Dilemma of the Sexy Cart.

Anatoly Vorobey posts (in Russian) about a Kazakh poem by Zhursin Erman (or Ermanov) called Дилемма (Dilemma), whose last stanza reads:

Арбаса нәпсі-ыбылыс,
Алаңдай берем ұлып іш.
Көңілге неге сыймайсың
Көзіме сыйған құбылыс?!

Google Translate helpfully provides a Latinized version:

Arbasa näpsi-ıbılıs,
Alañday berem ulıp iş.
Köñilge nege sıymaysıñ
Közime sıyğan qubılıs?!

And renders it into English as:

The cart is sexy,
I’m worried about the stomach.
Why don’t you like it?
A phenomenon that catches my eye ?!

(Anatoly quotes the Russian GT version, which seems to be based on the English — at any rate, it says the same thing.) But Yandex Translate does something quite different:

“I don’t know,” he said,
I’m worried about my son’s underwear.
Why won’t you be pleasing,
phenomenon that catches the eye?!

(Here I’ve translated from the Russian, which you can see at the first link; угодить ‘please, oblige’ normally takes an object marked by preposition or dative case, but neither is present here so I’ve rendered it “be pleasing.”) Ça donne à réfléchir.


  1. David Marjanović says

    When a kook posts something incoherent in English, the usual recommendation is to transkoreanize it, i.e. to Google-translate it to Korean and back. So I took the Kazakh original, Google-translated it to Korean, and then Google-translated the result to English.

    The cart is sexy,
    I’m worried about my stomach.
    Why don’t you like it?
    What catches my eye?!


  2. I tried to put it through the Kazakh-Russian translator at Sozdik.kz, but of course the site is down now with the entire Kazakh internet . I assume we have to wait until things cool down a bit before we ask people there about sexy carts…

  3. If that’s what it takes, there are a couple other countries whose official languages I’d like this poem to be published in.

  4. It caught my eye on fb where Anatoly also posts, and, apparently, it was easier to attract Kazakh talent there by tagging.
    It’s something like

    Devil leads astray,
    Stomach churns.
    Why can’t the soul accept
    Something so clear to the eye.

  5. нәпсі by itself apparently means ‘lustful’, from the Arabic root nfs, approximately ‘breath, exhalation, spirit’. I can see how it becomes ‘sexy’ but not ‘astray’. I don’t know anything about Kazakh or any Turkic language.

  6. Dmitry Pruss says

    I understand that the first three words are unmistakable separately: cart-temptation-devil (the temptation being often, but not always, lustful). There is no “astray” in a literal sense, it’s my attempt to express the gist of the phrase without too many footnotes.

  7. I have not caught up to this cart, its role — is it being subjected to temptation off-course? Is somebody in that first line a verb?

    The Yandex translation is even weirder than the Google. Semantic choices are one level, hallucinating whole discourse acts is another level.

  8. Arba – cart
    Arbau – to tempt
    Arbasa – if tempted

    In short, there is no cart there at all, just Google Translate failing Kazakh grammar.

  9. Taking a shot at the first two lines:

    Арбаса / нәпсі-ыбылыс,
    to bewitch-COND / lust-devil-NOM

    Алаңдай берем / ұлып іш.
    “worry about sth”-CONV AUX-1SG-PRS / to howl-CONV stomach

    So perhaps:
    If the Lust Devil bewitches,
    I still worry about (my) upset stomach

    As far as I know, -м is colloquially just the 1SG agreement marking, compared with standard/formal -мІн. To take a more poetic slant, іш is also just “inside, interior”, so “(my) howling insides/inner state” might be more appropriate for the times 🙂

    CONV is “converb”, which has a base form of -Іп or -А, and is used in a whole host of things in Kazakh. Among the many various possible meanings, the first usage “-А бер” indicates continuation of the verb (алаңдау, to worry about something) and the second “-Іп” makes a verb a verbal noun (ұлу, to howl/wail –> howling).

  10. PlasticPaddy says

    Do you know if іш (also) can mean what I think in German is called Unterleib, i.e., the part of the torso below the navel?

  11. My dictionary says it’s “abdomen, belly, stomach”.

    Maybe Kazakh anatomy textbooks have more refined definitions, I don’t know.

  12. pc: Thanks very much, I always enjoy that kind of detailed analysis!

  13. Bing suggests “nappy-synthesis” for “нәпсі-ыбылыс”. Bing always gives it the old college try.

  14. Unfortunately, most .kz sites seem offline right now because of the protests and internet blackouts. Luckily, there are some useful .ru resources on Kazakh. From what I’ve understood so far, iш broadly means “inside,” including the inside of the body.

  15. David Marjanović says

    what I think in German is called Unterleib, i.e., the part of the torso below the navel?

    Ah, is that what Unterleib means? I’ve encountered the word a number of times, but never in a context that would have narrowed it down so far, so I understand it as “belly”, or rather as an attempt to translate “abdomen” into a similarly medically precise term.

    There is a word that definitely means what you describe or nearly so; that’s Unterbauch, a very rare technical term. (Contrasting with Oberbauch, from there to the ribcage.)

  16. Alex K. : things seem to be pretty hopeless of them coming back any time soon, with the Russian military being deployed in Almaty: as of, it would appear, yesterday.

  17. Andrej Bjelaković says


    I’d briefly hoped that Unterbauch and trbuh were related, but alas no such luck.

  18. David Marjanović says

    Bauch “belly, tummy”, as opposed to Brust “breast, chest”.

  19. Lars Mathiesen says

    Danish underlivet must be a calque from Unterleib, then. It can be used clinically to describe where it hurts, for instance, but also metonymically to talk about the prurient bits of that region.

  20. Like “nether parts.”

  21. David Marjanović says


    Under “meanings” there’s only the explicitly medical one, “the lower part of the belly, usually in humans”, but the examples are more diverse: the first and the third are vague, the fourth clearly has the medical meaning, the fifth seems to refer to labor (so, specifically to the uterus, not the entire lower abdomen), and the second to genitals.

  22. I recall that in the last scene of Hedda Gabbler, as Brack is blackmailing Hedda, there is an apparently difficult to translate lower-body euphemism that Brack uses to indicate that Ejlert had accidently shot himself in the genitals. However, I no longer have the critical edition that lists Ibsen’s original word that has since been variously translated as “bowels,” “lower parts,” and even “stomach” (and it turns out that while many English translations are to be found on line, the original text does not appear to be readily available).

  23. Trond Engen says

    Ibsen at runeberg.org.


    Det har vel det. – Og der, – der blev han
    altså fundet.


    Ja, der. Med en affyret pistol i brystlommen.
    Skuddet havde truffet ham dødeligt.


    I brystet, – ja.


    Nej, – det traf ham i underlivet.

    (ser op på ham med et udtryk af ækelhed).

    Det også! Å, det latterlige og det lave, det
    lægger sig som en forbandelse over alt det, jeg
    bare rører ved.


    Der kommer noget til, fru Hedda. Noget, som
    går ind under det gemene også.

    The word is underlivet. To me it sounds more clinical than euphemistic. But of course, the audience will fill in the graphic details, just like Hedda.

  24. John Cowan says

    [pipped at the post by Trond]

    See Lars’s comment above for the semantics of underlivet, although of course poets do get to invent their own semantics, at least up to a point.

  25. Lars Mathiesen says

    BRACK: Nej, – det traf ham i underlivet.

    I didn’t look to see if there was anything more explicit, but if 1890 Norwegian (very like 1890 Danish in written form) uses underlivet like later Danish does, we don’t know what part he hit. A bullet in the guts was quite lethal then.

    EDIT: It seems that the real dirt was that Ejlert had been at “Diana’s boudoir,” which sounds like a place for gentlemen to serially meet single women.

  26. Lars Mathiesen says

    Clearly I wasn’t in school the day they covered Ibsen. Diana seems to be a specific lady. (Actually there’s a lot of things I should have learned in school but didn’t, at least partly because they kept moving the subjects around between grade levels and I moved from a progressive school to a more traditional one in sixth grade. The Asimov/Clarke/Aldiss under the desk can not have had anything to do with it).

  27. Trond Engen says

    More “underbelly” than tabukuk, as it were.

  28. David Eddyshaw says

    lower-body euphemism

    Kusaal pɛn “vagina” has cognates in the rest of WOV but not elsewhere in that meaning (as far as I can tell); however, Moba pann, Gulmancéma panli “thigh” (of a human being) correspond exactly segmentally [short /ɛ/ -> /a/ is regular, and can be internally reconstructed within Gurma itself], have the right tones to be cognate to the WOV words, and belong to the same noun class.* So presumably the WOV form began life as a euphemism (it’s still the ordinary neutral word, and not vulgar or obscene, though it doesn’t have any other meaning at this point.)

    * Though that doesn’t mean a lot, in fact. Most nouns for body parts belong to that class.

  29. @Lars Mathiesen: The fact that Ejlert has been shot in the groin during an argument with a prostitute is simultaneously fitting for a man of his over-the-top, sensual, oit-of-control character (from the point of view of the audience) and yet totally out of character for the gallant suicide Hedda was expecting and hoping for. It’s not even one hundred percent sure that he shot himself, rather than being shot by Diana. However, while all these things are revolting to Hedda, what Brack blackmails her with is the fact that she gave Ejlert the pistol, knowing he was ready to use it.

  30. Lars Mathiesen says

    Yes, just reading from the (last?) occurrence of underlivet to the end, that was all pretty clear. I just didn’t have the dramatis personae on my fingertips. That Brack guy is a slime, right?

  31. I learned about Kazakhstan from this thread. Oh. Russian media repost ‘Representatives of the Taliban have urged the Kazakhstani government and the protesters “to resolve issues through talks and peaceful means.”’, perhaps because our media are required to add “(a terrorist organisation forbidden in Russia)” each time they mention “Taliban” or “ISIS”.

  32. Arba was borrowed into Russian, for more or less the same reason why pilaf if pilaf and not rice kasha: they have very large wheels (taller than you).
    E.g. (an Uzbek arba)

  33. Wow, thanks for that — I knew the word, of course, but I don’t think I’d seen a picture. Impressive.

  34. I guess for locals it is just “cart” and wheels can vary depending on its size / purpose. But as it is a rather peculiar sight (quite unlike our телега), and a very familiar one, Russians borrowed the word. I do not know if they still use them (I hope they do in the countriside), they did when my family lived there.

    I intentionally chose a picture with particularly tall wheels but “taller than an adult person” is normal.

    I know less about Kazakhstan, but judging from Yangex images this design is found in many places, from Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan.

  35. I do not know if they still use them (I hope they do in the countriside), they did when my family lived there.
    I have seen donkey-pulled carts (although not with such big wheels) in Uzbekistan, even in Tashkent, in the 90s / early noughties. I still saw prohibition sign 3.8 on the main thoroughfares in Tashkent when I was last there in 2018, so donkey carts seem to still be part of local traffic.

  36. I mostly encounter arba as a cry Арава! meaning ‘make way to one’ or ‘I need one’ at a bazaar/market. It’s a thingy like this—or a much larger one, as the case may be.

  37. January First-of-May says

    Как возил детвору в Бричмуллу тарантас,
    Тарантас назывался арбою…

    I probably already knew the word before encountering that song, but I don’t recall from where. It just felt like… a general bit of background info: “arba – a Central Asian kind of carriage”. The comments to the linked video quote an interesting instance from (AFAIK) Golden Calf (as part of a “dictionary” of similarly Central Asian words).

    EDIT: on the subject of Central Asian words, how come Russian had borrowed ишак “donkey” when it had a perfectly serviceable осёл? Is there some specific difference I don’t understand?

  38. how come Russian had borrowed ишак “donkey” when it had a perfectly serviceable осёл?

    Maybe for he same sort of reason that English borrowed burro? Whatever exactly that is.

  39. I do not know if there is a difference between ишак and осёл in terms of what they look like and do.
    Can they be treated as different kinds?

    But ишакs are extremely common for the Central Asia—Morocco belt (for Morocco, see e.g. this – actually a random article (google “Morocco donkey”) where a lady confesses her love to donkeys. But it explains the situation: “In 1927, Amy Bend Bishop, wife of eccentric, wealthy gallery owner Cortlandt Field Bishop, passed through Fez on a grand tour of Europe and the Mediterranean, and was intrigued by the 40,000 donkeys and mules working at the time“).
    Or else the Nasreddin—Juha belt:)

    Even modern tourists use them (as practical means of transportation rather than a tourist attraction). Cf.: “Проезд на ишаках в стоимость тура входит, ишаки кондиционером не оборудованы.*” (an “archaeological” tour in Tajikistan, meant as a charity to support local aracheologists once advertized by a guy from Hermitage) and tourists in Palestine.

    * contrasting to earlier “Переезды – в комфортабельном джипе с кондиционером, ночевки – в отелях и гостевых домах с кондиционером.”

  40. Likely I would call a Tunisian (not sure if they use it in Algeria…) маршрутка louage.

  41. David Eddyshaw says

    Donkeys are a common sight as everyday working animals in northern Ghana too.

    “Donkey” is reconstructable to Proto-Oti-Volta (as *bᴜnga) though “horse” is not: Kusaal wief has cognates only in WOV.

    *lɔrɪ “motor car” is also plainly Proto-Oti-Volta, although the reflexes in some languages show some unexplained irregularities. It’s a mystery.

  42. That sheds a whole new light on Berlusconi’s “bunga bunga” parties.

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    Indeed. Apuleius would have understood.
    (Sexy carts, nothing.)

  44. Trond Engen says

    Bunga, bunga, here we go!
    Take off your socks, come taste the grass.
    Some like the ox, some like the ass.
    Welcome to our seedy show!
    Hanging at the bungalow!

  45. how come Russian had borrowed ишак “donkey” when it had a perfectly serviceable осёл?

    I expect it’s the same (non-) difference as between âne and bourricot (or, in a different hemisphere, donkey and burro?)

    David: Tempting to link *bᴜnga to Songhay farka, at some level. I think Dogon also has similar forms.

  46. I expect it’s the same (non-) difference as between âne and bourricot (or, in a different hemisphere, donkey and burro?)

    Yeah, people like having different options to name things, and when they hear a catchy word in a foreign language they’re likely to add it to their storehouse. There doesn’t have to be a logical reason, and they didn’t “need” a different word. They just liked it.

  47. The poor Russian work animal traditionally was the horse (or in the wartime the woman)… I can’t be sure, of course (I hardly ever eard осёл applied to donkeys in the context of Central Asia), but intutively this must be the reason. At least in modern Russia they are found in folklore (Hoja Nasreddin), fixed phrases (you’re a donkey!), in the Bible (Jesus’s mount) and books (S. Panza), but not on the street, and in this respect the difference is striking.

  48. when they hear a catchy word in a foreign language they’re likely to add it to their storehouse. There doesn’t have to be a logical reason

    Things Happen For No Reasonism is an easy way to dispense with curiosity (with practice it can even start to feel like actually satisfying it); but I would still agree with Rodger that it does seem to exists some kind of a motivation, whether immediately looking “logical” or not, for loaning additional words for ‘donkey’. One word for knowing the animal while being unfamiliar with it, another for actually encountering it used as a beast of burden?

  49. Things Happen For No Reasonism is an easy way to dispense with curiosity

    True, but Things Happen For a Reason is an easy way to get comfortable with Just-So stories, and I’m more worried about succumbing to the latter. I mean, surely you agree that “some guy heard a word he liked and started using it, and other people picked it up” is a thing that happens. Not everything is the result of clearly defined historico-socio-geographical situations.

  50. By the way
    осёл fig. a stupid person
    ишачить to work hard (for someone)

  51. Fast-forward from Hoja Nasreddin:

    Потащил он свой проект к новому заведующему Старкомхозом, Гаврилину, которого перевели в Старгород из Самарканда. Почерневший под туркестанским солнцем новый заведующий долго, но без особого внимания слушал Треухова, перебросил все чертежи и под конец сказал:

    — А вот в Самарканде никакого трамвая не надо. Там все на ешаках ездют. Ешак три рубля стоит — дешевка. А подымает пудов десять!.. Маленький такой ешачок, даже удивительно!

    — Вот это и есть Азия! — сердито сказал Треухов. — Ишак три рубля стоит, а скормить ему нужно тридцать рублей в год.

    — А на трамвае вашем вы много на тридцать рублей наездите? Триста раз. Даже не каждый день в году.

    — Ну и выписывайте себе ваших ишаков! — закричал Треухов и выбежал из кабинета, ударив дверью.

    С тех пор у нового заведующего вошло в привычку при встрече с Треуховым задавать ему насмешливые вопросы:

    — Ну как, будем выписывать ешаков или трамвай построим?


  52. “some guy heard a word he liked and started using it, and other people picked it up” is a thing that happens

    Probably, but you seem to have managed here a 360° turn away from your stated problem: this is of course itself a just-so story, even if a fairly vague one. Why did a guy like this particular word (very few words become people’s “pet words”)? why did other people “pick it up” (pet words usually don’t go into wider circulation)? Even if loaning maybe can happen just for “liking” a word, this does not make up an argument that a particular loan did so. This is not a neutral or zero hypothesis.

    drasvi’s suggestions seem like an actual opening to me; it could be wrong of course but it at least looks more investigable.

  53. Per the OED, the person who first used burro ‘donkey’ in English was not Southwestern nor even American; it was the poet Robert Southey (1774-1843), and he was talking about the donkeys of Spain. Southey was Poet Laureate from 1813 onwards, but is best known today for “The Inchcape Rock” (at least by me). He also wrote the earliest version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, in which the character corresponding to Goldilocks is a “wicked old Woman” and definitely the villain. But he was also a scholar of Spanish and Portuguese literature and history, with many trips to the Peninsula. Just why he talked of burros remains unclear, though perhaps it was an attempt to add a little local color.

  54. David Eddyshaw says

    Tempting to link *bᴜnga to Songhay farka

    I’m not sold on that one: the Oti-Volta form segments as stem *bᴜm- + singular noun class suffix *-ga (e.g. Kusaal bʋŋ “donkey”, plural bʋmis from *bʊmsɪ.) The Eastern Oti-Volta languages and Gurma have *-n- for original word-internal *-l-, which would be closer to the Songhay, but there’s no doubt on the basis of the WOV forms that the stem originally ended in a nasal consonant and not *l (or Proto-WOV *r, which probably comes from something like /ʎ/ in Proto-Oti-Volta.)

    On the subject of West African loanwords and equines, though (well, it beats “and now for something completely different”), have you come across a form like *salb- “bridle” at all? Kusaal and Mooré have it, but everyone else seems to use words of the ligamen type, presumably transmitted via Berber. *Salb- is all wrong morphophonologically to be an inherited WOV word (there’s no derivational suffix -b-, for example), and in that region bits of horse tackle seem extremely likely on first principles to have loanword names. I can’t find any likely candidates for the source, though.

  55. this is of course itself a just-so story, even if a fairly vague one. Why did a guy like this particular word (very few words become people’s “pet words”)? why did other people “pick it up” (pet words usually don’t go into wider circulation)? Even if loaning maybe can happen just for “liking” a word, this does not make up an argument that a particular loan did so. This is not a neutral or zero hypothesis.

    Of course it’s not, it’s a reminder that not everything can be explained. There is no way, even in theory, of knowing why a guy liked this particular word or why other people picked it up, and yet such things happen all the time. Why did I look right rather than left just now? Why do people do most of the things they do? Scientists have a bias — understandable, but not always useful — toward finding scientific explanations for things, and I am pushing back.

    drasvi’s suggestions seem like an actual opening to me; it could be wrong of course but it at least looks more investigable.

    Case in point. Better to be investigable than right!

  56. Obviously I’m not saying scientists shouldn’t use the tools at hand to investigate whatever comes into their purview; I’m just providing a reminder that the tools at hand don’t, and can’t, always do the trick. I mean, you could have responded with “Sure it could have been some guy, but there’s no way of investigating that, so I concentrate on the possibilities available to me,” which would have been unexceptionable. Instead you reacted by trying to discredit the very idea of “some guy.” Just because it’s easier to look under the lamppost doesn’t mean that’s where the missing item is necessarily to be found.

  57. The fact is that we have had for quite a while two words.

    Their distribution in 20th century (when the country included Central Asia and when gradually ceased to use eevn horse) is of course different from that in 16th century (intense Turkic-Russian contacts elsewhere, Uzbekistan was just a place where Persian merchants come from) when the word was attested.

    Yet in 20th century ishak is frequent and neither word has disappeared.

    We can formulate a synchronic question: why do you people keep using both? People will respond (the reason why the do that must be a function of their perception, and their perception is known to them) and this answer can be right or wrong. But it is some data. Actually, it is more useful in terms of langauge learning

  58. David Eddyshaw says


    FWIW “donkey” in Tommo So Dogon seems to be jàndùlù (from Laura McPherson’s grammar), which doesn’t seem to resemble anything in particular … the Fulfulde is wamnde

    On the other hand, in the same source I see Tommo So sòm “horse”, which looks suspiciously similar to Yom samɣa, Byali sanga (where -ɣa, -ga are class suffixes), and perhaps at a pinch even Moba taanm /tã:m/, Gulmancéma taamo. WOV may be the odd man out within Oti-Volta with its *wɪd-. Perhaps the horsemen who founded the Mossi-Dagomba kingdoms brought the word with them?

    The Tommo So word for “cow” is nàa, a form which turns up all over, but I think that must be diffusion rather than inheritance, given that it turns up in languages with very little else in common, like Fulfulde nagge, Kusaal naaf, Samba Leko (an Adamawa language in Cameroon) … it must go back a long way though (in WOV it’s had time to develop impressively irregular inflection: Kusaal niigi “cows” …)

  59. True story: my wife just asked me why our electricity bill went up last month and down this month, and I said “Just think of it like the stock market — it goes up, it goes down, who knows why?” And she responded “I’d make a better scientist than you: I ask questions.” So there you have it. I’m not scientist material.

  60. Reconstruction:Proto-Nakh/wir


    Compare with Georgian ვირი (viri, “donkey, ass”).


    1. donkey


    Chechen: вир (wir)
    Ingush: вир (wir)

    Bats: ვირ (vir)



    From Iranian languages. Perhaps also related to Mingrelian გირინი (girini); see there for more.

    IPA(key): /viri/
    Hyphenation: ვი‧რი


    ვირი • (viri) (plural ვირები)

    1. donkey, ass

    The question is, what is the Iranian word?

    I’ve also skimmed Kaksitoista tuolia, the 1946 Finnish translation of the 12 chairs, to see whether the word would be anything other than aasi, but it seems the translator had skipped quite a lot.

  61. David: I see your point. Najamba-Kindige has párŋgá for donkey, but that seems to be isolated within Dogon, and probably just a loan from Songhay. Can’t think of a parallel for salb-, bit I’ll keep an eye out.

  62. David Eddyshaw says

    That’s a very nice site, Lameen. Thanks!

    The second component of the Ben Tey form sú(rú)-bɔ̀ŋgɔ̂-m looks rather like Mooré bòangá, but it’s a long way from the Mossi area. (There are enough quite different words for “donkey” and “horse” in those parts that failing to match any given item somewhere probably just means that one hasn’t tried enough dictionaries yet …)

  63. “Per the OED, the person who first used burro ‘donkey’ in English was not Southwestern nor even American; it was the poet Robert Southey (1774-1843).”

    A slight but important correction; the compilers of the OED and other historical dictionaries make no claim to omniscience. The oldest quotation they give for a lexeme, a meaning, or a spelling is its currently earliest-known use, which will change if an antedating is found.

  64. David Eddyshaw says

    Incidentally (regarding burro) Wiktionary’s derivation of the Latin burricus from Greek πυρρός via burrus looks iffy to me. Are small horses particularly likely to be “flame-coloured”? Are flame-coloured horses typically small? How about a Celtic origin?


    (After all, there are plenty of precedents for Celtic equestrian words making their way into Latin.)

  65. I had Robert Southey’s proto-Goldilocks story as a picture book when I was a child. I remember wondering how the main character had acquired her characteristic blond hair in later versions.

  66. On the subject of West African loanwords and equines… have you come across a form like *salb- “bridle” at all?

    Colloquial Levantine Arabic has salaband “martingale”, and this word is recorded in the Wehr-Cowan dictionary. (Also, for salaband “(some part of) a woman’s head covering”, see Jean-Paul Pascual 1975 “Une neige à Damas au XIXᵉ siècle”, Bulletin d’études orientales 28, p. 69, note 7.) I do not know how widely this lexical item has diffused in the Arabophone world.

    For the origin of this foreign-looking word in Arabic, one immediately thinks of Persian sarband سربند “headband; a wreath or fillet for fastening a woman’s headdress; turban” (sar “head”, band “band, tie, fastening”). Compare Ottoman serbend “halter; bandage for the head; fillet or turban” (Redhouse’s dictionary, 1880). See Federico Corriente, Dictionary of Arabic and allied loanwords, end of note 1011, page 429 here, for more on the etymology of the Arabic word, which he vocalizes as salband.

    If this etymology for *salb- “bridle” is correct (something I am not at all confident about), perhaps the loss of the -and can be explained on the West African end, as through association with a noun-class suffix and metanalytic extraction of a new stem?

    (As an aside, I was interested by section 1.1.11 here, which lists names for various items of horse tack on sale in the Levant around the 18th and 19th century: sarj “saddle” (Semitic), bašliq “bridle” (Turkic), salaband “martingale” (Persian), ṭabqūr (ṭābqūr) “saddle girth” (Turkic, from Mongol), qilāda “horse collar” (Semitic), qulān “saddle girth” (Turkic).)

  67. if OED’s oldest english “burro” is southey, then “donkey” (18thC slang, per wiktionary at least – i’ve got no OED access at the moment) isn’t much older, and southey might not have been thinking of it at all. so “burro” might just be a way to avoid writing “ass”.

  68. David Eddyshaw says

    Thanks, Xerîb, that’s very interesting!

    I think the loss of the -and- could be finessed; there isn’t a convenient noun class suffix that I could blame for turning (say) a supposed Mooré *salbinde (itself a possible Mooré form, though not attested AFAIK) into salbre, but stranger things have happened in undoubted loans. Kusaal has managed to turn “aeroplane” into alɔpir

    I think the bigger problem is coming up with some plausible pathway for the word to have got to Mooré in the first place (Kusaal could easily have borrowed it from Mooré, and indeed probably did in any case.)

    There seem to be few if any direct-from-Arabic loans even in Mooré, let alone Kusaal; unlike with Hausa (say), there aren’t a lot of actual Muslim Mossi or Kusaasi Arabic-literate scholars about, happily borrowing “proper” Classical Arabic words into their own speech.

    So it the word actually is of this origin, you’d have expected it also to be found in one of the usual-suspect languages which passed on ultimately-Islamic-origin words orally, like Hausa or Songhay or Manding or Berber. So far I haven’t turned up anything, but if anybody can, I expect it will be Lameen.

    Interesting that your material also abundantly bears out the idea that words for pieces of horse tack are very often borrowed. You’d expect that even more in the WOV zone, where horse-riding is very strongly associated with chieftaincy, and the chiefly clans are believed (pretty certainly correctly) to be of foreign origin (traditionally supposed to be from the Lake Chad area, in fact.)

    WOV did strike me initially when I began to study the wider Oti-Volta picture as quite aberrant lexically, but unfortunately not in a way that suggests any influence from some foreign conquerors’ unknown speech. WOV shibboleth words include, for example, not only the suggestive “horse”, but also “water” and “red” (both of which, as it happens, also have glottalised stem vowels, and thus don’t look very “borrowed”, on purely phonological grounds) … moreover, I think my initial impression was actually largely due simply to the fact that I am much more familiar with the WOV languages than the others, so I noticed the divergences more readily. It was a sort of optical illusion …

    It’s not clear how far (if at all) the original founders of the chiefly clans were Muslims; the royal clans are Muslim now in the Mamprussi and Dagomba realms, but although some Mossi kings have been Muslims in more recent times, even now that remains exceptional. It’s probably the wrong question to ask, anyway, in the sense that being even a traditional Mamprussi or Dagomba ruler still involves continuing with some old practices unlikely to appeal to Islamic purists …

  69. David Eddyshaw says


    That’s an interesting thought. However Southey was probably not squeamish about “ass”, as the English-English for this is, of course, arse. (I think he’d have pronounced the “r”, too …)

  70. sarabande!?

  71. David Eddyshaw says


    Seems to come from Persian sarband all right, but glossed there as “song” …
    Truly the semantics of headgear are complex …

  72. More on Mooré salbre and *salb-

    There is this interesting entry in Lane for salaba سلبة “A string, or cord, that is tied to the muzzle of the camel” (apparently different from the noseband), reporting the definition (خيْطٌ يُشَدُّ على خَطْم البَعَيرِ دونَ الخِطام) of Ibn Sidah in Al-Muḥkam wa-al-muḥīt al-aʻẓam.

    Perhaps Mooré salbre “bit” (according to the online dictionary) is backformed from plural salba, ultimately from the Arabic?

  73. David Eddyshaw says

    Provoked by Lameen’s O-V bʊŋga/Songhay farka thought, I’ve been wondering if I’ve got it wrong about Oti-Volta *l becoming *n non-initially in EOV and Gurma.

    The first problem is that the *n languages don’t (as far as I can see) form a node: Gurma and EOV are not particularly close. On the other hand, the *l languages certainly do form an identifiable genetic grouping: WOV, Yom/Nawdm and Buli-Konni share a number of common innovations and are (at least) as close lexically to each other as the various components of EOV are to each other. And while it’s not impossible in principle that EOV and Gurma have independently innovated *l -> n (or that the change diffused), this seems a relatively unlikely scenario.

    More to the point, it’s not clear that Proto-WOV, *l and *n were distinct. I only recently realised that initial *l is – oddly – never followed by nasalised vowels in WOV; on the other hand *n is always followed by nasalised vowels. There is a common derivational suffix -l- but no derivational suffix -n- (what looks like one in Kusaal corresponds regularly to Mooré -nd- and Nawdm -nt-, on which see further below.) In flexion, stems in final *n and final *m have generally fallen together due to regular stem-suffix sandhi changes; in the two cases where they remain distinct, the re/a noun class and CVn-stem verbs, the great majority of n-stems begin with a labial consonant or labiovelar (e.g. Kusaal kpan “spear”, bun “reap”), with some actual variants like nwam/nwan “calabash” (from *ŋ͡mam-.) The only exception I can think of in Kusaal is tan “soil”, for which Talni has tam.

    There is a mysterious, but extremely regular WOV sandhi change in flexion of *ld -> nd (or at least, that’s how it works synchronically.) This would make a lot more sense interpreted as the original *n preserved before immediately following *d. This change also probably accounts for the derivational suffix -nd-.

    The Kusaal stem vɛnll- /vɛ̃ll-/ “(be) beautiful” alternates in dialect with vɛnn-.

    So the *n may in fact be original, and WOV-Y/N-B/K has seen a split into *l/n, along with some instances of *n arising from dissimilation from *m. The segment that I have tentatively set up as *ʎ for Proto-Oti-Volta (which has become /j/ or /r/ in WOV) would then actually simply have been *l. Outside WOV and Buli/Konni, it consistently becomes either l or r.

    (All this, of course, makes the equation O-V bʊŋga/Songhay farka even less plausible …)

  74. David Eddyshaw says


    A back-formation of salbre from salba, interpreted as plural, would be very plausible indeed. Such shoehorning of loanwords into the existing noun classes by analogy is actually very characteristic of Oti-Volta.
    (Kusaal has wadir “law”, an exactly similar formation from the “plural” wada, which in fact comes, via Hausa oda, from the English “order.”)

    If سلبة really is out there, it looks like a very plausible origin for Mooré salbre and Kusaal salibir (though it would still be nice to have some evidence for its existence in some intermediate language from which it had got to Mooré.)

  75. David Eddyshaw says

    I should perhaps clarify that the loss of the second vowel in *salaba- would not be problematic at all: WOV stems normally only have one full vowel, the rest being epenthetic vowels, so vowel loss of that kind in loans is to be expected.

    In some cases, the shape of the original has been more faithfully preserved by interpreting the first syllable as a stem prefix (prefixes have the same restricted range of vowel possibilities as flexional suffixes, basically a/ɪ/ʊ.) Thus Kusaal maliak “angel”, for example. Loanwords account for most of the less common “prefixes” in these languages: native words show only a few very limited types, most often simple reduplications, as in tita’ar “big.”

  76. Seems to come from Persian sarband all right, but glossed there as “song” …

    “A song” actually. A song named “sarband”? The earliest attestation is c. 1539, Panama. I do not know what the temporal distribution of Spanish Persian looks like (a necessary knowlege) but 1539 is when, in addition to old Arabic words, the Hispano-Ottoman military nightmare (and very tense communication with North Africa) had already began. Corominas:

    Ha sido lugar común buscar la etimología en persa, sin duda por la terminación -and o -band, que es tan frecuente en este idioma. La más antigua es la de Ménage, quien partía de sarband «venda o faja con que se ciñen la cabeza las mujeres» (compuesto de sar ‘cabeza’ y band ‘ligadura’), etimología que se viene llevando y trayendo, a base de achacar a esta palabra persa el sentido de «especie de danza» o «especie de canto», que no ha tenido nunca (falta en los dicc. de Steingass y de Richardson-Johnson). También se ha querido partir del persa sarāyand ‘canto o cantor’, que no conviene fonéticamente; etc.

    Más razonable parece la sugestión de Ribera …. dastband «a dance where they join hands» (Steingass)…

    A mí no me parece más razonable. And then he rejects several more etymologies. (En lo semántico la danza ritual de los magos habría dado un salto mortal hasta convertirse en la endemoniada orgía que organiza Loaisa y escandaliza a Mariana y al Pinciano).
    I think “plausible unattested” (like < sarband ) and “implausible attested” (< like dastband) must be marked differently, for me they live on very different mental shelves. The former can be improved by attestations of a dance or item named sarband in the region.

  77. No hay en el galeón mujer, / ni la dama cortesana, / con quien se pase la noche / bailando la zarabanda!

    Could be used in a pirate cartoon…

  78. David Marjanović says

    Seems to come from Persian sarband all right, but glossed there as “song” …
    Truly the semantics of headgear are complex …

    All language is hat.

  79. the loss of the second vowel in *salaba- would not be problematic at all: WOV stems normally only have one full vowel


    Kusaal has wadir “law”, an exactly similar formation from the “plural” wada, which in fact comes, via Hausa oda, from the English “order.”

    Very nice! Even more so because the Kusaal -ir has nothing to do with the -er of English. Thanks for this example—I am going to use it as a cautionary tale in lectures about reconstruction and etymology.

    If سلبة really is out there

    Salaba is in Egyptian Arabic as “rope” (of various uses). Also, note contemporary Yemeni Arabic.

    For now (closer to home, so to speak), note Sigmar Hillelson (1925) Sudan Arabic: An English-Arabic Vocabulary, p. 244, giving salaba as “rope for tying on loads”. Similarly, H.F.S. Amery (1905) English-Arabic vocabulary for the use of officials in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, p. 304, gives salaba as “carrying rope”. These are patently practical works written by and for colonial administrators and do not trawl centuries-old dictionaries for forgotten words. I’ve written to someone who speaks Chadian Arabic about salaba in the specific sense “halter, bridle, rope bit, etc.”, and maybe I can get to a Sudanese grocery or restaurant in town tomorrow to ask around.

    Now we just need a mediating language to WOV. Interestingly, for Gobir Hausa, Bargery gives salafa “half of a single section of a leaf of the dum-palm; half a double sheet of paper”. Doum palm leaves are used as a source of fibre for cordage. Despite the imprecise phonetic match, I wonder if this could somehow be Arabic salab سلب meaning “fibrous substance (ليف) of the Theban palm-tree [= doum palm, Hyphaene thebaica]” (according to some authorities)?

  80. David Eddyshaw says

    Thanks, Xerîb! Even without a known intermediary form, that really looks very convincing, particularly (as you say) in the light of the evidence that salaba is not some mere dictionary word. I’ll be very interested in what your Chadian correspondent says.

    I think Mooré salbre and Kusaal salibir mean “bridle” primarily rather than “bit”, though there may well not be a distinction made in those languages. (The dictionaries available to me tend to be pretty vague on such matters, if indeed they include such recondite vocabulary at all.) The word is used in Rev 14:20 in the Bible translations in both languages; but according to Liddell and Scott, the Greek original χαλινός can mean either anyway. However, the translations would be based primarily on the various French and English versions in any case, I suspect.

    Wiktionary is quite interesting on χαλινός:


    It’s also (apparently) used for “ship’s tackle”, and the word seems to have got borrowed in the sense “restraint.”

  81. The dictionaries available to me tend to be pretty vague on such matters, if indeed they include such recondite vocabulary at all.

    Traditional lexicographers were (understandably but annoyingly) much better on inkwell terms than on the kind of vocabulary used by people who worked with their hands, and especially on words used mainly by women. Cooking terms are a notorious example, but I’ve found all sorts of term for birds, animals, tackle, gun parts, etc. etc., either missing or inadequately or misleadingly defined. Terms like “hypostasis” or “quire,” though, they’re right on top of!

  82. David Eddyshaw says

    2 Kings 19:28 in both the Mooré and Kusaal Bible versions does specifically mention putting a salbre/salibir in the mouth, however (not that that necessarily proves much, if there is no bit/bridle distinction anyway.)

  83. Trond Engen says

    This is what the Internet is for. Well, my Internet connection anyway.

    And it’s not just a cautionary tale. It’s also encouraging.

  84. Stu Clayton says

    Wiktionary is quite interesting on χαλινός

    Seems that item 3 there got split up into 3 and 4:

    # χᾰλῑνός • (khalīnós) m (genitive χᾰλῑνοῦ); second declension

    1.bridle, rein, bit
    ______Synonyms: ἡνία (hēnía), ῥυτήρ (rhutḗr)
    2. part of the tackle of a ship
    3. anything that restrains from the outer
    4. corner of the mouth of a horse or human #

    I can’t think of “anything”, apart from a bridle or bit, that would “restrain from the outer corner of the mouth” of a horse, much less of a human. But maybe “sex toy” would sorta qualify.

    Edit: what gives with “rh” for the onset of ῥυτήρ ? Why not “hrutḗr”, as with “hēnía” ?

  85. Stu Clayton says

    A fishhook restrains from the outer corner of the mouth of a fish, of course. A stick carried by a dog in its mouth restrains, but not only from the outer corner. I’m coming round to the view that definition 3 is ziemlich doof. It’s a cognitive tar-baby.

  86. what gives with “rh” for the onset of ῥυτήρ ?


  87. ворхӏ ‘7’ and бархӏ ‘8’ also belong there.

  88. Edit: what gives with “rh” for the onset of ῥυτήρ ? Why not “hrutḗr”, as with “hēnía” ?

    That’s just the way it’s traditionally romanized; it could equally well be hr-, but it’s not.

  89. Trond Engen says

    The skuddene expansion of Indo-European was facilitated by the invention of the ῥυτήρ.

  90. David Eddyshaw says


    Now I think of it, an even better parallel for the proposed development of salaba to Kusaal salibir is the Kusaal word kɔlibir “bottle” (plural kɔliba), which is undoubtedly from the Hausa singular kwalaba: “bottle.”

    (Interestingly, both kɔlibir and salibir have low tone stems, which is unusual inasmuch as Kusaal loanwords from Hausa usually copy the tones of the original modulo Kusaal tone sandhi rules, and Arabic syllables usually get mapped as stressed -> high tone*, unstressed -> low tone. Hausa kwalaba: has all tones high, but Kusaal native words don’t allow this pattern unless the stem either has no derivational suffix at all or ends in d or m, which is presumably what drove the change. All-high stems in WOV belong in derivation with low-initial stems rather than high-initial stems; the two existing published theories of WOV tone provide no very good explanation for this.)

    * This has actually become mid tone in Kusaal, in which the original WOV H/L-plus-emic-downsteps system has got reorganised into a three tone system.

  91. Trond Engen says


    Norw. autocorrect on my phone.

  92. David Eddyshaw says

    ворхӏ ‘7’ and бархӏ ‘8’ also belong there

    And Welsh rh, which replaces (unmutated) initial r everywhere, except in recent (i.e. not Latin) loanwords; it parallels ll.

  93. gun parts, etc. etc., either missing or inadequately or misleadingly defined.

    Tell me about it! Looking at the etymology of Tunisian شملّيرة recently, I spent more time than I care to tell trying to determine the identity of a certain part of a firearm—whose name I didn’t know in French or English or any language—before frustration overtook me and I just let it go.

  94. a base de achacar a esta palabra persa el sentido de «especie de danza» o «especie de canto», que no ha tenido nunca (falta en los dicc. de Steingass y de Richardson-Johnson)

    Corriente answers this objection in general in his note: Ṣafī al-Dīn al-Ḥillī, an Arabic poet and literary critic who died in 1349, used a significant amount of Persian vocabulary in his Arabic description of the practice of strophic song. (Al-Hillī was court poet to the Artuqid dynasty in Mardin now in southeast Turkey, a city whose “medina” or “casbah” in still Arabophone today.) His Persianate vocabulary includes sarband.

    To this we can add the use of sarband in Ottoman song anthologies of the 16th century, such as those edited by Owen Wright in Words Without Songs: A Musicological Study of an Early Ottoman Anthology and Its Precursors (1992). The performance indications of these anthologies are in Persian, and the texts of the songs mostly in Persian and Arabic along with a few Turkish texts. The word sarband is definitely used as a heading or performance indication for a certain section of a large-scale vocal suites, even if the exact sense of the term escapes us. Wright defines the sarband in this technical sense as “a section, normally syllabic but frequently ending word and verse material, that will generally recur; a ritornello”.

    Similarly, Safavid Persian treatises of the 16th century, such as the Resāla-ye karāmiya, use the term sarband. Wright (2019) Music Theory in the Safavid Era: The taqsīm al-naġamāt notes that in this Persian work, the sarband is “a form for technical display involving a number of rhythmic cycles and improvised (badiha) tarkibāt”. (The word tarkībāt is used of certain kinds of modes.) There is some slight evidence associating the Resāla-ye karāmiya with the city of Herat, I gather.

    Putting just this Ottoman and Safavid evidence together with that of al-Ḥillī from much earlier, there can be little doubt that the use of sarband as a term designating a certain segment of a poetical or musical work was well-established in Persian.

    Also of note is the persistence of the word to the present day, as in the name of the rhythmic cycle samā‘ī saraband (with audio clips). I assume this term was transmitted from al-Andalus to the rest of the Arabophone world where it is now in use, but I haven’t investigated the matter further.

  95. David Eddyshaw says

    I suppose “head binding” is not too remote semantically from “section heading”; and ritornello from da capo.

  96. David Eddyshaw says

    It would indeed be delightful to think that Kusaal salibir “bridle” really is connected with “sarabande” (as I think you were suggesting above, assuming that the musical sense is indeed linked with the “hat” sense.) It’s true that this Arabic salaba doesn’t seem to have a very plausible intra-Arabic etymology (√slb “rob, plunder” doesn’t look too helpful, for a start.) Mind you, there always seems to be a Classical Arabic root, of any form you could possibly want, for anything

    It all makes me glad I asked the question, anyhow!

  97. as I think you were suggesting above, assuming that the musical sense is indeed linked with the “hat” sense

    Actually, I wasn’t addressing the etymology of the WOV word at all. It was about origin of Spanish zarabanda “sarabande”.

    Drasvi, in one of the comments above, reported Corominas’ dismissal of the etymology taking the Spanish word zarabanda “sarabande” from Persian sarband, saying that Persian/Arabic sarband never had any sense relating to music or dance. I think Corriente, here, has responded adequately to Corominas’ objections. I was just pointing out that Corominas’ main objection to the etymology of Spanish zarabanda from Persian sarband

    a base de achacar a esta palabra persa el sentido de «especie de danza» o «especie de canto», que no ha tenido nunca (falta en los dicc. de Steingass y de Richardson-Johnson)

    no longer has any foundation. Francis Johnson published the last version of his revision of Richardson’s dictionary in 1852, and Steingass’ dictionary was published in 1892. I wouldn’t take them as the be-all and end-all. There has been some progress among European scholars since then… Subsequent work has revealed to Western scholars that senses like those Corominas denies do indeed exist, as I tried to show by mentioning the recent edition of Ṣafī al-Dīn al-Ḥillī’s poetical treatise and Wright’s treatments of musical anthologies and musicological treatises from the Persianate world. My comment was about establishing that it was possible for sarband to have circulated in al-Andalus as a technical term in music and versification (compare the modern-day name of the rhythm linked to), not at all about the WOV terms coming from neo-Arabic saraband “headdress, halter” (which also just happens to be from Persian sarband).

    I kinda like the etymology of the WOV words from Arabic salaba “rope” (totally unrelated to the Persian word sarband), but it was merely my suggestion as a dilettante.

    √slb “rob, plunder” doesn’t look too helpful

    The senses taken from Arabic lexicographical tradition and reported by Lane for
    salab provide a natural semantic progression: “plunder, spoils”, “all the clothes upon a despoiled man” (stripped off as booty), “the hide of a slaughtered animal”, “the peel or rind of a cane or reed”, and “the bark or rind of a tree of tree from which ropes are made” A close semantic parallel is offered by the development of the family of Latin spoliāre “to strip, rob of clothing, denude, disarm” and dēspoliāre “to plunder, despoil” in Romance, seen in French dépouille, originally “booty, plunder” (Early Modern English noun despoil “plunder, booty”), but now commonly with the specific sense “skin taken from a wild animal that has been killed”, and also even “branches cut from a tree”.

    Arabic salab in the sense of “palm tow; fiber used to make rope” (whether fiber from the doum palm, or the “East African wild sisal” Dracaena hanningtonii (syn. Sansevieria ehrenbergii), or coir, or raffia) would be “what is plundered, stripped off”. Could the stripping involved be illustrated nicely here with raffia leaves? But I imagine the original semantic link is seen earlier in the manufacturing process: salab was originally “valuable bark stripped off and put use to use for fiber”. One despoliated the tree of its leaves (doum, perhaps also Dracaena?) or its trunk covering (date palm), to make fiber for baskets, matting, rope, etc. for oneself.

    I was instructed once by a Tohono O’odham teacher in the traditional manufacture of cordage from agave. We went to desert and cut the leaves off the agave plant (was this the act of despoliation?), boiled them, and then stripped off individual fibers from the boiled leaves, dried them, and finally twisted them into cordage. After four hours spent nonstop in stripping, I had produced enough tow to make myself a bracelet. I can well imagine that the “strippings” might be the word applied to the material, and the processing of agave is general similar to that originally used to prepare fiber from Dracaena hanningtonii in the Arabian peninsula.

  98. you reacted by trying to discredit the very idea of “some guy.”

    I do not discredit the possibility. I discredit any fake certainty that this definitely is the case. I do not like fully general counterarguments for ever bothering to research e.g. the driving motivations of any loanword at all. And yeah for that matter I would think there is some explanation for every swing in electricity or stock prices, too, even if surely not knowable from information easily available to us. The electricity case probably marginally more easily knowable since there has to be one definite person or piece of software that made the actual decision on it from some kind of evidence. I might not know but someone knows.

    The weakest point anyway in this kind of a proposal is not the first “some guy” but the following “others picked it up”, which is tantamount to thousands of additional “some guys”.

    And I do object to “Things Happen For a Reason is an easy way to get comfortable with Just-So stories” when it looks to me that Things Happen For No Reasonism is way worse on this; and when rather more just-so stories have been defeated by giving a better reason, than by the appeal that there needs to be no reason.

  99. That’s fine — that’s why you’re a historical linguist and I’m not. Different strokes!

  100. David Eddyshaw says

    I can’t shake the feeling that The Dilemma of the Sexy Cart is a lost Sherlock Holmes story. Suppressed, perhaps?

  101. “I had seen little of Holmes lately, and when my path took me through Baker Street, on an impulse I rang the bell at the well-remembered door and was admitted. I made my way to his chamber and was surprised to see him staring fixedly out of the window; so absorbed was he that he seemed not to notice my arrival. When I greeted him, he started, but did not turn around. ‘Come here, Watson,’ he said with a quiet intensity, ‘and look at that cart. Do you notice anything… intriguing about it?’ Thus I was introduced to the chief protagonist of one of the strangest adventures I was ever to participate in with my old friend…”

  102. David Marjanović says

    Intriguing indeed.

  103. i can’t really imagine Watson using the word “sexy,” at least not in writing.

  104. David Eddyshaw says

    Not in his published writing …

  105. First two OED cites:

    1896 A. Bennett Let. 16 May (1968) II. 50 Lane had decided..not to handle your work of genius, on the score that it was seksy & America didn’t want no seks-problems.
    1905 Rev. of Reviews Aug. 205/2 As one good lady said with a sigh of relief on laying down one of Allen Raine’s stories—‘nothing sexy in her books’.

  106. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, Watson was a medical man (ex-Army, to boot.) It’s clear that he has seen more than he feels it is appropriate to reveal …

    “The time is not yet right to disclose the unfortunate tale of the Dilemma of the Sexy Cart, and its tragic aftermath. For the present, my notes on the matter remain among my unpublished files, along with those pertaining to the curious events of the Case of the Bishop’s Etchings …”

  107. David Eddyshaw says

    I’d never heard of Allen Raine (I doubt if I am alone in this), but it turns out that not only were her English novels best-sellers, selling in the millions, but that she shared first prize at the National Eisteddfod for her novel Ynysoer in 1894. Ubi sunt …

    (If I were called Puddicombe I’d use a pseudonym too. Sed nomen pudicum, opinor … probably explains the absence of sex. It all makes sense now.)

  108. Lars Mathiesen says

    So if the good Doctor should wish to be circumspect in his naming of that attractive conveyance (it takes all sorts) what would the medical Latin be?

    (GT has had an overdose of unfinished copy and not enough commercial history, and translates sexy cart to lorem cart. But then Latin is hardly commercially important to Google).

  109. Putasne me lorem esse?

    Si vis corpus meum, et putas me esse lorem…

  110. David Eddyshaw says

    Plaustrum formosum.

    “Lorem” is obviously an error for lorum; lora is, of course “reins, bridle, whip.” I don’t know what sort of literature GT has been training on. It is probably better not to know.

  111. Come now, that could be said of a cart with a nice paint job.

  112. David Eddyshaw says

    Plaustrum illecebrosum.

  113. We went to desert and cut the leaves off the agave plant

    Is the piña used at all?


  114. Lars Mathiesen says

    cart with a nice paint job — it takes all sorts indeed.

  115. My first question was “how do you say ‘sexy’ in 19th-century-sh?”
    Was there anything more or less synonymous?

  116. I think they would use adjectives like “alluring,” “shapely,” and the like, implying sexiness without stating it. Compare Russian стройный, which I sometimes see used in what seems to me to be a similar way.

  117. Lars Mathiesen says

    The Dilemma of The Shapely Cart — it has a ring, it does.

  118. Streamlined? Designed by Pininfarina?

  119. I’ll be very interested in what your Chadian correspondent says.

    A response from a Chadian friend of a friend about salaba سلبة in the local Arabic varieties of Chad: “C’est plutôt utilisé dans le monde rural par les tribus arabes mais il n’existe pas d’autres mots en arabe pour désigner le licou.”

    I was wondering just now if the change in Persian sarband (cf. Ottoman serbend “halter, headress”) to Arabic sal(a)band “martingale, kind of woman’s headdress” might have happened through contamination with salaba “halter” (leaving saraband, the rhythm, unaffected).

  120. David Eddyshaw says

    Thanks, Xerîb!

    That certainly convinces me that Kusaal salibir is ultimately from this Arabic سلبة, even if I can’t identify an intermediary beyond Mooré. The agreement of form and meaning is just too great to be due to chance, the word shape In Kusaal and Mooré itself shouts “loanword”, and it belongs to a semantic area notably prone to borrowing.

    I don’t suppose that people outside le monde rural have nearly as much call to refer to halters anyway.

  121. This is a colloquial Levantine word, I think—in Lebanon, salbe ‘fun’. There is more on this family of words here.

  122. David Eddyshaw says

    Another Kusaal word which pretty much has to be a loanword is ziri “lie, untruth.” It’s Pan-Western-Oti-Volta, but has -r- in every language, which is impossible if it simply went back to the WOV protolanguage, so it must have been borrowed, either by each language individually or from one WOV language to another. From the point of view of Kusaal, it’s also morphologically aberrant (though in Mampruli the -ri has been reanalysed as a singular noun class suffix and the word has been given a corresponding plural ziya to go with it.)

    It looks very much like ziri should come ultimately from the Arabic زور (perhaps via Hausa zu:r.) The change of /u:/ to /i/ might be analogous to the umlauting effect of the plural noun class suffix -i (e.g. waaf “snake”, wiigi “snakes.”) Umlaut is no longer an active synchronic process, and there are no examples of applying to u vowels*, but the opposite assimilation has occurred in Kusaal suguru versus Mooré sugri “forgiveness, pardon”, so that kind of thing doesn’t seem too implausible on the face of it.

    However, it would help if I could identify an intermediate language which could account for the final -i; dialectal Hausa is possible, I think, but I don’t really know.

    * It probably did, historically: the non-WOV cognates of nif “eye”, plural nini (e.g. Gulmancéma sg nùnbu) suggest that the stem vowel was originally u and that the plural vowel has been backported into the singular – unsurprisingly with a word like “eye.” But that probably long antedated any time when Arabic loanwords could have been arriving on the scene.

  123. @David Eddyshaw

    Here is another camel in our caravan… reflexes of Arabic سلبة in Hausa. Frank William Taylor (1923) A Practical Hausa Grammar, p. 90, has a short but interesting discussion of Hausa terms for horse tack here:

    190. Frequently the Hausa word has no exact equivalent in English, and vice versa. Thus, wāyō, connotes a little skill + a little experience + a little cunning; perhaps the ‘Americanism’ ‘cuteness’ is the nearest translation. Kwashe connotes ‘collecting and taking (all) away’, whilst our ‘fetch’ must be turned into tafi ka kawo’. Kāmāzūrū is the plaited leather rope which the rider holds, asalwayī is the leading rope, and linzāmē is the bit, but there is no word for the complete bridle, though commonly linzāmē is used with that meaning.

    It’s interesting that Taylor gives a meaning for the Hausa word asalwayī that seems close to that given for سلبة in the Classical Arabic dictionaries. (I was trying to improve my knowledge of Hausa for the purpose of Afroasiatic historical linguistics—those old Oxford grammars being very good for the things I need.)

    Here is the entry for our word in Charles Henry Robinson (1913) Dictionary of the Hausa Language vol. 1, p. 18:

    ăsalwayi, ăsalawi, ăsalwai, ăsaulai, halter, leading rope of a horse

    And in Bargery (1934):

    asalwayi [asalwàyī] {n.m.; no pl.}. A horse’s leading rope. (= (D.) asawali; markojari; maskojari; muskojari; mazagi.)

    Not in Newman (2007) as far as I can tell. Does the lenition of b to w suggest transmission through Songhay or Berber?

  124. David Eddyshaw says

    Kanuri may be the culprit when it comes to peculiar lenition. My favourite example is the Hausa kasuwa “market”, where (I gather) both the initial ka and the bizarre change of Arabic /q/ to /w/ are accounted for by transmission via Kanuri.

    Asalwayi is, albeit rather obliquely, a good piece of confirmatory evidence, as showing that the Arabic word was both out there in West Africa, and borrowed.

    I hadn’t thought of looking for borrowings incorporating the Arabic article, which are actually very common in the relevant languages. Kusaal has arazana “heaven”, asuba “dawn”, alaafu “health” (in greetings) … indeed, this accounts for pretty much every Kusaal noun beginning with a when it’s not derived from a pronominal prefix, or due to loss of Proto-WOV initial *ŋ.

  125. David Eddyshaw says

    Taylor’s point about non-overlapping semantic fields is very true. [The only grammar of his I’ve got is of Adamawa Fulfulde, and it’s frankly not very good, so I’m glad to hear that he was capable of better things.]

    An amusing (to me, anyhow) example of how this seems to have given problems to missionaries is the word that they used in Agolle Kusaal for “saviour”, faangid /fã:gɪd/, along with faangir “salvation.” These forms are actually impossible for native Agolle Kusaal, in which *g has regularly become zero after /a:/, and they are pretty evidently borrowed from the Toende dialect (this is not too surprising, as the missionaries started their work in the Toende area.)

    The problem was that the genuine Agolle Kusaal agent noun “saver” is faand /fã:d/, which is absolutely homophonous with faand “robber.”

    Initially, I thought this was because there are two different verbs involved: fan /fã/ “snatch, rob” and faaen /fãɪ̃/ (*fã:gɪ) “save”, and that the agent nouns have (as expected) fallen together because of simple regular phonological processes; unfortunately, it seems clear that although there are indeed two verbs, faaen itself actually means both “rob” and “save”: it can be “snatch” in either a good or bad sense (from the point of view of the snatchee) equally well. The missionaries used the dialect variation to create a new distinction.

  126. That was actually quite clever of them. I can think of much worse solutions.

  127. David Eddyshaw says

    Very true …

    The other more-or-less clear Toende loans in Agolle Kusaal are Wina’am “God” and malek “angel” (in the pre-2016 Bible versions), which both make sense on the missionary-influenced hypothesis, and also, oddly, aaruŋ “boat” which … not so much. That one is probably ultimately borrowed from some other WOV language in any case. It has the same r-everywhere peculiarity as ziri “lie.” It can be difficult (or impossible) to spot intra-WOV loans, what with the languages all being so closely related anyway, unless there happens to be some phonological giveaway like that.

  128. @Xerîb, thank you! I suspected that the comment is silly, but then I decided to allow myself to be silly: joke is a good addition to the already mentioned S-L-Bs (speaking of robbery)

  129. Jokes and silliness are always welcome!

  130. “January 6, 2022 at 2:46 pm
    Alex K. : things seem to be pretty hopeless of them coming back any time soon, with the Russian military being deployed in Almaty: as of, it would appear, yesterday”

    Almost two months later, here we are.

  131. If it hasn’t been said before: I am deeply wishing the best to all the people here, who have entertained and enlightened me, who live or have family or friends in what may soon become a war-zone.

  132. Y: I specifically have a common acquaintance with Zelenskyy in the diplomatic service of a certain nation, but it would be extremely stupid of me to ask him what the fuck is going on at the moment. I would like nothing more than to call him and ask him what the fuck is going on, but that would be stupid.

  133. I join Y in his good wishes. We live in difficult times.

  134. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes. Amen.

  135. John Cowan says

    What times are not difficult?

  136. David Eddyshaw says

    The period of Trajan and the Antonines. Gibbon says so. And who are we to disagree?

  137. I was thinking more about this lines.

  138. John Cowan says

    And who are we to disagree?

    The Himyarites would have done so, certainly. To say nothing of the lions of the Balkans.

  139. Lukashenko’s “I’m going to show you what, where, and why” memes (in Russian):


  140. . Thus, wāyō, connotes a little skill + a little experience + a little cunning; perhaps the ‘Americanism’ ‘cuteness’ is the nearest translation.

    Not what cuteness means in current AmE, certainly. But it illustrates a halfway stage in the semantic metamorphosis of cute from its direct ancestor acute.

  141. David Eddyshaw says

    I inadvertently offended someone in Nigeria (I think) by describing her son as da wayo, by which I intended “clever”, but I think actually is more “cunning.” Not the same …

  142. In “Don’t get cute” it preserves some of that sense in American.

  143. i’m trying to remember if i’ve heard “cute as a shithouse rat” in the wild, but i think not. that version of cute was live at least into the 1930s (if we can trust texts from popular theater and music*), but i think is thoroughly dead now apart from a few fixed phrases.

    * blitzstein, from The Cradle Will Rock: “…not coffee-and, andy, just coffee, andy. cute, huh?”
    (didn’t realize until i’d hit ‘post’ that i was in fact eating a lunch of coffee-and while typing this)

  144. The relevant sense of cute is, for me, forever associated with this exchange from TRON. From Dillinger’s accent (more of less David Warner’s natural one; note that Warner also provided the underlying voice for the MCP, before it was processed to make it sound more electronic), it appears that the character may be of British origin.

  145. It was nice to be reminded of this thread, and of the African words for ‘rope’ discussed above.

    It just struck me, with regard to the semantics of the etymological relationship (mentioned above) of Arabic salaba سلبة ‘lead-rope’ to salab سلب ‘plunder, spoils; that which is peeled off; hide from a slaughtered animal; plant fibres used for cordage’ (root slb ‘rob, steal, strip, plunder, despoil’, cf. Ge’ez salaba ሰለበ ‘strip off, take away, plunder’, Sabaic s₃lb 𐩯𐩡𐩨 ‘draw water improperly or against customary usage’), that English rope may have somewhat similar semantics. Here is the OED on rope:

    Cognate with Old Frisian rāp (in silrāp kind of rope; West Frisian reap, East Frisian (Saterland) rōp), Middle Dutch reep (Dutch reep), Old Saxon rēp (Middle Low German rēp, reep, reip, German regional (Low German) Reep; > German Reep nautical rope (18th cent.)), Old High German reif (Middle High German reif, German Reif, now only in senses ‘circlet, hoop’), Old Icelandic reip, Old Swedish rep (Swedish rep), early modern Danish rep (Danish reb), Gothic -raip (in skaudaraip shoe-thong), further etymology uncertain and disputed: perhaps < an ablaut variant (o-grade) of the same Germanic base as REAP v.1 (compare RIPPLE n.1), perhaps with original sense ‘long narrow strip that has been cut’. Compare Finnish raippa whip (compare raipata to whip), probably borrowed at an early stage < the Germanic base of this word.

    And at reap 1:

    Probably ultimately < the same Indo-European base as RIVE v.1, although the exact relationship is difficult to explain phonologically. Compare RIPE adj., n.2, and adv., RIPPLE n.2.

    English rive has been discussed before at LH.

    And for rip ‘tear, rend’:

    Origin uncertain. A number of verbs in other Germanic languages show at least partial semantic overlap, but the relationships among these are very uncertain, and it is likely that some of them show full or partial merger of verbs of distinct origins. In the earliest meaning ‘to tear’ probably showing a borrowing from a form with similar meaning in either a continental West Germanic language or a North Germanic language (see forms listed below); these perhaps ultimately reflect a formation on an ablaut variant of the same Germanic base as REAP v.1; compare also RIPPLE v.1, RIPPLE v.2

    Compare the etymologies given for German Reif in the DWDS and for Dutch reep in Dutch etymological dictionaries.

  146. David Eddyshaw says

    Unfortunately there is nothing similar with Proto-Oti-Volta *ŋ͡mi- “rope” (a member of the ŋu/ŋi “long thin things” noun class, sadly defunct in Western Oti-Volta.) The root seems thoroughly nominal, though there are derived verbs meaning “plait a rope.” Volta-Congo doesn’t do the Indo-European/Semitic thing of deriving practically everything from verb roots.

    On the other hand, Kusaal faaen /fãɪ̃/ means both “rob” and “save”, as I mentioned above; so there is a partial semantic parallel there, with a word meaning “snatch away” indifferently in a good or bad sense.

  147. January First-of-May says

    I remember that when I encountered the statement on Zompist’s website that the English cognate of loot (which is a Hindi borrowing) is leaf, I tried to look it up on Wiktionary, and ended up deciding that Zompist had apparently mixed up two very similar (in both sound and meaning) PIE roots, and that the true English cognate of loot is rip.

    It appears that in fact the (closest there is to a) cognate is reave, in which case there hadn’t been that much semantic change on the way.

  148. David Marjanović says

    Wiktionary on loot:

    “Borrowed from Hindi लूट (lūṭ, “booty”), either from Sanskrit लोप्त्र (loptra, “booty, stolen property”) or लुण्ट् (luṇṭ, “to rob, plunder”). The figurative meaning developed in American English in the 1920s, resulting in a generalized meaning by the 1950s.”

    Loptra could easily come from a PIE *(h₁)rowp- that would account for reave through Verner, and for German raufen (“spontaneous wrestling of children”, “emotional tousling of hair”) through Kluge. The forms with completely different vowels, like rip or Reif(en), ought to be something different.

  149. John Cowan says

    I asked ChatGPT to carry on with the Doyle tale and got this:

    I had seen little of Holmes lately, and when my path took me through Baker Street, on an impulse I rang the bell at the well-remembered door and was admitted. I made my way to his chamber and was surprised to see him staring fixedly out of the window; so absorbed was he that he seemed not to notice my arrival. When I greeted him, he started, but did not turn around.

    “Come here, Watson,” he said with a quiet intensity, “and look at that cart. Do you notice anything… intriguing about it?”

    Curiosity piqued, I approached the window and peered outside. Parked on the street was an ordinary-looking cart, drawn by a horse patiently chewing on its reins. At first glance, there seemed to be nothing particularly remarkable about it. But as my eyes scanned the scene, I began to discern something unusual.

    “Is it the cart itself, Holmes?” I asked, searching for any signs of peculiarity.

    He shook his head. “No, Watson, it is what lies within it that captures my attention. Observe closely.”

    I followed his gaze and focused on the cart’s rear compartment. A wooden crate sat there, covered with a canvas tarpaulin. Although the crate appeared unremarkable, the air of secrecy surrounding it intrigued me. I turned to Holmes, awaiting further enlightenment.

    “Look at the symbols on the crate, Watson,” Holmes instructed, pointing at a series of meticulously drawn symbols inscribed across its surface. “They are ancient runes, associated with a lost language.”

    Indeed, the symbols were intricate, hinting at a hidden meaning beyond my grasp. I wondered how Holmes had acquired knowledge of such esoteric matters.

    “But Holmes,” I began, “what could possibly be so significant about this crate and its enigmatic symbols?”

    Holmes turned his piercing gaze towards me. “That, my dear Watson, is precisely what we need to discover. The arrival of this cart and its mysterious cargo on Baker Street is no mere coincidence. It is the beginning of a new case, one that will test our wits and unravel secrets buried deep within the past.”

    His words sent a shiver down my spine, igniting the spirit of adventure that had lain dormant in me since our previous exploits. I found myself yearning for the thrill of deduction and the satisfaction of solving yet another enigma alongside my brilliant companion.

    With a renewed sense of purpose, I turned back to the window and examined the runes once more. Though they held no meaning to me, I knew that with Holmes by my side, no mystery was insurmountable.

    “Very well, Holmes,” I declared, determination filling my voice. “Let us delve into this intriguing cart and uncover the truth concealed within its depths. Our next adventure awaits.”

    Holmes smiled, his eyes gleaming with anticipation. “Indeed, Watson. Prepare yourself for a journey unlike any we have encountered before. The game is afoot!”

    Remarkably Hattic.

  150. Written in annoying ChatGPTish, a register similar to that used in samples aiming to show middle schoolers how to write essays. Ew.

  151. Jewish rancheros, Elamite and Russian sarafan.

    analysis by D. L. Gold. (unfortunately only in google books:()

    Why here: reminded me of saraband and sarband above.

  152. The source of Russian sarafan is of some interest to me. Once an Iranian lady asked me about Russian women’s garments headgear etc. and when I mentioned sarafan she said they know this thing (and word) in Iran, to my surprise. She in turn was perplexed by the suggested Persian etymon. As I’m piling up links, link1, link2 a couple of versions of a pdf of The royal costume and insignia of Alexander the Great which deals with Greek attestation of a similar-sounding Persian word.

  153. Serifan is the name of the youngest of Jack Kirby’s, Forever People. The name is a pun, as he is a divine/angelic being and a huge fan of classic westerns. I have further wondered whether, in connection with the Old West, the name was also supposed to evoke serape.

  154. And here I thought it meant he preferred Times New Roman to Helvetica.

  155. By the way, does the second vowel of Persian sarâpâ – the supposed source of Russian sarafan – make any sense in Persian (of Ferdowsi) if sar is to be read a “head” and as “foot”?

    There are sartâpâ “cap-a-pie” and sar o pâ (and sarpâ with slightly different meaning and also apparently bi sar o pâ and also wiktionary mentions
    (عامیانه): سر از پا نشناختن کنایه از: با اشتیاق سوی مقصود رفتن.
    while google cites Urdu az sartâpâ too…). These are easier to analyse….

    (also assuming (perhaps incorrectly?) that Ferdowsi has sarâpâ and not sarâpây, I wonder what form of “foot” is used in his texs, or pây. Would the latter mean that sarâpâ is not a -foot compound?)

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