Dec 31, 2008

People Etymology

Here are a few words in the English language that have been named for people. This list consists of widely-used words which are obviously named after specific people. You'll be surprised to find words like, bloomer, maudlin, namby-pamby, tarmac and tawdry having their origins in men and women of yesteryears. Smile Enjoy!!!

oh! and add on more if you know, in comments.

  • ALDRIN Kurt Alder (1902-1958), American chemist

  • ALGORITHM al-Khowarizmi (c800 - c850), Arab mathematician. This term, which means "rules for computing" in English, comes from al-Khowarizmi (Try saying it fast), an Arab mathematician living around A.D. 825 who completed the earliest known work in arithmetic using Arabic numerals. He was the first to establish rules for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing with the new Arabic numerals.

  • AUGUST Augustus Caesar (63 B.C. - A. D. 14)

  • BAKELITE Leo Hendrik Baekeland (1863-1944), Belgian-born American chemist

  • BÉCHAMEL SAUCE Marquis Louis de Béchamel (d.1703), steward of Louis XIV of France

  • BEEF STROGANOFF Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganoff (1772-1817), Russian diplomat

  • BEGONIA Michel Bégon (1638-1710), French patron of botany

  • BLOODY MARY Mary I Tudor (1516-1558), English queen (probably)

  • BLOOMER Amanda Bloomer or Amelia Jenkins Bloomer (1818-1894), American feminist

  • BOUGAINVILLEA Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811), French explorer

  • BOYCOTT Charles C. Boycott (1832-1897), English land agent

  • BOYSENBERRY Rudolph Boysen, American botanist

  • BUHLWORK A. C. Boule (1642-1732), French cabinet maker

  • BUNKUM, BUNK Col. Edward Buncombe, Revolutionary War hero, This word actually comes from the name of Buncombe County, North Carolina; the county was named in honor of Col. Edward Buncombe, a Revolutionary War hero. The word originated after the congressman from that county defended an irrelevant speech in Congress by claiming that he was speaking to Buncombe.

  • BUNSEN BURNER Robert Wilhelm Bunsen (1811-99), German chemist

  • CAESAREAN SECTION Gaius Julius Caesar, who according to legend was born in this manner

  • CAESAR SALAD Cesar Cardini, Tijuana, Mexico restaurateur

  • CAMELLIA George Josef Kamel (1661-1706), Moravian Jesuit missionary

  • CARDIGAN James Thomas Brudnell, 7th Earl of Cardigan (1797-1868), British cavalry officer

  • CASANOVA Giovanni Jacopo Casanova de Seingalt (1725-98), Italian adventurer

  • DAHLIA Anders Dahl (1751-1789), Swedish botanist

  • DECIBEL Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)

  • DERBY Edward Stanley, 12th earl of Derby, founded the race, 1870

  • DIESEL Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913), German automotive designer

  • DOBERMAN PINSCHER Ludwig Dobermann, 19th century German dog breeder

  • DOILY Mr. Doyley, a 17th century London draper

  • DOLOMITE Deodat de Dolomieu (1750-1801), French geologist

  • DRACONIAN Draco, Athenian lawgiver, circa 650 B. C.

  • DUNCE John Duns Scotus (c. 1265-1308), Scottish theologian (who was actually very smart)

  • EGGS BENEDICT Commodore E. C. Benedict (1834-1920), American yachtsman and banker

  • EPICURE Epicurus (342?-270 B. C.), Greek philosopher

  • EUSTACHIAN TUBE Bartolommeo Eustachio (1524-1574), Italian anatomist

  • FALLOPIAN TUBE Gabriel Fallopius (1523-1562), Italian anatomist

  • FERRIS WHEEL George Washington Gale Ferris (1859-96), American engineer

  • FRANGIPANI Marquis Frangipani, 16th century Italian nobleman

  • FREESIA Friedrich Heinrich Theodor Freese (d. 1876), German physician

  • FRISBEE William Russell Frisbie, pie shop owner in Bridgeport CT

  • FUCHSIA Leonard Fuchs (1501-1566), German botanist

  • GALVANIZE Luigi Galvani (1739-1798), Italian physiologist

  • GARDENIA Alexander Garden (1730-91), Scottish-American botanist

  • GARIBALDI Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-82), Italian patriot and soldier

  • GREENGAGE Sir William Gage (1777-1864), English botanist

  • GROG Old Grog, nickname of Sir Edward Vernon (1684-1757), British admiral

  • GUILLOTINE Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814), French physician

  • GUPPY Robert J. L. Guppy (1836-1916), British scientist from Trinidad

  • GUY Guy Fawkes (1570-1606), British terrorist

  • HANSOM Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-82), English architect

  • HAVELOCK Sir Henry Havelock (1795-1857), British general in India

  • HOBSON’S CHOICE Thomas Hobson (1544-1631), English liveryman

  • JACQUARD Joseph Marie Jacquard, 18th cent. French inventor

  • JACUZZI Roy Jacuzzi and Candido Jacuzzi (1903-1986), American inventors

  • JEROBOAM Jeroboam, first king of the northern kingdom of Israel

  • JULY Gaius Julius Caesar (c. 101 - 44 B. C.)

  • KLIEG LIGHT John H. (1869-1959) and Anton T. Kleigl (1872-1927), American lighting experts

  • KNICKERBOCKERS Dietrich Knickerbocker, pseudonym of Washington Irving (1783-1859), American author

  • LEOTARD Jules Léotard (1839-70), French acrobat

  • LEVIS Levi Strauss (1830-1902), Bavarian immigrant to the USA and clothing merchant

  • LOBELIA Matthias de Lobel (1538-1616), Flemish botanist and physician

  • LOBSTER NEWBURG Ben Wenberg According to Dictionary of Words and Phrases by William and Mary Morris, the term is named for Ben Wenberg, a West Indies ship captain who came up with this dish by adding the ingredient cayenne to his famous recipe at Delmonico's Hotel. As the story goes, Mr. Wenberg had a falling out with the hotel owner, who, as revenge, reversed the first three letters of a dish which had previously been called Lobster Wenberg; hence, "Lobster Newberg."

  • LOGANBERRY Judge James H. Logan (1841-1928), horticulturist in California

  • LUDDITE Ned Ludd, 18th cent. Leicestershire workman who destroyed machinery (see note below)

  • LYNCH Capt. William Lynch (1742-1820), plantation owner in Virginia

  • MACADAMIA NUT John Macadam (1827-1865), Australian scientist

  • MACH Ernst Mach (1838-1916), Austrian physicist

  • MACKINTOSH Charles Macintosh (1766-1843), inventor of the waterproofing process

  • MAGNOLIA Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), French botanist

  • MANSARD François Mansart (1598-1666), French architect

  • MARIGOLD Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus

  • MASOCHISM Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836-1895), Austrian novelist

  • MAUDLIN Mary Magdalene, Biblical figure

  • MAUSOLEUM Mausolus, 4th century B. C. king of Caria, Asia Minor

  • MAVERICK Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870), Texas cattle owner

  • MELBA TOAST and PEACH MELBA Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931), Australian soprano

  • MENNONITE Menno Simons (1492-1559), Dutch religious reformer

  • MESMERIZE Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), Austrian physician
  • MORSE CODE Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1791-1872), American artist and inventor

  • NAMBY-PAMBY Nickname of Ambrose Philips (1674-1749), English poet

  • NICOTINE Jean Nicot (c. 1530 - 1600), French ambassador to Portugal

  • OSCAR Oscar Pierce, American wheat and fruit grower and uncle of an Academy executive director

  • PAP SMEAR George Papanicolaou (1883-1962), American physician

  • PASTEURISE Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), French chemist

  • PAVLOVA Anna Pavlova (1881-1931), Russian ballerina

  • PLATONIC Plato (c. 427-347 BC), Greek philosopher

  • POINSETTIA Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851), U. S. minister to Mexico

  • PRALINE César de Choiseul, Count Plessis-Praslin (1598-1675), French soldier and diplomat

  • PULLMAN George Mortimer Pullman (1831-97), American inventor

  • PYRRHIC Pyrrus (c. 318 - 272 B. C.), king of Epirus, who overextended himself

  • QUISLING Maj. Vidkun Abraham Quisling (1887-1945), pro-Nazi Norwegian leader

  • RASTAFARIAN Ras Tafari, precoronation name of Haile Selassie (1892-1975), Emperor of Ethiopia

  • RICKETTSIA Howard T. Ricketts (1871-1910), American pathologist

  • RORSCHACH TEST Hermann Rorschach (1884-1922), Swiss psychiatrist

  • RITZY César Ritz (1850-1918), Swiss hotelier

  • SADISM Count Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (1740-1814), French soldier and novelist

  • SALISBURY STEAK James J. Salisbury, 19th century English physician

  • SALMONELLA Daniel Elmer Salmon (1850-1914), American veterinarian

  • SANDWICH John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-92), English diplomat

  • SAXOPHONE Antoine-Joseph Sax, also known as Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), Belgian inventor

  • SEQUOIA Sequoya (c. 1770-1843), Cherokee Indian who invented the Cherokee syllabary

  • SHRAPNEL Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842), British army officer

  • SIDEBURNS Gen. Ambrose Everett Burnside (1824-1881), Union soldier

  • SILHOUETTE Etienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), French minister of finance in 1759

  • SPOONERISM Rev. William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), of New College, Oxford

  • SOUSAPHONE John Phillip Sousa (1854-1932), American composer and bandleader

  • STETSON John Bauerson Stetson (1830-1906), American hat-maker

  • TARMAC John Loudon McAdam (1756-1836), Scottish engineer (the word is short for "tarmacadam")

  • TAWDRY St. Audrey (St. Etheldreda, c. 630 - 679), queen of Northumbria

  • TEDDY BEAR Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), U. S. president

  • TETRAZZINI Luisa Tetrazzini (1874-1940), Italian opera singer

  • THESPIAN Thespis, 6th century B. C. Greek poet

  • TIMOTHY GRASS Timothy Hanson, 18th century American farmer (probably)

  • TOMMY GUN Gen. John Taliaferro Thompson (1860-1940), U. S. soldier

  • TONTINE Lorenzo Tonti (1620-1695), Neopolitan banker

  • TUPPERWARE Earl Silas Tupper (1907-1983), American landscaper and inventor

  • UZI Uziel Gal (1923-2002), Israeli inventor

  • VALENTINE Valentine, 3rd century Christian martyr

  • VERNIER Pierre Vernier (1580-1637), French mathematician

  • WELLINGTON BOOT Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), British soldier and statesman

  • WISTERIA Caspar Wistar (1761-1818), American physician

  • ZEPPELIN Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838-1917), German general and aeronautical pioneer

  • ZINNIA Johann Gottfried Zinn (1727-1759), German botanist

  • Dec 31, 2008 - Wise Words for the Day
    " He drew a circle that shut me out
    heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
    But love and I had the wit to win,
    we drew a circle that took him in."

    --- Edwin Markham, Outwitted

    Dec 24, 2008

    "Tom Swifties" - a development in Wellerism.

    Wellerism is an expression of comparison comprising a usually well-known quotation followed by a facetious sequel. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines Wellerism thusly:

    Sam Weller in Charles Dickens' "Pickwick Papers" (1836-7) was prone to producing punning sentences such as:

    'Out with it, as the father said to the child when he swallowed a farden [farthing]'.

    This type of verbal play, involving a metaphorical and a punningly literal sense, soon gained popularity under the name of wellerism, and a craze for devising such expressions rapidly sprang up on both sides of the Atlantic. A crude example familiar to children is:

    'I see, said the blind man, when he couldn't see at all.'


    "'It all comes back to me now', said the Captain as he spat into the wind."


    Tom Swifty :
    A Tom Swifty is a Wellerism in which an adverb relates both properly and punningly to a sentence of reported speech. For example:
    "The doctor had to remove my left ventricle," said Tom half-heartedly.
    explaination: half-heartedly = half of a heart. [A heart is composed of a left and right ventricle] Hence the above sentence is a "Tom Swifty".
    "Your Honour, you're crazy!" said Tom judgementally.
    explaination: judge (= your honour) + mental (= crazy) + ly.


    Etymology of Tom Swifty:
    The quip takes its name from Tom Swift, a boy's adventure hero created by the prolific American writer Edward L. Stratemeyer. Under the pseudonym Victor Appleton, he published a series of books featuring the young Tom Swift. Tom Swift rarely passed a remark without a qualifying adverb as "Tom added eagerly" or "Tom said jokingly". The play on words discussed here arose as a pastiche of this, coming to be known by the term Tom Swifty.


    In a true Tom Swifty, it is an adverb (word specifying the mode of action of the verb) that provides the pun, as in the following example:
    "I swallowed some of the glass from that broken window," Tom said painfully.
    explaination: pain (like 'pane' = window glass) + full (= full stomach) + y.


    But frequently the pun occurs in the verb, and there may not be an adverb at all. Strictly speaking such puns are not Tom Swifties, but they are generally included in the term. For example:
    "My garden needs another layer of mulch," Tom repeated.
    explaination: re (= again / another) + peat (= mulch) + ed.


    And sometimes it is neither a verb, nor an adverb, but a short phrase (usually acting like an adverb in modifying the verb) For example:
    "I've only enough carpet for the hall and landing," said Tom with a blank stare.
    explaination: blank (= uncovered) + stare (like 'stair' = staircase).


    Traditionally Tom is the speaker, but this is by no means necessary for the pun to classify as a Tom Swifty. Sometimes the pun lies in the name, in which case it will usually not be Tom speaking. For example:
    "I'm going to end it all," Sue sighed.
    explaination: Sue sighed (like 'suicide' = to kill oneself).


    Many – probably most – Tom Swifties are morphological; i.e. the words must be broken down into morphemes (smaller components) to understand the pun. This is true for many of the examples on this page, and is illustrated particularly well by this example :
    "This is the real male goose," said Tom producing the propaganda.
    explaination: propa (like 'proper' = real) + ganda (like 'gander' = male goose).


    Often the adverb (or whatever) has a homonym (a word which is pronounced, and perhaps spelled, the same, but has a different meaning) which leads to the punning meaning of the sentence. For example :
    "I have a split personality," said Tom, being frank.
    explaination: frank (= open, man's name).

    Dec 24, 2008 - Wise Words For the Day

    Empty-handed I entered the world
    barefoot I leave it.
    My coming, my going-
    Two simple happenings
    That got entangled.
    -- Kozan Ichikyo.

    Dec 22, 2008

    Haddock's Curses

    Tintin comics have a peculiar trademark in the form of Captain Haddock's colourful exclamations, that he hurls out every time he gets in a rage.

    History: At the time Captain Haddock was first introduced, just before the second world war, his manners presented a moral problem to Hergé. As a sailor, Haddock ought to have a very colorful language. Yet as he was to appear in a Catholic children's magazine, he obviously was forbidden to use any swearwords. Sollution came one night when Hergé (Author of Tintin) overheard a political argument amongst two passer-by's in the street. In the heat of the discussion one of the persons became so enraged that he lost his contenance for a moment and started yelling at his companion "You... You... You peace-pamphlet yourselves". This was the solution Hergé sought: what if the captain would use strange or difficult words that were not offensive in themselves, but would hurl them out as if they were very strong cusswords... (This would also add a comical note by portraying the captain as a pseudo-intellectual who loves to use difficult words without really knowing what they mean.)

    From the simple ("dogs!", "rats!") to the scientific ("pithecanthropuses!") to the sublime ("vegetarian!"), you will just love Captain Haddock of Tintin fame for his unique turn of phrase. I have made bold the ones that I love from the following list.
    • Pirates!
    • Doryphores!
    • Gobbledygooks!
    • Filibusters!
    • Slubberdegullions!
    • Patagonians!
    • Vampires!
    • Sycophant!
    • Kleptomaniacs!
    • Egoists!
    • Tramps!
    • Monopolizers!
    • Pockmarks!
    • Belemnite!
    • Crooks!
    • Miserable earthworms!
    • Coconuts!
    • Harlequin!
    • Parasites!
    • Macrocephalic baboon!
    • Brutes!
    • Guano gatherer!
    • Pachyrhizus!
    • Toads!
    • Gyroscope!
    • Bougainvillea!
    • Bloodsuckers!
    • Nincompoop!
    • Shipwreckers!
    • Cyclone!
    • Gallows-fodder!
    • Politician!
    • Baboon!
    • Torturers!
    • Fuzzy-wuzzy!
    • Blackbird!
    • Mountebanks!
    • Cannibal!
    • Duck-billed platypus!
    • Black-beetles!
    • Ruffian!
    • Vermicellis!
    • Lily-livered bandicoots!
    • Rats!
    • Logarithm!
    • Cro-Magnon!
    • Freshwater swabs!
    • Beasts!
    • Bully!
    • Anthropophagus!
    • Pithecanthropuses!
    • Savages!
    • Gangsters!
    • Wreckers!
    • Vandal!
    • Carpet-sellers!
    • Numbskulls!
    • Gang of thieves!
    • Slave-trader!
    • Picaroons!
    • Visigoths!
    • Toffee-noses! Wink
    • Anacoluthons!
    • Hydrocarbon!
    • Technocrat!
    • Buccaneer!
    • Traitors!
    • Caterpillars!
    • Odd-toed ungulate!
    • Woodlice!
    • Polynesian!
    • Swine!
    • Blackguards!
    • Vegetarian! Big Grin
    • Dizzards!
    • Fancy-dress freebooters!
    • Centipede!
    • Sea-lice!
    • Ectoplasm!
    • Fat faces!
    • Artichokes!
    • Troglodytes!
    • Turncoats!
    • Bashi-bazouks!
    • Olympic Athlete!
    • Ectoplasmic Byproduct!
    • Balkan Beetle!
    • Two-timing Tartar Twisters!
    • Terrapins!
    • Breathalyser!
    • Profiteers!
    • Abecedarians!
    • Vulture!
    • Phylloxera!
    • Dogs!
    • Hooligans!
    • Steamrollers!
    • Body-snatcher!
    • Ostrogoth!
    • Brigand!
    • Heretic!
    • Blackamoor!
    • Anthracite!
    • Black marketeers!
    • Ophicleides!
    • Dynamiter!
    • Pickled herrings!
    • Gibbering ghost!
    • Corsair!
    • Moujiks!
    • Rhizopods!
    • Bootlegger!
    • Gogglers!
    • Villain!
    • Aborigine!
    • Bagpipers!
    • Pyrographers!
    • Crab-apples!
    • Goosecaps!
    • Aztecs!
    • Paranoiac!
    • Twister!
    • Vagabonds!
    • Sea-gherkins!
    • Road-hogs!
    • Hi-jackers!
    • Zapotecs!
    • Cercopithecus!
    • Toads!
    • Psychopath!
    • Nest of rattlesnakes!
    • Jellied-eel!
    • Liquorice!
    • Coelacanth!
    • Invertebrate!
    • Nyctalops!
    • Mameluke!
    • Dipsomaniac!
    • Diplodocus!
    • Cowards!
    • Megalomaniac!
    • Highwayman!
    • Autocrats!
    • Bandit!
    • Nitwits!
    • Polygraphs!
    • Iconoclast!
    • Orangoutang!
    • Squawking popinjay! LOL
    • Prattling porpoise!
    • Scoffing braggart!
    • Ten Thousand Thundering Typhoons Eek
    • Blue Blistering Bell-Bottomed Balderdash!
    • Cushion footed quadrupeds!
    • Fancy-dress Facist!
    Check, this french site for a list of curses along with the names of comics they feature in.

    Haddock Trivia:
    • In Tintin and the Picarros, Captain Haddock does not complete one of his curses - Miserable blundering barbecued blister... (One can only imagine what could be coming!)
    • When Haddock attempts to cure Calculus of his amnesia by scaring him via dressing up as a ghost, he trips on the bedsheet, and as he's struggling to free himself, he screams "Ten Thousand Terrifying Turtles!" Trying to picture what 10,000 terrifying turtles would look like had could have anyone on the floor in fits of laughter.
    • In Iran, Tintin was published in Farsi. The Farsi pronounciation of Haddock's name is 'Kapitaan Haadook'.
    • Bashi bazouk - this term was originally applied in Turkey to non-uniformed soldiers. It literally means a savage and brutal ruffian, and was popularized by Captain Haddock.
    • According to the book "Le Petit Haddock Illustré", Captain Haddock might have said more than 220 curses during all the adventures.
    • In one particularly angry state, Hergé had the captain yell the 'cussword' Pneumotorax (An inflatable ring placed inside the windpipe of tuberculosis patients to help them keep their airflow, 1930's style medicine). One week after the scene appeared in Tintin Magazine, Hergé received a letter from a father whose boy was a great fan of Tintin, but also was a heavy tuberculosis sufferer and had precisely such a pneumothorax inserted. According to the letter the boy was devastated that his favorite comic made fun of his own condition. Afterwards it turned out that the letter was a fake written and planted by Hergé's own studio workers (One source mentions Bob de Moor) and when this came out soft-spoken Hergé was just as devastated by his 'betrayal' as the boy of the letter allegedly was.

    Wise Words of the Day :

    "Survey the circling stars, as though yourself were in mid-course with them. Often picture the changing and rechanging dance of the elements. Visions of this kind purge away the dross of our earth-bound life."
    -- Marcus Aurelius (121-180).

    Dec 4, 2008

    Language & Philosophy

    The written word from time immemorial has been used to express both the inherent and the suggestive meaning. This post is a find from Paulo Coelho's book, Manual for the Warrior of Light, a Harper Collins Publication, that suggests a philosophical sentiment that each of us can stand true to.

    The warrior knows that the most important words in all languages are the small words.
    They are words that are easy enough to say and which fill vast empty spaces.
    There is however one word - another small word - that many people have great difficulty in saying : NO.
    Someone who never says 'no' thinks of himself as generous, understanding, polite, because 'no' is thought of as being nasty, selfish, unspiritual. The warrior does not fall into this trap. There are times when, in saying 'yes' to others he is actually saying 'no' to himself.
    That is why he never says 'yes' with his lips if, in his heart, he is saying 'no'.

    Dec 4th 2008 - Wise Words for The Day
    "Human consciousness arose but a minute before midnight on the geological clock. Yet we mayflies try to bend an ancient world to our purposes, ignorant perhaps of the messages buried in its long history."
    -- Stephen Jay Gould, "Our Allotted Lifetimes," The Panda's Thumb, 1980

    Nov 25, 2008

    Native American Literature

    Native American Literature - Post 1
    Ever since I first heard my very first CD of Native American Music, which was some 10 years back... I have been interested in everything Native American... read Indigenous American. This and subsequent posts on the topic would be an attempt to form a Native American Nook, where in the choicest of Native American Literature can be explored and reviewed.

    I start this collection with
    Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown.

    This is one extraordinary book, complete with photographs of yesteryear native american chiefs and their families. What I liked about this book, was the fact that it was one of the first books which was written from a totally Native American perspective. It is not only an interesting rendition of history, but it is also heartbreaking... at least it was so for me.

    Beginning with the Long Walk of the Navajos in 1860 and ending 30 years later with the massacre of Sioux men, women, and children at Wounded Knee in South Dakota, it tells how the American Indians lost their land and lives to a dynamically expanding white society.
    History is always written by the victors, so while the whole world knew about "Manifest Destiny" and Martin Luther King's american civil war, none were privy to the plight of the Native Americans that were herded off to closed lands that are now called Native American Reserves.

    First published in 1970 this book is an excellent example of the adage that "being one-sided is not telling the whole truth." You almost come a full circle, after reading this book, and you then start looking at its beginning with new eyes. So be prepared to be emotionally affected by this book.

    My favourite quote from the HBO Movie of the same name (based on the same book):

    Charles Eastman: And now you speak of coercion. I don't understand.
    Henry Dawes: If we don't put that land into the hands of individual Indians in five years- less-homesteaders and ranchers will demand it all... for nothing. The Indian must own his own piece of earth, Charles.
    Charles Eastman: Did you know that there is no word in the Sioux language for that, sir?
    Henry Dawes: For what?
    Charles Eastman: To "own the earth." Not in any native language.
    Henry Dawes: Well, then perhaps you should invent one.

    Happy Reading!!!

    November 25, 2008 - Wise Words for the Day:
    "The test of every religious, political, or educational system, is the man which it forms. If a system injures the intelligence it is bad. If it injures the character it is vicious. If it injures the conscience it is criminal."
    -- Henri Frederic Amiel, "Heart Failure: Diary Of A Third Year Medical Student"

    Nov 24, 2008

    Hypothesis explaining Origin of Languages

    In the 19th century, philosophers and linguists proposed a number of hypotheses to explain the origin of language, and most of these have very astonishing nomenclatures. I almost did a double take each time I read of them. The first such names were coined by Otto Jesperson as a way of deriding the hypotheses as simplistic speculation. Once the names caught on, new hypotheses that have arisen often have been given names with a similar style.

    The "ding-dong" hypothesis:
    This hypothesis places the origin of human language in onomatopoeia: the various imitative sounds that humans make to mimic the sounds of the world around them. So boom becomes a word for thunder, and oink for a pig. It is unclear how this process could supply words for silent objects like rocks; much less prepositions and other grammatical particles or abstract concepts. Words marked by onomatopoeia are conspicuous and somewhat unusual in most languages. The "ding-dong" hypothesis is therefore not considered as a total explanation for the origin of language.

    The "bow-wow" hypothesis:
    Similar to the "ding-dong" hypothesis, this one has humans forming their first words by imitating animal sounds.

    Not only do all of the objections involving other sorts of onomatopoeia explanations apply here, it is worthy to note that the names of animal sounds are strongly culturally determined and differ remarkably from one culture to the next, as the article on oink sets forth. It seems difficult to accept that humans learned to speak to one another by talking to the animals.

    The "pooh-pooh" hypothesis:
    According to this hypothesis, the first words developed from sighs of pleasure, moans of pain, and other semi-involuntary cries or exclamations. These vocalisms then became the names of the phenomena that made people say them.

    Most of the objections to the "ding-dong" hypothesis apply here also. Such words are found in most languages; they are conspicuous by their preverbal nature and incomplete assimilation into the lexicon. Moreover, they are culturally determined, and themselves show a great deal of arbitrariness.

    The "ta-ta" hypothesis:
    Charles Darwin lent his authority to this hypothesis. According to this, human language represents the use of oral gestures that began in imitation of hand gestures that were already in use for communication.

    The difficulty with this hypothesis, is that it begs the question: it requires that a fairly sophisticated repertoire of gestures be in place already for humans to imitate with their mouth gestures. It assumes the existence of a language of gestures without explaining how it arose.

    The "uh-oh" hypothesis:
    According to this hypothesis, human language begins with the use of arbitrary symbols that represent warnings to other members of the human band. It is agreed that one sort of vocal cry means that lions have been spotted in the area, and another one indicates a snake. You holler one thing at your neighbour to warn them, "Don't eat that! It'll make you sick!" and something distinguishable to warn them "Don't eat that! It's mine!"

    This hypothesis seems to have the potential to explain the perceived diversity of human speech; obviously the warning cries uttered here are to some measure arbitrary.

    The "yo-he-ho" hypothesis:
    According to this hypothesis, language arose in rhythmic chants and vocalisms uttered by people engaged in communal labour.

    This may have more to do with the origins of poetry than with language itself. Sea chanteys, jody calls, and similar work songs all show humans engaged in communal work improvising with their language around the rhythms of their work. It is uncertain from this hypothesis how meanings came to be associated with the vocalisms uttered by the workers.

    The "watch the birdie" hypothesis:
    This one is associated with ethologist and linguist E. H. Sturtevant. According to this hypothesis, human language became elaborated because humans found selective advantage in being able to deceive other humans. Since exclamations and vocalisms can involuntarily reveal your true mental state, humans learned to feign them in order to deceive others for selfish advantage.

    The psychedelic glossolalia hypothesis:
    This theory states that speech was inspired by psychoactive fungi. The line of reasoning is thus: A common symptom of tryptamine intoxication is glossolalia, more commonly known as “speaking in tongues”. As the continent of Africa began to dry, grassland savannas opened, forcing humans out of the forests and into the plains where the dung of large herbivores was ubiquitous. Species of tryptamine-bearing fungi like Psilocybe, which live on animal dung, would have been very attractive to human populations seeking a new food source. Regular ingestion of the fungi could, over a long time, have stimulated complex vocalizations that eventually led to communicative speech.

    How humans could have made the transition from random vocalization to symbolic language is not entirely clear. This one sounds all scientific to me... other than its halucinatory LSD angle. Razz

    The Biblical account in Genesis:
    "The entire earth had one language with uniform words. When they migrated from the east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar, and they settled there. They said to one another, 'Come, let us mold bricks and fire them.' They then had bricks to use as stone, and asphalt for mortar. They said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top shall reach the sky. Let us make ourselves a name, so that we will not be scattered all over the face of the earth.' God descended to see the city and the tower that the sons of man had built. God said, 'They are a single people, all having one language, and this is the first thing they do! Now nothing they plan to do will be unattainable for them! Come, let us descend and confuse their speech, so that one person will not understand another's speech'. From that place, God scattered them all over the face of the earth, and they stopped building the city. He named it Babel, because this was the place where God confused the world's language. It was from there that God dispersed humanity over all the face of the earth."
    -- Book of Genesis 11:1-9

    This would be fine, if there were not be any other religions in the world. I am sure other religions have their own incoherent and mythological stories too.


    Other than that, History contains a number of anecdotes about people who attempted to discover the origin of language by experiment. The first such tale was told by Herodotus, who relates that Pharaoh Psamtik I caused two children to be raised by deaf-mutes; he would see what language they ended up speaking. When the children were brought before him, one of them said something that sounded to the pharaoh like bekos, the Phrygian word for bread. From this, Psamtik concluded that Phrygian was the first language. King James IV of Scotland is said to have tried a similar experiment; his children were supposed to have ended up speaking Hebrew. Akbar,the 16th century Mogul Emperor of India is said to have tried a similar experiment; his children did not speak.

    November 24, 2008 - Wise Words For the Day:
    "Time and again human consciousness fixates, and slams the door on its greatest gift, the open-endedness of infinite possibility. As a result we do not experience reality but merely our concept of it"
    -- Jose Arguelles in "The Transformative Vision", p. 26