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December 1[edit]

Former 86-year-old[edit]

Reading the BBC News site about Buzz Aldrin being evacuated from Antarctica, they say...

"The former 86-year-old astronaut was visiting Antarctica..."

Is this correct English? Doesn't this mean that Buzz Aldrin WAS 86 years old in the past but now is somewhat older and that he is an astronaut? Wouldn't it have been more correct to say "The 86-year-old former astronaut was visiting Antarctica..."

Sorry if I'm being picky. CoeurDeHamster (talk) 14:23, 1 December 2016 (UTC)

I agree. --Thomprod (talk) 14:35, 1 December 2016 (UTC)
The BBC agrees with you as well - their site has now changed it to read "The 86-year-old former astronaut was visiting Antarctica" - Wymspen (talk) 16:41, 1 December 2016 (UTC)
Although, technically, if he were 87 years old or older, the first would be correct too... --Jayron32 16:52, 1 December 2016 (UTC)
One could pick a nit with that. First, I maintain that "The former 12-year old astronaut was visiting..." is strictly false. He never was a 12 year old astronaut. If the "86 year" version will ever become true depends on the understanding of the status as "astronaut" - is it "once an astronaut, always an astronaut", or does one lose that status when one stops being active in the role of an astronaut? The BBC seems to imply the later, hence "former astronaut". Of course, I wouldn't tell Buzz ;-). --Stephan Schulz (talk) 16:58, 1 December 2016 (UTC)
How's the BBC doing on "former Italian prime minister" lately? —Tamfang (talk) 00:09, 3 December 2016 (UTC)

"Former" is an adjective, and cannot modify "86-year-old", which is an adjectival phrase. One would need to say "the formerly 86-year-old...", with "formerly as an adverb modifying the AP. In any case, the original word order is sloppy, and the corrected word order is to be preferred. μηδείς (talk) 17:26, 1 December 2016 (UTC)

86-year-old is a perfectly functional noun phrase as well. Consider Q: "Do you have any kids?" A: "Yes, I have two: a three-year-old and a seven-year-old. The seven-year-old is just learning to ride his bicycle". --Jayron32 18:55, 1 December 2016 (UTC)
It could be, in a different context. In this case astronaut is undoubtedly the subject noun, so 86-year-old can only be interpreted as an adjectival phrase. μηδείς (talk) 22:53, 1 December 2016 (UTC)
But "former" can modify "86-year old astronaut", which is a noun phrase. It has different semantics, of course. --Stephan Schulz (talk) 17:37, 1 December 2016 (UTC)
I know he is old, but has he been an astronaut for 86 years? Dbfirs 19:06, 1 December 2016 (UTC)
That would be an "86-year astronaut" not an "86-year-old astronaut". Do keep up... --Jayron32 19:10, 1 December 2016 (UTC)
No, you keep up, and look at the hyphen(s)! ... but I apologise to Stephan Schulz for my nit-picking comment. I knew perfectly well what he intended. Dbfirs 19:13, 1 December 2016 (UTC)
It's time to 86 this discussion. Clarityfiend (talk) 23:44, 2 December 2016 (UTC)
Disagree. That time was 16:41, 1 December 2016. ―Mandruss  00:19, 3 December 2016 (UTC)
Splunge! μηδείς (talk) 04:48, 3 December 2016 (UTC)

December 4[edit]

the meaning of 'surrogate'[edit]

Would you please teach me the meaning of 'surrogate'in the following sentence? Two presidents saw the Soviet Union and its surrogates expand their power and influence in Afghanistan, southern Africa and Central America by subversion and outright military invasion.---Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years, p. (talk) 00:45, 4 December 2016 (UTC)dengen

Here, it means "one who acts on behalf of". So Thatcher meant the nations that were closely aligned with the Soviet Union, and at that time it probably meant nations of the Eastern Bloc that aligned with the Soviet Union's policies. Akld guy (talk) 01:00, 4 December 2016 (UTC)
I'd omit of from that definition, since surrogate also requires it (Castro was a surrogate of Brezhnev). —Tamfang (talk) 00:39, 6 December 2016 (UTC)
IIUC, in the modern political parlance this is called proxy. --2A02:C7D:8E50:2600:2DE0:F358:8306:40DF (talk) 20:17, 4 December 2016 (UTC)
Client states of the Soviet Union included much of the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance. But influence goes beyond proxy wars to "soft power" - e.g. providing scholarships for students from what were then called Third World countries to study in the USSR or its satellites. See for example Afro-Russian, Angola–Soviet Union relations, the Soviet–Afghan War, and many other examples within Category:Bilateral relations of the Soviet Union. And then there's Cuba - from Cuba–Soviet Union relations to Cuba's reach towards Latin America. Carbon Caryatid (talk) 20:28, 4 December 2016 (UTC)

December 5[edit]

Definition of "hollow victory"?[edit]


As far back as I can remember, everybody whom I knew defined hollow victory as a synonym for "Pyrrhic victory." (And Wiktionary [1] agrees, by the way.) Not only that, but practically every reference to said term that I can find in television, movies, etc. considers it to mean a victory far more detrimental than beneficial.

Here's the thing, though: The Oxford English Dictionary gives meaning 6 of the adjective hollow as "complete, thorough, out and out." The OED then gives several citations—including this one from the Times, dated July 31st, 1894: "The prince's cutter steadily left her opponent and gained a very hollow victory."

So, which is it? Are virtually all English speakers mistaken? Does a "hollow victory" actually constitute something for which one must dutifully strive (and not something that he must avoid at all costs)? Or could the phrase have actually changed its meaning 180° in barely a century?

I mean, I've heard of semantic drift, but this is utterly surreal!

Pine (talk) 02:41, 5 December 2016 (UTC)

First, note that this part of the dictionary has not been fully updated since it was originally written in 1899. So it is entirely possible that sense 6 has become obsolete, and I suspect it has.
Second, I don't think a hollow victory as we now understand it means a Pyrrhic victory, exactly; rather, it's a victory that produces little benefit for any reason. For example, say you're rich and it's no trouble for you to sue a certain opponent; you win and are awarded a large judgement; but it turns out your opponent is broke and can't pay you anything. That's not a Pyrrhic victory, since you weren't hurt by it, but it is a hollow one.
In the OED entry, note sense 5 ("Of persons and things: wanting soundness, solidity, or substance; empty, vain; not answering inwardly to outward appearance; insincere, false") and also sense 7 ("Of a race: feebly contested. Hence of a victory: obtained against feeble competition|). Our sense of "hollow victory" fits more with these; definition 7 even mentions "victory" although there is no quotation supporting the phrase "hollow victory". So this meaning was already competing with the one in sense 6 when the entry was written, and it's not too surprising to see one die out. -- (talk) 04:06, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
A good example may be Hillary's hollow victory in the popular vote, since it doesn't make her President. StuRat (talk) 04:29, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
What does "The prince's cutter steadily left her opponent" mean? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 04:17, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
That the prince's sailboat, a cutter, steadily expanded it's lead over the opponent's sailboat. StuRat (talk) 04:27, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
Aha, a boat. I thought maybe the prince was pitching to her and striking her out. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 05:07, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
Hence the classic schoolboy howler: "Magellan circumcised the world with a 100 foot cutter". Alansplodge (talk) 13:49, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
If he could do that, bris-kly, he would get quite a tip. StuRat (talk) 17:09, 6 December 2016 (UTC)
  • I think that sense 7 is still in use in east Tennessee (and perhaps other parts of Appalachia), at least in the phrase "all hollow", meaning "completely". For instance "Them Rebels beat them Yankees all hollow." -Arch dude (talk) 05:31, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
To "beat someone hollow" in this sense is (as far as I know) fairly common, and not geographically limited; e.g. Brewer (which suggests a different etymology from the sense 7 discussed above). HenryFlower 10:26, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
  • In that case the opponent, not the victory, is left hollow. —Tamfang (talk) 00:38, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

ou in southern[edit]

Internet sites are not helpful on revealing why southern is pronounced suthern. Any reason?? Does it have an etymology that diverged from that of south and did it only get its ou from the influence of south?? Georgia guy (talk) 14:31, 5 December 2016 (UTC)

The various etymological sites indicate that the old English words were suth and suthern - and most of the related Germanic languages also have a spelling with just the "u." Oddly, none of them that I have seen indicate when the "ou" spelling developed, though I suspect it may have been because the pronunciation changed over time, and the spelling adapted to that of similar sounding words. Wymspen (talk) 15:40, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
My Concise Oxford tells me that in OE, the sound in both words was "ū" ,i.e. rhymed with "sue". Martinevans123 (talk) 15:49, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
And how did the sounds in each word diverge?? Georgia guy (talk) 15:50, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
Alas my Concise Oxford is too concise for that. But I suspect it was long before Southern States emerged. Martinevans123 (talk) 15:55, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
You may find Kathleen Ferrier's version of "Blow the Wind Southerly" interesting in this respect, as she pronounces it "sow-ther-ly", and I'm wondering if this is an affectation or maybe an indication of how the Queen's English has changed in the last century. --TammyMoet (talk) 16:28, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
I always thought that was her rather quaint RP take on Northumbrian? Martinevans123 (talk) 21:03, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
My guess is that the change in pronunciation of "south" followed the introduction of the "o" into the spelling around 1300, and that "southern" retains a version of the older pronunciation (modified by the vowel shift). Perhaps an expert in Old English can check this? Southerners Some in the UK tend to pronounce Robert Southey's surname with the vowel of "southern" whereas northerners those around Keswick know that the surname has always been pronounces with the vowel of "south". Dbfirs 17:00, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
Dbfirs, the Southey article which you link to says the exact opposite of what you claim regarding southerners and northerners: Southey's biographer comments that: "There should be no doubt as to the proper pronunciation of the name: 'Sowthey'. The poet himself complained that people in the North would call him 'Mr Suthy'" Unless southerners and northerners have swapped pronunciations since Southey's day. HenryFlower 20:56, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
Oh yes, sorry, it does quote his biographer saying that. I got the opposite impression from a radio programme. Perhaps it was only those around Keswick who knew the correct pronunciation, and other northerners mispronounced it. We do have the Southall in London. I've adjusted my comment to avoid accidentally misleading anyone. Martinevans' link above has a different view. Dbfirs 21:18, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
Appears to be a case of Trisyllabic laxing, q.v. —Stephen (talk) 21:21, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
@Georgia guy: See the last paragraph and paragraph (b) here and here. P.S. Well, we already have the article--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 17:38, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
  • See Great Vowel Shift. Old English /uː/ fairly regularly became modern /au/, spelt ‹ou›. Apparently the ancestor of southern shortened its /u/ before that happened, giving the usual /ŭ/ → /ʌ/, but the spelling conformed to that of the root word. —Tamfang (talk) 00:35, 6 December 2016 (UTC)
I think it is related to the change in words like "love", "glove", "other", "dozen", where a Middle English /o:/ has become /ʌ/ rather than the expected /əʊ/ (or /oʊ/ dependeing on dialect). Note that this is frequent before voiced continuants /z/, /v/, /ð/, but is not universal: compare "over", "clothing"; also "move", "lose", where it has become /uʊ/.--ColinFine (talk) 13:57, 6 December 2016 (UTC)
Oh? Did the word in question ever have /oː/? —Tamfang (talk) 02:03, 7 December 2016 (UTC)

Headless chickens and pork chops[edit]

Some hyperbolic expressions can be related to reality even though they're not intended to be understood literally:

  • He was running around like a headless chicken
Headless chickens do indeed run around at random

But some others have no relationship to reality:

  • There's no need to carry on like a pork chop (= there's no need to act hysterically)
Pork chops do not "carry on", or exhibit any kind of behaviour at all. They just sit passively on the plate and get eaten.

My question is: How would the latter type of expressions have come about? And how would they retain their foothold in the language, given that every new generation would have to be taught what they mean? -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 21:14, 5 December 2016 (UTC)

Your pork chop is explained here. Origins will vary with each expression; if there's no recorded original reason, there may be one lost in the mists of time, or it may just have amused someone. I don't understand your second question at all: how is learning the meaning of an idiom any different from learning the meaning of any other word? HenryFlower 21:37, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
I wasn't seeking the origin of any particular expression, but thanks anyway.
What I mean by my 2nd question is this: If I said that someone was "running around like a headless chicken", any person in earshot old enough to be aware that chickens do not lie supine after being beheaded but run around, would understand the simile. It would need no further explanation. But everybody, on hearing for the first time the expression "carrying on like a pork chop", would need more information in order to work it out. Context might help, but that may not always be available.
There are many other examples of idioms that have no apparent meaning and would absolutely need to be explained: "to get one's goat", "the cat's pajamas", "the bee's knees" ... -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 23:14, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
Eventually these idioms become "meaningful" through repetition. I'm sure a lot of folks have said something about "getting one's goat" while having no clue what it's based on. As for those other two, I think they fell out of fashion after the 1920s or so - but maybe not? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 23:45, 5 December 2016 (UTC)
If by "explained" you mean otherwise than by context, then I think you misunderstand how vocabulary acquisition typically works. The meaning of spunky, formica, and puce, to name three more or less random words, is (like your idioms) not immediately obvious from the word itself, but neither did I ever need to have their meaning explained to me. As I heard people using the words, the meaning became clear from the context. (Sometimes only gradually -- for several years, I knew that puce was a colour, but thought it was a shade of yellow). This is how it works for most of the thousands of words in our vocabulary, and it works in exactly the same way for idioms as for individual words. Fairly random reference, if thought necessary HenryFlower 05:28, 6 December 2016 (UTC)
See also Fossil word. It's perfectly possible for a word to lose all meaning among the general public, and yet still survive in fixed expressions. So a "moot" was originally a meeting, but that meaning has been more or less forgotten, yet the fixed phrase "moot point" has survived - even if both its meaning (it originally meant a topic of discussion, not something that is not worth discussing) and its spelling (you see a lot of "mute point", for instance - see eggcorn) have started drifting. Smurrayinchester 08:44, 6 December 2016 (UTC)
I also long thought puce was yellow (well, yellowish-green). I'm happy to see that our article actually discusses that definition. Matt Deres (talk) 16:50, 7 December 2016 (UTC)

December 6[edit]

In the past was there a phenomenon of replacement of the consonants sh/l in Hebrew and Accadian?[edit]

Klein (p.369) have written that the Hebrew word "Meltah'a" (מלתחה) from the bible "it is perhaps a loan word from Akka: mashtaku / mashtaktu (=chamber)". My question is how could it be unless we say that there was a replacement of the consonant "sh" with "L". Do you know about such replacement between Hebrew and Accadian? (talk) 14:42, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

I found a book titled Akkadian Loanwords in Biblical Hebrew by someone named P. V. Mankowski. It would seem to be a good resource for answering your question; if you can find a digital copy or one in your local library, it would likely help you along in your research. --Jayron32 18:27, 6 December 2016 (UTC) -- There was no such change between Akkadian and Hebrew, but there was definitely such a change within Akkadian when the "sh" sound was preceded by a vowel and followed by a dental stop. Thus išdu "foundation" becomes ildu etc. The change had its beginnings in Old Babylonian, and is fairly consistently carried through by the Middle Babylonian/Assyrian stage... AnonMoos (talk) 19:52, 6 December 2016 (UTC)
By the way, the warning sign in מלתחה / mashtaku is probably the alleged ח-k correspondence, not really št/lt... AnonMoos (talk) 20:04, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

AnonMoos, I would be very thankful to you if you'll give me a reference which proofs your things regarding to the changing between sh and L within the Akkadian. Regarding to the change between ח and k is very common between these two languages since the consonant ח wasn't in akkadian, as you can see for example here. (talk) 20:36, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

Which school system is better: the Dutch, American or British one?[edit]

<inappropriate solicitation removed>

Please do not solicit from this desk. It is inappropriate. Seek other means to get your surveys completed. --Jayron32 17:06, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

December 7[edit]

Term for "pompadour" used in the 1950's[edit]

Please delete duplicate submissions made by mistake. I am trying to remember what men who used Pompadours during the late 50's and early 60's used to call them — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:14, 7 December 2016 (UTC)

Some varieties were called duck's asses, like the example in the second image in the article I've linked. Deor (talk) 01:23, 7 December 2016 (UTC)

Reply to comment: duck's ass was another style element but not what I was looking for. What I recall was usually on the top and in the front. Such as Elvis used to wear. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:31, 7 December 2016 (UTC)

The term you're looking for might be Quiff. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 09:59, 7 December 2016 (UTC)