Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Werra werra werra

The possibility of paid employment has prevented me from posting since my holiday, and much of today's post is cut&paste shamelessly from an IATEFL scholarship application:

<cut&paste theme="classroom situation and reflection">
This is a general problem of a culture clash between students. Something of this nature arises from time to time, but I give here an instance where several points of friction – male/female + education + religion + race ­+ politics – combined to create a very combustible mixture.

The conservative side of the clash was represented by a young Frenchman. He was a very able student with an academic background, and an intellectual arrogance that I have met more than once among his countrymen (and women). Having visited France at the height of the OAS problems (in the ‘60s) I assumed that the French/Algerian friction was a thing of the past; I should have known, from the example of Northern Ireland, that these post-colonial matters have a half-life of several hundred years and smoulder in the most apparently pacific of breasts.

The ‘outsider’ (l’étrangère) was a young lady of 17/18 years, algérienne, swarthy (he was blond), not so academically gifted (apparently ­– though in the context of a summer school it was hard to tell ­– and besides she had been hamstrung for years by her lack of privilege). She had, understandably, an enormous chip on her shoulder, and was hyper-sensitive to any kind of assumed slur. Given his arrogance and contempt, it didn’t need any kind of sensitivity to detect an implied slur – pachydermicity was all that was needed. It didn’t make matters any more comfortable that he was short, pale, and slightly built – one of H.G. Wells’s Eloi – whereas she was one of the Morloks (by no means  Amazonian, but more than a match for him). But he gave as good as he got verbally, with a mastery of contemptuous arrogance: ‘Tell that woman’ – he said once, in a quietly menacing tone – ‘I NEVER want to hear a word from her again.’ (They could snipe at each other in their native French, but this was addressed to me.)

All it seemed I could do was separate them physically – different teams, different groups, never working together – and cast oil on troubled waters (praying there were no naked flames) as needed. In the event, a family issue called her away (at least, that was what the Director of Studies told me – though now I think of it the fact that the DoS was involved may suggest another explanation), so the problem went away. I suppose the alleged ‘family issue’ might have been a diplomatic fiction.

If it was (a possibility that has only just occurred to me) I failed. I suppose that, while maintaining a cordon sanitaire as already discussed, I should somehow address the problem. But it is a secular one, and the handling of open aggression is not something that comes naturally to me. I discuss the issue with other teachers from time to time (less often as retirement beckons!) but I have not yet found an answer (although it would have been a start to police more punctiliously a ban on back-channel/native language jibes).
What these two were engaging in was WERRA (not the noise that introduced Tigger [? – I've looked for confirmation of this, to no avail. The Internet insists on taking me down Disney-based sidetracks] but  a Germanic word [and as my two combatants spoke French, I'm using the Frankish variant]Etymonline says the PIE root was *wers- with cognates suggesting an original meaning of  'to bring into confusion' – used by the barbarians who wouldn't stand up like a proper Roman and have a good old proelium – the sort of pitched battle that the Romans usually won). My young Frenchman was a Roman (educated, arrogant, urbane, with overwhelming cultural resources) and the young étrangère was a Barbarian (refusing to fight on the terms of the habitual victor).

When Latin speakers, with no W in their alphabet, met a useful foreign borrowing like this, they often replaced it with GU. And Romance languages reflect this: war but guerre . And sometimes one language, formed on the basis of several Romance vernaculars, yields pairs like warranty/guarantee, ward/guard, wile/guile ... (the last of which I've discussed here).

To complicate matters still further, English has borrowed a diminutive from Spanish. guerra/guerrilla but war/guerrilla (and indeed guerrilla warfare)


Update 2014.07.25.14:55 – Added PS

In my closing sentence I referred to 'complicat[ing] matters'. The only complication is for fellow sufferers from the Etymological Fallacy (discussed here)
There is a tendency to use the suffix -itis to form jocular names for maladies (such as memory-itis an affliction that I'm suffering from at the moment, as I can't  recall any). Hitherto I (in company with many a misinformed pedant) have typically objected: but what's INFLAMED? An -itis has to involve inflammation as in gingivitis, tonsillitis, etc.

Well, up to a point. According to Etymonline it is
... Modern Latin, from Greek -itis, feminine of adjectival suffix -
"pertaining to." Feminine because it was used with feminine noun nosos "disease,"

<autobiographical_note 1966-8>
Speaking of which, irrelevantly, a list of 'femine nouns ending -os' comes to mind: '...nesos, nosos, basanos [a touchstone FFS: what use was that knowledge to a twentieth century scoolboy, let alone his twenty-first century later{sic} ego] and taphros'.
Although the Etymonline gloss does start 'noun suffix denoting diseases characterized by inflammation...' it is probably just accidental that it typically refers to inflammation. The four classically recognized signs of disease/disorder are 'calor, rubor, tumor, and dolor' (I imagine there's a useful Wikipedia reference available to the time-rich), so the odds are in favour of an '-itis [via calor] → inflammation' link. But there's no strictly etymological reason for it.

I do try, with varying degrees of success, to avoid the Etymological Fallacy. But it seems that even the most dyed-in-the-wool etymoholic [GROOGH; apologies to fellow haters of the widely abused '-holic' pseudo-suffix] isn't justified here (even if etymology can ever be argued to be a[n] ever-fixed key to meaning).
;[where was I? Oh yes, 'The only complication...']  in Spanish (and many other Romance languages), there is a clear link between guerre/guerra and its diminutive. It is only the 'silly Cnuts' of England (discussed in a footnote to this blog) who feel the lack of a clear etymological link.

Update 2014.07.29.14:30 Added this note:

I knew I'd seen this somewhere before, in a Crystal book I mentioned here. The list I was thinking about is in one of those badly presented asides, for which someone at Penguin should be SHOT.

Norman loan    Parisian Loan
reward              regard
warden             guardian
warrant            guarantee 
wile                   guile

(An earlier entry in that table isn't relevant to the w/g argument, but it's Quite Interesting: 'gaol' is a Norman Loan, and its Parisian pair is 'jail'.)

22016.10.10.14:15 – Fixed a few typoes and deleted old footer.

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