1. An excellent list of names for special characters, for example ! = “exclamation (mark), (ex)clam, excl, wow, hey, boing, bang, shout, yell, shriek, pling, factorial, ball-bat, smash, cuss, store, potion&, not*+, dammit*” (in my proofreading days, we mostly said “bang”). Don’t miss the explananations at the bottom of the page:

& donald duck: from the Danish “Anders And”, which means “Donald Duck”
* Nathan Hale: “I have but one asterisk for my country.”

(Via Transblawg.)

2. In a recent Avva post he mentions how Bill Murray has aged since Den’ surka, which I realized must be Groundhog Day. I looked up surók and found it defined in Oxford as ‘marmot.’ In this case, Katzner was more helpful, giving ‘marmot; woodchuck; ground hog.’ In picky editor mode I must remark that groundhog is one word and that this entry is an excellent example of why definitions should employ commas as well as semicolons, in this case between the last two items, because woodchuck and groundhog refer to the same animal, Marmota monax (as you can see from the genus, the animal, under whatever name, is a member of the marmot family). I admit I have a hard time remembering this fact, because I am familiar only with the words, not with the actual creatures, and the words are tied to completely different contexts (like dove and pigeon): “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck” and the groundhog seeing its shadow, respectively. Here’s the Regional Note from the American Heritage definition:

The woodchuck goes by several names in the United States. The most famous of these is groundhog, under which name all the legends about the animal’s hibernation have accrued. In the Appalachian Mountains the woodchuck is known as a whistle pig. The word woodchuck is probably a folk etymology of a New England Algonquian word—that is, English-speaking settlers “translated” the Indian word into a compound of two words that made sense to them in light of the animal’s habitat.

I will end my discussion of this subject by remarking that the Russian word that started me off on this zoological excursus, surók, is probably onomatopoeic in origin and thus the equivalent of whistle pig.

3. In perusing the American Heritage I happened on the word lumma, an Armenian coin (a hundred of them make up a dram). This word has been around, and gotten banged up in the process: “Armenian lumay, small coin, from Syriac lumâ, from Greek nomos, noummos, custom, current coin.” The change from n-m to l-m is called “dissimilation” (changing one of two sounds to make them less similar, in this case changing the first nasal to a liquid), and it’s a common phenomenon; as a matter of fact, if it hadn’t happened in Syriac first, it could have happened within Armenian—compare holm ‘wind’ (with l-m) and Greek anemos (with the original n-m). And they said that semester of Classical Armenian would never be of any use to me!


  1. The Special Characters list is fascinating, but omits ‘lunulae’, familiar to anyone who’s read John Lennard’s engaging history of the parenthesis, But I Digress (1991).

  2. Ah, yes. I remember ‘bang’, ‘query’, and other pronounced punctuations from my own grad school days of double-proofing dense descriptions of new insects and fish in science journals. Little did I know at the time that that would lead to a more promising career than linguistics would.
    BTW (not pronounced bee-tee-dubya), I’ve blogged a bit about acronyms in Asian languages over at Far Outliers.

  3. So you have, and I liked it enough to make it my next entry. Thanks for mentioning it.

  4. Fontaine Fox says

    In Time-Life proofreading style the exclamation point was “slam” and the question mark was “quirk.” At least that was the case before the proofreaders were all disposed of some fifteen years ago (their bodies will eventually come to light).

  5. My favourite name of a punctuation mark is for Unicode character U+203D (‽), the “interrobang.”

  6. Regarding Point 3, don’t forget 2004 is the year Armenia has chosen to celebrate the 1600th anniversary of its alphabet. I think the government is minting a coin for the occasion.
    And they said that semester of Classical Armenian would never be of any use to me!
    How hard is Classical Armenian (compared to, say, Classical Greek or Latin)? I’ve only had a look at modern Armenian.

  7. Hm, holm and anemos? That looks like a surviving laryngeal to me.

  8. How hard is Classical Armenian (compared to, say, Classical Greek or Latin)?
    I wouldn’t know, since we (ahem) didn’t actually learn Classical Armenian, we just read our way through Meillet’s Esquisse d’une grammaire comparée de l’arménien classique, checking off the etymologies and correspondences against our knowledge of other IE languages, eagerly looking for some bit of arcane vocabulary we could someday buttress a thesis with. We were Indo-Europeanists, you see, not Armenianists.
    That looks like a surviving laryngeal to me.
    Well, Meillet, the only authority I have at hand, lists (p. 38) a bunch of words where initial h- corresponds to vowels elsewhere: hum ‘raw’ (Gk. omos), hot ‘odor’ (Lat. odor, Gk. odme), haw ‘bird’ (Lat. auis), &c, and talks about “la singulière faiblesse du h initial arménien,” so I don’t know how much we can lean on it.

  9. When I was involved in a group read of “Mason & Dixon” there was quite a bit of discussion about names for compound punctuation marks: the “commash” = “, –” is one I remember, there was also “? –” which I forget the name of and “! –” likewise.

  10. Bang is also known as a (point or mark) of admiration. Here’s an illustrative quote from Patrick O’Brian’s Post Captain — sleepy Stephen is reading lovelorn, less-literate Jack’s letter:

    The lines seemed to crackle with life and happiness, but still they swam. ‘Wish me joy!’ Well, so I do, too. ‘You will never guess the news I have to tell you!’ Oh yes I shall, brother: pray do not use so many points of admiration. ‘I have the best part of a wife!! viz, her heart!!’ Stephen sniffed again.

  11. Well, I would replace “is” by “was two centuries ago,” but it’s a good term and an excellent quote.

  12. Exclamation marks used to be ‘screamers’: see Murder Must Advertise, where the headline “Over-Work and Over-Worry waste Nerve-Power!” is dictated over the phone by the copywriter to the printer, ending “Goudy 24 point upper and lower, lower-case w,a,s,t,e, capital N,e,r,v,e, hyphen, capital P,o,w,e,r, screamer. That OK?”
    A lot of these terms must have disappeared now that journalists can file their copy electronically rather than having to read it down the phone.

  13. In updating the links in this post I discovered that the AHD has dumped the word lumma, so I provided an archived link; they’ve updated the note (now a Word History) for woodchuck as follows:

    Word History: The woodchuck goes by several names in the United States. One is groundhog, the name under which legends about the animal’s emergence from the ground on Groundhog Day have accrued. The word groundhog probably makes reference to the animal’s excellent burrowing abilities. In the Appalachian Mountains, the woodchuck is known as a whistle pig, in reference to the shrill whistle it makes when disturbed. The word woodchuck is probably a folk etymology of a word in an Algonquian language of New England akin to the Narragansett word for the animal, ockqutchaun. English-speaking settlers in North America probably heard the Algonquian term and reinterpreted the first part of it as wood, which seemed to make sense in the name of an animal that often lives on the edges of woodland and in open wooded areas.

    Also, whereas in 2004 I was able to say “I am familiar only with the words, not with the actual creatures,” a few years later we moved to our current house in Hadley, Mass., where the creatures are as much at home as the squirrels and chipmunks, and we now have a family of four (a mother and her three kits) enjoying the (pesticide-free!) grass, weeds, and other edibles in our back yard. (Fortunately we no longer maintain a garden, which allows us to enjoy their presence without having to curse them for depredations.)

  14. whistle pig

    And now it’s also a brand of rye whiskey:

    WhistlePig began when we purchased our farm in 2007. After a few years of deep consideration and personal reflection we committed ourselves to crafting the world’s finest and most interesting Rye Whiskeys. With help from Master Distiller Dave Pickerell, we discovered and purchased an incredible stock of 10 year old blending Whiskey in Canada that was being profoundly misused. That initial stock, for which we are forever grateful, is what kicked off our grand adventure.


  15. January First-of-May says

    that the AHD has dumped the word lumma

    The modern consensus spelling is luma (notably thus on commemorative coins from Nagorno-Karabakh), though I see that this variant is not in the modern online AHD either.

    As for lists of names for special characters, this page was probably my favorite on Wikipedia – though, sadly, I no longer recall how I came across it – before the content was deleted (and the title redirected) in March 2015.

    [EDIT: for the benefit of later readers, I was brought to this thread by noticing that the other “Miscellanea” thread, then recently commented on, was labelled “miscellanea-2” in the URL, and deciding to check what the original was. Though it looks like there was another comment as recently as June this year.]

  16. At the time I post this, John Cowan’s algorithm shows new comments in two different posts entitled “MISCELLANEA.” although none is yet to be found here. I assume that, since the two links show different identifiers (4250927 here, 4250884 in the other thread), that this is not some kind of glitch, and there is indeed a new comment in this thread; it has simply been held up by the spam trap or something. Sometimes, the Commented-On Language Hat Posts algorithm (working directly from the database) will spot new comments that the WordPress site is not actually prepared to render just yet.

  17. Yes, January First-of-May’s comment was held up in moderation, and I have just released it. Sorry for the confusion!

  18. Yahyaoğlu says

    the AHD has dumped the word lumma…
    The modern consensus spelling is luma (notably thus on commemorative coins from Nagorno-Karabakh), though I see that this variant is not in the modern online AHD either.

    Most of the entries for the subdivisions of contemporary national currencies were removed from the 5th edition of the AHD unless there was a special reason for keeping one of these subdivisions (such as frequent or prominent use in literary works or the same name being used by a number of countries). This was done to free up space for other things, like new words or example sentences illustrating usage after definitions.

    The 4th edition of the AHD had the size and maximum number of pages that the book could attain and still be able to be notched by the machine that makes the alphabetical index notches on the sides of the pages. It could grow no larger while keeping these notches. So for the 5th edition, every addition to the dictionary had be compensated for by a cut somewhere else. A lot of great things were cut in the 5th edition because of this, such as the introductory essay in the 4th edition about American regional English as well as many of the notes on regional English that this essay supported. Some regional notes were repurposed as word history notes, like the one for woodchuck.

    It was an easy and self-contained editorial task to cut all the names for subdivisions of currency, since most of these did not occur in definitions elsewhere in the dictionary that would then have to be rewritten. Some nice things disappeared, like the Kirghiz tyiyn (тыйын) and its congeners, with their fine Turkic etymology, typologically comparable to Finnish raha “money” (< “squirrel pelt”), Komi, Mari, and Mordvin ur “squirrel, kopek”, and the Croatian unit of currency kuna (< “marten”).

  19. PlasticPaddy says

    This is a clear example of size constraint negatively impacting design. Why did they just not loose the notches or buy a notcher that was up to the task. One would hope that their identification of ‘flab’ to cut was based on a consultative process, but I suspect one would be wrong.

  20. Why did they just not loose the notches or buy a notcher that was up to the task
    Buying a new one perhaps wasn’t considered a worthwhile investment – they probably aren’t sure for how long they still will produce dead tree editions of dictionaries…

  21. PlasticPaddy says

    So is the ‘flab’ only cut from the print and not the digital edition?

  22. No, the digital edition reflects the print one. And apparently the whole thing will be allowed to slide into the dustbin of history eventually. Nobody respects lexicography any more…

  23. The term for those notches is “thumb index,” which can be used either for a single notch of the whole set on a given volume. I actually learned the term from various publications by the Boy Scouts of America, which did not have the notches but tried to duplicate the effect with printing on the outside edges of the pages.

  24. every time i pick up beinfeld & bochner i wish that Indiana UP (or the ייִדיש־ליגע) could afford a notching machine… (nevermind that as usual for yiddish, ~150 of ~700 pages are א, so it would really want two layers of thumb index)

  25. John Cowan says

    Actually, Commented-on Language Hat Posts doesn’t have any privileged access to the WordPress database; it looks at the home page section “Recent Comments” approximately every 11 minutes. It does not, however, notice when a comment is deleted either by the author or the Hat.

    If anyone’s interested, the code is in this Github repo. Snarf and its helper winnow are run by a cron job and update the page; recreate and its helpers (all the rest) is kicked off by hand, by me, when the page is damaged.

  26. January First-of-May says

    It does not, however, notice when a comment is deleted either by the author or the Hat

    What happened in this particular case was that I kept adding links right up to the last few seconds of editing time, and consequently sent the comment right into the spamfilter approximately 15 minutes after it was originally posted.

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