Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Magellan not gelling

The starting point for today's rambling is the quincentennial celebrations of the circumnavigation of the globe, in a voyage that took nearly three years – from 20 September 1519 to 6 September 1522.

The course of the Magellan/Elcano circumnavigation
as depicted in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Magellan_Elcano_Circumnavigation-en.svg

The BusinessMirror reported recently on the circumnavigation ...
<REALLY status="query">
People say things like "Magellan circumnavigated the globe". Well, he only made it (alive) for the first half of  the circumnavigation. Maybe his stand-in Juan Sebastián Elcano  who took over captaincy of  the one ship that completed the journey, brought Magellan's corpse with him for the last bit (not unlike Nelson's body on the trip back from Trafalgar) crossing the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, just so he could get the record.
...of the Earth:
THE arrival of Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan to our shores [the shores of the Philippines] in 1521 was a watershed in Philippine history because, although he was slain by Mactan chieftain Lapu-Lapu, the Spaniards came back decades later to Christianize and unify the country.
I feel there there may be a non sequitur of stupendous proportions here. The arrival wasn't the watershed; the discovery by the Western world of the islands was – or, rather, it represented one.
<OH_YEAH query="appropriateness of water-based metaphor">
Hmm. Interesting metaphor, watershed.  A watershed, for a map-maker, is where water chooses to go either one way or another; if there's a mountain range, and rivers go eastwards on one side and westwards on the other, that's a watershed. The water, in the Philippines' case, is economic development. After the "discovery" it certainly did flow westwards (eventually). (So fast did it flow, in fact, that global-warming threatens the very existence of the Philippines; a mixed blessing.)
Another watery metaphor is bailout. I see in the paper that our tinpot dictator, wished on us by a handful of ...[ no, I must count to ten and keep taking the tablets {as Jahweh said to Moses <boo-boom>}] The "Brexit war cabinet'  is planning a 'bailout fund' for key businesses brought low by a no-deal Brexit.  Two punning meanings of  bail out are involved here. One meaning of "bailing <someone> out" is "getting them released temporarily"; no water there. This meaning has a long history in print, discussed in the Phrase Finder. Shakespeare ( as so often) used it in Titus Andronicus ("Thou shalt not baile them, see thou follow me"). I imagine this idea of temporary financial assistance was in the mind  of the Brexiteers who planned the fund. 
But there are other possible meanings of "bail out". The first that comes to mind is what you do in a sinking ship, deriving from a word for a small bucket. To quote Etymonline:
Both sorts of "bail out" seem to have got mixed together in the parachutist's emergency move (later adopted by anyone in difficulty, from surfers to party-goers) – both a temporary fix for a little local difficulty (standing as guarantor to avoid imprisonment), and a last-ditch attempt to stave off disaster. In the Brexit case, I favour the latter interpretation.
But this is only the first eyebrow-raiser in an article [HD: keep up: I mean that BusinessMirror article] full of them. the last "sentence" is a masterful demonstration of how not to write:
If Spain and Portugal view these extraordinary feats as their country’s contribution to mankind, it is thereby hoped by mankind that these ‘Circumnavigation’ nations will be in the forefront to foster peace and address the challenges confronting mankind in the 21st century, such as threats to world security and environmental problems, to name a few.
Fifty-five words and only a couple of commas to lighten the cognitive load; oh, and quotation marks to highlight the meaninglessness of "'Circumnavigation' nations". It deserves a FOGGY, (first introduced here).

But, returning to Magellan (or, in the grandiloquent phraseology of  BusinessMirror  "THIS writer referenced Wikipedia"). Wikipedia, in its first line on Magellan, offers two possible pronunciations, citing two dictionaries: "(/məˈɡɛlən/[1] or /məˈɛlən/;[2]" Now, as regular readers will know, I'm not a fan of prescriptions about language use. But a chap's name is his name, and it seems to me that pronouncing it some other way is just plain wrong.

When it comes to foreign names, there's a problem. Often one language's phonemes just don't fit; and there are things like stress that interfere. Ask a French national who /'vɪktə 'hju:gəʊ/ was and they probably won't recognize Victor Hugo (/vik'tɔɹy'gɔ/). And I'm not suggesting that the English should have to grapple with the original pronunciation (I doubt if a modern native speaker  of Portuguese would know how the language sounded 500 years ago). But the Portuguese name Magalhães has (and always has had) a /g/ in it (I've stopped using the term 'hard' for that sort of g since trying to make sense of the requirements of a Musical Director who used it to mean the precise opposite). So my view is that the affricate (/ʤ/) pronunciation (as in "jello") is simply mistaken. Webster's is accurate in reporting its existence (this is one of the few flaws in the makeup of Sir David Attenborough, for example), but that doesn't make it right.


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