Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2009 September 1

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September 1[edit]

"were quit"[edit]

There is an ad currently running for a stop-smoking pill which says that, after having used their pill, 90% of the users "were quit". Is this proper English? This sounds really odd to me. I would have said "had quit". Who then was a gentleman? (talk) 01:20, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

Ugh. "Had quit" would be acceptable. "Were quit" is not. Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots 01:27, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

Interesting. I just did a Google search for "were quit" and a large number of them are for sites discussing stopping smoking. Maybe it's a state of the art term. Who then was a gentleman? (talk) 01:31, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

"Quit" can be a predicate adjective (governed by "to be") rather than a past participle (governed by transitive verbs like "to have"), but it's slightly specialised or archaic, as in "At long last, I am quit of you!", "he longed to be quit of the world and its cares", etc. (my own constructions, not direct quotations). —— Shakescene (talk) 02:56, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
It does exist in more modern natural use such as "I wish I was quit of this job!". I don't think this use can occur without its "of" though. Algebraist 02:59, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
At a stretch you probably could say "This job is terrible; I wish I were quit". I imagine that the "were quit" is an extension of this construct. -- Q Chris (talk) 11:00, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Thinking about this a little bit, "quit" is like a synonym for "retired", and it's not unusual to hear that someone might wish they "were retired". "Quit" used in this way sounds odd, but perhaps it works. Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots 11:09, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
No connection to English, but in recent Slovene the intransitive verb equivalent of "to quit" can be used transitively to indicate an involuntary action in the political sphere. That is, if some government minister or high ranking official quits their job and people suspect that he was in fact forced out of the job, they'll say that "he was quit". TomorrowTime (talk) 11:30, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
To my American ears, "to be quit of something" or just "to be quit" sounds odd and a bit archaic. Maybe it is a British thing. Marco polo (talk) 13:30, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
It sounds odd to me too (I'm from the UK). Id does seem to be correct grammatically though. Maybe its a "new" phrase that I had not come across yet. -- Q Chris (talk) 15:37, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
It is not common usage in the UK. I guess "quit" can mean "in the state of having quit", but I can't remember ever hearing it used that way. --Tango (talk) 20:11, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
It is short for "were quit the habit" but it would also be natural to say they "were smoke-free". Cuddlyable3 (talk) 09:58, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
I think that would be "were quit of the habit". Not to be confused with "He quit the habit". -- JackofOz (talk) 08:17, 3 September 2009 (UTC)

(unindenting) "Were quit" ?! Never heard the expression. It sounds alien. Or Middle English. I'd say "he/she/they quit (whatever)". L☺g☺maniac chat? 16:03, 3 September 2009 (UTC)

The expression is "to be quit of <something>". The "of" is mandatory. It is somewhat archaic. See points 6 and 12 and how George Washington used it. -- JackofOz (talk) 20:03, 3 September 2009 (UTC)
According to [1], "quit" can indeed be used as an adjective as in the commercial, though they indicate it is usually followed by "of". This phrase "...users were quit..." in this commercial by this stop smoking product has always bugged me. A google search of that phrase in quotes "users were quit"[2] returned 9 of 10 links to the phrase in that commercial, the 10th being a link to this Wikipedia page. To me, this means it's an uncommon use. While not strictly forbidden in English, I'd bet this slipped by the commercial's editors and that they wish they'd used "had quit" instead of "were quit".

Simply the pharma wants to indicate that the client was in a state of of not smoking at that point in time. If they said "they quit" smoking, it would indicate "for good" or the period of the trial. So in week 10 they "were quit", no assumption they didn't pick up week 11.

"[Color] [Article of Clothing]" as a euphemism for cuckoldry[edit]

So I speak Mandarin Chinese, and in Mandarin "to wear a green hat" is a euphemism for being cuckolded by your wife (which is, in fact, mentioned in the cuckold article). I was looking through Netherlandish Proverbs today, and the article says that "She puts the blue cloak on her husband" means "She deceives him."

I have a couple of questions about this:

  • Does this Flemish proverb just literally mean "She deceives him," or does it imply extramarital sex?
  • If so, is there a reason why these two phrases both follow the pattern of "[Color] [Article of clothing]" and mean roughly the same thing? Or is it just a random coincidence?
  • Are there more examples of this type of phrase as a euphemism for cuckoldry in other languages?

Thanks in advance. --Anakata (talk) 06:04, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

For the third question: At least in most European languages, there is a verb meaning just "to cuckold" as in English (French, Russian), or the translation for "make a cuckold" is "to attach horns" (German, Polish, Italian, Sicilian). So if you were looking for any similar phrases, they would be in Asia. See Wiktionary for more information. Xenon54 / talk / 12:16, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
The OP didn't mean that there isn't an actual term for "to cuckold" in Mandarin (etc.) - there is; but "to wear a green hat" is an idiomatic euphemism for it. That is to say, just because "cuckold" exists in English (for example), that does not necessarily exclude the possibility of there also being a colourful idiomatic expression in the form described by the OP. --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 12:24, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Due probably to basic human nature, the large majority of human societies both encourage female marital fidelity (male, not quite so much), feature frequent breaches of it, and find some humour in the resultant situation: consequently, most languages will have one or several such allusive expressions. Even after ruling out any cultural borrowings, a number of such coincidental resemblances are therefore mathematically expectable. (talk) 13:22, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
(** cough **) -- JackofOz (talk) 21:23, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

Is this Hindi Translation correct?[edit]

A translation of the last two lines of this poem by Kabir gives the Hindi

Na Mein Dekhun Aur Ko,
Na Tehi Dekhan Deyoon 

And the English

Neither shall I see anyone,
nor let you see anyone else. 

I am not a Hindi speaker. Someone else who knows some Hindi but is not a native speaker said they thought that the translation of the second line could be wrong, it might be "nor will you let me see anyone else".

Please could someone check the translation. Thanks -- Q Chris (talk) 10:57, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

Your translation is perfectly alright. The translation of the second line is not wrong and it should exactly be 'nor let you see anyone else'. - DSachan (talk) 12:33, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
""Na" essentially meaning "no" or "not", which shows how ancient that expression is. "Nah" still works in English. Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots 11:25, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
'Na' is still used a lot and is as common as 'nahin'. In fact the word 'tehi', which means 'you', shows that this expression is very ancient, and not the word 'Na'. - DSachan (talk) 18:35, 2 September 2009 (UTC)

German translations[edit]

  1. A slogan on a store carrier bag reads "Schön, dass Sie bei uns waren!" As far as I can tell this means something like "It's lovely that you were with us", but this sounds clunky in English. Any suggestions for a better English translation? "Lovely to see you"? "It was lovely to see you"? "Lovely that you were here"?
  2. A slogan for a mobile phone company reads "Weg mit dem Speck!" At a guess I would say that this means something like "Away with the fat", presumably on the basis that this company provides a no-frills service or something. But again, this doesn't sound right in English. Can anyone suggest a better translation? Many thanks. --Richardrj talk email 12:12, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
1 literally means what you said. As for a better translation, I would say "It was lovely that you were here," because IMO that is closest to the original. For 2 - "Speck" means "bacon", but it can be used colloquially to mean "fat" or "flab". For a better translation, try "Out with the extras!" or "Out with the frills!" to match the way it's used in the slogan. The slogan is used by Tele.ring, an Austrian mobile phone ("Handy") provider that apparently provides low-cost plans. Xenon54 / talk / 12:25, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
I've heard "Glad to have you!" used somewhat frequently, although that more expresses appreciation on the store's part, and doesn't capture the same "benefits to all" sense the German has. "Great to have you here!" does a little bit better, but not by much. Also, "Cut the fat!" is idiomatic in English (at least in the US), meaning to get rid of unneeded extras, and is probably the closest you'll come. -- (talk) 15:14, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
I guess another part of the problem is how to translate "bei uns". In French it could be translated as "chez nous", in Italian as "da noi", but in English I think you have to expand for an accurate translation, and it depends on the context. ("at our place", "at our restaurant", "at our store"). "With us" hardly ever works for "bei uns", while "here", as suggested by Xenon, does work of course, but it's a bit more impersonal than "bei uns". ---Sluzzelin talk 17:09, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Ignoring the literal translation or meaning, I'd use "Thanks for coming" for no. 1. /JCStroh?! 18:26, 3 September 2009 (UTC)

Definition of expression[edit]

What would be the meaning of: "It is hard for you to kick against the pricks." LordGorval (talk) 12:39, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

The "pricks" in question were long pointy sticks, also and now more commonly known as "goads", that were used to encourage pulling or ploughing oxen to keep pulling, and to divert them back on to the correct path if they deviated. The phrase in question is metaphorically comparing the auditor ("you") to an ox, with the "pricks" being the constraints and regulations of your society or milieu, which discourage you from behaving differently to the established or ruling norms, even if your conscience or newly acquired religious ideas might suggest to you that it would be more moral to do so. This is a generalised interpretation of the meaning, but the phrase was originally used in a particular social/religious/political context where a specific, arguably rebellious, course of action may have been being recommended. (talk) 13:09, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

In other words - don't buck the system or go against the rules or laws,even if you think they are immoral? It is "hard" than for "you" to fight the established society rules and regulations and you will get "pricked" or proded and encouraged to go with the flow. Something like: Don't fight city hall.LordGorval (talk) 15:44, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

A version appears in chapter 26, verse 14 of the New Testament book of Acts, in which Saul (later Paul) hears a voice saying, "'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad." As implies, the sense is "why are you resisting the direction that God is intending?" --- OtherDave (talk) 17:20, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
The OtherDave's translation is from the New American Bible (Roman Catholic). The New Jerusalem Bible (another Roman Catholic version) has the very similar "It is hard for you, kicking against the goad." For comparison, the (Anglican) 1611 Authorised King James Version of Acts 26:14 readeth

And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. At this site, you can compare this with several other (mainly Protestant) versions in English and other languages, including the original Greek that "pricks" and "goad[s]" are translating. As you can see there the New and 21st Century King James Versions use "goads" rather than "pricks", as do my copies of the Revised Standard Version and New RSV ("It hurts you to kick against the goads"). [And no, I'm not saying which denomination has a better bible, just identifying them because that's occasionally reflected in the translator's choice of words, though I doubt that applies here, even less to the specific metaphor.] —— Shakescene (talk) 20:44, 3 September 2009 (UTC)
¶ My New Oxford Annotated Bible (1994) explains in a gloss that "A goad is a sharp pointed stick used to prod an ox or donkey", while the Jerusalem Bible (1966) says the phrase translates a "Greek proverb for useless resistance: the ox kicking against the goad succeeds only in wounding itself." The (Anglican & Protestant) Revised Version of 1881, which tried to incorporate the latest scholarship within the language of 1611, also gives "it is hard for thee to kick against the goad" with the footnote "Gr. goads" (i.e. the original word is plural). I guess that this sense of "pricks" stopped being readily understood a while ago. —— Shakescene (talk) 20:59, 3 September 2009 (UTC)

Awoken or awakened?[edit]

Let's say that a person is sound asleep when a loud noise wakes him up. Which sentence below would be correct? And why exactly?

  • John was awoken in the middle of the night.
  • John was awakened in the middle of the night.

Thank you. (Joseph A. Spadaro, 1 September 2009)

Both are technically correct. If you had to pick one, pick "awakened", because it sounds less awkward in this sentence. Xenon54 / talk / 16:36, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Both are fine. "Awoken" is past participle, whereas "awakened" is transitive past-tense. In this context they have more or less the same meaning. --Pykk (talk) 16:40, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
It is good style to use active not passive verb forms wherever there is a choice. Something woke John. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 09:51, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
No, depends on context and intended effect. "Something woke John in the middle of the night" has neither the same meaning nor the same effect as "John was awakened in the middle of the night". -Silence (talk) 13:58, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
Example sentences:
  • John was awoken several times in the middle of the night by the sound of a toilet flushing next-door to his room.
  • John was awakened by the sound of a blood-curdling scream and he immediately sprang out of bed.
There is no rule about the difference, just a subtle shade of meaning in context. Dbfirs 20:18, 2 September 2009 (UTC)

Follow-up question:

Thank you for the responses. I am still somewhat unclear on the distinction of the words awoken versus awakened in my original question. Some comments above (about passive voice versus active voice) might help clear this up for me, however. Can someone take the original two sentences above (in my original question) ... which are both in passive voice (I think?) ... and translate them back into their respective active voice? That might help me make sense of this. Thanks. Therefore ... what are the correct corresponding active verbs?

  • Sentence 1 above (when changed to active voice): In the middle of the night, a loud noise __________ John.
  • Sentence 2 above (when changed to active voice): In the middle of the night, a loud noise __________ John.

Thank you. (Joseph A. Spadaro, 2 September 2009)

  • In the middle of the night, a loud noise awoke John. (and he went back to sleep)
  • In the middle of the night, a loud noise awakened John. (and he was alert to some danger)

Please note that this is not a rule about usage, just the way I would use the words. Others might disagree? Dbfirs 20:18, 2 September 2009 (UTC)

I (a native English speaker from England) don't understand the distinction Dbfirs is claiming to find. Both sentences are passive, formed with two different past participles of 'awake'. In my idiolect, 'awake' is usually intransitive (eg 'I awoke', 'I had awoken'): for a transitive sense I would use 'wake' ('I woke John', 'I was woken'). I would not myself use the weak past 'wakened' at all. So to me, both of the original sentences sound equally odd. --ColinFine (talk) 00:28, 3 September 2009 (UTC)
I agree with ColinFine's transitive and intransitive usages except that my dialect does have "wakened" (informal usage). The original sentences sound formal to me, but I was just trying to find a subtle distinction between them. Dbfirs 15:46, 3 September 2009 (UTC)

Thanks to all for the feedback. Very helpful. Thank you. (Joseph A. Spadaro, 5 September 2009)

Rhode Island[edit]

I have two questions about the state of Rhode Island.

1. Why is it named an island? I have already read the Wikipedia article on Rhode Island, which is less than helpful.

2. Why does the state have a Republican as governor and a Democrat as lieutenant governor?

Thank you. (Joseph A. Spadaro, 1 September 2009)

This question isn't really appropriate for the Language desk, but...
1. It's in the second paragraph of the article. To summarise, the name comes from the actual Rhode Island in the Narragansett Bay. When the island was merged with the Providence Plantations, the name was applied to the whole of the new colony.
2. The governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately. This is the case in 18 of the 42 states that have lieutenant governors. In the other 24, the two run on one ticket, similar to president and vice president. Xenon54 / talk / 16:33, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
I thought the question to be appropriate for the Language Help Desk ... as the question really boils down to: "Why are they using the language island if it's not (geographically speaking) really an island?" Upon research (at the Rhode Island article), I stumbled upon the Governor / Lt. Governor political party discrepancy and thus added it as a tangential question unrelated to language but related to Rhode Island. Thanks. (Joseph A. Spadaro, 2 September 2009)
Well, to get into linguistic topics: The most likely theory is that 'Rhode island' is an Anglicization of "Roodt Eylandt", so the allusion to the island of Rhodes is probably an example of linguistic interference. The 'alternate' theory that it was named because it supposedly reminded Verrazzano of Rhodes sounds a lot like a folk etymology to me. --Pykk (talk) 16:52, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
In case there's any doubt, the full name of the state is Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Electing the governor and lt. governor separately is a weird thing to do, but it happens. Illinois used to be that way. When the people elected Republican Richard Ogilvie as governor and Democrat Paul Simon as lt. gov., they changed the constitution to have the offices elected jointly. Generally that's a more stable way to do things. Imagine if they were trying to remove Blagojevich but there was a GOP lt. gov. That would have been an interesting fight. Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots 17:01, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Not all that weird, Bugs -- the vice-president of the U.S. was originally the runner-up for president, which is how John Adams (a Federalist) ended up with Thomas Jefferson (a Democratic-Republican) as his VP. --- OtherDave (talk) 17:26, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Yes, but once party politics became firmly entrenched it became clear that didn't work and they changed it. --Tango (talk) 20:07, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
The Federalist goes on at interesting length about the undesirability of a two-party system (or rather of a "majority faction"), and its unlikelihood in the new federation. Heh. —Tamfang (talk) 06:00, 21 November 2009 (UTC)
California elects the Governor and Lieutenant Governor separately. We currently have a Republican Governor and a Democratic LG. Who then was a gentleman? (talk) 20:09, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

There is a movement, which I understand but don't agree with, to change the official name to "The State of Rhode Island" from "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations". In the 17th century, when the unified colony got her name, "plantations" meant "settlements" or "colony", but the word understandably carries pejorative connotations of "slave plantation" for many minority Rhode Islanders today. The General Assembly voted at its last session to put this question to a referendum at the next statewide elections in 2010. ¶ If you didn't find the Rhode Island article helpful, perhaps you could suggest improvements at Talk:Rhode Island or at the Rhode Island project page (linked on top of the Talk Page). —— Shakescene (talk) 20:20, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

The article on Rhode Island was not unhelpful in general ... I only found it unhelpful with regard to my original question above (that is, why the state is called "island" when it is not in fact an island). Thanks. (Joseph A. Spadaro, 2 September 2009)

Thanks for the information and for the input ... this was helpful. Thank you. (Joseph A. Spadaro, 5 September 2009)

Official UN languages[edit]

The following discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page. No further edits should be made to this discussion.

There is not a question to answer here, and further discussion can be pursued elsewhere. If anyone wants to know why the UN chose one one language and not another, they can ask the UN; this is just the Wikipedia reference desk. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 18:38, 2 September 2009 (UTC)

UN has six official languages, but how about: Hindi, Portuguese and Bengali? Either one has more speakers than French has - which is an official UN language!

Really, the UN was established by: China, US, UK, Russia and France, yet not by India nor by Brazil (nor by Portugal); However, when the UN decided to include Spanish, and later - Arabic, among the official UN languages, why didn't the UN add also Hindi, being the third language among the most spoken languages in the world, with more speakers than Spanish has, and more speakers than Arabic has?

Recently I read that Germany had requested that German be added to the official UN language list. I think that Germany should wait, because - not only Hindi Portuguese and Bengali - but also Indonesian, has more speakers than German has!

HOOTmag (talk) 19:11, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

It doesn't really have anything to do with population. It is all to do with power and influence, as with everything else in diplomacy. I'm not sure why Spanish was added, perhaps there was pressure from the US (lots of Spanish speakers there). Arabic was probably added because lots of Arabic speaking countries (often as a 2nd language due to Islamic teachings) like to cause trouble and could do with being appeased. There is no real reason to add Hindi. India isn't particularly influential on the world stage and it doesn't generally cause many problems. --Tango (talk) 19:19, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Hispanics in the U.S. did not have much national political influence in the United States in 1945, and I doubt whether Arabic being added owed too much to the Qur'an... See my post below. AnonMoos (talk) 19:28, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
As far as I can tell, to be included in the list, the language has to be one of the languages of the main WW2 Allies and/or a strong multinational lingua franca across a significant region of the world. Spanish was the initial language which qualified for the second reason, and Arabic was later added. Bengali is almost exclusively confined to Bangladesh and a relatively small part of India, and so is not a major multinational language like Spanish and Arabic. Of course, politics also enters into it... AnonMoos (talk) 19:23, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Bengali is an official language also in Sierra Leone. Anyways, German should have to wait, because it's an official language in six UN states only, whereas Portuguese is an official language in nine UN states (and has more speakers than German has). HOOTmag (talk) 19:43, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
The number of countries in which a language is official is not by itself an iron-clad measurement of a language's multi-national use and influence. It's more complicated than that... AnonMoos (talk) 00:16, 2 September 2009 (UTC)

Although Spain and Portugal themselves, being neutral and therefore not one of the original wartime "United Nations" which defeated the Axis, were not admitted to the UN until 1955, about 20 Latin American nations (members, together with the US, of the Organization of American States) were among the original 51 founding members who signed the Charter of the United Nations in San Francisco on 24 October 1945 (UN Day). All but Brazil and Haiti were Hispanophone countries (at least officially). So over a third of the original UN were Spanish-speaking. Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia (as well as non-Arabic-speaking Turkey and Iran) were also founding members; (Northern) Yemen joined in 1947. That's another tenth. If you want to test your knowledge of the original 51, and of the relative prevalence of various "world languages", try the tests under "Geography" at As for collective Hispanic influence on U.S. politics (now extremely important), that was negligible outside the Southwest at the time Spanish was adopted as a U.N. language. —— Shakescene (talk) 20:10, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

German is the most common language in and an official language of the European Union. It's the official language of 6 countries and a minority language in a further 8. German is spoken regionally on every populated continent except Australia. Germany is in the G8. Portugese is also an official language of the EU, but Brazil and Portugal are far from influential. Hindu and Bengali - please. Yes, they may be spoken by a billion people combined, but neither country is even close to being an international power. They would have to plead with the UN to even be considered. Sometimes, you have to use common sense and ignore the numbers. Xenon54 / talk / 20:15, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Being among the G8 can't be a factor: Japan and Italy too, are. "Common sense"? Of course, that's why I think Germany should wait: the common sense determines than Portuguese should precede German. How do you determine that German is more influencial than Portuguese? The numbers are against you: German is an official language in six UN states only - and in Europe only, whereas Portuguese is an official language in nine UN states - in four continents, and has more speakers than German has. HOOTmag (talk) 20:56, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
It is a factor, not the only factor. While Portuguese may be more influential than German, Germany is far more influential than Portugal (or Brazil or any other Portuguese speaking country). --Tango (talk) 21:04, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
I've referred to the German language rather than to Germany.
Anyways, is Germany really far more influential than Portugal/Brazil/Angola etc.? Just as Japan is far more influential than Spain/Argentina/Mexico etc.
However, Japan is not more influential than the whole block which consists of all the Spanish speaking countries, and similarly, Germany is not more influential than the whole block which consists of all the Portuguese speaking countries. This block consists of nine UN states, in four continents, having a common official language spoken by more speakers than the German speakers, so the Portuguese language should precede the German language. HOOTmag (talk) 21:41, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Of course it is ultimately a question of political power, but I think the claimed rationale would be that the UN needs to limit the number of official languages for reasons of efficiency, but that it wants at least one of its official languages to be comprehensible to most government officials around the world. Of course, English qualifies on those grounds because it is a global lingua franca and practically the only one that is understood in countries once part of the vast British empire or heavily influenced by the United States. Likewise, French, while it is not one of the top languages in numbers of native speakers, is the main lingua franca across much of Africa and the only world language understood by many African officials. Spanish is the most widely spoken language across Latin America, where not all government officials understand English. Arabic plays a similar role across much of the Middle East and North Africa. Similarly, Russian and Chinese are the only languages widely understood by government officials in their spheres of influence. I think a strong case could be made on these grounds for Portuguese, since many government officials in Brazil and Lusophone African countries may not understand one of the existing UN official languages. It would be harder to make such a case for Hindi or Bengali, since government officials, like other educated people in India and Bangladesh, are likely to understand English. The same is true for most officials in German-speaking countries. Marco polo (talk) 20:16, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
German is definitely still very important in many scientific and technical contexts, as is Russian, so it would be a good additional working language in many of the UN's specialised agencies (like the IAEA). But it's not so important in the general diplomatic, political and military work of the UN as a whole. (By contrast, many Italian, Japanese and South Asian scientists use English in technical publications.) —— Shakescene (talk) 21:55, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
I agree that Portuguese is a better candidate than German. However, before the USSR took over the former German and Austro-Hungarian empires and spheres of influence after 1945, you could make a good case for German as a lingua franca, as it is in today's European Union. (German was understandably not a popular language after 1945 in many countries occupied by Germany before 1945, but equally Russian is not a popular language today in many countries dominated by the USSR after 1945. So German, by contrast, is more popular, but English even more so.) Once upon a time, Turkish, Greek and Italian would have been natural linguas francas. —— Shakescene (talk) 20:29, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Geographic area should be a major consideration. (talk) 02:19, 2 September 2009 (UTC)

Is there a question behind this thread, or is it just a rant? This noticeboard is not a forum and not a place to start an argument (see the message at the top: "The reference desk does not answer requests for opinions or predictions about future events. Do not start a debate; please seek an internet forum instead."). rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 02:27, 2 September 2009 (UTC)

Technically, the question was "why didn't the UN add also Hindi", but this thread seems little more than a debate and furthermore does not seem best answered at the language desk. -- Александр Дмитрий (Alexandr Dmitri) (talk) 12:26, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
Yes, I originally intended to inquire why the UN didn't add some other languages more common than most of the official UN languages. Naturally, the discussion became more socio-linguistic than purely-linguistic. HOOTmag (talk) 13:54, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
And the answer is that "common" in the sense meaningful for being adopted as a new U.N. official language is not really measured by raw number of speakers... AnonMoos (talk) 16:59, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
I've never denied your opinion - in a factual point of view, I just think that any criterion other than an objective measurement based upon numbers, is illegitimate in a democratic point of view, while, in my opinion, The UN intends to appear as a democratic body. What if the right to vote in a democratic country were given to the "influential citizens" only? Yes, I know that my parallel example from one's own right to vote - is not one-to-one, compared to the right to use one's own language in UN institutions; However, I'm sure you got my point... HOOTmag (talk) 18:34, 2 September 2009 (UTC)

The discussion above is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page. No further edits should be made to this discussion.

Gender in German[edit]

How easy is it in German to determine the gender of a noun just by looking at it? In Spanish this is, for the most part, trivial but in French, in my opinion at least, it is significantly harder. Thanks (talk) 21:22, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

When I was learning German (before forgetting most of it...) I didn't learn any useful rules for determining gender. There were some rules, but they weren't much better than "i before e except after c". --Tango (talk) 21:30, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
And at least in most Romance languages (though not Latin), words that don't begin with a vowel usually retain the same definite article (e.g. "la") and the same indefinite article (e.g. "un") in all contexts, so once you've heard or read "la plume" and "une plume" (or "la casa" and "una casa") often enough, you know it's feminine, even if you didn't specifically memorize it in a vocabulary list. In German, a feminine article in one case (e.g. nominative) can be a masculine, neuter or plural article in other cases (e.g. accusative or dative), so it must be much harder to absorb a semi-intuitive sense of a word's gender. —— Shakescene (talk) 22:04, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Thanks, that's a very informative and helpful response. I want to learn a language extra-curricularly at uni and German is the main contender. Though this thread makes it seem a lot harder lol and perhaps too much of a challenge. But again, thanks. (talk) 22:08, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
I'm a native speaker. By and large there are no rules. For quite a few words there is even disagreement about the correct gender between different dialects. There are a few rules, such as words ending in a diminutive (-lein, -chen) are always neuter (hence 'Das Mädchen') and the gender of compound words following the final part of the compound ('Die Karte'/'die Landkarte'). Apart from that is seems to be random. Sorry. Glad, *I* don't have to learn it. (talk) 22:24, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
I wouldn't let the gender deter you. Just memorize the word with its (nominative) definite pronoun: der, die, or das. I loved learning German. To me, it is a very satisfying language because of its deep similarity to English and the insights it offers into English because of their common origin. Because of this common origin, most German words are cognate with one or more English words, and this helps you pick up vocabulary. Also the verb forms (including irregular verbs) are very similar to English verb forms and therefore much easier (for me) to learn than verb forms in Romance or any other synthetic language. Another thing that I find very satisfying about German is the way in which most abstract words are built from concrete roots whose meaning is relatively transparent in a way that Latinate words typically no longer are in English or even most Romance languages. Marco polo (talk) 01:39, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
In my experience (and I'm not a German teacher or native speaker):
  • Verbal nouns ending in -en are generally neuter (e.g. das Schwimmen, das Trinken);
  • Nouns ending in -ung or -keit are feminine (e.g. die Regierung, die Sprachfähigkeit);
  • Nouns ending in -ismus are masculine (e.g. der Tourismus). I have only a comment in the Leo forum to suggest that this is a fast rule.
Found via, here's a technique for memorising genders.
AlmostReadytoFly (talk) 07:55, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
I, like every other student of German, had trouble with it at first, but was always told by my professors that I would eventually develop a 'feeling' for the gender of a word. When starting off, I was taught that if you don't know the gender and cannot deduce it from the myriad different rules (which are themselves contradictory), to just use the masculine form. Apparently something like 70% of German words are masculine, 20% feminine, and 10% neutral (though I don't have any verification for this, it's just what I was taught). There are a bunch of little rules that I'll post later if I remember them. The only one that comes to mind immediately and that hasn't been mentioned earlier is that, generally, if a word ends in -e and it isn't plural, it's probably feminine (die Minne, die Hölle, etc). EuroLooney (talk) 12:19, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
My German professor said we could just fake it by pronouncing a vague "d" for the definite article. That wasn't very helpful when writing a test though! Adam Bishop (talk) 12:29, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
Rules to remember gender? I'd like to see a rule that could explain the (to me) inexplicable "Das Messer", "Die Gabel", "Der Löffel" (masc. knife, fem. fork, neuter spoon). -- Fullstop (talk) 19:41, 3 September 2009 (UTC)

The genders of nouns is one of the things I have the most difficulty with in German. With nouns meaning people, it's usually very easy ("der Mann", "die Frau", "der Junge", "das Mädchen"), but with nouns meaning inanimate or abstract things, it's very difficult. I have the same problem with Swedish. Swedish has no genders, but it does have two declinations - "en" and "ett", and the distinction between the two is almost completely arbitrary. The only rule I have ever found is that nouns meaning people are "en", and nouns with purely grammatical purpose, without even an abstract real-world meaning, are "ett". All other nouns are completely arbitrary. It's much easier with Finnish and English, neither of which uses such complicated, arbitrary constructions as genders or declinations. JIP | Talk 21:36, 3 September 2009 (UTC)

There really are no hard and fast rules for determining gender in German, apart from the fact that certain endings/suffixes are associated with certain genders, as AlmostReadytoFly mentioned above. To the ones he mentioned I can add: nouns ending in -chen and -lein are always neuter. Nouns ending in unstressed -e pronounced [ə] are usually feminine (die Seife, die Lupe, die Kontrolle, die Schere, die Sorte), but those that also begin with unstressed Ge- are usually neuter (das Gebäude, das Gebirge, das Getue), and a fair number (mostly referring to male animate beings) are masculine and declined as weak nouns (i.e. dative and accusative singular and all cases plural end in -en, and genitive singular ends either in -en or in -ens: der Löwe, der Bulle, der Junge, der Ochse). One word that threw me off when I first learned it is Käse, which is masculine and declined as a strong noun: der Käse/des Käses. Occasionally the meaning will help: I've discovered that linguistic terms ending in -iv are masculine if they refer to cases (der Nominativ, der Akkusativ, der Dativ, der Genitiv) or subsets of conjugations (der Konjunktiv, der Imperativ) but neuter if they refer to parts of speech (das Substantiv, das Adjektiv). And some nouns have different genders in different dialects: der Joghurt/das Joghurt, der Keks/das Keks, die Butter/der Butter. But most of the time you just have to memorize it, and even though I've lived in Germany for 12 years and am often mistaken for a native speaker by Germans, there are times when I still get it wrong or have to ask a native speaker what the gender of a noun is (which is often the point where they stop mistaking me for a native speaker!). +Angr 05:50, 4 September 2009 (UTC)


Hi evry one ... my native language is arabic , and i need help understanding the time line in english , the past,present,future

so if any one could give me some example and explain it to me or give me alink where i can find help . thnx--Mjaafreh2008 (talk) 21:24, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

Do you mean the different tenses in English? How to say that something happened in the past, present or future? English_verb#Tenses might help, although you would probably be better off taking professional lessons. --Tango (talk) 21:36, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
If it's any consolation to you, many English speakers have great difficulty figuring out how the Arabic quasi-aspect inflectional forms ("perfect" and "imperfect") are used... AnonMoos (talk) 00:00, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
This[3] is an introduction to English that has examples of the verb tenses. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 09:44, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
Syrian Arabic has past, present, and future (as well as continuous tenses). Maybe you should ask a Syrian for help. --KageTora - (영호 (影虎)) (talk) 21:58, 3 September 2009 (UTC)
AnonMoos is right, but roughly speaking...


English: I write/I am writing

Arabic: اكتب


English: I wrote

Arabic: كتبت


English: I will write

Arabic: ساكتب

-- Wrad (talk) 22:34, 3 September 2009 (UTC)ّ

That's OK as a first approximate rule of thumb, but it will quickly go astray when attempting to account for numerous subtleties of usage. That's why the form you label "present" is more commonly called the "imperfect", and "past" as the "perfect". And it's not the case that verbs in Arabic with future meaning have a س prefix all or most of the time... P.S. يكتب seems to be a third person form, not first person... AnonMoos (talk) 02:51, 4 September 2009 (UTC)
Oh brother, you're right about that spelling, fixed. Wrad (talk) 03:03, 4 September 2009 (UTC)

Fricatives - mixed voicing[edit]

Do any languages phonetically have clusters of fricatives with mixed voicing such as [sz]? Mo-Al (talk) 22:10, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

English does, if you count occurrences across a compound boundary: "prizefighter" etc. AnonMoos (talk) 00:04, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
I've heard it claimed that laryngeal settings are always (or predominantly) consistent amongst consonants in the same syllable boundary. Thus a word like *[] simply doesn't exist. However, across syllable boundaries, such clusters can occur, []. Different languages deal with this constraint in different ways. A lot of Slavic languages, for example, exhibit retrograde voicing assimilation so that the Russian word с ('with') is pronounced [s] or [z] depending on the following word: с кошкой,[ˈskoʂkəj], с бро́вью [ˈzbrovʲjʊ]. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 00:21, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
In "blast zone", the [t] is usually dropped (I believe it is when I say it...although, to be fair, this isn't exactly an everyday word, and now that I'm 'thinking about it' my judgment is probably tainted), yielding [s:z]. But, again, this is crossing a word boundary. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 00:25, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
Well I think I may at least pronounce it [blæs:ɐʊn]. Mo-Al (talk) 02:36, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
English may not provide many concrete examples of this since our VOT's are all messed up and what we perceive as "voiced" may instead be slightly voiced or voiced only during part of articulation. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 05:48, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
How about all the German words beginning with "schw-"? Ehrenkater (talk) 12:59, 2 September 2009 (UTC)

Roman naming[edit]

I know that daughters in ancient Rome were frequently named after their fathers - Prisca for Priscus, Lucia for Lucius, etc. But was there ever a known case where a Marius had a daughter named Maria, or did that name not appear until under Christianity? Who then was a gentleman? (talk) 22:48, 1 September 2009 (UTC)

Hm. Maybe this would be better under Humanities? Who then was a gentleman? (talk) 22:49, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Traditionally, Roman women didn't formally and officially have distinctive names at all -- if a man was named Marcus Tullius Cicero, then all of his daughters (as well as the daughters of any other males of the Tullius sub-clan) would be known equally and identically as "Tullia" (see Roman_naming_conventions_for_females#Early and Middle Republican naming conventions etc.), though informally "the elder", "the younger", or numbers or nicknames could be added to particularize an individual. A daughter of a Marius might be theoretically be named Maria, but that doesn't seem to be how the name got popular in Western Europe. We do have an article Marius (name)... AnonMoos (talk) 23:54, 1 September 2009 (UTC)
Our article Maria (given name) says that "it was used in Europe even before the establishment of Christianity as a female form of the Roman name Marius". The reference for the statement, a doctoral thesis in Spanish, cites a few examples of inscriptions (see pages 187, 249, and 276) in which the name appears in contexts that don't look Christian to me. Deor (talk) 00:28, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
But wouldn't the pre-Christian Maria, like Marius, have been pronounced with stress on the first syllable ('maria or 'marja)? The Christian Maria is of course pronounced with stress on the second syllable (ma'ria), following the model of the Greek Μαρία. The Greek origin and different pronunciation would have made it seem like a new name, or at least a different form of the name. Marco polo (talk) 01:30, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
According to Lewis and Short's dictionary, all the vowels in "Maria" (referring to the mother of Jesus) are short, so I don't see why the second syllable would have been stressed in early usage in Latin. Of course, that stress pattern must have become established at some time, or it wouldn't show up in the modern Romance languages. I could be wrong, though. Deor (talk) 11:38, 2 September 2009 (UTC)
Maria would not be unique for the same name to have two independent origins, but have a sort of "convergent" evolution. For one example, the name "Jason" has two seperate greek variations, one from the greek root meaning "physician" or "healer" and another which was a greek varient of Joshua or Jesus; in greek thus there are two seperate names which both get translated to English as "Jason". There are also the unrelated "Theodore", from the greak for "Gift of God" and "Theodoric", which is from the early Germanic meaning "King of his People". There is "Jack" which is a varient of "John" and Jacques, which is a varient of "Jacob". --Jayron32 12:22, 2 September 2009 (UTC)

I thought "Maria", i.e. "Mary", came from the Hebrew, "Miriam". Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots 17:32, 2 September 2009 (UTC)

It does. The above discussion is about an earlier, etymologically unrelated use of Maria in antiquity. The 'same' name often arises independently in different cultures. -Silence (talk) 20:34, 2 September 2009 (UTC)