Maths v math

In bookshop I saw two books:

Help your kids with maths – An Australian step-by-step guide


Help your kids with math – Revised edition

There is no particular reason why British, Australian and New Zealand English speakers say and write maths and USA and Canadian English speakers say and write math. We just do. 

Or maybe it’s not that simple. Google Ngrams shows that since 2010 math is more common that maths in BrEng, though it doesn’t show how much of that is mentions rather than uses (that is, talking about the word rather than actually using it). Conversely, maths is very rare in AmEng.

Surprisingly, the two abbreviations have been widely used only since the 1950s. Further, in AmEng, math has now overtaken mathematics.  

(Compare mathematics and the almost non-existent mathematic (either as a noun or adjective).)

No hugging, no kissing

My opportunities to watch movies online are limited by time, interest and what I can find for free. I have recently watched and blogged about 신부수업 Love so divine (Wikipedia, my blog), 아이엔지 …ing (review, my blog) and 순정만화 Hello schoolgirl (Wikipedia, my blog), and I have just finished watching 엽기적인 그녀 My sassy girl (which I have mentioned but had not watched). The video wasn’t subtitled, so I missed a lot, instead relying on synopses, reviews and commentaries online. Linguistically, the point of interest is that her name is never given; he, her parents and his aunt don’t ever address her by name, despite opportunities to do so.

The other thing I noticed in all four movies was the lack of romantic physical contact – no (or very little) hugging, no (or very little) kissing. I don’t know if this is a general thing in Korean movies. Four is hardly a representative sample. There are reasons in-story – the man in Love so divine is a trainee priest and the women in …ing and Hello schoolgirl and are (final year) high school students (and the men are older) (the two in the former get as far as holding hands but the two in latter don’t even do that, and older beta couple get half a kiss), but the two in My sassy girl are by any definition adults. The question isn’t will they or won’t they, it’s how much and when will they?

But it’s not just those four movies. Others I have seen are 사랑 A love (physically close but kept apart by circumstances), 괴물 The host (a family fighting a mutated monster) and 기생충 Parasite (some, but age and questionable consent).

I don’t know if this is a general trend in Korean movies. I obviously need need more examples one way or the other.

(See TV Tropes’ page on No hugging, no kissing which doesn’t mention Korean movies, and, conversely, The big damn kiss.)

PS I also recently watched 소녀X소녀 Girl x girl, in which their was no romantic contact, just people riding motorscooters together and a lot of low- to medium-level violence. I imagined a very different ending, because further down the search results was ‘Top 10 Korean lesbian movies’ (I’m surprised that there’s that many). I also many years ago watched 웰컴 투 동막골 Welcome to Dongmakgol (note that the Korean title is simply a transliteration of the English), which features two opposing groups of soldiers in a small village, with the only main female character a somewhat simple-minded mid-teen) and 왕의 남자 The king and the clown, in which there’s some contact (but I can’t remember quite how much) between the Joseon-period men.

An ingenius genious

I have seen the spelling


enough times to notice it. It seems to be used either by mistake or sarcastically in response to something someone else has posted. It’s not a variant spelling; it’s plain wrong, which varius other people on the internet have pointed out. But inquiring linguistic minds want to know why. 

ius is a vary rare English suffix. In fact, it is arguable whether it is an English suffix. lists 13 words ending with –ius, of which genius, radius and trapezius are the most common. All of them come directly from Latin, and some would only be found in ancient Roman contexts, for example denarius. All of them are nouns (as far as I can tell), but –ius is not a productive noun suffix. We can’t create new English words with it, unless we are trying to evoke an ancient Roman mood.
ious is a common English suffix. lists 276 words, including various. Most of them come directly or indirectly from Latin, but there is no restriction on the contexts in which they can be used. All of them are adjectives (as far as I can tell), and –ious is a moderately productive adjective suffix. Some unknown person in the 19th century coined bodacious and Roald Dahl coined vermicious knid.

The relevant Latin adjectives had the forms -ius and -iosus, seemingly interchangeably, but the path from Latin to English is obscure because online sources don’t give examples from every step through Old French, Anglo-French and Middle English. The modern French equivalents are génie (compare Arabic jinn and English genie) and divers (compare diverse), which doesn’t help, but see furieux/furieuse

In You are a genius, genius is undoubtedly a noun. In That is a genius comment, it is still a noun but looks, sounds and feels more like an adjective (indeed, some dictionaries define attributive uses of nouns as adjectives). If any change of spelling ever happens, it will be that the second use becomes genious and the word becomes a genuine adjective. But not if word processor programs can help it – Pages for Mac just changed genious to genius and is red-underlining it now I’ve changed it back. Genius as a head noun is unlikely to change spelling, and all those –ious adjectives are simply never going to become –ius

Complicating all this is ingenious, which is undoubtedly an adjective but which is more distantly related, coming from genus and not genius (though those two words are related further back). So some geniuses are born and others are made.    

Signs of ambiguity

Youtube more-or-less randomly showed me two ads with similar taglines: 

We’re built for growing businesses.


Your business matters.

Ambiguity in English arises for a number of reasons. One is that a gerund-particle (like growing) can be used in a noun-type way (We’re built for the purpose of growing businesses), or an adjective-type way (We’re built for businesses which happen to be growing). In this case, the ambiguity is small, and probably deliberate. 

Compare Moving pianos can be dangerous (which can have both interpretations), Tuning pianos can be dangerous (which can only have the noun-type meaning) and Falling pianos can be dangerous (which can only have the adjective-type meaning). Note that the ambiguity can be resolved by using a different verb tense: Moving pianos is dangerous (gerund) v Moving pianos are dangerous (participle).

Another reason for ambiguity is that many words ending with –s (like matters) can be a plural noun or a 3rd person present simple verb. In this case, the full stop probably forces the verb interpretation. Even without the full stop, most people would find the verb interpretation, which creates a complete sentence, in preference to the noun interpretation, which creates a noun phrase: compare Your business matters are important to us

Last weekend we went for a drive in the Blue Mountains. I saw a sign saying Falling rocks, and thought that it probably doesn’t, especially from the height of the cliffs there. Another sign said Slow buses, in which slow might be an adjective or an imperative verb. In this case, most people would find the incomplete adj + noun interpretation. In the imperative verb + noun interpretation, there are further options if you are the bus driver, a super-hero or a pedestrian. 

Today we drove in another direction. We visited a business which proclaimed Growing since 1919. Especially apt for an orchard/nursery/garden supplies business. One of the banners in the outdoor furnishing section stated Dark matters, which I couldn’t quite figure either way.  

A log truck

A few days ago my wife and I visited some friends in the country. On one road there was a sign warning of log trucks. If a log cabin is a cabin made of logs, then a log truck is likewise a truck made of logs. Ummm, no … it’s a truck designed to transport logs. In fact, in some parts of the English-speaking world, such as Wikipedia, they are logging trucks, which term I had never consciously encountered. Compare a wooden truck, which is (?toy/model) truck made of wood, and a wood truck, which is a truck designed to transport wood. 

English allows the modification of a verb by another verb, which I would call a noun modifier but which Wikipedia calls noun adjuncts and The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language calls nouns as attributive modifiers (p 537). The two nouns can have a wide range of meanings, but neither of those sources has a comprehensive list. Most of the time we have no difficulty understanding the meaning, but there is ample scope for ambiguity, eg a brick factory.  (A glass house v a glasshouse (greenhouse) raises another issue, which I won’t go into.)

Some sources classified or classify noun modifiers as adjectives. They’re not – they can’t do adjective-y things like being further modified by very, making comparative or superlative forms or forming adverbs: *a very log truck, *a logger truck than the previous one, *the loggest truck I’ve ever seen, *The truck drove logly.

sun/Sun/son/Son of righteousness

My wife and I spent two nights away at a beach holiday town. This morning (Easter Day) we attended a dawn service in a park overlooking the beach. During the service, the sun rose, but the effect was diluted slightly by some small clouds on the eastern horizon. I couldn’t take any photos because I was meant to be concentrating on the service.

Probably inevitably, I got thinking about the coincidence of sun and son in English, especially in close conjunction with rising or risen. (See also sun/Sun/son/Son of righteousness.) These two words are similar in the major Germanic languages, but English seems to be the only one in which the two words are homophones: compare German Sonne and Sohn, Dutch zon and zoon, Danish sol and søn, Norwegian sol and sønn and Swedish Sol and son (Google Translate). Further, the two words have been similar for as long as written sources are available and have been reconstructed in proto-Indo-European as *séh₂wl̥ ~ *sh₂wéns and *suHnús. Are they related even further back? Intriguingly, relates son to a verb meaning “to give birth”, probably in a passive form of “having been given birth”. Unfortunately, it does not include an ultimate meaning for sun, but the relationship with “to give birth” is obvious. The answer may be in some specialised source of PIE etymology. I’ll have to leave it there, though.  

Compare Latin sol and filius, which is related to a verb meaning to suck, and the two words in any other language you know, in my case Korean 태양 (tae-yang) and 아들 (a-deul). 

Note also the Christian Church in England’s use of the Germanic pagan word Ēostre. (See my post from last year and the year before.)

“Some dance to remember”

One day when I was at high school, some representatives of the school newspaper asked random students what our favourite song was. When the next issue of the paper came out, there was The Eagles’ Hotel California, with … one vote. 

I don’t know why some songs remain in the individual or collective mind and others don’t. Some super-famous songs basically disappear almost without a trace, while others which were mildly popular at the time become classics. Hotel California was no 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for one week in May 1977. I can’t find any record of its chart performance in Australia. It certainly wasn’t no 1 or one of the top 25 singles that year.

It’s sometimes hard to say how much of my memory of a particular song is from the actual time, and how much is from encountering them on compilation cassettes, CDs or Youtube videos. Some songs were and are extensively featured on compilations and some aren’t. It was easy to spot, by their absence, the singers and groups (or their production companies) which didn’t licence their songs. 

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A few days ago, a colleague said something (I forget exactly what) which sparked a memory of encountering a word which I had never encountered before and have never encountered or had occasion to use since. I can remember the circumstances in moderate detail and there is some supporting evidence, but just why I can remember it is a complete mystery. (I often ponder the mechanism and nature of random memories, with no firm conclusions. I think that my memory for what I remember if good, but on the other hand I forget an awful lot along the way). The word is sessile

At the end of my first year of high school (I’d just turned 13) I was awarded the citizenship prize for our year (possibly jointly with one other student – another random memory which surfaced as I was typing this). The class teacher asked what book I wanted and I said the current edition of the Guinness Book of Records (which I still have, which is most of the reason I am certain this memory happened). Sometime over the summer holidays I was staying with our grandparents. While reading the book, I encountered the record for pushing a hospital bed, a “usually sessile object”, and asked my grandmother what it meant. I can’t remember if we checked a dictionary (if so whether it was in a dictionary the size my grandparents were likely to have had (I can’t remember that they had a dictionary)) or reasoned it out between us. Clearly, the context shows that this object is not usually pushed, but is capable of it (eg a hospital bed compared with a domestic bed). 

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