I’m off to California for a week to deal with family matters. Talk amongst yourselves; I hope someone solves the egreto problem, and if you see a spammer lurking about, terminate with extreme prejudice. (I may or may not drop by, depending on internet access, but I’ll definitely be here as of Sunday the 12th.)


  1. When you come back, why not tell us about the word-history of Moslem, Muslim, Mohammedan, Mohametan, Mussulman etc? No pictures, mind.

  2. Bonne chance et bon voyage, mon ami.
    Good idea of dearieme’s…

  3. Dang, what will I read every day…? Have a good trip LH.

  4. Why, dearieme, is there something unusual in that history? Why don’t you tell us yourself?
    Even non-linguist me can see the connection between so called prophet Mohammed and the name attached to his followers as mohametans; you don’t think so?

  5. Termination with extreme prejudice is supposed to refer only to the assasination of one’s own employee. Generally just an espionage term, although it’s certainly possible for any particularly unethical employer to apply it.
    It’s meant to be a bit of a pun, the “termination” referring both to the end of the employee’s career and the end of their life. In espionage and military circles, though, it is never used to describe killing a foreign agent.
    This term was popularized in Apocalypse Now. It describes Capt. Willard’s (Martin Sheen)’s mission. He’s sent into the jungles of Vietnam to terminate Col. Kurtz.

  6. Tatyana, all I mean is why and when did one of these forms replace another in English? Was there similar replacement in, say, French? I just wonder, that’s all. Idle curiosity.

  7. I look forward to you coming back…things to read when I’m supposed to be working 🙂

  8. Glad you brought a heat wave to the becalmed Pacific.

  9. Come back alreadyyyyy!

  10. Yes, LH. Tat says it all: come back. On the subject of moslem, etc., I have little to contribute except this. It seems that a common Semitic root slm yields moslem, islam, and salaam (“peace”). There. I’ve said it. Make what politics you will of it. See here:
    (Meanwhile, I’m flying to China on Friday. Lucky me?)

  11. John Emerson says

    Muslim, Moslem, and Islam are from Arabic; Mohammedan etc. are western coinages offensive to Muslims, since Muhammed is not God / Allah.
    “Allah” just means “God”. It’s cognate with Hebrew “Elohim”. The first Christians in China were Syrians who called God “Ilahu”; Syriac is another Semitic language.
    Just as a bonus, the “men” in “Turkmen” is not the English word, but a Turkish word forming collective nouns (IIRC).
    As a bonus, the Anglo-Saxon and Mongol words for “man” are similiar: “gumun” and “qymyn”, IIRC.

  12. Right, Mohammedan implies that Muslims venerate Mohammed as a divine figure in the same way that Christians venerate Christ. Pace Dante, this is not true. This was however the common usage in most of Europe until fairly recently (Italian – maomettano, French – mahométan, Spanish – mahometano, German – Mohammedaner, Russian – magometyan). Apparently though in Farsi the word “mohammadi” is fairly current and no-one makes a fuss about it. My impression is that in American English “Mohammedan” is pretty much obsolete even among virulent haters of Islam (although one can now find “Muhammadist”, clearly meant as disparagement). In France it seems to be current as a term of disparagement. In Italian it seems to still be fairly current if on the decline, not even marked as “disparaging” or anything similar in the dictionary. I assume this is due to the much smaller number of Muslim immigrants in Italy vs UK, France, Germany.

  13. Vanya, take out “y” from your Russian transcription.

  14. Tatyana,
    I would if I could. I don’t think you can edit posts. But for the record it should be “magometan”. I seem to have confused it with an Armenian last name.

  15. “Mohammedan implies that Muslims venerate Mohammed as a divine figure in the same way that Christians venerate Christ.” Says who?

  16. John Emerson says

    Muslims say so. They do not want to be called Mohammedans for that reason. A certain proportion of Lutherans (the Evangelicals) do not want to be called Lutherans. Mennonites and Amish sometimes prefer to be called “Brethren”, IIRC. Quakers prefer to be called “Friends”. Mormons prefer to be called the Church of Latter Day Saints. And so on.
    I don’t know how prevelant it is, but one Muslim word for Christians is “Nazarenes”. In the US the Nazarenes are a small fundamentalist sect; the most esteemed bloggere Adam Kotsko comes from a Nazarene background.

  17. Just wanted to say I miss you. 😉

  18. “Muslims say so”: I don’t see why I should let them claim to have special insight into what I mean by a word when I say it. If I say that all I mean is a follower of the eponymous prophet, then they have no evidence on which to argue otherwise. That would be bad manners by them.
    “….do not want to be called Mohammedans for that reason”: however specious their reasoning, I see no point in calling them by a label to which they are determined to take offence. That would be bad manners by me.

  19. John Emerson says

    Dearieme, the meaning of a word is not dependent on an individual’s intentions or feelings when you use it. In the cases I mentioned, the denotation is clear but there are objections to connotations. While it’s harder to make ironclad arguments about connotations than connotations, it’s not completely subjective or individual.
    I forgot to mention “Papists”, which is a rigid designator for Roman Catholics, but an insulting one. Muslims feel that “Mohammedans” is a similiar case.

  20. Mr. Amerigo-Emerson, do you speak for muslims now too? You’re an expert on islamic religious psychopathology, as well as on Mao’s “classic” poetry and Minnesota German-Scandinavian demographics? What a pity such an universal genius is undervalued in this inhuman capitalistic society!

  21. If you are a native English speaker today you would only use “Mohammedan” either to sound insulting or to sound deliberately archaic. The word sounds ridiculously old fashioned to most people. Do you also refer to denizens of the Middle East as “Moors” or “Saracens”? Do you refer to African-Americans as “Negroes” or “Coloreds”? These words have dropped so far out of common usage that it is a deliberate provocation to use them today even if they were not originally insulting terms. Certainly people will question your motivation.

  22. Nothing to do with the Muslims-Mohammedans controversy, but here´s the Ape-English Dictionary according to Edgar Rice Burroughs works: http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~stephan/Tarzan/tarzan.dict.html I thought it might amuse you.

  23. David Costa says

    As long as we’re collecting ridiculously archaic names for religious groups, let’s not forget ‘Musselman’ and ‘Blackamoor’.
    I would point out that these terms are insulting, but I wouldn’t want to be accused of “speaking for muslims” or black people, or being an “expert on islamic religious psychopathology”. Perish the thought.
    Oh yes, and ‘Hindoo’ spelled with two o’s. Has a real Victorian feel to it.

  24. Is musulman from Arabic Muslimin (plural)? I think this word is current in French.

  25. David Costa says

    Oh yes, let’s not forget ‘Celestial’, which was a noun used for Chinese people found in American literature and newspapers in the 19th century and the early 20th century. Reputedly comes from the claim of Chinese people to be from ‘the Celestial Kingdom’. I’ve even seen it used in the plural.

  26. Celestial sounds quite attractive, I think, far from being offensive.
    Mусульманин(ка), “Musul’manin”,
    Mусульмане” musul’mane”(pl) is current use in Russian. Never met a Tatar finding this word offensive.
    David C, you find Mr.Emerson’s claim to universal expertise worth your envy?

  27. On the current HBO TV series Deadwood, the Chinese characters are always referred to as “Celestials”, presumably to give the show an appropriately 19th century air. That term will probably start making a come back among the hipper segments of the population.
    Another oddity is how and when “Chinaman” came to be seen as derogatory. My father-in-law (white male born 1920) still uses that term as his normal word for a Chinese person and apparently sees nothing wrong with it. Searching on Google I see that as recently as the 1970s Americans were apparently using “Chinaman” as a normal term, for example in diet and nutrition books. Today younger Asian-Americans appear to regard the word as an unforgivable slur.

  28. John Emerson says

    My friend Tatyana is herself an expert on a certain number of things, one of which is unfortunately me.
    The things she referenced, with proper discounting and reinterpretation (as demanded by Tatyana’s tendency to write more colorfully than necessary), are all things I know something about and have written about here. I guess it bothers her that these are non-contiguous topics.
    What I said about “Mohammedan” is a truism. But it doesn’t surprise me that the once-feared Tatars are unwilling to argue with Tatyana about it face-to-face.

  29. David Costa says

    David C, you find Mr.Emerson’s claim to universal expertise worth your envy?
    No, but I find your accusations of him claiming to have ‘universal expertise’ to be ungrounded and gratuitously venomous. I hope you can comprehend the difference.
    Besides, as far as I can tell, everything he said in that message was correct. Sorry if it displeased you.

  30. Right, poor defenseless Mr. Emerson, Tatars are terribly afraid of me, shaking in their small republic (probably size of 2 Minnesotas) far away.
    I don’t claim to be an expert on Mr.Emerson, just can’t help noticing him again lately. He started -gradually, gradually, one toe at a time – to step out of the shadows wherever I go; he apparently forgot the last whipping: big on linguistic (etc, etc) paraphernalia, short on street reflexes.
    Thank you for your high opinion of my venom, David C, I needed the compliment. I’d appreciate if you drop the “school principal” tone though. Fi.
    Why are you sorry if Mr.Emerson’s comment displeased me? It was not YOUR comment, was it?As we see, he’s very much capable of speaking for himself; although he confirmed my “accusations”, however unwillingly. (John, please restrain yourself and don’t call me your friend – I declined the dubious honor long time ago)
    Besides, he can always berate me in classic Chinese and I’ll be speechless!Oooh, bore, I hoped for much more colorful lexics here!
    Have a fun weekend; I certainly will.

  31. David Costa says

    Well, your response confirmed my first impresions, though you seem quite proud of this attitude of yours, so I’ll let it drop. A piece of advice, though: you’re not in the best position to be telling others what ‘tone’ they should take.
    Besides, the point is his comments were true. The individual doesn’t decide whether a certain epithet for other people is offensive or not. What if I decided I hated blacks and started throwing around the n-word, claiming it wasn’t really offensive, that black people just were hypersensitive? Would that be correct? I think it’d be delusional. Every time I’ve seen someone make that claim, it’s made by someone who dislikes the group in question and wants to reserve the right to use the offensive term.

  32. A piece of advice, David: if you’re not being asked for advice, don’t volunteer.
    Funny, how
    What if we apply your argument (The individual doesn’t decide whether a certain epithet for other people is offensive or not) to the question of ‘tone’?
    It follows I can veto the tone you use addressing me if I find it offensive, isn’t it?
    I hope you did it on purpose, for our entertainment.
    Can I also respectfully ask you to return to my original comment and show me where did I say anything about inventing names for groups of people, racial, religious or otherwise? Have no idea how you arrive to the conclusion I was arguing with that point; all I said it surprised me that esteemed Mr.Emerson assumed the role of muslims’ PR officer.
    But then I saw that it shouldn’t. He assumes this role on any concievable subject in the world.
    Once again, happy weekend to you, lighhearted and full of innocent fun.

  33. David Costa says

    Whatever you say, Tatyana. Have fun.

  34. “the meaning of a word is not dependent on an individual’s intentions or feelings when you use it.” Then why does it necessarily depend on the listener’s feelings, or alleged feelings, when he hears it? Who is in the better position to know what was intended? And the comparison with “Papist” is a bit odd, since no-one – I presume – doubts that it means a follower of the Pope, not a worshipper of the Pope. Ho hum. Anyway, most of this is a long way from my question which boils down to when and where did these changes in usage occur? By whom were they prescribed?

  35. John Emerson says

    Dearieme, some words end up having an insulting connotation. It’s not because of the feelings or intentions of any one individual or any well-defined group. In some cases a group will object to a gien name, even if it is not deliberately intended to be, because it is an inaccurate description.
    During the early history of the term “Mohammedan”, the word tended to be used insultingly, just as the word “Chinamen” was. That may be another part of the reason.
    It’s not clear to me that people who use the word “Papist” are not accusing Catholics of worshipping th Pope. Hard-core anti-Catholic Protestants pull out all the stops.

  36. What strange linguistic tic! Tatyana seems to drop article when she rages!

  37. Derek, I drop them all the time. I leave a trail of dropped articles, like breadcrumbs of fairy tale: wherever you find the them scattered it’s sure sign I was there.
    Not my personal tic, though: there are no articles in Russian; every native Russian speaker has this tendency in English.
    Tell me this, Derek, as I’m not that familiar with your customs: is it considered polite to speak in third person about this person and in the presence of this person? So many confusing things in English, on top of articles.
    Rages? I didn’t rage; just had some fun with our Rennaissance man here. When I do, they can smell the pouring lava in China.

  38. It’s true what they say, then.
    When the Hat’s away . . .

  39. Ian Myles Slater says

    “Muslim,” of course, is the currently “correct” substitute for “Moslem,” which in the course of the twentieth century replaced “Mohammedan” in educated discourse. In this case, I have been assured that the new spelling more accurately reflects the Arabic. (I have never noticed that anyone who needed the prompt gave any attention to it.) it is interesting to go down a library shelf and watch the journal “Mohammedan World” become “Moslem World” and then “Muslim World.”
    The assumption that “Mohammedan” will be taken as equivalent to “Christian” and “Buddhist,” or for that matter “Vaishnava” and “Saiva,” denoting a god or supernatural being, is perfectly reasonable, but the conviction that it originated that way is making a big assumption.
    As I recall, Mohammedan (and variant spellings, including Mahometan) is usually described as originally something of a loan-translation of “ahl-Muhammadiya,” “The People/Community” of Mohammed,” originally a comprehensive description for followers of the religion. It has fallen out of favor in Arabic after from used for some time mainly for a sectarian (“heretical”) movement, so many of those who object may never have noticed the connection. Or found it particularly offensive.
    (“The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions,” against which I checked this, added the new — to me — information that the name was also adopted by a modernist-orthodox movement in Indonesia, so it seems to have retained its inoffensiveness in some contexts.)
    It was, in any case, at one time a fairly neutral substitute for older (medieval and early modern) terms, like Saracen, Paynim, Infidel, Turk, or Moor.
    Mussulman is a loan-word into English from Turkish, possibly through German or French, or both, and is considered an adaptation of “Muslim.” It is so archaic that I suspect it would just be confusing to most readers. That it tends to be analyzed as “Mussul+man” is indicated by the occasional appearance “Mussulmen” as the plural; a good enough reason to drop it, in my opinion. Not to mention confusion with “muscle-man” in speaking and reading aloud!
    I strongly suspect that the “pejorative” meaning attributed to most of these has more to do with displeasure with some of the writings in which they have appeared than with anything inherent in them. Those who WISH to speak with disdain sometimes catch on that a particular term is considered offensive, and insist on using it, reinforcing the initial impression.
    Eventually, the same fate of being seen as insufficiently neutral (or not laudatory) should befall “Muslim.” I have no suggestions as to a substitute for it.

  40. Tatyana,
    Thanks for the Russian lesson. Should serve me well here in Russia.
    Polite? You seem to have the handle on that one, so I’ll let you decide. I thought I was just “having some fun”, etc, etc.
    I believe you about your fragrant lava!

  41. How my explanation about dropping of English articles can serve you in Russia, Derek? Assuming you speak Russian, as 90% people around you. Also assuming you never confuse Russian male/female cases as most native English speakers do, or whatever the word – it is a long time since my HS, forgive me. Grammar terms as well as astronomy and organic chemistry are irrelevant to my life.
    As to politeness – we have vast differences, it seems. I am never impolite to strangers, I give them benefit of a doubt; pompous asses with sham knowledge whom I had a chance to encounter before, on the other hand, don’t deserve that priviledge. Personal quirks, you know.
    Hattie, is there way for commenters to “terminate with Xtr.prejudice”? There is indeed a spammer in the above comments; what should we do?

  42. Tatyana, I find your touchiness actually quite endearing!
    Although I’m beginning to get a whiff of sulfur… 😉

  43. I strongly suspect that the “pejorative” meaning attributed to most of these has more to do with displeasure with some of the writings in which they have appeared than with anything inherent in them. Those who WISH to speak with disdain sometimes catch on that a particular term is considered offensive, and insist on using it, reinforcing the initial impression.
    This is the best thing I’ve read on the subject in some time. Kudos.
    Tat, I’ll terminate Gospodin Hui posthaste.

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