Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2008 November 27

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November 27[edit]

Need translation, if that's OK[edit]

I can't remember if translation requests are allowed here or not. My old classics prof refuses to translate/crib stuff into Latin, considers it pompous or whatever; but I'd like to know "You Only Live Once" in Latin, if somebody could provide it. Greek I almost think I could conjecture mia einai kai mia or mia einai mono -? - but that's probably not the right funny if it turned out to actually be a phrase in the Symposium or one of the poets/plays, which well it might be....Skookum1 (talk) 02:11, 27 November 2008 (UTC)

Yeah I can imagine some Roman using a phrase like that. Until we find it, how about "solum semel vivis"? Or "solum semel vivitur" to be more impersonal. Adam Bishop (talk) 02:43, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
There would be countless ways to render this thought in Latin. Semel vivimus ["We live once"] is a good short form. We don't need to retain the second person, which would not be idiomatic; nor is only necessary, given the terseness of the best, most lapidary Latin.
In fact, I see that semel vivimus turns up here and there on the web. Compare dum vivimus, vivamus: "While we live, let's live!" Compare also the closing stanzas of Paul Valéry's le Cimetière marin, from among countless paeans to the deliquescent here and now:
Non, non!... Debout! Dans l’ère successive!
Brisez, mon corps, cette forme pensive!
Buvez, mon sein, la naissance du vent!
Une fraîcheur, de la mer exhalée,
Me rend mon âme... O puissance salée!
Courons à l’onde en rejaillir vivant!
Oui! grande mer de délires douée,
Peau de panthère et chlamyde trouée,
De mille et mille idoles du soleil,
Hydre absolue, ivre de ta chair bleue,
Qui te remords l’étincelante queue
Dans un tumulte au silence pareil,
Le vent se lève!... il faut tenter de vivre!
L’air immense ouvre et referme mon livre,
La vague en poudre ose jaillir des rocs!
Envolez-vous, pages tout éblouies!
Rompez, vagues! Rompez d’eaux réjouies
Ce toit tranquille où picoraient des focs!
¡ɐɔıʇǝoNoetica!T– 02:52, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
I see "semel vivitur" turns up on lots og tattoo forums and websites. Adam Bishop (talk) 02:56, 27 November 2008 (UTC)

I love this kind of pomposity. We had a Latin teacher who gave us a translation test on a text called (any error here will be from my recall, not his grammar) "Quae in orientibus habitant". --Dweller (talk) 13:07, 27 November 2008 (UTC)

My Latin professor had us translate "may the force be with you" on one test. Adam Bishop (talk) 16:07, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
Would that have been on the 4th of May, by any chance? -- JackofOz (talk) 19:03, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
FABRICATE DIEM, PVNC! Wait, no... TomorrowTime (talk) 20:08, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
"Hoc est te spectandum, deliciolae." Nah. "Certe, Cara, exsecrationem non do." Meh. –¡ɐɔıʇǝoNoetica!T– 21:27, 27 November 2008 (UTC)

"Non sum tam putas, quam tu ebrias me esse!" Duomillia (talk) 03:19, 30 November 2008 (UTC)

LOL,* Duomillia.
* Loquitur oblique; labascet.
¡ɐɔıʇǝoNoetica!T– 04:35, 30 November 2008 (UTC)
What does that one mean? Adam Bishop (talk) 17:06, 30 November 2008 (UTC)
Commenting on "I'm not as think as you drunk I am[, Officer]", LOL means: "Speaks awry; begins to stagger". LOL was a common abbreviation among Roman soldiers text-messaging each other along Hadrian's wall, where drinking and playing with their phones were all they had to break the boredom.
¡ɐɔıʇǝoNoetica!T– 23:22, 30 November 2008 (UTC)

"Our team are always available"[edit]

Would you call that a mistake? It is clear why the person said 'are' instead of 'is', but it sounds so terrible... Mr.K. (talk) 11:15, 27 November 2008 (UTC)

It you're American, it's a mistake. If you're British, it's perfectly normal. —Angr 12:11, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
If you're British and it's referring to workmen, it's probably a lie. But they might be able to pop round next Wednesday. Sorry, we can't give you a time, so you'll have to wait in all day. Oh and be a dear and pop the kettle on, will you? We'll be gasping. --Dweller (talk) 13:05, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
I think though team is a collective noun it is still singular (i.e. the plural is teams). Thus I think 'is' should be used. --RMFan1 (talk) 14:55, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
Angr was right - in British English, there's a special plural usage. --Dweller (talk) 15:18, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
Which is explained at Differences between American and British English#Formal and notional agreement. Nanonic (talk) 15:41, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
I'm British, but I would definitely use 'is', as 'team' is a unit. You would say 'the six-pack is in the fridge', not 'the six-pack are in the fridge,' after all.--ChokinBako (talk) 17:18, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
I'd say it depends on whether the offer of availability refers to the team as a whole, or to individuals within that team. For example a football coach couldn't say "our team are always available for competitions", because here "team" clearly refers to a single unit, whereas a bank manager could say "our team are always available for one to one meetings", because in this case the implication is that you'd be dealing with one of the people from that team. Koolbreez (talk) —Preceding undated comment was added at 17:46, 27 November 2008 (UTC).
As the members of the football WikiProject continually have to explain, a football coach (or anyone else for that matter) absolutely would use the plural "are" for a football team. A whole bunch of football featured articles make use of this grammatical quirk. --Dweller (talk) 18:59, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
(ec) Instinctively, that sounds spot on, Koolbreez. But the moment my brain started to analyse it, it half fell apart. If "Our team are always available for one to one meetings" is another way of saying "Members of our team are always available for one to one meetings", then "are" is still appropriate. But if it's conceived as "Each member of our team is always available for one to one meetings", then the speaker would use "is". -- JackofOz (talk) 19:02, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
I like using Michael Swan's Practical English Usage, which says in this case: In BrE, words like family, team, government can be used with either singualr or plural verbs; plural forms are common when the group is considered as a collection of people doing personal things; singualr forms are more common when the group is seen as an impersonal unit. In AmE singular verbs are normally used with most of these nouns, though family can have a plural verb. -- (talk) 21:31, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
I'd add to this that in the U.S. company names, government entities are almost always treated as singular, in the UK as plural. Thus, "General Motors is in desperate straits" / "British Leyland are in desperate straits"; "the Department of Defense is preparing for war" / "The Ministry of Defence are preparing for war". (Either way the news is not good...). I think in the first case (GM) in the U.S., the British usage might be acceptable because the name is plural; for Ford the case would be clearcut. - Jmabel | Talk 19:06, 28 November 2008 (UTC)
To your last point: I don't think you could say "General Motors are in desperate straits" in American English at all. Sure, the name is plural, but it isn't the motors that are in desperate straits, it's the company. One thing that's convenient in British usage is the ability to distinguish between places and soccer teams by means of verb agreement alone: "Manchester is..." refers to the city, while "Manchester are..." refers to the team. You can't get such an elegant solution to an ambiguity problem in American English. —Angr 08:26, 29 November 2008 (UTC)
Super pedantry here... but there's no football team called "Manchester". There's "United" and there's "City", both sides also referred to by a variety of nicknames. Curiously, they played each other today. Serendipity isn't a name of a football team. <big fat grin> But in essence, Angr is right, if you referred to most other cities, eg Newcastle, Norwich etc. Unless of course, there's more than one big sports team with the same name in town... lol --Dweller (talk) 22:46, 30 November 2008 (UTC)

Spanish: "el café de por la tarde"[edit]

So as it seems this construction 'de por' is acceptable in Spanish. But what is the difference between "el café de la tarde", "el café por la tarde", and the sentence above? Are there more cases like that (2x preposition) in Spanish? Mr.K. (talk) 11:18, 27 November 2008 (UTC)

  • "el café de la tarde" --> literally "the coffee of the afternoon" ie "the afternoon coffee"
  • "el café por la tarde" --> "the coffee in/during the afternoon" --RMFan1 (talk) 15:00, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
  • "el café de por la tarde" --> "The usual coffe that I take in/during the afternoon".
There are some small quibbles about the degree of habituality of the act implied in each of the sentences, but (being all 3 sentences grammatically correct) it is more of a dialectical distinction than one of meaning. For instance, here in Argentina "de por" is almost not used (bare de is alright), while in Spain (where double prepositions are more commonly used) el café de por la tarde is OK.
By the way, constructions involving double prepositions include:
  • A por: "Vamos a por ellas".
  • Por sobre: "Por sobre todas las cosas, no lo hagas enojar".
  • Para con: "Tuvo todos las atenciones para con ella". Pallida  Mors 17:29, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
Could you please translate your three examples, Pallida? Although I understand the words, I'm not sure I get the nuances. --NorwegianBlue talk 21:26, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
Sure! I'll try at least.
  • Vamos a por ellas: Let's go get them. After the preposition a, which usually accompanies the verbs used with a por (such as ir, e.g. vamos a un lugar), goes por, which implies the idea of searching or pursuing. That said, in most places and occasions, a por can be safely replaced by a blunt por. People seldom use that structure here in South America; maybe vamos a por... is the only construction where we use it (and maybe only when we want to sound peninsular). You may want to check this article.
  • Por sobre todas las cosas, no lo hagas enojar: I beg you, more than anything else, not to make him angry. The preposition sobre can be safely translated to the adverbial phrase encima de. So, pasó por sobre mi autoridad=pasó por encima de mi autoridad->(s)he passed by/challenged my authority.
  • Tuvo todas las intencionesatenciones para con ella: He was as kind as one can be with her. More or less like the first example, a combination of one preposition (para) marking some aim or purpose of the action (as with an object) and a second one (con) that introduces an adverbial structure of companion. If con is usually translated as with, para con can be translated as in regard with, or something like that. Pallida  Mors 02:48, 28 November 2008 (UTC)
¡Muchas gracias! --NorwegianBlue talk 12:28, 28 November 2008 (UTC)

A SSL or an SSL?[edit]

Should it be "A SSL certificate.." or "An SSL Certificate.."? Similar question could also apply to HTTP, and other abbreviations. Pronunciation says that it should be "an", but we were taught in school that "an" comes only before vowels, and neither S or H are vowels. What is the general consensus regarding this issue? For future reference, is there any canonical "rule book" of English Grammar? In school we used Wren & Martin, is it still considered the bible of English Grammar?

Thanks. --RohanDhruva (talk) 18:54, 27 November 2008 (UTC)

Your teachers taught you wrong. It's the sound that counts, not the letter. That's why we have a union and an honor. --Nricardo (talk) 19:09, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
Ok Nricardo, that makes more sense anyway. Thanks! Any idea about a canonical reference book for Grammar? (apart from this reference desk ;) --RohanDhruva (talk) 20:23, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
See Common Errors in English. -- Wavelength (talk) 20:47, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
The grandaddies are Strunk and White's American style, Fowler's for British English, The Chicago Manual of Style, widely used guide to American English publishing style and markup, and Gower's Plain Words. Julia Rossi (talk) 23:31, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
Re: is it still the bible of English Grammar - looks like it's still championed in high schools. The article Wren and Martin needs work if you're keen, cheers, Julia Rossi (talk) 23:37, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
Thanks everyone for the help :) Julia, yes W&M was the bible during my time in high school, don't know about the present scenario though. --RohanDhruva (talk) 20:00, 28 November 2008 (UTC)
You're welcome – the article says it's holding onto its reputation still, but as you suggest, it's time to expand that bookshelf,  :) Julia Rossi (talk) 08:12, 29 November 2008 (UTC)

The origins of an 'X' symbolising kiss[edit]

Origin etc. all of interest to me. Any links appreciated. Thanks! -- (talk) 21:00, 27 November 2008 (UTC)

OED recognises the usage. From the article "X":

6. Used to represent a kiss, esp. in the subscription to a letter.

1763 G. White Lett. (1901) I. vii. 132, I am with many a xxxxxxx and many a Pater noster and Ave Maria, Gil. White. 1894 W. S. Churchill Let. 14 Mar. in R. S. Churchill Winston S. Churchill I. Compan. i. (1967) vii. 456 Please excuse bad writing as I am in an awful hurry. (Many kisses.) xxx WSC. 1951 S. Plath Let. 7 July (1975) i. 72 Some gal by the name of Sylvia Plath sure has something—but who is she anyhow?+x x Sivvy. 1953 Dylan Thomas Under Milk Wood (1954) 41 Yours for ever. Then twenty-one X's. 1982 C. Fremlin Parasite Person vi. 40 A row of ‘X's’, hurried kisses, all he had time to scribble.

Not often would you see Winston Churchill, Sylvia Plath, and Dylan Thomas cited to some common end.
OED gives no etymological or other reason for the x-kiss. I suspect it is simply the best letter to do such duty onomatopoeically. Technically, yer basic kiss would be a voiceless bilabial lingual (or glottal?) ingressive or implosive (the terminology varies), rather than a standard /ks/ sound. I suggest we now break up into small discussion groups and workshop this theory.
¡ɐɔıʇǝoNoetica!T– 22:33, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
I think this question, although interesting, would be like asking the origin of the character we use for 'heart' or 'love'. It looks nothing like the real thing, and if it did, it would have more chambers and lots of tubes coming from it.--ChokinBako (talk) 23:08, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
Quite so, Givnan. It is in the nature of a symbol not to be a full, pulsating, 3D, atom-for-atom replication of the thing symbolised. That way lie Lagadonian languages – inconvenient to say the least.
The X is probably also a graphic representation of the puckered mouth in the act of kissing. Why not a convergent explanation, after all? They're often best. Compare the X in Xmas, the labarum, and so on. Not merely approximations to the Greek letter chi, they also represent the cross. Such overdetermination probably accounts for their persistence.

I read at one time that the 'heart' symbol referred to the view of a woman on all fours from the rear, in 'presentation mode'. I guess it was a little like naughty graffiti.

¡ɐɔıʇǝoNoetica!T– 23:27, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
If I recall correctly (and this may be an urban myth) - it began with those who could only sign their name as X, who would then kiss the signature (in ye olden dayes). Nanonic (talk) 23:41, 27 November 2008 (UTC)
e.g. - "Early illiterates signed documents with a cross. They did so for an obvious reason. A cross was so simple to draw, and yet, being also a sacred symbol, implied the promise of truth. But to solemnly confirm further the veracity of what had been endorsed thus, the writer kissed his 'signature,' as he was accustomed to do with the holy book. And that is how, finally, by its very association, the cross came to be identified with a kiss." [1]
These days I'd rather use ʘʘʘ Steewi (talk) 00:13, 28 November 2008 (UTC)
This gal would approve, but why stop at three? Julia Rossi (talk) 00:33, 28 November 2008 (UTC)
That Lagadonian Languages page, I would like to say it is just silly, but in fact it is an interesting way to explore how languages developed originally, as well as symbolism to refer to concepts not yet implicated in the language. Very interesting.--KageTora - the RefDesker formerly known as ChokinBako (talk) 02:02, 28 November 2008 (UTC)
Don't know about illiterate-X being connected with the kiss-X. Certainly looks urbanmythlich to me; so, admittedly, does my suggestion regarding the puckered mouth. Collaterally reinforcing the onomatopoeic theory, kiss itself is thought to be ultimately onomatopoeic (see Chambers Dictionary of Etymology).
Julia, two things:
  1. It is surely more for Aphrodite than for Artemis not to stop at three, and to be superabundant in feminine charms; but the image you link us to (interesting more than alluring) must give as pause.
  2. In the matter of kisses also, quantity is not quality. The simple social kiss that is symbolised by an X will soon become tedious with repetition. By degrees it would be suitable to progress to the quadrilabial unvoiced implosive kiss, which is an altogether more intimate affair since it must involve actual contact. Even the suggestion from Steewi and pursued by you on behalf of Artemis multimammica takes us only so far. Since, however, discussion of these and of the far more daring sexilabial fricative, whose recherché numerical explanation would make the most cunning of us here blush, in the name of both prudence and pudency it is advisable to draw a veil over the whole topic, and have it continued elsewhere and... using another tongue. See Como A Fonética Explica O Beijo. (They probe a little more deeply, without going sufficiently into the anatomical detail. Must say, I am tempted by the Online Slovene courses they're advertising.)
Givnan, anyone familiar with David Lewis's mighty Plurality of Worlds will know that the matter is of deep interest for modern philosophy, but not in the ways Swift could have foreseen.
¡ɐɔıʇǝoNoetica!T– 06:17, 28 November 2008 (UTC)

Some pages that explore this topic, not without some uncertainty, this Google Answers page, which includes "...placing X's on envelopes, notes and at the bottom of letters to mean kisses dates back to Medeival ages, when a cross was drawn on documents or letters to mean sincerity and honesty. A kiss was then placed upon the cross, by the signer as a display of their of their sworn oath." And this listserv page, which has various ideas and info, and brings up the phrase, likely related, "sealed with a kiss". Other pages describe World War I era love letters with S.W.A.K. standing for "sealed with a kiss". The theory that the X comes from the K of SWAK seems unlikely to me. But the common use of XOXO for hugs and kisses at the bottom on letters or on envelopes seems to date from around that time or a bit before. The use of X and O in games, like tick-tack-toe (naughts and crosses), seems to derive, at least in part, from older games with names like tick-tack, tic-tac, or tric-trac. These games date to at least the 16th century and the name is "echoic, applied to various clicking noises", made by the game pieces. Tick-tack (and tic-tac) were also used for the heart-beat sound. These things are all from the OED's entries on tick-tack and related words. Probably the use of X in tick-tack-toe is unrelated to its use for kisses in letters, but the late 19th century addition of the O for hugs is probably more closely related to the old X and O games.

Also, on the OED's quotes on the use of X for kisses in letters, mentioned by the OP, the first example from 1763 uses xxxxxxx, but it is not clear whether this means kisses or something else. Perhaps it was just a kind of not-saying a word, like one do with a blank line, or something like s**t. The earliest given use of X for kiss is only clear in the OED's 1894 quote of Churchill, which is just the time when XOXO, sealed with a kiss, and SWAK was catching on.

Perhaps there is no simple answer. It seems to me likely that the use of X for kiss in letters is of complex origin, but comes mainly from signing documents with an X, whether due to an inability to write and/or the use of a cross symbol for blessing or vouching a document's authenticity (deeds, wills, marriage records, and so on). The old tradition of sealing a document or letter seems to have a history of being related to kissing. Not only were the seals kissed but the signet rings used to make the seals where themselves sometimes kissed (and the word signet is related to sign, as in making a mark and signing a letter). The very notion of sealing letters by impressing wax with signet, which promised or vowed that the words were sincere, seems curiously similar to sealing and "impressing" a letter with a kiss. The word "signature" is related to signet. For people who signed with an X mark, the X essentially stood for the sealing vow of the signet "kiss". In love letters, it makes sense that some special mark could come to mean kiss, especially when X marks and signet seals were important because they were "in, or by your own hand". An illiterate person would not have written a will, for example, but they wrote the X mark that made it official.

The OED's entry for "seal" includes quotes such as "1593 SHAKES. 3 Hen. VI, V. vii. 29 The duty that I owe vnto your Maiesty, I Seale vpon the lips of this sweet Babe." And "1589 GREENE Menaphon (Arb.) 89 They plighted faith and troth, and Carmela..sealed it with a kisse." And "c1450 Merlin xxxi. 619 He drough oute the letter of kynge Rion that was seled with x seles roiall." I'm not sure quite what these quotes are about, but they seem oddly related to the topic. Also, the word "seal" also has the meaning of "fig. A token or symbol of a covenant; something that authenticates or confirms". All these seems like stuff that could have been morphed in love letters, especially between lovers separated by war and wishing to give their letters something more personal and real than just words. Of course I've moved into the realm of speculation.

None of this quite answers the question, but makes me think the use of X for kiss in letters has multiple roots that reinforced one another over time. Pfly (talk) 09:32, 28 November 2008 (UTC)

Shrewdly noted and usefully researched, Pfly (as we should expect from an editor who has a username with a voiceless labiodental affricate, confesses to an interest in echidnas, and may be interested to learn that I sometimes spot echidnas in the wild near my home).
The OP wrote only one line; it is I who posted the OED material. Pfly, I would not be suspicious of the OED's citation of 1763; OED does not usually present the evidence it has to justify its citations. You write: "It seems to me likely that the use of X for kiss in letters is of complex origin", and you close in a similar vein. Yes, we agree on that. See my point about convergent explanations, and overdetermination. Your notes about onomatopoeia in games fit well with both the word kiss and the symbol X. Probably the full story will never be known.
¡ɐɔıʇǝoNoetica!T– 10:15, 28 November 2008 (UTC)

But this is a good start, and I want to be there when the book comes out, ;) Julia Rossi (talk) 11:37, 28 November 2008 (UTC)

Yes, Julia. Subcommittees of langreffolk might have the resources to produce definitive texts on some topics covered here. The linguistics of kissing? Why not.
I neglected to point out above that the consonantal elements of kiss and of a spoken X are exactly the same: /k/ and /s/ (aspiration aside), and both are monosyllabic, with a similar vowel. (Cf. the French X: /iks/, quite likely used in earlier English; and Oxford dictionaries use the same symbol "ɪ" for the vowel in kiss and the most common realisation of the first vowel in excuse, etc.: "/kɪs/"; "/ɪk'skju:s, ɛk-/".) "Phonetic anagrams", or more correctly anaphones, of each other. This certainly points to a phonetic link, whether by a common onomatopoeic motivation or by kiss directly influencing X. SO...
This prompts consideration of the [re]iterative nature of uses of X at the end of a letter. They are nearly all multiple, yes? All the OED examples are. When you say the series of kisses that occurs at the end of a letter – "...x x x x..." – you can almost find yourself saying "...kiss kiss kiss...". (Or more likely " sex sex...", but that is a modern irrelevance, since sex got its current lustful meaning only in the early 20th century.) Or, even more germanely, if you say "...kiss kiss kiss...", as if dictating the end of your letter, the writing of "xxx" seems an almost inevitable shorthand.
¡ɐɔıʇǝoNoetica!T– 21:32, 28 November 2008 (UTC)
Oop, yes Noetica, I didn't read closely enough and wrote OP when I meant something more like "at or near the top of this thread". When you say "OED does not usually present the evidence it has to justify its citations", do you mean the 1763 quote ought to be taken as using xxxxxx for kisses, even though it isn't clear from that quote that that it the meaning? I always supposed one could look up the source and read the quote in context to get a fuller sense if one really wanted. But in this case it seemed less likely that more context would help, especially because xxxxxxx isn't really a word in the usual sense. I suppose I never thought about how the quotes in the OED were justified, at least to their own satisfaction, when the exact meaning is not clear. Are they very thorough about this, or a bit lax about being totally sure?
Anyway, it is interesting when a simple question like this has no obvious and widely-agreed upon answer but many possible answers with various degrees of evidence and seemingly convergent uses, etc. Many leads to follow, but no definitive answer it seems. Pfly (talk) 06:10, 29 November 2008 (UTC)