MetaFilter user lapsangsouchong posted an interesting AskMetaFilter question: “Which of the thousands of neologisms coined in the Turkish language reforms of the 1920s and 30s stuck, which ones didn’t—and why?” In the course of the discussion he posted this fascinating anecdote:

The word günaydın, ‘good morning’ or ‘good day’, was coined at this time and achieved widespread currency. But it was one of a pair, with tünaydın, ‘good afternoon’. This has achieved absolutely no currency except in schools. In the morning, when the teacher comes into class, the children stand up, the teacher says “Günaydın!” to them, and they say the same thing back; and in the afternoon, when the class comes back after lunch, the same ritual is repeated but with the word “Tünaydın!” Outside this context the word is never used. The explanation my friend suggested is that while gün was and is the normal word for day, so the new coinage (which literally means something like ‘bright day!’) made sense, tün was one of the ‘new old’ coinages, an ‘authentic’ ancient Turkish word… which no-one ever used. So a new word formed from tün had less chance of sticking than a new word formed from gün, despite 65 years* of teachers saying it to their classes every day after lunch.
*According to Nişanyan it was coined by the TDK in 1945. Bizarrely, Nişanyan has tünaydın but not—except in the entry for tünaydıngünaydın.

Anybody know more about this?
By the way, “Nişanyan” is Sevan Nişanyan, who among his other books has written a Turkish etymological dictionary that is available in online form.


  1. David Marjanović says

    Does that -yan part mean the surname is Armenian?

  2. Ssh! (That would be my guess, but I have no idea, really.)

  3. From the linked page:

    Sevan Nişanyan (d.1956, İstanbul), Ermeni kökenli Türk yazar, dilbilimci, öğretim üyesi, ve otel işletmecisi.

    “Sevan Nişanyan (b. 1956, Istanbul), Armenian-origin Turkish author, linguist, associate professor, and hotel manager.” Right?

  4. The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success lists utku ‘victory’, tün, and yazgaç ‘pen’ as failed neologisms.
    He compares them with English birdlore, proposed in 1830 and essentially a non-starter. As opposed to folklore, which filled a gap. (Nobody’s digitized The Athenaeum for 1846?)

  5. The glossary in the back of Lewis Thomas’s Elementary Turkish (1967) says akşam is evening, gece is night, gün is day, dün is yesterday, and öbür gün is the day after tomorrow (öbür=”the other). Sabah is suggested for morning (like Arabic “sabah al-khair” صباح الخير for good morning?). There is a word for noon–öğle–but none listed for “afternoon”. A good day is iyi gün and a bad day is fena gün, and the versatile gün shows up again in naming the days of the week, in the possessive construction: Pazar=Sunday, Pazar günü=Monday, Pazartesi=Monday, Pazartesi günü=Tuesday (but this must be a typo, because later it says Salı is Tuesday and Salı günü is “on Tuesday”).
    Does a language really need a word for “afternoon”? Spanish seems to get by all right without a word for “evening”.

  6. Oh, and some older forms are listed in parenthesis for some months, so those must have been some of the ones that stuck. I seem to remember that a lot of the colors went away and Turkish no longer has orange.

  7. I believe tün was meant to be ‘night’ (gece) and is, in fact, the etymology of dün.

  8. Turkish no longer has orange
    Turkish basic colour terms with an emphasis on blue” lists turuncu ‘orange’ as a Basic Color Term. (As in English, the color of the fruit تُرُنْج.)
    Turkish color terms: tests of Berlin and Kay’s theory of color universals and linguistic relativity” apparently notes some overlap in children with kavuniçi, the color of the inside of a melon.

  9. Sevan Nişanyan (b. 1956, Istanbul), Armenian-origin Turkish author, linguist, associate professor, and hotel manager.
    Sounds like there’s more money in hotels than in linguistics …

  10. Taking a cursory look at Wiktionary’s tagged words in English of Turkish derivation it implies that Turkish “düdük” (a flute) is the etymological source of English “doodle” (small mindless scribbling and sketches on paper etc.)?

  11. “The color of the inside of a melon”? That’s hopelessly ambiguous. If it’s some shade of orange, the generic “melon” must be a canteloupe, not a watermelon or honeydew. Or does Turkey only have one kind of melon?

  12. Presumably the Turkish word is more specific than English “melon.”

  13. Huh, this is kind of interesting: Ukrainian кавун, “watermelon,” looks like a direct borrowing from Turkish kavun. Also, after noting various French, Italian, and Greek leads, the online Vasmer mentions that Russian карапуз may come from Turkish karpuz, “watermelon” (whence also Russian арбуз).

  14. You will be pleased to know that the peerless MMcM has dealt with words for ‘watermelon’ in this post (turns out the Turkish word is from Persian خربوزه xarbuza, literally ‘donkey cucumber’).

  15. J. W. Brewer says

    While the Geoffrey Lewis book cited by MMcM is one I quite enjoyed reading, I have more broadly thought that “A Catastrophic Success” could be a truly excellent subtitle for a broad range of books on a broad range of historical topics (some scholarly press could commission a series . . .), and it would be a pity to limit it to the linguistic aftermath of Kemalism.

  16. Charles Perry says

    Re Nijma, one of the things that frustrates Anglophones studying Arabic is the absence of an exact equivalent of “afternoon.” One gets by saying “after noon,” instead of “in the afternoon.”
    Another is an exact equivalent of “interesting.” In effect, I suppose, Arabic presumes that if you’re talking about something at all, it’s interesting.

  17. Okay. I should have known I couldn’t get away with just answering the question whether some orange was a Turkish BCT.
    I do believe that kavun is by default a muskmelon / cantaloupe. But in context or with qualification it can cover more melons. karpuz is watermelon. You do know that you should be telling those meddling bureaucrats in Washington that Watermelon is not a Melon. (Explanation.)
    Again Lewis’s book tells us that Kavun and Karpuz were at one time proposed for secular ‘June’ and ‘July’.
    Dictionaries tend to just say ‘melon’; it’s hard given the constraints. For kavuniçi, they have something like ‘pinkish dark yellow’.
    Özgen does not further qualify his glosses. The relevant parts on the phenomenon with children are:

    Turuncu ‘orange’ was the next most frequent term; it was given by half of the sample. However, there was a further term kavuniçi that was given by about 40% of the sample that we have also glossed as ‘orange’. Of the children that offered at least one of these orange terms, only three offered both. This suggests that the two terms are alternatives for ORANGE.

    Kavuniçi ‘orange’ is offered by just 9% of the adult sample with a rank of 24, whereas it was offered by almost 40% of the children.

    The salience measures derived from the list task from the two samples (adults and children) converge to suggest that the strongest contenders for the BCTs of Turkish are yeşil ‘green’, mavi ‘blue’, sarı ‘yellow’, kırmızı ‘red’, beyaz ‘white’, siyah ‘black’, mor ‘purple’, pembe ‘pink’, kahverengi ‘brown’, gri ‘gray’, turuncu ‘orange’ and lacivert ‘dark blue’. In addition, there seem to be two terms vying for the basic ORANGE slot in the child sample — turuncu and kavuniçi ‘orange’ — but the former term is dominant for the adult sample. The first 11 of the terms just given seem to be the Turkish tokens of Berlin and Kay’s 11 universal terms. In addition, the scores for the Turkish versions of the universal primary terms (the first six terms in the list) are all higher than the scores for the Turkish versions of the five universal derived terms (the next five terms in the list). Lacivert ‘dark blue’ has scores that place it among the derived terms for both samples, and it scores noticeably higher than the highest of the secondary terms, bordo ‘claret’ for both samples.

  18. The information about Turkish orange came from an NPR interview with Elif Shafak. I see it’s still online, although the transcript is incomplete and does not talk about orange at all. Back then I wrote:

    When the Turkish language was purged of words derived from Arabic and Persian in 1923, the meanings of the words were also lost, along with much subtlety of thought, ponders Shafak. For example, many Persian words describing degrees of color were purged from the language. So without Persian, Turks can no longer describe the shades of color between yellow and red.

    I’m not sure quite how to use Nişanyan’s etymological dictionary–with Google translate, I presume–but it would be interesting to see how many words in current usage between red and yellow are from the Persian.

  19. one of the things that frustrates Anglophones studying Arabic is the absence of an exact equivalent of “afternoon.”
    I graduated very quickly from marahaba to salam alaykom. When you use “Peace be with you” as a greeting, regardless of the time, you are instantly treated as an adult. The businesses all tended to close up after lunch anyhow, so there was little need for such a word. And isn’t the whole construct of “noon” kind of artificial? Why not have a separate word for after two o’clock, for instance? What I missed was separate words for lime and lemon.
    Another is an exact equivalent of “interesting.” In effect, I suppose, Arabic presumes that if you’re talking about something at all, it’s interesting.
    My Jordanian students very quickly grasped the idea of interesting/interested/boring/bored. They just didn’t have the same idea of what was interesting–for example, a family with an apartment above the Safeway parking lot had very popular parties overlooking the action of the parking lot, which I didn’t find interesting at all since I’ve seen supermarkets before. The Arabs I knew were very good at small talk and considered it a necessary part of hospitality to keep their guest engaged in conversation. They all tended to have upwards of 12 children, and didn’t seem to understand why anyone would enjoy being alone, even for a small instant. Every time I managed to escape with a book, which I thought was “interesting”, a Jordanian would try to rescue me.

  20. marhaba
    (مرحبا )

  21. NPR interview with Elif Shafak
    Interesting. Does NPR possibly shorten things for the archive from the live broadcast? Cause I just listened to it and it’s pretty much only what the transcript says. (Where it says “(Unintelligible),” I believe Prof. Shafak said “Verbally.”)

  22. They must, because this blogger has similar observations. Weird.

  23. Did they shorten Steve’s archived interview from the way it went on the air? I doubt it.
    Comments closed, hm. She has children now and is living and publishing in Turkey. I would say scrubbed.

  24. Well, birdlore is positively prolific (over 10,000 Google hits) compared with other proposed expressions such as painlore (for pathology).

  25. Affiliate Network says

    Thank you, for such a clear and comprehensive post. Since I’ve been reading you, I feel I have begun to understand more about this topic. Please keep writing. I just hope people are listening to you and reading you.

  26. John Emerson says

    Shut up, Affiliate Network, you sorry motherfucker!

  27. Mr. B! were you on the MIAt flight last friday? I thought i figured you out, you were a tall foreigner with white hair and glasses standing near the stairs looking out the window for the plane preparations i guess and looking frustrated cz the plane was delayed due to the strong tail wind and it could not land
    i thought it was easy to spot me cz i was reading the whole time, an old french detective in russian, w/o the cover page, it got broken further into two pieces, just got it the last moment from the shelve cz recalled i have to wait 12 hrs in beijing, was glad that i waited 4 of them home yet
    i’d been feeling kinda like embarrassed like what if you’d come closer and ask whether i’m who i am and what i read and what i’ll show then like
    but fortunately you didn’t and all other books looked too heavy
    a lesson for me, prepare my travel reading beforehand, i bought then chinese phrasebook at the beijing airport, but was too tired to read it on the plane, the romaji transliteration with different stresses/strokes on the letters are really tiresome to look at i thought

  28. David Marjanović says

    the [pīnyīn] transliteration with different stresses/strokes on the letters are really tiresome to look at i thought

    But there is no less tiresome way to learn the pronunciation. The tones are always the first things I forget (after the characters, of course), and, well, Hàn are the Chinese, Hán are the Koreans; is “fish”, is “rain” or a suffix for language names, is “jade”.
    Plus, it’s easy: just let your voice follow the diacritics. ´ goes upward, ` goes downward, and so on.

  29. Robert Berger says

    A couple of words for color on this list are non-turkic borrowings. The common Turkic word for white is Ak,still in use in Turkey, and the one for blue is Gok,with an umlaut over the o which I still don’t know how to put on screen. In central asian Turkic dialects it’s kok,also with an umlaut.

  30. A couple of words for color on this list are non-turkic borrowings.
    yeşil < yaş ‘young’, mavi < Ar. ماوى, sarı Turkic saŕ, kırmızı < قرمز < Skt. कृमि ‘worm’ (cf. crimson), beyaz < Ar. بياض, siyah < Fa. سیاه, mor < Arm. մոր (cf. Morus), pembe < Fa. پنبه ‘cotton’, kahverengi < Ar. قهوة ‘coffee’ (+ renk ‘color’), gri < Fr. gris, turuncu < Fa. ترنج, lacivert < Fa. لاجورد (cf. lazuli / azure).
    (From Nişanyan, obviously. Also cf. discussion of “a couple” — when I say it, it’s exactly two; but it’s any small number from my wife, so I make no assumptions.)

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