This is pretty juvenile, but hey, we all have an inner twelve-year-old hidden within our mature selves, and I figure others might enjoy it as much as I did, so without further ado, from David A. Cox’s reminiscence of his fellow mathematician Steven Zucker (“‘Steve’ to everyone who knew him”; from here):

I met Steve in the fall of 1970 when we were entering graduate students at Princeton. We both studied algebraic geometry, though I was more algebraic (à la Grothendieck) while Steve was more transcendental (à la Griffiths). This made for some lively conversations. A few weeks after we met, we realized that we had to write a joint paper because the combination of our last names, in the usual alphabetical order, is remarkably obscene.

See: Cox–Zucker machine. (Via Avva.)


I got a very interesting e-mail from frequent commenter Jongseong, which he gave me permission to quote in full:

Recently, I chanced upon the word 벨로니테 bellonite (Belonite) in the Korean dictionary, supposedly designating a type of volcano. However, in English-language sources, I could only find reference to belonite referring to certain crystalline forms found in glassy volcanic rocks.

This puzzling discovery led me down a rabbit hole. I soon learned that the Korean dictionary includes seven terms corresponding to the basic types of volcanos as classified by Prague-born geologist Karl Schneider in the early 20th-century based on their shape—Pedionite, Aspite, Tholoide, Belonite, Konide, Homate, and Maar—in straightforward transcriptions of their German pronunciation: 페디오니테 pedionite, 아스피테 aseupite, 톨로이데 tolloide, 벨로니테 bellonite, 코니데 konide, 호마테 homate, and 마르 mareu. Translated Korean equivalents are given for all of these apart from the last, and at least a couple of the translated terms are familiar to many Koreans from their earth science lessons in school.

These names have fallen out of use in English-language scholarship however, volcanoes being usually classified nowadays based on their formation or composition rather than shape. This would explain why belonite only seemed to have the other meaning in English; also, when I search for many of the terms, many of the first results are in Korean (we seem to have clung on to the outmoded terminology in our textbooks). The exception is maar, which was not coined by Schneider but already existed as a term originally referring to craters and crater lakes in the Eifel region of western Germany (probably from Latin mare via post-classical Latin mara, per the OED).

The terms that do seem to have been introduced by Schneider mostly have transparent etymologies, with Pedionite, Aspite, Tholoide, Belonite, and Konide coming from the Ancient Greek roots πεδίον, ἀσπίς, θόλος, βελόνη, and κῶνος respectively. But the derivation of Homate is stumping me.

Homate refers to a low volcano whose crater is very wide relative to its size, Iceland’s Hverfjall being the prime example given by Schneider. It has been described in German as Wallberge or Ringwallberge because of the resemblance to circular ramparts. In Korean, Homate is translated as 구상 화산 臼狀 火山 gusang hwasan or 절구꼴 화산 jeolgukkol hwasan, meaning mortar-shaped volcano (as in mortar and pestle).

But I haven’t been able to come up with a derivation for Homate which would fit this definition. Perhaps it is derived from Ancient Greek like the others, the first part being the prefix hom(o)-, but if there is a second part that fits, it is escaping me. I have looked at Schneider’s Die vulkanischen Erscheinungen der Erde where he introduces his classification, but he does not explain the derivation of his terms.

Any idea where the term Homate could have come from? I am hoping you or the community of Hatters can help solve this mystery.

I join him in his hope.

The Bookshelf: White Magic.

Back in 2013 I reviewed Muireann Maguire’s anthology Red Spectres; I am happy to announce that after what has apparently been a long process of gestation (“This collection has been almost a decade in the making”), the companion volume White Magic: Russian Emigre Tales of Mystery and Terror has been published, and Russian Life Books was kind enough to send me a copy. It is just as good as its precursor.

After Maguire’s introduction, a set of author bios, and a list of sources with the original Russian titles (which I very much appreciated), the anthology opens with two stories by Alexander Amfiteatrov, whose novels were briefly popular before WWI but who has since been forgotten (the only one of my histories of Russian literature that mentions him does so only by surname, in a list of authors published in Belgrade by an emigré press). His stories “He” and “The Cimmerian Disease” make an effective point of departure; the first is narrated by a teenage girl who has been seduced by a vampire (“He always comes to me as soon as the last ray fades from the belltower of that tall church”), and the second is in the form of a letter by a young man who had the misfortune to rent a Moscow apartment formerly occupied by his friend Petrov and now haunted by a woman Petrov had driven to suicide — he is writing from Corfu, where he fled to escape her. (At one point the narrator thinks the woman might be a psychopath, and Maguire has a footnote explaining that the term had been known in Russian since at least 1885; I remembered I had done a post on the word, did some more research, and turned up an antedate from 1856!) They are followed by a Civil War shocker by Pyotr Krasnov called “The Eightieth” and two Petersburg stories by Ivan Lukash, “Hermann’s Card” (a gambler runs into Pushkin’s protagonist from “The Queen of Spades”) and “The Bells” (a cry of outrage at the Bolshevik’s destruction of the antiquities of the city).

Then comes one of the highlights of the collection, two stories by the great Pavel Muratov, almost as little remembered as Amfiteatrov, but very unfairly so. One of the books I was happiest to get in my recent buying spree was a fat Azbuka paperback of his «Образы Италии» [Images of Italy], of which Clive James wrote “As a book on the Italian Grand Tour it not only stands directly in the tradition of Goethe, Gregorovius, Burckhardt and Arthur Symons, but it is better than any of them.” I had been vaguely aware that he wrote fiction as well as art history, but I was blown away by his work here. “The Venetian Mirror” (which, oddly, has the same title as a story by Chayanov in Red Spectres) starts, enticingly, “I broke my promise — I never did send you a Venetian mirror…” and goes on to explain that the protagonist found the perfect mirror only to learn its terrifying secret; it ends: “May the marvelous gilded frame never hang on that wall, spangled with the glints of summer, in the peace of your room in the countryside, to encircle the fragments of its magical world.” The second, “The Companion,” is about “the oddities of Lord Elmore,” who was “wealthy beyond belief, and uncommonly handsome,” and who depended on his endlessly competent and loyal French servant Auguste. His life illustrates the saying that power corrupts; he ruins his gentle and lovely bride, Lady Helen, and after many other destructive interactions with the world he turns away from it and barricades himself (along with Auguste) in his ancestral Woburn Abbey. He takes to reading and collecting, but neither activity soothes his savage soul; I will quote a wonderful paragraph that illustrates both Muratov’s style and Maguire’s fine work as a translator (after her version comes the Russian for those who can appreciate it):
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Mandarin Curses by Kazakhs.

An amusing quote from Li Juan’s Winter Pasture: One Woman’s Journey with China’s Kazakh Herders (Astra Publishing, 2021), courtesy of Joel at Far Outliers:

Of course, there were occasions when the siblings argued. Sometimes they even insulted each other in Mandarin. Sister would shout, “Ben dan!” (idiot) and brother would shout back, “Wang ba dan!” (bastard)—which amused them to no end.…

Then, they both turned to ask me, what do “ben dan” and “wang ba dan” mean? For the sake of complete honesty, I offered them a boring literal explanation: a ben dan is a chicken egg that’s gone bad. And a wang ba dan … luckily, I had just seen “The Tortoise and the Hare” in Nurgün’s Kazakh textbook, so I pointed to the tortoise: “This is wang ba.” They let out an “oh.” Then I added, “Wang ba dan is its child.” A disappointed “oh”; they were unable to understand what was so special about a bad egg and a tortoise’s child that these terms could be used as insults? Thoroughly underwhelmed, that was the last time they insulted each other using these words.

Of course, that’s not “complete honesty,” it’s prissy disingenuousness; Joel adds this further explanation:

My ABC Chinese-English Dictionary (U. Hawaii Press, 1996) defines 王八 wángba as 1. tortoise, 2. cuckold, 3. son-of-a-bitch. It next lists two expressions flagged as colloquial: 王八蛋 wángbadàn N. turtle’s egg, son-of-a-bitch; and 王八羔子 wángba gāozi N. baby turtle, son-of-a-bitch.

The same source defines 笨 bèn as ADJ. 1. stupid, dull; 2. clumsy, awkward; 3. cumbersome. Lower on the same page it lists 笨蛋 bèndàn N. fool, idiot.

I heard several of those terms on a regular basis when I was living in Taiwan in 1977-78.

Grizzly DNA and Indigenous Languages.

I think every living Hatter who has ever sent me a link has sent me this Science story by Rachel Fritts, and if I wait any longer to post it I may start getting e-mails from beyond the grave, so without further ado:

The bears and Indigenous humans of coastal British Columbia have more in common than meets the eye. The two have lived side by side for millennia in this densely forested region on the west coast of Canada. But it’s the DNA that really stands out: A new analysis has found that the grizzlies here form three distinct genetic groups, and these groups align closely with the region’s three Indigenous language families.

It’s a “mind-blowing” finding that shows how cultural and biological diversity in the region are intertwined, says Jesse Popp, an Indigenous environmental scientist at the University of Guelph who was not involved with the work.

Here’s the Ecology and Society study Fritts is reporting on. John Cowan, one of the many who sent me the link, writes:

This sounded pretty fishy to me, but the underlying paper confirms that there are three distinct lineages of bears in the area that correspond geographically to the regions where the Salishan, Tsimshian, and Wakashan language families were spoken, and that these cannot be accounted for by geographical barriers like mountains, rivers, etc.

Thanks to all who alerted me!

Malabar and Malabarismo.

I happened on a Spanish word I was unfamiliar with, malabarismo, and on looking it up discovered it meant ‘juggling.’ An odd word, I thought, and found a Spanish site that gave the background:

…el nombre en español de estos juegos es mucho más reciente: se remonta al siglo XVI en la India, donde los ingleses conocieron los malabarismos practicados con sorprendente destreza por los nativos de la región de Malabar, en la provincia de Kerala, controlada por la British East India Company. El nombre no se conservó en inglés, lengua en la cual los juegos malabares son llamados juggling games, pero la palabra se formó en portugués, en el habla de los navegantes lusitanos que transitaban por el océano Índico y más tarde fue acogida por el castellano.

The Spanish name […] is much more recent: it goes back to the 16th century in India, where the English became acquainted with the juggling practiced with surprising skill by the people of the region of Malabar, in the province of Kerala, controlled by the British East India Company. The name was not preserved in English […]; it was created in Portuguese, in the speech of the Lusitanian sailors who crossed the Indian Ocean, and later was picked up by Spanish.

So then I wondered about Malabar itself, and found an OED entry (updated June 2000):

Etymology: < Portuguese Malabar the Malabar Coast or one of its inhabitants (1512), the Malayalam language (1551) < Arabic Malaybār the Malabar Coast or its inhabitants (13th cent. or earlier; also in forms Manībār (12th cent.), Mulaybār (14th cent.)) < a Dravidian first element (compare Tamil malai, Malayalam mala: see Malayalam n. and adj.) + Persian bār region, country.
The application to the Tamil people and language is after similar use in Portuguese, in which it probably arose from the fact that the Malabar were encountered by the Portuguese earlier than the Tamils, and the name of the language of the one people was hence used also for the closely related language of the other. (For further discussion see H. Yule and A. C. Burnell Hobson-Jobson (1886) at cited word.)

The very full and satisfying Hobson-Jobson entry is here.

Spruik, kayayei, obroni wawu.

This ABC News (Australia) piece by Linton Besser in Ghana is excellent (and infuriating — stop buying too many clothes, wearing them twice, and discarding them, people!), and it has several passages of decided LH interest. First comes “Clothes are spruiked by song and are quickly discounted by day’s end.” “Spruiked” looked so weird I thought it might be a misprint, but no, it’s a normal word Down Under; the OED (updated March 2019) has a thorough entry s.v. spruik:

Pronunciation: Brit. /spruːk/, U.S. /spruk/, Australian English /spruːk/, New Zealand English /spruːk/

Etymology: Either < spruik n. (although first attested earlier), or directly < its etymon German Sprüche (plural noun) patter, sales pitch, spiel (see spruik n.). Slightly earlier currency is probably implied by spruiker n.

Australian and New Zealand slang.

1. intransitive. To speak in public on a particular topic, to ‘hold forth’; spec. to attract custom to a show, shop, etc., by speaking outside the premises; to act as a spruiker.
1894 Clipper (Hobart, Tasmania) 15 Dec. 6/4 When the lamplighter will dislocate his jaw spruking.
1902 Truth (Sydney) 14 Sept. 5/6 ‘Lockie the Spruiker’ that ‘spruiked’ for years at the Gaiety door, Has gone out of the ‘spruiking’ business, and never will ‘spruik’ any more.
2001 Sunday Mail (Brisbane) 3 June 74/2 Kay McGrath, the honorary compere, gamely spruiked over the table cackle.

2. transitive. To discourse on (a subject) in a public forum; to promote or publicize (something).
1901 Sydney Sportsman 16 Jan. 1/5 How did they ‘sprook’ compliments to each other.
1907 Truth (Sydney) 26 May 1/3 Some of the women spruiking politics and posing as patriots are paid pimps of the Liberal League, and householders should shoo them off the premises.
2013 Smith Jrnl. Winter 141/1 A clue..can be found on the signs outside Mickey Bourke’s Pub, near the chalkboard spruiking Guinness on tap.

Then comes this:
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The Bookshelf: Highly Irregular.

As someone with a master’s degree in linguistics, I am easily irritated by popularizing books and articles about language, an irritation that has frequently been on display here over the years. Fortunately, there are good popularizers out there, and one of them is Arika Okrent. Back in 2009 I had good things to say about her first book, In the Land of Invented Languages, and now she’s got a new one, Highly Irregular: Why Tough, Through, and Dough Don’t Rhyme―And Other Oddities of the English Language, which the publisher was kind enough to send me. The subtitle gives a good idea of its remit, and she writes as cleverly and informatively as ever. You can get an idea of her approach from her Aeon piece Typos, tricks and misprints:

English spelling is ridiculous. Sew and new don’t rhyme. Kernel and colonel do. […] The English spelling system, if you can even call it a system, is full of this kind of thing. […]

The answer to the weirdness of English has to do with the timing of technology. The rise of printing caught English at a moment when the norms linking spoken and written language were up for grabs, and so could be hijacked by diverse forces and imperatives that didn’t coordinate with each other, or cohere, or even have any distinct goals at all. If the printing press had arrived earlier in the life of English, or later, after some of the upheaval had settled, things might have ended up differently.

It’s notable that the adoption of a different and related technology several hundred years earlier – the alphabet, in use from the 600s – didn’t have this disorienting effect on English. The Latin alphabet had spread throughout Europe with the diffusion of Christianity from the 4th century onward. A few European vernacular languages had some sort of rudimentary writing system prior to this, but for the most part they had no written form. For the first few hundred years of English using the Latin alphabet, its spelling was pretty consistent and phonetic. Monks and missionaries, beginning around 600 CE translated Latin religious texts into local languages – not necessarily so they could be read by the general population, but so they could at least read aloud to them. Most people were illiterate. The vernacular translations were written to be pronounced, and the spelling was intended to get as close to the pronunciation as possible.

Often the languages these monks and missionaries were trying to transcribe contained sounds that Latin didn’t have, and there was no symbol for the sound they needed. In those cases, they might use an accent mark, or put two letters together, or borrow another symbol. Old English, for example, had a strange, exotic ‘th’ sound, for which they originally borrowed the thorn symbol (þ) from Germanic runes. They later settled on the two-letter combination th. For the most part, they used the Latin alphabet as they knew it, but stretched it by using the letters in new ways when other sounds were required. We still use that sound, with the th spelling, in English today.

There follows a description of the Norman invasion and its destructive effects on English literacy:
[Read more…]


My wife was going through old family papers when she found a letter from 1904 on paper with the letterhead of the Improved Order of Heptasophs. Naturally, she showed it to me, and upon investigation I discovered the organization had its own Wikipedia article, as did the original Order of Heptasophs, “a fraternal organization established in New Orleans, Louisiana in April 1852. The name is derived from Greek roots meaning seven and wise and means the seven wise men.” Well, “is intended to mean” might be more accurate, but never mind — what a great word! The names of fraternal organizations are a wonderfully variegated lot, from the Ancient Order of Druids to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (with its offshoot the Ancient Mystic Order of Samaritans), the Fraternal Order of Owls, and the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, but the Heptasophs need yield to none of them in a contest of splendiferousness. (If you’re curious, the Improved Order broke away in 1878 over the vital issue of death benefits.)

Preserving Dockers’ Nicknames.

Cónal Thomas has a delightful piece for Dublin Inquirer, Preserving Dockers’ Nicknames, from Rubber Legs to Long Balls and Bendego:

When a docker was known by a nickname, that would be his name until he died, says Paddy Daly. He started at Dublin Port when he was 16, in 1954. “People who worked with a man for years would never know what his Christian name was,” says Daly. There was “Swinger” Bisset and “Snipes” McDonald, “Rubber Legs” Gaffney and “Granny” Farrell, “Terrier” Caulfield and “Crab” Carberry.

Now “Masher” Hutch, “Boxer” Elliot and “Blue Nose” Byrne join these on the list of 180 nicknames Daly has recently compiled, recalled from his days down Dublin Port. […]

“The biggest thing you had going in your favour would be, say, a little bit of infamy,” says John Walsh, who worked down the docks between 1962 and 2009. “If you got a nickname that was sort of funny or self-demeaning it stuck in the foreman’s head.” In Daly’s time on the docks, men like “Eat the Baby” Carras, “Foot and a Half” Curley and “Canadian Joe” Reilly lined up under a wooden scaffold, seeking work in the morning “reads”. The “read” was a selection process. Carried out by the foremen, who stood atop the scaffold. Many foremen knew men only by their nickname, says Daly. […]

Research into dock workers’ nicknames is scant, for now. But they’re a tradition that existed in Ringsend for generations, says Declan Byrne, who helped to found the Dublin Dock Workers Preservation Society in 2011. Byrne reckons that two-thirds of deep-sea dockers in Dublin were from Ringsend or Irishtown. The remainder came from East Wall. […]

Both Byrne and Daly agree that a dock worker’s real name would often only be discovered through his obituary. Last year, Byrne received a Christmas card from George “Bronco” Dennis. “George?” says Byrne. “‘Who’s George?’ I said. It took me ages to figure out that was Bronco’s name!”

Thanks, Trevor!