While I was watching the funeral of a friend online it occurred to me that benediction and eulogy have basically the same meaning (a good word in Latin and Greek respectively). It’s just that we usually give the first to people who are alive and the second to people who aren’t.
I had known for a very long time that Greek had two letter Os (omicron O o and omega Ω ω , corresponding approximately to the sounds in hop and hope), but it took me a long time to learn or figure out that they are literally little O (o + micron) and big O (o + mega) respectively. (Compare Korean ㅓ and ㅗ, the same idea and approximately the same sounds. (I don’t know if Koreans conceptualise ㅓ and ㅗ as being ‘closer’ than, say ㅏ and ㅜ.))
In other contexts, Little O is something mathematical, which I won’t attempt to explain, and Big O means something different to mathematicians, watchers of Japanese anime, writers and readers of erotica (no link, obvs) and fans of Roy Orbison. (Is there any overlap between those categories? Have two people ever had a seriously embarrassing conversation by assuming that the other meant something different?)
(See also the many uses of omicron and omega in the pages linked above.)
PS 10 Dec: Numberphile has a video about some mathematical usages of omicron, which I won’t pretend to understand. I noticed that he pronounced omicron with a short ‘o’ all the time, and omega with a long ‘o’ most of the time, but once or twice with a short ‘o’. I suspect that once Hindu/Arabic numerals came into use in Europe, omicron was less used because it could be mistake for zero. Notice that at 5.37 of the video, the paper they discuss is titled Big omicron and big omega and big theta. Big omicron is literally big little o, and big omega is big big o.
Some prescriptivists insist that beg the question means, and can only mean, assume the conclusion of a philosophical argument, and doesn’t mean, and cannot mean, raise the question. The esteemed Mark Liberman of Language Log traces the whole history from Greek to Latin to English in probably more detail than you will ever need or want (brief summary: almost everyone now uses it to mean raise the question) and concludes:
If you use the phrase to mean “raise the question”, some pedants will silently dismiss you as a dunce, while others will complain loudly, thus distracting everyone else from whatever you wanted to say. If you complain about others’ “misuse”, you come across as an annoying pedant. And if you use the phrase to mean “assume the conclusion”, almost no one will understand you.
My recommendation: Never use the phrase yourself — use “assume the conclusion” or “raise the question”, depending on what you mean — and cultivate an attitude of serene detachment in the face of its use by others.
The reason I am mentioning this is that a few days ago I was watching a TED-X Talk in which the (native US English) speaker said:
Which begs me to ask another question …
PS 26 Aug: A commenter on a Language Log post seems to have used the phrase in its original sense, judging by his punctuation: “”Is this the best way to approach the problem of the lack of scientific terminology in African languages ?”. I think that this begs the question. Is there any evidence that the lack of scientific terminology in African languages is a problem ?”
Nine years ago I used the then-current London Olympics to talk about the Olympic Games, Olympic sports in particular and other sports in general, especially those popular in the students’ countries or which they played, which also gave a lot of opportunities for asking questions with who, what, where, when, how, how much, how many, how many times, how long and why. At the time, I had two students from Greece in my class, who actually lived within sight of Mount Olympus. One of them especially said “Oooh, is Greek word” any time we encountered a Greek word, which was obviously a lot during this class. The other one thought very carefully and said “swimming dancing to music” as an Olympic sport. With a little bit of knowledge of Greek I was able to guide him towards swimming with (σύν, sún, syn-) music and in time (χρόνος, khrónos, chron-) to it.
“Swimming dancing to music” is actually a very good attempt to communicate when he didn’t know the actual word.
On the back window of a car was a sticker saying
Ummm … is she a physical bitch, a psychotic bitch or both? Sitting in a different car, I didn’t get the chance to ask.
It is very easy to get the phys– words and the psych– words mixed up, and to mis-spell them even when you’ve got the right one (especially if you’re writing in ALL CAPS). The phys– words come from Greek φυσική physike (nature) and Latin physica (study of nature) and the psych– words from Greek ψυχή psyche (breath, soul) (note that ph, ps and ch are all one letter in Greek).
In any not-completely-informal use, physcho is wrong, but some people use it, whether deliberately or accidentally (definitely accident with reference to Alfred Hitchcock (who is more associated with the word than Robert Bloch is)). Did the sticker company use it deliberately, thinking either that the people buying it wouldn’t notice, or would notice but wouldn’t care, or accidentally, realising later (in which case the two previous questions again) or not?
Last year I posted about my firm belief that yesterday and today are Easter Eve and Easter Day respectively. I drafted most of the following post, then actually re-read last year’s post and found that I said most of this in last year’s post. But I’ll post this anyway.
I have long pondered the use in English of the pagan-derived Easter instead of anything actually Christian. After researching this, I found that this is an issue in only two languages: English, which uses Easter, and German, which uses Ostern. Even the closely related Dutch and Danish use Pasen and påske respectively. These, as well as the equivalent words in most other European languages, are derived from New Testament Greek Πάσχα pascha, Aramaic, פסחא paskha and Hebrew פֶּסַח pesaḥ (most often transliterated as pesach), or passover. But using pascha, pesach or passover is going to cause more problems that it solves.
English-speaking Christians in particular can’t complain that Easter has become a secular, commercial food-and-drink-fest when we deliberately and habitually call it by the name of a pagan fertility goddess. I was flipping through a 172-page supermarket magazine and saw one full-page ad headed Celebrate Easter. It doesn’t mention Jesus’s resurrection; it was for a cheese company and featured an undoubtedly sumptuous cheese, fruit and chocolate platter.
A few European languages unrelated words: Wikipedia lists (Indo-European Slavic) Czech Veliknoce (Great Night), Bulgarian Великден (Velikden) and Macedonian Велигден Veligden (Great Day) and (non-Indo-European Hungarian, húsvét (taking the meat, that is, the end of the Lenten fast) and Finnish language Pääsiäinen, “which implies ‘release’ or ‘liberation’”.
If I can trust Google Translate, many non-European languages use either a transliteration of Easter (Japanese イースター Īsutā), pascha (Amharic ፋሲካ fasīka (I presume directly, given the long history of Christianity in Ethiopia) and (?) Malagasy Paka (I presume borrowed from French, given the colonial history and prevalence of Christianity there)) or their own words for resurrection + day (Chinese 復活節 (trad) 复活节 (simp) fùhuó jié and Korean 부활절 buhwaljeol (I assume that Korean borrowed the word from Chinese in the same way that English takes most of its specialised vocabulary from Latin and Greek)). There are also a number of languages where the meaning is not immediately discernible. They are possibly related to resurrection.
I asked my wife if 부활 is used only in the religious sense and she said yes. I then said that in English resurrection is sometimes used about an actor or singer who was very popular, then not popular, then is beginning to be popular again, and she said that it’s used like that, too.
[PS A niece who is an English-speaking member of an Orthodox church and second-language speaker of Scottish Gaelic linked to a Twitter thread of speakers of various Great British languages or varieties discussing various words and phrases they use based on Pasch, Pascha or Pace, so it does happen. Wikipedia mentions the Pace egg play, and see also the Egg dance. The Pace eggs found in Sydney supermarkets are named after the (?Maltese) family-run company which produces them.]
In my recent post about initial consonant clusters, I didn’t include one which I know exists, because it’s so rare (but I did include another which is even rarer*). Today in an office supplies shop I spotted a bin of assorted acrylic paints. Alongside lemon yellow and burnt umber were phthalo blue and phthalo green. Wikipedia reports “Phthalates or phthalate esters, are esters of phthalic anhydride. They are mainly used as plasticizers, i.e., substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. They are used primarily to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC).” Other uses include in paint pigments and sex toys. I have for some time also seen it on the box for the roll of plastic wrap we use at home: it states that the product is phthalate-free (there are some health concerns about it).
But this may not be a consonant cluster. Wikipedia gives the pronunciation as /ˈθæleɪt/ (US) or /ˈθɑːleɪt/ (UK) (that is, with the ‘th’ of thick and thin.)Continue reading
I am convinced that today is Easter Day, but a lot of people think it’s Easter Sunday. This is partly simple familiarity: The Book of Common Prayer, An Australian Prayer Book, A Prayer Book for Australia, the Anglican Communion’s Cycle of Prayer and probably every hymn book I’ve ever used all use Easter Day. It is partly a matter of logic and redundancy. The Day of Resurrection has always been celebrated on ‘the first day of the week’/‘the Lord’s Day’, therefore ‘Sunday’ is redundant. Forty days later comes Ascension Day, not Ascension Thursday. But there’s also Ash Wednesday, Whitsunday and Trinity Sunday, so logic and redundancy only get me so far.
Alas, Google Ngrams shows that Easter Sunday is about three to four times as common as Easter Day. Does this make Easter Sunday ‘right’ and Easter Day ‘wrong’. No. I have the right to choose what I say (I can even say ‘the Day of Resurrection’ if I want to) and everyone else has the right to choose what they say (even if they’re wrong). (Though I doubt that many people ‘choose’ what to say in this case.) I cannot possibly say Easter Sunday and I am even fighting the urge to put it in scare quotes every time I write it.Continue reading
An article mentioned photopic vision, which I guessed was pho-topic, which turned out to be correct, but I commented to our editor that it might just be photo-pic. Photopic is photo, light + opic, relating to sight, or the vision of the human eye under well-lit conditions, compared to that in low light.
One word that is often mentioned in many discussions of ‘words which I though were pronounced somehow until I found out that they aren’t’ is biopic, which many people think is bi-opic, no doubt influenced by bionic, biology and biography. The common meaning is bios, life, but bio + pic is blend of biographical picture (movie), with the ‘pic’ representing a real word rather than simply being a suffix like -(o)nic, –logy and –graphy. Speaking of which, another article mentioned bionic design, that is, “the application of biological methods and systems found in nature to the study and design of engineering systems and modern technology”. I just had to have the headline “We have the technology”.
In my other job, I’m fighting a losing battle against photo-graphy. In the medium-to-long term, this word may develop two pronunciations, one by native speakers and the other by second language learners.
Yesterday I saw a car belonging to a pathology laboratory named 4cyte (presumably pronounced ‘foresight’). Cyte is not a word by itself: *“We’re going to take a sample of your cytes for testing” (indeed Pages for Mac just changed cyte to cute and cytes to cites), but it occurs in many words meaning cell, all of which are highly technical. At the beginning of a word, it’s usually cyt– or cyto-.
The Greek word doesn’t mean cell, though, because the Greeks didn’t know about cells. Kýtos means container, receptacle, body, and was later applied to cells. Cell, meanwhile, is from Latin cella, small room (whence, obviously cellar).
Cyte, cite (Latin, to move, set in motion, summon before a court), site (Latin, setting down, position, arrangement) and sight (Germanic, a thing seen, later the faculty of vision – I hadn’t previously realised that see and sight are etymologically related) are all unrelated. And then there’s excite and excel. Excite is related to cite (set in motion) but excel is from -cellere to rise high < celsus high. (The one ‘l’ is clue. I originally thought that excell was ‘out of the cell’.)
The optometrist’s/optician’s advertising itself as ‘A site for sore eyes’ may be a joke.
(information from various online dictionaries and etymology sights)