My wife read in a newspaper story that the word “farce” comes from comic insertions in religious plays and asked me if it was true; I said I didn’t know but would find out, and so it is, as Merriam-Webster explains:

From Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, many of us are familiar with farce in its dramatic sense. However, when farce first appeared in English, it had to do with cookery, not comedy. In the 14th century, English adopted farce from Middle French with its original meaning of “forcemeat”—that is, a highly seasoned, minced meat or fish often served as a stuffing. In the 16th century, English imported the word again, this time to refer to a kind of knockabout comedy already popular in France. French farce had its origins in the 13th-century practice of “stuffing” Latin church texts with explanatory phrases. By the 15th century, a similar practice of inserting unscripted buffoonery into religious plays had arisen. Such farces—which included clowning, acrobatics, reversal of social roles, and indecency—soon developed into a distinct dramatic genre and spread rapidly in various forms throughout Europe.

An unexpected medieval survival! And kudos to the NY Times (I’m pretty sure that was the newspaper in question) for providing an etymology that was factual as well as piquant.

Also, I have a question that I’m unlikely to get an answer to, but if not here, where? I recently saw the movie Lingui, The Sacred Bonds (Lingui, les liens sacrés) by the Chadian director Mahamat Saleh Haroun (you don’t get many chances to see movies from Chad); it was powerful and well acted, but of course I wondered about the word lingui, which occurs in the dialogue when the protagonist’s sister asks her (in translation) “What about the sacred bonds?” and you can hear what sounded to me like /linɟi/ on the soundtrack. Now, most of the dialogue is in French (I wondered why the mother and daughter spoke in French, but one would have to know the local sociolinguistic situation to make a decent guess), some is in Arabic, but a bit is in one of what Wikipedia calls “over 120 indigenous languages,” and this is one such bit; alas, I have no way of knowing which it is and thus no way to investigate the word. If anyone has any ideas, I’m all ears.


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    French WP says it’s Chadian Arabic: “Dans l’arabe-tchadien, le lingui désigne les liens d’entraide dans les rapports familiaux et amicaux.”


    It’s not in


    though (but this seems to be a pretty brief dictionary.)
    Chadian Arabic seems to be very similar to Nigerian Shuwa Arabic.

  2. David Marjanović says

    I had taken for granted that farce is just another example of using words for (alleged) food to mean “nonsense” – tripe, baloney –, but it may well be what started the trend; it’s after all the only one found outside of English.

    ETA: hogwash is a borderline case: it originally referred to kitchen waste fed to pigs.

  3. Stu Clayton says

    this seems to be a pretty brief dictionary

    It calls itself “experimental”. And it’s by the SIL folks, as can be seen already in the link. A lot of work must have gone into it.

  4. Stu Clayton says

    just another example of using words for (alleged) food to mean “nonsense”

    Schweinskram recipes, no nonsense for piggies.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    There’s a whole Bible version in Chadian Arabic.

    I notice that the website names Jeffrey Heath as the compiler of the lexicon (which I agree is no negligible work at all) but it actually seems to be Judith Heath according to the corresponding app. I suppose they might be in some way related (but I don’t think Jeffrey H has any particular links with SIL, so maybe not.)

    Jeffrey Heath worked on Hassaniya Arabic, though.

  6. French WP says it’s Chadian Arabic

    Thanks very much! But now I want to know what Arabic word it represents. Calling Lameen…

  7. “I notice that the website names Jeffrey Heath as the compiler of the lexicon” – actually, no:)

    (also: naji “to be saved” in the lexicon can be related, cf. also نجي and أنجى and let’s wait for Lameen for the rest)

    The WP article makes it look like unwanted pregnancy/abortion is her main problem.

  8. Yeah, her daughter gets pregnant and at first (as a good Muslim) she’s horrified at the thought of an abortion, but eventually she realizes it’s the only solution that makes sense. (It’s something of a “message movie,” I’m afraid.)

  9. correction to the above: niji “to be saved”.

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    “I notice that the website names Jeffrey Heath as the compiler of the lexicon” – actually, no:)

    Mais si:


    However, you’re right: he’s just a “consultant” on other pages. It obviously is the lean, mean, Malian-language-describing* machine himself, though.

    niji “to be saved”

    “Save” seems pretty remote semantically from “familial ties.”

    * To say nothing of Australian. Man’s a wonder.

  11. Farci is culinary French one finds in English. Not only did I not connect it with farce, I’ve only just realised the force in forcemeat was originally farce. A lovely folk etymology / eggcorn.

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    The medical term “infarction” is of the same origin. This is in accordance with my theory that pathologists spend all day dreaming about what they are going to be eating for dinner (thus “sago spleen”, “nutmeg liver”, “sugar icing spleen” …)

  13. J.W. Brewer says

    There’s also the related late-medieval-English farcing/farsing, glossed by wiktionary as “The insertion of vernacular paraphrases into a Latin liturgy.” Which is not necessarily complimentary but also not necessarily pejorative.

  14. I hope Patrice Jullien de Pommerol (1999) Dictionnaire arabe tchadien-français: suivi d’un index français-arabe et d’un index des racines arabes, p. 774, is visible here. If not:

    lingi n. m., utilisé aussi en arabe sd. ♦ bonne relation, lien d’amitié, pacte d’amour.Al-lingi kitâb, balhag al xaddâr. Le lien d’amitié est comme un serment sur le Coran, il fera du mal à celui qui le rompra. Prvb. •Anâ ma‘âk indina lingi ambênatna mâ nagdar nisawwi lêk coxol hawân. Avec toi nous avons un pacte d’amour, je ne peux pas te faire quelque chose de mal. •Anâ wa jârti indina lingi. Ma voisine et moi avons entre nous un lien d’amitié très fort. •Anâ alwakkalt lê Allâhi, xallêt lingî bas yalhagah. Je me confie en Dieu ; celui qui m’a trahi, je laisse notre pacte d’amitié lui retomber sur la tête (i.e. à lui d’en supporter les conséquences).

    Curiously, Kanuri apparently has nə́ngi ‘friendly relation between relatives and close friends’, as given by John P. Hutchison (1990) Dictionary of the Kanuri Language, p. 132. (For the consonantism, perhaps cf. my comment here.) Africa is very much out of my bailiwick, and I don’t have time to follow up on any of this at the moment—my ride is leaving—but maybe it will help others to find some answers.

  15. David Eddyshaw says

    That’s obviously the word. Xerîb delivers again!
    So French WP has it right.

    The Kanuri nə́ngi immediately brings to mind the Western Oti-Volta etymon which turns up in Kusaal as nɔŋ “love” (a family member or a close friend, not a romantic/sexual partner), Mooré nònge. (And the WOV low tone actually derives from proto-Oti-Volta high.)

    I can’t see any conceivable way that this could be anything but pure coincidence, though. AFAIK there is zero evidence of any Kanuri loans from WOV, and it’s hard to see how there even could be any; on the other hand, the WOV verb itself is probably related to Kusaal nan, Mooré nàne “respect, appreciate, esteem”, which argues against it being a borrowing.

    Just to continue the fantasy of an actual relationship, though: WOV intial /l/ and /n/ are in fact in complementary distribution, according as the following vowel is oral or nasal respectively.

    The Chadian Arabic word itself looks like a borrowing from somewhere, though. Or is it explicable within Arabic itself, after all?

  16. “Save” seems pretty remote semantically from “familial ties.” – Yes.
    But najiyy “1. confidence 2. trusting, confiding, trustful, confidant 3. intimate friend, close friend” looks similar enough both to “to save” and to “bonne relation” in Xerîb’s link. So maybe it incorporated the article somehow.

  17. ” she’s horrified at the thought of an abortion, but eventually she realizes it’s the only solution that makes sense. ”
    I think I have seen an Irish film with a similar idea:/

    P.S. Or wait, I somehow confused letters!:-) It is g, not j.

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    Now I think of it, the Lingala word for “love, want” is ling-

  19. David Eddyshaw says


    However, the consonants are also wrong: the “save” verb has j (i.e. ج) whereas this lingi word presumably has g (i.e. ق, pronounced in the Bedouin manner, characteristic of Shuwa Arabic too.)

    And the first example in the dictionary entry cited by Xerîb has al-lingi for the form with the definite article.

  20. That’s obviously the word. Xerîb delivers again!

    Indeed, and I doff my hat once again!

  21. Whatever the ultimate origin of Chadian Arabic lingi

    In regard to Kanuri nə́ŋgi ‘friendly relation between relatives and close friends; joking between individuals of two different ethnicities who are on good terms’, it is worth noting that n- + high tone is a Kanuri prefix that make abstracts from nouns and adjectives (along with nə́m-, usually without assimilation of the -m-, apparently). Some examples from Johannes Lukas (1937) A Study of the Kanuri Language: Grammar and Vocabulary, p. 14:

    nə́lefà health   cf. kəléfà healthy
    nə́jì sweetness   〃kəjî sweet
    nə́rè generosity   〃kərê generous
    nə́rdì heathendom   〃kə́rdì heathen
    nə́ndəɭì jealousy   〃kəndə́ɭì jealous
    nə́njì slavery   〃kə́njì slave
    nógəna salutation   〃kógəna courtier
    nânbê freedom   〃kânbê free man

    However, I could not locate a putative Kanuri *kəŋgi ‘good friend, someone with whom one has good relations’ or the like that nə́ŋgi might have been derived from. Maybe someone more qualified as an Africanist than I am will be able to find the appropriate form in Kanuri, Kanembu, or Tarjumo…

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    Interesting list: nə́lefà must surely be from Arabic (al-)ʿāfiyah, with the Kanuri genius for transmogrifying loanwords well in evidence (the Arabic word turns up all over in the Sahel/Savanna.)

    Nə́rdì reminds me of Hausa arne “pagan, indigenous”, but that is probably a stretch, especially as the /r/ in the latter word seems to be the result of rhoticism (there are also azne and asne.)

    Nə́ndəɭì looks rather like it contains the stem of Kusaal nɛn(na), Moba nánd̂, Mbelime (imperfective) nɛ́ńní “envy” and Waama nɛndi “hate”; this obviously goes back to proto-Oti-Volta, but once again I can’t see how the similarity could be anything but sheer coincidence.

  23. David Eddyshaw says

    I wonder if Berber could provide a link between the various Kanuri, Chadian Arabic and even Western Oti-Volta lingi/nəŋ- words? (Ultimately-Berber loans turn up everywhere in the Sahel and Savanna: even Kusaal has a few.)

    If the “have a social obligation toward” sense was primary (as opposed to fuzzy feelgood Westernoid “love”) then it would be the kind of word that might turn into a Wanderwort.

    Unfortunately I know almost nothing of Berber. But we have those amongst us who are not so limited …

  24. “However, the consonants are also wrong”

    DE, yes, see the PS in my comment above. I read LH’s /linɟi/ and for some reason began to think about Jim:(((( (which indeed can sound as [ɟ] in Sudan). I don’t know what are its reflexes in Chadic (apart of anomalies like /d/ in Sudanese, Chadic and Hassaniyya word for ‘tree’ (see translations in the English entry here) and certain Hausa borrowings).

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    Hausa usually has /j/ for Arabic /j/, as in aljima “Friday”, but that doesn’t always apply in words that have come via other intermediary languages. Direct loans from Arabic use ƙ for Classical Arabic /q/.

    I don’t follow what you mean about “tree.” Your link doesn’t lead to anything in Arabic as far as I can tell.

    (Some Gurma languages actually have /s/ or /c/ for /t/ in the “tree” etymon, which goes all the way back to proto-Volta-Congo *tɪ́: Swahili mti, Ewe àtí, Kusaal tiig, Buli tìib, Mbelime tīèbù, Gulmancema tībū but Akaselem búcīī, Ncam bʋ́sʋ̄bʋ̄.)

  26. Xerîb has left me with nothing much to do here! However…

    Kanuri nə́ngi is not only “friendly relation between relatives and close friends”, but also the distinctively non-Arab practice of “joking relationship between different ethnic groups, clans, etc.”; nəngimá is “someone with whom there exists a joking relationship” (presumably a cross-cousin). For Manga Kanuri, nángi is simply rendered by Jarrett as “joking relationship”. For Tumari Kanuri, “nə́ŋgi” is likewise “Freundschaft (zwischen … Menschen); Vertrauen (zwischen Völkern)”. Note that the latter two are spoken well to the west of where Shuwa Arabic is usually used. So both the distribution and the meaning suggest that the direction of borrowing is Kanuri to Arabic rather than vice versa. That said, I can’t figure out a Kanuri-internal etymology for it, beyond the possibility of segmenting out the n-.

    Old Kanembu does reveal the interesting pair nnga “life; wellbeing” and nga “live” for modern kən-də́ga, dəgá-. So maybe we should look for a verb like dəgi-? Alas, not found.

    I can’t think of any similar Berber word. (It does remind me of Songhay linji “root, vein, fibre, etc.”, but that’s probably just a coincidence.)

  27. David Eddyshaw says

    In Western Oti-Volta cultures, the traditional joking relationship is prototypically between siblings-in-law: in Mooré the relationship is called ràkɩ́ɩre, and the person you have it with is your ràkɩ́ya; the cognate Kusaal dakiig just means “wife’s sibling/sister’s husband.”

    At the Kusaasi Fire Festival, you throw eggs at your dakiis.

    Whole ethnic groups are regarded as dakiis: the life of my (Mossi) chief nurse was saved during the Konkomba-Dagomba war when he was stopped at a roadblock by a Dagomba killing squad by the fact that the Mossi have the ràkɩ́ɩre relationship to the Dagomba.

    It’s tempting to try to link the roots seen in e.g. Kusaal diem “parent-in-law” and di’em “play, not be serious”, but I don’t think it really works: the modal and glottal vowels don’t match, and parents-in-law are definitely not to be joked with.

  28. At the Kusaasi Fire Festival, you throw eggs at your dakiis.

    That’s a line that begs to be repurposed — a code sentence to identify a spy’s contact, perhaps?

  29. DE, below each English entry in Wictionary there is a (collapsed) list of translations to other languages. Sometimes it is fun. The Chad Arabic collective for trees is šadar.

    I saw a mention of loanwords in Hausa (a loanword as it turns out) in Kaye 1972 Arabic /žiim/: A synchronic and diachronic study. but can’t comment on them or his reconstruction of the sound of Jim:

    Most interesting to consider are Arabic loanwords into a language like Hausa (a Chadic language of the Afroasiatic family) which prove, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that lexical items are borrowed from colloquial varieties of Arabic äs well äs from literary kinds of Arabic. The normal correspondence is Hausa /ǰ/ and Arabic /ǰ/. However, one notes the /d/ reflex in Hausa /sírdi/ ‘saddle’, proving that this could not possibly come from Arabic /ǰ/ (cf. CJassical Arabic /sirǰ/), but rather from Arabic /d/. (Note our remarks on Upper Egyptian (Nubian) /d/ earlier in this paper.) There can be no doubt also that the /ǰiim/ was borrowed into Hausa from Arabic /ž/ (perhaps from PCA */ž/); consider such morphophonemic alternations äs Hausa /ʔalħáǰi/ ‘pilgrim’, the plural of which is /ʔalhazáy/ (cf, PCA */ʔalħâžži/). For the füll details, see Joseph H. Greenberg, “Arabic Loan-Words in Hausa”, Word 3 (1947), 85-97. Greenberg’s Statement of the facts äs it relates to the /ǰiim/ is the following (p. 87): “In present-day Hausa, /ǰ/ is found in morphophonemic alternation before /e/ and /i/ with both /d/ and /z/ and the language has /ǰ/ but no /ž/. The former presence of /ž/ in alternation with /z/ paralleling /š/ in alternation with /s/ may be presumed. The Fulani who live in both among the Hausa and neighboring region to the West and have presumably been subject to similar cultural influences in their adoption of Mohammedanism represent classical /ǰ/ by /z/. Since their language has a /ǰ/ but no /z/ it is reasonable to conclude that the /z/, which is not found for classical /ǰ/ outside of some Jewish urban dialects of North Africa, is an attempt to render urban Moroccan /ž/. The other areas in which /ž/ is found for classical /ǰ/ (notably Syria) are too remote geographically to be considered äs sources of borrowing.”

    I think that Greenberg is erroneous in his set of sound laws on pp. 88-89, however. He assumes that the source in all cases is Arabic /ǰ/. Hausa has borrowed lexical items from literary kinds of Arabic, in which case /ǰ/ remains. But the presence of Hause /z/, for example, is best understood äs coming from Arabic /ž/ (by dissimilation), NOT /ǰ/ (cf. PCA */zunžufr/ ‘cinnabar’). Greenberg himself suggests ‘more or less’ what I am proposing in his “An Application of New World Evidence to an African Linguistic Problem (Hausa)”, Mémoires de L’Institut Français D’Afrique Noire 27: Les Afro-Americains (Ifan-Dakar, 1953), 129-31, in which he suggests that Hausa /ǰ/ comes from an earlier /dy/ or /zy/ (p. 129). I quite agree with Greenberg’s doubtful derivation of Arabic /ǰ/ > Hausa /g/ in /bamá.gúje/, pl. /má.gúzá.wá./ ‘pagan’ from Arabic /ma.ǰu.si/ ‘magian’, in his loanwords paper, 1947: 89.

  30. David Eddyshaw says

    That’s a line that begs to be repurposed

    The actual name of the festival in Kusaal is Bugum Tɔɔnr “Fire Throwing”; whether the egg-throwing is a health-and-safety-gone-mad version of a more exciting predecessor I cannot say.

    below each English entry in Wictionary there is a (collapsed) list of translations to other languages

    Ah. Thanks.
    /d/ and /ɟ/ often alternate in Oti-Volta, in a way which seems impossible to reduce to any set rules; /t/ and /c/ too. It doesn’t only happen before front vowels, either: all of Gurma has *ɟa- for the “man/male” stem which appears everywhere else as *da-, for example.
    Maybe there is some regional tendency at work.

  31. Maybe there is some regional tendency at work.

    “I suggest that these kinds of alternations discussed in this paper are UNIVERSAL.” – A. Kaye, Arabic /žiim/: A synchronic and diachronic study.

  32. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, this d/ɟ alternation clearly isn’t universal.

    Moba jūn̄ , Gulmancema juni “bite” (where /n/ for non-initial *m is regular), but Kusaal dum, Buli dom, Yom də̄m, Samba Leko lùm, Swahili uma (proto-Bantu *dʊ́m-) …

    Actually, “eat”, well-established as proto-Volta-Congo *dɪ, has puzzling reflexes suggesting initial *ɟ even outside Central Gur in some cases, e.g. Kuteb ci, Mbembe ci, Punu ji. It’s a mystery. John Stewart thought that proto-Niger-Congo had two series for all the stops, lenis and fortis, but the evidence seems very iffy*, and even he later abandoned the idea that the distinction survived even into proto-Bantu. More research is needed …

    * The sole “Niger-Congo” language which seems to have such an opposition in all stops is Ebrié, a language which Stewart happened to know well. Teeter’s Law …

  33. ə de vivre says

    I was really hoping there’d be a way to link “lingi” et al. to Sumerian “ŋarza” (rites; cultic or cosmic ordinance), which the Etymological Dictionary of Akkadian claims is a loan from Akkadian “parṣu.” There seems to be some link between the /ŋ/ sound in Sumerian an bilabial articulation. (In Emesal, /ŋ/ and /m/ alternate; cuneiform signs with mV readings often also have ŋV readings.) How an Akkadian /p(ʰ)/ gets loaned into Sumerian as /ŋ/ rather than /pʰ/ or /p/ is unclear, but the other consonants and vowels work for an early East Semitic loan and the meanings look plausible.


  34. J.W. Brewer says

    I had intended but failed to make this point in an earlier comment, but the early non-farcical, as it were, sense survived in at least specialized domains – meaning a situation where additional words were inserted into a stock Latin liturgical text but without any implication of jocularity or use of the vernacular. In particular, the Sarum Missal (used in some dioceses in England before the Reformation) had frequent resort to what modern scholarship calls “farced Kyries,” i.e. texts sung in the place of the usual “Kyrie eleison / Christe eleison / Kyrie eleison” but with lots more (serious) words added. Here’s the one that was appointed for use on Maundy Thursday.

    Conditor, Kyrie, omnium, ymas creaturarum, eleyson.
    Tu nostra delens crimina, nobis incessanter eleyson.
    Ne sinas perire facturam: sed clemens ei eleyson.

    Christe, Patris unice, natus de virgine, nobis eleyson.
    Mundum perditum qui tuo sanguine salvasti de morte, eleyson.
    Ad te nunc clamantum preces exaudias pius, eleyson.

    Spiritus alme, tua nos reple gratia, eleyson.
    A Patre et Nato qui manus jugiter, nobis eleyson.
    Trinitas sancta, trina Unitas, simul adoranda,
    Nostrorum scelerum vincula resolve redimens a morte,
    Omnes proclamemus nunc voce dulciflua, Deus, eleyson.

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    Kanuri must surely be a good candidate for the source of non-Arabic vocabulary in Chadian Arabic on first principles.

    Even the name of the country seems to be from Kanuri …


    (However, no such word appears in my Kanuri dictionary …)

    From what Lameen says, there does seem to be something of a semantic gap between the Kanuri nə́ngi and the Chadian Arabic lingi, though. Mooré ràkɩ́ɩre seems to be quite a different thing from the social-conformity-promoting lingi which features in the film.

    I wonder if Chad actually has the interethnic ràkɩ́ɩre cultural phenomenon? (I know that Mali does: we discussed it on LH somewhere. But that is a long way away …) As Lameen points out, it’s not an Arabic cultural thing.

    Or does the Kanuri word just encompass much broader semantic range than ràkɩ́ɩre?

  36. ktschwarz says

    farced Kyries: In those few dictionaries that define that sense, the headword is spelled “farse”, but indeed “farced Kyries (or Glorias, etc.)” is also in use in modern scholarly books on church music (often with apologetic quotation marks, as “‘farced’ Kyries”. Wiktionary recognizes this with definition #5 of farce, verb: “Alternative form of farse (‘to insert vernacular paraphrases into (a Latin liturgy)’)”.

  37. ktschwarz says

    … and that’s not just a recent confusion; the OED also has farce, v. sense 7 = farse, with quotations going back to 1857: “A very curious farced Epistle”.

  38. J.W. Brewer says

    @ktschwarz: But of course wiktionary is unhelpfully overprecise since some of these farced/farsed items insert additional Latin text into a Latin liturgy, albeit imperfectly-Latinized Greek in the Kyrie context.

  39. David Marjanović says

    using words for (alleged) food to mean “nonsense”


    Schmarr(e)n. I actually had some Kaiserschmarrn today (without raisins of course).

  40. ‘using words for (alleged) food to mean “nonsense”’

    Which reminds me of “Not everything in this book represents the unanimously felt beliefs of every contributor: the three of us often argued at length about presentation and interpretation, but the result is coherent, we hope, and at least as homo­geneous as a salade niçoise, if not a finely chopped tabbouleh.” (Modern Written Arabic, Badawi, Carter, Gully)

  41. My wife makes a fine tabbouleh. (She learned from Syrian students in Italy.)

  42. Stu Clayton says

    at least as homo­geneous as a salade niçoise

    Mild humor here, I suppose. “Harmonious” would make more sense. That salad is as heterogeneous as you can get. “At least as homogeneous” would mean “not at all”.

  43. “…this type of relationship is now understood to be very widespread across societies in general. In West Africa, particularly in Mali, it is regarded as a centuries-old cultural institution known as sanankuya.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joking_relationship).
    Is -nank- in (Mande?) sanankuya anyhow related to all these nan-words?

  44. David Eddyshaw says

    Says the WP article on sanankuya

    “It is considered an essential element of Mande/West African society.”

    Yep. Just like drinking Brüderschaft is “an essential element of German/European” society.

    I wish people would Bloody Stop Doing This. Big place, West Africa. It’s not all one homogeneous “society” which is only there to supply “roots” for Americans.

    Is -nank- in (Mande?) sanankuya anyhow related to all these nan-words?

    It does seem to be Mande.

    I think Mande derivational affixes are pretty much all suffixes, so no. It doesn’t seem to be a compound of sa- “die” or “snake” …
    (But what nan-words did you have in mind?)

    The -ya bit looks like the very productive -yaa that forms abstract nouns from verbs. Sananko means “rinse”, but if that really is the base it must have some metaphorical sense there.

  45. ktschwarz says

    JWB, “wiktionary is unhelpfully overprecise”: thanks. Other dictionaries did not make that mistake. Merriam-Webster, for example, defines farse as

    noun. an interpolation (as an explanatory phrase) inserted in a liturgical formula
    usually : an addition or paraphrase, often in the vulgar language, formerly permitted in the sung portions of the Mass

    verb. to amplify (a liturgical formula) by interpolation : insert a farse in
    also : to interpolate (a farse)

    So, “often”, but not necessarily.

  46. David Eddyshaw says

    This online dictionary has sènànkun “joking cousin”:


    Incidentally, it looks like the Bambara have joking relationships with different relatives from Western Oti-Volta speakers. Cousins rather than in-laws.

  47. David Eddyshaw says

    Interesting entry for wasa “song or game” in Robinson’s Hausa dictionary:

    Abokin wasa [“game friend”] is glossed “comrade, chum.” And Robinson also says “wasa is also used to denote an alliance or ‘entente cordiale’ between states.”
    (I see that wasan kura “hyena joke” means “unappreciated joke”, too. Figures …)

    Bulsa society, unsurprisingly, seems to work like Western Oti-Volta with institutionalised joking, but Buli actually has separate verbs for informal joking (diini = Kusaal di’em) and the institutionalised kind (gbieri); WOV languages, AFAIK, don’t do this.

    Kröger’s Buli dictionary, however, has a wise proverb:

    Gbiera, gbiera tintain alaa chieri zuk.
    “A stone thrown as a joke [still] cuts the head.”

    [OK, so maybe we should only throw eggs at the Fire Festival, chaps …]

  48. On Manding sènànkun, sìnànkun, etc., ‘joking cousin’, from p. 221 in Tal Tamari, ‘Joking Pacts in Sudanic West Africa: A Political and Historical Perspective’, Zeitschrift für Ethnologie (ZfE) / Journal of Social and Cultural Anthropology (JSCA) Bd. 131, H. 2 (2006):

    The etymology of the term senenkun must be considered unknown, though several derivations have been proposed.⁸ It may nevertheless be suggested — in view of this lexemes length and peculiar syllabic structure — that it is the contraction of two or more words. -ya is a suffix which indicates abstraction, or a relationship as such.

    ⁸ Delafosse (1955:623) postulates a connection with sana, “to stick”, and kun, in the sense of “cause, reason”, and also discusses but rejects (p. 660) a possible relationship with sina, which means, approximately, “to be isolated” or “to be the only one of its kind (in a given place)”. Labouret (1934:101) reports that some of his informants related this word to se, “power”. I have been told that the expression refers to placing one’s feet (senw) on one’s head (kun), thus alluding to the fun aspect of the relationship.

    The pages in Delafosse are here and here.

    Here is Labouret on the topic, not adding anything definite:

    Chez les Manding, l’origine de la sananku-ya est beaucoup plus délicate à découvrir. Les indigènes ne peuvent indiquer l’étymologie exacte de ce terme bien qu’ils en avancent plusieurs sans grande conviction. Certains insistent sur la présence dans ce mot de la racine sa signifiant pouvoir, ou bien exercer un pouvoir sur quelque chose ou sur quelqu’un. D’autre part, les traditions, confuses et obscures, n’expliquent rien, mais indiquent comment la sananku-ya à pu naître dans certains cas.

  49. A. Kaye, Arabic /žiim/: A synchronic and diachronic study.
    Is that Alan Kaye? I bought some books from him when he dissolved his linguistic library about 20 years ago…

  50. David Eddyshaw says

    I’ve just been reading some of his reviews on JSTOR, almost all of which are extremely negative, though one of them did earn some credit with me by putting a very enthusiastic boot in to Chomskyan linguistics in his review of a generative account of Arabic phonology.

    {By “negative”, I mean, not only saying outright that a work should never have been published at all by a respectable publisher, but also frequently mentioning that it was boring and he learnt nothing from it, along with a zeal for collecting typos and what he took for infelicities of expression.)

    Maybe there is just a lot of really bad stuff published on Arabic dialectology. Or perhaps I was just unlucky.

  51. @Hans, yes.
    Alan Kaye.
    Alan S. Kaye.
    He published Chadian and Sudanese Arabic in the Light of Comparative Arabic Dialectology, the title sounds appealing so I read it and some works referenced there, including the paper about Jim.

  52. DE, well, I read More on Diglossia in Arabic..
    It does not say the work should never have been published, just that most of it is boring:)


    My basic criticism of the work as a whole entity is that AT has not offered his reader new insights (either methodological or theoretical) concerning diglossia in Arabic. He rather summarizes the findings of other scholars in terms of a kind of contrastive analysis (contrastive grammar) between MSA and Baghdadi Arabic. I hope to demonstrate in the present review article that these methods of scholarship are off the track and miss the boat in so far as one of the most controversial and important topics in Arabic linguistics is concerned, and perhaps in modern general linguistics too.

    Chapter 4 (pp. 53-67) concerns itself again with some of the best-studied material in all of Arabic linguistic literature, namely the verbal system: e.g. stems and classes (forms I-XV) ……
    For any linguist who has studied Arabic grammar, this chapter especially is almost boring to the point of bringing tears (the same could be said for most of the monograph), since there is nothing new or original which the reader is being told.

  53. Let us now consider an English parallel (although it is a rough one only) to the classical diglossia of Ferguson (1964 [1959]). English has a formal style or register: “To whom do you wish to speak?” corresponds to its informal equivalent, “Who do you want to talk to?” Further, one may also compare the triglossic verbs wedget married or marryget hitched, the diglossic verbs put out (say, a cigarette) vs. extinguish, and the diff€erent nuances conveyed by the nouns kids vs. children vs. off€spring vs. progeny (see Kaye 1991 for details). English even has a di€erence in H and L prepositional usage (see below for remarks on a parallel case in Arabic). Consider upon vs. on, as in “Upon arrival, go directly to the baggage claim area.” Further down the continuum ladder in the mesolect, one may utter “On arrival …,” or “On arriving …,”. If one were uttering this sentence to a friend (toward the basilect), though, it would come out something like, “When you get there, go straight to get (or pick up) your luggage.”

    Kaye, A. S., “Diglossia: the state of the art.” International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2001(152).

    Once I saw online an English learner asking teachers if he can always use phrasal verbs instead of latinate verbs. His example was semantically imprecise (“get to” and “arrive”) but it is one of those situations when someone “merely” interested in learning a language see something rather exciting which I never noticed despite the more “linguistical” interest. Namely that Enlgish has two sets of verbs.

  54. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes, that review is one of the milder ones. (I didn’t invent the never-should-have-been-published one. He says exactly that in another review. But I wouldn’t recommend looking, The reviews were … uninformative. Perhaps I expect the wrong things from a review of an academic work in a learned journal.)

  55. In addition to what’s on his Wiki page, Kaye did the Adaptations of Arabic chapter in Daniels and Bright.

  56. “uninformative”
    I would not say so. I learned about Haas’s “preliterate diglossia”.

    Also Kaye says several things which I simply don’t understand (partly because of my poor familiarity with generative grammar) – which is an opportunity to learn something.

    Also I did not know to get hitched.

  57. David Eddyshaw says

    For me, the review is almost boring to the point of bringing tears, since there is nothing new or original which the reader is being told.

    It has not offered the reader new insights (either methodological or theoretical), but rather summarizes the findings of other scholars.

  58. nə́rdì heathendom  ” kə́rdì heathen

    Nə́rdì reminds me of Hausa arne “pagan, indigenous”, but that is probably a stretch

    As a Kurdologist, I was struck by the form of the form of the word kə́rdì. There is discussion of Shuwa Arabic kirdi, Kanuri kə́rdì, Tubu erdi, Bagirmi kirdi, etc., in Christian Seignobos and Henry Tourneux (2002) Le Nord-Cameroun à travers ses mots: dictionnaire de termes anciens et modernes : province de l’extrême-nord, p. 154f. They take it from Arabic قرد qird ‘ape, monkey’:

    kirdi, n. et adj., variables ou non ; on accordait autrefois l’adj. en genre : kirdi, ie

    < arabe [qird], « singe » ; cf. infra. A. Marliac (1991, p. 18) donne à ce mot une étymologie kanuri. Le mot existe bien en kanuri, sous la forme [kə́rdi], « païen, apostat » (Cyffer & Hutchison 1990, p. 93), mais il vient de l’arabe.

    • non musulman, animiste (Jullien de Pommerol 1999, p. 727).

    📖 L’une des premières attestations du mot, sous la forme « cardy » se trouve dans un manuscrit intitulé « Tripoly de Barbarie autrefois les Lotophages » signé du nom de Pétis de La Croix, qui date de 1697 (Lange 1972). La deuxième partie du manuscrit, d’une main différente, mais apparemment de la même date, contient une liste de « mots en langue Bamaouy » (et non « en langue Barnaony » comme le lit D. Lange), et, dans une note sur les langues parlées au Soudan, on trouve le mot « Cardy », entre autres.

    Ce mot, sous la forme « kirdi », popularisé à l’époque coloniale pour désigner les non-musulmans, pose un problème d’étymologie. Certains ont voulu le faire venir de l’arabe [kurdī] « Kurde » (voir Bovill (1966¹, p. XIV) ; les Kurdes habitant eux-mêmes les montagnes, on aurait là une appellation par analogie, des montagnards du Nord-Cameroun. Or, il n’y a pas que les montagnards à être appelés « kirdi », et le mot a cours également au Kanem, au Baguirmi et au Wadday. D’autre part, on ne voit pas pourquoi [kurdī], prononcé « kourdii », aurait donné « kirdi », avec un « i » en première voyelle. Pourquoi ce nom aurait-il coexisté, au Tchad, avec celui de « Hadjéray », qui veut précisément dire « quelqu’un du rocher », et qu’on applique justement à des non-musulmans montagnards ?

    Nous pensons plutôt que « kirdi » vient de l’arabe [qird], qui signifie « singe » (Wehr 1979, p. 885). On trouve d’ailleurs en dazzaga [kidri] pour « singe » (Jourdan 1935, p. 42 ; Lukas 1953, p. 183). Le mot, dans son sens second et péjoratif, serait d’abord passé par des parlers arabes du Tchad ; ainsi, Carbou donne-t-il « kirdaï » ou « kirdawi » comme nom d’unité pour « fétichiste », et « kirdi » comme pluriel. Cette étymologie expliquerait la connotation très péjorative qui est souvent attachée à ce mot.

    Apologies for any remaining OCR errors. There is much more discussion there but I won’t reproduce it. In fact, the entire article on kirdi, tracing the history of the word, is quite interesting, and the whole book can be downloaded gratis here from the Institut de recherche pour le développement.

    Does Fula kaɗo ‘pagan, non-Fula’ belong to this group too?

  59. David Eddyshaw says

    Huh. I only knew kaɗo from Hausa, in which it means “Hausa person not of Fulɓe descent”, though the plural haɓe gives away its Fulfulde origin plainly enough.

    I suppose that if you’re conducting a jihad, everyone on the receiving end gets to be a “pagan” as it were ex officio.

    I don’t think it can be related to kirdi, particularly in view of the plural form, which shows that there is neither a /r/ nor a /d/ in the actual stem (there are many other nouns which do this insertion of ɗ a before singular -o, e.g. neɗɗo “person.”) Given the vowel mismatch, that doesn’t leave much of a resemblance.

  60. “It has not offered the reader new insights”
    @DE, of course when I read it I immediately thought if it can be applied to the review itself.
    But as I said, I learned some things from it.

    Arguably the insights mostly are not “new” (they’re just new for me) – apart maybe from his main idea that a “descriptive grammar” (“I refer to descriptive grammar in either a transformational/generative or generative semantic framework,”) of literary arabic is impossible and that one can’t compare literary Arabic to vernacular. I don’t understand what he means.

  61. David Eddyshaw says

    Neɗɗo “person”, plural yimɓe, and ɓiɗɗo “child”, plural ɓiɓɓe, are also of interest as being among the very few Fulfulde words that actually do look as if they might have cognates in Volta-Congo: cf Mooré neda, plural neba “person”, Kusaal biig, plural biis, “child.”

  62. ɓiɓɓe

    Reminded me of a question that occured to me recently (inspired by this silly song). About similar baby-talk words in different langauges. One commonly assumed factor is that there can be some universal principles behind them, but apart of this, how stable is this vocabulary? I honestly don’t know how resistant it is to (a) phonetic change (that is, if these words can excpeptionally ignore it) (b) replacement, but it appears that at least in the modern situation they are quite borrowable.
    So now I wonder how much it contributes in cross-linguistical similaraty of this vocabulary. If it does that would be in a way fun.

  63. David Eddyshaw says

    Well *bi “child” is very well estabished for Volta-Congo indeed: just about the only place it doesn’t occur is Bantu, and even there the root appears in the derived verb for “bear, beget.” (The Swahili mzee “elder” has the same root as Kusaal biig “child” …) It’s evidently old rather than a perpetual recreation as a mama/papa word, because it undergoes all the regular historical sound changes for each individual language.

    I agree that its apparent presence in Fulfulde doesn’t necessarily mean much, though. And the “person” stem in proto-Oti-Volta was just *nɪ̀-, which seems to have cognates elsewhere in Volta-Congo, but is frankly such a short stem with such unmarked phonology that it’s practically begging for chance lookalikes to turn up.

    If pressed, I think I’d say that Fulfulde probably is genetically related to Volta-Congo, but you’re dealing here with Altaic-level depths of supposed relatedness which are probably forever going to be beyond rigorous proof or disproof.

    The only real attempt I’ve seen to relate Fulfulde to Volta-Congo with actual regular sound correspondences is John Stewart’s, which has very major flaws, to put it mildly. It’s all tied up with his ideas about lenis and fortis consonants in Niger-Congo, and his choice of comparanda is very odd.

  64. The “monkey” etymology for kə́rdi is just not credible. For one thing, the abstract noun tells us that it’s morphologically composite in Kanuri: k-ə́rdi. For another, there’s no reason why it would add an -i at the end; Arabic -CC nouns are borrowed into Kanuri either with the Arabic case ending -u or with an epenthetic vowel breaking up the final consonant cluster, not with a suffix -i. (Cp. káwar “grave” < qabr, kárnu "century" < qarn, húməs "one-fifth" < xums, hówum "judgement" < ħukm, lóktu/lóktə "time" < waqt.) For a third, this predicts that we would find gird in Chadian Arabic for "pagan", which we don't. (Arabic q usually yields g in Kanuri: gúl- "say", gáwa "coffee", gərə́mbal "cloves", but it sometimes yields k, so that part isn't a problem.) I think the hypothesis says more about the background of the writers of that dictionary than about the origin of the word; the comparison of "savages" to monkeys is an old staple of European racist discourse, but it's far from obvious to me that you would find it in 17th c. Kanem.

    Actually… looking at Bondarev's Old Kanembu dictionary, I find yet another possible piece of evidence against it: yam angkrtbuye lantay "unbelievers are cursed". yam is "people", lan- is "curse", -ye is the subject marker, so angkrtbu must be something like "those who have disbelieved". If so, the root was originally k-ə́rti, and the d is just a product of Kanuri's vast ongoing conspiracy to lenite all its consonants into nonexistence.

  65. Excellent! Thank you for looking into that, Lameen, and restoring the word to the regular Kanuri k- / n- derivational pattern! That part of their etymology was very unsettling.

  66. the comparison of “savages” to monkeys is an old staple of European racist discourse, but it’s far from obvious to me that you would find it in 17th c. Kanem

    On reading Seignobos and Tourneux, I had the same misgivings about ‘monkeys’. But I was wondering if a derivation from qird made sense in local Islamic terms, in reference to the story alluded to in Surah Al-Baqarah 65, Surah al-Ma’idah 60, and Surah al-Araf 166 (here, here, and here for the general LH reader; click on the play button at the side to hear the verse), in which God transforms the unfaithful and disobedient into apes, saying كُونُواْ قِرَدَةً خَٰسِـِٔينَ kūnū qiradatan hāsiʾīn ‘Be apes, driven away [i.e., despised]!’, in which qird is the very word used.

    Obviously, the material you present from Old Kanembu makes the true derivation clear. Thank you for turning me on to Bondarev’s dictionary!

  67. OK, had a closer look: sadly, I was wrong about the Old Kanembu form above. Old Kanembu agr- “disbelieve” is the equivalent of modern angər- “deny”, with the corresponding verbal noun angrt = angərtə́. agrtbū, translated elsewhere as “disbelievers”, would correspond to modern angər-tə-wú, where -wú (-bú) is the plural agent noun suffix. This angkrtbu must be an unusual transcription of the same word; angər- “deny” is presumably an adaptation of the Arabic verb NKR “deny”. And Bondarev’s Old Kanembu lexicon does attest nrdi for “disbelief”, suggesting that that root already had the d. Don’t you hate it when an appealing hypothesis dissolves on closer examination? One more reason for me to try and get to grips with Kanuri morphology, if such a thing is even possible.

  68. David Marjanović says

    Kanuri’s vast ongoing conspiracy to lenite all its consonants into nonexistence

    Scandi-Congo-Saharan confirmed.

  69. “I think the hypothesis says more about the background of the writers of that dictionary…” – My associations are mostly European/Russian and racist. But it is not implausible. Be it formally good it would be silly not to mention it. Of course, great apes and monkeys to themselves are frequently compared to humans.

    Also there is a parallel between local attitudes to pagans and European attitude to Africans of any faith. You can enslave them. It is not difficult to derive “they are animals” when their status is that of animals (in this respect the reputation of Bornu Empire is generally worse than that of numerous slave-owning socieites).

  70. David Eddyshaw says

    Actually, the Muslim rulers of the historical Hausa city-states went out of their way not to enslave the Arna (pagan Hausa) of the countryside, even going to the lengths of theological jiggery-pokery to make out that they were People of the Book, kinda. They were more useful for tax purposes, as soldiers and as farmers if they weren’t Muslims or slaves.

    The more-or-less total conversion of the Hausa to Islam actually came about under British rule in the twentieth century, to some extent with the active support of the colonial authorities. (The Brits banned Christian missionaries from the territory of the Sokoto Caliphate, for example.)

  71. Well, one problem with discussing Bornu for me is that it is famous (in Europe) with slave trade. Obviously its culture is not limited to that.
    Downplaying slave trade does not seem ethical, and discussing nothing but slave trade also does not seem ethical.

  72. Just checked Lukas: 20th c. Kaidi Kanembu does, in fact, attest kə́rti “Heide”, so I think the d is a result of lenition after all. Cyffer’s dictionary notes that kə́rdi can also mean “wild” (e.g. “wild cow”); perhaps that was the pre-Islamic sense of the word.

    Something cool I realised en route: Old Kanembu preserves a more complicated plural morphology. In modern Kanuri, there are two nouns which form plurals by deleting initial k-: kâm “person”, pl. âm, and kámá “fellow”, pl. ámá. 20th c. Kanembu attests a third: čəká “tree” (< kə́ska), pl. yəká. But Old Kanembu has more – and, instead of dropping the k, they usually replace it with y. Thus not only kām "person" pl. yām, kskā "tree" pl. askā, but also kāw "mountain" pl. yāw, kgrg "heart" pl. yagrg, kabū "day" pl. yabū, ? "leaf" pl. yalū (vs. modern kâu, karə́gə, kawú, kálú, with regular suffixed plurals in -wa). There are also cases where it gets dropped, though: krmuma "dead person" pl. armubu (mod. kə́rmu "death"), ūwa "men" (modern sg. kwâ).

  73. David Eddyshaw says

    It is a sobering thought that modern Kanuri has been extensively simplified

  74. wondering if a derivation from qird made sense in local Islamic terms, in reference to the story alluded to in Surah Al-Baqarah 65

    In the Waziri Quran, the OK version of “and We said to them, “Be apes, despised” is, as best I can make out:
    دَاغْلْرُ تَدِ غُونِيه غُلْكِى نِييكَ
    dāglru tadi gūnī gulkī nīyeka

    It uses the inherited Old Kanembu word for “monkey”: dāgl (modern dágəl), which has spread far enough north to make it into a few Libyan Berber languages.

  75. “wild” (e.g. “wild cow”); perhaps that was the pre-Islamic sense of the word.

    Somewhat like paganus ‘rustic; unlearned; pagan’ from pagus ‘rural district, countryside; country people’, or English heathen beside heath.

    I was wondering on this account if kə́rdi might be from أرضي ʾarḍī ‘of the land; earthly, worldly’, from أرض ʾarḍ ‘land; earth’ (cf. kəléfà ‘healthy’ in some way from عافیة ʿāfiya ‘health’). But Kaidi Kanembu kə́rti would make this impossible from the outset, because the distinction between an inherited /t/ and /d/ is maintained in this position in that variety?

  76. Interesting idea. In fact, Kaidi Kanembu also has lártə “earth” (vs. Kanuri lárdə), from ‘arḍ; so the t would not be a problem. But I’m not sure how to explain the schwa in kə́rdi in that scenario.

  77. Fun Kanuri fact of the day: Maiduguri, the largest Kanuri-speaking city of Nigeria, actually has two names:

    Maidugurí (or Maiduwurí) – the original name, with the expected regular tone pattern, currently applied to the old town outside of the modern city; borrowed into English with antepenultimate stress, yielding:

    Maidúguri – the new city, whose name is borrowed back from English.

    It’s as if the City of London were called London, but London as a whole were called Londers.

  78. That’s wonderful — thanks for sharing it!

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