Rejected Element Names.

Andy Brunning of Compound Interest (“Explorations of everyday chemical compounds”) has a great post called A Periodic Table of Rejected Element Names that gives you the background to element names that wound up falling by the wayside; the first is:

Element 4: Glucinium (Beryllium)

The French chemist, Louis Nicolas Vauquelin, examined both emerald and beryl and correctly reported that they contained a new element in 1798. He named this element glucine, with the symbol Gl, but as this name was very similar to that of the amino acid glycine it was criticised. When the first samples of the element were later isolated in 1828, the acceptance of the name beryllium, suggested by another chemist, Martin Henrich Klaproth, became more widespread. However, it wasn’t until 1949 that IUPAC ruled the element should be exclusively called beryllium.

And my two favorites:

Element 94: Extremium (Plutonium)

Extremium was reportedly one of the names considered by US chemists on their discovery of element 94 in 1940. However, the eventually settled on Plutonium (with Seaborg’s little joke of its symbol being Pu instead of Pl) in order to continue the series of planet-based element names.

Element 95: Pandemonium (Americium)

The discovery of elements 95 and 96 in 1945 spurred a host of suggestions for their names. Glenn Seaborg reportedly related that his colleague, Tom Morgan, referred to elements 95 and 96 as pandemonium and delirium. Supposedly, he considered proposing these names to IUPAC’s naming committee. Though a large number of names were suggested, Seaborg eventually plumped for americium for element 95.

If you’re curious about the names actually in use, we covered that in 2004.

Fwent: A Mystery.

John Cowan wrote me as follows:

I found the following sentence in the Kindle edition of a story by Josephine Tey: “To my unbounded relief, however, Lizbeth lapsed suddenly from the borders of hysteria to her normal fwent calm.”


Googling the first part of the sentence shows simply “her normal calm” in other editions, so “fwent” is probably not a typo for some other word (and if it were, what word could it be?) Googling for “fwent calm” shows no other instances. Bizarre.

Any guesses what went wrong? My only guess is that it is some kind of markup (not HTML) that infiltrated the text, like the 1805 KJV Bible edition where “to remain” (apparently being used in place of “stet”) wound up being printed in Gal 4:29, making it read “But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit to remain, even so it is now.” It *almost* makes sense.

I for one am baffled, and I’m curious what the assembled Hatters make of it.

K’ancha the Cholita.

Teo Armus writes for the Washington Post (February 23, archived) about a woman who is trying to preserve Quechua language and culture:

Before she can begin filming her online radio show, María Luz Coca Luján must first transform herself into “K’ancha,” a digital persona dressed like the Indigenous “cholitas” of her native Bolivia. So on one recent afternoon, she hustled back home to swap out her construction attire for that traditional outfit — a colorful, billowing skirt, dangling gold jewelry, a bowler hat atop her neatly braided hair — and then started live-streaming. […]

Soon there were hundreds tuned in — from Madrid, Chile, New York — as the 32-year-old launched into a chatty monologue that rapidly became a vocabulary lesson in Quechua, the Indigenous South American language she has been battling to keep alive. “Tell me all the words that you all use to convey anger,” she told them. “Let’s build our dictionary in Quechua, yeah?”

In Northern Virginia, home to the largest Bolivian population in the United States, this regular broadcast has helped Coca Luján, a.k.a. K’ancha, fashion herself into something between a social media influencer and cultural preservationist for this community of 40,000. […]

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Annotated Digital Boas.

A remarkable project from Bard College, The Distributed Text: An Annotated Digital Edition of Franz Boas’s Pioneering Ethnography:

In 1897, anthropologist Franz Boas published his major monograph, The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians, a synthesis of his first decade of research on the Northwest Coast and one of the first holistic ethnographies based on field work. The text brought together data on Kwakwaka’wakw social structure with art and material culture, detailed narratives in the Kwak’wala language, photographs taken in situ in British Columbia and at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, transcribed songs, eye-witness description of ceremonial performances, and extensive contributions from Boas’s indigenous collaborator George Hunt. Yet the report remained incomplete and fractured, and archival materials relevant to its origins and afterlives are scattered all over the world. This material includes original field notes by Boas and Hunt, museum collections records, original photographic negatives, and wax cylinder recordings of music. The goal of this collaborative project is to produce an annotated, critical digital edition that will reunite the archival material with the original text and with the indigenous families whose cultural heritage is represented. This will be an unprecedented effort within anthropology and the humanities, promising new ways of using digital media to link together disparate archives, museums, textual repositories, and contemporary Native communities in order to produce a critical historiography of the book as well as to recuperate long dormant ethnographic records.

Click through for a “Detailed Project Description”; this is the kind of thing academia should be doing. Y, who sent me the link, adds “One interesting part of this project is interpreting the large and significant body of Boas’s notes in shorthand, as described here.” Thanks, Y!

Languages and the Moa.

Tessa Barrett-Walker, Michael J. Plank, Rachael Ka’ai-Mahuta, Daniel Hikuroa, and Alex James have a recent article Kia kaua te reo e rite ki te moa, ka ngaro: do not let the language suffer the same fate as the moa (J. R. Soc. Interface 17 [2020]: 20190526), whose abstract reads:

More than a third of the world’s languages are currently classified as endangered and more than half are expected to go extinct by 2100. Strategies aimed at revitalizing endangered languages have been implemented in numerous countries, with varying degrees of success. Here, we develop a new model regarding language transmission by dividing the population into defined proficiency categories and dynamically quantifying transition rates between categories. The model can predict changes in proficiency levels over time and, ultimately, whether a given endangered language is on a long-term trajectory towards extinction or recovery. We calibrate the model using data from Wales and show that the model predicts that the Welsh language will thrive in the long term. We then apply the model to te reo Māori, the indigenous language of New Zealand, as a case study. Initial conditions for this model are estimated using New Zealand census data. We modify the model to describe a country, such as New Zealand, where the endangered language is associated with a particular subpopulation representing the indigenous people. We conclude that, with current learning rates, te reo Māori is on a pathway towards extinction, but identify strategies that could help restore it to an upward trajectory.

As JC, who sent me the link, points out: “Makes specific reference to a statistical study predicting that Welsh will be (near)universal in Wales 300 years hence!” Should be music to the ears of a certain Kusaal-oriented Hatter… (Thanks, John!)

Translink Languages.

Frequent commenter Hans wrote me about Vancouver’s “excellent public transportation system” TransLink:

I’ve subscribed to Translink’s news bulletin. In their last update, they included this link to the list of languages they do customer service in. They claim “over 300” in the bulletin, but the list only has ca. 120, with some double-counting because some are spoken on more than one continent. It also has a “I speak X” entry next to the name of the language, so if you ever need to say “I speak Oromo” in Oromo, you can look that up here.

Needless to say, I approve, and not only do they have pretty obscure languages like Dinka and Oromo, they separate Portuguese from Portuguese (Azores) and even have a language I’d never heard of, Chittagonian (“mutually intelligible with Rohingya and to a lesser extent with Noakhailla”). Good for them!

English and Irish.

A couple of language-related entertainment articles from the NY Times:

1) Michael Paulson’s “Obie Awards Honor ‘English’ as Best New Play”:

The play, written by the Iranian American playwright Sanaz Toossi, depicts four students, each at different stages of life and with different motivations, struggling to master English well enough to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language. The play was staged in New York early last year as a coproduction of the Atlantic and Roundabout theater companies. In The New York Times, the critic Jesse Green wrote, “Both contemplative and comic, it nails every opportunity for big laughs as its English-learning characters struggle with accents and idioms. But the laughter provides cover for the deeper idea that their struggle is not just linguistic.”

2) Claire Fahy’s “‘Bursting Proud’: Ireland Cheers Paul Mescal for Embracing Irish Language”:

Mescal, 27, was walking the red carpet in London when he stopped to talk with TG4, an Irish-language public broadcaster. The interviewer opened the conversation in Irish, also known as Gaelic, and the actor nervously followed suit.

For a man whom the BBC had erroneously identified as British only a few weeks before, it was quite a moment. The two-minute interaction, posted on Twitter, has been viewed one million times and set off a conversation across Ireland about the state of one of Europe’s most endangered languages.

“I found it very emotional,” said Eithne Shortall, an Irish author who lives in Dublin. “The whole country is bursting proud of Paul Mescal.” […]

Mescal wasn’t the only Irish actor who spoke Irish at the BAFTAs. Brendan Gleeson, a well-known Gaeilgeoir, or fluent Irish speaker, also gave an interview in Irish, while Colin Farrell, his co-star in “Banshees of Inisherin,” slowly backed away and was relieved to quickly find someone who would ask him questions in English.

“Shame on me,” Farrell, who is also Irish, said.

You can watch the interviews at the link; lots of fun (and lots of language-mixing)!

Two from Cowan.

JC sent me links to “a silly NYC dialect article” (Matt Troutman at Patch, “Schlep, Schmear, We’re Walkin’ Here: NYC Wants To Preserve Its Tawk”: “Sixty percent of New Yorkers surveyed said they want New York’s dialect, phrases and slang protected by law, the poll found”) and “a silly US-state dialect quiz” (Shaun Connell: “Take our quiz and test your knowledge of different state dialects”; I got 8/10, mostly from good luck). Enjoy!

Eltang’s Blackberries.

This is another of those books with untranslatable titles. The Russian is Побег куманики, the pobeg of the kumanika. What’s a pobeg? Well, there are either two homophonous words (as in Russian Wiktionary) or a single word with two very divergent senses (as in the English version); in any case, it can mean either ‘flight, escape’ or ‘sprout, shoot.’ The first is more common, occurring in phrases like побег из армии ‘flight from the army’ or преступный побег ‘criminal escape,’ but here it is paired with куманика, which refers to a berry known in English as “European blackberry” or (in the stern view of Wikipedia) Rubus nessensis. So it should be Blackberry Shoot, right? That’s what I assumed until I read the novel, Lena Eltang’s first, and learned that the name the protagonist usually goes by, Moras, is Spanish for ‘mulberry’ or ‘blackberry.’ In fact, there’s a diary entry about it (much of the novel consists of his diary):

Lucas asks me why I call myself Moras.

It’s a long story, but I can make it shorter. Moras is a Spanish kumanika. It’s a blackberry [ezhevika], to be exact, but the only difference is the blue-gray patina on the tight, blue-black buttocks.

No, there’s another difference: blackberries like sun-drenched shores, while kumanika like sharp sedges and damp moss.

Undoubtedly, I am a kumanika. I am bound to them by a runic soap rope, for my rune is the oak-blackberry-kumanika thorn.

I am bound to them by the same prickly, succulent stem that bound mad Jean to his broom[25].

Since I’ve been in Spain, I have been Moras. Zarzamoras to be exact, but many people call me Moras, or just Mo.

The Russian:
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Geetanjali Shree’s Hindi Novel.

Alexandra Alter writes for the NY Times (archived) about an unexpected literary success:

When Geetanjali Shree’s novel “Tomb of Sand” was released in India five years ago, many didn’t know what to make of it. The story — about an 80-year-old woman who refuses to get out of bed — shifts perspective without warning, gives voice to birds and inanimate objects and includes invented words and gibberish.

Some declared it an experimental masterpiece. Others found it impenetrable. Sales in India were modest. So Shree was stunned when the book, in an English translation, captivated readers, critics and literary prize committees in the West — a rare, and perhaps unparalleled, feat for a book written in Hindi.

For Shree, who is 65 and lives in Delhi, writing in Hindi isn’t a political or literary statement, but an organic creative choice. “Hindi chose me,” she said. “That’s my mother tongue.” Her decision, however, and her novel’s success, are having an impact in India and beyond, bringing attention to the wealth and diversity of the Indian literary landscape, often overlooked by the West, with its focus on English-language writing.

“Her insistence on holding on to her Hindi and taking it to the next level, it shows a path to other Indian writers who feel like they have to write in English because of the hegemony of English,” Jenny Bhatt, a writer and translator of Gujarati literature, said of Shree.

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