Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2008 January 20

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January 20[edit]

Question: Idiom[edit]

"Have one's cake and eat it" is used in English to mean someone who is unacceptably greedy, but the phrase seems silly to me, as there is not much else a normal person would do with a cake if they had one. Has this expression evolved from an earlier expression? --ChokinBako (talk) 01:56, 20 January 2008 (UTC)

It's actually a reversal of to eat one's cake and have it, and does not describe greed so much as a desire to have two incompatible things: if you've eaten your cake you can't still have it. Like selling your car and still wanting ownership of it. Gwinva (talk) 02:15, 20 January 2008 (UTC)
See Have one's cake and eat it too.  --Lambiam 02:28, 20 January 2008 (UTC)
Brilliant! Thanks! That cleared up a childhood question for me! --ChokinBako (talk) 05:36, 20 January 2008 (UTC)

mafia, how is it pronounced?[edit]

Like 'miafia'? the original syllable resembling a miaow? (talk) 12:26, 20 January 2008 (UTC)

The OED gives /ˈmafɪə/ or /ˈmɑːfɪə/ for UK and /ˈmɑfiə/ for the US. I don't know about the Sicilian pronunciation. (talk) 14:14, 20 January 2008 (UTC)
However it may also be heard in parts of the US with the "short A" vowel as /ˈmæfiə/, which, due to the phenomenon of "æ-tensing" in the Mid-Atlantic region (stereotypically in Philadelphia), can be realised as /ˈmeəfiə/, a pronunciation that for other English speakers would be similar to that of "miaow". Thylacoleo (talk) 01:52, 21 January 2008 (UTC)

English grammar ...[edit]

"ain't no woman like the one I got".

I realize; the first two words contain; * poor grammar, * double negative. I do not know the rule dealing with ...I GOT. (rather than I HAVE.) Abi12 (talk) 15:20, 20 January 2008 (UTC)

I wouldn't say it's poor grammar; it's perfectly grammatical for the non-standard dialect of English it's written in. In standard English it would be "There isn't any woman like the one I have."--Prosfilaes (talk) 15:30, 20 January 2008 (UTC)
Haha, I *knew* people wouldn't let that slide. Ah, linguists... -Elmer Clark (talk) 21:03, 20 January 2008 (UTC)
Or slightly more concisely, "There's no woman like the one I have". -- JackofOz (talk) 21:38, 20 January 2008 (UTC)
Considering the title of the song is Ain't No Woman Like the One I've Got, I would guess that "there's no woman like the one I've got" would be a more accurate fix. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 23:32, 20 January 2008 (UTC)
But the "I've got" is not perfect formal English. It's widespread, but still something that pedants would shake their finger at.--Prosfilaes (talk) 01:41, 23 January 2008 (UTC)
"I've got" is perfectly normal slightly informal American English (in the sense that all contractions are slightly informal), but I think would be unusual (at least) in the UK. There was a U.S. TV show called I've Got a Secret.
By the way, another closely related word, "gotten", is almost entirely gone from the UK vocabulary (except for "ill-gotten gains"), whereas a formal American English speaker might ask "How, precisely, would that information be gotten?". Question: anyone know if the word "gotten" is also still current in India? I suspect it is. Or elsewhere in the Commonwealth? I suspect mostly not, except perhaps Canada. - Jmabel | Talk 20:25, 25 January 2008 (UTC)


I know "Tocus" is not a real word,at least it's not in the dictionary, but it used to be a fairly common word, used I think to describe a person's back side. Any body know anything about this word? Thanks, WSC —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:37, 20 January 2008 (UTC)

See Yinglish: "Tuchas or tochis — buttocks (from Yiddish תּחת tokhes)." In my childhood, I used to hear Jewish moms say to their kids, "If you don't stop that, I'm going to potch [sp?] your tochis!" Deor (talk) 17:44, 20 January 2008 (UTC)
Oh, I see that potch is in the Yinglish article, too. Deor (talk) 18:23, 20 January 2008 (UTC)
Tochus (various spellings) is in the OED also, defined as above, and designated as Jewish and North American slang. Gwinva (talk) 20:37, 20 January 2008 (UTC)
Also in dictionary, "tush 3 |pr: toŏ sh | noun informal: a person's buttocks. Origin 1960s (as tushie): from Yiddish tokhes, from Hebrew taḥa t 'beneath.’ " I think it was an 90s slang possibly overtaken since by booty. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Julia Rossi (talkcontribs) 01:12, 23 January 2008 (UTC)

Hence a bad Latin/Yinglish pun in which "Pacem in terris" becomes "Potch 'em in tochis". - Jmabel | Talk 20:27, 25 January 2008 (UTC)