Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2006 November 24

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November 24[edit]

Classical and Modern Greek[edit]

Can I ask.. how mutually intelligible are the 2? Are they at all?

Same letters, different pronunciation (iotacism ?) and spelling ; some word's senses changed ; many imports of modern words, as everywhere ... for the grammar, dunno. -- DLL .. T 21:54, 23 November 2006 (UTC)
Not mutually intelligible whatsoever, even if you were to pronounce Classical Greek as Modern & vice versa. Many's the Modern Greek who flunks Ancient Greek in school, and many's the non-Greek Classicist who only wishes they had facility with the modern language. That said, knowledge of one is certainly a help with the other. But the one student in my ancient Greek class who's fluent in modern Greek is not at the top of the class (the idea that you have to come to terms with ancient Greek's grammatical complexity in order to understand actual ancient authors is an intimidating fact to come to terms with), and while I (w/ decent ancient Greek skills) can sometimes pick gists out of newspaper articles (I get a leg up if you give me the conservative Katharevousa), I could not understand any sentence of ten words in ModGk. And everything I've said here is true of simple Classical Attic prose (say Plato); the fuhgeddaboudit factor increases by 100 if we're talking about Pindar, Aeschylus, Sappho, etc. Wareh 01:19, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Wareh is spot on. I've been reading Classical Greek every day for the last 30 years or more, but when I recently began learning the modern language I found that the structure is completely different. Somewhere many years ago I read a comment about how well Greek has endured: something to the effect that it has changed less in 3,000 years than English has changed in the 600 years since Chaucer. At the time I was quite impressed, but I now think this comment is way offbeam. Anyone who has tried reading Chaucer's English may have found some slight difficulties with vocabulary, but the essential structure of the language has changed very little. In Greek, the structure is now completely different. Maid Marion 09:14, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
My impression is that most of the people claiming it's nearly identical are more or less Greek "nationalists", bending the facts to fit their vision... Btw, is there a term like Neo-Greek, similar to Neo-Latin, for modern words based on Classical Greek roots? 惑乱 分からん 14:43, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

Seeing things[edit]

Can someone help me find the word that signifies the activity of staring into places like the sky, the fire, patterns on the flooring or wherever and then finding faces or figures or objects. I am sure I have heard the word before but cannot recollect it. Thanking anyone in anticipation Raylee Burns .... —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs)

Someone like Da Vinci used to teach that. -- DLL .. T 21:51, 23 November 2006 (UTC)
Apophenia - do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?. meltBanana 23:01, 23 November 2006 (UTC)
On a related note, visual hallucinations sometimes occur in people with macular degeneration. The patients are fully aware that what they are seeing is not real, and the hallucination disappears when they close their eyes. The phenomenon is called Charles Bonnet Syndrome. See also[1]. --Norwegian Blue talk 23:29, 23 November 2006 (UTC)
The article on Apophenia doesn't really make it sound like a visual condition, it says patterns in random data, like a connection between spy satellites and fluoridated toothpaste. I am actually very interested in this, I can easily 'space out' just a tiny little bit and even textured walls and pavement start looking like they're made up of interconnected faces, I never thought of it as a 'condition'.... I'm very interested to see if anyone suggests anything else. Vespine 00:58, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Psychedelic experience? -THB 06:42, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Pareidolia, I think. EdC 23:00, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Yes, that's much more like it. Nice one. Vespine 22:12, 26 November 2006 (UTC)

That's a natural result of our brain's pattern recognition capabilities. StuRat 11:21, 29 November 2006 (UTC)

I take it there's no Rosetta Stone for Classical Nahuatl, is there?[edit]

Where can I find pronunciations of Nahuatl words? Does anybody here speak Nahuatl and use AIM? I'd really like to learn this language, and I'm a silly American, so I don't know any native speakers. -- Abnerian 08:01, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

Try Nahuatl transcription. Nahuatl is very similar to Spanish in its orthographic practices. Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 14:24, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

Australia fought "with"[edit]

In World War I, Australia fought on the side of the Allies, but against the Central Powers. However, if given the following incomplete sentence "In World War I Australia fought with..." would the correct answer be the Allies or the Central Powers? Does the word "with" imply fighting in support of, or against a specific enemy? If I were to say that I were fighting with my friend, one could assume that I was having an argument against my friend. Would either option be equally reasonable or is the interpretation of "fighting against an enemy" colloquial? Vvitor 12:15, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

The answer is that the question is unacceptably ambiguous, which leaves the answerer trying to guess the intention of the person who posed it. Neither interpretation is particularly comfortable. There are ways to phrase the question without being ambiguous, but I'd incline towards replacing "with" with either "against" or "alongside". Given that the question setter has posed a question in bad English, either way, I'd go for whichever meaning of "fought with" is most used where you live. In the UK, where I am, I'd probably veer towards it meaning "against", but I'm not sure. Such is the nature of ambiguity. My advice is that your best bet is to state the assumption of interpretation that you make, alongside your answer. --Dweller 12:37, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Best way to approach a vague and badly formed question is sideway "fought with rifles", "fought with verve and pluck." meltBanana 20:27, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
"...with the question of how to reconcile its new-found identity as an independent country with its status as a colony of the British Empire"? EdC 23:46, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Similar problem: being Dutch, when I first saw the series title 'married with children' I thought it meant 'married to children' bacause 'with' translates as 'met', which, in that sentence, gives the second meaning in Dutch. DirkvdM 07:12, 25 November 2006 (UTC)
I'm not sure about using the same word in a different sentence. Wiktionary lists 7 different definitions of with so unless the sentence is similar (Country A fought with Country B) the problem is still present. Also, I am Australian. I was initially thinking that the definition I gave about fighting with a friend was colloquial, and as such it would not be acceptable in a history answer. Also, thank you very much for your responses. Vvitor 07:31, 25 November 2006 (UTC)
Strangely, 'with' originally had the sense of 'against', 'in opposition to' (cf 'withstand', and German 'Wieder'). The senses of 'together with' and 'by means of' are later developments, ousting 'mid', which did not survive into Modern English. --ColinFine 23:10, 26 November 2006 (UTC)

"Fighting with", meaning opponents, would be more likely found between individuals rather than between nations. "Billy is fighting with Johnny" means one and only one thing - they are having a fight. But "Australia fought with the USA in the Pacific" means Australia and the USA were on the same side. You would never write "Australia fought with Japan in the Pacific". To make that make sense, you'd have to drop the "with". I think you're safe to say "In World War I Australia fought with the Allies". JackofOz 01:16, 27 November 2006 (UTC)

The thing is, I might say 'Australia fought with Japan in the Pacific' and mean they were fighting against each other. I'd be more likely to drop the 'with', particularly in formal writing, but I don't think (in my usage anyway) the meanings are as clear cut as your suggestion, unfortunately. Skittle 19:19, 27 November 2006 (UTC)

"In World War I Australia fought with ... educators who are incapable of writing an unambiguous test question." :-) StuRat 11:26, 29 November 2006 (UTC)

Minge (vulva)[edit]

What is the etymology of "minge" as slang for vulva? Is it English (as in England) slang? Is it considered very vulgar like "cunt" or more silly like "pussy"? I never heard the term before. -THB 03:48, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

I would say that its acceptability lies between the words C*** and pussy.--Light current 03:56, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
"Minge" just redirects to "vulva" whereas "cunt" and "pussy" have their own articles. -THB
Yes I notced that. I think 'minge' should really have its own article as i believe ther are other connotations concerning it. ie it may apply to animal genitals as well! --Light current 04:06, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
No on second thoughts, the word only seems to apply to the humane female's external genitalia--Light current 04:37, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Urban dictionary indicates that many use it to refer to female pubic hair only, not the vulva. -THB 04:41, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Hmmm. Well therabouts anyway! 8-)--Light current 04:42, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

This all might be better placed on a lavatory wall, to be enjoyed by tittering schoolboys. It most probably is. Clio the Muse 05:57, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

lol been wondering about some of these recent posts myself. Reference desk starting to look like high school graffiti Sandman30s 11:49, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Actually, this thread should be on the language RD, where hopefully editors are less prudish.--Light current 12:26, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

Great. Someone moved this question that was in response to another question on another board so now it looks like I came up with this on my own. -THB 13:05, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

I'm not on the least surprised that you are embarrassed to be thought of as the initiator of this silly and puerile discussion. Clio the Muse 19:25, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Don't worry, does it matter that much in what context (i.e. Wikipedia) you first heard the expression? 惑乱 分からん 13:11, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
It certainly is British; whether it's uniquely English I have no idea (but would be surprised if it were). You might enlarge your inquiry to include "minger", a general pejorative for an unattractive woman ... the connection with pubic hair is then reinforced by the irregularly-pronounced "ginger minger". Tesseran 19:39, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
The OED says it means the female pudenda and that it is probably from the Latin mingere meaning to piss. Most etymology is complicated and mingles different meanings, like ming an old word meaning a mixture, usually not a very nice mixture. Maybe a ming of minge and muff (or merkin) makes a minger. You see the internet is a massive toilet door. meltBanana 20:39, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Ah merkin. Now thats a word you dont hear very often. What a picture it conjures! 8-)
Yes, often used in the salutation "A merkin for your quim, madam". Most women are chuffed when they hear this, initially at least. JackofOz 01:06, 28 November 2006 (UTC)

I'm not sure how one could come to the conclusion that this discussion was necessarily puerile. Light-hearted, certainly (not every subject under the sun has to be treated with utmost seriousness). But it concerns the etymology of a slang word, which I've found it necessary to research for a foreigner.

I'm wondering if it really is slang thoughm strictly speaking. The couple of minutes I've spent Googling etc lead me to believe that its origin might be Romany (Gypsy proper). My own opinion (and opinion is all that it is thus far) is that it isn't anything to do with public hair, and the phrase "ginger minge(r)" just happens to rhyme slightly.

The Roma language is apparently not descended from Latin, being Indo-Iranian. There are a smattering of (what we used to call, pre-PC) 'Gypsies' throughout Northern Ireland and the word is common here. What we called "Gypsies" are now known as 'Travellers', and I see the Wikipedia article on them basically seems to claim that it is technically incorrect to refer to them as Gypsies, though I personally suspect the truth simply is that the term Gypsy carries with it too many negative connotaions.

The article on the language of the Travellers claims that, although the language "contains elements" of Romani languages, the Travellers are not "actual" Roma.

Anyway, excuse my puerile ramblings(!) --Mal 08:15, 23 April 2007 (UTC)

how is this story[edit]

actually i havent completed it i have to write another 1000 words but could you give me a rating .is it good or or will it be chucked into the well populated junkyard of crappy story' trying to create an element of suspense .are my efforts fruitful?

THE WEB OF LIFE A spider weaves a web, people weave one of treachery or deceit, but inseparable from all of us is the web of life that has many entangled in it and has maintained interconnectivity in our life through the ages.


the writer ,despised by many sat by his window sill ,watching the world below him . he then climbed onto the window ad shouted from his weary heart ,”Into the hands of thy concrete jungle do I commend my spirit “


their funds had been ready ,but their arrival had been delayed by a few high ranking members of their order. Surprisingly they had been against the trip as a whole and so they had been named ‘the skeptics’ by the rest of the members; but what could they do .the skeptics were high ranking members in the order ;privy to most secrets .unlike the ‘Young members’

they had to convince the skeptics but would the skeptics listen ;that was the question plaguing their minds .


the radicals hated the conservative and the mouth piece organization ‘The New Order for The Conservative Times’. TNOCT as the conservatives called was the rally point for any one who was against the new radical ideas in the society. The TNOCT was not even a major player in the everyday scene but when Ezra Marion joined their ranks their membership swelled .they hated the traitor …..

He had to be terminated.


during their struggle to be heard they had to undergo many transitions but essentially their roots could be traced to the conservatives of the previous century .

one of their experiments had been to include a promising, young writer into their ranks , but eventually he was demarcated as an ‘undesirable’ because he was too liberal for the elders .but they couldn’t expel him he had a huge clout among the younger members .

He had to be exterminated .


the author sensing his unwelcome presence among the elders began distancing himself from them, he too began formulating a plan.

************************* two men, geared up they would be having a long day : even they knew it ,they didn’t know each other . one of them had a cause, the other was in for money .One drove a rundown car , and the other was chauffeured in a limousine. Their paths were to meet that day.

******************* the radicals hated a traitor more than the TNOCT , he had been groomed by them, but he had broken the ranks :he had joined the enemy .


Day as its custom dawned ,but everything else that took place was unaccustomed. Ezra Marion stood up aware that every step he took would be the last few ones .The plan that he was developing in his mind was ridden with loopholes ,he felt that he had to improvise it, otherwise his efforts would be futile .

The young members were waiting for a taxi near the airport ,each one of them fatigued by the long flight but excited to meet the great ‘Ezra Marion’

The two assassins were ready their minds set they began to embark on their mission ,each determined to succeed in their mission ,each with one goal and survival their instinct.. But their social standings were totally different one had campaigned in the grassroots while the other kept himself for multimillion dollar contracts .but today what every they expected is no where close to where fate had planned to lead them .

The skeptics had planned a party ,actually a downfall bash with which they could celebrate the dethroning of their greatest enemy. Would they be disappointed ,only the day’s progression could tell them .

Ezra Marion had one quality in serendipical proportions ; the ability to maintain a clear head.

"is serendipical proprtions a correct and good usage ." thank youMi2n15 13:16, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

Language : serendipital is slightly more in use (personal research using google). See also punctuation (no space before a dot, one after.)
Literature : your use of relatively rare words must be a deliberate choice. But then you are off the beaten path.
Plot : I'm not convinced. Your rating is excellent anyway because so little people try really something! -- DLL .. T 19:13, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

any possibilties or methods to improve the plot , is the starting part good ?Mi2n15 10:51, 25 November 2006 (UTC)

Do you mean "commend my spirit" or "commit my spirit" ? StuRat 11:29, 29 November 2006 (UTC)
I think he did mean "commend". As per Jesus on the cross "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46). JackofOz 03:53, 30 November 2006 (UTC)


When did 'Diverse' get an 'e' on the end, and why? Skittle 15:33, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

Because it was borrowed from French? 惑乱 分からん 15:51, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
See Silent E. -THB 16:20, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Also see Etymonline's entry. 惑乱 分からん 17:18, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Thanks, that suggests that the variation is very old, but doesn't really go into it. Every time I see it in older writing (up to 19th century?), it is spelled 'divers', and every time in modern 'diverse'. I was wondering if there was some story behind it, some fashion or influential work. I don't see anything in Silent E; am I missing something? Skittle 19:00, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

Perhaps as a way of differentiating it from "divers" (people who dive). AnonMoos 22:51, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

Hmmm, that doesn't seem sufficient reason, by itself. After all, people must have been diving for centuries before the spelling changed, and many English words are spelled the same with a greater potential for confusion (read, lead), and they haven't changed. Come on linguists! :-) Skittle 19:12, 27 November 2006 (UTC)
My guess is that it was to standardise the spelling of words that end with the ers sound (eg. reverse, universe, verse, terse), precisely because divers confuses the eye in that it looks like a plural noun, or a possessive noun with a missed apostrophe, but is actually an adjective. I remember coming across the expression "talking in divers tongues" in a school Bible lesson. I assumed it had something to do with the tongues of people who dive, and my teacher had to come to my rescue. I can't think of any other word ending in -ers that is pronounced ers, so without a compelling case to keep this unique spelling it was only a question of time before it was altered. As for when this change happened, I can't help. It may have been around the time "shew" (meaning show) was changed to "show". Mind you, this doesn't explain why "worse" is not spelled "werse". JackofOz 01:26, 28 November 2006 (UTC)
I recall from an English class that there is in fact a difference between "diverse" and "divers." I don't recall exactly what that difference is, but a good trek through your favorite dictionary could prove useful. --Doubleplusungood 03:47, 30 November 2006 (UTC)
Interesting (and you too Jack!). I suppose I'm really asking here because I don't have a good dictionary, nor access to one at the moment. I was hoping that the linguists of the reference desk had many lovely books full of this sort of thing (even just the OED?), and could thus tell me the relevant bit. Skittle 00:05, 1 December 2006 (UTC)
My Hamlyn Encylopedic World Dictionary says that "divers" means several, sundry; and is sometimes used pronominally ("divers of them"); and "diverse" means 1. of a different kind, form character etc; unlike. 2. of various kinds or forms; multiform. Both words derive from the Latin diversus, pp, lit. turned different ways. This suggests you could use "diverse" to describe a single thing (such as a diverse community), whereas "divers" can only refer to more than one thing. Despite that, I think the meanings have become somewhat merged. My dictionary (published in 1972) does not say that divers is archaic, but I'm sure it would be so considered nowadays. JackofOz 01:00, 1 December 2006 (UTC)
Thanks. That has added to my knowledge :-) So people could talk in divers tongues, or a diverse tongue? Skittle 22:58, 1 December 2006 (UTC)

Quaker language[edit]

I'm reading Uncle Tom's Cabin and I've noticed that the Quakers say things like "And what'll thee do when thee gets there." and "How is thee?". There are lots of thees and a couple of thy and thines, but no thous. My question is, did Quakers in America really talk like this, or does Harriet Beecher Stowe not know how to use the old second person singular? Skittle 15:37, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

See this discussion. Mostly "thou" was used to address God. -THB 16:17, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Also see Thou#Religious_uses. 惑乱 分からん 17:13, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
Thanks. The discussion suggests they really did use 'thee' for nominative, although the article suggests this is a stereotype. All very interesting. Thanks again. Skittle 18:56, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
I'll add that to my list to read, Hot. Skittle 19:13, 27 November 2006 (UTC)
I was told by a Latin teacher that "thou" is related to the Latin nominative pronoun "tu," and that "thee" is related to the Latin objective pronoun "te."

Word for all colonies[edit]

Is there a word that encompasses the world of all great colonial empires (England, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland?)?Mr.K. 20:29, 24 November 2006 (UTC).

Have a look at the History of colonialism. Apart from Imperialism I can think of no single term that would unite such disparate political and cultural entities. Clio the Muse 23:12, 24 November 2006 (UTC)
"The colonial empires" sounds reasonable to me... 惑乱 分からん 22:09, 27 November 2006 (UTC)