Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2009 February 24

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February 24[edit]

up/down the street[edit]

Up and down are sometimes used arbitrarily to indicate direction on a plane. "Just up the street" means the same as "a bit farther down the street." When our neighbors wanted to go to the village they'd say "down to the village" wheras we used "up to the village." The road from both places was a bit hilly but neither went up nor down. I have observed the same in German. (Not so sure about Spanish but I think they do it, too.) Is this common throughout Indo-European languages and do others do that, too? I know "Why?" is mostly impossible to answer, but it seems odd. (talk) 00:20, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

In America, in most contexts, "down" usually means "south", and "up" means "north", due possibly to how most maps are oriented on walls. This is of course, "wrong" to the pedants, but its still how most people talk. "Down south" and "Up north" are common enough idioms in America. One would never go "Up to Florida", only "Down to Florida" and "Up to New England" but rarely "Down to New England". In some places, the terms refer more to elevation, or at least are ambiguous as to whether it means elevation or direction. For example, on Manhattan, "Uptown" (i.e. Harlem) is both north of and higher in elevation than "Downtown". Down East in its two main U.S. usages, Maine and North Carolina, usually refers to the south-eastern areas of a state. The only exception I can think of offhand is Cape Cod, where "downcape" and "upcape" refer to the distance from the attachement of the peninsula to the mainland; thus "upcape" is towards the mainland, which for most of the Cape is "south". It's so unusual that natives often have to explain it in detail to visitors. 03:11, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

That is an error. "Up the street" usually means in a direction of higher numbers as street addresses. Sometimes that's north, but it could be any direction. Someone who can't think of an "exception" except Cape Cod hasn't been around very much. Maybe someone who's always lived in Manhattan and is not familiar with other places. Michael Hardy (talk) 03:51, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

I'm sorry. You are right. No one has ever in history used the terms "Up north" and "down south". My bad. Seeing as I have only visited Manhattan 4 times in my life, and have lived large parts of my life in four widely seperated states in the U.S. I am probably not qualified to have noticed how people in different places discuss geography. 03:57, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
In Australia, up and down are virtually interchangeable when referring to visiting a shopping centre - "I'm going up to the shops" and "I'm going down to the shops" are both commonly heard. Same for country people visiting a capital city - some say "I'm going up to Melbourne", some say "I'm going down to Melbourne". Technically, the only people who can go "up" to Melbourne are those living in Tasmania, and they'd need to either fly or go by boat. People in Victoria often say they're going down to Brisbane, which is 1,000+ km to the north. It has nothing to do with whether they're north, south, east or west of the destination, or whether they're higher or lower topographically. "Up" and "down" are idiomatically used with certain expression involving travel, but not with others. We don't say "I'm going up/down to school/the doctor/the movies", etc, just "I'm going to school/the doctor/the movies". Going up or down the street generally has no relation to the numbers of the houses, unless there's a very specific context. People can walk "up and down" the street, but that doesn't necessarily mean they start at No. 1, go to the highest house number, and then return to their starting point. It doesn't necessarily even mean they traverse the entire length of the street, or in any particular direction, just that they're ambling to and fro, perhaps looking for somebody or something they've lost. -- JackofOz (talk) 04:48, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

I have never heard of the usage Michael describes, referring to street numbers, and would be interested to see a cite for it. I consider the usage Jayron describes, referring to north and south, as standard (in North America). Of course the words may also be refer to uphill and downhill, and they may also be used arbitrarily, especially if the street runs east-west. --Anonymous, 05:12 UTC, February 24, 2009.

It's always "up North" or "down South" but otherwise I tend to use the terms pretty much interchangably, irrespective of actual direction... up or down the street is in any direction I want, unless there is an obvious slope. Interestingly, posh kids often went "up to Oxford" - either because it was an elevation in social class or because many came from the south-east of England and Oxford was slightly north-west of where they lived. Astronaut (talk) 07:56, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
See also Upper Canada and Lower Canada which confused me as a child, as the "upper" was not above (i.e. north of) the "lower. I don't know if it's some holdover from those days, but in southern Ontario, I sometimes specifically hear "up" and "down" relating properly to elevation. For example, as a child my family would go "down to" Toronto even though it was somewhat north of us - but closer to the lake and therefore lower. Matt Deres (talk) 14:17, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
One always goes up to London, and when starting in London and going somewhere else, one always goes down to wherever it is. (Except of course if one is going up to university, or being sent down from a university in London). DuncanHill (talk) 14:55, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
Joe Jackson would seem to disagree. --LarryMac | Talk 15:35, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
It's the same with Upper and Low German. The adjectives refer to altitude above sea level rather than latitude. (Let alone the fact that orientation of maps with North up is only a recent convention, it used to be different a few centuries ago.) — Emil J. 15:17, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
And of course convicted murderers are "sent down" (for life, hopefully). Astronaut (talk) 15:37, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
I just thought... perhaps that comes from being "transported down under" (ie. to Australia). Astronaut (talk) 15:41, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
The judge, on passing sentence on a prisoner, would then instruct the warders to "take him down" (i.e. down from the dock). DuncanHill (talk) 15:51, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
Perhaps in the UK they get "sent down", but in North America, they get sent "up the river" (a reference to Sing Sing prison, which is up the Hudson River from New York). Matt Deres (talk) 18:50, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
On the other hand, being sold "down the river" was a hard fate for slaves before the U.S. Civil War. —Angr 21:11, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

I don't think this is used much in other languages. For me, a native speaker of Polish, using "up" and "down" outside a vertical context makes no sense and is just a weird English quirk. You can try listening to other non-native English speakers and see how often they say they go "down south" or "up to Canada" or "up and down the street", and how often they say they go simply "south", "to Canada" or "to and fro". — Kpalion(talk) 15:29, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

Duncan mentions 'up to London'. This was formerly so standard, that people (and I think railway timetables as well, though I am not 100% sure about that) would refer to 'the up train' or 'the up platform' (at a station) with no fear of ambiguity. I have heard residents of Edinburgh and Glasgow use the phrase 'go through' to mean 'go to the other one' (of the two cities). This is just 'go through', not necessarily 'go through to ... '. --ColinFine (talk) 22:27, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
"Up" and "down" are standard railwayman's jargon for the two directions on a British railway line. Normally if you look at the original section of the railways, "up" is the direction toward the more important terminal city and "down" is the other way, and then as the system is extended, the directions are transferred. (The result is that on all the main lines serving London, "up" is toward London except on the former Great Central line out of Marylebone.) The London Underground does not use this system, but uses compass directions. --Anonymous, 00:12 UTC, February 25, 2009.

What about "upriver" and "downriver"? Towns where previously centred around water sources, especially where Upper and Lower Canada where concerned/founded? Rana sylvatica

... and their ancient precedents, Upper Germania/Lower Germania, Upper Egypt/Lower Egypt.
In Chinese (off topic, I know), in terms of towns and localities, it seems to be at least partly hierarchical: going from a village to the county seat is "up", going from the town to a big city is "up", and going from anywhere to the capital city is "up". From thousands of years of a meticulously ordered empire, I suppose. In other contexts, the north-south and higher-lower elevation distinctions also apply. --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 21:51, 25 February 2009 (UTC)


Hey gang-- Okay, while the answer might be "it just is" I'm asking anyway. why is the word "devotee" (pronounced day-voh-TAY sorry for my lack of IPA) retain its (i'm assuming french) pronunciation, while devote, devoted, devotion have been anglicized? Are there other words where one form retains its original pronunciation while some forms have been anglicized? Thanks! (talk) 00:48, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

Many people may pronounce it as you indicate because it's so obviously French in form (that is, by analogy with such words as fiancée). That said, the first pronunciation given in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate is (expressed in your system) DEHV-uh-TEE. Deor (talk) 01:10, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
I would probably pronounce it in a "non-French" way, but those who pronounce it in a French-imitating way might partially be influenced to do so because the ending of this word doesn't have the standard meaning of the English "-ee" suffix (as in employee, draftee, payee, etc.). Anyway, for some people, the noun "envelope" has a French-imitating pronunciation, while the verb "to envelop" doesn't. This is all partly due to more recently-borrowed words being less fully assimilated into typical English patterns, but words can be nativized at different speeds. AnonMoos (talk) 01:44, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
Devotee does to my mind carry the standard implication of "-ee": employee: one who is employed; payee: one who is paid; devotee: one who is devoted; --ee: one who is --ed. --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 21:44, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
The real overall meaning of "-ee" as an English suffix (in most cases) is to express the one who is the recipient of the action expressed by the verb; in other words, it's a kind of passive personal noun. There is a contrast between active "employer" and passive "employee"; active "payer" and passive "payee". However, "to devote" doesn't really take a transitive personal direct object, and "devoted" as applied to people is pretty much a pure adjective, without true passive participial force (so "I am devoted" is not a real passive verb construction). This helps to explain why "devotee" does NOT mean "the recipient of an act of devotion" (which might be the expected meaning if "-ee" was used in a normal way in this word). AnonMoos (talk) 01:37, 26 February 2009 (UTC)
The mentioned '-AY' ending for French (or supposedly French) words in English is a common Hyperforeignism, the most notorious example of which is 'lingerie' in US English. As Anonmoos points out, it's actually not a French ending. It's the English "-ee" as in "employee", not the French "-é" as in "fiancé". There's no such word as "devotee" or "devotée" in French; The "-é" ending is actually the past-tense ending of a verb (fiancer = engage, fiancé = was engaged). --Pykk (talk) 10:39, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
However, there are French words devot (feminine devote) and devoué (feminine devouée). AnonMoos (talk) 11:40, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
Let's have a part-AY to celebrate the excellent answering of this question.  :) -- JackofOz (talk) 21:58, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
A question below reminded me that if we can turn the verb guarantee into 2 nouns, one for the doer and one for the recipient (cf. employ > employer and employee), they'd have to be guaranteeer and guaranteeee. What fun! Wheeee!  :) -- JackofOz (talk) 18:35, 26 February 2009 (UTC)

spanish translation[edit]

how do you say broker and underbroker in spanish?

A general term might be 'agente'. A stockbroker is 'corredor(a) de bolsa'. An insurance broker is 'agente de seguros'. An underbroker is unknown to me in English. Richard Avery (talk) 08:03, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
Depending on context, intermediario or intermediario financiero can also be possible. I must say I haven't got the faintest idea of what underbroker means. Any examples of its use? Pallida  Mors 16:07, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
No! No! No! The correct answer is camarero. Clarityfiend (talk) 20:33, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

Spanish punctuation[edit]

Is there a specific term for punctuation that goes at the start of a sentence, like ¿ or ¡, either in Spanish or in English? Nadando (talk) 05:07, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

Apparently, it is the Mark with No Name (or just the inverted/upside-down question mark). Clarityfiend (talk) 05:17, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
I've never heard of a term in English for punctuation marks that go at the start of a sentence; of course, we have use "opening" or "left" to refer to punctuation marks that appear as the start of a pair, like “ and (. In the Spanish Wikipedia, the ¿ and ¡ marks are called opening question mark (signo de apertura de interogación and opening exclamation mark (signo de apertura de exclamación and similar terms), although I don't really read Spanish, so I may have missed some other relevant terms in those articles. --Anonymous, 05:18 UTC, February 24, 2009.
Each character represented in Unicode ( has an official name.
In document,
on page 8, the symbol "¡" (hexadecimal 00A1) is called "INVERTED EXCLAMATION MARK" and
on page 9, the symbol "¿" (hexadecimal 00BF) is called "INVERTED QUESTION MARK".
-- Wavelength (talk) 05:52, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
Category:Punctuation has a link to Inverted question and exclamation marks.
-- Wavelength (talk) 15:59, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
Quotation marks vary in shape and function (opening and closing) in different languages. For more details, see Quotation mark, non-English usage. -- Wavelength (talk) 21:04, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
The document has, on page 4, the following statement.
  • Every punctuation pair consists of an “opening” punctuation mark and a “closing” punctuation mark.
-- Wavelength (talk) 22:36, 25 February 2009 (UTC)

A single preposition for both date and time[edit]

One of the templates is facing a problem with having to use a single preposition for both date and time. Example:

  1. "—Preceding undated comment was added on 26 August 2007."
  2. "—Preceding undated comment was added on 01:55, 26 August 2007 (UTC)."

I think it should be at in the second line. What is the solution if the same template has to be used in both the cases and there is no code change required? See the discussion at Template talk:Undated#Incorrect grammar. Jay (talk) 08:12, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

There's no solution in English, but why use English?
  1. Undated comment added: 26 August 2007
  2. Undated comment added: 01:55, 26 August 2007
--Anonymous, 08:36 UTC, February 24, 2009.
This is inferior to Anon's suggestion but if you wanted to force it, you could remove the preposition from the template and ask the user to add it to the parameter. For example {{subst:undated|at 05:55, 26 August 2007 (UTC)}}. Zain Ebrahim (talk) 12:05, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
Telegraphic style permits
  1. "—Preceding undated comment added 26 August 2007."
  2. "—Preceding undated comment added 01:55, 26 August 2007 (UTC)."
You've already dropped the "the" from the beginning, so why not? -Milkbreath (talk) 12:11, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
This looks good. Is this style universal? Where can I get more details on telegraphic style? Jay (talk) 19:27, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
That's just what it's called after the fact. We do have an article, surprise, surprise: "Telegram style". The sample on that page is way too wordy: "This is an example of telegram style stop." In full-blown telegraphic, and leaving off the true telegraphic "stop", that would be, "Example telegram style", but that's a bit extreme. You just shorten as much as you can get away with by leaving words out, especially definite articles. It's a lot like headline style without the distortions in diction that brings. Hamlet's famous soliloquy: "be or not is question stop whether nobler in mind suffer slings arrows outrageous fortune or take arms against sea of troubles by opposing end...." --Milkbreath (talk) 20:49, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
I've created a redirect for telegraph style, and also added it along with telegraphese to Telegraph (disambiguation). What I understand from these articles is that it is now used in news headlines to conserve space. But I've heard this style in news reports on TV, and there is really no requirement to be brief in the audio medium. Probably it is a new phenomenon which should have been covered in one of our articles. Jay (talk) 22:07, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
The Esperanto preposition je is used for both dates and times, besides other things.
Ni ekvojaĝos je la tria [horo] [posttagmeze] je [merkredo] la kvara [tago] [de Marto].
"We will set forth on our journey at three [o'clock] [in the afternoon] on [Wednesday] the fourth [day] [of March]."
The bracketed Esperanto expressions are optional, but at least one of them should be included in this example, in order to avoid ambiguity. -- Wavelength (talk) 23:11, 25 February 2009 (UTC)

What is this City in Japan?[edit]

File:Place name in Japan.png What is the name of this place? I can't read it..........--KageTora (talk) 08:20, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

Urayasu, Chiba.--K.C. Tang (talk) 08:52, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

Hohen vs. Hoher (Meißner)[edit]

The caption to an archival photo refers to a summer camp of the Austrian Blau-Weiss youth movement held at "Hohen [sic] Meissner" in Germany (tentative date: mid/late 1920s to early 1930s). Searching here brought me to this page. Might they be the same locale? -- Thanks, Deborahjay (talk) 10:59, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

Yes. Adjectives inflect in German, even in place names. "Hoher Meißner" uses the nominative strong form of the adjective; "Hohen Meißner" is probably used in some context like "auf dem Hohen Meißner", using the dative weak form of the adjective. Check de:Hoher Meißner, where the page name itself is "Hoher Meißner" but the first sentence begins, "Der Hohe Meißner" using the nominative weak form of the adjective. (Weak forms of adjectives are used after the definite article, among other places.) —Angr 11:16, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
in this case yes, but there are also quite a few German placenames starting with "Hohen-" (Hohenlohe, Hohenstaufen, Hohen Neuendorf, etc.) where the accusative/dative inflection has become part of the actual name. --Janneman (talk) 17:41, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

As what I need is the isolated place name form as a key word in a directory, and its pages in both the English and German Wikipedias use Hoher Meißner, it seems the reasonable choice. -- Deborahjay (talk) 18:45, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

Yes, that's the correct isolation form. —Angr 20:49, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

What does 山人 mean?[edit]

What does 山人 mean? Here is the context that I found it in: 我是李山人, 今年九十九岁。 I am pretty sure that here, 李 is the person's name, and that 山人 is some sort of a title. Based on the age that it describes, I assume that it's some sort of a title for an older person. Is this true? Yakeyglee (talk) 23:37, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

"Mountain man" - "wild/unsophisticated man". It is not, however, a regular title, and looks more like a name here. It may not be the real given name, but rather a courtesy name or pseudonym. See also Bada Shanren.
(ed): used alone as a noun - means something like "hermit". --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 21:21, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
Actually, Mountain Person, Chinese does not make the distinction with grammatical/syntactic gender...... (talk) 04:09, 25 February 2009 (UTC)

The first phrase says, I am a Li Mountain [a place name] person, which I take to mean "I am a native of Li Mountain." The second phrase, This year, [I am] 99 years old, suggests the two phrases are the start of an autobiography or story. DOR (HK) (talk) 02:31, 2 March 2009 (UTC)

butler in spanish[edit]

how do you saybutler in spanish is it modromo? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Troyster87 (talkcontribs) 22:48, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

I believe it is "mayordomo." Yakeyglee (talk) 23:39, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
See the article about the word majordomo. -- Wavelength (talk) 17:34, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
The word steward occurs in some verses in some translations of the Bible. See Bible Concordance: Steward. Various synonyms are used in English and in other languages. To see any verse in a multilingual format, simply click on the verse link, then click on Multiling (not to be confused with clicking on Multilingual).
For example, see, where one Spanish translation (with mayordomo) is in the first column, and one Portuguese translation (with mordomo) and four Spanish translations (with mayordomo) are in the third column. -- Wavelength (talk) 19:05, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
"valet" for private homes. I think "mayordomo" is more for a position in a palace, or like the White House. (talk) 21:34, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
See Open Directory - Reference: Dictionaries: World Languages: S: Spanish.
-- Wavelength (talk) 05:57, 26 February 2009 (UTC)

Grammar Question[edit]

Is the following sentence grammatically correct:

All of the mountains on Earth lie below an altitude of 8500 m, with the exception of Mt Everest, Kangchenjunga, and Lhotse in the Himalayas and K2 in the Karakoram which have summits of 8848 m, 8586 m, 8414 m, and 8611 m, respectively.

Thanks for your time. (talk) 22:58, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

Hmm. "Lie below an altitude" - that's a little meaningless, because the base of the mountain is as much part of the mountain as its summit. "... which have summits of 8848m ..." - no, it's not the summits that are 8848m, it's the altitudes that are of that dimension. May I suggest:
  • All of the mountains on Earth are less than 8500 m tall, with the exception of Mt Everest, Kangchenjunga, and Lhotse in the Himalayas, and K2 in the Karakoram, which have altitudes of 8848 m, 8586 m, 8414 m, and 8611 m, respectively. -- JackofOz (talk) 23:34, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
Note the comma before "which" in Jack's version. This comma is necessary, since the which-clause is non-restrictive. On another point, I would prefer "exceptions", as several exceptions are being listed. The singular "exception" implies that the few higher mountains are being treated as a single group, and I'd say it's acceptable if that's what you really want. --Anonymous, 05:09 UTC, February 25, 2009.
Oh, and I think "lie below an altitude" is acceptable. If the summit is below 8,500 m, then the entire mountain is below 8,500 m, so the mountain does indeed "lie below that altitude", whereas this is not true for the few mountains that are taller. If the sentence had said that the tallest mountains "lie above an altitude" of 8,500 m, that would be wrong. --Anon, 05:13 UTC, Feb. 25.
Good points. We could also replace "with the exception(s) of" with "except", which is just as good, and more concise. -- JackofOz (talk) 05:25, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
(ec) Yes, but I'd delete the "of" in "all of" and the first comma. In the US, "Mt" takes a period ("Mt."). There is a problem of sense: 8414 is less than 8500. --Milkbreath (talk) 23:38, 24 February 2009 (UTC)
Personally I would delete the "the" as well and go with "All mountains..." I would also close the spaces between the numbers and 'm', and deep-six the comma before "respectively". --Richardrj talk email 10:28, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
And this is why copyediting by committee never works. Read any mission statement. I messed up a little (I was tired, and I'd hurt my finger). If I found the sentence in an article, I'd make it be

All the mountains on Earth lie below an altitude of 8,500 m (27,900 ft) with the exception of Mt. Everest, Kangchenjunga, and Lhotse in the Himalayas and K2 in the Karakoram, which have summits of 8,848 m (29,029 ft) , 8,586 m (28,169 ft), 8,414 m (27,605 ft), and 8,611 m (28,251 ft), respectively.

with a note to "see talk" where I'd mention the odd mountain out. The comma before "respectively" is formal and mandatory. Anonymous is right (as usual) about the comma before "which", but it's "exception" no matter what you mean. "Exception" gets carried along just fine, and "exceptions" rings over-nice. "With the exception of" is cast-iron. To make it "except" would be good, but it would also be to rewrite, and I try to draw the line somewhere this side of that style issue. That the mountains "lie below an altitude" is indeed a bit unfortunate, but I'd let the writer have that because it's clear enough. The first comma goes because it's not necessary. If Richardrj meant "All mountains lie...", that's OK (we can assume that the mountains of Venus are out of the running), but, again, let the writer write as long as he's not hurting anybody, I say. "All of" is substandard for "all". That's a matter of opinion to be sure, but let a copyeditor work, I also say. --Milkbreath (talk) 12:02, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
Actually, I meant "All mountains on earth lie..." (the 'the' is unnecessary IMHO). Could you explain why you think the comma before 'respectively' is mandatory, because I don't see it myself. And am I missing something here about the third one? As you pointed out above, it doesn't make sense... does it? --Richardrj talk email 13:11, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
OK, I've looked it up, and many authorities don't use the comma before "respectively". (I'm officially trying to skulk away out of this thread now. I think my problem is that I remember everything I was taught in grade school, and most of that was wrong.) Yes, the "the" can go. As further proof of how badly I hurt my finger, what third what? --Milkbreath (talk) 13:29, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
The third mountain in the sentence. What's it doing there, if it's 8414 metres tall and yet the sentence says that it's one of the four mountains that is higher than 8500 metres? --Richardrj talk email 17:08, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
Exactly. I would want to know on the talk page. It might be a typo. I might even look it up myself. Till then I leave it. --Milkbreath (talk) 17:24, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
Lhotse clearly says the main summit is 8,516 metres high; 8414 applies to Lhotse Middle. Clarityfiend (talk) 19:45, 25 February 2009 (UTC)
So the sentence is all right, but a slip-up has crept in with the third height. Strawless (talk) 19:48, 25 February 2009 (UTC)