Etymology, mapped.

Just take a look at this and tell me it isn’t as wonderful as it is amusing.pineapple

And thanks to Reddit user Bezbojnicul, via The Guardian, there’s more where that came from.

I was actually looking for something completely different — an old bookmark to 100 Famous Movie Quotes, Visualised — when I found this map, but some fatefully circuitous navigation that would make Dirk Gently proud led me to the treasure trove that is Flowing Data. If you love high-brow infographics, follow my lead.

Oh, and that movie quote thing? Totally worth the search:

afi-movie-quotes-v2-1800

Highlights include King Kong and A League of Their Own. (You’ll get a better view over at the original FlowingData post.)

To learn and love a language.

My vocabulary is beginning to improve. I treasure each acquisition, remembering the exact circumstances—time, place, company—under which it was made. English is a trust fund, an unearned inheritance, but I’ve worked for every bit of French I’ve banked… 

Schnapsidee—the way a German would describe a plan he’d hatched under the influence of alcohol. Pilkunnussija—Finnish for “comma fucker,” a grammar pedant. In Mundari, ribuy-tibuy refers to the sight, sound, and motion of a fat person’s buttocks. Jayus, in Indonesian, denotes a joke told so poorly that people can’t help but laugh. Knullrufs is Swedish for “post-sex hair.” Gümüş servi means “moonlight shining on the water” in Turkish. Culaccino is the Italian word for the mark left on a table by a cold glass. 

Words like these are marvellous. We make lists of them, compile them into treasuries, trade them over any dinner table at which holders of various passports have convened. (The German, armed with Kummerspeck—“grief bacon”—will always win the day.) They’re fun to say. They’re funny to think about, in their Seinfeldian particularity. They expand and concentrate the world, making it bigger-spirited while at the same time more specific. In Russian, you can’t call the sky “blue.” The language obliges its speakers to make a distinction between siniy (dark blue) and goluboy (light blue), so that what is in English one color becomes in Russian two.

— from Lauren Collins, Love In Translation. Go and read the whole thing; it’s very much worth the investment.

Frozen in time?

Two ideas:

1. While London was undergoing arguably the period of greatest growth and change in its history, the London perpetuated in literature barely changed:

Even as physical London expanded madly, fictional London stayed small, contained within the historic city center and the wealthy West End… The rest of London—where most of the growth was actually taking place—never really mattered. In the course of the nineteenth century, real London radically changed—and fictional London hardly at all.

Sarah Laskow for Atlas Obscura

2. We all have some concept of London as a snowy winter wonderland because Charles Dickens grew up in an Ice Age:

There happened to be snow every Christmas of the first eight years of Charles Dickens’ life, which probably explains why white Christmases are a consistent feature of his stories. His snowy childhood has its origins in the colder climate of the period 1550-1850 when Britain was in the grip of a ‘Little Ice Age’. Winters were particularly persistent and severe – 1813-14 was the last winter that a ‘frost fair’ was held on the frozen River Thames in London. Before the change of calendar in 1752, which effectively brought Christmas day back by 12 days, snow was even more likely as Christmas comes at the beginning of the season for snow. Wintry weather is more likely in January.

QI

And two observations:

  1. If writers only write what they’re familiar with, and readers only read what they’re comfortable with, the blinkers stay on.
  2. The stories we read (or see or hear) don’t always tell the whole story. Nobody’s life is as beautiful as their Instagram account, and it’s probably unwise to get all your news from Twitter. (Man, I swear I was writing cautionary Media Law essays about this a decade ago, and yet here we are.)

Anyway, to my main point: Read something you wouldn’t usually read today. It doesn’t have to be long, although more than 140 characters is a good idea.

  • Don’t much go for finance? Pick a story on Bloomberg.
  • A sucker for political analysis? Get some poetry in you.
  • Head-in-the-clouds fiction lover? Take a moment for something sober.
  • Filling your days with serious work and serious learning and serious thoughts? Take a break for something silly.
  • Don’t really read anything much (except this blog, it seems)? Read anything!

 

Don’t be like 1800s literary London. Expand your horizons. Realise there are perspectives other than your own. Open your mind and pop something new in there. Knowledge is a known antidote for fear of the unknown.

 

PS. I wasn’t expecting to get from Dickens to Instagram, but in 2017 that’s somehow not so surprising.

Aviation English and the “high romance of flight”.

Flying highThe language of the skies is a special one, and commercial air travel is my favourite thing on (above?) earth. Have you ever listened in on the in-seat cockpit-to-air-traffic-control radio channel? Try it some time. But also read this lovely piece about the parlance of pilots.

“I like how different the language of the sky is from everyday English – indeed, we might give it its own name, Aeroese (though it’s also sometimes, and less aspirationally, called Aviation English). Above all, I love how Aeroese can somehow manage, in its technical, obscuring precision, to capture the high romance of flight – an aspect of my job, no matter how much I love it, that in the cockpit we rarely have reason to consider directly.

…Imagine a plane that flies from London to Bangkok. The pilots speak first to British air-traffic controllers but, just a few minutes after takeoff, the British controllers hand them over to Belgian or Dutch ones, who soon pass them to German controllers, and then to Czech, to Hungarian, to Romanian, to Turkish, to Iranian ones, and so on. It’s hard to imagine a system more in need of a common language. And that language is English (or English-derived Aeroese). When a Venezuelan pilot speaks to a New York air-traffic controller, or when a pilot from Brooklyn speaks to a controller in Caracas, they speak in English. It’s something to marvel at, the first time you fly to Tokyo, say, and you hear an exchange between a Japanese pilot and a Japanese air-traffic controller, both speaking carefully in Japanese-accented English. It’s standardisation and globalisation by force of bare necessity, by force of speed.

Though Aeroese has predominantly English roots, a handful of common meteorological abbreviations have French origins (as do the words fuselage and aileron, of course). BR is Mist (brouillard) GR is Hail (grêle); HN is Sunset to Sunrise (horaire de nuit). MI is Shallow (a usage derived from mince) and BC is Patches (from bancs).

In a heavens-transiting industry, angels are ‘an echo caused by physical phenomena not discernible to the eye… sometimes attributed to insects or birds flying in the radar beam’… Dry snow ‘can be blown if loose, or, if compacted by hand, will fall apart on release’, while Wet snow, ‘if compacted by hand, will stick together and tend to form a snowball; specific gravity: 0.35 up to but not including 0.5’.”

— Mark Vanhoenacker, The Parlance of Pilots

Other highlights:

  • On approaching touchdown, a disembodied voice tells pilots to “DECIDE” whether to proceed or back out.
  • “Speedbird” is cockpit shorthand for a British Airways flight. The maintenance office is “Speedbird Library”.
  • There are set pronunciation rules, especially for numbers, to avoid confusion.
  • Waypoints are identified by five-letter abbreviations, some very wry. “Many waypoint names are gibberish, but others are more colourful – DRAKE in the English Channel (for Sir Francis); BARBQ near Kansas City; WHALE in the Mediterranean, off Benghazi. When descending to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, fans of the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons will enjoy this sequence: ITAWT ITAWA PUDYE TTATT (followed by IDEED).”
  • The on-board satellite phone is actually called the Batphone.
  • The pilot-to-pilot ‘chat’ frequency is 123.45Hz.

“Is Australian English even a thing?”

YES. It is. Trust me. 

Dr. Lynne Murphy recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of her (wonderful, intelligent and impressively well-researched) blog Separated by a Common Language by sharing a list of her most-visited posts from 2010 to present. And what really struck me,  as often does when reading her blog, is that Australian English is so different yet again — we might use the US English word for one thing and the UK English word for another, or we might have a completely different word for it altogether.

The following isn’t an exhaustive demonstration by any means, but based on Lynne’s blogiversary list:

  • Bed sizes. As Lynne points out, the Australian system differs from both the US and UK alternatives. (I have never heard the term small double, and the Australian dimensions for single, double, queen and king are all different from the US/UK ones anyway.)
  • “Do you have…?” vs. “Have you got…?”. In Australia I’m quite sure nobody would notice if you said one or the other.
  • Valet and filet. In Australia we pronounce valet as “val-AY” like Americans, not “val-let” like the Brits. But fillet is pronounced and spelled the British way: we use a FIL-leting knife to FIL-let a fish, with two Ls and a hard T. Aussies only use the US/French “fil-LAY” pronunciation for Francophone/meat-related specificities like filet mignon. (In the same post, Lynne discusses schedule with a “sk–” (US) versus a “sh–” (UK). This one can go either way in Australia, although at some point in your life someone will probably tell you that your way is wrong and theirs is right.)
  • Australians grew up hitting pound — # — on a phone (US English), as opposed to hash (UK).* Hash is mostly reserved for hashtag.
  • And I grew up throwing slumber parties (US) not pyjama parties (UK)**
  • … but the Macquarie Dictionary, the standard reference for Australian English, has woah (UK) not whoa (US), and we definitely say maths (UK) not math (US).

Lynne’s big list of vegetables is probably the best proof that Australian English isn’t the same as UK English or US English. We eat eggplant, zucchini, endive and snow peas (US) – not aubergine, courgette, chicory and mange tout (UK) … but we also have rocket, beetroot, spring onion and cos (UK) – not arugula, beet, scallion and romaine (US). Not to mention that what US and UK English both call a pepper is a capsicum in Australia — where pepper is the thing that goes with salt — and pretty much all gourds count as pumpkins — squash refers only to pattypan (US) or summer (UK) squash.

From the untranslatables list — words that exist in either UK or US English but not both — Australian English does actually have some translations.

  • Lie-in (n., UK English only) = sleep-in — as in “I had a great sleep-in on the weekend”.
  • For kitty-corner (US only), we just say “diagonally across from”.
  • Builder’s tea (UK) sounds like Australian camp tea, bush tea or billy tea.
  • AU English does have the US poster child (UK does not), but like UK English does not have the US crunchy (as in hippie-ish).
  • Like US English we do not have a word for the UK overegging (overdoing) or the US tailgating (partying in the parking lot at a sporting event) but do have the US word antsy (anxious and jumpy) and the UK locum (a temporary replacement doctor).

So the next time someone says “Isn’t Australian English just the same as British English?” or “What exactly do you do for a living?”, maybe I’ll direct them to this blog post (hello, reader). I might even invite them to read Speaking Our Language — a fantastic book on how Australian English came to be, which does much to dispel the prejudice against Australian English as a bastardised version of the original “pure” English.

What I won’t do is provide an exhaustive itemised list of the differences between the three, or a statistical breakdown, in percentages, of how much AU English is like or unlike UK and US English. That is an impossibility, even for me.

 

*See this TRULY DELIGHTFUL explanation of the hash/pound/octothorpe, including some zombie-related typographical art.

**But we do spell pyjama the British way (as opposed to the US pajama).

 

Tree alphabets: from Alpine Larch to Zelkova Serrata.

Despite Atlas Obscura reporting on both of these “arborbets”, it seems the latter was not informed by the much, much earlier iteration. How do you spell “convergent evolution” in tree?

__________

An ancient Celtic tree alphabet:

“Each of its 20 characters, or ‘trees’ is made out of a reference line, or ‘stem’ crossed by one or more slashes, or ‘twigs.’ Depending on the number and direction of these twigs, the letter codes for a particular sound. To aid in memorization, each letter also has a name—often, though not always, a tree that starts with the sound the letter represents. The ‘B’ sound, for example, has one twig sticking out on the right, and is called ‘Beithe,’ or birch tree.”

– Cara Giaimo, Atlas Obscura

__________

And a modern arborbet:

“For the Trees font, which was created especially for the book, Holten delved into her archive of New York City tree drawings, created 10 years earlier. ‘I wrote out the alphabet, A through Z, and then realized I could match a tree that had the same latter: A for apple, B for beech, C for cedar,’ she says. (V and X were a bit trickier, but Latin names came in handy.)

The numbers are represented as twigs, while the punctuation marks are shoots, leaves, and, in the case of the period, an acorn.”

– Ella Morton, Atlas Obscura

________

Perqs of the job.

Guess what? It’s not “perks” of the job. It’s perqs! Short for “perquisites”.*

Not to be confused with “prerequisites” … Although the two do share the same Latin root: perquisite = perquīsītum and prerequisite = prerequīsītus, both modified past participles of “sought for”.

See also: “request” (requarere: to seek) and “require” (requīrer: to search for). Which explains why we ask questions  (request) when we seek (require) answers, and when we’re searching for something, we go on a “quest” (quaesītus).**

In other words, there is a definite connection between what you ask for and the perqs you get.

So thank you, StarTalk, for delivering this enlightenment straight to my inbox. And to think, if I’d only heard it in the podcast and never seen it written, I’d be none the wiser.

And the moral to that story is: read your emails.

 

*Who knew? My computer even tried to autocorrect the title of this post.
**Disclaimer: My knowledge of Latin is close to nil, informed only by etymological investigations, so feel free to challenge me on any of this.