. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/sep/05/bharat-g20-invitation-fuels-rumours-india-may-change-name

    If the Republic of India becomes Bhsrat, then maybe South Asia can become India. Or just call it “the subcontinent”, since nobody ever talks about any other subcontinent.

  54. Europe is really the only other subcontinent.

    (Yeah, yeah. The Antarctic Peninsula doesn’t count.)

  55. Well, presently the consitution of India is in English, and in English it is
    (1) India, that is Bharat…
    In Hindi translation (I’m not sure what is its status)
    (1) भारत, अर्थात् इंडिया, bhārat, arthāt iṇḍiyā “Bharat viz. India” – the latter is obviously English borrowing/transcription.

  56. Ah, but Pakistan is the “land of the pure” and exists only because the activists who successfully advocated for its separate existence viewed India (at least implicitly, although I expect some of them were explicit …) as the land of the impure.

    It’s messy:) Philosophy of “only because” aside, Jinnah while adopting Pakistan for Muslims and Hindustan for Hindus, claimed that Pakistan was promoted by Hindus (You know perfectly well that ‘Pakistan’ is a word, which was really foisted upon us and fathered on us by some sections of the Hindu Press and also by the British Press).

    The guy (and apparently a visionary) who coined it did not live in India and
    – did not include in Pakistan other Indian Muslim communities
    – only spoke about “spiritually pure and clean” later (already when Jinnah adopted the term) when

    – he sought “the re-integration of their national entity with their brethren in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tukharistan, and the strengthening of their fraternal bonds with the other nations of the Crescent in Dinia, in Asia, and in the rest of the world“, now including these in the acronym (while still excluding other Indian Muslims).
    – saw inclusion of Bangladesh as a dangerous move.

    – also coined a number of other terms, including
    Pastan (Pakistan-without-Kashmir)
    Bang-i-islam[stan] (Bengal and Assam)
    Dinia (the continent. Saying that din “religion” refers here to its numerous religions as opposed to “India” of Hindoo religon)

    Pakistan…..internationally, as the sponsor of the national integration and independence, each in its own fatherland, of all the peoples in the Continent, including the nations of the Millat in Bangistan, Osmanistan, Siddiqistan, Faruqistan, Haidaristan, Muinistan, Maplistan, Safiistan, and Nasaristan; and ideologically, as the crusader for the conversion of “the Country of India” into “the Continent of Dinia,” for the organization of the Continent of Dinia and its Dependencies into the Cultural Orbit of Pakasia; and, above all, for the re-dedication of one hundred million Muslims to the achievement of the sovereign freedom of the Millat and the supreme fulfilment of her divine mission throughout the Orbit of Pakasia.

  57. He is funny. E.g. after discussing geology:

    It may be asked what fundamental instruction this holds for the Paks in their national struggle.

    The answer is that it establishes the all-important fact that, even a hundred million years ago when there was neither mammal nor man, Pakistan, in its geology, occupied essentially the same position vis-à-vis “ India ” and Asia as it has done since the formation of its geography about a quarter of a million years ago.

  58. Oh, the guy offered an etymology too! But the level… it’s kindergarten of nationalism.

    To explain: In the long eras preceding the advent of the Holy Rasool, the first sovereign-saint of Pakistan, Hazart Al-Sindh, eponymized its nucleus as Al-Sindh; next, in the age of heathen mythology, its Hindoo hegemonists cunningly sanskritized this eponym as the Sindhu Valley; then, in the epoch of Alexander, its Macedonian invaders hellenically called it the Indus Valley; and after that, in the era of Islam’s rise to power, its Muslim liberators historically distinguished it as Al-Sindh. Now, in the present period of British domination, of Indian congiomeration, and of Muslim re-integration, whereas its British captors imperially describe it as North-West India and its Caste Hindoo covetors satellitically design it as the hinterland of Hindoostan, its own proud, patriotic people nationally designate and fraternally dedicate it as Pakistan.

    Note: hellenically is not the same as satellitically!

  59. David Marjanović says



    also coined a number of other terms […]

    0.6 Tc, and I do not say this lightly.

  60. Re the rhetorical device: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merism (I learned about these from Calvert Watkin’s How to Kill a Dragon.)

  61. Obsolete in German (still in my school atlas of 1993):

    Not in my school atlas (Diercke, 1967), which surprises me. “Südostasien” always seemed natural to me, but “Südasien” for what I always knew as the “indischer Subkontinent” sounds strange.

  62. “Südostasien” always seemed natural to me, but “Südasien” for what I always knew as the “indischer Subkontinent” sounds strange.
    Same here.
    OTOH, my first knowledge of Geography came from reading the school geography textbooks my parents had kept, from the 50s, so Vorder- und Hinterindien were familiar terms to me.

  63. I managed to convince myself to imagine this part of the globe when I hear “South Asia” (in English). And maybe now I have some associations with the phrase.
    When I say India I mean the country and I don’t have a native (for me) term for the region.

    But I usually hear Indian in the context of something like “she/he looks like an Indian” (and assume she/he can be fro Pakistan unless she/he is dressed “like an Indian”). When I need India and surrounding countries I say “India and countries around her”.

    Russian has индиец and индус – the latter is apparently an English borrowing (Hindoos) from colonial literature. It is shorter, people all the time tell to people “it means an adherent of Hinduism, not an Indian!”, and people keep using it in the sense of “an Indian”.

    SE Asia merge with Indochina more easily (But then Philippines and Co are excluded… ).

  64. David Marjanović says

    Actually, I’m not sure if that was my atlas or my mother’s (60s). But mine definitely contained a physical map of Africa with Oberguinea (south coast of West Africa, not sure if including the countries of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau) and Niederguinea (west coast of Rest Africa), terms that I’ve never seen in actual use, unlike Vorder- & Hinterindien.

  65. David Eddyshaw says

    I’ve never encountered “Guinea” for anywhere outside West Africa. In older usage it’s basically “Southern West Africa”, as opposed to (Western) Sudan.

    I’d go so far as to say that using “Guinea” for the coast of the Congos and Namibia is just an outright error.


  66. David Marjanović says

    It’s an extension of “Guinea” to both coasts of the “Gulf of Guinea”…

    …quite possibly by outright error. The article does know the terms, but:

    Guinea is often subdivided into “Lower Guinea” and “Upper Guinea”. Lower Guinea is one of the most densely populated regions of Africa, covering southern Nigeria, Benin, Togo and stretching into Ghana. It includes the coastal regions as well as the interior. Upper Guinea is far less densely populated and stretches from Côte d’Ivoire to Senegal.

    But the German article calls this “the German-language definition of the terms”, has Oberguinea stretching from Cape Verde to Mt. Cameroon and Niederguinea from Mt. Cameroon to the Oranje river, and warns this is not international.

  67. Some discussion of Indias

  68. David Eddyshaw says



    I wonder if there is some particular reason why German, specifically, ended up with this usage.

    I suppose that from a colonialist viewpoint this Superguinea does constitute a sort of natural zone (source of slaves etc.)

  69. In French Haute-Guinée is the region of the Republic of Guinea that is in the Volta Niger drainage basin, and Basse-Guinée is the region facing the Atlantic. I guess Moyenne-Guinée is the region drained by the Senegal.

  70. And today by coincidence we have tabloid coverage of an alleged push by Hindutva types to refer to “India” as “Bharat” in English-language contexts. You indulge the anti-Anglophonic ego trips of seemingly unimportant places like the Ivory Coast, you set bad precedents. (I should note that I don’t particularly care if India’s national cricket team’s uniforms say “Bharat” on them because there’s no particular reason they need to be in English.)


  71. Trond Engen says

    I got a link to an article in some online science magazine this morning that mentioned Türkiye. First time I see that in English.

  72. As I’ve said before, everybody wants to get their name(s) correctly spelled into the international language, and nemmind how we native anglophones mangle the pronunciation. I have several times in the last few weeks given the first name of my former supervisor, Bhaswan, to an obvious North Indian speaker over the phone; in every case they have asked me to spell it, although I have no trouble with the voiced aspirated (really murmured) consonant.

  73. Then please, call Russians Russkis.

  74. And Chinese zhongguoren. Not gonna happen.

  75. Türkiye. First time I see that in English.

    Interesting. I encountered that usage recently in English language Ukrainian media (Kyiv Independent and Ukrinform). I put it down to the authors’ native language being Ukrainian or Russian.

  76. Guinea is derived via Spanish from Andalusi Arabic ginēwa, an Arabisation of Berber ignawen “black people” (whose original meaning was something like “deaf-mutes” IIRC.) The German usage thus seems etymologically defensible.

  77. Berber ignawen “black people” (whose original meaning was something like “deaf-mutes” IIRC.) The German usage thus seems etymologically defensible.

    The немецкий usage, if you will. The mutes following the babblers in naming the deaf-mutes.

  78. David Marjanović says

    Erdoğan determined a few months ago that having his country called the name of poultry was ridiculous and proclaimed it should henceforth be called Türkiye in English, too.

    I’ve even heard a few utterly failed attempts to pronounce that.

  79. Quite a few months ago: Wiktionary mentions 2021.

    Its reference says it is a change of “internationally recognised name”. I suppose they believe that the internationally recognised name of China is “China”, and Russia is “Russia” and not Ռուսաստան, Venemaa, Krievija, Rwsia or Rusya to that matter.
    A document in the text mentions names in several languages, so I suppose the actual target is those Latin-based orthographies who won’t object due to morphological or other reasons. Like maybe Lojban.

    It also says something horrible: the Netherlands dropped “Holland”:-/

    By the way, in Russian Голландия “Holland” is the usual name while Нидерланды is used in formal contexts – and as with other “formal” names, the are always peevers who preach that the former is incorrect.

  80. “(whose original meaning was something like “deaf-mutes” IIRC.)”

    I did not know. Perhaps my sourses assumed that it is black/Gnawa→mute rather than the other way round… And how one can tells one direction form the other?

  81. The U.S. Department of State’s list of independent states says:

    The official conventional long-form and short-form names remain “Republic of Turkey” and “Turkey”, respectively. “Republic of Türkiye” should be used in formal and diplomatic contexts. The conventional names may be used in place of or alongside “Türkiye” in appropriate instances, including U.S. government cartographic products, as it is more widely understood by the American public.

    It looks to me like the word “official” doesn’t belong there.

    I munged the table of names into a list of the prefixes on the long names that are followed by “of” and the short name or something close to it: Republic (88), Kingdom (15), State (5), Islamic Republic (4), Principality (3), Federal Republic (3), Democratic Republic (3), Commonwealth (3), Union (2), People’s Republic (2), Independent State (2), United Republic (1), United Kingdom (1), Sultanate (1), Socialist Republic (1), Plurinational State (1), People’s Democratic Republic (1), Oriental Republic (1), Hashemite Kingdom (1), Grand Duchy (1), Federative Republic (1), Federation (1), Federated States (1), Federal Democratic Republic (1), Democratic Socialist Republic (1), Democratic People’s Republic (1), Co-operative Republic (1), Bolivarian Republic (1), Arab Republic (1). In addition, there are 47 long names not of this form, of which 15 end in “Republic”, 1 in “Federation”, 1 in “Confederation”, and the special cases “United Mexican States” and “United States of America”. Most of the others, like Ireland, have the same long and short names.

  82. >Erdoğan determined a few months ago that having his country called the name of poultry

    Fortunately, Guinea fowl are too obscure to matter to the various Guineas Bissau, Equatorial and otherwise.

    >I’ve never encountered “Guinea” for anywhere outside West Africa. In older usage it’s basically “Southern West Africa”, as opposed to (Western) Sudan.

    >I’d go so far as to say that using “Guinea” for the coast of the Congos and Namibia is just an outright error.

    Does Equatorial Guinea pose a bit of challenge to these notions? It’s not quite the Congos and it’s well north of Namibia, but it’s certainly not West Africa, and it’s on what David called the West coast of the rest of Africa.

  83. David Eddyshaw says

    Equatorial Guinea is in West Africa (just.)

  84. “Fortunately, Guinea fowl …”

    As it was mentioned in the article about the renaming, I for a moment hanged, perplexed by its appearance here. Until I realised that it is Guinea fowl.

    I did not even recognise it. I once discussed names of Guinea fowl in various languages (and I think even asked about names in Arabic dialects but forgot the answer and lost the file where it was saved) but I meet цесарка and Guinea fowl in so differnet context (the former – in person…) so I just don’t associate them.

  85. David Eddyshaw says

    Unlike the case with turkeys, guineafowl are actually from Guinea (in the geographical sense.) They also taste better.

    [Proto-Oti-Volta *k͡͡pàan-gʊ, for your file.]

    Guinea pigs, now …

  86. Aha, Aguadé about Gnawa: https://rodin.uca.es/handle/10498/7409

    (Maybe there were other articles since 1999, but I’m reading this one now)

  87. guineafowl are actually from Guinea

    As canaries are from The Canaries. Can’t comment on the taste (rather stringy I imagine).

    The Canaries are from the dogs, allegedly. Another thread is dogging our footsteps.

  88. Guinea fowl is caesar-ka in Russian and faraona in Italian.

    Also Frankish (φραγκόκοτα) in Greek, Indian when not Guinea in Gaelics – and rather funny names in other languages, including Arabic ḡirḡir sgt. ḡirḡira.

  89. Wiktionary does not have Ancient Greek μελεαγρίς:/
    It has γαράμας which it derives from Garamantes “because they exported the guinea fowl to the Greeks”.

  90. JC: Excellent list for trivia. “What country is the only Plurinational State?” Also, only one official Socialist Republic. Seems like the world was full of them decades ago.

  91. David Marjanović says

    Also, only one official Socialist Republic. Seems like the world had tons pf them decades ago.

    Weren’t they all People’s Republics or at least Socialist People’s Republics?

    I’m more intrigued that there’s a Democratic People’s Republic and a People’s Democratic Republic. The former is obviously that of Korea, the second I have no clue – and it couldn’t be rendered in German, where Volks- is a prefix, not an adjective.

  92. Laos. And the Oriental one is Uruguay.

  93. PlasticPaddy says
  94. David Marjanović says

    Oh. That’s hilarious, etymologically. “Demodemocratic”!

  95. the Oriental one is Uruguay.

    Which I approve.

    (now after learning who’s Said I maybe must make it properly oriental by adding that the only person from there who I know is an Old Believer woman who was researching her Russian roots. Old Believers came to there from Hong Kong I think… )

  96. Trond Engen says

    “The Republic East(erly) of the Uruguay,” or so I have assumed.

  97. While Laos is a People’s Democratic Republic, it’s not the (1) in John’s list, because it’s the Lao People’s Democratic Republic rather than the People’s Democratic Republic of something. That turns out to be the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria. There have been others, historically – the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen from 1967 up until reunification with the Yemen Arab Republic in 1990, and the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia from 1987 to 1991.

  98. J.W. Brewer says

    Can’t we stack some of these rarer adjectives up? “The junta announced their intention to sponsor forthcoming elections and also that they were changing the country’s official name to ‘The Hashemite Bolivarian Co-operative Plurinational Commonwealth of X.'”

  99. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    When I visited Cholula, near Puebla, Mexico, the explanatory signs were in Spanish, English and Nahuatl. There was a young Japanese couple there who asked me if the Nahuatl was French. To them, I suppose, was Nahuatl just as exotic as French.

  100. Guinea pigs might have been supposed to be “Guyana” pigs, but there are other equally plausible explanations.

  101. “The Republic East(erly) of the Uruguay,” or so I have assumed.

    Quite right. Wikipedia:

    In Spanish colonial times, and for some time thereafter, Uruguay and some neighboring territories were called Banda Oriental [del Uruguay] (“Eastern Bank [of the Uruguay River]”), then for a few years the “Eastern Province”. Since its independence, the country has been known as “República Oriental del Uruguay”, which literally translates to “Republic East of the Uruguay [River]”. However, it is officially translated either as the “Oriental Republic of Uruguay” or the “Eastern Republic of Uruguay”.

  102. J.W. Brewer says

    To Brett’s point, it is only since the 1950’s that “Guiana” ceased to be the overwhelmingly dominant spelling in English, no doubt in large part because the former British Guiana favored the y-spelling upon achieving independence. “Guiana” is even easier to muddle up with “Guinea” than “Guyana” is, I should think, especially to those who see the toponyms in print more frequently than hearing them said aloud.

    We still standardly use “French Guiana” in English to refer to what the internet tells me is “Guyane” in French (and “Lagwiyann” in the local creole).

  103. It looks to me like it translates literally to Eastern Republic of the Uruguay. Is there some connotation my Spanish isn’t catching? I’d think Republic East of the Uruguay would be Republica al Oriente del.

  104. “Aha, Aguadé about Gnawa:”

    And Meouak! Bukm et ğināwa, peuples « muets » de l’Afrique subsaharienne médiévale. Remarques linguistiques et historiques jstor, sci-hub.

  105. Well, Aguadé (link) quotes a note by Colin, but does not add much about the word in Berber, but there is a list of Hausa words found in Gnawa songs (Gnawa. See also “Gnawa music”).

    The note of Colin is about BRBR, BLBL and Ajam. It is called

    Appellations données par les Arabes aux peuples hétéroglosses.

    Most of facts mentioned by him are known to people here (except maybe: “On a vu que, étymologiquement, le mot ɛaǧam n’impliquait rien de péjoratif au point de vue culturel. Néanmoins, dans les dialectes modernes, les représentants de l’adjectif de relation, ɛaǧamî, ont pris des valeurs significatives : « inexpérimenté, novice, encore maladroit » (en arabe de Syrie et en turk), « jeune bœuf non encore dressé à labourer » (parlers maghribins).”

    I’ll quote the part about mutes:

    A côté de cette appellation de ɛaǧam, on en rencontre quel-

    [ques autres, d’application restreinte mais toujours à critère linguistique. Dans l’Espagne umayyade, les Saqâliba, esclaves de diverses origines européennes (Slaves, Germains, etc.) étaient aussi appelés al-Ḫurs « les muets », parce que leurs langages étaient incompré-]


    Pour le Soudan occidental, le géographe Al-Bakrî cite un peuple de nègres païens nommés (sans doute par les commerçants arabes) al-Bukm « les muets ».

    Sur un tout autre domaine, on sait que les Slaves qualifient de « muets » (nemče) les peuples de langue germanique. Du slave, le terme est passé en turk osmanli (nemče, nemse) pour désigner spécialement les Autrichiens ; puis, avec la même valeur, dans les parlers arabes d’Orient (Syrie : nâmsa; Egypte nimsa).

    En Algérie et au Maroc, on emploie le plur. Gnâwa (sg. Gnâwi) pour désigner des nègres récemment venus du Soudan, encore peu islamisés et ne parlant qu’un peu d’arabe barbare. Or, le berbère du Sous a âgnâu, pl. îgnâwen, 1° « muets », 2° « gens du Sud dont on ne comprend pas la langue ». Ces Soudanais ont donc été, pour les Berbères puis pour les Arabes, non pas des Noirs mais des Muets. Plus précisément même, comme le mot berbère dérive d’une racine GNW « coudre », on pourrait dire des « bouches cousues ».

    Supposedly Meouak has more…

  106. See also “Gnawa music”‘ – Oh.

    Wiktionary says Guinea < Jenné.

    WP Gnawa recently:

    "The name Gnawa probably originated in the indigenous language of North Africa and the Sahara Desert. The phonology of this term according to the grammatical principles of Berber is agnaw (singular) and ignawen (plural), which means mute or dyslalic. Another explanation of the word Gnawa or Gnaoua (plural of Gnawi) is that the term Gnawa comes from the slaves who were brought to Morocco from Guinea many centuries ago.”

    Aguadé (because gh is not g) criticises the folllowing (from Encyclopédie berbère)

    concernant le problème de l’origine de la confrérie on a souvent tendance à traduire le terme de Gnāwī par celui de Guinéen, mais il semble plus juste de faire référence à celui de Ghana, tant sur le plan linguistique que sur celui de l’histoire

    So Guinea, Jenné, Ghana (the city of?). Now what WP Gnawa music says? It says Kano!!!

    (actually Kano did occur to me when I saw كناوة in Arabic WP:))

    I think i must expect Genovese now?

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