Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Long-haired ne'erdowells

... coming into our skies whenever it suits them and then going off to Find Themselves a few billion  miles away, then coming back when they please.

The Greek for a comet was '(aster) kometes, literally "long-haired (star)," from kome "hair of the head"' . That quote is from good ol' Etymonline, and this blog has mentioned before (here) the tendency for nouns in Noun Phrases to be dropped, leaving just the adjective as a new noun.
I wonder if Bill Haley was a classics scholar: but his backing group The Comets weren't notably long-haired. Everybody assumes the name is a play on the name 'Haley', but wouldn't it be cool if the Halley angle was only coincidental (apart from depending on a mispronunciation)?

Meteor, on the other hand,  is ultimately   from meta- "over, beyond" (see meta-) + -aoros "lifted, hovering in air," (the metaphorical name referring to what it does rather than what it looks like). And rather than whizzing around aimlessly like long-haired comets they actually fall to earth.
So why aren't 'meteoric rise's out-numbered by 'meteoric fall's? BNC has this:
And a few more with only a single hit. No falls at all.
Oh well. Nearly time to go and watch the landing of Rosetta No, Philae of course – I should just squeeze in an hour's lupiportal exclusion (that's 'keeping the wolf from the door).
Oh, and I meant to ask: was the landing timed to mark the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down? The reunification was extraordinarily and unexpectedly well managed.
I remember, in a bedtime reading session, trying to explain the importance of the event in terms of the politics of Narnia – 'like the evil queen making friends with Aslan.'

Update 2014.11.12.18:20 – Correction in the colour of shame.
Update 2014.11.13.14:20 – Added PS
PS Well done folks,  but it'll be a shame if after a 10 year wait Philae spins off after a few days. Latest scare is that it may have landed somewhere too dark to use its solar cells. Look on the bright side though; with any luck it'll slide into the light.
Does a French countdown really end '...deux, un, top', and if so why?

Meanwhile, back at the metaphors for heavenly bodies, here's (some of) what Etymonline
has to say about planet:

[Ultimately]...from Greek planetes, from (asteres) planetai "wandering (stars)," from planasthai "to wander," of unknown origin, possibly from PIE *pele- (2) "flat, to spread" on notion of "spread out." So called because they have apparent motion, unlike the "fixed" stars. 
So whereas a meteor 'whizzes about up there' a planet just 'wanders'. A bit lame, really. More anon, but I have some stuff that won't wait.

Update 2014.11.14.09:55 – Added PPS

PPS Today's heavenly body is 'star'. This is one of those words that starts with a consonant cluster that is problematic for some speakers;  and languages made up of those speakers introduce a 'run-up' vowel to smooth the way – the $10 word is epenthetic, and I discussed it here. A star was an aster in Greek but stella in Latin, and the Greek a- is epenthetic. In Spanish estrella (and I may once have known where the 'r' came from); Italian – stella; Catalan – estrella; Romanian – stea... Romance languages 'swing both ways' on this point. One language family that predictably didn't need that 'run-up' vowel was Germanic (I think  – this is an open goal for any Germanic philologist out there).  So the German journal Stern ought, if there were any etymological justice in the world, to be a sister-journal of our Daily Star. Maybe it is, but somehow I doubt it.

That's all for now. I have a memory about the magazine Motor Sport, in connection with the job (mentioned in passing here) that got me arrested, but it'll have to wait.

Update 2014.11.20.15:55 – Added PPPS
PPPS  – wheel reinvention not required. I recalled it here:
<autobiographical_note date_range=1971>
In my youth I spent a few months selling magazine subscriptions, as mentioned in a previous post. The publishers bolstered the advertising sales of lesser-known titles by bundling them with big names. So Caza y Pesca and Blanco y Negro were thrown in when you bought a subscription to Newsweek.

One of the English titles that I had for sale was Motor Sport. So  into my fairly competent spiel (I had learned the necessary Spanish off pat) I dropped these three totally unrecognizable syllables: /məʊtəspɔ:t/. The Spanish for 'Motor Sport' included an /r/ sounded before the epenthetic vowel that precedes the outlandish consonant cluster /sp/.
          Outlandish, that is, at the beginning of a [BK added in Nov. '14 update: Spanish] word. 

 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 here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

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

Freebies (Teaching resources:  nearly over 47,800 views  and well over 6,400 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 nearly 2,400 views and 1,000 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.

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