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

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Language desk
< January 13 << Dec | January | Feb >> January 15 >
Welcome to the Wikipedia Language Reference Desk Archives
The page you are currently viewing is an archive page. While you can leave answers for any questions shown below, please ask new questions on one of the current reference desk pages.

January 14[edit]

it can't be helped that there's a lot of it about[edit]

English without is the opposite of both with and within; the latter sense is now rare but I gather that it was once the only sense. What was the old opposite of with? —Tamfang (talk) 03:28, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

In fact both senses had co-existed for a long time before one of them died out, according to the OED. The sans meaning is attested in as early as 1200.--K.C. Tang (talk) 03:46, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
Hmmm. Sans is definitely a French loanword. It's possible that some sort of cognate to German ohne was typical before sans came into regular English usage. But I'm just speculating. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 04:00, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
My fault: I meant "without" in the sense of sans, not sans, is attested in as early as 1200, according to the OED.--K.C. Tang (talk) 04:33, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
Given the fact that English is closer to Frisian than to German, it might be better to look for a cognate there. The Frisian word for without is "sûnder" (cf. Dutch "zonder"). AecisBrievenbus 00:45, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
Well, OK, Aecis. Cognate with the Frisian is English sunder (verb, and earlier adjective, etc.); cognate also with German sonder[n], and a host of other Germanic cognates. As for ohne, there appear to be no English cognates. OED points out in particular that the prefix un- is not to be associated with ohne.
– Noetica♬♩Talk 01:01, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
Hmm, that's interesting. Ohne is often ohn in older German texts, and not just ohn' for poetic reasons. Older texts also sometimes use the prefix ohn- where modern Standard German uses un-. Examples: ohngern for ungern (un-gladly or grudgingly), ohnverschämt for unverschämt ("un-coy" or insolent), or Ohnglück for Unglück (un-luck or mishap/disaster). So, if OED as referred to by Noetica is correct, I suppose this might be a coincidence due to German's pluricentral choices of spelling before its orthography was standardized? ---Sluzzelin talk 01:38, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
Little Key, OED says (at "Un-, prefix1"): "When un- is prefixed to present or past participles, these are rarely employed in a true participial function, but become adjectival in character. Examples of the present participle, however, occasionally occur with a following object, or with a prepositional construction; and in Scottish use, from at least the 15th century, un- in such cases has acquired the sense of ‘without’. More rarely, in the older language, it has the same sense with passive participles. Both constructions are still retained in north-eastern Scottish dialect, with the prefix in the form on or ohn, frequently written separate from the participle. (The spelling ohn is due to, or has led to, a false association with G. ohne without.)"
– Noetica♬♩Talk 01:50, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
According to my copy of Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Primer, (9th Edition, OUP 1953, 1961 printing incorporating corrections from 1955 & 1957, p. 56), "butan" means "without, except", "binnan" means "within", and "med" means "with". I hope this helps. DuncanHill (talk) 04:13, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
And wiþ meant "against". Deor (talk) 04:31, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
Yes. And according to OED, bútan is the origin of modern but. One of the original meanings (similar to "without, excluding, apart from") is retained most strongly in phrases like nothing but the best. But has also been used adjectivally in the sense outer or exterior, so without in the spatial sense of that word. OED gives this example: "1862 R. H. Story in Athenæum 30 Aug. 270 He conducted me to the but end of the mansion."
The spatial and the logical overlap in many of our words. Without is just one example. Apart is another: "Apart from us, who'll be at dinner? O, Kylie will be there: but she always sits apart from the others."
– Noetica♬♩Talk 05:25, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
"Wiþ" meant "against"? So the Bush Doctrine would have been what? "You're either with us or wiþ us?" — Kpalion(talk) 22:05, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
LOL. Not exactly, more like "You're either med us or wiþ us". No time for a full translation... Steewi (talk) 02:32, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
The Anglo-Saxon words Duncan has mentioned have survived in Dutch: butan has become "buiten" (outside), binnan has become "binnen" (inside) and med has become met (with). AecisBrievenbus 23:25, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
There is also outwith, as an alternative antonym of within, though it is only used regionally these days. Rockpocket 07:06, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
An Analytical Dictionary of the English Language (David Booth, 1830) mentions the Saxon butan (be-utan) and with-utan as partially synonymous as well. A choice in number of syllables is important to poets, and the "old English poets had, therefore, three synonymous words": sans (or saunz), without, and withouten. "The Scotch had also three, But, Farowt, and Forowtyn". There's more, including examples from Robert of Gloucester and Chaucer, on the pages I linked to. ---Sluzzelin talk 15:58, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

English phrase in telephone conversation[edit]

Hi! What do you say instead of "nice to meet you" when you "meet" (that is talk to) someone for the first time in telephone. I need to know this for a telephone interview for a job so the first impression would be very important. Advice on any other formal phrases that sounds polite would also be helpful (I'm not a native speaker of English). Thank you. Funsides (talk) 06:56, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

You could say "Nice talking to you" or "Nice to talk to you" or "It was lovely speaking to you, [name]". If they called you, you could add "..and thanks for the call". At the beginning of the call you could say "Thanks for calling". But please note a lot of this is used 'casually' in English phone conversations, and it might sound weird if you don't do it right. So here is like an example:
Finsides> Hello, Funsides speaking
Interviewer> Hi Funsides, this is Mr Interviewer from XYZ corporation. Would now be a convenient time to do your phone interview?
Funsides> Sure, no problem. Thanks for calling. What would you like to know?
Interviewer> Well, that's all for now. Thanks very much for your time.
Funsides> No problem, it was lovely speaking to you.
Interviewr> Good bye
Funsides> Bye
Rfwoolf (talk) 08:12, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
Which version of English does the interviewer use? Because what would sound OK in US Or Jamaican English might sound odd or even stupid in Australian or British English. - X201 (talk) 09:38, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
Thanks for the responses. The interviewer is Dutch but the interview will be held in English, so British or American English. Perhaps I should say that I'm a guy and the interviewer a women. Funsides (talk) 10:07, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
"It was lovely speaking to you" seems a bit too familiar to me, especially from a man to a woman in a job interview. "Nice talking to you" or "nice to talk to you" are more neutral while still being suitably informal (unless the style of the interview has been very formal, of course, though that is unlikely). AndrewWTaylor (talk) 14:54, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
"It was good to finally talk with you" sounds fine to me, and would be parallel to "It was good to finally meet you". It might not be appropriate in an interview situation, unless you've corresponded with the interviewer in the past (by e-mail, say) but never spoken with them on the phone. (talk) 17:59, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
How do you say "what did you say" in a polite way, when you don't hear what the interview said? "Come again?", "excuse me?"? Funsides (talk) 06:34, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
Yes, or better, "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that"; "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"; "I'm sorry, say again" (note the theme of apology, making it clear you're not blaming the speaker for having marbles in their mouth, rather yourself for having cotton in your ears). +ILike2BeAnonymous (talk) 06:43, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
The only phrase there that I would use if I wanted to be perfectly clear when talking to a non-native speaker is "I'm sorry, could you repeat that". The others are both informal and carry the risk of not being understood. "Excuse me" would be difficult to say without sounding offended. "Could you repeat that" is the only way to go. ----Seans Potato Business 16:20, 17 January 2008 (UTC)

I would try to avoid repeating a word or phrase more than necessary ("no problem"). If you use the same phrase numerous times, you may be giving the impression that you're not sure what you're talking about or that you have something to hide or that you are uninterested in what the other person is saying. That can be difficult when you're under stress (such as during an interview), but composure under stress may be something that's being looked for. Ask someone who knows you well if you've got a word or phrase you tend to use excessively and watch your use. Matt Deres (talk) 03:13, 17 January 2008 (UTC)

Get Fuzzy[edit]

Could someone tell me what it says on Rob's shirt in today's Get Fuzzy? link Thanks, Dismas|(talk) 13:33, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

It's an alteration of Primum non nocere. Where the "primare" comes from, I have no idea, but the phrase in that form does get four ghits. Deor (talk) 13:49, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
Also, there seems to be a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation fan site named PNN, so perhaps the shirt indicates that Rob is a devotee of the show. Deor (talk) 14:09, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
Rob is a vegetarian, so it could be something like, "Primate, do no harm", referencing the environment. Just a guess. Corvus cornixtalk 19:58, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
Thanks! Dismas|(talk) 22:34, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

I took the liberty of replacing the link to the current strip with a link to the archived strip in question, which will apparently be good for 30 days. —Tamfang (talk) 19:27, 17 January 2008 (UTC)

Latin Phrase[edit]

"mensurata ad mensuram, vel excessa ad excedens." What does it mean? --Omidinist (talk) 15:08, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

Just for some context, as I see it on Google Books, Copleston says Scotus describes "creatures are to God as mensurata ad mensuram, vel excessa ad excedens". I have no idea about the philosophy behind this so I'll refrain from trying to translate it and adding to the confusion. Adam Bishop (talk) 16:44, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
Mensurata - the things measured - ad mensuram - to the measure - vel excessa - or the things exceeded - ad excedens - to the thing that exceeds. Thus the creatures are to the creator both passive (the things measured or exceeded) to active (the measure or the thing exceeding) and inferior. SaundersW (talk) 21:46, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
More context, in Scotus:

...quia numquam aliqua comparantur, ut mensurata ad mensuram, vel excessa ad excedens, nisi in aliquo uno conveniant: sicut enim comparatio simpliciter est in simpliciter univoco...

...things are never related as the measured to the measure, or as the excess to the excedent unless they have something in common...  . [Partial translation from The Medieval Theologians, Gillian Rosemary Evans, 2001, p.  253]

The exact parsing of mensurata and excessa is problematic. Are they feminine singular or neuter plural? Evans keeps things equivocal for mensurata: nothing seems to hang on this point, though. I'm not sure that I agree about her excess for excessa. Excessus (m), not excessa, would be excess. Furthermore, excessa and excedens appear to have some specific mediaeval philosophical meaning. Something akin to "transcended, surpassed" and "transcending, surpassing"? That would fit with the theological context, perhaps.
– Noetica♬♩Talk 22:17, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
About the ambiguity of mensurata and excessa: I took a cue from Adam's context of creatures (pl) to God. If the context is something different, of course that cue is void. SaundersW (talk) 22:39, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
Understandable, SW. I don't think the number is important anyway, as I say. The general point about incommensurability is secured. The entrained scholastic niceties are, of course, another matter.
– Noetica♬♩Talk 22:51, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
ad excedens would seem to be grammatical only if excedens is neuter, but – though I'm away from my books – surely the s is strictly a non-neuter nominative ending? Is the neuter participle nom/acc singular -nte or what? —Tamfang (talk) 19:30, 17 January 2008 (UTC)

Thanks for comments. --Omidinist (talk) 07:33, 15 January 2008 (UTC)

English Idiom[edit]

What is the proper idiomatic way in English of saying that you have spent a lot of time on something with no result. In Dutch this would be "ergens je tanden op stuk bijten" or even "stuk bijten op een stuk hout", litterally "breaking your teeth on a piece of wood". Bokkeveltkamp (talk) 16:57, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

"A fruitless pursuit". Will try to think of something that is near to your example. - X201 (talk) 17:01, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
I'm not sure that there is a particular idiomatic phrase in English to get across this exact meaning. There is "pissing in the wind", but that's a bit vulgar. I would be tempted just to say "wasting my time". --Richardrj talk email 17:04, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
'bashing my head against a brick wall' seems to be in the spirit of the Dutch. Algebraist 17:16, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
I think Algebraist's suggestion is the best equivalent, but I'll add that another expression with a similar meaning is "running around in circles". Deor (talk) 17:50, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
(edit conflict) I know that one as "beating (one's) head against the wall". That's the closest in meaning to the Dutch phrase, I think, but there are several more specific ones. We can "try to get blood from a stone". We can "flog a dead horse". Brits can "carry coals to Newcastle". --Milkbreath (talk) 17:56, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
In the sense of "a fruitless pursuit" we also have "a wild-goose chase" SaundersW (talk) 20:07, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
'Carrying coals to Newcastle' is in a slightly different category: it refers to a task that is pointless in the first place - because Newcastle has (or used to be supposed to have) plenty of its own coal. AndrewWTaylor (talk) 21:26, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
They're not all synonomous. "Coals to Newcastle": pointless from the beginning; "flog a dead horse": might have been useful at some point, but now it's a bit late as nothing can change (ie you can flog a live horse to make it do something, but a dead one will never move); "head against brick wall": attempting something impossible; "blood from a stone", similarly impossible, but usually relating to getting information from someone; "wild-goose chase": unlikely pursuit (since geese fly too high and fast so hard to shoot); "going round in circles": covering same ground without getting anywhere; "fruitless pursuit": unproductive (but no indication of amount of time being spent). But none of those quite cover the case of a task that should be possible and worthwhile, and still could be, but somehow I've spent lots of time and haven't got there. I'll have to think...Gwinva (talk) 03:31, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
One can (and often does) use "beating one's head against a brick wall" for an activity which should be possible, would be worthwhile, but proves unproductive, eg. trying to get some sort of consensus as to what consensus means in the context of deciding if there is consensus for non-admin rollback (to use a current example). DuncanHill (talk) 03:36, 15 January 2008 (UTC)

ok; I'd go with that. But it implies effort battling against something or someone else, so more militant than "fruitless pursuit". Another mild one is "come away empty-handed"; those place no blame on anyone or anything. Gwinva (talk) 03:39, 15 January 2008 (UTC) Actually, on reflection, your example still talks of impossibility (even if it shouldn't be)..the point is, those people are as immovable as a brick wall "I bash my head against a brick wall but it doesn't move, or show any impact of my efforts". So it all depends on the picture one want's to portray. If the efforts relating to a person (or persons), who shows no response, then "I was a fool for my pains" would be appropriate. "Fight a losing battle" shows that it started off ok, but problems mounted up until it became obvious it was all going to be ineffective, whatever I threw at it. "gave it up as a bad job" shows that it was too much effort and strife with unliklihood of a result. Gwinva (talk) 03:56, 15 January 2008 (UTC)

There's always the old wild goose chase, as in "so-and-so sent me on a wild goose chase", implying that the effort was probably doomed from the start. (Do people even say this anymore?) +ILike2BeAnonymous (talk) 06:47, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
Its alive and well in my part of the UK. - X201 (talk) 14:06, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
For concreteness, how would one call, using idiom, Einstein's fruitless endeavours to develop a unified field theory? You can't say that he was pissing in the wind, wasting his time, bashing his head against a brick wall, going round in circles, trying to get blood from a stone, flogging a dead horse, carrying coals to Newcastle, sent on a wild goose chase, or fighting a losing battle.  --Lambiam 17:33, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
I was wondering about that too (well, not about Einstein). I don't know the connotations of the Dutch idiom, but a similar one in German, "sich an etwas die Zähne ausbeißen" ("to bite out one's teeth on something"), implies having a tough and rough time in one's efforts, but not necessarily futility. In fact, translates it as "to have a tough time with something", but that's not a very colorful idiom. ---Sluzzelin talk 17:49, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
It might be fair to say that Einstein had his head in the sand when he pursued a UFT while denying QM. I'm sure there's something better (and more suited to this discussion) though. Algebraist 17:59, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
"He bit off more than he could chew"? Yet another shade of meaning. SaundersW (talk) 19:52, 15 January 2008 (UTC)
Also, "spinning your wheels" comes to mind. (Joseph A. Spadaro (talk) 05:58, 17 January 2008 (UTC))

About "wireless"[edit]

Hi wikipeoples! I asked this question before over at the Computing desk, and perhaps it fits better here. Am I the only one who thinks the term wireless is really dumb? In my opinion, it's not a word that describes what it is, it's a word that describes what it is not! I guess there is a special explanation of how the suffix -less, like several other affixes, are used in language to describe things by terms of their absence. But is this really the most convenient way to describe the concept of 'wireless'? Isn't it like calling the Internet 'paperless', an optical disc 'tapeless', a (modern) calculator 'abacusless', an mp3 player 'discless', or even a photograph 'paintless', etc. etc. etc.? (I know, these are pretty silly examples of what I mean:). What I know is that the term originated from a need to differentiate EM radio transmission from telegraphic wire communications, and I wondered, why would one need to use that same differentiation again today? Isn't there a better way to describe it? Or did they simply seize the name again out of laziness? Kreachure (talk) 16:14, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

Maybe it was dumb, but it's history and you can't change history. I am one of the world's great aficionados of radio listening, and to me, radio is King - but whenever anyone refers to "turning on the wireless to catch "Blue Hills", I'm reminded of the almost-forgotten blissful days of my childhood, and I smile. -- JackofOz (talk) 20:44, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
I would like to point out that wireless when it refers/referred to radio is a noun and when it refers to internet it is an adjective ("wireless internet" "wireless connection, etc). I sometimes wonder if 50 years from now we'll be using a different term for this method of internet connection, but it's not really "dumb" because it's something we simply didn't have a word for and the novelty is that it is without wires. It's no dumber than anionic, undivided attention, unalterable, and non-Catholic. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 21:13, 14 January 2008 (UTC)
Perhaps when wired connections become a thing of the past, just as the horseless carriage became the car/automobile when horsed carriages disappeared from daily life. --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 22:40, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

The horseless carriage is a great example. So it seems that for now the term 'wireless' will stick; but I think someday in the (not-so-near) future we might realize in retrospective that calling a connection "wireless" should have been considered as ridiculous as calling a car a horseless carriage. If only! Kreachure (talk) 23:35, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

Well Palaceguard puts it better, but there is normal internet which relies on you physically having a cable connected to a phone-line, a modem and then your laptop/pc/device (or straight in if integrated modem), the other requires no-cable between the modem and the laptop/pc/device. To me the easiest way to define which is which is to say one is 'wired' and the other is not. I can only think of a few other terms that could perhaps be used but they are hardly perfect... Remote internet (i.e. like tv remote control), mobile internet (but this is growingly used to refer to internet through your mobile phone network), radio-wave internet? I can see that perhaps the naming is a little strange but it's so embedded in culture i'd be surprised if it were to change - the best bet I would expect would be for a brand-name to take over the product name...Kinda like how walkman became the general term for personal audio player, and then iPod is kinda becoming the generic term for mp3 player (regardless of who makes it). So maybe it'll become a 'belkin router' instead of a wireless router? How about 'airport' like Apple use for their wireless router devices? ny156uk (talk) 00:18, 15 January 2008 (UTC)

I find all the retronyms that have had to be created due to technological advances quite interesting. Azi Like a Fox (talk) 05:19, 15 January 2008 (UTC)