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.)


You compliment me

I saw a beauty parlour which invites people in for a complimentary consultation. (It was closed, so I didn’t take them up on it.) This is correct (complementary would be incorrect), but it made me think of the expressing a compliment meaning rather than the given for free meaning. Come in and we will say very nice things about you

I guess beauty parlour staff walk a fine line in their consultations. If they say too many positive things, the prospective client might decide they don’t need any treatments/products after all, but if they say too many negative things, they might just leave. 

last writes

A document mentioned that someone was unable to return to his home country to perform “last rights” for a dying or dead parent. 

Rights are legal or moral; rites are religious or social (compare rituals). Overall, rights is far more common, but last rites is far more common than last rights (“This government is taking our last rights away from us!”). There is very rarely a last rite, and a last right is almost non-existent. (Compare last right, as is “This party will last right through the night!”.)

One type of rite is a rite of passage, which term was coined by Arnold van Gennep in 1909, but didn’t become popular until the 1960s. A right of passage is a term from maritime law, but may also refer to an easement on land (also referred to as a right-of-way).

The horse is good

Between my first and second trips to Korea I gained a masters degree by online study. One of my subjects was Asian Languages, and the textbook was The Languages of East and South-East Asia by Cliff Goddard. The cover has words in three or four scripts, and the presence of the Korean word 말 (mal, word or language) in the bottom left-hand corner made me suspect that all of them had something to do with words or languages. 

One day the manager of the language college I was working at noticed the book on my desk and asked me if I knew what the first row of Chinese said. I said I didn’t. He explained that it was a four-character phrase (which I think I’d vaguely heard or read about) and said that it means something like “Few words, many actions” (more about which later). 

Soon after, my class had their weekly test and I took the book into the classroom to read or at least browse while I was supervising them. One young Chinese student took a long time to settle down to doing the test, so I held up the book and pointed to those words. That shocked her into doing her test. 

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An article in one of Sydney’s Sunday papers anonymously interviews drivers for senior members of our governments, including examples of the things they see or hear in the course of their job. It explains that ministerial drivers are 

notoriously discrete

I would have expected them to stick together! 

Discrete and discreet are often confused. I was surprised to find that they share an etymology in Latin discrētus, separate (and are also related to discern). has a usage note (scroll down) which I won’t reproduce here.

Google Ngrams shows that discrete is most often used to describe time, event, Fourier (transform), values, set, points, units, particles, steps and components (all things), while discreet is used to describe man, person, silence, manner, men, persons, woman, use and management (all people or their behaviour).

grave adultery

English (and I suspect every language) has pairs of words which look, sound and mean like they are or might be related, but actually aren’t. I encountered two pairs this week. After work on Monday I had to attend to an official task, so in my last email to my colleagues I said I was going “to adult” after work. The next morning I said that that result of my adultery adulting was that I have to pay more money for an official task than I thought I would. 

So are adult and adultery related? I had vaguely assumed that adultery is something which adults do, which is kind of true, but … ummm … no. Adult is from Latin adultus, grown and adolēre, to make grow, and adultery is from Latin adulterātus mixed, adulterated and adulterāre, compare English alter, change and Latin alter, other. Adultery and adulteration are related, but the former now refers only to sexual activity outside marriage and the latter most often to food(s), milk, goods, article(s), samples, drugs, butter and liquors. I pondered whether the biblical commandment also refers to the latter meaning, given so many other laws against mixing things, but Wikipedia’s article only discusses the first meaning.

One of my colleagues expressed puzzlement at my use of adult as a verb, but it’s reached major dictionaries:

Informal. (of a young person) to do things and assume responsibilities that are associated with being an adult; act like an adult (usually used facetiously about minor accomplishments):

(not necessarily of a young person!)

The internet is full of words and images along the lines of I don’t want to adult today. I don’t even want to person. I want to cat or dog or goat. (Note that in the sense of follow someone or something, dog is a perfectly good verb.)

I’m not sure how I got thinking about the word grave, with its two meanings of a burial hole and solemn, which could be related: a grave mistake is one which will put you in a grave, and your friends will stand around looking grave. But, again, no. The burial hole is from Old English græf, cognate with German Grab. The solemn mistake or looks are from Latin gravis, heavy. But the first meaning is related to engrave and a graven image.

I am in the middle of a burst of activity in researching family history. I have a moderately large amount of material already, so my first task is collate that, but in confirming that with official sources, I have found a lot more. One of my ancestral families has the surname Grace. Along the way, I have found the website Find a grave. Now, I keep mis-typing the two words, especially because c and v are next to each other on the keyboard.


A Korean friend posted photos and a description of a traditional ceremony he hosted. The auto-translation referred to it half the time as a ‘car ceremony’ and the other half as a ‘tea ceremony’. It is, of course, the latter. Most Korean as a second language textbooks give 차 as an example of a word with two distinct meanings: car (also 자동차 – automatic car or automobile) and tea. The Korean words represent two different Chinese characters, which are possibly pronounced with two different tones in Chinese (Korean isn’t a tonal language). 

The Chinese character 茶 had/has several pronunciations in different parts of China. The countries which traded with northern China picked up the pronunciation chá (for example, Indian chai) and those which traded with south-eastern China picked up ta or te (for example, English, and French thé). Almost every language uses a variation of one of those two pronunciations. 

It is usually easy to tell the difference. Ubiquitous in South Korea are signs saying 주차금지 (ju-cha-geum-ji), which means ‘no parking’ (which Koreans usually ignore anyway), not ‘no drinking jujube tea’.

In fact, Google Translate has just informed me that the Korean word for difference is also 차, so you need to know the 차 between 차 and 차. (Or you just go ahead and cha-cha-cha!)

(As far as I know, 차 was originally used for hand or horse carts before being applied to motor vehicles, similarly to English chariot, carriage, cart and car. For a while, people spoke and wrote about motorised carriages, which became motor cars, which became motors (in a few varieties) and cars (standardly). The English and Korean words are otherwise unrelated.)

PS 19 Oct 2021 – I stumbled across a reference to the series Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha. The trailer includes a play on ‘car’ and ‘tea’. My wife confirmed that 차 있어요? is ambiguous without context in Korean.

floes, flows

Ice floes and ice flows are both a thing, and in isolation (<haha!) there’s nothing to distinguish between them: Scientists set up equipment to measure the ice floes/flows in the area. But ice floes occur on water and ice flows on land. (Ice flows can also be noun + verb, while ice floes can’t.) So when a video about a museum in Norway talked about a boat designed to withstand the pressure of ice floes/flows, I would assume that it meant floes. But the subtitles had flows.

Ice floes don’t flow; they float. In fact, the three words floe, flow and float are unrelated, at least as far as the sources I checked indicate.


Youtube suggested a series of videos on Korean movies, including reviews of individual titles and lists of ‘best [genre]’ or ‘most [concept]’, of which I have watched some but not all. One of them included the movie 부러진 화살 (bu-reo-jin hwa-sal). The literal translation of the title is Broken arrow, but apparently it is officially titled Unbowed in English. 

In almost any other context unbowed would be /ʌnbaʊd/, as in bow and pray. But the presenter of the video pronounces it as /ʌnboʊd/, as in bow and arrow, which kind of makes sense, because the movie is about a university professor who is arrested, tried and convicted for shooting a crossbow at the presiding judge of his unsuccessful appeal against wrongful dismissal. While /boʊ/ as a verb and /boʊd/ as an adjective are used in carpentry (a bowed plank) and music (a bowed string), /ʌnboʊd/ as an adjective rarely is, because we would say a straight plank or a plucked string. And as far as I know or can find, /boʊ, boʊd, ʌnboʊd/ are never used in archery: Bow your arrows! The bowed arrows arced their way towards the advancing enemy. The arrows remained unbowed as the messenger approached. (And would bow as a verb in archery mean nock or draw or loose (basically the archery equivalent of ready, aim, fire)?) 

Intriguingly, bow and pray and bow and arrow are related through their common meaning of bend/bent, while bow and stern (rhymes with bow and pray) is unrelated, being related to bough (of a tree).

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