Bongo Bongo.

An e-mail from a PR guy informed me of a PBS video series of definite LH interest:

“Bongo Bongo” is a new series from PBS Digital Studios that brings to life the dynamic meaning of common words in the English language by examining them through the lenses of history, linguistics, and pop culture. Each week’s episode explores the cultural significance of a new word in an entertaining, fast-paced way to help spread an infectious love of language.

It’s a little too entertaining and fast-paced for this sedate codger, but it is fun, host Ethan Fixell seems to know what he’s talking about, and it may be of interest to lots of you out there; check out the jam episode for a sample.

Completely unrelated, but it’s not worth a post of its own and I have to get it off my chest: I saw a reference to “Trias,” looked it up, and discovered it’s an obsolete (?) equivalent of Triassic; the OED (in a century-old entry) says:

Name for the series of strata lying immediately beneath the Jurassic and above the Permian; so called because divisible, where typically developed (as in Germany), into three groups (Keuper, Muschelkalk, and Bunter Sandstein); represented in Britain by the Upper New Red Sandstone and associated formations.

Which means it’s from Greek τριάς ‘the number three,’ which is a d-stem, which means it should be Triadic, not Triassic! Those damn geologists, all rocks and no classics.


  1. Which means it’s from Greek τριάς ‘the number three,’ which is a d-stem, which means it should be Triadic, not Triassic! Those damn geologists, all rocks and no classics.

    You’re rocking the boat to stem the tide of facts. There are simply two development paths, in many languages: English trias/triad, German Trias, Triade, French trias, triade, Spanish (las) trías, triásico, tríada.

  2. Two words diverged in a stemmy wood.

  3. Still known as Trias in Danish, I think.

  4. Trond Engen says

    As in Norwegian. Here’s a handy chart.

  5. What about Jurassic, which is derived from the Jura mountains? Where do those Ss come from?

  6. I presume from French jurassien, the adjective for people from Jura. (No, I don’t know where those s‘s come from; perhaps marie-lucie does.)

  7. marie-lucie says

    jurassien, jurassique

    I was asking myself the same thing. One would expect the ss’s to come from an earlier Juras, but there is apparently no evidence for such a form either in France or Switzerland (which share the mountain range). The page derives Jura from “low Latin iuria ‘forest’, from Celtic joris”, but I think those words have to be taken with a grain of salt. The parallel Swiss page does not mention etymology. Sorry!

  8. My guess would be that it’s by analogy to place names ending in –as with silent –s.

  9. The TLFI is silent on the suffix of jurassien(ne). WP.en and .fr say the Jura mountain range was Juria in Latin, and derives it from a Celtic stem jor- ‘forest’, with reference to the heavy forestation of its slopes.

  10. Maybe the -ss is merely euphonic:

    Composé de Jura avec un /s/ euphonique et le suffixe -ien

    I found this idea here. Note that it says un /s/, not un s.

    This seems as plausible as anything offered here so far by way of explanation. I can’t find a single French or Belgian city name that ends in –a. My idea was to check whether the gentilé word ended in –ssien.

    I took a look at the derivation of Arras, just to be doing. How strange, but apparently following a known pattern. The name by which Caesar referred to the city was Nemetocenna.

  11. Alas, the gentilé for Arras is arrageois, so no help there.

  12. I was prey to the opinion that the final s in Arras is silent. Ala !

  13. Stu:
    Not sure whether this is implied in what you write about Arras and Nemotecenna, but quite a few French cities have modern names derived not from the names they had in the time of Caesar, but from the names of the tribes who lived around them back then. Lutetia, capital of the Parisii, is now Paris; Durocortorum, capital of the Remi, is now Reims; Nemetocenna, capital of the Atrebates, is now Arras. I believe there are other examples. It’s not an absolute rule – Caesar’s Vesontio, Genava, and Vienna are now Besançon, Geneva, and Vienne – but there was a tendency for the tribe name to supplant the city name.

  14. Thanks, Michael, that’s a useful point to remember. What I wrote did give the wrong impression. I should have referred to the Atrebates, not to Caesars name for the city.

  15. marie-lucie says

    Gaulish names

    Caesar’s names for the Gaulish towns or cities were the actual Gaulish names for those places, he did not invent them. But the types and functions of “cities” were not the same in traditional Gaul and among the Romans. As traditional Gaulish religion and social structures broke down, and the Romans built other cities (still existing, with Latin-derived names), the tribes maintained their own names and local structures, regardless of whether their old “capital” still had a functional existence under the new administration.

    It may be relevant that Besançon, Genève and Vienne are located in the East Central region close to the border of old Gaul, among mountains, far from the major administrative and commercial centres and transportation hubs. So is Lyon (Gaulish “Lugdunum”, a major religious and ceremonial centre).

  16. David Marjanović says

    We did get Triadobatrachus. But there’s still Trialestes and many a triassicus.

    In the last 20 years or so, French has replaced le Triassique by le Trias. I have no idea why.

    Buntsandstein (I probably haven’t seen it as two words before), Muschelkalk and Keuper still line up pretty well with today’s global Lower/Early, Middle and Upper/Late Triassic (Lower and Upper refer to rock, Early and Late to time, at least prescriptively). In analogy to Trias, however, the preceding Permian was once called Dyas in Germany; its two parts do not line up with the modern global division into Cisuralian (Lower/Early Permian), Capitanian (Middle Permian) and Luopingian (Upper/Late Permian), however.

    In analogy to Jurassic Park, there’s a song titled Djurdjurassique Bled, referring to the Djurdjura mountains in Algeria.

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