history of language

Back of kooBi Front of kooBi (with duckie)

My first computer was a laptop called kooBi. It was an iBook. Its accompanying iPod was called doPi. It was great, went to Spain, and got a lot of stickers on it. Then poor kooBi aged and got tired. The disc burner stopped working, and that kind of feature is important to me, so I got a new one, a MacBook which I named McBook. Its iPod shuffle sidekick was called McPod. For graduation in 2008, I was given an iPod Touch named iToca, which is still with me. McBooks life was tragically cut short when it drowned in the summer of 2009, leading me to buy a MacBook Pro. I’m very attached to my laptops, the first 2 are living in a box in California, and I’ve taken this new one with me everywhere (Korea, Walnut Creek, Germany). But! It doesn’t have a proper name.

After 3 years of companionship, it’s still the new guy, and there’s some kind of smugness that comes with the title Pro that I do not enjoy associating myself with. So… back in 2009 I covered up the MacBook Pro label with a sticker that no one understands, because it’s in Latin. The label says Vade Mecum.

[and then suddenly…]


April 17, 2012

in Autobiographical,best post ever,career,computers,history of language,latin,sex,Words & Origins

Linguists in academia don’t seem very fond of word origins. They like to focus on the tiny phonological bits of languages [p,t,k] or the grand syntactic structure that binds sentences together. Somehow, the very juicy goodness of language, the words, are either too big or too small to care about. BOO. I love word origins. I don’t know how important they are, but I want to spend all my time paying attention to them. But! Before we have fun, there are some ground rules that we need to agree on before we can safely and happily play together in the sandbox of word origins. This is our first negotiation on this subject, this should continue as a dialogue (probably in the comments). I’ll start: Here are 3 rules to counteract misconceptions I often encounter.

1.     The origin of a word is not the true or right meaning, just the literal one.

  • WRONG: “The true meaning of hippopotamus is river horse.”
  • RIGHT: “The literal meaning of hippopotamus is river horse,  how cute is that? You can see these word-parts in other words you already know. Mesopotamia is the land between rivers, and a hippogriff is made of a horse and an eagle.” (See Best Monday Comic Ever)

[and then suddenly…]


February 15, 2012

in career,english,Etymology,etymonline,history of language,morphemes,Words & Origins

I don’t know why I’m writing anything here, my point is so clear from the title.

It’s been mentioned recently in my Linguistics course that the perception of speech by listeners is a strong factor in language change. Sometimes, listeners become aware of the true phrase, and are mocked as in the FedEx commercial: “We get fringe benefits, not French benefits.” Putting myself on the chopping block, I used to think that the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate was the Wanda Fuca plate, and that Prog Rock was Prague Rock. (Rock on Czech Republic!) The other option is that listeners are not corrected, misinterpret the divisions of words, and make new words based off of that assumption. These are 3 examples.

[and then suddenly…]

{ 1 comment }

February 7, 2012

in arabic,english,Etymology,history of language,Words & Origins

Does that title make you as happy as it makes me? Probably not, but let’s see if I can change that.

Linguistics Llama Knows What I’m Saying

Part 1: Ghoti is a satirical spelling of fish [fɪʃ]. It is often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, but he doesn’t take credit for it. Ghoti is used to mock spelling inconsistencies in English and advocate reform. (There’s a clever bunch who even say ghoti should be silent). I don’t deny it, English spelling is very irregular. It’s a Germanic language at heart, but with massive word-borrowing from French and Latin, and PTSD from the GVS (Great Vowel Shift). This is the phonetic thinking behind ghoti:

GH is [f] as in TOUGH
O is [ɪ] as in WOMEN
TI is [ʃ] as in NATION

Obviously, the ‘sh’ in nation needs a larger environment to have its unusual pronunciation, as in ghotion.  Likewise, ‘gh’ in tough needs to be syllable-final, as in roughotion [rʌfɪʃən]. That works, I guess, except for that tricky vowel. That silly vowel that makes people say WOAH-man. [and then suddenly…]

{ 1 comment }

January 24, 2012

in best post ever,career,english,Etymology,history of language,insignificant linguistics mystery,IPA,Words & Origins

The University of York Coat of Arms

Most likely, the title of this post means nothing to you. For me, it was signpost in a series of cute irresistible signposts that suggested I go to the University of York in the fall to get my masters in Linguistics. [and then suddenly…]


July 20, 2011

in best post ever,career,Etymology,history of language,insignificant linguistics mystery,latin,University of York,Words & Origins

There are so many words in the world, I can’t blame anyone for not knowing the original meaning of any specific word, even when its a simple compound made of two familiar words. We’re so busy using language as a communication tool that we rarely stop hammering to look at the thing itself. A funny old thing, the dashboard. [and then suddenly…]


May 28, 2011

in cars,english,Etymology,etymonline,history of language,horses,insignificant linguistics mystery,wikipedia,wordnik,Words & Origins

A few years ago, I took first year Latin at PSU. I didn’t continue Latin because I got a job, and it turns out I hate declining nouns and adjectives. It is three times as much work. The professor was great, seemingly normal, but with a great unexpected affection for Elvis (pronouced Elwees in Latin). I really liked learning the new vocab and connecting it to modern words I know in English, Spanish and French. I also loved conjugating the verbs and learning the four principle parts like in the verb ‘regere,’ to rule or reign: Rego, Regere, Rexi, Rectum.

[and then suddenly…]


May 15, 2011

in best post ever,career,etymonline,history of language,insignificant linguistics mystery,IPA,latin,morphemes,spanish,wordnik

I have written or presented about this topic at least 3 times in school, and it still amuses the hell out of me. I have distilled it down to 5 words, but I just found a paper that lists the whole 10, and I think it’s worth recording these down while the information still bubbles and frolicks around for me when I talk about it.

1. Fabular

-Spanish is one of the Romance languages which means it comes from Latin. Other Romance languages include French, Italian, Romanian, Catalan, and Portuguese, unfortunately.
-Fabular means ‘to tell a tale,’ which has morphed over the years to become the verb hablar, to speak. There are many words which begin with ‘f’ in Latin that changed to ‘h’ in modern Spanish. Exceptions are words with a diphthong after the ‘f’ like fuente (fountain), fuerza (force), and fuego (fire). [and then suddenly…]


March 21, 2011

in arabic,basque,best list ever,best post ever,diphthong,Etymology,history of language,IPA,izquierda,left-handedness,not basque,old-timey,patronyms,phonological constraints,spanish,Words & Origins,zurda