Saturday, 30 May 2015

Reformed priest gives account of current doings (6)

Todays TEZZY (for a Time-wasting site) goes to this fascinating interactive effort – full of interest but (if I‘m being brutally honest) hardly of critical importance for the fate of Civilization as we know it. Its based on a corpus of reports by students of their teachers:
This interactive chart lets you explore the words used to describe male and female teachers in about 14 million reviews from
And perhaps I do underestimate its importance. Maybe there is an interesting conclusion to be drawn from  the fact that students are slightly more likely to call a female teacher happy, but much more likely to call a male teacher funny. Im not sure what it might be, but its certainly fun toggling between the two and watching the blue dots change places with the pink ones (OK, they‘re not pink really, more like orange) in a sort of birds eye view of a courtly dance. I think itd be more significant if one could compare ratings of the same-sex teacher by different-sex students, and then to compare S>T, S>T, S>T and S>T. (More significant,  but Id still be hard pressed to say exactly  what it signified.)

Tales from the word-face

I'm still trawling through the vowel+l pairs. L was a dispiriting letter to start with. I should have started with R or W – much more interesting. But I am a slave to the alphabet. I am nearing the end of the -el-s. On a hunch, I went back to check on the raw totals (net of any systematic exclusions I choose to observe). And the numbers of hits in the Macdonald English Dictionary (that is the UK site, despite the Mit) turned out to have an alphabetical regularity:

And that is a subordinating conjunction (or  something like that – the naming of parts isn't really my schtick). Another bugbear in my admittedly bugbear-ridden life is the growing and unaccountable and mindless and downright lazy  and otherwise lamentable...
<meta_rant topic="*laMENtable">
And there's another one. Get the stress right for Heaven's sake. I know it's easier to match the stress of the verb, but "them's the breaks, kid" as someone (maybe John Wayne) once said.
....tendency to use 'So' as an all-purpose linguistic tic that seems to mean something like 'Here comes a sentence, but don't expect it to have a link to anything that's gone before and I don't care about any fruitless efforts you may make to find one – you seem to have mistaken me for someone with a modicum of consideration for the people I talk to'.

...although I haven't finished -el- I've done more than half.

Enough navel-gazing; there's cricket to watch.  


Update 2015.05.31.11:35 – Sexed up picture.

Update 2015.06.01.15:15 – Added PS.

Another TEZZY observation: with a few exceptions, a male teacher is more likely than a female one to be assessed as fat. The exceptions are in Computer Science, Philosophy, Psychology, and Sociology. Make of that what you will; of course, in those (and all cases) the review might have said ‘<teacher-name> couldn't be called fat'. (Come to think of it.... Still, it's fun.)

Update 2015.06.06.18:05 – Added PPS.


And while we're on the subject of statistical anomalies, how about this (courtesy of Blogger, a record of page views [to Harmless Drudgery] for the past week):

Noted for Update, 2015.06.08

Update 2018.03.22.12:45 – Added PPPS.
Deleted old footer, and removed part of PPS that wasn't displaying properly.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

My soul doth magnify the problem

On Sunday I visited my alma mater....
and no, I haven't forgotten the alma mater speculation I indulged in 2 years ago [about a possible link between nourishment and the soul].  My investigations aren't complete, but Romanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, my Bible for Romance origins says this:
The words I've highlighted in that excerpt all have to do with nuts/kernels/chestnuts/acorns, and the headword Seele, means 'soul'. 
[And if like me you aren't entirely at home with German {O-level Best Before End June 1969}, the bits before the italicized words are abbreviations of names of languages and dialects (for example, siz. = Sicilian, log. = Logudorese {spoken in Sardinia}  etc., and the words in quotation marks are definitions.].

And there we sang Dyson in D. I tweeted whimsically – not to say predictably ()– 

"What a polymath! Bet his organ doesn't lose suction."

But O2 gobbled up the tweet (not omitting, of course, to debit me for sending it: there it still is in my Sent folder).

And the words of the Magnificat reminded me of a confusion that keeps cropping up in the life of a choral singer. In the text that that link points to you'll see in the third line of the Latin exultavit, translated in the English as "hath rejoiced". But later on the word exaltavit appears, translated in the English as "hath exalted".

Italianate pronunciation of Latin now gets involved. Listen to this YouTube clip; the relevant word starts occurring from about 30 seconds in, and is repeated as often as Vivaldi chooses. When this vowel (not unlike the English /ʌ/ phoneme – the one that occurs in, for example, "exulted", although it is closer to [ɑ]) is heard by a strictly Anglophone ear, confusion arises – as is exemplified in this YouTube comment.
I must learn not to read YouTube comments  – bad for the blood pressure.

It's only the Magnificat, in Latin, that highlights this issue for me. My choir is singing lots of very different pieces at our forthcoming concert, and several of them use one of the words but not both. In Bruckner's Christus Factus Est, exaltavit, in a Palestrina piece Exsultate Deo, and in a Viadana piece, Exsultate justi. (The spelling with s comes from our scores, European Sacred Music, though other sources have no s [incurring the impotent wrath of yet another YouTube commenter on that Bruckner piece:

] (I really must learn...))

Under "exult" Etymonline says

exult (v.) Look up exult at

1560s, "to leap up;" 1590s, "to rejoice, triumph," from Middle French exulter, from Latin exultare/exsultare "rejoice exceedingly, revel, vaunt, boast;" literally "leap about, leap up...

So in the root there was an s – the sort of s you get in somersault.

As so often when linguistic Nazis insist that only their truth is right (and they tend to congregate moth-like about the flickering light emanating from YouTube), both options are fine.

But times a-wastin'.

PS The concert, incidentally is by no means all in Latin. There are also George Shearing's jazzy settings of Shakespeare sonnets and other lighter songs. Well worth an evening out. 13 June.

Update 2017.09.27.14:15 – Deleted old footer.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Lettuce, galaxies, and milk-wort

Milk, milk products, and plants associated with milk have been exercising my mind of late. Here‘s what Etymonline says for lettuce (n.)
late 13c., probably from Old French laitues, plural of laitue "lettuce," from Latin lactuca "lettuce," from lac (genitive lactis) "milk" (see lactation); so called for the milky juice of the plant
Probably?  I'd say it was a pretty safe bet. A common process in Romance Philology (and possibly others – I wouldn't know, though I can't think why it shouldn't be so) is palatalization:
...the production of consonants with the blade, or front, of the tongue drawn up farther toward the roof of the mouth (hard palate) than in their normal pronunciation.
Palatalization can take many forms, often in the same language. In  Portuguese, for example maré  cheia-(='high-tide' – literally full-sea) and praia (='beach') both owe their initial consonant to Latin PL- , although [ʃ] and [pr] could hardly be less alike.

Elcock's The Romance Languages refers to ‘the evolution of the group -CT- to -it- which took place all over the [BK: Iberian] Peninsula cf. Port. noite,  Cat. nit, Arag. nueyt' and then mentions lahtaira "yellow goose-grass" (< LACTARIA, Cast. cuajaleche).'

Cuajaleche (gallium verum is its $10 name) is more commonly known (in my dialect) as ‘lady's bedstraw' [or in some gardens as that bloody weed]. It is very acidic (as is suggested by its Latin name...
I never did ask, in Scripture lessons, what "flavoured with  gall" meant, but the context (the Crucifixion) suggested a certain degree of  bitterness.</autobiographical_note>
...)  and as the Castilian cuajar means ‘curdle'
<speculation type="For Further Study">
I wonder if "coagulate" is involved...?
I suspect that  the Castilian name has more to do with its properties when added to milk, than with its the milky appearance – of its sap   – as in the case of the French laitues or the English milk-wort for that matter.

And if you follow that Etymonline link to lactation you'll find that that word [BK  – and lots of other lact- words] is

...from PIE root *glakt- (cognates: Greek gala, genitive galaktos, "milk"), which, along with  *melg-  (see milk (n.)), accounts for words for "milk" in most Indo-European languages 

I wonder if they knew... 
Or was it just an extrapolation from Milky Way?


Anyway, you may have noticed that Etymonline took care to say ‘from lac  (genitive  
lactis) ' [my emphasis] to explain the appearance of 't' in the root. I've mentioned before (here and in several other posts)  the way Romance philologists explain this, without mentioning one grammatical form that is almost always irrelevant in matters of the formation of Romance vernaculars  (the nominative) and one that is always irrelevant thereto (the genitive): the root is LACTE(M) (and if that sort of thing floats your boat you could call it "the accusative with the 'm' ending in parentheses". And this strikes me as more convenient and more accurate  – it's certainly more efficient .
<digression type="bee in bonnet">
that is if you don't have to keep justifying yourself to  Classical scholars – who often seem to have a keen sense of ownership [custodianship?] of Latin.
But the most interesting topic for further study is mentioned in that Etymonline piece on lactation: After citing the PIE *glakt- and *melg-: '(the absence of a common word for it is considered a mystery)' Hmm.

Time to be getting on. But here are a couple of clues to keep you going:

Knockout? Yes  and no. (10)
Feudal lord – about time for such a wedding. (7)

Update 2015.05.19.09:30  – Amplification in red.

Update 2015.07.13.10:50  – Added PS

PS Time for the answers:

Update 2019.06.27.10:20  – Deleted old footer.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

A foghorn conclusion

Tales from the word-face

My trawl through words containing -el- has brought to my attention the words: haveli (an Indian English word that refers to a big/imposing  house/mansion) and "hovel". I wonder whether they are related in any way...

Etymonline, and other dictionaries (eg Collins) say  hovel's origin is unknown, and that it was first found in English written sources in  the 15th century.

..."shed for animals" (mid-15c.), of unknown origin. Meaning "shed for human habitation; rude or miserable cabin" is from 1620s...
          More here

Portugal, says Wikipedia, was the first European power with a presence in India, starting in the early 16th century.

I focused on "a European power" because that's in my comfort zone, and it seemed to me at first that the word favela  might be involved, though there's obviously a century[at least]'s dislocation in the timeline. But here‘s one view about this word:
The word favela is commonly associated with the word slum, shantytown, squatter community or ghetto. Each of these words carries a negative connotation, slum implies squalor, shantytown suggests precarious housing, squatter community hints at illegality and ghetto presupposes violence. None of these definitions do justice to the richness of favela culture or acknowledge the historical place of the favela in Brazilian history.
...The term favela is first found in 19th century Portuguese dictionaries, referring to the favela tree commonly found in Bahia.
After the ‘Guerra de Canudos’ (Canudos War) in Bahia (1895-1896) government soldiers, who had lived amongst the favela trees, marched to Rio de Janeiro to await their payment. They settled on what is one of Rio’s hills and renamed the hill ‘Morro da Favela’ after the shrubby tree that thrived at the location of their victory against the rebels of Canudos. 
favela trees

favela / hovel...? The alternation between initials f and h is not uncommon in Romance Philology, especially in the languages spoken in the Iberian Peninsula: for example, Latin filiu(m) gives Portuguese filho but Castilian hijo; and then the h can lose its sound, and be dropped altogether.

But the dates are all wrong. Besides, why bring Portugal into it just because I'm more at home with European sources? Hovel could have left India in the 14th century on the back of Timur's conquests leaving behind haveli. After that, its route into English is anyone's guess. Maybe Arabic [or something Oriental] was involved: whenever a dictionary says 'origin unknown' it's a fairly safe bet that a non-Roman writing system was involved. In fact, 'origin unknown' is a bit like the geographer's terra incognita and 'Here be dragons'; it's a euphemism for 'outwith the scope of traditional scholarship'; and it's not a final sentence.

But why should one word have diverged into two opposite meanings? Well, that's quite common – as is the reverse (flammable vs inflammable, pace the Health and Safety Executive); I just used one such word (quite as in "quite reasonable interesting" and "quite extraordinary".  And after two words diverge, with different meanings, they are subjected to different phonological pressures (elsewhere I have discussed the strange case of grammar and glamour). Elsewhere (again!) I have written: Portuguese there is formoso -a and in Spanish hermoso -a. (And that f/h thing, incidentally, is at the root of Ferdinand and Isabella's royal emblem - the fennel plant: Aragonese had a word starting with f and Castilian had an for the initial letter of the word for 'fennel'. But that's a whole nother kettle of red herring.) 
So the case for a link between haveli and "hovel" is [at best]  not proven. But a man can dream. [What he can't do though, is put off any longer the resumption of that trawl {in preparation of that book of word-lists}!].

Update 2015.05.14.09:20 – Correction of example, in the colour of shame.

Update 2018.08.12.15:55 –Added clarification in last line, which made more sense unexplained three years ago.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Milbix chez les Bretons

What a TERRIBLE idea. What a bunch of jokers. There I was five weeks into the Big Sleep (which the Fixed Term Parliament Act has condemned us to every 5 years – and forget the Phew it's over feeling; it's only just started*) thinking Miliband was a relatively Good Thing (given the ankle-nipping baseline provided by Cameron) when he goes and spoils it all by announcing his brilliant crowd-pleaser, the inverted metaphor. Maybe that's what the 2001 monolith was all about, Please God he doesn't get to inflict it on the Rose Garden at No. 10. (New readers may find it useful to look at this bit of background.)

But why did I just call it an 'inverted metaphor'? If you think about it it's fairly obvious, but assuming that my grandmother didn't know how to suck eggs, I'll spell it out:

Most metaphors take a concrete thing and make it represent an abstract one: grass-roots, where the rubber meets the road, high horse... Very occasionally you get a metaphor that works the other way – abstract to concrete, as with Titanic.  But even with this one, the concrete as a source is never far away (in either direction): in the past, 'of the Titans' (a concrete idea for people who believed in them); in the future (post-iceberg) 'all they're doing is re-arranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic'.

So anyway, most metaphors look back to something concrete. Some nincompoop in Labour Head Office, during the AOB section  at the end of a strategy meeting, said 'Hey guys, I'm just like thinking out loud here and expect to get shot down in flames yeah but I thought I'd  just run this up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.... You know, like, when someone says 'It's not carved in stone' and they mean things might change. Well why don't we turn that inside out, and say 'What Ed says is carved in stone, and like carve it in stone!!!'

Milibix was tired. He'd been doing his blue-arsed fly impressions like the other party leaders  for the past five weeks,
I wonder what the carbon footprint of this campaign is...
and wanted a bit of kip, and there's this intern from the University of Dreamland trying to drag the meeting out: 'Yeah, whatever. Can we go', said Ed. And the next he knew they'd only gone and done it. The next day there on the agenda was Item 1: Choice of typeface for Edstone.

Well I've  got two words to say to that:

How do I vote now?


Update 2015.05.08.09:55 – Added this note:
* This made sense before David "Axeman" Cameron and his henchman George "Slasher" Osborne were given free rein to bring the country to its knees.

Update 2015.05.08.11:05 – Added this PS:

"And if I laugh 'tis that I  may not weep", as Byron put it (though not, I think, the morning after a General Election). In an  attempt to lighten the mood, here is my latest nomination for a TEZZY ('the prestigious Time-wasting Site of the Year Award', first mentioned here.)

The Submarine Cable Map is a brilliant interactive map (best avoided if you've got an imminent deadline. It explains paradoxes like the one I often meet during an #eltchat: 'Why does a retweet from someone in India reach me BEFORE a tweet originating in Greece?' (This is explained by the enormous bandwidth going West-East across the Mediterranean, when compared with the pitiful bottleneck running South-North across the Ionian Sea.)

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 48,000 views  and  7,800 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 2,650 views and over 1,050 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.