Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2010 January 21

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January 21[edit]

When and how did discriptive surnames become permanent surnames??[edit]

Particularly in English, but in other languages as well, non-noble surnames such as Robin's Son, or, Plumber or Smith were once used to describe an invidual by their parent's names, or their profession, or other notable features. At some point these surnames became frozen and were passed on down the ancestral (male) line. Peter may have originally been Robin's son but generations later David Robinson was probably not the son of Robin.

Was there a cultural or historical event that prompted this fixing of surnames and about when did it occur?

Bill Case (talk) 06:05, 21 January 2010 (UTC)

Most likely it wasn't one single event since the phenomenon is so widespread (occuring in Icelandic and Arabic). I would venture that there's a type of event that would do this, but I'm not sure what it is. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɹ̠ˤʷɛ̃ɾ̃ˡi] 07:32, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
The village I grew up in used to be dominated by a large monastery in its center. My parents house is in a small road loop (in the shape of a somewhat deformed letter U, its length somewhere around 700 meters or so), with both entries into the loop about 100 meters apart and both of these about 200 meters from where the monastery used to be. In the middle ages, the loop (and a couple of nearby houses) was inhabited by people in some way connected with non-clerical monastery maintenance, and a lot of the homestead names (i.e., the name of the actual house, it doesn't change if the owners change) reflected this: so there are homestead names like Cobbler's, Smith's, Bell-ringer's etc. around my parents' house (strangely enough, my own parents' house's homestead name has nothing to do with a maintenance position and is derived from a first name of, I assume, some grand-grand-relative). Some of these homestead names (which in Slovene lands preceded surnames) stuck, so we have people with the Slovene equivalent of Smith living at Smith's. TomorrowTime (talk) 08:02, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Aside - My understanding was that Icelandic surnames haven't been fixed, and surname seems to back this up.
Patronymic claims that "migration has frequently resulted in a switch from a patronymic to a family name due to different local customs", which would explain fixing in individual cases but doesn't explain why patronymics have died out in many areas. AlmostReadytoFly (talk) 08:54, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Certainly there are no modern examples of the opposite development, right? (where a society has gone from family names to patronymics). I'm not an expert on this, but (in the European context, South Asia is in a way completly opposite) ironically family names becomes standard in a process when family ties become less important to define an individual's place in society. In medieval times, the need to differentiate between 10,000s of people was not that necessary. People had a name, and probably there were not to many people in the same village with the identical name. If one had to differentiate between two persons with the same name, the name of the father, the location of the house he/she lived in or one's profession would be used for disambiguation. In the nobility this was different, as belonging to a certain family or line of blood was given huge importance (both social, political and economical). As urbanization took off, family name became a necessity for identification. In a city of 100,000s+ of people, there was a greater need to be able to identify a specific person. Moreover, as family names became the fad of the urbanized people, people in rural areas began copying this custom. With the emergence of modern censuses, family names were institutionalized and older naming fashions became viewed as obsolete. However, i think this process developed along different lines and at different points of time in different countries. I've come across old men in southern Sweden, who still use geographic markers rather than family names when talking about people they knew in their childhood (like '...and there was Nils-on-the-hill, who had married Kalle-by-the-creek's daughter...') --Soman (talk) 09:26, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
It's worth noting that, in many cases, royalty still don't use surnames. They will be part of a Royal house, which is similar, but individuals are referred to by title, rather than name. --Tango (talk) 23:01, 21 January 2010 (UTC)

The article on Welsh surnames gives a history of the fixing of patronyms which happened later there than in England. Alansplodge (talk) 18:02, 21 January 2010 (UTC)

Yes. One can see the utility of names becoming fixed; but it still seems to me some particular cultural event must have percipitated it. A cultural event doesn't have to be a specific historical event that occured on a given date. But something in the late sixteenth century happened that had a widespread impact which is still rippling through a few remaining tribal cultures. Perhaps, only guessing here, it was the creation of the first tax roles or the creation of baptismal documents for commoners as well as nobility. Whatever was the driving force I think it would be interesting to find out. Keep in mind that even if growth in population were the impetus, various medieval cultures could have chosen various other ways of distinguishing individuals. Fixing surnames is only one possible solution. -- Bill Case —Preceding unsigned comment added by Bill Case (talkcontribs) 18:40, 24 January 2010 (UTC)

What is the word used to describe the motion of large groups of fish or birds or other animals?[edit]

I think I remember hearing years ago a word used to describe the motion of birds or fish. The word I am looking for (it may be a biological specific term) is used to describe the motion in unison of large schools of fish or flocks of birds. The word was used to capture the three dimensional and beautiful unison that herd animals show, bobbing and weaving, when trying to escape from a threat or just gathering together in large numbers.

"Undulation" comes close; but is not the word I remember. Bill Case (talk) 06:26, 21 January 2010 (UTC)

Is this what you are looking for: For fish: shoaling and schooling; for birds: flocking. Astronaut (talk) 08:48, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Uh, they're flocking this way. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 10:59, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
It's been modeled as "flocking behavior"[1]. Wikipedia of course has an article on it; note that the moving constructs are called "boids". PhGustaf (talk) 16:04, 21 January 2010 (UTC)

Too bad. It looks like 'flocking' and/or 'schoaling and schooling' along with 'swarming' for insects are the correct words. I was hoping for a less mundane more evocative sounding metaphor which captured the rhythmic motion. - Bill Case —Preceding unsigned comment added by Bill Case (talkcontribs) 18:17, 24 January 2010 (UTC)

Flow? It is not a term specifically from biology, but would be equally applicable to the inanimate. But I think it describes the perception of the coordinated motion of creatures moving in relative unity. And it allows for the differential motion of those individual creatures that are situated at different points in the aggregation. Bus stop (talk) 18:27, 24 January 2010 (UTC)

Unified English spelling and English verbs ending in "c"[edit]

I'm posting this question for us to discuss it just for fun, I don't need the information badly. If this is unacceptable here, I won't bother if it's deleted.

I just read Angr's essay on which form of which English word should be preferred when there exist multiple forms of the same word. I found that quite interesting. When using English, I observe the British rules of spelling and pronunciation because I was taught so, but I admit some American forms are somewhat more appropriate to use. Anyway. One of the items is followed by the explanation that the inflected forms "disked" and "disking" reflect the pronunciation better than "disced" and "discing". However, I do remember being taught that if an English verb ends with a "c", it receives a "k" in its participle forms in order to prevent the occurrence of a soft "c". Therefore "to panic" becomes "panicked" and "panicking". So shouldn't the British inflected forms of the verb be spelt "discked" and "discking" respectively? I know the combination of a consonant followed by "ck" is quite unusual in English, but the rules should be observed. Could you tell me if that particular verb makes an exception? Also, I once started collecting English verbs ending with "c" and I managed to find a total of five. One of them was "to panic", which I already mentioned, and the others were "to picnic", "to traffic", "to tarmac", and "to bivouac". The verb "to disc" makes them six. Can you think of more verbs that end with "c"? --62.204.152.181 (talk) 12:29, 21 January 2010 (UTC)

I have never heard the verb 'to disc' before, and without looking it up (I will do that after this post), I will attempt a guess at its meaning. Is it 'to burn something to disk', such as a film or music or something? I think my example here also answers your question on why 'to disc' becomes (or would become, if it is in fact a verb, as I shall find out after this post :)) 'disking' and 'disked' in its inflected forms - there is an alternative spelling in the infinitive/present tense with the '-k' spelling already, and this would be taken into the inflected forms. Hope this helps! (Off to find out what this word is now....) --KageTora - (影虎) (A word...?) 12:41, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
And, the Wiktionary entry for disc tells us it is only a noun. --KageTora - (影虎) (A word...?) 12:45, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
I didn't know that "disc" could be a verb either until I read the essay. My bilingual dictionary (English-Bulgarian) gives five meanings of "disc" as a noun and two as a verb. Here's what the dictionary says about the verb:
  1. обработвам с дисков култиватор
  2. правя грамофонен запис
The first meaning is hard for me to explain because I don't know what exactly it is even in Bulgarian. I could translate it as "to work/process/cultivate [something] with [= by means of] a disc cultivator". Both the adjective дисков (transliterated diskov) and the noun култиватор (kultivator) are foreignisms in Bulgarian. The point is that I don't know what a "disc cultivator" is. And the second meaning listed in the dictionary is "to make a gramophone recording". --62.204.152.181 (talk) 13:00, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Yes, I saw it in the essay, too. The essay implies that it was in the OED, but I can't find anything to support that. By the way, this is a disc cultivator. --KageTora - (影虎) (A word...?) 13:15, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
What do you mean, can't find anything? It's in the online OED, to which you have access with your local library card. Algebraist 13:40, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Yes, but I'm not getting up to go the library every time I want to look a word up. :) --KageTora - (影虎) (A word...?) 13:50, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
But you don't need to physically go to the library, just log on. Liverpool has many other online reference sites available, most UK libraries do. Nanonic (talk) 14:08, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
I have placed a comment on the essay's talk page if you want to have a look. The problem here is not just a difference in spelling between British English and American English, but also one of usage. 'Disc' (spelled with '-c' and therefore British English) is not used as a verb in British English, and therefore cannot have inflected forms. 'Disk' can be either noun or verb in American English, and can therefore be inflected. I hope this has cleared things up. --KageTora - (影虎) (A word...?) 13:34, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
OED offers disc (with a c) as a verb (marked "chiefly US and NZ") meaning to cultivate with a disc cultivator. Tinfoilcat (talk) 13:37, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
A Wiktionary talk page has the following examples: bivouac, frolic, havoc, magic, mimic, panic, physic, picnic, tarmac, traffic. I notice that all of these have a penultimate vowel.
Is there a rule that states "[consonant]ck" is never allowed, which takes precedence over the adding a 'k' rule? It certainly looks odd to me. AlmostReadytoFly (talk) 14:56, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
As I pointed out on the talk page in response to KageTora's question, the verb disc meaning "to work (land) with a disc harrow" is listed in the British Collins English Dictionary, so it is a verb (if a very rare one) in British English. And if you want to describe something as having a certain number or a certain type of discs, you could describe it as (say) "three-disced" or "red-disced", so even nouns can take the -ed ending in such cases. +Angr 15:26, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Thanks Angr. So, in this case, the 'k' is not present? It has been asked above if there is a rule concerning this. --KageTora - (影虎) (A word...?) 17:13, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Well, Collins doesn't provide the principal parts of the verb disc, but it does provide them for the verb arc: arced or arcked and arcing or arcking (though I have never seen the forms with "k" actually used). So maybe both disced and discked are acceptable. Maybe someone with access to the OED can check what it says. +Angr 18:17, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
I used to work as a translator for a company in Japan that specialised in the sales of arc welding machines, and sometimes the word 'arc' would have '-ed' on it. Sometimes it was written with a '-k-' and sometimes not, but anyway, I had no problem understanding that 'arced' was NOT pronounced 'arsed'. --KageTora - (影虎) (A word...?) 11:38, 22 January 2010 (UTC)
The OED uses "disced" and "discing," but some of its example quotations use "disked" or "disking." "Discked" and "discking" are not seen, and I would not expect them to be, as they look wrong to me. Incidentally, we had a disc harrow on the farm where I grew up, but I never before heard it called that; we always called it just a "disc." John M Baker (talk) 19:57, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Is there any other English word with the final /sk/ sound that's spelt "-sc", and accented on that syllable? I can think of ask, asterisk, desk, musk, obelisk, risk, tamarisk and task, and even móllusc, but none like disc. Words like panic take the -cked because otherwise, it would appear to be pan-iced. No such risk with disc, so no need for discked. -- Jack of Oz ... speak! ... 20:19, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Heh! From 1656, Wrath efisceth and leeseth the eye of reason. That's it for verbs. Don't know about the stress, though. As for other parts of speech, there's fisc, subfusc, which may be stressed on either syllable, and a few that are even more obscure. kwami (talk) 13:09, 22 January 2010 (UTC)
The word zinc can also be used as a verb, meaning "to coat with zinc." The dictionary I am looking at right now (The Oxford American Dictionary) gives the past tense as zinced, but perhaps zincked is also attributed somewhere. —Bkell (talk) 11:22, 24 January 2010 (UTC)
Nice one, Bkell. I must remember to contrive a use for "zincked". Oh, and there are many cites. -- Jack of Oz ... speak! ... 10:04, 26 January 2010 (UTC)

I imagine the verb "to disc" will eventually come into common use. When moving images were first invented, they were done on film, so one was "filming" something. Then videotape was invented, so you were "videotaping" (later just "taping") something. Now that video discs are a more popular format, my assumption is that you would be "discing / disking /discking (?)" something. — Michael J 16:12, 27 January 2010 (UTC)

Crossword clues..[edit]

I already know the answers to these, but hey, if you can't have fun on the Language desk once in a while, where welse can you ?

- Capital in Czechoslovakia (4)
- Sweet. When mixed, hot sauce cools me (9,6)

doktorb wordsdeeds 15:49, 21 January 2010 (UTC)

Oslo, chocolate mousse. Algebraist 15:58, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
{ec} Czechoslovakia and an anagram of 'hot sauce cools me' -> chocolate mousse. Nanonic (talk) 16:04, 21 January 2010 (UTC)


Hehe, good work. I'll put my hat on for some others.... doktorb wordsdeeds 08:05, 22 January 2010 (UTC)
"where welse can you ?" ... Well, just about any of the thousands of message boards on the Internet that are specifically designed to have fun. -- kainaw 20:47, 22 January 2010 (UTC)
Spoilsport ;P doktorb wordsdeeds 13:17, 25 January 2010 (UTC)
"where welse" is a legitimate question, but is Language the right place for it? —Tamfang (talk) 20:07, 11 February 2010 (UTC)

Help getting phonetic characters[edit]

[I asked this question at the computing desk, but was advised to repost it here.]

I have a Mac using OS X 10.4. I'd like to use the characters "barred small capital i" (U+ID7B, ᵻ) and "barred Latin upsilon" (U+1D7E, ᵾ), which I've heard are available on newer versions of Lucida Grande, but on my version they just show up as boxes. See this not so enlightening exchange that I had with John Wells:

Lazar said... I'm still waiting for barred small capital i and barred Latin upsilon.

John Wells said... Lazar, didn't you like the ᵻ (U+ID7B) I gave you yesterday? Or have you not got the current Lucida Grande font installed? The other one you ask for is ᵾ (U+1D7E).

Lazar said... Oh, I have an older version of Lucida Grande. I must look into that.

These characters show up fine on the computers at my university using Vista, but on my Macbook, they don't. How do I go about getting them? Do I need to buy Leopard or Snow Leopard? --Lazar Taxon (talk) 16:49, 21 January 2010 (UTC)

Installing the new font should be sufficient. If not Lucinda Grande (although I think that's a free font, so there shouldn't be a problem with it) you can use Doulos SIL. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 16:51, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
I just downloaded Lucida Grande from the link on John Well's blog, and that version doesn't include the two characters in question. Code2000, however, does (but it's just about the ugliest font on the face of the planet). +Angr 17:24, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Arial Unicode doesn't appear to have them either. (FWIW, I'm not familiar with Code2000, but Doulos is pretty darn ugly too.) In any case, the two characters show up fine in my browser, but I have no way of telling which of my installed fonts is the one that my browser is choosing. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 20:46, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
What has been seen.png
Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In the image to the right, Doulos SIL is on top and Code2000 is on the bottom. I'll let you decide for yourself which is uglier, but I know which one has my vote already. +Angr 21:16, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Oh, wow. I have to agree with you there. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 21:25, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Charis has everything that Doulos does, is also free, and looks better to boot. And it has these two characters. kwami (talk) 12:47, 22 January 2010 (UTC)

Latin check[edit]

Does "Virtus, Fortior, Honorem" sound right to you guys? The context is a motto...It's the "Honorem" that's bothering me... Thanks ; )--217.227.73.237 (talk) 19:47, 21 January 2010 (UTC)

Well, there's also the problem that fortior is a comparative adjective ("stronger"), whereas the other two are nouns. Perhaps "Virtus, Fortitudo, Honor" (Virtue, Strength, Honor) is what you want; although since virtus can mean "strength" as well as "virtue" or "excellence", there might be a bit of redundancy there. You could also use the alternative form honos instead of honor, though that dropped out of use in later classical Latin. Deor (talk) 19:56, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Does it definitely have commans? Without the commas it could mean "virtue is stronger than honor", but then the last word would have to be "honore". Adam Bishop (talk) 21:15, 22 January 2010 (UTC)

an injust unjustice[edit]

Is there some sensible reason why we use "un-" with "just" but "in-" with "justice"? "Incomplete" and "incompleteness" both use the same prefix. Is there any general rule by which one decides when "in-" is used an when "un-" is used, or would a foreigner learning English merely have to memorize all the separate instances? Michael Hardy (talk) 22:34, 21 January 2010 (UTC)

A foreigner learning English has to memorize all the separate instances, as they do with irregular past-tense verbs. When his students ask him "why" something in English is the way it is, an ESL teacher I know just shrugs his shoulders and says, "Crazy English." Moncrief (talk) 22:53, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
(There's a documentary called Crazy English about the Crazy English teaching method. It's a riot. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 22:56, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Huh. Crazy English says: His method can be described with the quote "To shout out loud, you learn." In idiomatic English, that motto means the reciprocal of what one presumes he intended. —Tamfang (talk) 23:41, 11 February 2010 (UTC)
See Talk:Crazy English#A book titled "Crazy English". -- Wavelength (talk) 23:07, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
Historically speaking, the reason we have both un- and in- is that the former is Germanic and the latter is Latinate. The OED claims that "the modern tendency [as opposed to an earlier tendency to prefer in-] is to restrict in- to words obviously answering to Latin types, and to prefer un- in other cases", but I have no data on the extent to which this is true. Algebraist 23:20, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
(ec) The reason is that 'unjust' was created in English from the borrowed word 'just', whereas 'injustice' was borrowed as a whole. The OED does list 'injust' - it has five examples, from 1430 to 1711.
I'm not saying that this historical reason is of any use to learners of English, but it does answer your first question. There is no satisfactory rule: there is a strong correlation between 'in-' and Latin/French words, and 'un-' and Germanic words, but the correlation is far from complete. --ColinFine (talk) 23:22, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
What does "(ec)" mean? Moncrief (talk) 23:36, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
"edit conflict". Someone else posted just before Colin did, so he had to repost, and hence his content might be redundant to the previous poster, or whatever. Here is something I've observed, which may or may not hold, but nouns are often preceded by "in" and adjectives by "un": unjust, injustice; uncivil, incivility; unable, inability; etc. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 23:42, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
That works sometimes, but of course we have forms such as inept, insane, incredible, and so on. Marco polo (talk) 23:54, 21 January 2010 (UTC)
However, there are very few nouns that start with un-. -- 202.142.129.66 (talk) 02:02, 22 January 2010 (UTC)
One that springs to mind is untruth, which has a Germanic root and so may help to illustrate a point. —Tamfang (talk) 23:39, 11 February 2010 (UTC)

Two of "Marco polo"'s examples use "-ity" and one uses "-ice". But there's also "-ness" and a whole slew of other suffixes and forms for making a noun out of an adjective; that's one of the ways in which English is a hodge-podge among languages. Might the choice of suffix or other change in form have some bearing? Michael Hardy (talk) 06:07, 22 January 2010 (UTC)

Yes it might. '-ness' and '-hood', like 'un-' are native English affixes, and there is a tendency (no more than that) for them to be used on native English roots; '-ice' and '-ity', like 'in-', are Latinate, and they tend to be used with Latinate roots. Generalising what I said above, most words with '-ice' and '-ity' were borrowed in that form, rather than being created in English. I guess that people generally are less aware nowadays of which roots are Latinate, so there is likely to be more mixing of affixes than heretofore. --ColinFine (talk) 08:37, 22 January 2010 (UTC)