Wurgaft’s Wordgrafts.

Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft, “a writer, historian and critic,” has a TLS meditation, “The punning of reason,” on his ineradicable addiction to punning:

In the beginning was the word. But the trouble was that the word sounded like other words. And it still does, so you poke at it. This is called “punning”. For there was never just the one, solitary, word. It entered the world as one of many. Though each word seemed to possess a specific shade of meaning all its own, they were tied together by invisible lines of phonetic resemblance. The mouth has limits. Tongue, palate, cheeks, and lips can only shape a breath of air in so many ways. Perhaps this was not true for God, when He blew on the face of the waters and His breath – “wind” in one translation of the Hebrew word ruach – hovered there, but it is true for us. And we can be tempted to tug at the invisible lines of phonetic resemblance, to create puns, even – perhaps especially – when it annoys our friends and loved ones.

I pun compulsively. Puns are my constant companions, a floating cloud of potential associations superimposed on the field of linear communication. It is as if I cannot stop touching the words. I read ruach and it becomes Rauch, from the Hebrew for “wind” to the German for “smoke”. Some words summon the punch lines to jokes I haven’t made yet, and I grin inwardly. The Japanese expression itadakimasu, an expression of thanks for a meal to come, makes me think: “eat a duck I must”. As a hundred books of puns destined for use as bathroom reading attest, I’m not alone. (There is in fact a neurological condition characterized by compulsive punning, originally called Witzelsucht, or “joke-seeking”, by Hermann Oppenheimer, who identified it in the late nineteenth century. I swear I don’t have it.) I was visiting Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari shrine with a friend, who told me that the Japanese word for pun is oyajigyagu, or “old guy gag”. Puns are the jokes older men tell. Wordplay does not float free from culture. […]

I first punned in early childhood. I kept doing it, I think, because it seemed to delight my parents, who shared puns and other forms of wordplay with their friends. In our house, wit was both entertainment and a salve for life’s many wounds. The television room was the “den of false consciousness”. If a big, stuffed South Indian pancake is a masaladosa, ours was an overdosa. As dinner parties ran late, I would retreat to watch, and endlessly re-watch, videos of the Marx Brothers’ black-and-white comedies. In a Marx Brothers movie, puns wait around every corner. In Duck Soup a stiff-postured bureaucrat says “I want to take up the taxes!” to Groucho Marx in the role of the politician Rufus T. Firefly – “and I want to take up the carpets”, Groucho responds, with a waggle of his moustache and a raised eyebrow. The bureaucrat looks confused. “Well, I guess you can’t take up the carpets without taking up the taxes”, Groucho says. A courtroom prosecutor barks “that’s irrelevant” to Chico Marx, who is playing the role of Chicolini. Chico quips in reply, “There are a lot of irrelephants in the circus”. “Look at Chicolini, he sits there alone, an abject figure”, says Groucho, rising to Chico’s defence. “I abject”, Chico says. Such puns were among my first lessons in what (I thought) adults found funny. […]

Even when I know a particular pun is not funny, there is a private joy as words slide into one another. The feeling is like the resolution of a musical phrase that moves from dissonance to a suddenly revealed consonance. Not everyone will agree about the musicality of the pun, or share my private feeling that puns reveal something about the structure of the world. The most resistant will never believe in a secret level of language behind the apparent one, a plane where words can join meanings as if in a joyous dance.

My corresponding fear is that puns may merely result from phonemes, those basic particles of language, swerving into one another at random like Lucretius’ atoms. Not a sign of the world’s ultimate intelligibility, but of the absence of any meaning we don’t make ourselves. In “A Modest Defense of Punning” (1716) Jonathan Swift calls the pun the fundum, the bottom of language, which might mean either the lowest form of language or the very foundation of language: something negligible or something crucial, in other words, but always something fun. “It rushes from below”, my dad says, describing the impulse to pun, and for an instant his beard reminds me of Freud’s. […]

Swift provides a remarkable survey of possible etymologies for the English “pun”, from versions made noble by archaic origin – “the word Pun appears to be of Greek Originall” – all the way to modern, and less noble, origins: “I shall not conceal one Originall of this Word assigned by our Adversaryes, from the French word Punaise, which signifies a little stinking Insect that gets into the Skin, provokes continual Itching and is with great Difficulty removed”. The OED offers John Dryden’s play The Wild Gallant (1663) as the first recorded occurrence of the word “pun”, although, as the literary critic Catherine Bates points out, the term actually occurred earlier, in a Royalist pamphlet of 1644 called “Mercurius Aquaticus”. Culler has argued that the sheer number of possible etymologies for “pun” (the OED, for its part, posits that it may derive from the Italian puntiglio, or “pique”) suggests a kinship between the act of punning and the act of providing etymologies, and indeed, both are associative activities. Call etymology the pun’s more respectable sibling, boasting the dignity of evidence. […]

This essay’s title is a pun on the “cunning of reason”, described by Hegel in his Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. According to Hegel, the most tragic reversals of historical fortune ultimately serve reason’s progress, as though “the Idea” “remain[ed] in the background, untouched and uninjured”. We perish as individuals, but something universal and enduring results from our struggles. Our actions serve a pattern that is beyond our immediate intentions and even beyond our ken, and, similarly, punning also reveals a kind of cunning beyond our will. Hegel reminds us that we are not in charge of history’s ultimate meaning; the pun reminds us that whatever skill we have with words, their meanings – and our intentions – escape our control. Whatever we intend, we may be the punning of reason, and perhaps we can learn to laugh at ourselves.

Me, I enjoy a good pun, but the bar is high for “good”; furthermore, as a devotee of the respectable science of etymology I am automatically suspicious of attempts by its scruffy sibling to hog the spotlight, and I accept the absence of any meaning we don’t make ourselves. That said, I greatly enjoyed the self-analysis and the well-chosen examples (I also liked “The Critique of Pure Riesling”); thanks, rozele!


  1. I don’t know, Hat. You’re pretty much asking people here to do Bad Things.

    Catherine Bates’ article, The Point of Puns, is here. Footnote 11:

    As another instance of how the word “pun” seems to attract politicized or corroboratory stories, one could consider the explanation that might be forthcoming to account for the word’s first appearance in English. While the OED cites Dryden’s play The Wild Gallant (1663) as the first recorded citation, the word has been antedated to a Royalist pamphlet entitled Mercurius Aquaticus published in Oxford on January 18, 1644, during Charles I’s sojourn there (see Notes and Queries, 11th ser., no. 1 (1910), p. 425). In the tract, John Taylor (the “Water Poet”) defiantly rebuts a puritan charge that the Royalist party indulges in a foppish and courtly language which includes “Quibbles, Crops, Clinches, Puns, Halfe-jests, jests, fine sentences, witty sayings, rare truths, modest and dutiful expressions” (sig. A2, Thomason Tract E29 [11]). Taylor defends the Royalist cause, but in order to do so more effectively he adopts (like his admired Thomas Nashe in the earlier Marprelate controversy) the subversive, populist style of his opponents. One can see how easily the ensuing interplay between subversion and authority (Puritan/Royalist, London/Oxford) might be described as “entirely appropriate” to the word “pun,” and how tempting it would be to say that the term which specifies a signifier’s divided loyalty between two signifieds “fittingly” emerged in English in the 1640s, a period marked by perhaps the most profound political dividedness in the nation’s history.

    The Notes and Queries reference is here (followed by an obituary for John Carter, “Hairdresser to the Bar”). It has more quotes. I couldn’t find a publicly available full scan of the pamphlet.

    A reply to Mercurius Aquaticus, appeared soon thereafter, with a gruesome title page.

  2. The Marx Brothers were considered rather unusual for Jewish Comedians of the 1920s and 1930s with their heavy use of puns. Puns were not a big thing on the Borscht Circuit.

  3. You’re pretty much asking people here to do Bad Things.

    That’s OK, I know you’re all a bunch of sinners. Pun away!

  4. Wurgaft has read Bates (1999), clearly, but he hasn’t look up “pun” himself, which was revised in 2007 to include the 1644 citation.

  5. Ooh! The OED has pun’s burlier synonym (and possibly its ancestor), in Josiah Dare’s 1673 Counsellor Manners his last legacy to his son: “Many there are, that will lose their friend rather than their Jest, or their Quibble, Pun, Punnet, or Pundigrion, fifteen of which will not make up one single jest.” I can see pun < pundigrion, like the contemporary rum < rumbullion, ephemeral invented nonsense words which live on in abbreviated form to drive future etymologists to despair.

  6. I have a vague recollection of an Isaac Asimov story, one of those tales in which humans are created by aliens for some sort of experimental purpose. The punch line was that humanity was divided into two classes: those with a sense of humor and those who like puns (the control group).

    It seems to me that there is also a third class of people who are humorless and don’t care for puns either.

  7. Bates’s article is interesting. It has what I do and don’t like about the academic practice of the humanities. A great deal of it is perceptive literary criticism of the OED’s entry for pun and its unconscious subtext. A lot of it is handwaving for the sake of handwaving.

  8. Trond Engen says

    It’s a pun

    When I look back upon my life
    it’s always with a sense of shame
    I’ve always been the one to blame
    For everything I want to share
    no matter who or when or where
    has a fault beyond repair

    It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a pun
    It’s a pun
    Every place I’ve ever been
    Everything I ever say
    Everything I’ve ever done
    Everywhere I’m led astray
    It’s a pun

    At school they taught me to how to be
    so pure in thought and deed and word
    The effort was deferred
    For everything I want to share
    no matter who or when or where
    has a fault beyond repair

    It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a pun
    It’s a pun
    Every place I’ve ever been
    Everything I ever say
    Everything I’ve ever done
    Everywhere I’m led astray
    It’s a pun

    Father forgive me
    I tried not to make it
    Turned over a new leaf
    and chose to break it
    Whatever you taught me
    I didn’t believe it
    Father you fought me
    ‘cause I didn’t care
    and I still don’t understand

    When I look back upon my life
    it’s always with a sense of shame
    I’ve always been the one to blame
    For everything I want to share
    no matter who or when or where
    has a fault beyond repair

    It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a pun
    It’s a pun
    Every place I’ve ever been
    Everything I ever say
    Everything I’ve ever done
    Everywhere I’m led astray
    It’s a pun

  9. He who would make a pun would pick a pocket. Dr. Johnson is generally credited with this silly dictum (1709-1784), but Dennis had said before to Purcell, “Any man who would make such an execrable pun would not scruple to pick my pocket” (1657-1734). (Sir W. H. Pyne: Wine and Walnuts, vol. ii. p. 277.)

    The “execrable pun” was this: Purcell rang the bell for the drawer or waiter, but no one answered it. Purcell, tapping the table, asked Dennis “why the table was like the tavern?” Ans. “Because there is no drawer in it.”

    E. Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1894

  10. David Marjanović says

    Witzelsucht, or “joke-seeking”

    The aforementioned respectable science of etymology teaches us rather that Sucht not only used to mean “sickness”, but is even its root cognate, easier to see in the literary word siech “badly ill” and less easy to see in Seuche “any plague” and verseucht “contaminated”. (Both -sucht and -seuche occur in the names of specific illnesses.) Today, Sucht means “addiction” (and süchtig “addicted”), providing a splendid opportunity to use, Tolkien-like, a word in an old and a modern sense at the same time. The formerly frequentative, nowadays somewhat diminutive verb witzeln means to make lesser jokes, preferably while making a troll face.

  11. @Brett:

    i feel like that must be based on a pretty narrow definition of pun (or only be true for anglophone acts?) – most of the popular yiddish humor i know from that period is pretty punnish within a wide definition (though often across languages)…

    but in support, here’s ruth rubin’s favorite song, as an example of a non-pun-based one (yes, in five versions, because she was a serious collector). it’s all about juxtaposition of disparate tone (in text and music) and multilingual rhyming. it still holds up a bit, but was definitely funnier in the 1920s:

    O’Brien, ikh muz
    Khasene makhn mayn Khayen, right now.
    Oy, tsores, ay-yay-yay,
    Which nobody can deny,
    Yeshues venekhomes omeyn-selo,
    Adoshem is a jolly good fellow,
    Adoshem is a jolly good fellow,
    Which nobody can deny.

    O’Brien, ikh muz
    Khasene makhn mayn Khayen, right now.
    Es biti hatsnua shomorti,
    She’s somewhat around forty,
    She’s somewhat around forty,
    Which nobody can deny.

    [yiddish] Oy, troubles, ay-yay-yay,
    Which nobody can deny,
    [aramaic] Oh, blessings and mercies, amen,
    [english] God is a jolly good fellow,
    God is a jolly good fellow,
    Which nobody can deny.

    [yiddish ] O’Brien, I must
    Arrange a marriage for my Khaye, right now.
    O’Brien, I must
    Arrange a marriage for my Khaye, right now.
    [aramaic] “My modest daughter I guarded,”
    [english] She’s somewhat around forty,
    She’s somewhat around forty,
    Which nobody can deny.

  12. @rozele: Maybe it is a Yiddish-English difference. I don’t have a lot of experience reading or listening to Yiddish-language comedy. Musical comedy probably also lends itself to puns better than straight stand up, although I listened to a number of Borscht Belt comedian novelty songs things evening (in English) and there was not a lot of punning.

  13. rozele, these are real knee-slappers, thanks.

    Where did the lyrics come from? I listened to all the version of the song and they are slightly different (“just now” instead of “right now”, etc.) Also, no Aramaic, it’s all Hebrew.

    It does my heart good to see a tape collection lovingly preserved like this, complete with scans of the cassette inserts.

    I don’t think there’s any kind of corny humor the early Jewish comedians shunned, puns included.

  14. @Y: i took the lyrics from a concert program for rubin’s centenary – i don’t know what versions mark slobin used for that event (or whether it was based on whatever synthesis rubin herself liked to sing).

    and my mistake! i’m veltlekhe enough that it’s all undifferentiated loshn kodesh to me unless i’m really meticulous…

    the folks at YIVO who did the rubin collection digitization did a phenomenal job! there’s not much like it…

  15. Thanks for giving me a new condition to worry about having, Witzelsucht! Also, for reminding me of a fun K-Pop song, “aze gag”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Les0OrRuZ0, from “ajeossi + gag”. Seeing “oyajigyagu” made me think again of how close those distant neighbors can be at times.

    As much as I love punning for its own sake, especially puns that work across languages, (Why was the banana sad? Because it was a kela) I also love them for the fact that puns don’t have victims. It seems much if not most humor has a “target” or a “victim”, but puns don’t. The really clever ones seem to me to be worth celebrating for that reason as much as any other.

  16. Good point!

  17. [aramaicHebrew] Oh, blessings and mercies, amen,

    A nit: The primary meaning of “yeshuot”/”ישועות” is “salvations”, although I guess there’s enough overlap in meanings that “blessings” works a a loose translation. The phrase is very common in Orthodox Jewish songs and blessing-phrases (I think it’s originally from the siddur, and possibly the tanakh, but it’s so common that it’s actually hard to source)

    [aramaicHebrew] “My modest daughter I guarded,”

    I would reverse the transliteration as “את בתי הצנוﬠה שמרתי”. It looks like it’s supposed to be a quote, but Google cannot source it. I may have messed up the spelling in some way, though.

  18. The first meta-discussion about punning that I ever read was in The Marvelous Land of Oz/The Land of Oz, by L. Frank Baum.

    “It was a shame that I broke my other leg!” [the Saw-Horse] growled.

    “On the contrary,” airily remarked the Woggle-Bug, who was walking alongside, “you should consider the accident most fortunate. For a horse is never of much use until he has been broken.”

    “I beg your pardon,” said Tip, rather provoked, for he felt a warm interest in both the Saw-Horse and his man Jack; “but permit me to say that your joke is a poor one, and as old as it is poor.”

    “Still, it is a Joke,” declared the Woggle-Bug; firmly, “and a Joke derived from a play upon words is considered among educated people to be eminently proper.”

    “What does that mean?” enquired the Pumpkinhead, stupidly.

    “It means, my dear friend,” explained the Woggle-Bug, “that our language contains many words having a double meaning; and that to pronounce a joke that allows both meanings of a certain word, proves the joker a person of culture and refinement, who has, moreover, a thorough command of the language.”

    “I don’t believe that,” said Tip, plainly; “anybody can make a pun.”

    “Not so,” rejoined the Woggle-Bug, stiffly. “It requires education of a high order. Are you educated, young sir?”

    “Not especially,” admitted Tip.

    “Then you cannot judge the matter. I myself am Thoroughly Educated, and I say that puns display genius. For instance, were I to ride upon this Saw-Horse, he would not only be an animal he would become an equipage. For he would then be a horse-and-buggy.”

    At this the Scarecrow gave a gasp and the Tin Woodman stopped short and looked reproachfully at the Woggle-Bug. At the same time the Saw-Horse loudly snorted his derision; and even the Pumpkinhead put up his hand to hide the smile which, because it was carved upon his face, he could not change to a frown.

    But the Woggle-Bug strutted along as if he had made some brilliant remark, and the Scarecrow was obliged to say:

    “I have heard, my dear friend, that a person can become over-educated; and although I have a high respect for brains, no matter how they may be arranged or classified, I begin to suspect that yours are slightly tangled. In any event, I must beg you to restrain your superior education while in our society.”

    “We are not very particular,” added the Tin Woodman; “and we are exceedingly kind hearted. But if your superior culture gets leaky again—” He did not complete the sentence, but he twirled his gleaming axe so carelessly that the Woggle-Bug looked frightened, and shrank away to a safe distance.

    The others marched on in silence, and the Highly Magnified one, after a period of deep thought, said in an humble voice:

    “I will endeavor to restrain myself.”

    “That is all we can expect,” returned the Scarecrow pleasantly; and good nature being thus happily restored to the party, they proceeded upon their way.

    (When I first read it, the first pun was obscure to me; growing up in suburbia, and not reading much horse-related literature, I had no idea what “broken” meant in context.)

  19. I have a vague recollection of an Isaac Asimov story, one of those tales in which humans are created by aliens for some sort of experimental purpose. The punch line was that humanity was divided into two classes: those with a sense of humor and those who like puns (the control group).

    It seems to me that there is also a third class of people who are humorless and don’t care for puns either.

    I am confident that the false dichotomy was part of the joke.

    (I suspect that Asimov might have said something along the lines of “I’d rather have a false dichotomy than a true dick-otomy”.)

  20. David L:

    You reminded me of another story, not by Asimov. I am temporarily blocked from access to my SF library, so I can’t look to see if I still have it.

    It’s one of those 1950s stories where the world has only one giant super-intelligent computer. One of the programmers is feeding hundreds of jokes into the computer. He then asks the computer
    -where do jokes come from?
    -what will be the result of finding out where jokes come from?

    The computer answers:
    Jokes are a massive psychological experiment that aliens are running on the human race. Since puns are generated by humans, humans have been programmed to groan at puns, not laugh, so as not to affect the results.
    Once the subjects become aware of the experiment, it will skew the results, so the experiment will be terminated.

    Say, I can’t think of any jokes ….

    I once took a class on comedy writing, and the way they explained it, you could almost program a computer to generate jokes, at any rate the kind of one-liners that people like Bob Hope used to use.

    That completely leaves out, for example, the kind of joke they tell in Ireland, where telling the joke takes twenty minutes, and the punch line may not be that funny, but the places you went while getting there are hilarious. That’s much more of an art form, but one, I think, that does not require alien intervention.

  21. You reminded me of another story, not by Asimov.

    That’s “Jokester,” and it is in fact by Asimov.

  22. Thanks, I clearly misremembered the story.

  23. Anatoly Liberman suspects that “pundigrion” was not clipped to form “pun”, but that “pundigrion” was a humorous extension of “pun”.

    He mentions a 1641 play with a character called “Mr Puny”, “a young Gallant, a pretender to Wit.”, but does not claim certainty as to there being a connection.

    He acknowledges that the true etymology will probably remain unknown.

  24. languagehat:
    The anthology I had, or possibly still have (I can’t tell right now), with the Asimov story Jokester, was Earth Is Room Enough (1957), as mentioned in the Wikipedia article linked. It’s a while since I last read it, so my memory was a bit fuzzy. I thought it was a non-Asimov anthology, but evidently I was mistaken.

  25. January First-of-May says

    Me, I enjoy a good pun, but the bar is high for “good”

    I think this is basically my case, with the caveat that most of the “good pun” examples that I could think of offhand might not necessarily count as puns at all.

    My favorite that almost certainly would count as a pun is probably the Russian joke about the beard formula. I don’t recall the exact text offhand, so I’ll just summarize the “math” here: борода = бор+ода; бор = лес, ода = стих; лес+стих = безветрие; безветрие = без ве три е = 3е-ве = е(3-в).
    [The closest English equivalent is probably the sequence known as “lazy dog”*.]

    That said, the crown/crow/cow sequence so liked by Nabokov comes pretty close (and is definitely far more of a pun).

    *) a piece of paper is an ink-lined plane, an inclined plane is a slope up, a slow pup is a lazy dog – consequently, a piece of paper is a lazy dog

  26. Here’s a Jewish pun for you. It dates to the days when Eastern European Jews sought to change their surnames to Hebrew soundalikes (which is how Grün became Ben-Gurion, Perski became Peres, Scheinermann became Sharon, etc.)

    A man named Lichtenshtein asks another for a suggestion for a Hebrew surname. The other says:
    Lekh tashtin (‘Go piss’).
    — But it doesn’t have a good ring to it…
    — Then Lekh tashtin al pakh (‘Go piss on a metal sheet’).

  27. Found a fun pun today. Also ancient. Apparently, some Pharisees wanted to be known as dorshay halakhot (the seekers of the Way, that is the correct way to slaughter animals and such things). kh here is kaf (כ). By the way, a very similar expression is much later midrash halakha, by I digress. The word on the street is that in the Dead Sea scrolls they are called dorshay halaqot with q = qof (ק), which means something like “demander of nail polish”, but used to mean “smooth”. Or like my one-time landlady used to say “I like the things to go smoothly”. Never could she be mistaken for a Pharisee, she was really nice.

  28. You’d need to change not one but two consonants, הלכות to חלקות. But you’re making this all up, aren’t you?

  29. Right, 2 letters. I wish I could make such stuff up. Cannot link to the sourse. Took it from a lecture that I viewed through a library subscription.

  30. I’d say that if there was a pun there, dorshei ħalaqot would have meant something like ‘sweet-talking preachers’, ones who speak in dishonest but pleasing flattery, as in שְׂפַת חֲלָקוֹת śfat ħălāqōt ‘smooth language [lit. lip]’, Psalms 12:2–3.

  31. In fact, there is a Wiki page (but of course!) about the Seekers of the Smooth Things.

  32. @Y:
    your ‘lekh takhtin’ pun seems like it implies a yiddish parallel with ‘gey kakn afn yam’ [go shit in the ocean] as the punchline. maybe there’s something with ‘gekakene’ as a noun…

    @D.O. @Y:
    that kind of name-twisting invective is all over proto-rabbinic palestine! another famous one: the revolt of 132 AD was led by one בר כוסבא [bar kosiba – son of kosiba] – his ideological supporters called him בר כוכבא [bar kokhba – son of a star], as he’s also known in the current usual version popularized by the zionist movement. but the Talmud, and everyone else in between, calls him בר כוזיבא‎ [bar koziba – son of a lie], because his reputation was as a fanatic who set an awful example and got a lot of people killed.

  33. @rozele, it’s tashtin (תַּשְׁתִּין from שתן štn ‘urinate’), not takhtin.

    Ghil’ad Zuckermann (I figured we’d get back to him eventually) did his dissertation on what he calls phonosemantic matching and related phenomena, neologisms which use terms phonetically resemblant of those in another language, e.g שַׁמֶּנֶת shamenet ‘sour cream’, from שֻׁמָּן shuman ‘fat’, but also punning on Slavic smetana, or אֲוִירוֹן aviron ‘airplane’ (once common, now obsolete) from אֲוִיר avir ‘air’ (an old Greek loanword), but also punning on French avion.

    Zuckermann’s dissertation (published as Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew) has a list of such innovations. Unfortunately he doesn’t distinguish legitimate ones from what were very clearly parodies of the Hebrew innovation craze: עַם רֵיקָא am reika ‘America’, literally ‘a vacuous nation’; or לֹעַ כְּמוֹ תֹּף loa kmo tof ‘locomotive’, lit. ‘maw like a drum’. Whereas successful innovations of this kind disguise well their attachment to their foreign inspiration, the parodies make them obvious.

  34. David Marjanović says

    אֲוִיר avir ‘air’ (an old Greek loanword)

    …a really old Greek loanword, with the digamma still in?

  35. David: That’s a good point. I don’t know the answer. The word was probably borrowed into Aramaic first, and probably during the early years of Alexander’s reign. Early Koiné would be the likely source dialect. However the Aeolic αὐήρ would fit the phonology better.

  36. @Y: apologies for the typo!
    and that mode of neologizing-as-multilingual-wordplay would be interesting to track cross-culturally. it gets a lot of attention in jewish contexts, where it is certainly common – for proper nouns and kennings, but also in general (manaster ramer has some virtuosic moments tracing knotty words like “grayz” [error] (academia.edu link) ). but i wonder where else it turns up as a relatively common mode…

  37. In Chinese, this is pretty much standard with foreign names, as I understand.

  38. There’s also an article about the phenomenon in German.

  39. David Marjanović says

    China has famously managed to make Coca Cola mean “taste and enjoy”.

  40. John Cowan says

    Better than “bite the wax tadpole” (not Coca-Cola’s fault: used by some early sellers before official sales channels began)

  41. David Marjanović says

    “bite the wax tadpole”

    …does have the advantage of containing an actual la instead of le.

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