removalist

My wife and I are in the process of selling one house, buying another and moving. While writing comments on Facebook, I noticed that its spell-checker was red-underlining removalist. (Pages for Mac and WordPress do, too.) Dictionary.com lists removalist as “Australian”, which surprised me. I asked my North American friends on Facebook, and they said they would only use mover but would understand removalist in the context of moving house. (By the way, moving house or just moving are both reasonably strange things to say. One student once told me that she’d spent the weekend “moving my house”.)

Some of my Facebook friends also mentioned packers. I have been doing most of the packing myself, and we won’t be paying specifically for packing (the removalists may do some incidental packing). Many years ago I attended a party for a friend whose company was relocating her to Melbourne. She said that the company was paying for the move, including the packing. Later in the evening, someone else commented on the lack of cardboard boxes around the apartment. I said “Kerry and Jamie are coming tomorrow morning”. She looked puzzled, and so were my North American friends when I told that story on Facebook. Anyone not from Australia is welcome to guess my meaning before I update with the answer.

One of my Australian friends mentioned a play (later a movie) by the Australian playwright David Williamson titled The Removalists. Given that there is only one actual removalist in the play/movie, it is possible that there is a double meaning in the title.

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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.

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‘The Little Piano Piece’ by Debussy

Wikipedia informed me that today is the birthday of the French composer Claude Debussy (the hundredth anniversary of his death in March this year seems to have passed without too much observance in the music world).

The first piano piece of his I played was titled by him The Little Nigar (performance). I remember that the book I used placed the last word in inverted commas. Debussy wrote it in 1909 for a piano tuition book. In 1934, it was published as an individual piece, now titled The Little Negro and subtitled Le petit nègre. (strong language warning) Continue reading

dhaba

English is an international language, but each speaker, community and country stamps its own idiosyncrasies on it. Today’s front page of a well-known search engine had an image related to the 2018 Asian Games, about which I knew nothing, so I searched online using the well-known search engine, and the first result was a headline from the Times of India:

From sweeping a dhaba floor to playing for gold at Asiad

I infer that a dhaba is a building of some sort, rather low on the prestige scale. (Is sweeping a floor ever high-prestige?)

The story itself is about a kabbadi player named Kavita Thakur, who:

[f]or most of her life … lived in a cramped dhaba at her village [in northern India].

The 24-year-old … spent her childhood and teen years washing utensils and sweeping floors at the dhaba, which is run by her parents. Father Prithvi Singh and mother Krishna Devi still sell tea and snacks at the dhaba …

Utensils, tea, snacks — a small eatery or drinkery, maybe? Yes, a roadside restaurant or café. The Times uses the word in the headline and seven times in the article, fully expecting its readers to know what it is.

Who would know?

Some time ago, I encountered the sentence:

Who would know aught of art, must learn, act, and then take his ease

as an example of the vowel sounds of English.

A few days ago, for no apparent reason, I got thinking about this again, specifically “Hang on, there aren’t enough words/vowels in there”. It has 14 words and vowels. Most varieties of English have more (though the number and exact line-up varies). My generally standard Australian English has 20, which matches the Macquarie Dictionary’s count. Further, the six which are missing are all diphthongs, but know and take are there. I searched online and found a blogpost by Lauren Gawne (a fellow Australian) from last year. She quotes a post by John Wells (an Englishman), who says he doesn’t know its origin, then (among other things):

[It] is sentence that not merely contains 14 [different] vowel sounds, but has the sound in a particular order (going clockwise more or less round the periphery of the vowel area) … to work properly the sentence requires the speaker to use RP [received pronunciation, standard British English] or something similar, with strong forms of would, of, and must, which in ordinary speech are usually weakened, but a weak form of and … the sentence covers only the monophthongs and narrow diphthongs. To complete it with the remaining diphthongs aɪ aʊ ɔɪ ɪə eə ʊə we would need something like “My loud voice nears their moors”. Or has someone got something better?

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It’s not that simple

I recently discovered a blog which I won’t identify because I am about to disagree with one part of one post. It has a number of contributors and most of the posts are very good to excellent. However, I must disagree with part of one. The blogger writes:

British English speakers have the ability to use the phrase “at the weekend”, when Canadian English speakers would normally say “on the weekend.” We [linguists and other people interested in descriptive approaches to language] can say that Canadian English speakers can’t use “at” in front of “the weekend”; it’s ungrammatical.

But take a short swim across the pond [North Atlantic Ocean], and the Canadian preposition “on” seems very out of place; British speakers don’t say “on the weekend,” so for them this expression is expression is ungrammatical.

It’s not that simple, for two reasons. Continue reading

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