Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2008 April 14

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April 14[edit]


What are the pronunciations of Mma and Rra? Are they the equivalent to Madam and Mister? Since I read No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency five years ago, I've been inquiring librarians, people who saw the televised version on BBC, people who were going to Botswana and searching dictionaries galore. Any idea? ~ ~ ~ ~—Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:15, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

On the Radio 4 version they were pronounced "Maa" and Rah" but with the R rolled.The BBC is usaually pretty good on pronunciation.And reading the book, they are honorifics, so Madame and Mister is about right.It sounds formal to us but it's a different culture, hotclaws 07:11, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

Thrown under the bus[edit]

Lately I've been hearing this phrase quite a bit. I thought it was just a local thing that cropped up which my co-workers had latched onto but I've seen it in print a time or two as well. Is this a new phrase that's just becoming popular or is there some sports/political/etc commentator that uses it frequently in their vocabulary? As far as context goes, it would be something like this, "Why did you have to make that complaint about your coworkers bad habits to the boss? He knows I work with you. Why'd you have to throw me under the bus like that?" Dismas|(talk) 04:25, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

It is very new. has definitions for well-established idioms; e.g. drag one's feet, etc. There is none for Throw someone under the bus. Here it is at the Urban Dictionary which has entries for conversated and other gobbledygook.-- (talk) 05:36, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
I've been hearing it on the national news a lot lately (I remember the phrase in a story about Larry Craig, for example). It seems to have taken the place of another very colorful phrase for a ruthless betrayal: "[she] cut him off at the knees". --Sean 11:53, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
I know Stephanie Miller uses it a lot. She even has a special sound effect of a bus horn followed by a thump which accompanies the phrase when she says it. Corvus cornixtalk 18:03, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

Over on this side of The Atlantic "if you fall under a bus tomorrow" has been in normal use for decades. Its usually used to indicate the loss of a person's ability at a specific task, knowledge that they posses or how them not being around will affect others. In all uses the option of the person actually surviving the fall under the bus is never a possibility. Perhaps this points towards your co-worker being on the path to an unavoidable talking to from their boss. - X201 (talk) 18:13, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

In the U.S., I've heard similar use of "If you (or I or he or she) got hit by a truck tomorrow" or, less often, "got run over by a truck tomorrow". Thus, from 2007:

"If I got hit by a truck tomorrow," says Groening, "The Simpsons would continue on indefinitely." [1]

It doesn't have the same connotation of betrayal that "thrown under the bus" does. Instead, it has the same sense you report for "fall under a bus tomorrow", namely the sudden and complete removal of a person. JamesMLane t c 14:00, 17 April 2008 (UTC)

Favouritism to ones family or siblings[edit]

Would anyone know the word for favouring or always saying a member of ones family is better, similar to egotistical and narcissism, but of the family or sibling? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:31, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

Nepotism?-- (talk) 05:42, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

can we imagine sentences much faster than we can speak them?[edit]

...or (since we can speak so darn fast if need be) can we imagine sentences only at about the same rate? For example, could a person's "inner voice" say a paragraph (maybe if it has a simple structure or something) several times faster than the fastest reader could read it? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:53, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

Certainly. There "was a Scheme for entirely abolishing all Words whatsoever; and this was urged as a great Advantage in Point of Health as well as Brevity. For it is plain, that every Word we speak is in some Degree a Diminution of our Lungs by Corrosion, and consequently contributes to the shortning of our Lives. An Expedient was therefore offered, that since Words are only Names for Things, it would be more convenient for all Men to carry about them, such Things as were necessary to express the particular Business they are to discourse on. And this Invention would certainly have taken Place, to the great Ease as well as Health of the Subject, if the Women in conjunction with the Vulgar and Illiterate had not threatned to raise a Rebellion, unless they might be allowed the Liberty to speak with their Tongues, after the manner of their Ancestors; such constant irreconcilable Enemies to Science are the common People."-- (talk) 06:04, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

I read without pronouncing the words in my head ,so I read faster than I could speak.For example, I can read an ordinary sized book in about 1 1/2 hours.The last Harry Potter's took about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. hotclaws 07:14, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

Many linguists believe that one of the reasons for breaking up speech into prosodic units is that this is how the brain processes it: very fast for short spurts, but then it has to stop and gather its wits before the next. There are issues of information flow—you tend to get only one lexical noun or verb per spurt of speech, suggesting that, on average at least, the brain can't handle much more than that. Using fixed constructions, idioms, and fillers such as "um", "like", and "y'know" are all taken to be evidence that with extemporaneous speech, we speak faster physically than we can construct speech mentally. (Many of the fillers, however, serve to hold your turn in the conversation, so your partner doesn't interrupt you.) Reading is different, because it's passive: you don't have the cognitive load of composing all those words. Rehearsed speech such as stories are also different. kwami (talk) 07:53, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
Actually, now that you mention it, I've tried that too! For example, I read War And Peace in about 20 minutes. It was about Russia. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:48, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
Nice one, Woody. Julia Rossi (talk) 09:54, 16 April 2008 (UTC)

"Mispronounced" eponyms[edit]

I can think of a few examples, among many, of eponymous titles that are generally pronounced differently from the way the person after whom they were named pronounced their own name:

Does this sub-group of eponyms have a special name, and is there a comprehensive list anywhere? -- JackofOz (talk) 09:32, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

I would consider #3 and #4 naturalized (anglicized) pronunciations, and #1 and #5 mistakes. #2 could go either way. Paul Davidson (talk) 11:01, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
I shouldn't think so, and I don't know. But here's another, a double: Halley's Comet (HAY-lee or HAL-ee) after Edmond Halley (HAUL-ee). And if I may sneak one in, the Isaac Asimov Award (AZ-i-mahv) after Isaac Asimov (AZ-i-muff). Our Isaac Asimov article has that wrong, by the way. I distinctly remember reading his own words on the matter, but I distinctly forget exactly where. I think it was in his amusing ramblings in the front of his anthology periodical Asimov's Science Fiction. Another even more tenuous, the Annan Plan for Cyprus, which is surely usually mispronounced (uh-NON) the same way the man's name (AN-in) was throughout his tenure as secretary general of the UN. --Milkbreath (talk) 11:56, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
The current pronunciation was sourced to Azimov's writing and also to Azimov's own pronunciation (link was up at talk page). I'll see if any inaccuracies have crept in. But anyway, the words he used had been off/mauve, not muff, IIRC. --Kjoonlee 13:36, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
Yeah? Well, it's a good thing we can't cite my memeory, then. But I still think I know different. --Milkbreath (talk) 17:38, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
I remember that he quoted with an approval a limerick (possibly by Randall Garrett?) that ended with "Isaac has 'em off". —Tamfang (talk) 05:21, 15 April 2008 (UTC)

Campbell, Ohio -- Named after a "CAM-bull," pronounced "CAM-ull" -- Mwalcoff (talk) 22:37, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

This wasn't a call for lots of examples; that time will come. But thanks anyway, folks. So, it seems there is no term. Some eponymic repronunciations are very understandable (Strzelecki); others are somewhat counter-intuitive (Campbell). There's bound to be large number of them, and a long list is long overdue. I'd agree with Paul Davidson about #1 and #5 being mistakes, but only in respect of the first time those mistakes were made, back whenever. Since then, the new pronunciation of the object has become the accepted form. It would be inappropriate, now, to talk of attending the <Sillinger> Stakes or of climbing Mt EVE-rest; but it would be appropriate to say "The <St Leger> Stakes were named after a man named <Sillinger>", or "Mt EVER-est was named after a man named EVE-rest". It's good to know these facts, but certainly not for the purpose of re-educating anyone to get the pronunciation "right". Which is why I put "mispronounced" in inverted commas in the header. They're not mispronounced any more, despite their origin. For this reason, these eponyms are also a sub-set of heteronyms and possibly some other -onyms, but they form a class of their own. Google does not recognise the word "mispronym", so I hereby coin it. -- JackofOz (talk) 00:08, 15 April 2008 (UTC)
Nice. How do you pronounce that? The same way "mispronounce" and "acronym" would imply? – b_jonas 09:20, 15 April 2008 (UTC)
Yes, I'd say so. -- JackofOz (talk) 10:36, 15 April 2008 (UTC)

Chinese puns[edit]

My understanding of Chinese is that there are many words that are spoken exactly the same except for varying the four tones of the language. This would imply to me that there must be a rich vein of puns and humour based on the language. Is this true? Is a significant part of the humour of the culture based around wordplay? (talk) 11:55, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

I know the wits on Chinese Uncyclopedia think it the funniest thing on earth to substitute characters with other, random similar- or not-so-similar sounding characters. For example, they call Uncyclopedia "偽基百科", "Wei ji Baike", identically pronounced to the Chinese name for Wikipedia except for the tone of the first character (维基百科. Whereas the first character in the translation of Wikipedia means something like "nexus", "link", "sustain", the first character in the translation of Uncyclopedia means "fake".
Puns, or character-substitution, lends itself easily to ridiculing another's name, which, outside the schoolyard, is often seen in a political context, where a pun is more subtle than outright denouncement. I once saw a "poem" where each line incorporated the name of a member of the Politburo as a pun for some corrupt, salacious, or otherwise unsavoury idea.
For a masterpiece in Chinese tonal wordplay, see Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den, where linguist Yuen Ren Chao writes a 92-character story using only one sound "shi", in various tones. --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 12:11, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
When students in Beijing were protesting Deng Xiaoping, they would smash small small bottles (xiao ping). Of course, his name has a different pun in English, though most people are too polite to say it. kwami (talk) 18:07, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
What's the English pun?? --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 00:12, 15 April 2008 (UTC)
It is also the source of uncomfortable words. The most common is the word for Four (si) which sounds far too much like the word for Death. Therefore, 4 is treated very much like 13 is treated in the European/American societies. When in areas with a strong mix (such as Hawaii), I noticed hotels that skipped both floor 4 and 13. One was creative. Floor 4 was all shops. Floor 13 was a restaurant. -- kainaw 21:59, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
In the internet era, we also see more expressions which probably originated as typos in pinyin-based Chinese character entry systems, but which have ended up as enduring language humour. Thus, the administrator/moderator of a web forum, properly called "版主", "board-master", is often referred to instead as "斑竹", "spotted bamboo", which has the same sound but different tones. --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 04:57, 15 April 2008 (UTC)
My Chinese isn't good enough to tell you more, but the "Dream of the Red Chamber" [紅樓夢], the great Chinese novel by Cao Xueqin, is full of puns, and even hard to appreciate without them, according to the translator David Hawkes. The most basic one is that there are two characters named Jia Baoyu (the hero) and Zhen Baoyu, where the surnames also mean "True" and "False."

Evangeline (talk) 08:50, 7 May 2008 (UTC)

French translation of Divina Commedia's "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate"[edit]


how is the famous "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate" - Abandon all hope, ye who enter here - from Dante's Divina Commedia actually translated into French in the French translation?

Thank you very much!

Linus, (talk) 14:00, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

«Vous qui entrez ici, laissez toute espérance.» — Kpalion(talk) 14:51, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

correct term for a baby hedgehog[edit]

What is the correct term for a baby hedgehog, for example if I were to say "yesterday I ran over a (baby hedgehog) with my car"? I have checked the hedgehog article but its not listed. Thanks in advance, jj —Preceding unsigned comment added by Its hard to believe (talkcontribs) 15:25, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

[2]this says it is a piglet or a pup. Just by the sound of it, I'd prefer Hedgehog Pup, but they appear to follow the same naming system as pigs (boar, sow etc.) so maybe Hedgehog Piglet would be more correct, if a little odd-sounding. Fribbler (talk) 16:17, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
Why not just "hedgepiglet"? ;-) —Angr 16:24, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
Hedgepiglet! I like the sound of that, all right. Fribbler (talk) 16:28, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
With Hedgehogs, people do use the terms common for pigs. Piglet is the proper term. Hoglet, pup, and even pog are commonly seen (even in professional papers). Because there is no language authority in English to enforce any rules, the usage of pig terminology for hedgehogs is just something that formed over time. It is easy to find a lot of disagreement. All in all, hedgehog it is a recent addition to the English language, so it isn't much of a rule yet regarding the use. I do not know what a baby urchin was called - or even if anyone cared to have a specific term for a baby urchin. -- kainaw 18:59, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
How about 'Baby Hedgehog'? That's gramatically correct. Ilikefood (talk) 22:47, 16 April 2008 (UTC)


Is it true that there is a Japanese word for a woman that looks hot from behind but has a less beautiful front? Dorftrottel (complain) 16:25, April 14, 2008

Yes, she is called 'my wife'. Most of the time I can't WAIT to see the back of her. And, yes, she is Japanese. --ChokinBako (talk) 17:06, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
I don't know about Japanese, but I know a funny rhyme (not a single word though) in Polish: z tyłu liceum, z przodu muzeum (literally: high school from behind, museum from the front). — Kpalion(talk) 17:14, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
In British English there is an acronym, BOBFOC, which stands for Body Off Baywatch, Face Off Crimewatch. FreeMorpheme (talk) 18:19, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
You guys are all so funny. It's like a cacophony of sexist rimshots in here. --Oskar 18:52, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
If there is such a word, it's not included in the book Womansword: What Japanese Words Say about Women, by Kittredge Cherry (ISBN 4-7700-1655-7). AnonMoos (talk) 19:06, 14 April 2008 (UTC)
There needs to be such a word for men too. I've certainly met enough men who fit this description in my life. However, I've met even more men who are gorgeous from the neck down (on both sides!) but desperately need to wear a paper bag over their head. —Angr 21:42, 14 April 2008 (UTC)

Thanks all so far. Just to make sure: This is not a joke question, someone recently told me IRL. And yes, I agree that there should be lots and lots of these words, both for men and women and regarding all sorts of aspects (e.g. beautiful on this outside, ugly on the inside). Dorftrottel (harass) 02:14, April 15, 2008

In English (or at least this was true in Canadian high schools...or at least my high school) there is also "butterface", which means she is attractive everywhere "but her face". Adam Bishop (talk) 04:07, 15 April 2008 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)
It's very probable such a term (but not a word) exists; I think I might have heard it once, but I'm not sure. A similar Korean term is "100 metre beauty." --Kjoonlee 07:10, 15 April 2008 (UTC)
There is. It's an old students' slang. バック・シャン (bakku shan). The word is a combination of an English word 'back' and a German word 'schön'. Oda Mari (talk) 15:40, 15 April 2008 (UTC)
! Thanks a lot! Dorftrottel (bait) 00:38, April 16, 2008

bakkushan merely states that a woman is beautiful from behind. It does not necessarily imply anything about her appearances from the front, although such an interpretation is certainly possible and even likely in the right context. Another option is ikkoku rokuto which Nikkoku defines as

[Being surprised twice. In particular, describes the appearance of a woman who while has a beautiful figure from behind has an ugly face.]

It goes on to give a quote from 1681. Bendono (talk) 08:40, 16 April 2008 (UTC)