Maize, or Polyglot Redux.

Longtime readers will be aware that frequent commenter MMcM used to have a blog called
Polyglot Vegetarian that featured long and learned articles on a variety of foodstuffs as represented in as many languages as he could get his hands on. Its first post was dated January 1, 2007 (I welcomed it a few days later), and there were 23 posts that year — a heroic level of productivity which he was, quite naturally, unable to maintain; there were nine posts in 2008 and just a few more over the years until 2012, when a post on truffle seemed to be The End. But now, over a decade later, we have been graced with not one but two posts on maize! This is an occasion for celebration; I’ll provide a few snippets here and send you over there for lots more good chewy reading.

From Maize 1:

The first written use of maize in English appears to be Roger Barlow’s 1544 A Brief Summe of Geographie, translating Martín Fernández de Enciso’s Suma de Geographia. (original translation)

comen los indios pã de grano de maiz molido:& hazẽ dello buen pã que ed de mucho mãtenimiẽto. de eſta miſma harina de maiz cozida en calderas & tinajas grandes en mucha aqua hazen vino para beuer:
The indies of this contreie do ete of brede made with mais wᶜʰ maketh good brede and is of moche sustenaunce, and of the said corne thei make ther drynke

Note how the second maiz occurrence was translated corn.

A few English dialects have their own words for maize. South African mealie(s), from Afrikaans mielie, from Dutch milie, ultimately from Latin milium ‘millet’. New Zealand kānga from Maori, itself just English corn adapted to its phonology. In the same way as Hawaiian has kūlina. Or Tok Pisin kon or Nigerian Pidgin kᴐ̃n. Analogously, Haitian Creole has mayi.

Maize was fundamentally important to the New World civilizations that the Spanish found and conquered. Among the Aztecs, in the Florentine Codex, which regularly features in discussions here of foods of Central American origin, it is easy to find an illustration. The Online Nahuatl Dictionary has a thematic page of corn words, with all the terms giving detailed citations. Naturally, there isn’t really a “word for maize,” as opposed to its more important forms: cintli (Molina) ‘dried corn cob’, elotl (Molina) ‘fresh corn cob’, and tlaolli (Molina) ‘corn kernels’. Elotl is the source of Mexican Spanish word elote. I would have said “English word,” except that no dictionary seems to have admitted it yet, plus it only gets a subsection on Wikipedia. Of course, typed into Google, there are pages and pages of pictures, descriptions, recipes, and reminiscences. I do not think this is a principled objection; all the major dictionaries have both banh mi and pad thai. Rather, I think these are more likely to occur in English (non-cooking) prose, which may say something about the image of urban multiculturalism that they portray and elote does not. Oddly enough, M-W does have an entry for elotillo. Tlaolli is used in the reverse of the common naming pattern of this discussion, where castilan taoli means ‘wheat’. It is also the word chosen by Martius to expand his list of words from the languages he encountered in Brazil.

Maize cultivation predates the break-up of the proto-language of the language(s) of the Classic Maya Script, languages encountered by the Spanish in Yucatan, and those spoken there today, so there are often clear correspondences.

He then goes into detail on the situation in Maya and continues with Quechua and other Native American languages. From Maize 2:

A number of Slavic languages have something like Russian кукуру́за kukurúza. Vasmer says, «Трудное слово», ‘it’s a difficult word’. He does cite Kretchmer’s idea that it is from the sound one makes when feeding cornmeal to turkeys. In addition to such a cucuruz, Romanian porumb originally meant ‘pigeon’, on account of the shape, and a regional păpușoi is from păpușă ‘doll’.

Modern Hebrew תירס tiras was named (in imitation of the European “Turkish grain” words) for Tiras, one of the sons of Japheth in Genesis 10:2, because of an association with Turkey. In his Dictionary, s.v., Klein has a rant against this, partly because in the Targum (and the Protestant Samuel Bochart’s Phaleg, which similarly aimed to equate modern names with the tribes of Noah), תירס Tiras is תרקא tarreka Thracia, and according to some in the Talmud, פָּרַס pāras ‘Persia’; so something else is needed if you want Turkey.

Yoruba, Igbo, and Edo cognates ọka are from a common root for ‘millet’, but now additionally mean ‘maize’. Which is used to make ẹkọ, which Burton (in Yorubaland) compared to sowens. Lumpers, for whom grits and polenta are really the same thing, will probably want to include ugali, if not angú …, hasty-pudding and stirabout (Burton in Brazil, explaining how it is made from fubá). Splitters who don’t go all the way to distinguishing all the national varieties, but do need to call out the slightly fermented version, in search of an Englishing might go with corn-pap. This African sense does make it in the OED’s pap noun2 1.b. Even though this is immediately informed by Africaans, Harriot had written of, “boyling the floure with water into a pappe.” Pap seems to be on the top of the flour packaging on Amazon with other names below.

He deals with various pseudo-historical theories about India, Africa, China, etc., and finishes with this:

Postscript: It is possible that someone will have noticed that, other than some gems pulled from the embers of 𝕏, most of the secondary sources in these recent posts are a decade or more old. Indeed, much of the material sat in the local file system waiting to get put into shape. The lingering pandemic has afforded an opportunity to do that. I do not think much has changed in this history, though I welcome additions. Even the program of government-mandated ignorance for American schoolchildren in certain areas, which might revert the opening premise, may not succeed. There are, naturally, new and expanded online resources, which cleared up some loose ends. Although copyright of obsolete but recent works remains a mess. Overall, I think there was a greater relevant difference between the time of the earliest post here and the last one before the hiatus than between then and these new ones. For instance, Unicode support for hieroglyphs or emoji. 🌽

I think I speak for all of us when I proclaim “Welcome back, and keep up the good work!” (By the way, the paragraphs I have quoted are full of links which I was too lazy to replicate; you’ll just have to click through to the original.)


  1. Stu Clayton says

    … Kretchmer’s idea that [кукуру́за] is from the sound one makes when feeding cornmeal to turkeys.

    “One” ? Russians maybe, conventionally. Germans like Kretchmer, who died in 1956 in Vienna of all places, may not have had many opportunities to feed cornmeal to turkeys. I don’t know how widespread was the farming of turkeys in Germany before 1956, or even the preparation of cornmeal. Unmilled corncobs were given to farm animals, I think.

    So I doubt that the sound is an anthropological constant. I would say “gobble-gobble-gobble, you poor domesticated bird-brains destined for the festive board”.

  2. Note how the second maiz occurrence was translated corn.

    Since Roger Barlow was (I presume) English, his use of ‘corn’ means grain of any kind, as it does in the UK today.

  3. The Carolina Algonquian word, recorded by Harriot as <pagatowr>, is interpreted to be pronounced something like /pekǝˈtawas/. I don’t understand Harriot’s choice of -<r>.

    Burton’s word “bútás” is from around modern-day NW Congo or Gabon, as far as I can tell, not Guinea. Maybe it’s Kongo or Lingala.

  4. his use of ‘corn’ means grain of any kind

    I see. Yes, it’s not that corn just meant ‘maize’ like it does in American, but that it did, in fact, cover it.

    But there’s something else about the “of any kind.” As the OED says, “Locally, the word, when not otherwise qualified, is often understood to denote that kind of cereal which is the leading crop of the district; hence in the greater part of England ‘corn’ is = wheat n., in North Britain and Ireland = oats” And sometimes “the district” needs to be understood subtly. As when an Englishman in Africa still means ‘wheat’ and not, say, ‘millet’.

    In some ways, what American does (although not consciously or deliberately) is simplify the amount of context needed to know what the “default” grain is.

  5. Gabon, as far as I can tell, not Guinea

    Quite right. Both he and Barbot talk of Gabo(o)n in there. The link was meant to be through the latter’s title, Coasts of North and South-Guinea. Guinea being North-Guinea and Angola South-Guinea, I guess. Maybe adding “South-” would make it work, rather than abandoning the seque?

  6. Unsurprisingly the Bulgarian for maize has to do with Constantinople. Царевица (Tsarevitsa) — originating from Istanbul.

    Also мисирка (misirka, from Egypt) is a word for turkey (as in the bird), but a more common one is пуйка (puyka) — I don’t know the etymology of that.

  7. David Marjanović says


    Niederguinea! (Short discussion in a few following comments.)

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    Kusaal has ki “cereal in general”, kawɛnna “maize”, which seems to be etymologically just “resembling cereal, cerealoid” It has za for “millet” (Pennisetum glaucum, the actual staple crop) and naada for what the dictionaries call “early millet” or mil hâtif: I spent ages trying to find out what species that was, before eventually realising it’s the same Pennisetum glaucum but a different variety (there’s a lot of genetic diversity within the species, apparently.) Kazeong “red millet” is Sorghum bicolor (reasonably enough.) “Rice” is mui.

    “Cereal”, both “millet” roots, and “rice” all go back to proto-Oti-Volta (*kà-ɰí, *ʒò-ɰà, *nàad-ɰà, *mûɹ-ɰí, all formal plurals.) “Cereal”, “early millet” and “rice” all go back even further (Miyobe i-kɛ̌ɛ “cereal”, ǹ-nɔ́rì “millet” (in general), í-múyí “rice.”)

  9. Gabon

    I had a go at an edit, though it ended up being a long parenthesis. Some kind of chain is needed to keep it from being just the translations section in Wiktionary. Using Dirty Dick as a big part of this came relatively late in the “editing.”

    Angola South-Guinea

    Looks like that’s Ethiopia Inferior; South-Guinea goes as far south as Cape Lopez it seems. I included a link to Barbot’s introduction where he compares similar schemes used by different European countries.

    пуйка (puyka) — I don’t know the etymology of that

    Wiktionary “Agent noun from пу́я се (púja se, ‘to perk, to swank’) (dialectal) +‎ -ка (-ka), literally ‘perking (bird)’,” smells like a folk etymology, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right.

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    MMcM cites Yoruba ọ́ka “corn, maize”, along with some Igbo and Edo presumed cognates, and the Wiktionary article thereon is interesting:

    It gives no references, but the supposed proto-Volta-Niger *kà at the back of it looks plausibly cognate with proto-Oti-Volta *kà-ɰí “cereal.” Obviously with such short forms it’s all too easy to find lookalikes, but the fact that the tones obligingly match too reduces the sheer-chance-resemblance possibility a bit. (Well, by half …)

    There doesn’t seem to be a nice proto-Bantu lookalike to add in to the mix, unfortunately.

    So maybe a proto-Volta-Congo one, anyway. It wouldn’t be too startling from a Wörter und Sachen-ish angle, I suppose. Everybody in those parts seems to have been agriculturalists from way back.

  11. David Eddyshaw says

    The Adamawa language Samba Leko has kad “corn” (with low-high-low tone, which is not bad going for a monosyllable with a short vowel.) Dunno about the -d, but Samba Leko final consonants are sometimes relics of old class suffixes, as appears in the handful of nouns that still actually inflect for number, like nɛ̂ “person”, plural nɛ́b (cf Mooré nédà “person”, plural nédbà.)

  12. I don’t understand Harriot’s choice of -<r>

    In connection with this question, Goddard’s comments on the varying orthographic representation (<r>, <s>, <t>) of the outcome of the merger of Proto-Algonquian and *l in the earliest surviving written records of Eastern Algonquian languages are perhaps relevant. See §1.2, p. 143ff, in Goddard, “Eastern Algonquian as a Genetic Subgroup”, Papers of the Eleventh Algonquian Conference (1980), available here. Note especially the top of p. 146 on plurals. Also note p. 300–301 in Siebert (1975) “Resurrecting Virginia Algonquian from the Dead: The Reconstituted and Historical Phonology of Powhatan,” in Studies in Southeastern Indian Languages, ed. James M. Crawford (1975), available here).

    I wonder if the -owr in pagatowr here contains the reflex of the PA inanimate plural ending *-ali. Cf. elsewhere in Harriot (1588):

    Dyes of diuers kindes : There is Shoemake well knowen, and vsed in England for blacke; the seede of an hearbe called Wasewówr; little small rootes called Cháppacor

    Compare Powhatan (as recorded by Strachey) utchappoc <Vtchappoc> ‘root’ (and perhaps further with the forms listed here?).

    And further in Harriot:

    Okindgíer, called by vs Beanes, because in greatnesse & partly in shape they are like to the Beanes in England…

    Wickonzówr, called by vs Peaze, in respect of the beanes for distinctiõ sake, because they are much lesse; although in forme they little differ; but in goodnesse of tast much, & are far better then our English peaze…

    Macócqwer, according to their seuerall formes called by vs, Pompions, Mellions, and Gourdes, because they are of the like formes as those kindes in England…

    Sacquenúmmener a kinde of berries almost like vnto capres but somewhat greater which grow together in clusters vpon a plant or herb that is found in shalow waters: being boiled eight or nine hours according to their kind are very good meate and holesome, otherwise if they be eaten they will make a man for the time franticke or extremely sicke.

    Sacquenúmmener is apparently unidentified. Nekemias arborea, N. cordata? Peltandra virginica?

  13. Dug a little more. Westermann had already identified -kà- for ‘Rohrgras,Sorghum’ in his “Sudansprachen,” which I think (and please correct me) is more or less proto-Niger-Congo. Added another parenthesis on this. Thanks for the nudge.

  14. Kukuruz is an English word!?

    Dark alleys, you know.

    Don’t see a translator credit for the first. Born, for the second, was an Austrian. Bornite is named after him. (We sold our mineral collection before moving west.)

  15. David Eddyshaw says

    which I think (and please correct me) is more or less proto-Niger-Congo

    Yeah, it was Westermann who did the real work in first showing that the languages of the Western Sudan were related to Bantu: indeed it was he who first divided Western Sudanic into the until-quite-recently-standard subgroups of Mande, (West) Atlantic, “Gur”, “Togo Remnant”, Kwa and Benue-Cross. Greenberg really just hijacked it: though Westermann seems to have backed off from the full implications of Bantu being related to the West African languages, in the face of considerable opposition not only from full-on racists like Meinhof but (famously and rather sadly) from Guthrie hisownself. Greenberg dispensed with the dithering about it, and good for him too.

    Myself, I think “proto-Niger-Congo” is a seriously premature construct even in principle, let alone in the nitty-gritty details, but a hell of a lot of Westermann’s work looks pretty solid even so.

  16. – 1797

    I believe this is the German original, but it’s still in the process of being digitized.

  17. Burton’s word “bútás” is from around modern-day NW Congo or Gabon

    That’s where he was, but I have now convinced myself that he was referring to “Hindustani” bhutta, which his fellow imperialists would have recognized.

  18. MMcM says
    “1797 I believe this is the German original, but it’s still in the process of being digitized.”

    Thank you for the source.

    Of course Kukuruz is a German word too:

    – 1860 “Der Mais, auch türkischer Weizen, Kukuruz oder Welschkorn”

    – 1797 “Vollständiges Handbuch der Küchengärtnerei”, at p 243

    – and a source from 1710 at p 66

  19. I just Googled “Kukuruz” to get an idea how much it might actually be used in English, and Google decided to offer me a spot in their pilot program using AI to provide commentary on search results. We’ll see how that goes.

  20. David Marjanović says

    is a German word too

    Quite so. I’m familiar with it.

    As stated, it gets pronounced with /ts/, which probably has to be blamed on the Czech diminutive (but I repeat myself) kukuřice. The rest of the pronunciation as given there, however, seems made-up to me: I’ve only heard it nativized to [ˈkʊkːɐrʊt͡ːs].

    Staple food in Styria for generations.

  21. Stu Clayton says

    I’m familiar with it.

    Well, the link says: besonders österreichisch, auch in einigen Regionen Süddeutschlands: Mais. DWDS says the same. That explains why the word is not familiar to me. Even though I know that Jörg Haider was a turkey.

  22. bútás = Hindustani bhutta

    I have found and added a couple more times that Burton did this, and some others, and while all these are more clear from context, I think that’s it, unless some local language shows up.

    Westermann seems to have backed off … full-on racists like Meinhof

    Yeah, I saw that Heine and Nurse suggest it was out of deference to Meinhof.

    It didn’t come together before the self-imposed All Souls Day deadline, but there’s something distinctive about Bantu other than another word list (which list is inconveniently for linking horizontal in Sir Harry Johnston’s book). For example, Christopher Ehret described two waves for *-cangu ‘little seed’ words, first for cultivated grains at all and then for maize, with different distributions that tell the story of the latter. Everyone cites an unpublished paper on this specifically, “Determining the Origins of Maize in West Africa Using Ethnolinguistic Evidence,” from UCLA in 1997, that I despair of ever finding. If I worked it out right, the author was an undergraduate student of his, since they show up the next year enrolling at BU for grad school. That’s as far as I get. Ehret also helped out the author of Maize and Grace on his Bantu list.


    It is, of course, interesting that as a Huguenot he had to rewrite his descriptions in English before they were published. But, having just gotten back from seeing a performance of Rhiannon Giddens’s Omar, I think it more important to remember what business some of these people were in. And that Barbot’s overall geographical scheme was melanin-based.

  23. Welschkorn

    That reminded me of Navajo naadą́ą́ʼ ‘maize’ (etymologically, ‘enemy’s food’).

  24. Two separate representatives of the family of BCMS кукуруз ‘maize’, Romanian cucuruz ‘maize, corncob’, etc., appear in Turkish—one vegetarian, one very much not. Turkish kokoroz (regionally also kukuruz) ‘maize’ is obviously kindred to the forms in the rest of central and eastern Europe, however unclear their ulterior history and the borrowing relations among them may be. The other is kokoreç, a very popular street food in Turkey, consisting of pieces of offal stuck on a spit and wrapped in lamb intestines until the whole has the general look of a giant corncob, and then roasted over coals. The Turkish word is proximately from Greek κοκορέτσι. (Detailed videos of the dish being made here and here.)

    The first known attestation of the word kokoreç shows up in a short story by Ömer Seyfettin. This story is quite amusing and also informative about the history of this word, so I will quote from it below. The narrator of the story is a gourmand, a glutton even, who lives to eat, but he only goes to restaurants rather than cooking for himself. However, his income is insufficient for his appetite, and so he devises a plan to get hired as a kitchen worker and be paid in food… While he is thinking about putting this plan in motion, the narrator goes to one of his usual spots:

    O sabah dünya cennetine, yani mutfağa nasıl gireceğimi düşüne düşüne lokantaya gittim. Mihail’le selâmlaştık, bermutat günün en iyi yemeklerim haber verdi. Sonra dedi ki:
    — Kosmos’tan bir aşçı çırağı kaçırdık, şimdi bize geldi. Atinalı… Kokoreç yapmasını biliyormuş. Yarın yaptırazayiz?
    — Kokoreç ne? Diye sordum.
    — Ah, bilmezsin. Kuzu bağırsağı… Kız saçı gibi örülü… Ah beğim, bak ne kadar güzel… Görezeksin… görezeksin.
    — Görürüz.

    That morning, thinking about how I would enter the earthly paradise—the kitchen, that is—I went to the restaurant. Mihail and I exchanged greetings, and as per usual he informed me of the best dishes of the day. Then he said,
    “We stole an apprentice cook from the Kosmos, he’s come to us now. He’s from Athens. Apparently he knows how to make kokoreç. Shall we make it tomorrow?”
    “What’s kokoreç?”, I asked.
    “Ah, you wouldn’t know. It’s lamb’s intestines… Braided like a girl’s hair… Oh my dear sir, how delicious it is! You’ll see… You’ll see.”
    “So we shall.”

    The Kosmos is another restaurant. The old waiter Mihail speaks in what seems to be Greek-accented eye-dialect. The passage is taken from a modernized version and I wasn’t immediately able to find a scan of the original Ottoman text to compare. I believe the story originally appeared in the collection Harem of 1918, and from the passage quoted, it seems that in that year, even an experienced gourmand in Istanbul would not necessarily have been expected to know of the dish.

  25. That reminded me of Navajo naadą́ą́ʼ ‘maize’ (etymologically, ‘enemy’s food’).

    ‘enemy’ sounds cooler, but naa is, I believe, more like ‘non-Navajo’.
    naayízí ‘non-Navajo round thing’ = ”squash’.
    naaʼołí ‘non-Navajo twisted thing’ = ‘bean’.

    So, too, Anasazi is less ‘enemy ancestors’ and more ‘non-Navajos long ago’.

    IE does much the same thing with *ghos-ti-: guest through hostile.

  26. John Cowan says

    The complex of meanings ‘stranger, foreigner, guest, enemy’ are all interrelated. Wikt quotes Varro on hostis ‘enemy’: “Tum eō verbō dīcēbant peregrīnum […], nunc dīcunt eum quem tum dīcēbant perduellem,” where perduellis is specifically a national rather than a personal enemy, whether an enemy in war or an enemy of the state (a criminal) in peace.

  27. January First-of-May says

    It took me a while to remember the appropriately old Slavic/Russian root for “stranger, foreigner” – чужой, whereas the standard etymology is that they borrowed the local Germanic endonym and then started applying it to all the neighbours including a now-probably-extinct local Finnic tribe that is now only known by that word.
    (And then, at least in Russian, it got extended to “not ours” in a more local sense, such that it could be used in contexts like not coveting your neighbour’s property.)

    TBH I was a little happy that there apparently are alternative theories; something just feels wrong about that particular one. (Are there other cases of a language borrowing a nearby tribe’s endonym as their term for “foreigner”?)

  28. John Cowan says

    the standard etymology is that they borrowed the local Germanic endonym

    Even if we accept that the ultimate etymon is *tewtéh₂, it could just as well have come through Baltic tauta. Indeed, the fact that the word appears only in Germanic, Balto-Slavic and Italo-Celtic (L tōtus ‘whole’, Welsh tud, Irish/ScG tuath) suggests that it is an Old European substrate word that proliferated, rather than being specifically borrowed from one branch to another, in which case *tewtéh₂ is a firewater-type word and not actually PIE at all.

  29. David Eddyshaw says

    The complex of meanings ‘stranger, foreigner, guest, enemy’ are all interrelated

    The proto-Oti-Volta stem seen in e.g. Kusaal saan means both “stranger” and “guest” throughout the family, where it appears in almost all the languages I have data for. It never means “enemy”, though: and, not to be outdone in the hospitality stakes, the speakers of Miyobe use the cognate usanɛ to mean not only “guest/stranger” but also “friend” (which you would have thought might lead to some confusion …)

    There are some Gurma languages which also use it for “European”, which certainly ticks the “foreigner” box.

  30. @JC: Szemerényi’s etymology of totus as derived from *tewteh2 has not been accepted by IE scholars; de Vaan doesn’t even think it worth mentioning in his Etymological dictionary. He only mentions the *towH-eto- “stuffed” etymology accepted by Walde-Hofmann as “moot possibility” and an article by Zimmer which dismisses all previous attempts as “unconvincing”; de Vaan then goes on to dismiss Zimmer’s own *to-ie/ot-ó- “standing with, complete” as “hardly more plausible”. Shortly, totus doesn’t have a generally accepted etymology, and it shouldn’t be taken as the representation of *tewteh2 in Latin.

  31. And this is an example of a more general problem: etymologists (understandably) hate to leave words totally unexplained, so they come up with possible origins, and those (sometimes extremely dubious) suggestions get collected in etymological dictionaries, and scholars (and a fortiori laypersons) with less discriminating antennae think “Oh, that’s cool,” and take the etymologist’s tentative speculation as established fact, and pretty soon you’ve got Basque everywhere.

  32. ə de vivre says

    naayízí ‘non-Navajo round thing’ = ”squash’.

    So, a walnut?

  33. David Marjanović says

    ‘enemy’ sounds cooler

    Not as cool as “barbarian”. Unless there’s a “giant enemy crab” out there somewhere.

    Are there other cases of a language borrowing a nearby tribe’s endonym as their term for “foreigner”?

    As ə just implied, that’s what Welsh is. The name recorded by Caesar et al. as Volcae may be a cognate of, and I hope I’m remembering correctly what I read just two days ago, Welsh gwalch “falcon”, in which case it was probably a self-congratulatory endonym. Either borrowed into Germanic before both Grimm’s law and the *o > *a merger or etymologically nativized, it ended up as the Germanic word for “Roman(ce)” and was passed on to Slavic in that meaning.

    Even if we accept that the ultimate etymon is *tewtéh₂, it could just as well have come through Baltic tauta.

    But we need a front vowel to have any hope of explaining the ч.

    L tōtus ‘whole’

    Is ō ever the outcome of *ew/ow in Latin? The regular outcome is ū; there is a word tūtus, but it means “protected”.

    (…as in the well-armored ankylosaur Euoplocephalus tutus.)

    a firewater-type word

    That wouldn’t be a substrate word at all; the Algonquian “firewater” words are calqued from each other, each using the same native roots for “fire” and “water”.

    *to-ie/ot-ó- “standing with, complete”

    Toyota is complete? I like that…

  34. Anyway the native walnut, Juglans major or Arizona black walnut, is ha’ałtsédii, lit. ‘the one that is pounded in order to get something’, per Young and Morgan, from ha-² ‘up and out vertically’ and *łtsééd ‘to pound’, if I have it right.

  35. Stu Clayton says

    ‘the one that is pounded in order to get something’

    Spare the rod, spoil the walnut.

  36. For the curious, the classic article containing Sapir’s brilliant and beautiful etymological analysis of Navajo naadą́ą́ʼ ‘corn’ is available here on JSTOR and here on The treatment of naadą́ą́ʼ begins on page 228.

  37. “Maize was fundamentally important to the New World civilizations that the Spanish found and conquered….”

    I would say that it is still fundamentally important to Mexican society and culture. I don’t think its an exageration to say that most Mexicans spend their days either growing maize, or preparing maize, or eating maize (in some form.)

    In my household I was expected to eat half a corn tortilla with every meal* at a very young age and by third or forth grade (certainly by the end of elementary school) I was expected to eat at least three. My mom literally told me that if I didn’t eat any tortillas then I didn’t eat. My grandfather and my relatives on my mother’s side grew maize like I think most rural Mexicans did if they could. My mother and her sisters still learned how to grind maize on the metate.

    From what little history I know of my dad’s old Mexico City neighborhood (which used to be a seperate village), it specialized in growing flowers and making some pottery, but I’m fairly confident that at least some people like my great-grandparents would have cultivated a milpa (cornfield) if they could have. Even here in the U.S. a mild panic sets in when one realizes that one has run out of corn tortillas in the fridge. Maize is still fundamental to Mexican (and Mexican-American) life.

    *Except when eating pancakes or cereal at breakfast.

  38. Pancho: I’m not surprised. A fresh corn tortilla is a wonder.

  39. A milpa is more than a cornfield, no? Or had even somewhat traditional rural people given up on cross-cultivating beans, squash and other crops even before mechanization?

  40. Stu Clayton : “That explains why the word is not familiar to me. Even though I know that Jörg Haider was a turkey.” — what does “turkey” mean in that context of that utterly deplorable human being?

  41. V, “turkey” means, pretty much, “utterly deplorable human being.” Cf. also “jive turkey.”

  42. Keith Ivey says

    For me “turkey” would refer to someone who’s a loser, but hardly an “utterly deplorable human being”. It’s not that strong a word.

  43. The lousy movie (examples included Barbarella and Zardoz) shown in the middle of MIT’s annual LSC all-night science fiction marathon was known as the “turkey.” The meaning was basically what Keith Ivey indicates—contemptable, but not morally repugnant.

  44. David Eddyshaw says

    Come now! Neither Barbarella nor Zardoz is “lousy.” They are masterpieces of kitsch.
    They are also, neither of them, boring. Infinitely better than (for example) The Rise of Skywalker. Now that’s “lousy.”

    Also: Jane Fonda. Sean Connery. Charlotte, Rampling. ‘Nuff said.

    (Also Milo O’Shea. He gives it his all. What eyebrows!)

  45. Exactly. The Ten Commandments, now that’s a lousy movie.

  46. David Eddyshaw : Exactly! (Or the prequels.)

  47. David Eddyshaw says

    Backstroke of the West is fun. (And very quotable.)
    There is (or was) a wonderful dubbed version of it on YouTube.

    I’ve never seen the “original.” I’ve no doubt it’s a pale thing in comparison. Also, no Presbyterian Church, I gather. You gotta have the Presbyterian Church.

  48. Backstroke of the West is a masterpiece, and I have not seen the “original” either. There’s also The Last Laser Master by Auralnauts.

    Zardoz has a Kin-dza-dza vibe to it, if you don’t take it seriously.

  49. Calling Jörg Haider a turkey is a double insult: it implies that he’s rotten, but not skilled enough to be a monster, just an inferior specimen.

  50. @David Eddyshaw: The turkey was, naturally, supposed to be “so bad it’s good.” But let’s not kid ourselves. “So bad it’s good” is still very bad. And Zardoz skates very close to the line at which it becomes so bad it’s not even “so bad it’s good.” “The gun is good. The penis is bad,” is hilariously entertaining;* Sean Connery having a battle wits with the obviously fake diamond he’s holding is not.

    Of course, feelings about how bad something has to be before it is no longer enjoyable as kitsch are inevitably going to be very personal. Man people (including Randall) consider the “Star Wars Holiday Special” to be “So Bad It’s Horrible”, but I actually enjoy laughing at it now and then. And there are much, much worse things out there, like Time of the Apes, which I consider unwatchable even with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffing. (Somewhere on TV Tropes, I remember a comment about that episode that it was “not recommended for first-time [MST3K] viewers.”)

    * I feel like there should be a caveat here: “The gun is good. The penis is bad,” is hilariously entertaining—if you don’t think rape jokes are out of bounds. Although… does it matter if Boorman intended the rape and murder to be dramatic,** and it only ended up as a joke by accident?

    ** I just realized that every movie Boorman film I have seen features at least one rape scene.

  51. I am almost nostalgic for a time when I could write off Jörg Haider an „utterly deplorable human being“. Feels like there are so many horrible people forced in our faces these days that Haider would barely merit a mention. Haider in the US would just be a rank and file GOP politician. In Austria it feels like Haider has been disassembled with his worst parts taking on separate lives. We have „fesch“ Kurz who is a soulless parody of Haider‘s homoerotic charisma, and pure fascist Kickl who has stripped away all of Haider‘s charisma.

  52. PlasticPaddy says

    Re Boorman:
    It is clear film directors act out fantasies or traumas, there is a Russian director who has a predilection for including scenes where women are beaten and say they enjoy being beaten.
    Re Reagan: he encountered a situation where organised Trotskyists (maybe they were Stalinists or a coalition, I don’t know if he discussed this in detail) were attempting to seize control of the union, this clearly coloured his view of unions.

  53. Well, the person who I occasionly refer to as my ex-wife, and other times list her among my friends once asked me for what we colloquially call fingal…. She wanted to see how it would look on her face.

  54. I had a roommate whose girlfriend clearly had a predilection for physical punishment that was not (merely?) a sexual kink. My friend did not indulge this, but it was very weird and difficult. At one point, when she was slapping him repeatedly and saying she was doing it because she wanted him to hit her, her eventually tied her hands for a time till she calmed down. Some would say that in itself is a horrible physical action to take. It would be hard for me to judge him for it, but I wonder how others would feel.

    I mentioned the incident to my wife once, and her sense was different. I’ve wondered whether it was outright different, which would be a sort of extreme pacifism; different because her priors colored her judgment of what the girlfriend was doing/how hard she was really hitting my friend; or different simply because her immediate reaction didn’t disentangle her horror at the whole situation, which was also initially difficult for me. My wife didn’t want to delve further into the topic, nor did I.

    I guess another possibility would have been for my friend to run away. Both then and there, and from the relationship. Certainly, the attractiveness of the woman was a factor. I don’t quite think ‘battered woman” syndrome applies to my friend, in that I don’t believe he feared serious physical harm from her or post-relationship vengeance, which seem like key aspects of that psychology.

    By no means does any of this contradict the idea that “directors act of fantasies” that may involve their own infliction of trauma and violence, particularly against women. I merely mention the anecdote above, perhaps like drasvi, to say the world is wide, and most such things are distortions rather than inventions. Their prevalence in art is still problematic to me, and the boundary between depiction and proliferation not clear.

    Along those lines in a somewhat different context, I and many of my peers as teens felt that many of the lines from Apocalypse Now that were meant to provoke horror were amusing expressions of laudable toughness.

  55. @PlasticPaddy: I think the second part of your comment (about Reagan) was meant for somewhere else

  56. PlasticPaddy says

    Sorry, I saw Haider mentioned and assumed your comment on Reagan was upthread, but it was with JC and the Wobblies.

  57. David Marjanović says

    Haider in the US would just be a rank and file GOP politician.

    Ha, no – unless you’re only talking about the general level of evil.

    He’s where the whole Trumpism thing comes from! Right now, he’d be the “Trump without the baggage” that many Republicans were supposedly looking for.

  58. Exactly, so I don’t understand why you think the original description is wrong. Or haven’t you grasped that the entire GOP is Trumpist now?

  59. John Cowan says

    Ask Mitch McConnell if he’s a Trumpist.

  60. Mitch McConnell still thinks he can ride the tiger. For him (and his wife) personally, it seems he is probably right. However, he has completely surrendered control of the Republican agenda and has no remaining power to protect anyone else.

  61. @Ryan, I think my friend is simply tolerant to physical violence. Boys fight, get fingals. She was curious what it will look like. Perhaps I’m tolerant too, but I still don’t like it. If it were not the eye, maybe I’d agree, or not. I don’t know. I’d process it as an experiment.

    As for your story, not enough data. I know that people with “predilection for physical punishment” exist, but I never met them. I usually try to understand people, and in this case I don’t understand. What matters to me is what people feel (in this case, what was happening instide their two heads, and hearts, to that matter).

  62. Ask Mitch McConnell if he’s a Trumpist.

    Come on, you know perfectly well I wasn’t saying that literally every single Republican is a Trumpist. McConnell is extraordinarily unpopular in his own party and may well not run again. The party is Trumpist.

  63. I’ve always felt that this was the result of some extremely poor treatment from her parents that left her with a deeply ingrained sense of guilt and the belief that she deserved to be punished, physically. That may be pop psychologizing, but it’s my only way of approaching the sensibility.

    My friend was shaken by it, certainly not boasting that he’d found a way to deal with her antics. More a confession / talking to me to grapple with his own emotions about it. He did wonder whether it might be best to break up, and ultimately did, and I don’t believe that anything like this had happened again in the interim. And it may be relevant to say that this happened in our apartment, so for him to have walked out in the moment may have felt violating itself – leaving her in control of his place (and mine). The urge to disarm her, so to speak, didn’t seem like the worst impulse. But I’ve never come to a full reckoning with it.

    It’s certainly not something I’ve heard of any other time.

  64. She was curious what it will look like.

    Then why didn’t she give herself a fingal? It’s cowardly to involve someone else in your bizarre self-harm experiments.

  65. David Marjanović says

    Exactly, so I don’t understand why you think the original description is wrong. Or haven’t you grasped that the entire GOP is Trumpist now?

    Rather than rank-and-file, he’d be leading the thing.

    Ask Mitch McConnell if he’s a Trumpist.

    As if there’d be any hope of him answering that kind of question!

    (The best explanation of him I’ve read is that he wants to be Senate Majority Leader for the rest of his life. He’ll say and do whatever he thinks it takes to reach that goal, no matter if it contradicts what he did yesterday. – And yeah, if he really concludes that’s not possible anymore, he’s not going to run for the Senate again. We’ll see.)

  66. David Marjanović says

    …what a black eye would look like on her? She could test that hypothesis with some makeup and a mirror. Some people do that for Halloween.

  67. @LH, but why not ask me?
    I really see no reason, I don’t think any of our freinds would find this request inappropriate, she was not breaking a taboo (and if it were inappropriate for my company, we’re still close freinds…). I considered it, I refused.

    @DM, exactly. I think the idea with makeup occured to her (and can only speculate about the rest)

  68. I don’t think any of our freinds would find this request inappropriate

    Really? You have interesting friends.

  69. I do.

    I would never have told about this request if I considered it “bad”.

    I don’t know, it was potentially unpleasant, but friends can ask friends to do something potentially unpleasant. It becomes “exploitation” when they do that systematically. In this case she could not know the degree of unpleasantness. What if I have always suppressed such fantasies? And it is clear that for us two it would be differently unpleasant.

    The only way it could be “traumatising” is if I agreed and then regretted, but the trauma would be moderate. We really have too many opportunities to hurt each other.

    “self-harm” – when I was a child I found it quite shocking that people pierce their ears to wear earrings.

  70. Trond Engen says

    There’s a new paper out on the origin of maize as a staple food.

    Yang et al: Two teosintes made modern maize, Science, 2023.

    Unfortunately it’s not open access, but the abstract(s) and figures says a lot.

    Editor’s summary

    Domestication of plants and animals is often characterized by selection for specific traits interspersed with introduction of new desirable traits from wild relatives. Yang et al. examined genetic data from more than 1000 varieties of maize and related species to clarify the complex origins of this agricultural staple. They found evidence that after initial domestication, introgression from a relative of domesticated maize, Zea mays ssp. mexicana, occurred in the highlands of Mexico before propagating across Central America. Alleles from this wild relative affect photoperiodicity and flowering time, which suggests that traits from Zea mays ssp. mexicana may have been beneficial during domestication. These results demonstrate the importance of broad sampling in elucidating the history of domesticates. —Corinne Simonti

    Structured Abstract

    The drastic morphological differences between maize and its wild relatives gave rise to more than a century of debate about its origins. Today, the most widely accepted model is also the simplest—maize was domesticated once from the wild annual grass Zea mays ssp. parviglumis in the lowlands of southwest Mexico. More recently, however, genomic surveys of traditional maize varieties in both Mexico and South America have identified evidence for gene flow from a second wild relative, Zea mays ssp. mexicana, a weedy annual grass adapted to the central Mexican highlands. These results, combined with long-standing archaeological evidence of hybridization, challenge the sufficiency of a simple model of a single origin.

    To elucidate the genetic contributions of Zea mays ssp. mexicana to maize, we analyzed >1000 wild and domesticated genomes, including 338 newly sequenced traditional varieties. We found ubiquitous evidence for admixture between maize and Zea mays ssp. mexicana, including in ancient samples from North and South America, diverse traditional varieties, and even modern inbred lines. These results are mirrored in a genotyping survey of >5000 traditional varieties representing maize diversity across the Americas. The only maize sample surveyed that lacks strong evidence for admixture with Zea mays ssp. mexicana is a single ancient South American sample N16, dating to ~5500 years before present.

    We next fit graphs of population history to our data, revealing multiple admixture events in the history of modern maize. On the basis of these results, we propose a new model of maize origins, which posits that, some 4000 years after domestication, maize hybridized with Zea mays ssp. mexicana in the highlands of central Mexico. The resulting admixed maize then spread across the Americas, replacing or hybridizing with preexisting populations. The timing of this secondary dispersal is roughly coincident with archaeological data showing a transition to a staple maize diet in regions across Mesoamerica.

    We then explored variation in ancestry along the maize genome. We found that 15 to 25% of the genome could be attributed to Zea mays ssp. mexicana ancestry. We identified regions in which Zea mays ssp. mexicana alleles had reached high frequency in maize, presumably as a result of positive selection. We investigated one of these adaptive introgressions in more detail, using CRISPR-Cas9 knockout mutants and overexpression lines to demonstrate the role of the circadian clock gene ZmPRR37a in determining flowering time under long-day conditions. Our results suggest that introgression at this locus may have facilitated the adaptation of maize to higher latitudes.

    Finally, we explored the contributions of Zea mays ssp. mexicana alleles to phenotypic variation in maize. Admixture mapping identified at least 25 loci in modern inbred lines where highland teosinte ancestry associates with phenotypes of agronomic importance, from oil content to kernel size and disease resistance, as well as a large effect locus associated with cob diameter in traditional maize varieties. We then modeled the additive genetic variance of each phenotype, allowing us to estimate that Zea mays ssp. mexicana admixture explained a meaningful proportion of the additive genetic variation for many traits, including 25% of the variation for the number of kernels per row and nearly 50% of some disease phenotypes.

    Our extensive population and quantitative genetic analysis of domesticated maize and its wild relatives uncovered a substantial role for two different wild taxa in making modern maize. We propose a new model for the origin of maize that can explain both genetic and archaeological data, and we show how variation in Zea mays ssp. mexicana is a key component of maize diversity, both at individual loci and for genetic variation underlying agronomic traits.

    Our model raises a number of questions about how and why a secondary spread of maize may have occurred, but we speculate that the timing of admixture suggests a possible direct role for hybridization between maize and Zea mays ssp. mexicana in improving early domesticated forms of maize, helping to transform it into the staple crop we know today.


    The origins of maize were the topic of vigorous debate for nearly a century, but neither the current genetic model nor earlier archaeological models account for the totality of available data, and recent work has highlighted the potential contribution of a wild relative, Zea mays ssp. mexicana. Our population genetic analysis reveals that the origin of modern maize can be traced to an admixture between ancient maize and Zea mays ssp. mexicana in the highlands of Mexico some 4000 years after domestication began. We show that variation in admixture is a key component of maize diversity, both at individual loci and for additive genetic variation underlying agronomic traits. Our results clarify the origin of modern maize and raise new questions about the anthropogenic mechanisms underlying dispersal throughout the Americas.

    Here’s a story in

    Research traces modern maize back to a hybrid created 5,000 years ago in Mexico

    It ends:

    Next, a team led by Ross-Ibarra with Professor Graham Coop at UC Davis, archaeologists at UC Santa Barbara and geneticists at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences will study the co-evolution of humans and maize in the Americas. They will use genetics to look at how humans and maize spread across the continent and how populations of both maize and humans grew and shrank as they interacted with each other.

    “We will incorporate human genetic data, maize genetics and archaeological data in an effort to answer many of the questions raised by our new model of maize origins,” Ross-Ibarra said.

    Edit: Oh, and sorry for rerailing a well-drifted thread.

  71. Trond Engen says

    Oh, and oh! As usual I owe the link to Dmitry.

  72. @Trond Engen: I’m afraid “rerailing” makes it sound like you’ve gone back to doing the thread in the ass.

  73. Trond Engen says

    Ouch. Thanks for the effort to derail it again, then!

  74. Seong of Baekje says

    Ha, no – unless you’re only talking about the general level of evil.

    What do you mean by “evil”? Low levels of empathy for outgroup members?

  75. David Marjanović says

    That plus outright hostility to and constant fearmongering about outgroup members (us against them), cult-level authoritarianism, aggressive pushing of overly simple “solutions” to complex problems, and hiding libertarian economic policies under all the populism.

  76. “Overly simple solutions to complex problems” are characteristic for calls for change.

    The prominent example is transition from Soviet economy to market economy (not only at the level of propaganda but also at the level of actual implementation).

    Many will argue (and I’m NOT with them) that dismantling of Soviet ideology and associated apparatus was also “simplistic solution” and it would be better to just adapt it to new realities. Like China.

    It takes time to construct a new complex system meant to offer a new complex solution to a complex problem.* You can’t tell people “let’s just think and gradually start building something entirely new” and if you do and win, then eventully you manage to “build” very little, while the old system keeps reproducing itself.

    You can’t associate “simple solutions” with right (which curiously, meant “democracy and market economy” in Russia in 90s) or left (which curiously meant “communists” in Russia in 90s) or whatever.

    * Also sometimes I think that simple solutions are better. As with ideology, as with women rights etc.

    PS. “we against them” was also characteristic to democrates of 90s (libertarian economic policies were promoted openly) – and of course to modern anti-Trumpists.
    Cult-level authoritarism was not.

  77. David Marjanović says

    You can’t associate “simple solutions” with right […] or left […] or whatever.

    I don’t.

    sometimes I think that simple solutions are better

    I was careful to specify “overly simple solutions to complex problems”.

  78. I was careful to specify …”. – yes, that was not meant as an objection.

    But it might not be easy to tell a complex problem from its absence.

    In case of women rights or ideology I simply don’t recognise it as a problem. Meanwhile the “solution” introduces a complex change. The role of women is complex, ideology changes the society in very complex ways. So for, specifically, ideology, people will say that the herd will get lost without guidance. And given our love-hate with the West they will add: “look how ideologised they are in the West, it is because they’re no fools, and what they want is to impose on us an ideology of their design whcih will help them to rule over us”.

    They will sincerely believe that the fact that the role of ideology in society is complex means that it addresses an incredibly complex problem of lack of ideology:) After all, for you absence of artificial satellites in the sky would be a problem (and it was not recognised as such for people before).

    This is why I feel the need to specify that I do think that some simple solutions are better (but not as an objection).

    I don’t. – yes, it occured to me too (that you don’t) but I decided not to modify the comment. As I understand, you associate them with “evil”. Transition from USSR to Russia is a textbook example of a ‘simple solution’. The change was I think much needed, but the transition indeed was evil in many ways.

    Alas one crowd was too radical, but the other did not want to change what the former was trying to change.

    And what does “too radical” mean? For me certain economic changes were “too” radical.
    For other people it was something else (e.g. dismantling of the ideology). What to do? A compromise between the two crowds? (Like peopel are not allowed to travel abroad but rich people are. And people can’t use the Internet and rich people can. A compromise).

  79. H. L. Mencken: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

    I actually learned recently that Mencken had gotten bored with the Scopes Monkey Trial and returned to Baltimore before Darrow’s climactic examination of Bryan. Obviously, that was a decision he later regretted.

  80. @DM, consider the above a side note rather than objection.

  81. January First-of-May says

    TIL (probably far from the first time) that Mencken was a real person; for me this name is deeply associated with the Wolgamot case and I don’t recall encountering it in any other context (though I surely must have).

  82. H. L. Mencken was real; it’s E. K. Hornbeck who was not. I actually always thought it was interesting that in the script for Inherit the Wind, Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee really went out of their way to make it clear that it was not supposed to be a secret or a puzzle who each of the renamed main characters represented in the drame a clef. The first of the out-of-town celebrities to be mentioned is

    Matthew Harrison Brady, comin’ here. I voted for him for President. Twice. In nineteen hundred and again in oh-eight. Wasn’t old enough to vote for him the first time he ran.

    So, even for audience members who don’t know the history of the Scopes Monkey Trial, Brady is easily identified as a stand-in for William Jennings Bryan. Hornbeck’s newspaper, the Baltimore Herald is given, and when Henry Drummond is mentioned, there is an immediate comment about Clarence Darrow’s success* in the Leopold and Loeb case:

    He got those two child murderers off just the other day.

    * Darrow did not actually get the defendants—a pair of real-life Raskolnikovs—acquitted. Rather, since the evidence against them was so overwhelming, he had them plead guilty, to minimize the inflammatory revelations of a full trial as much as possible. However, Darrow succeeded in his goal in the sentencing phase, which was to convive the judge not to sentence Leopold and Loeb to death. His three-day closing statement is one of the most famous American speeches about the pragmatic,

    If to hang these two boys would bring him back to life, I would say let them go, and I believe their parents would say it, too. But, “the moving finger writes, and having writ moves on; nor all your piety nor wit can lure it back to cancel half a line or change one word of it,”

    and philosophical reasons,

    The easy thing and the popular thing to do is to hang my clients. I know it. Men and women who do not think will applaud. The cruel and the thoughtless will approve. It will be easy today, but in Chicago and reaching out over the length and breadth of the land more and more are the fathers and mothers, the humane, the kind and the hopeful, who are gaining an understanding, are asking questions not only about these boys, but about their own. These will join in no acclaim at the death of these boys. These would ask that the shedding of blood be stopped, and that the normal feelings of man resume) their sway. And as the days and the months and the years go on, they will ask it more and more,

    to limit the death penalty.

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