Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2011 June 13

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Language desk
< June 12 << May | June | Jul >> June 14 >
Welcome to the Wikipedia Language Reference Desk Archives
The page you are currently viewing is an archive page. While you can leave answers for any questions shown below, please ask new questions on one of the current reference desk pages.

June 13[edit]

"Poor little" and "Big old"[edit]

This questioned was posed to me by my step-son, and I can't find a good answer. Note: We live in the U.S. Southeast. We are "well spoken" southerners (in that, on occasion, the use of "ain't" and "fixing to" in casual conversation is OK...just not all the time.). Anyway, I am looking for the origin or etymology of the use of "poor little" and "big old." An example as it relates to a lover's quarrel: "That poor little girl done got her heart broke by that big old boy." Another example, one from recent experience: "That poor little dog got tore up by that big old coyote." Note that "old" = "ol'" or "ole" (like Ole Miss) in the way it is pronounced. Thanks Quinn BEAUTIFUL DAY 03:50, 13 June 2011 (UTC)

I should note that sometimes "big old" is substituted for "mean old" or "dumb old." But why "old"? Also, for clarification, my son's specific question was "Why is everything "poor little" and "big old" when we talk about hurting someone?" Maybe that'll help. Quinn BEAUTIFUL DAY 03:57, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
Are you asking about idiolect, dialect, sociolect, or something else?—Wavelength (talk) 05:40, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
"Poor" in the sense of unfortunate is attested from a 1539 translation of the Bible, where cattle are described as "poor" to mean malnourished and feeble: Seven other kyne [cattle] ... poore [elsewhere thynne] and very evell favored and leane fleshed. "Poor" in the sense of 'in poor health' is attested from 1758. Use re. oneself for humility (my poor attempt, etc.) is attested from 1423: Unto ȝour [your] grace lat now ben acceptable My pure [poor] request. So the word has a long history of being used to describe sympathetic characters and situations. "Little" of course also encourages sympathy, esp. since it's often used for the young and helpless: 'little ones', 'little child', etc. "Big" and "old" are of course their opposites, so we have a contrast between words designed to encourage sympathy, and their antonyms for the character we do not wish to be sympathetic. "Big" and "mean" are what we need to defend the "poor" and "little" from. Of course, "poor old" and "little old" also encourage sympathy, as they suggests feebleness and decrepitude, as well as familiarity (an old acquaintance or old friend isn't necessarily old: I wish we could get ole Frank Johnson to take it; same old school, etc.; also great big old cake, big ol' house, but also big old oaf) so I don't think it's 'old' that is in itself unsympathetic, only its use to contrast with 'little'. — kwami (talk) 06:02, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
Yes, it is the contrast: "Pretty little thang" vs "mean ole butcha". Quinn BEAUTIFUL DAY
In the specific case you asked about, it might simply be a use of set expressions. But if you have a little young girl and a big old man, not only do you set up the expectation that he is bigger and stronger and might perhaps beat her (or else why would she be poor and unfortunate?), but also a situation where age confers an advantage emotionally, that he can maybe bully her around through strength of will without laying a finger on her, or where she gets her heart broken because she's young and naive. But probably there wasn't that much thought put into it, and it was just a set construction of poor little X vs big/mean old Y. — kwami (talk) 06:24, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
In England, we say "poor old you" or "poor old (name)" when sympathising with someone who is ill, injured or having a difficult time generally. The "old" part seems to be purely idiomatic, because it's common to use the expression when talking about a child. More colloquially, it's common to call someone a "silly old sod" or "silly old bugger" as a mild and joking form of censure. The stock reply is "Oi! Not so much of the 'old'!". Alansplodge (talk) 15:26, 13 June 2011 (UTC)

The use of augmentatives with pejorative force and diminutives affectionately is common in many languages. Spanish uses special endings rather than separate words. See

Your son will probably enjoy reading Mario Pei The Story of Language, suitable for advanced elementary school and then maybe Anthony Burgess' A Mouthful of Air suitable for advanced junior high. μηδείς (talk) 15:53, 13 June 2011 (UTC)

It's an interesting and difficult question. It's not just a matter of diminutives and augmentatives: you can't substitute the words in those phrases ("*poor small" or "*large old" or "*big ancient" without changing the meaning (you can say "large old" or "enormous old", but then you just mean something that is both big and old, whereas "big old" means both more and less than this. I'm sure I've read an article which touches on this quite recently, probably in Transactions of the Philological Society, but I haven't been able to find it. --ColinFine (talk) 19:06, 13 June 2011 (UTC)

Appeal to age? Argumentum ad...[edit]

I've forgotten, what is an appeal to age in terms of fallacies of relevance? Can't find an article for it, I'm afraid. Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie | Say Shalom! 16:50, 13 June 2011 (UTC)

"Senioritatem?" As in an appeal to seniority? There seems to be no widely accepted Latin phrase for that concept. In any case, it would seem to fall under the category of Argument from authority, which is associated with various Latin phrases of the "argumentum ad..." variety. LANTZYTALK 17:39, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
I used WP:Prefix to check this page, but it seems not to have the answer.
Wavelength (talk) 19:32, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
Argumentum ad antiquitatem is the fallacy that appeals to the age of the _argument_, rather than the age of the _arguer_. ("We've always done it this way, we're not going to change now.") If that's not what you mean, it's just a species of the Argumentum ad verecundiam. Tevildo (talk) 20:05, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
Nah, I saw that, and it's also sort of appeal to tradition. I'm thinking about, "I'm older so I know better" sort of thing. =p I guess it is an appeal to authority really as y'all said. Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie | Say Shalom! 20:08, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
"Argumentum ad geriatrum"? PhGustaf (talk) 20:12, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
I'd guess you want senectus, old age, or rather the accusative senectutem
Gaudeamus, igitur
Iuvenes dum sumus
Gaudeamus, igitur
Iuvenes dum sumus
Post iucundam
Post molestam
Nos habebit humus
Sang that in Glee Club as an undergrad. --Trovatore (talk) 09:15, 16 June 2011 (UTC)
There may also be an element of the Fallacy of division - The old are wiser than the young, X is older than Y, therefore X is wiser than Y. Tevildo (talk) 20:42, 13 June 2011 (UTC)

Swedish/German translation question[edit]

How does one say "safe-deposit box" (like the ones you find in hotels or train stations or trains) in Swedish or German? JIP | Talk 17:28, 13 June 2011 (UTC)

In American English, at least, a safe-deposit box is essentially a locker in a bank vault. The boxes in hotels are simply called safes, at least in American English. I am not familiar with such things in train stations or trains, though no doubt they exist in Europe. Still, I think they would be called safes. The German equivalent, believe it or not, appears to be Safe, though Geldschrank is an alternative. The Swedish equivalent seems to be kassaskåp. Marco polo (talk) 18:21, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
Would the German word be pronounced like (ASCII approximations of IPA) /safe/ as if it were a native German word or like /seif/ as it is pronounced in English? The other words I know how to pronounce. The reason why I am asking this is that I may have to contact either the Swedish railways or the German railways by telephone. JIP | Talk 18:49, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
As an addendum (though not strictly asked by the OP), in BrE those at railway (and perhaps coach) stations are generally referred to as left-luggage lockers, or luggage lockers, or just lockers, the latter being also applicable in similar but non-luggage-specific situations. {The poster formerly known as} (talk) 18:52, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
I know there are such lockers on Finnish trains. I have seen them myself. I am interested on whether there are any on the EuroNight train EN301. I have contacted both the Swedish railways and the German railways by e-mail but neither has answered. I am not very comfortable talking in a foreign language over the telephone, but talking in a foreign language in a face-to-face situation is OK. JIP | Talk 18:59, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
See if you'd asked that I could have sworn I would be able to find out! The private company's website says nothing about there being any in the couchette cars, and to be honest they usually don't have such things. Night trains almost always have a luggage car though... I know the boxes you find at train stations are "gepäckaufbewährung" in German but don't know if that would apply to the car on the train. - filelakeshoe 19:27, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
Well if there are any such lockers anywhere on the train then that's good enough for me. JIP | Talk 19:53, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
In German, I would refer to the lockers in train stations etc. as Schließfach (plural Schließfächer). (That article links to safe deposit box, but in American English at least (as discussed above), the term "safe deposit box" is far more specific than Schließfach.) When used in German, Safe has its English pronunciation, but it really refers only to the large object with a very thick door. It's also called Tresor in German. Just compare the photos in the two German articles I've linked to in order to see the difference between a Schließfach and a Safe/Tresor. —Angr (talk) 21:21, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
The Swedish word for the kind of lockers (like these) that you find in train stations is förvaringsbox, and most stations have them. Swedish trains, however, rarely do (see [1]). The term kassaskåp implies that you intend to store cash, gold or other valuables, rather than luggage. Gabbe (talk) 22:51, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
A phone-operator at Swedish train company or hotel would likely be able to speak English rather well. --Soman (talk) 14:07, 14 June 2011 (UTC)
According to the OP's user page, he speaks Swedish as well he speaks English, but speaks neither of them natively. —Angr (talk) 14:14, 14 June 2011 (UTC)

Is there a word (or term) for "self-fortification-after-being-heavily-used"?[edit]

Some self regenerating systems, for instance parts of the human body (muscle, skin etc.), they not just regenerate after being repeatedly subjected to heavy use, or strain, but they tend to also get fortified, in a way: "get improved", they end up being stronger than before.

Is there an English word or term (or maybe an often used Latin one) for this "(tendency to) self-fortification-after-being-heavily-used-or-subjected-to-strain"? -- (talk) 22:37, 13 June 2011 (UTC)

I thought callus would point me to a medical term for what you are asking, but it doesn't. --ColinFine (talk) 23:28, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
Induration, perhaps? Tevildo (talk) 23:35, 13 June 2011 (UTC)
hypertrophy? --Belchman (talk) 00:14, 14 June 2011 (UTC)

Induration (literally just hardening) is usually taken to mean a hardening of a raised area of the skin due to an immune response. μηδείς (talk) 00:16, 14 June 2011 (UTC) Hypertrophy is abnormal overgrowth due to any cause, including things like hormone imbalances. A callus is a good example. μηδείς (talk) 00:18, 14 June 2011 (UTC)

A search under stress- and exercise-induced tissue growth yields no obvious answers. You do come across hypertrophy, but by itself the term doesn't necessarily mean due to wear. μηδείς (talk) 00:22, 14 June 2011 (UTC)

I don't think there is any special term. This concept plays an important role in neuroscience, because it happens to the synaptic connections between brain cells, but it is always referred to using terms like "use-dependent plasticity" or "activity-dependent potentiation", or things that are even more obscure. Looie496 (talk) 00:30, 14 June 2011 (UTC)
The phrase that I hear most often with muscles getting bigger from exercise is "growing muscle". It's not terribly scientific sounding but "grow" is the closest I can think of. Dismas|(talk) 00:36, 14 June 2011 (UTC)
Added: "-or-subjected-to-strain" --(OP) (talk) 01:07, 14 June 2011 (UTC)
"Battle-hardened" is a narrow application of the general idea. Bus stop (talk) 02:24, 14 June 2011 (UTC)
Which brings us to that quote from Nietzsche and the Amtal rule from Dune. μηδείς (talk) 02:30, 14 June 2011 (UTC)
In the field of metallurgy, we also have work hardening. StuRat (talk) 07:01, 14 June 2011 (UTC)
If you are looking for terms that could be used figuratively, annealing and tempering come to mind. — Cheers, JackLee talk 07:05, 14 June 2011 (UTC)
Annealing and tempering have to do with the removal of stresses by heating which causes relaxation and then cooling the relaxed state. But if you heat protein tissue you denature it, spoiling its structure and weakening it. μηδείς (talk) 20:36, 15 June 2011 (UTC)