North-South Divide No More!

Or so said Rory Tingle in the Daily Fail last year (archived link if you don’t want to give them your clicks, and quite right too):

Northerners will pronounce words the same as Southerners within just 45 years, experts predicted today. Scientists say northern English will become lost within that timeframe as south-eastern pronunciations take over the UK. As an example, words like ‘strut’ – which currently rhyme with ‘foot’ in northern English – are increasingly being said with a southern pronunciation.

Similarly, dialect words used outside the south-east are in danger of dying out, with the northern term ‘backend’ for autumn and ‘shiver’ – a Norfolk and Lincolnshire word for splinter – among those that are already no longer used. The research released today [28 July 2021] comes after experts from the Universities of Cambridge and Portsmouth built a physics model to determine the future of the English language in England.

The model showed the south eastern pronunciation of words has been slowly overtaking northern pronunciations for decades now. As a result, it will continue to do so and within 45 years south eastern English pronunciations will dominate the UK. South western pronunciations will die out too, experts claim, as the pirate ‘arrr’ sound in ‘farm’ will disappear from the region. However, certain north-south differences are set to remain as we will continue to disagree about how to say ‘bath’.

The groundbreaking research by the two British institutes has been published in The Journal of Physics: Complexity. To examine the pronunciation shift, researchers examined data from a 1950s study of dialect by The Survey of English dialects (SED) and compared it with a 2016 study of 50,000 English speakers carried out by the English dialect app (EDA).

Dr James Burridge, from the University of Portsmouth’s School of Mathematics and Physics, explained how the study was carried out. He said: ‘We found that comparing the two [studies] was a viable way of exploring language change in 20th Century English. […] Dr Burridge added: ‘In about 1900, almost everybody said ‘thawing’ pronounced ‘thaw-wing’, but the majority of people now pronounce the word ‘thawing’ with an intrusive ‘r’, which means it sounds like ‘thaw-ring’.

‘Our model predicts this change happened over about 25 years. We found the word has changed because it was tricky to pronounce and children are more likely to pick up the easier pronunciation. This then becomes the norm. However, it hasn’t changed everywhere yet because some major cities like Leeds and Manchester have rejected the change.’ […]

This follows the decline of words to describe snail, such as ‘dod-man’, ‘hodmedod’, ‘hoddy-dod’, ‘hoddy-doddy’, which faded from English language over the last century.

No, I don’t trust linguistics research published in The Journal of Physics: Complexity (never mind the Fail), but I enjoyed the examples; thanks, JC!


  1. What is that “UK” of which you speak?

  2. the northern term ‘backend’ for autumn

    is alive and well in Yorkshire, thank you. Also ‘backendish’ for the weather turning colder/damper.

    ‘shiver’ – a Norfolk and Lincolnshire word for splinter

    I heard on a Youtube video only last week, wrt some critical function in a canal boat (which was in the Northamptonshire Levels at the time).

    These Physicists need to get out a bit more; and observe that the Complexity is richer.

  3. This seems to be the physics-journal article in question:

  4. Thanks, I was too lazy to look it up. (Tamsin Blaxter is quite an imposing name.)

  5. Michael Hendry says

    Were a lot of pirates from Norfolk or Lincolnshire? Because “shiver me timbers” is familiar pirate speech, and the verb makes more sense in this context if it means that the timbers “splinter” (from being hit by a cannonball or hitting a rock) rather than “shake” or “shudder”.

  6. shiver (n.2)

    “small piece, broken bit, splinter, fragment, chip,” c. 1200, perhaps from an unrecorded Old English word related to Middle Low German schever, schiver “splinter,” Old High German scivero, from Proto-Germanic *skif- “split” (source also of Old High German skivaro “splinter,” German Schiefer “splinter, slate”), from PIE root *skei- “to cut, split.”

    Surviving, if at all, in phrases such as break to shivers “break into bits” (mid-15c.). Also, shiver is said to be still dialectal for “a splinter” in Norfolk and Lincolnshire.[etymonline]

    said to be? I suppose anyone in East Anglia is now so self-conscious about it, that an observer couldn’t tell if they were genuinely using it or spoofing. When I hired a sailing yacht (with actual sails) on the Narrfok Broads, there were some wonderful words and pronunciations to explain the rigging. I suppose the ‘Physicists’ are going to allege ‘Quant pole’ has gone out of use.

    So ‘shiver’ for splinter would have been anywhere there were seafarers. Running into rocks is the traditional way to turn your timbers into shivers; no particular need for pirates.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    My algorithm for predicting whether you should believe anything whatsoever in the pages of the Daily Mail has once again proved its accuracy.

    (I appreciate the sanitised link, btw.)

  8. If the physicists are to be believed, my nephews (well, my wife’s nephews, to be precise…) from Manchester will no longer offer me their morning greeting, “Yawright, Cock?”. That would signal a serious degradation of British regional English.

    And what will happen to the sneering tone East Midlanders use to adorn the expression, “That London”? I’m having trouble imagining what it would sound like in Estuary English.

  9. Jen in Edinburgh says

    The Daily Mail claims that the new king was proclaimed from the Meerkat Cross in Edinburgh. The Grauniad merely claims that the proclamation was attended by a sturgeon.

    (Not that either of these things would have done the proclamation any harm, although it was quite impressive as it was.)

  10. The physicists, I must say, are hardly to be blamed if the data is dirty, as I suspect it is.

  11. I wouldn’t call either of the authors a physicist, really. Tamsin* Blaxter is a linguist, and James Burridge’s work is essentially all in applications of statistical mechanics to problems outside of physics.

    For historical reasons, statistical mechanics now often refers to a toolkit of likelihood-based methods that may be applied to problems that have nothing to do with mechanics (as a physicist would understand that topic). On the other hand, statistical mechanics is still largely treated as a sub-field of physics,** even when the methods are being applied to fields like biology, history, or game theory, and papers using those methods can still be published in physics journals, regardless of what the specific application is.

    * Tamsin is one of those fairly ordinary British names that practically don’t exist in America.

    ** At MIT, the undergraduate courses on the topic were titled “Statistical Physics I–II,” while the graduate versions were “Statistical Mechanics I–II.”

  12. The physicists, I must say, are hardly to be blamed if the data is dirty, as I suspect it is.

    On the contrary, that suspicion belongs to the standard cognitive toolkit of anyone competent to deal with data.

  13. Could someone please define (the hydronyms?) Narrfok Broads and Northamptonshire Levels?

  14. I wouldn’t call either of the authors a physicist, really. Tamsin* Blaxter is a linguist, and James Burridge’s work is essentially all in applications of statistical mechanics to problems outside of physics.

    Then Tamsin[*] should know better; for a non(alleged)-Physicist, it looks suspiciously like the statistics is applying entropy to language change — something that would occur only to a Physicist.

    We found the word has changed because it was tricky to pronounce and children are more likely to pick up the easier pronunciation.

    Yeah, one of those kids-these-days-are-too-lazy explanations. How did Hittite kids get their mouths round all those (Af)fricat(iv)es?

    Then we appear to be lacking any narrative for how yoof culture is the engine of language innovation, constantly injecting slang garnered from other languages with – exactly – tricky pronunciations, as a sign of in-groupness, chur!

    [*] Yes Tamsin is an unexceptional name.

  15. How did Hittite kids get their mouths round all those (Af)fricat(iv)es?

    Then we appear to be lacking any narrative for how yoof culture is the engine of language innovation, constantly injecting slang garnered from other languages with – exactly – tricky pronunciations

    Hittite was invented by the inmates of the Old Assyrian Home For Difficult Yoof.

  16. I have no previous familiarity with the name “Tamsin,” although wikipedia assures me that it has been borne by numerous actual human beings of sufficient notability to have wikipedia pages devoted to them. On a quick skim, the only American one seems to be (with a variant spelling) Tamsen Donner (1801-1847), wife of George Donner of Donner Party notoriety who like her husband did not survive the episode. The etymological allegation is that Tams*n is a shortened form of “Thomasina,” which is a name I have never encountered outside of a Beatrix Potter book.

  17. I have known an American named Tasnim, a name I always think of when I see Tamsin.

  18. Could someone please define (the hydronyms?) Narrfok Broads and Northamptonshire Levels?

    Both those areas are essentially flat silted-up outwash from the higher ranges forming the spine of England. Subsequently affected by sea-level rise after Roman times. That’s why there’s windmills all over the place — to try to keep the rich arable soil drained enough to stand a cow on.

    There’s two different hydrological phenomena going on with the Narrfok Broads: the Southern Broads are formed from oxbow lakes from the meandering of the River Bure. The Northern Broads (Hickling, Horsey Mere, Barton) are former peat diggings that got flooded as river levels rose. The very narrow bridge at Potter Heigham holds back a significant amount of outflow — as I can tell you from trying to ‘shoot’ it on a falling tide.

    Lincolnshire/Northamptonshire/Cambridgeshire Levels are formed (starting C16th) from canalising the rivers, and digging drainage ditches — that doubled as canals for transporting farm produce. Essentially you couldn’t build roads: too swampy. For example, the Isle of Ely (a long way inland) is an Isle because it was surrounded by fens, with only a seasonably-available causeway to get on to it. As wp says, Following the Norman Conquest, the Isle became a refuge for Anglo-Saxon forces ….

    The Levels drain eventually into The Wash. Cue (probably apocryphal) tale of King John losing the Jewels.

    Those Levels are so swampy, you can’t even build footing for a towpath. Hence the quant poles. water reed was rarely used for thatching outside of East Anglia. says wp, but boy! a lot of reed grows in those Levels. Here’s a flavour.

  19. I just read that the familiar terms rig or big rig, for what elsewhere in the US is called a semi or an 18-wheeler, are restricted to California, and only in the LA, Sacramento, and the Bay Areas. Very counter-intuitive, if you think of truckers spreading whatever term they use far and wide.

  20. Tamsin shortened form of Thomasina. Also shortened to Tammi/Tammy — familiar enough across the pond.

  21. David Marjanović says

    And here I was assuming Tammy must be Tamara or something.

    German Schiefer “splinter, slate”

    It never occurred to me that these homonyms are related! Let alone that they explain arrr, shiver me timbers.

  22. @AntC. Many thanks for your detailed explanation.

  23. @Y: to me, “big rig” is as familiar as the other two you mention, and i’ve never lived west of the hudson. but “tractor-trailer” is my core term for those trucks.

  24. Yeah, big rig is pretty ordinary everywhere I’ve lived, and it didn’t seem any more common on the West Coast than anywhere else. However, I lived hundreds of miles north of the Bay Area. Maybe California is the only place where it is the most common term for for a tractor trailer though.

    Semi is only the cab part of the truck* (which is why it’s called that), with the front ten wheels. I remember correcting at least one of my kids on this point (as well as teaching them the difference between a box truck and a trailer truck).

    * Articulated lorry to the British, precisely because it is made up of two pieces.

  25. Hm. The map I saw was in Josh Katz’s Speaking American: How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk: a Visual Guide, which came out of the NYT dialect quiz, which in turn was based on the Harvard dialect survey. Maybe they asked for the primary term in usage?

    Me, I would call it a big truck if I saw it on the road, but radio traffic reports here usually call it a big rig.

  26. In case it wasn’t obvious I feel it ought to be pointed out that Narrfok is AntC’s personal dialect respelling of Norfolk.

    Truck is edging lorry out of my vocabulary. Box trucks and pickup trucks I could never call lorries. Larger trucks I could but rarely do.

  27. BTW, to be fair to the researchers, the eyewash about children are more likely to pick up the easier pronunciation. is the Daily Fail’s fabrication. The paper says only that learners might ‘accommodate’ their pronunciation to one more frequently heard from outside their immediate family/village/suburb.

    Then I find it weird the paper doesn’t take into account the significant difference in language transmission that’s occurred over the period they survey — as compared with pre-C20th: mass media — cinema then radio then TV.

    Also how can a statistician interpolate/extrapolate when their data comes from only two time-points? Has there been a constant rate of change/loss of dialects? What it they’d taken time-points around the Great Vowel Shift?

    It’s still junk science, the Daily Fail’s contribution is to make it junkier. (They’re doylems — to use another Northern word that’s alive and well.)

  28. PlasticPaddy says

    The Scots word doichle or dochle, meaning about the same thing, seems to be a possible source for doilem. The similar / corresponding modern (and older: Irish word doicheall means “grudging, inhospitable, niggardly”. There are a lot of final m type forms like mixum gatherum or thingummy, so this would not seem to be a problem.

  29. David Eddyshaw says

    They’re doylems

    You are unfair to the Mêloyds. They show a malignant contempt for the very concept of objective truth, combined with an active hatred of common human decency. But they are not stupid.

    (More to the point, this is unfair to honest doylems.)

  30. Kate Bunting says

    >I have known an American named Tasnim, a name I always think of when I see Tamsin.

    There’s also the English violinist Tasmin Little (an error for Tamsin, or a combination of it with Yasmin?).

    There’s nothing new about the intrusive ‘r’ in ‘thawing’. I remember seeing a cartoon from pre-WW1 in which a servant girl refers to the ‘droring room’.

  31. It may be that back then it was confined to the lower classes and has since spread.

  32. The two Tamsins that immediately come to mind to me are Tamsyn Muir, the NZ writer, and Tamsin Greig, the English actress.

  33. From my limited exposure to British popular culture I got the impression that Tamsin as a name has a certain aspirational flair, associated with people who want to look posh but aren’t. Is that impression correct or perhaps just based on my limited sample of fictional characters bearing that name in TV shows and similar products of pop culture?

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    The only Tamsin I know socially is certainly posh enough to be going on with, and needs no aspiring.

    My wife has a cousin called Tamsin, but then she has a cousin called Nigel too. Her family is less plebeian than mine. Too few coal miners and sheep farmers and too many university professors.

    It’s true enough that “Tamsin” doesn’t come across as a Waynetta name.

  35. The name always reminds me of Tasmin [sic] Archer, the singer.

  36. The closest I can think of an American coming to “Tamsin” is Thomasin Franken, daughter of the comedian and former senator.

  37. David Marjanović says

    I was thinking of Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), but her Wikipedia article doesn’t say if her as-it-turns-out-middle name is short for anything.

  38. @David Marjanović: It’s not short for anything. Wikipedia would give her full legal name if it were. The other Senator Tammy is also just Tammy Baldwin.

    Overall, Tammy on its own seems more popular than Tamara (the usual American form of the Biblical name, mediated through East Slavic) these days, although both seem old fashioned, and neither apparently cracked the top 1000 baby girls’ names last year. The only famous Tammy I can think of who was actually a Tamara (or a Tamar) was Tammy Faye Bakker

  39. “Tammy” was a quite popular freestanding name for American girls born in the ’60’s and ’70’s although it has fallen from favor among more recent birth cohorts. I daresay many who bear it (and many of their parents who gave it to them) don’t/didn’t think of it as a nickname for any other name in particular.

  40. “Tammy” was a quite popular freestanding name for American girls born in the ’60’s and ’70’s

    Because of this wretched song. (Like, I suspect, most people, I had no idea it was ever short for Tamara.)

  41. I just noticed that Richard Crawley used shiver in his translation of Thucydides:

    He who most distinguished himself was Brasidas. Captain of a galley, and seeing that the captains and steersmen, impressed by the difficulty of the position, hung back even where a landing might have seemed possible, for fear of wrecking their vessels, he shouted out to them, that they must never allow the enemy to fortify himself in their country for the sake of saving timber, but must shiver their vessels and force a landing; and bade the allies, instead of hesitating in such a moment to sacrifice their ships for Lacedaemon in return for her many benefits, to run them boldly aground, land in one way or another, and make themselves masters of the place and its garrison.

    I don’t know Greek, so I cannot tell what this corresponded to in the original Attic.

  42. Since I can’t edit my previous comment more than once for some reason, I’ll add another that I just remembered:

    The Tammy in that song, created by Cid Ricketts Sumner in Tammy Out of Time and played by Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee in subsequent films, was actually named “Tambrey,” which is a name hardly used at all. (Perhaps that was supposed to be thematic in the original novel, in which she apparently sometimes talks like Chaucer.) Girls’ names like Tambrey, Tambre, and other spellings are documented, but it seems uncertain whether they are related to the tambourine group or actually to the Biblical Tamar after all.

  43. PlasticPaddy says
    Thucydides “Peloponnesian War”, 4.11.
    The word is katagnúnai for which the definition (of κατάγνυμι) in Liddell is:
    I. to break in pieces, shatter, shiver, crack, Hom., attic

    2. to break up, weaken, enervate, Eur., Plat.

    κατα- (kata-) +‎ ἄγνυμι (ágnumi)

  44. @Brett: the part that corresponds to “but must shiver their vessels and force a landing” is:
    ἀλλὰ τάς τε σφετέρας ναῦς βιαζομένους τὴν ἀπόβασιν καταγνύναι ἐκέλευε (Book 4 chapter 11.4).
    So the Greek term is κατάγνυμι “break into pieces, shatter”, which isn’t a specifically nautical term.
    Edit: Ninja’d by PP, I see…

  45. Shiver is certainly not the only idiosyncrasy of diction in Crawley’s translation. Another is that he has a tendency to starting the summing up of arguments with, “In fine,…,” which is not so common today (and “now somewhat formal,” as the OED puts it), but not risible.

    Three times, he describes internecine conflicts (an important theme in Thucydides) as “intestine,” a usage I didn’t remember seeing elsewhere (although I must have, since it appears in Henry IV, part 1: “The intestine shocke And furious close of ciuill butcherie”). Moreover, “Internal with regard to a country or people; domestic, civil: usually said of war, feuds, or troubles, also of enemies,” is actually the oldest adjective sense of intestine, attested from 1535 and so essentially as old as the anatomical noun intestine. However, the OED entry for adjective intestine looks like it has never been meaningfully updated. There are only three post-1800 attestation, two concerned with a different subsense relating to fluid movement and one, ironically, dealing with the same region* as Crawley:

    1869 G. Rawlinson Man. Anc. Hist. 396 Intestine division made the very name of Hellas a mockery.

    Crawley also uses “malversators,” which seems to be pretty uncommon in that form. A Google search for that word brings up several Web versions of Crawley’s translation of The History of the Peloponnesian War right on the first page. The noun malversation (“corrupt behaviour in a commission, office, employment, or position of trust; an instance of this”) shows up reasonably often, as people reach for synonyms for “official corruption,” but the the noun form malversator appears to be genuinely rare.

    * However, the quote from Rawlinson’s universal history, actually concerns the state of Greece during the rise of Roman power:

    For throughout the East, since the time of Alexander, all things had tended to corruption and decay. In Greece, the spirit of patriotism, feebly kept alive in the hearts of a select few, such as Aratus and Philopcemen, was on the point of expiring. Intestine division made the very name of Hellas a mockery, and pointed her out as a ready prey to any invader. In Macedonia luxury had made vast strides ; military discipline and training had been neglected ; loyalty had altogether ceased to exist ; little remained but the inheritance of a great name and of a system of tactics which was of small value, except under the animating influence of a good general.

    The rest of the paragraph gets creepy:

    The condition of the other Alexandrine monarchies was even worse. In Syria and in Egypt, while the barbarian element had been raised but slightly above its natural level by Hellenic influence, the Hellenic had suffered greatly by its contact with lower types of humanity. The royal races, Seleucids and Ptolemies, were effete and degenerate ; the armed force that they could bring into the field might be numerous, but it was contemptible ; and a general of even moderate abilities was a rarity. It was only among the purely Asiatic monarchies of the more remote East that any rival, really capable of coping with Rome, was now likely to show itself. The Macedonian system had lived out its day, and was ready to give place to the young, vigorous, and boldly aggressive power which had arisen in the West.

  46. Rawlinson’s phrase “intestine division” struck me as a possible typo/OCR mistake because it sounded so weird, but it turns out it’s merely an archaism. Gibbon used it, as e.g. “The degenerate Parthians, broken by intestine discord, fled before his [i.e., Trajan’s] arms.”

  47. Another Tammy that I remember was Tammy Wynette, who was born Virginia Wynette Pugh, initially sang as Wynette Bird (her first husband, whom she married at 17, was Euple(!) Byrd), and became Tammy Wynette because her first agent told her “You look like a Tammy to me.”

  48. Everything about that is great. Euple!

  49. From the Itawamba County Times:

    Euple Dozier visits her mother Miranda Dozier the night before her swearing in as the first female U.S. Attorney in Mississippi history. [1961]

    I’ve found two women called Euple, only one man. There’s also Euplemia !?

  50. I wonder, is it pronounced Oople or Yoople? The latter, I would guess.

  51. Gotta be the latter.

  52. her first husband
    She doesn’t seem to have stood by her men. I’m shocked…

  53. Jessica Chastain, who ironically says she hates singing, has recently played both
    Tammy Faye Bakker
    and Tammy Wynette.

  54. So it turns out that NYC nightlife personality Tammy Faye Starlite (well-known for impersonating the likes of Nico, Marianne Faithful, and Mick Jagger, as well as a semi-generic fictitious Nashville-chick-singer sort of character) is actually named Tamar* in real life. Maybe that influenced her choice of stage name above and beyond the obvious reference to Tammy Faye Bakker?

    *She is of Ashkenazic ancestry/upbringing. I think Tamar would be a pretty unusual name for a gentile U.S. woman my age although Tammy-as-such definitely would not be.

  55. David Marjanović says

    “The intestine shocke
    And furious close of ciuill butcherie”

    That actually seems to make more sense as a good old figurative gut-punch. But of course that doesn’t work for any of the other examples.

    Everything about that is great. Euple!

    + 1

  56. David Eddyshaw says

    “Tamar” always makes me think of

    I’m just that Caucasian. Bagration, yes!

  57. I had forgotten that since the start of the pandemic Tammy Faye Starlite has rolled out a new fictitious persona (which I have personally not yet seen in a live-performance context) as mononymic “Tamar,” an Israeli Europop singer who has won the (apparently fictional?) Giorgio award for “best spoken word disco performance by a non-Belarusian female solo.” Ms. Starlite claims to have created the character before/without remembering that her own non-stage legal name was actually Tamar. More details here:

  58. Ms. Starlite claims to have created the character before/without remembering that her own non-stage legal name was actually Tamar.


  59. David Marjanović says

    I can actually believe that. I’ve met people who didn’t react to their full names because they were only used to their nicknames – which were transparent abbreviations of their full names, and unambiguous unlike in this case.

  60. I can believe that, but not that you would actually forget your real name to the point that you could create an identical stage name without realizing it. Nope, that’s a bridge too far. Even if drugs are involved.

  61. David Eddyshaw says

    I’ve met people who didn’t react to their full names because they were only used to their nicknames

    I am myself such a person …

  62. Hat, you choose not to believe that. Or is it that you can’t help disbelieving it ?

    I’m reminded of David M once saying he finds the expression “choose to believe” to be meaningless. I understood him to be saying that, for him, belief is not a choice. Scientists believe only par provision.

    I think that was in a context of what is called “religious belief”. Perhaps he takes credo quia absurdum to be wishful thinking, or a diversionary gambit.

    I call on David Eddyshaw for clarification. Are we merely talking Bedingungen der Möglichkeit here, or is there more matter?

  63. David Eddyshaw says

    I call on David Eddyshaw for clarification

    For what? Has all my work here been in vain?

  64. Perhaps a teeny tiny conspectus of belief? Some of us have memories like sieves. Even Pilgrim had to be reminded.

  65. David Eddyshaw says

    I have now moved on from my Blue Period view of the matter, to a position where I now hold that the issue is ineffable. Radically ineffable.

  66. Well, that’s a relief. My sentiment entirely.

    I go further: there’s far too little ineffability going down, of all kinds.

  67. David Eddyshaw says

    I couldn’t say.

    Even Pilgrim had to be reminded.

    So it goes …

  68. I couldn’t say

    Just so.

  69. I have no insight into the actual truth of Ms. Starlite’s claim and it is of course not impossible that she was pulling the interviewer’s leg and/or conveying with tone of voice etc. that the claim should not be taken at face value.

  70. Where there is will, there is wriggle room.

  71. @J.W. Brewer: Historically, Tamar was a Biblical name that was not used much by Jews. The fact that both scriptural Tamar characters are involved in pretty sordid stories (the first Tamar was the one Onan would not impregnate, and the second was King David’s daughter who was raped by her own half-brother, the crown prince Amnon) probably has something to do with that. However, Israeli Jews have readopted a lot of old names from the Tanakh that had previously fallen out of use (Ehud, for example, basically did not exist as a given name until the twentieth century, but it is now quite popular), and Tamar was among them.

    Previously, the name Tamar was (as David Eddyshaw points out) strongly associated with Georgian Christians. Tamar was also a local theonym before the Christianization of the country (initiated by Saint Nino), which probably contributed to its enduring popularity. That the reign of Queen Tamar coincided with the height of Georgia’s power as an independent state made her a major cultural figure and further contributed to the popularity of the name.

    I also just discovered that the youngest of Toni Braxton’s sisters/backup singers is named Tamar. All five sisters have names starting with T, and their parents may have been stretching to find a fifth T-name that they really liked.

  72. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes, I was going to say that from a Biblical point of view, “Tamar” is a bit of a nomen infaustum.

    Though I gather that “Anat” is quite popular as a girl’s name in Israel, and she was even infausterer, what with being Baal’s S.O. (sister/lover/whatever.)

    Ehud seems to have been memorable mainly for killing people in the lavatory, but I imagine that might be seen as a good thing. The moral is, never trust anybody who is left-handed.

  73. That lavatory event stimulates strange fantasies. I found a claim, supposedly backed up by bible verses, that at the instant Eglon was stabbed he lost it, i.e. his stool:

    # Der Text erwähnt im unmittelbaren Anschluss daran ein merkwürdiges Detail, das wohl darauf schließen lässt, dass Eglon im Moment des blitzartig eintretenden Todes seinen Stuhlgang verliert (Ri 3,21-22). #

    The verses linked there say nothing of the kind. That “wohl” is doing some heavy lifting. Fact is, stool always leaves when death arrives. It’s protocol.

  74. I wonder if there is any real pattern to which names got resurrected in the twentieth century; maybe it has to do with which ones had the most interesting stories. While some names from Judges, like Ehud and Yael (the names of two of Moshe Dayan’s children) have become fairly popular, others, like Shamgar (killed six hundred Philistines with his ox goad*) or Othniel (who was apparently considered important enough to have his story repeated twice, a relative rarity in Judges) are still basically nonexistent.

    * The killing of large numbers of Philistines with an improvised weapon, of course, shows up again later in Judges, with the first of the three(ish) Samson characters, who used the jawbone of an ass (of unknown haplotype, unfortunately).

  75. תָּמָר tāmār is the date palm or its fruit. That nice association is probably why the name is popular. It is cognate with Arabic تَمْر tamr, whence tamarind ‘India date’.

    The story of Amnon and Tamar, like other stories of sexual violence in the Bible, is grim and unvarnished. And yet the cultivated pansy is commonly called amnon vetamar ‘Amnon and Tamar’. That name, Hebrew Wp tells me, was given to the flower by the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky, after the Russian Иван-да-марья, based on a tale of an ill-fated love where the couple don’t know they are siblings. The names Amnon and Tamar were also used for the romantic couple (loving and not siblings) at the center of Mapu’s אַהֲבַת צִיּוֹן Ahavat Tsiyon ‘The Love of Zion’, the first Hebrew novel. To which I say, people are weird.

    While we are on cheerful subjects, there’s also Tamora in Titus Andronicus. I wonder where that name came from.

  76. @Y: Apparently, Tomrys, a queen of the Massagetean Scythians, who according to Herodotus killed Cyrus the Great,* has been suggested as an origin for the name Tamora.

    * Book I, 214:

    He then ended his life in this manner; but Tomyris, as Cyrus did not listen to her, gathered together all her power and joined battle with Cyrus. This battle of all the battles fought by Barbarians I judge to have been the fiercest, and I am informed that it happened thus:—first, it is said, they stood apart and shot at one another, and afterwards when their arrows were all shot away, they fell upon one another and engaged in close combat with their spears and daggers; and so they continued to be in conflict with one another for a long time, and neither side would flee; but at last the Massagetai got the better in the fight: and the greater part of the Persian army was destroyed there on the spot, and Cyrus himself brought his life to an end there, after he had reigned in all thirty years wanting one. Then Tomyris filled a skin with human blood and had search made among the Persian dead for the corpse of Cyrus: and when she found it, she let his head down into the skin and doing outrage to the corpse she said at the same time this: “Though I yet live and have overcome thee in fight, nevertheless thou didst undo me by taking my son with craft: but I according to my threat will give thee thy fill of blood.” Now as regards the end of the life of Cyrus there are many tales told, but this which I have related is to my mind the most worthy of belief.

    There are several other contradictory accounts of Cyrus’s death, however. It is not even certain that he died in warfare.

  77. Is Herodotus (indirectly maybe) a likely historical source for Shakespeare?

  78. David Marjanović says

    Perhaps he takes credo quia absurdum to be wishful thinking, or a diversionary gambit.

    No, I take it as irrelevant to that topic. “Nobody would make this up, so it’s most likely true” is a perfectly fine argument. It’s a form of “once you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”…

  79. “Nobody would make this up, so it’s most likely true” is a perfectly fine argument
    Though looking at what people have made up throughout history, not an argument I would want to rely on.

  80. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s so crazy it might just work!

  81. “Nobody would make this up, so it’s most likely true” is a perfectly fine argument. It’s a form of “once you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”…

    I second Hans’s response to the first, in even stronger terms, and the Holmes quote, while striking and memorable, is manifestly absurd.

  82. David Marjanović says

    I second Hans’s response to the first, in even stronger terms

    Oh, me, too – and not even just “made up” in the “lied for fun & profit” sense, but even in the “seemed perfectly logical at the time” sense.

    the Holmes quote, while striking and memorable, is manifestly absurd.

    Why? Because “impossible” in practice usually means “improbable” rather than “physically impossible”? That just reduces it to Ockham’s Razor.

  83. Given enough billions of people on the planet, statements/actions/events/interactions that would seem ex ante highly improbable when considered in a vacuum do in fact occur on a daily basis.

  84. statements/actions/events/interactions that would seem ex ante highly improbable when considered in a vacuum do in fact occur on a daily basis.

    I doubt that any of those could be considered in a vacuum. He who would consider them thus would be dead.

  85. Why? Because “impossible” in practice usually means “improbable” rather than “physically impossible”?

    Because “once you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” presupposes there are, say, three alternatives: A, B, or C might have happened, and since A and B are impossible, C must be the truth. This makes sense and is appealing to, say, a ten-year-old, but in fact there are an infinite number of alternatives and few if any of them are “impossible” (anything truly impossible wouldn’t have been taken into account in the first place, of course). It’s just a profound-sounding bit of nonsense, like most simple rules for living.

  86. David Eddyshaw says

    We strict Brouwerites indignantly repudiate your tertium non datur.

    Rampant Platonism, I calls it!

  87. Conan-Doyle was clearly not a stupid man, but he was pretty inept at critical thinking in real life. So it is rather peculiar that he should be best known for creating Holmes, one of the most famously observant and logical characters in literature. Because of his creator’s shortcomings, when Holmes explains his reasoning, it often ends up being incoherent, for the reasons languagehat mentions, among others.

  88. @Y:* Shakespeare appears to have comparatively little knowledge of Greek matters. Most of his plays with Greek settings have plots that can be traced to well-known English-language antecedents: “The Two Noble Kinsmen” and “Troilus and Cressida” are from Chaucer, and their plots are medieval, not ancient Greek; “Timon of Athens” comes from The Palace of Pleasure by William Painter, from 1566; and the story of “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” is derived from the Confessio Amantis (1393) by John Gower, and possibly its sixteenth-century prose adaptation The Pattern of Painful Adventures by Lawrence Twine. Moreover, three of those plays (all except “Troilus and Cressida”) were probably collaborations, and Shakespeare’s coauthors may have been more interested in the Greek settings that he was. In particular, George Wilkins, who probably cowrote “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” also later produced a prose version of the story, The Painful Adventures of Pericles. The last Greek play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” is nominally set in and around Athens, but it there is nothing whatsoever Greek about the story, and Shakespeare commits the solecism of making Theseus Duke of Athens, an obviously medieval title.

    * Responding to above comments in reverse order, I am.

  89. David Marjanović says

    in fact there are an infinite number of alternatives

    …yeah, that. I keep misundreshtmating my post-COVID fatigue.

  90. Lars Mathiesen says

    infinite number of alternatives — what would I substitute if I were ridden by the bugbear of alternatives being always two in number? (Each the other’s alter, as it were). other possibilities has some promise, but I’m not absolutely sure it’s sufficient.

  91. Semi is only the cab part of the truck*

    I thought the front part was the “prime mover”.

    Otherwise, “semi-trailer” is a term for the whole truck, is it not?

    But I’m not really up on these things.

    PS: From Wikipedia:

    A tractor unit (also known as a truck unit, prime mover, ten-wheeler, semi-tractor, semi-truck, tractor cab, truck cab, tractor rig, truck rig or big rig or simply a tractor, truck or rig) is a characteristically heavy-duty towing engine that provides motive power for hauling a towed or trailered load.

    And this:

    A semi-trailer is a trailer without a front axle. In the United States, the term is also used to refer to the combination of a truck and a semi-trailer; a tractor-trailer…… A road tractor coupled to a semi-trailer is often called a semi-trailer truck or “semi” in North America and Australia, and an articulated lorry or “artic” in the UK.

    Sorry I looked.

  92. Lars Mathiesen says

    two alternatives: It just struck me that others, and even more transparently Danish andre, are actually plurals of the synonymous PIE root. (Da den anden = ‘the second one’). But no peevers are seen complaining about those.

    (So why are there two PIE roots, and is it just a coincidence that *h₂en- and *h₂el- each give rise to words for ‘other/second’ in separate branches? [The alternative would be an {incomplete} Pre-PIE sound change]. *h₂el- also lies under E all, it seems; a semantic shift from ‘the others’ to ‘all of them’ would not be that strange).

  93. PlasticPaddy says

    @lars, maybe you could also have dialect doublets? Here are some pairs:

    glew = to ball up, clump
    gnewH = to press
    gwelH = to throw, reach, pierce
    gwhen = to strike, slay, kill
    h2ley = smear
    h3neyd = insult
    welh1 = to choose, want
    wenh1 = to love

    lek = to jump, scuttle along
    nek = to perish, disappear
    lew = to wash
    new = new

  94. Lars Mathiesen says

    @PP, yes indeed. I suppose that the diachronic stage that we call PIE was already in the process of dialect breakup, so that new forms with new senses could spread back to all of the dialects/branches. Has anybody ever ventured a guess about how many speakers “PIE” had?

  95. Probably, but I can’t remember seeing one. I just browsed through both James Mallory’s In Search of the Indo-Europeans and David Anthony’s The Horse, the Wheel, and Language without luck.

  96. One more oddity of terminology in Richard Crawley’s translation (which may or may not reflect something in Thucydides’ original) is the words he uses for javelineers. In fact, while he uses “javelin[s]” seven times, he never used “javelineer[s].” Instead, he refers to them as “darters” (which sounds a bit affected) twenty-three times and “targeteer[s]” (decidedly peculiar, to my ear) sixteen times. His choice of terms is not random either. There are stretches in the book in which Crawley uses one word exclusively, or almost exclusively.

  97. A javelineer was normally also a targeteer; that is, he was equipped with one or more javelins and a small shield, or target. A third term was peltast, from the Greek for target in this sense.

    A darter, however, was armed with darts, which are essentially fletched arrows meant to be thrown rather than shot from a bow. As such, they are much longer and heavier than standard arrows, though shorter than javelins (which in turn were shorter than spears, which were thrust rather than thrown). So this may have been a different group altogether.

  98. My impression was that Crawley did not distinguish a dart from a javelin, and looking just now, the first appearance of “javelins” in combat bears that out:

    Meanwhile the Aetolians had gathered to the rescue, and now attacked the Athenians and their allies, running down from the hills on every side and darting their javelins, falling back when the Athenian army advanced, and coming on as it retired; and for a long while the battle was of this character, alternate advance and retreat, in both which operations the Athenians had the worst.

    Nor is there any mention of “targeteers” and “darters” side by side and distinct, although there are, for example, “darters,… slingers, and archers.” On the other hand, the “targeteers”* are once described as “swordsmen”:

    This same summer arrived at Athens thirteen hundred targeteers, Thracian swordsmen of the tribe of the Dii, who were to have sailed to Sicily with Demosthenes.

    * Modern English has preserved the Scottish form targe for a small circular shield, but not target in that sense.

  99. It’s embarrassing, but it never struck me that there’s an obvious need to differentiate between javelins for throwing and spears for thrusting. For me they’re all spyd. Neither did it strike me that there was a military use for darts, and that fact has a similar linguistic correlate To me arrows for shooting and darts for throwing are all piler.

  100. Well, you’re never gonna make centurion until you learn the difference, boy!

  101. It’s the same everywhere. To get out of here you have to show the skills you need to stay here.

  102. David Eddyshaw says

    Or you can be such a liability that they promote you to get rid of you. I’m told that this is not unheard of in the military …

  103. January First-of-May says

    It’s embarrassing, but it never struck me that there’s an obvious need to differentiate between javelins for throwing and spears for thrusting. For me they’re all spyd.

    …TIL that javelins are supposed to be thrown. I think I just assumed that “javelin” was a fancy term for a spear.
    For the most part I only know of javelin (or spear) throwing as the Olympic discipline, and that in Russian gets the “spear” word: метание копья.

    I think there’s a separate Russian word for the shorter throwing weapons but I can’t seem to recall what it is. (The thing that a crossbow shoots is a болт, which is a borrowing from English, I think.)
    …looking it up, the word is дротик, which is comfortingly familiar, so at least I didn’t make it up that there was a word.

  104. In the video game Dragon Wars, I was surprised that the “Flame Spear” weapon was actually a single-use thrown item. A few battles after acquiring it and equipping a character with it, I noticed that he had switched to fighting bare-handed. So I reloaded my game and went back to see what had happened. In the first battle we faced, the weapon was hurled at an enemy and lost. You might think that a (unique, as almost all magical items in that game are) single-use weapon would be particularly powerful, but it wasn’t even that. I wonder if there was a miscommunication between the main programmer and one of her* assistants—that it may have been intended as a melee spear but was marked as a missile weapon by someone working on the item database.

    * It feels pragmatically weird to me to use this pronoun here, since at the time the game was being produced, the lead programmer was male.

  105. Lars Mathiesen says

    In Danish, a javelin can be called a kastespyd, but the track and field discipline is just spydkast. (Obviously, if you throw a spear it’s a javelin). Spyd covers both javelins and melee spears, though I don’t know if spears were used much in hand-to-hand combat here. (Continental massed footmen with three ranks of spearmen against cavalry is another matter).

  106. Stu Clayton says

    * It feels pragmatically weird to me to use this pronoun here, since at the time the game was being produced, the lead programmer was male.

    Well, you’re free not to do so.

    These are heights of proleptic conciliation previously unknown to me. A superselfconscious elaboration of “Don’t blame me, I’m doing the best I can”. Does it actually work, or – what I would expect – do you get heat from some quarter or other no matter what you say ? As this comment demonstrates ?

    I myself try to avoid putting accusations into someone’s mouth and then removing them, before they have a chance to open it.

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