Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2009 February 9

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February 9[edit]

what do you call a person with no sense of smell[edit]

blind people can't see, deaf people can't hear, mute people can't speak, but [blank] people can't smell, and [blank] people can't taste.Troyster87 (talk) 01:06, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

I don't believe such words exist in English. Certainly no such words are in common use. Algebraist 01:10, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
Anosmia is the term for inability to smell, ageusia for taste, so anosmiac and ageusiac? Catchy, no? Clarityfiend (talk) 01:22, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
The OED has anosmic (not anosmiac), and Google Scholar shows it's in fairly common academic use. Nothing similar to ageusiac is in the OED, and it gets no Ghits. Ageusic seems to see some use though. Algebraist 01:34, 9 February 2009 (UTC) (talk) 13:48, 20 October 2013 (UTC)——Anosmic, anosmia are the words96.25.130.107 (talk) 13:48, 20 October 2013 (UTC)


Imagine a house and a garage being separated by 6'. In order to stay out of inclement weather when traveling between them, you create a hallway of sorts with a roof which spans between a door of the house and a door on the side of the garage. What is this enclosure called? says that this would be a breezeway if there are no walls but what if you enclose this thing? Would it still be called a breezeway? Maybe an "enclosed breezeway"? Dismas|(talk) 02:03, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

"Corridor"? AnonMoos (talk) 02:13, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
I am currently house hunting. I saw a house with such a structure in Massachusetts, and everyone called the structure a breezeway, even though it has no breeze. Marco polo (talk) 02:25, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
I have never encountered the word "breezeway" until this thread, and would not have known what it was otherwise. DuncanHill (talk) 02:27, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
More as a joke, I hope, my spouse calls ours "The Cloister". However, it is fully enclosed, though with multiple windows along its south face. Cloisters are usually open along one wall with archways. ៛ BL ៛ (talk) 02:30, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
Thanks, all! I thought there was another word since there is no 'breeze' to an enclosed breezeway but I guess that the term includes those without breezes. Dismas|(talk) 07:39, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
Actually, if you look at the follow-on question below, there's a link to dogtrot house, in which the "dogtrot" seems to refer to an enclose breezeway. --LarryMac | Talk 14:23, 10 February 2009 (UTC)

an & h[edit]

I'm sure this question has been asked numerous times before, but as the only terms I can search the archives for are "an" and "h", I didn't think I'd have much luck, so here goes. Should you say an before words beginning with h? "An house" sounds alien to me, but it seems common, especially in American literature and translated works. Is it just an English/American thing? Or am I just wrong to say "a herbivore"? Thanks in advance (talk) 05:16, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

See A and an#Discrimination between a and an (as well as the rest of the article). Deor (talk) 05:20, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
(ec) If the h is sounded, than use a. If it is not sounded (as in some accents, or by poseurs when they talk about hotels), then use an. DuncanHill (talk) 05:21, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
Americans wouldn't say "an house". In fact, the phrase "an house" looks really, really British to me. I hear John Cleese saying "An 'ouse?!" when I read it. That's probably one particular, stereotyped dialect. But clearly there are some people somewhere who say it, because it gets hundreds of thousands of Google hits.
Americans would say "an herbivore", because Americans don't pronounce the h in "herb". If you pronounce the "h" at the beginning of "herbivore", then you're right to say "a herbivore". So even though the stereotype is that British people drop h's, here it's only the Americans doing it.
Then there are weird cases, like "a historian" and "an historian". Americans use both. Even though Americans generally pronounce the "h" in "historian", they pronounce "an historian" as "an 'istorian", for some reason. I just say "a historian" like any other word with an h sound. The "an" form strikes me as an affectation used by, as Duncan puts it, poseurs. I don't know where it came from; is there a British or American dialect where the h in "historian" is silent? rspεεr (talk) 07:14, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
Inspector Harry "Snapper" Organs routinely dropped all his h's ('Allo, 'allo, 'allo, wot's all this then?) , so I presume he'd have done so with historian. -- JackofOz (talk) 07:23, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
I say "an historian" because the stress is on the second syllable, not the first. (That is, I say "a history book", for example.) Adam Bishop (talk) 09:14, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
I found Phonological history of English fricatives and affricates#H-dropping which sorts a lot of this out. rspεεr (talk) 07:27, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
In my dialect, Scouse, we drop 'h' all the time at the beginning of words. There is only one time when we actually pronounce it, and that is in the name of the letter 'h' (we say 'haitch' which is, of course, incorrect, but our dialect does everything the opposite to standard english anyway). We also add 'h' after voiceless stops (p, t, k) and short vowels at the ends of words (which changes to 'r' before a following vowel).--KageTora (talk) 09:53, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
No no no. My dears, the definitive treatment of this topic is here.
¡ɐɔıʇǝoNoetica!T– 12:07, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
Within my lifetime (60+) the use of 'a' or 'an' before hotel or history has changed here in the UK. In the fifties it was almost universal that people said 'a historian' or 'a hotel'. nowadays it is much more common (but not universal) to hear people, especially the media, say 'an historian' or 'an hotel'. This is anecdotal evidence and should be disregarded for scientific studies Richard Avery (talk) 16:58, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
I haven't noticed this change in the UK (except for a possible desire to "speak proper" and introduce an unneccesary "n" by some in the media). Surely the rule is simple: if the "h" is sounded, then use "a", but if the "h" is not sounded then it needs "an". Of course, this just moves the discussion on to whether the "h" should be sounded in "hotel" and "history". The modern tendency is to sound this, but then erroneously keep the formerly necessary "an" under the delusion that this is "proper". Fifty years ago "a hotel" was standard in the North, but "an 'otel" was standard in RP. Both were correct. Modern speakers seem to confuse the two. Dbfirs 17:24, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
If you're going to say "an 'otel" in a neutral (that is, non-regional) accent then you should write it "an hôtel". DuncanHill (talk) 23:26, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

Numbers and Hyphenation[edit]

Concerning this sentence: "I worked with a group of twenty 5-6 year old children."

Is it wrong to write out "five to six", since it's preceded by the word "twenty"? Is it better to leave the numerals to avoid confusion? I would prefer to write them out but...

Also; if it is okay to write them out, should it be hyphenated as such: "five-to-six-year-old"? As it stands now, should it be hyphenated "5-6-year-old"? Thanks, (talk) 08:35, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

What about rewriting it to read "I worked with twenty children aged between five and six years"?

--TammyMoet (talk) 09:29, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

"I worked with a group of twenty children, ages five and six." This is how I would write it. What is between five and six?--KageTora (talk) 09:44, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

Points to note:
  1. It is not always helpful to suggest rewriting. Sidestepping an issue like that misses an opportunity to sort out a genuinely interesting issue. And it may not be be an option anyway. What if someone spoke those words, and your task was to write them down?
  2. The close range 5 to 6 is merely incidental, so it may not be helpful to ask what can lie between those two ages. (In fact, fractional ages lie between, expressed in years and months.)
  3. Several distinct issues converge in the example we are given. Let's deal with them one by one:
  • A range of years expressed in speech with the word to is best written with the word to. This is especially so when from is also used, but it applies generally:

The children were aged from five to ten.

Five to ten is a period of latency in the child's development, for Freud.

  • Opinions differ widely about using figures or words to express numbers. In the examples above, all the numbers are lower than ten, for which most authorities prefer words. Some authorities take ten as the dividing line: lower numbers in words, higher numbers in figures. (What of ten itself? Opinions differ!) But if comparable numbers are below and above ten in the same sentence, choose just one way for both numbers:

The children were aged from five to ten.

The children were aged from 12 to 14.

The children were aged from five to fourteen.

The children were aged from 5 to 14.

  • If any numbers with different uses occur in the sentence, it is normal to present them in contrasting ways, like this:

There were six children aged 5, and eleven children aged 10.

There were 6 children aged five, and 11 children aged ten.

  • Some say that a figure should not occur at the start of a sentence, so this would be good:

Six children were aged 5, and eleven were aged 10.

But not this:

6 children were aged five, and 11 were aged ten.

  • Hyphens are standard in these forms:

Five-year-olds are so dependent!

Five-year-old children are so dependent!

  • A "hanging hyphen" is standard when we add another option:

Five- and six-year-olds are so dependent!

Five- and six-year-old children are so dependent!

  • Putting all this together, here are two standard acceptable written forms of the sentence we were asked about:

I worked with a group of twenty 5- to 6-year-old children.

I worked with a group of 20 five- to six-year-old children.

These might look awkward; language in the real world is like that! Rewording may indeed be best; but to do that well, we had better be sure of some underlying principles, like those we have unearthed above by considering a hard case.
  • Finally, many authorities advocate an en dash (–) instead of a hyphen (-) when the compound has components that already include hyphens:

An Anglo-Saxon–Danish skirmish was inevitable.

So if you really wanted to have hyphens in five-to-six-year-olds, you might be tempted to try an en dash instead of the last-added hyphen (or hyphens); but identifying such a candidate for replacement is quite hard in this case: five-to-six–year-olds? I don't think so.
I recommend WP:HYPHEN and WP:DASH for further reading that is relevant to improving our editing practice, class.
¡ɐɔıʇǝoNoetica!T– 13:20, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
Of course the proximity of 'five' and 'six' is purely incidental, and I was going to say it would be different if the ages were, say, five and ten, as you would then have to point out whether the children in question were either of two separate age groups (i.e. five and ten), or within the range of five and ten, but I couldn't be bothered, because that was not relevant in this case. I did, however, have the sneaky suspicion that someone would be pedantic enough to pick up on that, as you did. Hook, line, and sinker, as they say. Also, in my opinion, paraphrasing is fine, as long as it gets the point across better than the original. Language is a tool to be explored and used, and while your argument that it misses a perfectly good opportunity to explore different ways of expressing the same idea using different punctuation or whatever, paraphrasing is just as good, if not better, as it can even be more visually pleasing than having a morass of hyphens and dashes all over the place.--KageTora (talk) 16:40, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
So we agree? Good!
¡ɐɔıʇǝoNoetica!T– 21:23, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
Actually, this reminds me of a conversation I had with my father a while back. I was telling him about a kindergarten class I taught a few years ago, and I said to him, 'So, I was teaching this class of thirty 5-year-olds at the kindergarten,' and my dad replied in shocked disbelief, 'What are 35-year-olds doing at a kindergarten?!?' This is why I prefer to paraphrase! (True story!)--KageTora (talk) 05:12, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
What you should have said, to avoid ambiguity, is "Thirty head of 5-year-olds". —Angr 19:47, 11 February 2009 (UTC)

ridulous, ridulousness[edit]

Recently I came across the word "ridulousness" (in a text about the Plessy vs. Ferguson case a colleague gave to me) and first I thought it was a typo for "ridiculousness". Although there are a number of Google hits for ridulous/ridulousness, the word is not in my Collins and I'm not quite sure about the meaning and the register. (I'm not a native speaker.) -- (talk) 17:28, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

When I put "ridulousness" into Oxford, I get a message: "There are no results: The nearest alphabetical match-point is displayed in the side-frame", and the word highlighted is "basso-relievo, rilievo". I'm not sure why in the world that is the result, but I'm sure that "ridulousness" is an error. Nyttend (talk) 17:53, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
Google hits mean nothing; you will always get plenty of Google hits for misspellings, but that doesn't mean there really was somebody called "Virpin Mary", for example.--Shantavira|feed me 09:08, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
But 'Virpin' would be the possessive form of the Finnish name Virpi. If Virpi had a daughter named 'Mary' she might be referred to as 'Virpin Mary' :) -- (talk) 19:12, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
Whoa! Don't yah just love this place Shant, come on, think of another one. . .;-)) Richard Avery (talk) 18:50, 11 February 2009 (UTC)
This is a perennial problem in writing spellcheckers because there are often lexemes which are both a misspelling of a very common word and also a legitimate but very rare word. (One of my favourites is "incudes", which is a possible plural of incus, a bone in your ear, but if you see the word anywhere it's very probably a typo for "includes".) I'm pretty sure that what your note meant was "ridiculousness". Marnanel (talk) 18:56, 11 February 2009 (UTC)
Sometimes Google and Wikipedia searches give you spelling suggestions that turn up no results. For example (fictional example based on factual experience), if you type in, say, "gfhgjfhghfhdjahkfghslghdkahdkjhgfhghfjhgrgvjfbghuhghfhgfjfhgkjghkgh" on Google, it might say, "did you mean: fhgjshkjhgkldjfhgjdkslahsasdlfjgkhafhgh?" and still turn up no results. A similar thing happens with Wikipedia searches. ~AH1(TCU) 18:59, 15 February 2009 (UTC)

18th century English pronunciation[edit]

As part of a college class on novels, I'm reading Fielding's Tom Jones, in which there are a few characters by the name of "Blifle". During our first lecture, the professor expressed ignorance about how to pronounce this name, so we've gotten to pronouncing it "bliff-ful". Any reliable sources on how to pronounce this name? Nyttend (talk) 17:48, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

I am by no means an expert, but I would say your pronunciation was correct (or, at least, as close as we can get). Modern spelling would require an extra 'f' for the 'i' to be pronounced short, but early modern English was not very consistent with this usage.--KageTora (talk) 18:33, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
It's occurred to me that one could pronounce the second syllable of "blifle" as one pronounces "soufflé". The spelling of blifle probably doesn't follow the rules of French (I don't really know), but "bli-flay" could possibly sound less silly than bliff-ful! Maedin\talk 20:46, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
I don't know whether there are alternative versions of the book published, but as far as I'm aware the character's name is not "Blifle" but "Blifil", which may make the pronunciation more obvious. Karenjc 20:56, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
Sorry, wasn't paying attention when typing before. To be sure, this is "Blifil" in my edition, not "Blifle". My intended question was basically after the first syllable: is it natural for it to be pronounced this way, or would "bligh-fill" be an option? It's primarily a question of vowels; I'm aware that the Great Vowel Shift was centuries before this time, but I'm still not very well read (or "well heard") in the pronunciation of the English of this period — is it generally the same as today? Nyttend (talk) 00:59, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
It might be a good idea to watch the film version.--KageTora (talk) 05:34, 10 February 2009 (UTC)

The professors under whom I studied the novel (I had it in several classes) all pronounced it with a short i (BLIHF-uhl), and that's also how I recall it's being pronounced in the film. Deor (talk) 05:41, 10 February 2009 (UTC)

two latin questions[edit]

1. In Latin poetry, if you have a syllable that ends with two consonants, then it is considered a long syllable. Can anyone tell me if this rule is sustained across consecutive words? For example, in "et cetera," is the first syllable long because it effectively ends in "tc," ignoring whitespace?

2. The word "nemo/ neminis" is basically a third declension noun that can be used as an adjective. Can you use nouns from other declensions as adjectives, remembering that each of them lacks at least one gender for the purpose of inflection. For example, if "bellum" were used adjectivally (="warlike"), there would be the second declension form "bellus" available for the nom. masc. singular, but no apparent feminine form. This ought to prevent it being used as an adjective, but Latin can be strange. Thanks in advance, It's been emotional (talk) 17:59, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

First question, basically, yes. There are numerous exceptions, depending on what comes after the vowel; if it was "et radices", the combination of t+r would not make the e long. See Latin poetry. For the second question, I don't think Latin can do that. There are words like "rosa" which is a rose and the adjective colour, and there are coincidences ("bellus" and "malus" for example are unrelated as adjectives and nouns), but you can't regularly do that with any normal Latin noun. It does, of course, work the other way, adjectives can be used as substantive nouns (and also as adverbs, sometimes). Adam Bishop (talk) 18:34, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
Latin nouns can occur in a syntactic "apposition" construction (which in some cases can be somewhat functionally equivalent to being an adjective), but the nouns do not change their declensional category or gender as a result... AnonMoos (talk) 22:46, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

Thanks to you both, It's been emotional (talk) 20:27, 14 February 2009 (UTC)

following on from breezeway[edit]

What are those excessively narrow houses called, that are created by roofing over the passageway between two existing buildings? There are several that are a bare couple of meters wide. I seem to recall a name such as "spite corridor", but not useful Ghits for that term. BrainyBabe (talk) 20:13, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

The description reminded me of Shotgun house, but that's not quite the same. However, that article did lead me to List of house types, which might be useful. --LarryMac | Talk 20:24, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
The description reminded me of dogtrot houses, but I've never thought of them as "excessively narrow". —Angr 20:28, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
Your question reminded me of a recent NY Times article about one in Alexandria, VA, and it is indeed called the Spite House. -- Coneslayer (talk) 20:49, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
And we have an article on spite houses, usually but not always narrow. (I.e., once one knows the name, looking for it is much easier.)BrainyBabe (talk)
Railroad apartment seems closer to the OP's intent than either Spite House or Shotgun House. 05:13, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
Spite house is definitely closer to the concept I was looking for, in that it designates a building constructed where no one thought one could fit. The houses I am thinking of are not always done out of spite or negative emotions, but they are always narrow, between two existing structures, which not all spite houses are. BrainyBabe (talk) 13:47, 10 February 2009 (UTC)

Old English perfect aspect[edit]

What are the most likely ways that speakers of Old English would refer to something that is completed or finished? I get the impression that they didn't use the construction "have" + past participle that we use today, as in "I have eaten". Or did they? I know that the prefix ge- for verbs (and sometimes nouns) connotes a sense of "process or result". If an Old English speaker said, "ic geæt", would that mean "I have finished eating" as opposed to the simpler "ic æt", "I ate"? Or would you always use the simple past for those situations? Jonathan talk 20:48, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

Nobody else has picked up this one, so I'll give it a go. Unfortunately our perfect aspect is rather poor. However, the OED gives a pretty complete answer (s.v. 'HAVE', II):

This use arose directly from sense 2b, the object possessed having in agreement with it a passive participle of a transitive verb as attribute or complement; thus, I have my work done = ‘I possess or have my work in a done or finished condition’, whence, by inference of antecedent action from result, the actual sense ‘I have done my work’: cf. the series ‘have you the article ready?’, ‘have you the article completed?’, ‘have you completed the article?’ In some dialects the distinction between the original and developed forms, e.g. ‘He has the house built’, ‘he has built the house’, is still in regular use; with some past participles, as begun, completed, done, finished, etc., it is recognized generally. With transitive verbs the developed use was already frequent in OE.; the pa. pple., which originally agreed in number and case with the object, was sometimes left uninflected. In early ME. the usage is found with verbs of action without an object, whence it was extended to intransitive verbs, especially, at an early date, to the verb to be (as in French and other Romanic languages, and in opposition to continental Teutonic use), as he has been, had been, will have been, etc. (cf. F. il a été, Ger. er ist gewesen). Verbs of motion and position long retained the earlier use of the auxiliary be; and he is gone is still used to express resulting state, while he has gone expresses action.

--ColinFine (talk) 00:06, 11 February 2009 (UTC)
Thanks for the OED article. Any help with interpreting it, if possible? says that with trasitive verbs (okay, "to hear" is transistive) the developed use was already frequent in OE, and the past participle was left uninflected. So, instead of the usual use of the past participle (in this case, hyred) as an adjective in phrases like "þa hyredan weras" (the men who were heard), for lack of a better example, you would get an uninflected "ic habbe hie hyred", (I have heard them)... soþlic? Were they using the verb "habban" in this kind of construction? Jonathan talk 18:04, 14 February 2009 (UTC)

Use of of[edit]

He was well known for his sign-off line of "May your news be good news". (see Brian Naylor (broadcaster)).


He was well known for his sign-off line: "May your news be good news". (or perhaps a comma instead of a colon).

What function does "of" serve in the first version (and various similar examples)? Is it supported by those who speak authoritatively about such things? -- JackofOz (talk) 22:49, 9 February 2009 (UTC)

The "of" in your first example is not really necessary. Your second example is better, and a comma would be preferred. Since the article is about an Australian broadcaster, perhaps the useage would be different than American English. --Thomprod (talk) 23:00, 9 February 2009 (UTC)
Thanks, Thomprod. I believe I've seen it in various Englishes. A similar example might be "He was born Mervyn Smith, but for his astrological writings he used the name of Tarquin Spiffingworth" (rather than just "... the name Tarquin Spiffingworth"). It's common enough, but I don't know if it's a proper use of "of". -- JackofOz (talk) 08:08, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
I think it's on the same spectrum as the unimpeachable use of of in "the city of Rome". The city doesn't belong to Rome, the city is Rome, yet the "of" seems to be almost indispensable. —Angr 10:13, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
That's a related case, indeed. But I see a slight difference. Take Gerald Ford: he was born Leslie Lynch King Jr, but was given his adoptive father's name. It could be said that he took the name of Gerald Ford, where Gerald Ford refers to his father - in other words, he took his father's name. It could also be said that he took the name Gerald Ford, with no reference to how that came about. Cities, counties and similar places are usually, formally, "The City of ..." - and even informally. The "of" there is a pointer, and is a shorthand way of saying "the city (that is) called Rome". But when it comes to tag-lines and similar things, we're not talking about labels, names and titles; they simply exist as utterances. Another one would be "I explained that I'd done everything I was asked to do, and he gave me the unbelievable response of 'It doesn't matter, we've changed the rules in the meantime'". In speech, it seems to highlight that what's about to come next is worth hearing, something unusual, something unique, something shocking, etc. - and there's often a slight pause after "of", and sometimes "you're not gonna believe this", or "wait for it", or the speaker uses air quotes. In writing, the effect can't be reproduced with anything like the same power by merely using the word "of". I'm getting the feeling that it's a colloquialism, and not particularly appropriate for writing of a certain quality, unless it's part of a quote. -- JackofOz (talk) 21:35, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
Puzzling question. The locution seems OK at first glance, and I'm sure it would pass unnoticed in speech, at least by me, but there is something unusual about it. I think the "of" is like the one in phrases like these from a googling on "with a cry of":
  • People emptied chamber pots out of bedroom windows with a cry of gardey loo!, which is said to be a corruption of the French ....
  • With a cry of “Allah is great”, an underage killer shot an Italian priest ....
  • ... he leaps into the air with a cry of “Dosukoi!” ....
The function of "of" there is definitive, similar to "of" in "teeth of wood", meaning something like "being". Neither Fowler (1965) nor the OED on line treats it (I skimmed through the OED entry twice, and a damn fine entry it is). I think that this use of "of" (in "cry of") is normal and not of low register at all, and I'm beginning to think the same of yours. You can't say a colon, and your "of" takes up that slack in speech. Personally, I'd probably go with a comma in formal writing, and "of" in speech and more casual writing, only because it sounds vocal to me. --Milkbreath (talk) 23:56, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
Compare use of de in French, and similarly in other Romance languages: quelque chose d'étrange: "something strange". One would never say *quelque chose étrange. For goes by the name of X, compare a usage that turns up more than once in the surpassingly witty film O Brother, Where Art Thou?: the main character introduces himself with the elliptical sentence "Name of Ulysses Everett McGill".
¡ɐɔıʇǝoNoetica!T– 00:55, 11 February 2009 (UTC)