¡olé!

I suddenly thought that a good name for a Spanish coffee shop would be Café Olé (or maybe Cafe ¡Olé!). Not surprisingly, other people (Spanish or not) have already thought the same thing (search and you will find). But I wonder how many other instances of café olé on the internet are mistakes for café au lait. The two are pronounced more-or-less identically in English. Spanish  has /leɪ/ but French has /le/, not that many English speakers can correctly pronounce the difference. 

Singing in languages part 2

Several months ago, one of my wonderful nieces attended a Celtic festival. She posted on social media: “Unpopular and controversial opinion: people shouldn’t sing solo on stage in languages they do not speak”. I commented: “Almost every opera and lieder singer?”

Strictly speaking, lieder singers (possibly lied singers, compare song singers) only ever sing in German, but let’s expand the repertoire to at least Italian, French and German, and maybe Spanish. Opera singers can easily add Czech and Russian, and modern operas have incorporated Sanskrit (Glass, Satyagraha), Ancient Egyptian, Akkadian and Biblical Hebrew (Glass, Akhnaten), probably Palestinian Arabic and Modern Hebrew (Adams, The death of Klinghoffer) and maybe Mandarin Chinese (Adams, Nixon in China).

Choral singers also clock up languages, probably even more so, because there are larger or smaller choral works in languages in which there are no operas. In my last post, I talked about a recent concert in which we sang in English, liturgical Greek, liturgical Latin, Church Slavonic and Latvian. I forgot to mention that the women also sang in French. 

Another choir I sing in (a perfectly ordinary suburban community choir) is preparing a concert with pieces in English, mediaeval Galician-Portuguese, Italian, Latin, modern Hebrew, Māori and Quechua. And our conductor wonders why we are looking so worried as we sing. 

In addition to the above, I have also sung in concerts in Welsh, Spanish, biblical Hebrew and Korean that I can easily think of, and as read-throughs of at least one South African language. I sure there’s more. I speak exactly none of those. If I only sang the language(s) I speak, I’d be limited to English. 

Singing in languages

Last weekend one of the choirs I sing in presented a concert which had been delayed and disrupted by COVID and reduced in numbers by choristers travelling. Alongside works in English, liturgical Greek and Latin, we sang works in Church Slavonic (a movement from Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of St John Chrysostom) and Latvian (a new work by a local composer of Latvian birth or heritage). 

Church Slavonic and Latvian are both Indo-European languages, so I was on the lookout for any words which are obviously related to other IE languages I know about. But the only words I could discern are loan words into those languages just as into English: kheruvímy (cherubim) in the former and fenikss (phoenix) and oranži (orange) in the latter (all heavily influenced by the pronunciation and spelling of those languages). There is also trisvętúju in the former, which is guessable as trinity

Even though all these languages are Indo-European, they are obviously very different. Even though Church Slavonic and Latvian are both Balto-Slavic, they are obviously very different. Among other things, Church Slavonic is Slavic and Latvian is Baltic. Also, the texts we sang are liturgical dating to perhaps the 9th century and a 19th century secular poem. 

Linguists started by comparing closely related languages, such as Church Slavonic, Bulgarian and Macedonian, and Latvian and Lithuanian, then work their way back from there, eventually linking Polish, Czech and Slovak, the Balkan languages, the Russian-related languages and others into Slavic and thence with Latvian and Lithuanian into Balto-Slavic and then Indo-European. (Some people have attempted to reconstruct further back than than that, but their efforts are speculative and inconclusive at best.)

PS The Latvian poem is Putns ar uguns spārniem (which I can’t find anywhere online) by Aspazija. The title translates as Bird with wings of fire. I wondered if putns is related to a certain Russian surname, but no, the certain Russian surname apparently comes from put (path or way) + in (belonging to) and probably means something like ‘one who travels on a path’. (I couldn’t find any authoritative source and am relying on several user-submitted websites.)

God is terrible

This idea is scattered throughout the bible, if not in exactly that form. I probably knew it first and certainly know it most familiarly through Ralph Vaughan Williams’ anthem on Psalm 47, O clap your hands.

O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.
For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth.

English has a number of words derived from Latin terror (noun), terrēre, terrificāre (verbs) and terribilis (adjective), including terror, terrorism/t, terrify, terrorise, terrible, terrifying and terrific. Terrific is now positive (though I remember a primary school teacher telling us that it should only be used in contexts of terror), terrifying is negative and terrible sits uncomfortably between the two.

As is usual with biblical words like this, there are many translations. In the 54 English versions on Bible Gateway:

awesome 18 awesome beyond words 1 awesome and deserves our great respect 1
awe-inspiring 3 

to be feared 9 to be feared [and worshiped with awe-inspired reverence and obedience] 1 fearsome 1 fearedful (to be feared/to be revered) 1 fearful 1 

terrible 10 
excites terror, awe, and dread 1

wonderful 3 wonderful [awesome] 1

stunning 1 

We must fear the Lord 1 We must fear Yahweh, Elyon 1

most of which have other problems, especially these days awesome. If “Everything is awesome” then there’s nothing special about God. At least no translations use awful (see this post, towards the end) (or dreadful).

(Another choral setting of the same psalm, by John Rutter, uses to be feared.)

Lying behind all of these is the Hebrew word נוֹרָא (nora, Modern Israeli Hebrew pronunciation noˈʁa). I will let an actual Hebrew speaker pronounce it and explain. So, awesome or awe-inspiring, or terrible or awful, even in Hebrew.

My problem with all of these is that if God is terrible, to be feared or even awesome, then our response will be terror, fear or awe, but will not and cannot possibly be love, and certainly not with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength.

It is noticeable that most of the verses describing God as terrible (in whatever words) are in the Old Testament (the one exception being the Old Testament-focused Hebrews). Elsewhere in the New Testament, we get “God is love” (not “God is loveable”!).

(I possibly have more to say about this, but would be venturing too far into theology for my comfort.)

Duffins, cronuts and olive jars

A trip to a local shopping centre yielded two linguistic snippets. One shop was selling duffins, which it helpfully explained as “not a donut, not a muffin”. Cronuts (doughnuts made from croissant dough) have been a thing for a while now (Wikipedia says 2013). Duffins appear to be new. Wikipedia does not have a page for them and several news stories online from earlier this month talk about the product’s launch, but the company’s own website says that “The duffin is back”. Pages for Mac auto-changes duffin to muffin and red-underlines it when I change it back. 

Hang on, though. If a doughnut made from croissant dough is a cronut, then shouldn’t one made from muffin dough be a muffnut? Maybe not …

(spelling: Google Ngrams shows that doughnut is used more in BrEng, and about equally with donut in AmEng. I don’t often write about them, so I don’t know what my natural usage is. (PS My diary for my first stay in Korea 2006-9 has three instances of donut(s) and none of doughnuts, but that’s hardly convincing.)) 

(pronunciation: I had always pronounced croissant with kw-. Various dictionaries give kr-, krw- and kw-, so there’s obviously no unanimity (Wiktionary gives the most options). The other issue is -ant, which can be -ant, -ont, -ənt or ɒ̃. A lot depends on how French you try to be.)   

My wife bought a jar of olives. Around the top is a message/are messages in four languages. 

CAPSULA DI SICUREZZA / PREMENDO AL CENTRO, L’ASSENZA DI “CLIC CLAC” GARANTSICE L’INTEGRITA DELLA CHIUSRA
CAPSULE DE SECURITE • SE SOULEVE A L’OUVERTURE / LE “CLIC CLAC” A L’OUVERTURE EST VOTRE GARANTIE
SAFETY BUTTON / SAFETY BUTTON POPS WHEN SEAL IS BROKEN
VAKUUM • SICHERHEITSVERSCHLUSS / KNACKT BEIM ERSTEN ÖFFNEN

I won’t discuss these at length, but clearly, different languages say equivalent things in different ways, and use a different number of words to do so.

PS 25 Jul: at a work meeting today my manager digressed and spontaneously mentioned lamingscones (which I have now discovered is styled as Laming-Scones). Non-Australians may need to look up lamingtons and scones.  

PPS 1 Aug: today I watching a Youtube video by someone walking around Seoul. I saw a bakery advertising croiffles. 1 Sep: Another video shows croffles.

PPPS 2Aug: I mentioned this on Facebook and a friend said her local supermarket sells muffnuts.

A good word

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.

It’s also St Benedict’s day today. Not that one. See also.

In my dreams

Two recent dreams have involved language. I don’t usually remember my dreams in much detail but these were short and involved language. Two days ago Facebook informed me that it was the birthday of one former student who returned to Hungary. I wished him happy birthday in English and he replied in English. That night I dreamed I was in a classroom. The first student greeted me in Korean, which I speak to some extent. The second student greeted me in Hungarian. Hang on … I don’t speak Hungarian, so how did this person in my dream speak it, and how did I know that it was Hungarian? Either I have absorbed some Hungarian, somewhere, some time, somehow, or my subconscious just made up something which sounded approximately appropriate and I just knew it was meant to be Hungarian.

Longer ago I had a dream in the thriller genre. The only part I remember is one person pointing a gun at another person, and the other person saying:

Do not shoot.

Do not shoot and Don’t shoot mean the same thing, but contracted forms are less formal and, in this case, more urgent. I can’t imagine anyone facing the business end of a gun saying Do not shoot instead of Don’t shoot, but that’s what my subconscious made that person say. Do not shoot (until, unless …) is more like something said or written in a firearms safety course, or said by a police/military commander. Google Ngrams doesn’t help, processing do not and don’t in the same way. A general Google search shows about 15 million results for “don’t shoot” (in quotation marks for exact match) and 2.5 million for “do not shoot”. 

I don’t (or do not) know what conclusions I can draw from these dreams.

I kept an extensive diary during my first stay in Korea 2006-09, which often throws light on my own usage. There are 6 instances of do not and 200 of don’t, including 58 of I don’t know, so I obviously spent most of that time in a state of considerable ignorance.

“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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Sesquipedalianistics

I love long words, but I don’t set out to use them in real life. For some reason, I find 20-letter words more satisfying than 19- or 21-letter words, or any other length. I started collecting them but the internet has made it less fun than randomly encountering them (search and I’m sure you’ll find). Recently I randomly encountered the word fundamentalistically. 

English words can gain prefixes and/or suffixes, but the latter are more likely than the former. Fundamentalistically is fundament (N) + al (adj) + ist (N) + ic (adj) + al (adj) + ly (adv). It is questionable whether fundamentalistical is a ‘real word’ and, if so, means anything different from fundamentalistic. Google shows 54 results for fundamentalistical, mostly on websites which I wouldn’t willingly read. Word for Mac doesn’t like fundamentalistically, autocorrecting it to fundamentalistic ally, then red-underlining it when I change it back, or fundamentalistical.

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Omelette

Yesterday, a colleague advised us that it was International Chocolate Cake Day. Another colleague shared an image of a chocolate cake with the text: 

I had this delicious omlette this morning. I seasoned the eggs with sugar, oil and chocolate, and threw in a little flour for texture. 

Ha ha.

A third colleague pointed out that there should be an e after the m

Inquiring linguistic minds want to know why omelette is right and omlette is wrong. 

Courtesy of the Online Etymology Dictionary, the story begins with Latin lamina (plate, layer) (with a variety of modern meanings) and lamella (small plate, layer) (also with a variety of modern meanings) and progresses through French la lemelle > l’alemelle > alemele > alemette (which is a double diminutive) > omelette to arrive in English. American English prefers omelet. Omlette and omlet exist but are rare, and at this stage are probably still mistakes rather than genuine alternatives. Pages for Mac autocorrects omlette and omlet to omelette and omelet. So omelette has the first e because Latin lamella had/has one.

For me, omelette is solidly two syllables, but Dictionary.com gives the two- and three- syllable pronunciations.