Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Where does “cockney” come from?

December 16, 2007

I knew it meant “Londoner” but here’s a couple of OED quotations to flesh that out a little:

1617 MINSHEU Ductor s.v., A Cockney or Cockny, applied only to one borne within the sound of Bow-bell, that is, within the City of London, which tearme came first out of this tale: That a Cittizens sonne riding with his father..into the Country..asked, when he heard a horse neigh, what the horse did his father answered, the horse doth neigh; riding farther he heard a cocke crow, and said doth the cocke neigh too? and therfore Cockney or Cocknie, by inuersion thus: incock, q. incoctus i. raw or vnripe in Country-mens affaires. 1617 MORYSON Itin. III. 53 Londiners, and all within the sound of Bow-bell, are in reproch called Cocknies, and eaters of buttered tostes.


Is “lesbian” out?

November 28, 2007

Another stupid CNN headline: “Gay retired general questions candidates.” I bet he really got in their faces about homophobia in the military. Here’s the CNN screencap:


Somehow, questions like this are supposed to appear legitimate when asked by gay men. Professional enough? Seems a diversion from the real question: whether the presence of openly homosexual forces helps or hurts unit cohesion and loyalty.

And is “lesbiana” a typo or is this the new self-appointed adjective for homosexual women? Is the final “A” meant to emphasize their feminine gender? Can I start calling gay men “lesbianos”? I mean, I’m not gonna lie to ya . . . lesbiana with each other here. This seems silly to me. I thought these people were into ultra-inclusiveness. You know, GLBTQ—where Q used to stand for Queer, but now apparently stands for Questioning. I guess the L now stands for lesbiana. Stay tuned until next week, when the homosexual intelligentsia decides that the remaining letters also stand for words too outmoded to express the full complexity of the “alternative lifestyle.”

(By the way, the article itself didn’t say a single word about homosexuals.)

The human self is a fiction

November 21, 2007

Hi all, just checking in. Haven’t rapped at ya for a while.

The title of this post is an idea that came to me as I was reading earlier this morning. If it’s true, it’s a big deal, but since I just started thinking about it, I can’t say much more just now. But it has major implications for a theory of language and for mankind’s eternal salvation.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Words with anti-literal meanings

August 16, 2007

subpar: In golf, subpar indicates an above-average player. But in everything else, it means below average.

meteoric: As in “meteoric rise to fame.” Meteors may travel fast, but meteors fall to earth, not rise to the heavens.

I’m sure these are the commonest of commonplace observations on English language usage, but they both bugged me today.

Where the broom comes from: vocabulary from 16th-century English

August 11, 2007

Do you know what a knop is? How about a snoffet ? A habergeon ? The kall of a calf? The lap of the ear? What is a besom ?

If you answered No, you would have a hard time reading the Bible in English—the Geneva Bible of 1562, anyway. It uses all these words in Exodus 25 ff. where God gives instructions for the Tabernacle, its accoutrements, and the priestly garments.

I had no idea what any of these were, so I looked them up.
* knop = a knob
* snoffet = something you snuff out a candle with or in
* habergeon = “A sleeveless coat or jacket of mail or scale armour, originally smaller and lighter than a HAUBERK, but sometimes app. the same as that.” (OED) —Exodus 28:32 says the the priestly garment should have a hole for the head which is designed “as the coller of an habergeon that it rent not.”)
* kall = modern-day “caul” . . . “The fatty membrane investing the intestines; the epiploön or omentum” (OED)
* lap = lobe

And a besom is a bundle of twigs bound around a handle and used as a sweeping implement. We call these things “brooms” but broom was just one of many plants used to make besoms.

But today, through the constant evolution of language and its usage, we use this specific word “broom” for the general concept of “sweeping implement.” Pehaps people got tired of saying “where’s the broom besom?” and started abbreviating. The reverse logic applies to the shortening of “motor car” to just “car”—in this case, the general term is preferred over the specific type. Unless you’re really hoity-toity.

Who knows what we’ll call brooms in the year 2462?

Engrish battery instructions

July 10, 2007

I bought some extra camera batteries made in China, and they came with a TWO-SIDED instruction sheet! At first I thought, toss it, but then the Engrish caught my eye. Overall, it’s pretty well done, with only a few flubs. Repeating the same information three times is really its worst fault. Anyway, here are some selections:

Congratulations upon your selection on this Replacement product. [Etc.]
(Makes me feel proud that I chose THIS battery.)

Note: All mentions of “the battery” in the following precautions refer to this Rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery.

* Don not use Or leave the battery near open flame, near a heater, in a direct sunlight, in a closed vehicle parked in the sun, [etc]

* [Putting the battery in water] can cause deterioration of it’s its performance and loss of service life.

* Should the battery emit a strange odor or heat, change color or shape, or exhibit any other abnor-mal behavior while it is in use, being recharged, or in storage, immediately remove it from the camera or charger unit and do not use it any more.
(Is it a problem that when it’s in the camera it’s not visible?)

* If the battery does not achieves full charge after the normal charging time has passed, stop charging Continued charging. Creates the risk of overheating, fire, and explosion.

* This battery initially not charged. Be sure to charger the battery before using it for the first time.

* [Warm up batteries in pocket before use in cold weather.] If you are using a pocket heater, make sure that the battery goes not done into direct contact with it.
(Pocket heater? Is that for real? It goes not done.)

Two S-words (suffragan, suffragette)

March 15, 2007

suffragan: An assistant or subsidiary bishop, performing episcopal functions in a certain diocese but having no jurisdiction; in the Church of England, since the passing of Act 26 Hen. VIII, c. 14, a bishop appointed to assist a diocesan bishop in a particular part of his diocese.
suffragette: A female supporter of the cause of women’s political enfranchisement, esp. one of a violent or ‘militant’ type.

Both come from suffrage, which comes from the Latin suffragium, which means literally “a ballot” or “voting tablet,” but by extension of sense it means “the right to vote” or “approbation, applause”. In English, suffrage for a long time meant “intercessory prayers,” especially for the dead.

Biscuits & Cream, Seacookie, Cookies & gravy, etc.

March 12, 2007

I met an Englishman at a conference this weekend in San Antonio. He said to me, as we were getting coffee, brownies, and cookies, “You know, one of the best things about this conference is the biscuits!” I had to point out that we hadn’t been served any biscuits. He then held up a cookie and told me it was called a biscuit.

When I told him what a biscuit really was, he said, “No, that’s a Yorkshire pudding!” Crazy Brits . . . who ever heard of calling a baked bread good a pudding?

Later he dropped his cookie on the floor, so I said, “Hey, you dropped your biscuit, dude.”

More NOI(se)

February 26, 2007

The NY Times’ discussion of the Nation of Islam made me laugh this morning:

Imam Muhammad Siddeeq, an Indianapolis cleric and senior aide to Mr. Mohammed, said that for the Nation of Islam to survive, it must turn more toward mainstream Islam.
[. . .]

He echoes many others in arguing that the Nation should abandon some of its teachings. The Nation holds, among other teachings, that the group’s founder, W. Fard Muhammad, was the Mahdi, or savior, sent by God to Detroit around 1930 and that spaceships hovering above the earth will eventually play a major role in smiting sinners and rescuing the righteous.

“Those are ideas for kindergarten, a trip to Oz,” Mr. Siddeeq said. “Those are not ideas for people living in the real world.”

A savior in Detroit? Spaceships? BAAHAHAHAAA!! This is nothing more than the NOI trying to outdo Christianity and “normal” Islam. The Christian savior appeared on earth in a worse place than Detroit, and normal Muslims have their sacred meteorite they kiss (the more ancient version of NOI’s “spaceships”). The comedy is so good that I can overlook the confusion of having 99% of their leaders differentiated by only a single vowel (Mohammed vs. Muhammed). They quote someone later on who may as well be named Mr. Everymuslim: ” ‘We are not imitators of Arab culture; that would put us in an inferior position and make them our superiors,’ said Muhammad Muhammad, a 40-year-old adherent from Oklahoma City.”

Another choice quote, from the man who may succeed Farrakhan:

“There are a few black politicians and a few millionaires and a couple billionaires, but the fact is that our people are dying,” he said in an interview. “Our struggle to integrate and be accepted has left the masses behind.”

The article itself notes that NOI encourages black separatism. So what this guy means by his seeming paradox is that there are “masses” who want to be separate, and other “masses” who are the dreaded Other . . . the non-blacks, non-Muslims. NOI has been “struggling to integrate and be accepted” by the wrong masses, leaving the right masses behind.

The article also says that NOI is popular in prisons because of its “struggle against racism”. Here we have entered the realm of the New Liberal Vocabulary. In the NLV, racism does not mean the unequal treatment of all races; it means lack of preferencial treatment for blacks (or more generally, for ethnic minority groups–unless that minority happens to be white). By the way, nowadays “racism” is often applied to non-race issues as well. If you are suspicious of Islam, for example, because of the fact that 99%+ of suicide bombers happen to be Muslim, you are both “Islamophobic” and “racist”. Islamophobia is bad because fear of ideas, unless they are GOP policies or Christian teachings, is irrational and should be considered a medical condition. And why people say that so-called “Islamophobes” are “racist” is beyond me–race has nothing to do with it. I’ve been called racist in this respect before, but I’d be suspicious of anyone, regardless of skin color, who thought it was laudable to blow oneself up in a crowded marketplace.

Warning to “MILF” users

February 2, 2007

I think it’s a vulgar term, but if you’re one of those people who now and then uses the acronym “MILF” in your writings, be aware that it also stands for “Moro Islamic Liberation Front”–a Muslim separatist group in the Philippines. They just staged a jail break.