O great mystery

One of the choirs I’m singing in is rehearsing the motet O magnum mysterium by Tomas Luis da Victoria.

The text is:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Iesum Christum.
Alleluia!

One more-or-less standard English translation is:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Alleluia!

Every time I’ve sung it, I’ve been struck by how many of the Latin words have engendered English words. English is officially classified as a Germanic language, but many of its advanced words are derived from Latin. In fact, two of the words are Greek and two are Hebrew through Greek. Some words came into English via French rather than directly from Latin. Continue reading

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A kind of affliction

Last Tuesday was an interesting day linguistically, even if it was a slow day work-wise. I noticed three separate issues twice each in different contexts. The first time each, I thought “Oh, that’s interesting” and the second time I thought “Hang on, I’ve seen that before”.

During a lull in my work, I was browsing through some of Geoffrey Pullum’s old Language Log posts. In one, titled ‘Another victim of oversimplified rules‘, he discusses a sentence which he found in a free newspaper on Edinburgh’s buses:

A record number of companies has been formed by Edinburgh University in the past 12 months.

Continue reading

rugged v ragged

One of the choirs I sing in is rehearsing a setting of Dorothea Mackellar’s poem ‘My country’. On the first few times through, I stumbled on one word, which I then realised was “ragged mountain ranges”, not “rugged mountain ranges” as I vaguely remembered. When I got home, I looked online. Wikipedia has an image of Mackellar’s original notebook, which clearly has ragged. Many sources, printed and digital, have rugged, though. Two rehearsals ago, our accompanist said she’d always thought it was rugged, and at the rehearsal this week, one singer brought a book of Australian poems for school children, which has rugged. The accompanist said there is a recording of Mackellar reciting it, which I found (one of the available videos). She clearly says ragged. Very noticeable is her Sottish-tinged accent* (her grandparents had come to Australia almost 50 years before she was born). Continue reading

st

Today’s psalm began “When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion” (Psalm 126, KJV).

English has three pairs of words which have two alternative forms: amid/amidst, among/amongst and while/whilst. The shorter forms are used more often, and are recommended in most style guides, whilst the longer is very rare in American English and rare even in British English, where it has a formal or even archaic flavour (see what I did there?).

Again and against started the same way, but developed different meanings. Using a different translation, we might say “When the Lord turned against the fortunes of Zion” but that would have the opposite meaning. Turning again might be positive or negative (more likely positive, as here), but turning against is always negative.

The same psalm later uses among, where amongst is possible: “Then said they among(st) the heathen”. Of the I don’t know how many translations on Bible Gateway, most use among, and none uses amongst. (Modern translations also use nations rather than heathen.)

If you have a choice, use amid, among and while, unless you are deliberately aiming for formality, and be careful of the difference between again and against.

10,000 miles

One of the items my local choir is singing is a medley of the American folk songs Shenandoah (which I previously knew) and He’s gone away (which I didn’t). Because of the folk origins of both songs, information about them is confused and confusing. Shenandoah might be the Oneida Iroquois chief (“I love your daughter”) or the river in Virginia and West Virginia (“Away, you rolling river”) or both. On the other hand “Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter” might just be a poetic way of saying “I love a young woman who lives in the Shenandoah Valley”.

The only information I could find about He’s gone away is that it’s from North Carolina. It contains the line “Look away over Yandro”. Where is Yandro? It probably isn’t. There is a possibility that it’s a local name for a local watercourse or mountain which (the name) didn’t survive, but the consensus of opinion on a discussion site for choral directors is that it’s a local pronunciation of yonder (indeed some versions of the words render it “over Yondro”, which might have originated as “over yondro”). One participant linked to what looks like a personal blog which claims that yandro means “the place we put our hopes and our longings. It is the place of reunions dreamt of fondly. It is the place, wherever it may be, that we meet our hearts”.  Yeah, right. That blog is private, so I can’t check its writer’s credentials. Continue reading

Trimming

I’m back to choir rehearsals, courtesy of my new, daytime job. My local choir was practicing ‘Steppin’ out with my baby‘ (video) by Irving Berlin (not the choir’s usual repertoire). For a moment, I thought the words were ‘There’ll be smooth sailin’ ’cause I’m trimmin’ my nails’ (well, the bit just before that is ‘I’m all dressed up tonight’ and the bit just after is ‘In my top hat and my white tie and my tails’. What else does one do before a night out?). Then I looked again and saw that it’s actually ‘I’m trimmin’ my sails’. 

The relevant definition is:

Nautical.

3. to adjust (the sails or yards) with reference to the direction of the wind and the course of the ship.

 

498th post – Last day as English language teacher

Today is my last day as an English language teacher, after more than eleven and a half years at a language college, provincial government high school and university in South Korea and language colleges in Australia. I am making this move for a wide variety of reasons, related to the ESL sector in general (an Australian student visa requires attendance at classes for 20 hours per week, so most teachers are engaged for 20 hours per week, and there is very little opportunity to advance to a full-time position), the college and colleagues (some classes at some colleges are run as courses – the students start at the same time, do the course, and finish at the same time, but our English classes have been ‘start and finish when you need to’, and I’ve had to share a small office with up to four other people of various degrees of loudness in various languages, as student of various degrees of loudness in various languages come and go), the students (who have different levels of English, life experience and personal and study backgrounds, some of whom attend way less than 20 hours per week, and come and go, use their phone, chat in their own language or sleep when they are there), and myself (basically, dealing with all of the above, and commuting). 

Through English language teaching, I’ve lived in South Korea for two periods totalling three and a half years, met my wife, travelled to Hong Kong and Japan, met all kinds of other people in South Korea and Australia, gained my masters degree (and may yet go on to doctoral study), attempted to learn Korean (하지만 아직 잘 못 해요), developed a serious hobby of photography and started this blog. On the other hand, I’ve had to largely give up my other serious hobby of classical choral singing. (I can and will return to that, but it remains to be seen whether I will ever again perform at my peak.) So now it’s time for a change. From tomorrow …