Thursday, 29 November 2012

Your servant, sir

A recent discussion of the expression 'My pleasure' in the UsingEnglish forums led me to this thought:
There are two elements in the convention:
(It was a pleasure for me to do it) + (There's no need for thanks.)
English omits the second element; Spanish - No hay de qué - omits the first.
But in either case there's a sense of service - it was doing the service that was a pleasure. This had previously been enshrined in the expression 'at your service'. In Portuguese, the hyperbole used to be even greater (perhaps with a sense of irony? - at least, it could be ironic): às ordens do Senhor. (I heard this in just-pre-revolutionary Coimbra. I have read, in texts from more servile times, às ordens da vossa* Senhoría which is perhaps a little excessive for modern tastes!)

In Portugal, people claim to be obrigado/a (do the Portuguese Thought Police insist on obrigada/o, I wonder? I bet As Três Marias** would have preferred that.)

My father, a Lancashire man (if that's relevant - the expression may be common among people born around the turn of the 20thC, not just in Lancashire) used to say 'Much obliged' to mean 'thank you.' The idea of a sense of obligation (in the 'feeling beholden' sense - 'I am forever in your debt' - not the 'this is my duty' sense) seems to be a common one.

In Italy, it's ... no I'll start a bit earlier. In the Roman Empire, slaves were often captives from Slavonic races; it was such a common link that a slave was an esclavus (a bit like the generic name for a domestic slave in certain households in Hampstead today being 'the filipina'). The -cl-, as often in the development of language, was palatalized to become[ʧ] (spelt, in Italian, '-ci-') and the -v- became (or was in the first place - il sont fous ces romains ) [w], which, followed by the dying word-end, (or 'unstressed word-final vowel', to give it its philological disguise) made the -a- into a falling diphthong. The result is left as an exercise for the reader.




* The subtleties of the T/V distinction need not detain us here, though they may have planted the seed of  another blog....

My latest effort flirts with the idea, but it‘s still not the genuine article.
I was looking for the right epithet there, and initially put real as a placeholder; I knew it wouldn't do, but was rushing headlong towards the full-stop (so that I could reflect on the whole sentence).

This BNC search [Just click on the link, and sit back while BNC does its stuff] puts genuine fourth after leading, recent, and definite in the Potential Collocates for Article Stakes (with real nowhere to be seen in a field of 288). Oh lumme, does that make genuine a cliché, I wonder?
.(That link points to a page that Wikipedia - with either understatement or a hollow laugh - says 'has multiple issues'. It is not for the faint-hearted.)
**By Raquel de Queiroz - any relation of Eça, I wonder? (whose Cartas de Inglaterra I've been meaning to translate - marvellous man, a sort of nineteenth-century Alistair Cooke.  But one book at a time).

Update: 2015. – Added inline PS, and updated footer. Oh, and here‘s a clue to be going on with:

Michaelmas Daisy
Practise concerning leader of cortège. (8)

Update: 2015. – Added topical pic:

PPS I should have mentioned that Tuesday's update was made on Michaelmas (29 Sept). In celebration of which, a picture like this would have been appropriate. Too late now tho... [hang about...]

And another clue:

Look in centre of Galway for patch the other side of the water. (8)

Update: 2015.12.02.12:00 – Supplied answers: REHEARSE  and GALLOWAY

Update: 2018.03.26.14:30 –  Tidied up format, added instruction for BNC link and caption for seasonal pic, and deleted old footer

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

What's BALD about a bat?

On the TV the other night (last night at the time of writing, but later at the time of publication) I learnt that the name of the vector of puerperal fever was named after the Greek for a bunch of grapes, staphylos, because that's what the bacteria look like. (Bacteria, from the Greek for a small stick - because that's what the first ones discovered looked like.... this game could go on forever.)

On the journey from metaphor to regular lexeme (that's 'word' in plain English), accidents often happen - puns interfere, false etymologies affect spelling, and so on. But it's not so common for a simple manuscript miscopying to affect a word as radically as it affected the French for bat - chauve-souris. But before expanding on that I should justify my offhand use of the word 'metaphor' in my opening sentence - as if all words started life as metaphors.... the very idea!

Well, there is evidence that they did. Looking out of my rain-streaked window I see clouds - cumulus clouds. Cumulus is Latin for 'little heap' - which is what the cloud looks like. Now after the rain, a house-proud property-holder will go out and sweep the dead leaves on the new patio 'into a little heap' - ad cumulum. The Romans had a word for that - not for sweeping up dead leaves (which I'm afraid is a bit of a personal obsession at the moment), but for collecting stuff together: accumulare - whence our 'accumulate'. Guy Deutscher, in his fascinating The Unfolding Of Language: The Evolution of Mankind`s greatest Invention calls language (in a brilliant metaphor about metaphors - a 'meta-metaphor'?)  'a reef of dead metaphors'. In fact, Deutscher says more; it's not just words that were born phoenix-like from dead metaphors; dead metaphors are 'the alluvium from which grammatical structures emerge'. But that's the stuff of another blog. Revenons à  nos chauve-souris.

First, a little background:
The best-known collection of Latin glosses, certainly the most informative for the student of Romance philology. is the so-called Reichenau Glossary. The ...manuscript ... formerly belonged to the Abbey of Reichenau... [But] its most recent editor attempts to situate it... at the monastery of Corbie [Thinks - should I pursue a rathole about the Scottish 'Corbie', a crow (cf Fr. corbeau), a symbol beloved of Benedictine monasteries? No, better not, we'd be here all day...{but see Update}], in Picardie.
(Don't you just love that 'attempts'? I suspect W.D. Elcock, the writer of The Romance Languages , had his doubts.)

The word VESPERTILIONES was glossed in this document as CHAUVE-SOURIS. Elcock goes on:
.... In fact, bats are not noticeably bald ['Nor are coots!' "Down Knowles."], and one is tempted to infer that CALVAS SORICES is a product of 'popular etymology', hiding a quite different word. In most French patois bats are called 'flying-mice' or  'bird-mice'; it may well be that CALVAS is in reality *KAWAS [the asterisk is a convention used to mark a supposed, not attested, form], the Germanic word which survives as the root of Fr, chouette 'owl'.
'Owl-mouse' - for chauve-souris - would make much more sense. But what caused the change from *KAWAS to CALVAS? The careful Elcock doesn't suggest a mechanism. But Joe Cremona, mentioned in a former blog, postulated one in a private conversation (or lecture, to be entirely accurate, but you could have counted the audience on the fingers of one hand). And this idea - though unpublished - strikes me as pretty likely. In some scriptorium a monk asked  'What's this funny squiggle?' Latin and Gallo-romance, had no W: it was many centuries later that the French  borrowed the spelling of whisky and wagon-lits. The monk did his best, with the uneven pen-strokes of a beginner.
The Italian pipistrello
no longer shows the Latin
relationship with evening: vesper

A subsequent copyist, in the scriptorium of Corbie, or wherever, read the wobbly W as an LV, and a chimera was born - at the (misread) stroke of a pen. The Gallic 'owl-mouse' became a 'bald-mouse' (unlike the Italian pipistrello - derived from VESPERTILIO, and recognizable in the English 'pipistrelle bat' - or the Spanish murciego [that's Old Sp.; today it's murciélago]).

Anyway, time's a-wastin'.


Update, 30 November 2012:
The rathole I had in mind referred to this emblem of a school in the road where I grew up. The school was set up and run by the monks of a Benedictine abbey. (I still don't mean to develop the idea, but just throw it out as a talking point. It was at a youth club called 'The Corbie' that I made my debut as a folk-singer.)

PS A merry tale from the lexicographical world

The software that I use when compiling my dictionary is The Macmillan English Dictionary. A feature of this is that when you look up a word the computer pronounces it. When you search for a range of words it pronounces the first one it finds. Yesterday, while checking on the hyphenation or not of 'leasehold' I did a search for the string *se* .The first on the list of *se* words was arsehole (which the computer duly enunciated - but in a very polite voice, so I didn't take it personally.)


Update: 2015.06.14.10:20
Added picture.

Update: 2015.06.15.10:45
Added clarification in an appropriate colour (the colour of Bene... sorry, it just slipped out).

Update: 2018.03.25.19:55
Removed old footer

Monday, 26 November 2012

A fast overview?

Today's guest blogger is me - something I added to the TESconnect resource bank a while ago. As it's the most popular there, by quite a margin, I thought I'd dust it down and give it another airing. ('Popular' is a moveable feast; this resource has been viewed most often  but downloaded less frequently than several others.)

On which subject, why is ELT such a poor relation as far as TESconnect is concerned? You can't teach ELT to someone unless they're over 16 (given the choices offered by their categorization), and good luck searching for anything unless it's related to schools (the non-language sort).

Fast vs quick in the sense speedy or rapid


with a noun:
Fast car
Fast relief
Fast train
Fast connection (during a journey of several stages – e.g. train/bus/plane, or
Fast food
idiomatic phrases:
Make fast time (more often “make good time”)
Fast and furious [or alliterative phrases see a later blog]
as modifier for adjective:
            Fast-track (originally of a train on an express line, often used figuratively: “The
course lasts 3 years, but there is a fast-track programme lasting only 18 months involving extra home study and online seminars.” A further extension to this use is the verb to fast-track: “We normally recruit at grade 00, but graduate entrants are fast-tracked and start at grade 01.”


a noun:
Quick change
Quick recipe
Quick recap
Quick summary
Quick introduction
Quick look
Quick overview
Quick worker (typically in a social or sexual context – someone who isn’t
idiomatic phrases/expressions:
in [double-]quick time
quick and easy
quick and dirty  (used often in the IT world, referring to inelegant programming
            that gets a job done: “If we do it properly, it’ll take a month; but I can
knock together something quick and dirty in a week.”
            It was quite quick
            Be quick [about it]
            Come quick (some would argue that this is  a lazy abbreviation of “Come
quickly”, but I disagree; I think it’s a perfectly correct abbreviation
of  “Come [here and be] quick [about it]” [Another justification is just 
that it's a bare adverb. Anyway, it's perfectly grammatical]
            to give something a quick wipe/glance/etc.       
as modifier for adjective:
            Quick-fire (originally of repeating guns, but often used figuratively – in, say, quiz
shows: “Now it’s time for the quick-fire round, so fingers on buzzers – the
first team with the correct answer gets a point,”
            Quick-drying glue/cement/paint (But, “Have you tried this new quick-drying
                        paint? It dries really fast” – where “really fast” is less informal than “real
                        quick” [and I don’t think I’ve heard “really quick” in this context])

That's all for today. I compiled this on the train home from a class in Oxford (no WiFi) - so I haven't yet given it the corpus treatment; which I should do. Another day, perhaps...

 Mammon (When Vowels Get Together V4.0: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs – AA-AU, EA-EU, and  IA-IU, and – new for V4.0 – OA-OU.  If you buy it, contact  @WVGTbook on Twitter and I'll alert you to free downloads of the forthcoming volumes; or click the Following button at the foot of this page.)
And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: nearly 32,400 views**,  and  4,400 downloads to date. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with 1570 views/700 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

Friday, 23 November 2012

What You See Is ... Just The Demo

Apologies to readers expecting the usual  whimsy. I'm seeing if the strange popularity of my Wachet auf! blog is due to its giving information about lexicographical progress.

There is a story, going the rounds in the early years of this century (before I, as the immortal bard so nearly put it, 'was from the IT world untimely ripped'), about a man doing a pact with the devil on the basis of a preview of Hell, which was not so bad after all; more of a holiday camp. After various Faustian misdeeds he dies and goes to Hell - the fire and brimstone sort. He complains that this was nothing like what he'd been led to expect, and Satan's answer is 'Well, that was just the demo.' This story comes to mind whenever I see a product that claims it's 'WYSIWYG'.

Anyway, the nearest to true WYSIWYG I've met (and don't talk to me about Interleaf...) is a tool called 'HoTMetaL [geddit?] Pro' - produced originally by Softquad but now in an unsupported limbo. It ran happily on Windows XP, and Windows NT when I first used it, but on Windows <hawk-spit> 7 it limps along with various patches and downloads and workarounds, without a help library. This is the tool I work with when first progressing from handwritten notes for the next release of my When Vowels Get Together. It is sort of 'WYSIWYG Plus' - you can see the code, WYSIWYG, and various other views. And it does lots of checking of code and internal and external links (by now I'd know a lot more about what extras it has to offer, if only the help file worked on Windows <hawk-spit> 7).

However, the thrice-blessed Kindle Direct Publishing provides various documents supporting self-publishing that refer only (in detail) to their own engine which produces an EPUB file on the basis of the HTML generated by the latest flavour of Word - not the tool that, faute de mieux, I am used to (Word 2003 - I know, I know, I should be using Open Office anyway). Now, I know a little (I've said in an earlier blog 'perhaps two modica') about HTML, so I'm blowed if I'll wrestle with a new version of Word just in order to generate the sort of HTML that KDP wants - in a single HTML file FFS!

The problem is that KDP's conversion engine adds things like a 'Logical TOC  (NCX)' - which you can't do with pure HTML. (The quote is from the Amazon  Kindle Publishing Guidelines, and the particular feature is mandated in section 3.3.1 - there are various other mandatory requirements though.)

The answer to this problem is Sigil, which is also a WYSIWYG HTML editor - though not as friendly and multipotent (I wouldn't go so far as to call it 'omnipotent') - but it also generates EPUB files; also, it accepts as input both pre-existing HTML files and XHTML files - though it only generates the requisite meta-data (for EPUB files acceptable by KDP) when the input is XHTML.

Now, here's the sneaky bit. I am conversant with HTML, and I know a tiny amount about XML, but XHTML is a closed book to me. Sigil produces XHTML as soon as you open it (a blank in the WYSIWYG view, but in the code view the headers and footers necessary to produce a conformant blank page). Having used good ol'  HoTMetaL Pro to generate and validate HTML, I cutNpaste it into the (XHTML) code view (having removed the old headers). At the moment of transition, there's a horrible clash of code that makes Sigil complain bitterly; but I hold my nerve, and it's all right in the end. Then I can add  all the bits and pieces that KDP expects in an EPUB file.

Where I am at the moment with -EA- spellings is starting to move from handwritten notes to  HoTMetaL Pro. I am painfully aware of the slowness (sloth?) of progress, but I hope this gives some idea of the process. (Suggestions for improving the process are welcome; after much trial and error I've found a rather labour-intensive method that works, and rather than researching a more elegant solution I'm just putting my head down  and doing it. It is, in the words of a colleague on an OU course I once did, 'a JFD situation' - just do it. The F is silent.)
 Normal navel-gazing will be resumed in the next episode of Harmless Drudgery.

 Mammon (When Vowels Get Together V4.0: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs – AA-AU, EA-EU, and  IA-IU, and – new for V4.0 – OA-OU.  If you buy it, contact  @WVGTbook on Twitter and I'll alert you to free downloads of the forthcoming volumes; or click the Following button at the foot of this page.)
And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: nearly 32,400 views**,  and  4,400 downloads to date. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with 1570 views/700 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

On the cloudy side of the street

This isn't going to be a very long post. Not that I'm superstitious or anything, but my 13th post is going to be more of a '12a'th. (The subject of superstition calls to mind the Romance Languages' range of propitiatory euphemisms to refer to the weasel; another time, perhaps...)

In blog no. 12 I remarked on (that is, animadverted to) how English has a negative-sounding range of collocates with heart. Shortly after writing that I came across this observation by David Crystal, in The Story of English in 100 words.

I once went through a dictionary pulling out all the ways there are in English for saying 'good' things about the world (such as wonderful, happily, a marvel) and all the ways there are for saying 'bad' things (such as awful, clumsily, a disaster). I found 1,772 expressions of positive sentiment and 3,158 expressions of negative seniment.
So far so good, and I was giving myself a mental pat on the back for reaching Crystal's conclusion before he did; well, not before, as his 'once' may have been fifty years ago - in fact it probably was (this ploughing through dictionaries taking notes is a young man's wor... Doh); but my observation preceded my reading. But he goes on in the next sentence:

It's almost twice as easy to be critical in English, it seems.
In the next sentence. The syntax makes it clear that this is a conclusion. But it's syntax itself that calls his conclusion into question. The lexicon provides the stuff of twice as many criticisms as fillips. But the word-bank is not all we have. The resources we have to express approval are not inconsiderable (and the use of double negatives is one of them)!

On which subject, I should say that I'm more than a little perplexed, though by no means displeased (OK, I'll stop this) that Wachet auf is by far the most popular of my posts so far - at least twice as many hits as most of the others, and nearly seven times as many as 'the least of its brethren'. Hmm ...


 Mammon (When Vowels Get Together V4.0: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs – AA-AU, EA-EU, and  IA-IU, and – new for V4.0 – OA-OU.  If you buy it, contact  @WVGTbook on Twitter and I'll alert you to free downloads of the forthcoming volumes; or click the Following button at the foot of this page.)
And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: nearly 32,400 views**,  and  4,400 downloads to date. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with 1570 views/700 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Today we have naming of parts

A recent visit to the Royal Armouries at Leeds began with an impressive display of massed mortars - but rather small ones. Such weapons often get a friendly-sounding  nick-name. In 1945 there was Little Boy (much friendlier than, say, 'Genocidal Jenny'*), followed by Fat Man.

In the previous round of Beggar-my-neighbour-no-make-that-blow-him-to-bits, the pet-name Big Bertha had become popular, applied to various bits of heavy artillery. It strictly applies to one particular howitzer named after the heiress Bertha Krupp (according to various sources, for example Bull  and Murphy [now out of print but you can pick up a second-hand copy for a mere 250 smackers!] though this attribution is pooh-poohed by Willy Ley, writing in the Journal of Coastal Artillery, Feb, 1943 (says Wikipedia, and life's too short to chase down killjoys like that - who cast doubt on perfectly plausible bits of etymological trivia).

Big Bertha was one of the kanonen that came out of the Krupp works. One of the earlier bearers of the name, before Krupp's became the largest private company in the German empire, was known as 'the Cannon King'. The image of the cannon had been used centuries earlier by Spanish soldiers (conquistadores, I think, though the dates in The Etymological Dictionary call this into question) used to describe a sort of long straight valley of a kind unknown to them in their homeland. They called it un cañón, borrowed into English as 'canyon' - Spanish ñ being the conventional manuscript abbreviation for an original Latin -NN-. So in English we now have both 'cannon' and 'canyon', both derived from the Latin for 'reed'. So the tradition of giving unthreatening pet-names to weapons had been, in a sense, pre-figured by using a weapon's name to refer to an unthreatening rock-formation.

As early as the fifteenth century the metaphorical tide had changed direction, with  Mons Meg. Two centuries later there is said to have been Humpty Dumpty, but the East Anglia Tourist Board appears to have started the hare (I'm afraid that's what it is - and Tourist Boards [and the tourism industry in general] have a lot to answer for when it comes to disseminating dubious folk-etymologies) in 1996. Albert Jack, in Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes, retells the story. In a previous book (The Real Story of Humpty Dumpty, now out of print) he claims to have seen two lost extra verses, which further substantiate the derivation. But the alleged 'lost verses' are not in the style of the  ... canonical (sorry) rhyme, as is argued in an article with the unequivocally sceptical title 'Putting the “dump” in Humpty Dumpty' in the BS Historian.

So I started out with one of those 'plausible bits of etymological trivia' I mentioned earlier, but now have my doubts. It was an interesting journey though, and the use of pet-names for weapons of war is beyond dispute.


Update, 25 November 2021: PS I've just thought of another word derived from  Latin CANNA [='reed']. This is not world-shattering news; I'm  sure the Indo-European word bank is full of them. But this particular one offers a pleasing contrast to the noise of cannon: it is the French for fishing-rod, canne à pêche (this, incidentally is the first time I've linked to a foreign-language web-site - not very helpfully  I imagine, and some of my readers may not speak French - but I couldn't resist the opportunity).

Update 2016.08..08.12:55 – Added footnote

* This joke is almost certainly anachronistic. Little Boy was dropped in early August 1945. As Wikipedia says, in its article on Raphael Lemkin:
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was formally presented and adopted on December 9, 1948.
Bilingual plaque in memory
of Rafael Lemkin
Little Boy  was named, presumbly, some time before August 1945, but – given the timescales on The Manhattan Project – not long before. That Lemkin article's first paragraph calls Lemkin "lawyer of Polonized-Jewish descent who is best known for coining the word genocide....[which he did] 1943 or 1944".

So, if the word genocidal had been available for the naming of Little Boy, it would have been a pretty close-run thing.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Hearts may fall as well as rise

My Ji Qong teacher  – not a native speaker of English – was talking yesterday morning about some improvements she's having done to her kitchen. 'Now I can see out, and when I see the garden my heart sinks.'  From the context (we were exercising outside on a coldish and not particularly bright November morning) I knew that she meant the opposite; but what's that – 'my heart leaps'?

This made me think about collocations with heart. I did a search in the British National Corpus for 'heart' followed by a verb. Of the nearly 3,000 hits, 'heart sank' came a very respectable third, after 'was' and 'is'. With the addition of 'heart 's' at no. 11, these 3 account for over a fifth of all instances.

Meanwhile, 'heart leapt' was down at no. 17 and 'heart leaped' well below that at no. 31. And closer inspection of those numbers yielded an interesting bias. Of the 30 instances of 'leapt', 25 had the source 'W_fict_prose'; and of the 15 instances of  'leaped' 12 had the same source. And of those 37 'W_fict_prose' hits, in 29 cases (over three-quarters) the possessor of the heart is a woman. Now I don't know precisely what 'W_fict_prose' is, but perhaps I could be forgiven for guessing that the jackets are predominantly pink.

But what about the other verbs? Looking at just the top 51 (all the collocations with 10 or more hits) there are these indications of a dysfunctional or uneasy heart:
  • thumping – no. 8
  • thudding – no. 10
  • attacks – no. 13 (the mesh of my search net should obviously be finer; hearts don't attack!)
  • stopped – no. 14
  • racing – no. 18
  • lurched – no. 20
  • pounding – no. 22
  • hammering – no. 25
  • missed – no. 26
  • thudded  – no. 28
  • jumped – no. 29
  • bypass – no.40 (another anomaly that shows how I need to brush up my search skills)
  • bleeds – no. 41
  • ached – no. 43
  • sink – no. 45
  • sinking – no. 49
  • skipped – no. 50
  • stop – no. 51 (an appropriate end to the list)
Meanwhile there are a similar number of 'unmarked' ones (with connotations that are neither positive not negative) like turn and seem; and just a handful of unequivocally positive ones: just leap, to accompany the past forms. English hearts just don't seem to have a particularly positive outlook.; swell and swelled are down at nos. 67 and 99 respectively. I wonder if this is a particularly Anglophone bias. I invite comments from speakers of other languages.

I should really see how COCA compares. But times a-wasting and I've got a long weekend (when I'll be off-line) to prepare for.

Update 2014.02.08.20:20 – Updated footer

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?)

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: over 37,250 views  and 5,200 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with 1867 views/867 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

'As the ancient Romans say...

'...festina lente', to quote Lord Snooty - or whatever his name* was - in Iolanthe. I've been toiling away at the vowel pairs starting with e for my book of lists. It is very slow going. But at least I have -eu- already done as part of the ELTON submission last year - my entry was short-listed and forms the basis of the book I'm working on at the moment. And e is the most common vowel, so I shouldn't expect too much.

Here's what I've got so far (as well as pages and pages of handwritten notes that are about to be exposed to my legendary typing skills - upwards of five words per minute):

Vowel sounds represented by the spelling 'EA'

There are 21 sounds represented by the pair -ea-, but three of these are part of the trigraph -eau- and are dealt with in the -au- section [x-refs tbs].
Of the remaining 18, /i:/ is by far the most common, with nearly twice as many representatives as its nearest rival, and those two together outnumber all the rest by a similar margin.
  • /i;/
  • /e/
  • [16 more TBS]
As well as these sounds, there are words with one syllable ending in e and the next beginning with a. In these cases, the two vowels do not normally interact.  the e just works its magic on the preceding syllable...

And bridging between that G&S song I quoted at the outset and his big aria, Strephon accused, of 'attaining ['partaking'? 'a-taking'?] of his dolce far niente' [to rhyme with 'festina lente'] with Iolanthe, protests:
My Lords, of evidence I have no dearth 
She is - has been - my mother from my birth
That dearth is a representative of the '16 more TBS', which it's time I got back to.

* 'Tolloller', Wikipedia tells me. 'Earl Tolloller', it says, but one has to forgive Americans for not understanding titles.

 Update 15 November 2012 - trivial maths corrections (18-2=16).

 Mammon (When Vowels Get Together V4.0: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs – AA-AU, EA-EU, and  IA-IU, and – new for V4.0 – OA-OU.  If you buy it, contact  @WVGTbook on Twitter and I'll alert you to free downloads of the forthcoming volumes; or click the Following button at the foot of this page.)
And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: nearly 32,400 views**,  and  4,400 downloads to date. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with 1570 views/700 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


Just a quicky - Sundays should be IT-free, but Friday pm and most of Saturday were wiped out by  a system problem.... And as it's a 'requiemmy' sort of day:

Next week I'll be singing a bit of Fauré at a funeral - and at the rehearsal I fully expect the leader of the rehearsal to say to the sops 'What are you singing about? In Paradisum. "In Paradise". You sound as if you're singing about what you had for breakfast....' (Conductors mostly seem, in my experience, to regard breakfast menus as the nadir  of interest.)

But it doesn't mean that. In can mean many things in Latin, but when followed by a noun in the accusative it doesn't mean 'in'. If the words were In Paradiso they would mean 'In Paradise'; but they are In Paradisum ... going on ...deducant Angeli : 'May angels will lead you into Paradise...' One of many other meanings of in, this time followed by the dative, is exemplified in the next phrase: in tuo adventu: that's closer to 'in' in meaning, with a sense something like 'on the occasion of', though I'd favour a simpler translation: 'When you arrive...'.

Interestingly, deducere can also mean 'mislead', but I doubt if Fauré had this in mind - though Barrie Jones, collector of his letters, doubted his piety (on p. 24 of the 1989 edition). His most pious work, the sublime Cantique de Jean Racine (survivor of many a choir's mispronunciation: Verbe égal aux très-haut: 'Verb equal to thirteen waters...' - give me strength! - and de tes dons qu'il retourne comblés : 'of your teeth which he gives back because they're ... impacted?', was written in his teens). And in his later years he may have taken after his friend and teacher Camille Saint-Saens, who - according to one biographer - prescribed for his funeral a short service, if it had to be religious at all, and proscribed the singing of 'Pie Jesus' (sic - Either that final s is the biography's typo, or it was Saint-Saens's attempt to spare Fauré's feelings: 'I don't mean your setting of Pie Jesu.') 

But 'sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof'. The imagined solecism will probably not be perpetrated.

(And that's another thing: perpetrated/perpetuated. But I must stop. Duty calls.)

Update: 11 Nov pm - updated TESconnect stats, and tweaked second para.

Update:12 Nov am - Added to third para.  and added the fourth

Update: 2018. – Correction to deducant translation.

Friday, 9 November 2012

But NObody says /potahto/

My text for this morning's Harmless Drudgery is the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors:

The rival claims of -ise and -ize spellings have been argued with varying degrees of heat for centuries. Sadly, the ubiquity of software that checks spelling and grammar has recently dealt what may in the fulness of time (but over my dead body!) transpire to be the beginning of the end of -ize  spellings in British English: 'The infernal machine says I can't spell that way and retain my UK citizenship. Oh well'; and we appease the majority opinion holders. Today, most ESOL teachers say things like '-ise is the standard spelling in British English' (this quote is somewhere in the UsingEnglish forums, verbatim - though I can't at the moment find chapter and verse). Less well-informed commentators go so far as to say - when asked the difference between authorise and authorize -
No difference at all ... only that americans spell it different cos they feel the need to be different . The correct spelling is with an -s-

Oh dear. In one such discussion I said
There's nothing unBritish about the spelling 'apologize'. It has been the house style of The Times for well over a hundred years, and is used by many large and influential publishers (Oxford University Press, for example). I'm tired of being accused of flirting with modernity and excessive American influence, just because I use a spelling that millions of British people use (so long as they haven't been got at by generations of school-teachers peddling misinformation).
That may have been true of The Times at the time of writing, but 'the times they are a-changin''. A few cases of '-ize' pass the scrutiny of the subs' eyes - especially when there is a strong etymological justification - as in the case of 'baptize' (where there is a zeta rather than a sigma in the original Greek); but fewer and fewer.

The important word in that ODWE quote is the first - 'Where'. Sometimes there is not an option. Words such as 'televise', 'demise', 'enterprise'... (the indispensable - or should that be -ible? -
Hart's Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors  lists over two dozen) can only be spelt -ise. And this is true of American English - although naturally there is more tolerance for a wrong -ize ending in these words in a national variant that generally prefers -ize.

And in the -ise/-ize war, certain innocent bystanders have been caught in the cross-fire; words such as 'analyse', with no sensible justification for a z (biased, moi? - well, I am influenced by etymology [there is a sigma in the Greek] though not totally in thrall to it) have an s in British English and a z in American English. As Hart says:

Incidentally Alistair Cooke insisted that the correct pronunciation of  'intelligentsia' used [g] because English had borrowed it directly from Russian. Imagine the problems if we tried to impose the same standard in the case of -ise/-ize. In that 'authorised/authorized' discussion I mentioned, one contributor pointed out '[A]uthorize and authorise come from Old French autoriser which comes from Medieval Latin auctorizare.' For each word we'd have to know not only its root but also the route that it took to get into modern English. A distorted and inverted form of this belief - as it happens - was the justification for Professor Richard Cobb's dispensation from the OUP's house-style favouring -ize endings where possible. He was a Francophile, and for him even words like 'baptize' - whatever their origin - were seen through a francophone filter: if it was  -iser in French it was -ise in English.

But, to quote myself, bowing out of another discussion,
In some cases (very few) '-ise' needs to be used instead of '-ize' in Br Eng spelling; and (invariably, I think) '-yse' instead of '-yze'. AmE ironed out these exceptions; so Z spellings are characteristic of AmE. But they're not exclusively American. (I can explain the exceptions if you want, but I think people's eyes would start to glaze over.)
In time (several centuries) it may become true that -ize spellings become unacceptable in British English, but this Cnut will always have his finger in the dike.


Update: 10 Nov: tweaked first line  to fix format: someone's playing silly Bloggers.

Update 2014.07.07.11:40
PS  This post reminded me of the usefulness of a knowledge of etymology in matters of spelling; the @Pronuncian piece is about pronunciation, but the two are related (to varying extents – and depending on how deeply embedded a borrowed word is).
I have mentioned this 'embeddedness' issue before  – here:
/u:/ is preceded [in British English] by a glide [j], becoming [ju:] in largely predictable contexts – at the beginning of a word, after stop consonants (/p t k b d g/) , after the sonorants (/l m n /) and after /h/ and /s/. The very recent borrowing 'gulag' keeps its native Russian pronunciation (as far as the 'u' is concerned; pronunciation of the consonants and of the 'a' is a different matter!) Similarly, the name 'Putin' (in an English-speaking context) has no glide before the /u:/, whereas the name 'Rasputin' – borrowed, for the use of English in less linguistically sensitive times – has a /ju:/. (The singers of Abba were unaware of this!)
I said 'USEFULNESS of a knowledge of etymology'. By this I don't mean indispensability. In fact, this is often a matter of differentiation; some students will benefit more from (and be more interested in) a knowledge of etymology. For example, I had a Spanish student who wondered why 'symphony' (sinfonía) had a y whereas 'philosophy' (filosofía) had an i. She was a classics student. So my saying that English spelling reflected the etymology (υ versus ι in the Greek original) clarified hundreds (maybe thousands) of apparently arbitrary 'i versus y' spelling quandaries. But this etymological insight would not have been useful in a full class context (although it might be tempting for the  exhibitionist teacher eager to show off his knowledge).

Update 2018.03.05.11:40 – Deleted old footer.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Hello 'dolly'

The late great Joe Cremona, not Professor of Romance Philology at Cambridge University (but should've been), told me about pupils - the ones in your eyes. As Guy Deutscher said in the The Unfolding of Language, vocabulary is 'a reef of dead metaphors' (and ΜΕΤΆΦΩΡΑ is the word emblazoned on removals trucks in Greece to this day).

What do you see in someone's pupil? - an image of yourself, but tiny. A little person. (And the image of yourself is enhanced if the person into whose eyes you gaze has used belladonna to dilate the pupils; but bella donna, or 'beautiful woman', is another story.) The Latin for 'little girl' is pupilla (French speakers will remember poupée; and the -illa ending is just a diminutive suffix.)

When Dr Cremona told me about this he explained that the same image was not used only in Latin and its descendants; he listed examples from all over the Indo-European world, which I have shamefully forgotten. I think Arabic was one, and probably Farsi... I'm guessing. And to reinforce the lesson he referred to the tool that layers of pavements use - a dolly (shaped like a legless doll, whose arms are the handle and whose torso pounds slabs into place). I had not met this, and looking in various online dictionaries I've only found this - '...4 historical a short wooden pole for stirring clothes in a washtub' - not at all the same tool, but similar in structure.

I was reminded of this during one of the earlier rounds of The Great British Bake-off (no useful link, as the TV series is over). The contestants were required to make a pie, not in a case or tin, but formed* manually using a wooden mould called - no prizes for guessing - a dolly. I was sure there'd be a DVD spin-off; apparently not - but there are more Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood books out there than you could shake a pie-dolly at).


*And on the subject of 'formed', I must write about formaggio and fromage some time.  
Update Done it at last: here it is.

Update 2015.11.08.17:25 – Added this note:
I can't believe I resisted the temptation here to talk about mustelidae. The date explains the omission; I was in the thick of lexicography.

The Raised Faculty Building
see more here)
Taboo is where language meets belief. Depending on how strong the belief is, the care about pussyfooting around it can be huge. Somewhere – possibly  in a lecture note somewhere [well, the note itself is in the loft and the lecture hall {or more probably seminar room} would have been in the Sidgwick Site's Raised Faculty Building] – there is a tribe of hunter-gatherers for whom the word for eye is taboo (for everyone, not just the hunting party) while the men are hunting.

Apropos of that sexism , I can't hear the words men and hunting without thinking of that loathsome song from the end of The Jungle Book:

Father's hunting in the forest  
Mother's cooking in the home. 
I must hone my sexual stereotypes 
Till the day that I am grown
[I may have remembered the third line wrong; the scansion‘s not great.] 
Now we come to those weasels. Dangerous or mischievous animals can acquire taboo-affected words. Bella is obvious as a root of the French bellette. But the word for weasel in Portuguese is doninha, and in Italian is donnola – both meaning little lady.

That example comes from that lecture; this is my speculation it seems to me that there might have been an element of placating the gods of the jungle in the naming of the Boa constrictor: pretty again, and female, though you couldn't call her a little lady. But Etymonline (spoilsport) says the origin of the Latin boa, mentioned in Pliny‘s Natural History, is unknown. Hmmm...

Meanwhile, here's a clue:
Weapon that brusque potter might demand. (8)

Update:2018.05.21.16:45 – Repaired broken link. And here's the answer at last: CLAYMORE

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Wachet auf!

Ploughing on with my book of lists (how self-referential can you get? - a Harmless Drudgery post about harmless drudgery), I have just reached  'reawaken'. With a knee-jerk reaction, hearing in my mind's ear the question 'What's the difference between "reawaken' and "rewaken"?', I went to my corpus of choice, Google; (well, not so much 'of choice', more 'of laziness' - it's huge, but there's no quality control; it says what words are being used, regardless of who's using them. It's just readily to hand [to mouse?]). And Google, confusingly, offered me 12,500 instances of  'rewaken' and in the next breath [hmmm - dubious metaphor] asked 'Do you mean "reawaken"?' [See how many -ea- words there are? - reawaken reaction hearing ear and breath in that one paragraph; and four distinct sounds in only five words!]

I turned next to the British National Corpus which had a paltry 13 instances of 'reawaken' and none of 'rewaken'; not much to go on. Now Google's first hit was Merriam-Webster Online, which suggested to me that this was an American English option; so I went to COCA. COCA had 90  'reawaken's, which gave me high hopes for 'rewaken'; but again there was none. (I suppose that makes sense: Google has over 1,000,000 'reawaken's - over 400 times as many as 'rewaken's; so a mere 90  hits for 'reawaken'  don't even suggest a milli-hit for 'rewaken)'.

Merriam Webster puts the first recorded use of 'rewaken' at 1638, and the first recorded use of 'reawaken' goes unrecorded amongst all the other 're-' words. For what it's worth. the Online Etymological Dictionary dates 're-' to c. 1200. Anyway, 'rewaken' seems to be going out of fashion (like many of the poor relations in such pairs, dealt with by David Crystal in The Story of English in 100 Words under the headword 'Yogurt' - which isn't a member of a pair so much as a gaggle:
The first recorded usage [early 17th century] is yoghurd. Then we get yogourt, then yahourt, yaghourt, yogurd, yoghourt, yooghort, yughard, yughurt and yohourth. In the 19th century, there was a trend to simplify, and yogurt emerged as the front runner.
'Front runner' maybe, but I believe when yogurt was first introduced onto the main-stream English menu in the late '50s/early '60s ('Eden Vale yoghourt is the young idea/Eden Vale yoghourt is a-swingin' here/ It does you good', it treats you right/ It's the natural food with the extra bite...') the 'yoghourt' spelling prevailed. And I can't check in the Eden Vale archives (if they even exist), because TV advertisements are quick to throw off the shackles of linguistic history: when the Milky Bar Kid first appeared - about the same time - the last line of the jingle was 'Nestle's Milky Bar' (without the "é" used today).

Some words just have poor relations, much less common and with a different spelling. And for all the attempts of the cognoscenti to make distinctions - the dear old OUP insists in the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors that an enquiry is just a question and an inquiry is an institution formed to ask and investigate a particular line of questioning ('a polite enquiry'  but 'a public inquiry') - those distinctions are largely ephemeral.

Which reminds me: -ise and -ize... But that will have to wait for another time. Some more harmless drudgery calls - Now where had I got to:  'reawaken, recreate, rectilinear...'

+ various updates to the footer, the most recent being on 2013.10.06.12:05

 Mammon (When Vowels Get Together V4.0: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs – AA-AU, EA-EU, and  IA-IU, and – new for V4.0 – OA-OU.  If you buy it, contact  @WVGTbook on Twitter and I'll alert you to free downloads of the forthcoming volumes; or click the Following button at the foot of this page.)
And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: nearly 32,400 views**,  and  4,400 downloads to date. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with 1570 views/700 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Faithful or attractive?

I heard Antony Gormley's music choices on Desert Island Discs Revisited this morning, and one was Gilberto's Gil's version of  'I just called to say I love you'. (The iPlayer link will only last a week, but you can download your own copy from the Archives. the relevant music is at 30'05".) I've admired João Gilberto's music since my older brother exposed me to Getz/Gilberto in the early '60s (it was recorded in 1963, and he was quick to respond to popular culture, as long as it avoided the Beatles - with whom his younger siblings were obsessed). And I confused the two Gilbertos.

As you may know, the hook-line occurs in the middle eight, and it took me a few bars to tune in to the Portuguese, so I still had time to wonder how the translator would handle those words ( 'I just called to say I love you'). Many years ago I was trying to make a living by various means - one of which was translating songs. So I am alive to the problems of translation,  and familiar with the sexist joke about a good translation being like a woman - faithful or attractive, but not both. In fact my one foray into the world of translating a Brazilian song was António Carlos Jobim's Engano, which rather than the rather prosaic 'Deceit' or the unfortunately punning 'Deception' - punning for linguists, anyway - I called 'How wrong'.
Você sempre me disse
Que é falso meu amor
Que os beijos que lhe dou
Não têm nenhum calor...
[I think. It was 35 years ago, and Essex bl**dy Music didn't        return my copy of Boss Bossas - not that I bear a grudge, you understand.]
Anyway, returning to 'I just called to say I love you' I wasn't surprised by Só chamei, nor by te amo. But joining them was not p'ra dizer - which I half expected, in spite of the extra syllable - but porque. Good call - musically better, suiting the singer's plaintive voice, and giving an extra rhyme (chamei/porque).  Thinking back to my 'How wrong', I remember shying away from the heat of those kisses in ll. 3-4 of Jobim's original:
My love you always said
My love was never true -
My kiss, you said, was cold
And dum-di dum-di you
(The actual words escape me - though they may be in the loft, if they've survived 35 Spring Cleans).  I held over the idea of burning until I came to the later lines:
I only made a show
Of love whose fire was dead
And only kindled to
Another's warm Hello.
In  translating songs, faithfulness is the least (and perhaps last) of  your worries.

Those were the days; still, Music and Language's loss was Technical Documentation's gain. And, by happy chance,  António Carlos Jobim (writer of the song I translated - keep up) appeared on the same Getz/Gilberto album. What goes around comes around - preferably on black vinyl.

Update: 2016.09.16.11:15 – Removed old footer and fixed typo

Saturday, 3 November 2012


MrsK asked me the other day why Spanish tennis players (her main source of linguistic exemplars) spoke English less well than other foreign players. And it reminded me of this exchange, which I had contributed to some time ago in my early days as a UsingEnglish moderator.

To summarize my points (and I may well have been talking to myself, as after the initial question the only contributor to that thread was me), these are the difficulties I could think of at the time, with a few other thoughts:
  • Ease of mapping from writing to sounds in Spanish. Spanish learners try to pronounce every letter, because that is infallibly right in Spanish. (It's interesting - and perhaps relevant - that when I was at a teachers' training session about dyslexia, one teacher reported that she had had a Spanish student [an adult] who had been successfully through the Spanish education system without having his dyslexia diagnosed .)
  • L1:L2 phonemes almost all (?maybe all) don't match.
  • Timing - unlike English, Spanish is a syllable-timed rather than a stress-timed language. There is quite possibly a Spanish tale of pet-abuse to match
    Ding dong bell
    Pussy's in the well
    Who put him in?
    Little Johnny Flynn

    But if there is you can bet the line-lengths don't differ so widely  (the numbers of syllables fitting into the same four-beat measure are, in the first four lines, 3,5,4, and 5; but What a naughty boy was that, really takes the biscuit, at 7 syllables! :)
  • Consonant clusters. English uses lots, while Spanish breaks them up with vowel sounds so the there are usually at most two consonants together in a single syllable. For example, English 'strange' has the cognate word extraño; whereas English is happy to start a syllable with three consonant phonemes, Spanish ensures that there are only two each in 'es-' and '-tra-'.
  • English uses many phrasal verbs; Spanish doesn't. An English child might ask its parent 'Why didn't you bring the book you said you'd read to me out of up with you?' and the hearer would go back downstairs to get the right book without missing a beat (though probably not applauding the elegance of the construction).
But many of these apply to other languages too. Italian and French (and of course hundreds of others) are syllable-timed (although some southern dialects of Italian are stress-timed). Besides, the idea of syllable vs stress timing is not universally accepted. The title of Mark Liebermann's Language Log post leaves little doubt that he thinks it's boloney (although the jibe has an academically-polite disguise, in the Italian bologna):
[T]his is a complicated and contentious issue, and there have been many ideas over the years about how to rescue the (clearly much-loved) stress-timed vs. syllable-timed distinction. You could write a book about it. (And then someone else would write another book, disagreeing with you.)
So the jury's out, or rather it's a hung jury.  For me, I think a factor in the difficulties Spanish speakers have with English are something to do with the stress-timed/syllable-timed distinction. But there is plenty more to think about here. For example, I wonder if Catalan is stress-timed - which might account for the fact that I find the Castilian spoken in Catalonia much easier to follow than the Castilian spoken in Castile.

Which reminds me of an annoying encounter I had with a barman in Ibiza some years ago. I had asked for dos cervezas and he corrected me: he was used to lingistically-challenged Britishers who he could laugh at when their backs were turned, and presented with a competent speaker he had to find fault with something. It should be [θ], he said. The nerve of the man! He was the imperialist oppressor with his fancy foreign ceceo. In fact, it was a guilt-ridden holiday. It was all-inclusive, meaning that the local economy was virtually untouched (except for some employment at bread-line wages). The local Catalan-speakers had to put up with a lot from the Castilian-speaking interlopers.

But I digress.

updates and
update - a few tweaks to the PS

PS And while we're on the subject of annoying encounters involving Spanish speakers, with particular reference to 'fancy foreign ceceo', or 'imperialisp' as I'm tempted to call it, I'd just like to put on record my loathing of José Carreras' rendition of Misa Criolla (which I'm not going to dignify with a link - though Classic FM, and therefore Amazon, was full of it around the turn of the century).

In the '60's, when Ariel Ramirez wrote it, it came out at more or less the same time  as the Vatican's Second Ecumenical Council. Coming, as I did, from a God-fearing family (and we are talking 'Holy Mother Church' - unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam - none of your Anglican nonsense), and saying the Mass in the vernacular was a big deal. Gloria a dio' e' las altura', E in la tierr' pas a los hombre'.. - so much gutsier than Gloria in excelsis deo. Et in terra pax hominibus.... In the time of Cortez, ceceo ('the imperialisp') didn't happen. I've forgotten the details, but I remember writing an essay with the stirring title 'The De-Voicing of Mediaeval Sibilants in Castilian'; Cortez would have called himself [kortɛdz], or if he was a serious trend-setter [kortɛts] (unless he spelt his name Cortés, as most historians have it - but why should a little thing like spelling be allowed to interfere with a perfectly good joke?) Carreras' pronunciation - you can almost  hear him saying 'Thees eeza 'ow djou  suppos-et to pronoonce-a eet, paisanos' - is plain offensive (in the 'weapon-like' sense); it's a weapon of imperialism, as when Churchill intentionally mispronounced 'Nazis' as /næzi:z/ or La Thatcher said /gæl ti: eǝ ri:/, giving it four contemptuous syllables.

So when Señor Carreras sings [paθ] a los hombres I want to scream 'You just don't get it!' I want to... (time for my medication).

update 2013. - Added this footnote and updated TES stats:
update 2013.06.24,17.05 - L'esprit del l'escalier

‡ This, the Real Missa Criolla was played – in possibly the shortest and most crassly truncated extract I've ever heard on Desert Island Discs (one could almost hear Sue Lawley's 'That's enough of this. No wonder nobody's ever heard of it') on the radio  yesterday morning on Radio 4 Extra. Fortunately it was first recorded in 1996, before Carreras' Crime Against Humanity was perpetrated.

Update 2017.11.20.22:35 – Removed old footer.