Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2013 August 9

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August 9[edit]

Non IE phonemes[edit]

Which non-Indo-European language has the most similar sound inventory to English? (talk) 00:41, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

Hungarian is close. See Hungarian language and Hungarian phonology. I only noticed this after hearing Hungarian spoken many times on the NYC subway and mistaking it every time for mumbled English until I heard it more clearly. μηδείς (talk) 01:49, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Not denying your personal experience, but Hungarian phonology looks like a mix of Turkish, Czech and Finnish.--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 07:27, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

Well, Hungarian and English share: [m p b f v n t d s z l t͡ʃ d͡ʒ ʃ ʒ j k g h]. I would add [t͡s d͡z r] to this list, because the first two are not really hard for English speakers and are close to the sequences [ts dz] in English, and [r] would be perceived as [ɹ].

en has, hu does not: [θ ð (x) w (ʍ) ŋ]. I'm not going to count the sounds in brackets because a substantial part of the English-speaking world doesn't use them. [θ ð] sounds close to [t d] or [s z] depending on the situation. The only difficult one is [w]. [ŋ] is close to [ɲ], which hu has.

hu has, en does not: [ɲ c ɟ] (the latter two could be [c͡ç] and [ɟ͡ʝ]). The first can be mapped to English [ŋ] reasonably, and the second two to English [t͡ʃ d͡ʒ].

So, yeah, I would agree with Medeis. (And yeah, I also think Turkish, Czech and Finnish come pretty close to English.) Double sharp (talk) 10:18, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

  • Even then, Hungarian does have /ŋ/ as an allophone of /n/ before /k/, just not finally, while English has /ɲ/ minimally in foreign words and initially in nya nya nyuh nya nya and gnocchi. The only really non-common sounds are the interdentals of English and the rounded vowels of Hungarian. Hungarian prosody is close to English, with initial stress and consonant-final words and consonant clusters at least word internally. Here's the Lord's Prayer in Hungarian. Keep in mind g is essentially the same as English edge and Hungarian sz= s while Hungarian s = sh.
Mi Atyánk,
ki vagy a mennyekben,
szenteltessék meg a Te neved;
Jöjjön el a Te országod;
legyen meg a Te akaratod,
mint a mennyben, úgy a földön is.
A mi mindennapi kenyerünket, add meg nekünk ma;
és bocsásd meg vétkeinket,
miképpen mi is megbocsátunk azoknak,
akik ellenünk vétkeztek;
És ne vígy minket kísértetbe,
de szabadíts meg minket a gonosztól,
mert tiéd az ország és a hatalom
és a dicsõség mind örökké.
μηδείς (talk) 17:43, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Looking for the Lord's Prayer, I could only find it chanted as they do at mass. But I came across this music video. If you listen to it with your ears crossed so you can quite make it out it sounds like English. μηδείς (talk) 17:51, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Here you can listen to the New Testament in Hungarian. Even after have listened both Hungarian and then English versions I can't hear nothing English in Hungarian. For me this is like a Pole speaking Turkish. English sounds too specific and particular amongst many languages, it can't be confused with others easily. Your observation with Hungarian is quite striking for me, frankly.--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 08:13, 10 August 2013 (UTC)
Impressions like that are going to vary greatly depending on your native language, and especially whether you speak the languages being compared. As a native English speaker not able to speak Hungarian it sounds closer to English to me than any other language when I cannot hear it being clearly spoken. But Dutch sounds very, very foreign. (Note the OP also specified non-IE, so you really aren't going to get anything closer than Hungarian with it's German contact anyway.)
If you learn a language, that "typical sound" non-speakers attribute to it is no longer present or so prominent. Americans who don't speak French will describe them as saying fhwonh fhwonh, fhwonh fhwonh. After you learn it as I did in high school that impression goes away.
As for Polish. My Rusyn-speaking grandmother whose family married into Poles always joked they said pscie-pscie-pscie, although they had no problem with mutual compatibility. I have had non-English speaking Mexicans tell me English sounds like grrr-grrr-grrr, which I would never have guessed. And to me Polish sounds just like Portuguese with a few extra /k/'s thrown in. μηδείς (talk) 16:54, 10 August 2013 (UTC)
I just listened to the Hungarian bible reading. The problem is you are getting a very polished and highly enunciated reading, not normal conversational speaking. Reminds me of pre-WWII British radio speeches by the upper class which come out sounding very High German. μηδείς (talk) 16:59, 10 August 2013 (UTC)
Oh, I'm sorry, have not mentioned "non-IE". Yes, indeed, Hungarian is like a European phonetic median. Many confused it with other European languages. I agree, amongst European non-IE it's the phonetically closest language to English (don't know how about Finnish, Basque or Maltese). It's a pity I can't say anything definite about languages outside of Europe, maybe there are also some close ones.--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 08:25, 11 August 2013 (UTC)
I'm late to this discussion, but I think English is more similar phonologically to Swahili than to Hungarian. Marco polo (talk) 14:24, 12 August 2013 (UTC)
Swahili has only five vowels, without length or reduction. It has prenasalized and implosive voiced stops, not plain ones. It has a distinction between aspirated and nonaspirated voiceless stops. It has a voiced and voiceless velar fricative. The interdentals exist, but are almost always reduced to something else except by educated speakers attempting to parallel classical Arabic.
As for Finnish, it has a very reduced native consonant system, and rounded vowels, with a strong emphasis on doubling in both.
Basque is very close to Spanish phonetically, almost indistinguishable, except that some dialects have more sibilants than Castillian. μηδείς (talk) 20:27, 12 August 2013 (UTC)

wrongly vs. wrong[edit]

Which sentence is correct?

  • I answered the question wrong.
  • I answered the question wrongly.
  • I wrongly answered the question.
  • ...the question I wrongly answered.

Sneazy (talk) 04:02, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

I would say the second is the most common form, although there's nothing gramatically incorrect with the third and the fourth. (The third is a change in emphasis, the fourth an alteration in usage.) There are many who would argue that the first is incorrect, as "wrong" is being used as an adverb here, describing how you answered. However, there's a usage termed "flat adverbs", where the adjectival form is used as an adverb. This is somewhat of a dialectal issue, so while the first might not be necessarily wrong per se, I wouldn't recommend its use around persnickety grammarians (e.g. anywhere on the internet). -- (talk) 05:06, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
The fourth, and possibly the third, could be heard as having a different meaning — I answered the question, which I ought not to have done. (Whether I got it right or wrong is not specified.) --Trovatore (talk) 05:30, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
When I hear "I answered the question wrongly" it strikes me to mean that the answer was given in a wrong manner such as verbally instead of written, for example, not that an incorrect answer was given. It seems analogous to "I feel badly" or "I feel bad"; the former seems to mean there is something wrong with my fingers or sensory perception while the later seems to mean I am ill.--William Thweatt TalkContribs 05:59, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Talking of confusing adjectives with adverbs, people often answer the question "How are you?" with "Good". That usually doesn't mean they're telling you they consider themselves a good person (although they might, and I hope they do). No, in that context it's used as a synonym for "well". Which is strange because nobody ever talks about "goodness" when they mean "wellness". -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 06:18, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Hmm, I don't quite agree. "How are you" at one time was considered an inquiry into health, but nowadays it's more about happiness. So the response "good" means more "I'm reasonably happy or at least not so unhappy that I'm willing to complain about it at this time" than it does "I'm well" (i.e. not sick). --Trovatore (talk) 07:04, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
You may have something there. Maybe "fine" would be a better response.
I'm reminded of the time when the greeting "How do you do?" was not treated as an actual enquiry at all, but was only ever answered with "How do you do?". Probably the only case where not only was it acceptable to answer a question with a question (and the same question, to boot), it was socially mandatory. Times have changed since then. -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 22:22, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
The "Howdy" greeting is derived from the "How do you do?" greeting. So, in a sense, some people still use that type of language as a casual salutation. Howdy, JackofOz! Sneazy (talk) 00:25, 10 August 2013 (UTC)
Howdy, Sneazy! -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 01:08, 10 August 2013 (UTC)
"Howdy doody" is another variation, not used much anymore. That expression is connected with a 1950s puppet. But the giveaway is in the title song: "...Bob Smith and Howdy Doo / Say 'Howdy do' to you." That is, the expression preceded the character. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 14:38, 10 August 2013 (UTC)

philistine vs. Philistine[edit]

I am practicing my vocabulary skills.

I am not sure if the word is supposed to be capitalized or not, but I think the lowercased version is the adjective and the uppercase version is the metaphor noun, used for a person who is like a member of an Aegean people who settled in ancient Philistia around the 12th century BCE. The other option is that the capitalization does not really matter.

Most importantly, I wish to know the history of this word. Why does the word "Philistine" have such a bad connotation? What were the real Philistines like? The article on the Philistines seems to portray the Philistines as a normal group of people, but the Bible portrays them so vilely? What was the real relationship between the Philistines and the ancient Israelites?

Sneazy (talk) 04:24, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

Well, we only get the opinion of them which was passed on by their enemies, the Israelites. I tend to think of the Philistines as being a bit like the Spartans, being warriors not much interested in things like art (they may even have migrated there from Greece). They also seem to have lacked a written language early on, which means they couldn't "speak" for themselves. So, much as the Athenians would have thought of the Spartans as "uncooth", the same was true of how the Israelites thought of the Philistines. Perhaps it's even worse, when you add in religion, with the Philistines "worshiping false idols" from the POV of the Israelites.
On the plus side, they might have been related to the Phoenicians, who were renowned for spreading "civilization" throughout the Mediterranean. StuRat (talk) 05:11, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
StuRat -- the Philistines almost certainly originally spoke a non-Semitic language (unlike the Phoenicians). They are viewed negatively in the Bible mainly because they were militarily powerful and overall somewhat hostile to the Israelites during the period when the Israelites were consolidating their identity. AnonMoos (talk) 05:52, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
(edit conflict) For the first part of your question, if you are using Philistine as an adjective, referring to the Philistine people, it would always be capitalized. There is an adjective "philistine," but it means something else [1]. In general, adjectives referring to peoples will always be capitalized (American, French, Cherokee, Japanese) in English. I hope this helps answer that. Falconusp t c 05:21, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
As to the relationship between the Philistines and the Israelites, the people of the Canaan region were oftentimes in a precarious situation, often becoming a strategic buffer zone between the huge empires to the east, ancient Egypt to the south and the Sea Peoples (Philistines). Egypt and the Philistines were bitter enemies and their battles were often fought in Canaan as each nation sought to control the "buffer zone". Scouts on land could give advanced warning of an Egyptian army on the march, but the Philistines, as masters of the sea, could sweep in, "out of the blue" so to speak and raid/plunder/conquer the settlements of Canaan without warning. The Hebrews were so wary of this that the theme of the Sea/Ocean became a metaphor for danger and death for them. Add to that the fact that, as Stu mentioned above, the Philistines who settled in Canaan adopted Baal and other gods instead of the Hebrew God and you can see why the Israelites viewed them with such contempt.--William Thweatt TalkContribs 05:49, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Wow. That really puts things into perspective. A well-known biblical narrative is Noah's flood, in which the flood is called by God to destroy everything on earth. Now, I wonder about the relationship between Noah's flood and the symbolism of the sea. Maybe the ancient Israelites were afraid that they would be conquered by other tribes and lose their own identity, so to guard themselves, they saw the sea as "dangerous" and passed that on to their children in the form of stories about Noah's flood, also carrying the desire to eliminate all the evil peoples (or peoples who threatened their existence) on the face of the earth, leaving only Noah and his good family. What a moving story! :) Sneazy (talk) 17:24, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
WilliamThweatt -- the Philistines almost certainly arrived in the southern coastal plain of Canaan by sea during the late 2nd-millennium B.C. "dark age", but there's no particular evidence in the Bible that they they acted against the Israelites by sea, and in fact most of the conflicts seem to have been with the Israelite tribes which bordered the Philistine territories on land (Dan and Judah)... AnonMoos (talk) 23:11, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Yes, AnonMoos. If you'll notice, I was careful not to use the term "Israelites" (except in restating the OP's question). I was talking about the people of Canaan in general as I set up the historical situation. The Israelite identity was formed among people indigenous to Canaan long before they began to record their "history". The Philistines were still grouped among the "Sea Peoples" by Egypt until their defeat at the hands of Ramses III when they were resettled into the villages of the coastal plain. The upheavals and shifts of power that took place between the collapse of the Late Bronze and Iron Ages surely brought the sea-going Philistines into violent contact with the early Israelite population, whether it is recorded in the Bible or not. Nonetheless, the Philistines remained the Israelites' primary enemy until the (re-)rise of the Assyrians (Neo-Assyrian Empire) c900 BC.--William Thweatt TalkContribs 02:27, 10 August 2013 (UTC)
While the writers of surviving Bible books regularly express distaste for the Philistines, is it any different from their recurring hatred of all their non-Jewish neighbours? --Hors-la-loi 08:05, 9 August 2013 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by Hors-la-loi (talkcontribs)
If I may “put in my grain salt” as I pass by : Sneazy, do look into the Bible (Book of Judges, Book of Kings) for Delilah, for Goliath, and all their Philistine kins the Jews wanted to throw back into the sea, preferably after making heaps of uncircumcised penises…The paradoxical part of the saga of the adjective “philistine” is, I think , that its acceptation as “ineducated ass” was coined by mid-19° century german scholars, who adopted the biblic meaning while they worshipped greek culture ! In France, this queer acceptation began to be used by romantics abusing classics during the “battle of Hernani (drama) ”, a modern play by Victor Hugo. T.y. Arapaima (talk) 08:20, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

Meaning of "Held in the wing"[edit]

What does the English Idiom "Held In The Wing" mean? The expression doesn't come up in any of my searches. (talk) 05:22, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

I think it's "in the wings", plural, not "the wing". The wings of a stage are the areas to the right and left, where the audience can't see. Something you hold in the wings is something you're ready to bring out at a moment's notice, if needed. --Trovatore (talk) 05:25, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
It's also possible that the phrase you heard was related to the phrase "take him under your wing", which means to guide or protect someone, as a mother chicken does with her chicks [2]. SemanticMantis (talk) 20:00, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

"to spell" as used by Stephen Crane in The Open Boat [edit]

Hello Learned Ones ! In § VI of Crane's short story, the oiler asks one of his friends “Can you spell me ?” , meaning here “Can you row now, I’m exhausted” . I didn’t find anywhere “spell” in that acceptation. Thanks beforehand for your explanations, examples etc… ( PS : BTW, several WP en articles say Crane was travelling to Cuba as a war-correspondant when he was stranded. But the Commodore’s floundering took place on 1897, january…Is it worth correcting ? ) T.y. Arapaima (talk) 07:42, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

The modern English "to spell" used in this sense is from Middle English "spelen" which in turn comes from Old English "spelian" all of which mean "to substitute (for)". It is not common usage nowadays, at least in my dialect (Californian American English) although my Grandfather from Oklahoma used it with that meaning.--William Thweatt TalkContribs 07:53, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
In cricket, they talk of "spelling" a bowler who's bowled a large number of overs. Meaning, he needs a break. -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 07:56, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
And in the equine industry, they spell horses. -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 13:12, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
... h-o-r-s-e-s.  :) -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 21:20, 10 August 2013 (UTC)
(edit conflict)See the Wiktionary entry "From Middle English spelen, from Old English spelian, akin to spala (“substitute”).... To work in place of (someone)." I don't know about the dates. Dbfirs 07:57, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Merriam-Webster (meaning 5) gives 1595 as the "first known use" of this meaning.--William Thweatt TalkContribs 08:02, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Thanks a lot to all for "lighting up my lantern" as we say here. T;y. Arapaima (talk) 08:41, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
I've heard it used in America, though I wouldn't say it's very common. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 13:18, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

the word "cauldron" during operation Barbarossa[edit]

Hello Learned Ones ! I’ve read (but I can’t find again where) that during operation Barbarossa , the encircling and bundling up of crippled Soviet troops was called by german officers “a cauldron”. Has somebody references about it ? Was the word “kochkessel” used by german soldiers ? Thanks beforehand, t.y. Arapaima (talk) 08:41, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

More, but not the whole story, can be found here Salients, re-entrants and pockets#Pocket --Hors-la-loi 09:15, 9 August 2013 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by Hors-la-loi (talkcontribs)
The word to use would be just Kessel. For German articles see de:Kesselschlacht or, as used today by the police, de:Polizeikessel. --Wrongfilter (talk) 10:32, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Further down in the link provided by Hors-la-loi you find also Salients, re-entrants and pockets#Kessel. Kessel (cauldron) can also designate plains surrounded by mountains, like in de:Talkessel (with a nice image) or in de:Glatzer Kessel and this could be (I speculate) the origin of the military usage. Or it comes from hunting terms like Kesseltreiben (encircling hares) or Kesseljagd (encircling sows). The verb is einkesseln (to close in on someone/something). --Pp.paul.4 (talk) 17:29, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Interestingly, although the historical military term has been rendered into English as "cauldron", the modern English usage (at least as it is used by the British police) is now also kettle. Our article suggests the use may have been calqued from German (as per this source [3]) as the practice has also been borrowed from the German police. Valiantis (talk) 21:40, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Probably worth adding that the German term Kessel, whilst cognate with the English kettle, has a wider meaning along the lines of "vessel in which one boils water". Where clarification of the type of Kessel is needed a de:Kochkessel is a cauldron (i.e. a deep round open vessel) and a Wasserkessel or de:Pfeifkessel is a (whistling) kettle (i.e. an enclosed vessel for heating water on a stove top). No British home is complete without a kettle - though they are far from ubiquitous in Germany in my experience - but nowadays most are not stove-top vessels but contain an electric element to heat the water. I have just learnt such an electric kettle is not a Kessel of any sort in German but a de:Wasserkocher (I've managed to live in German-speaking countries without previously discovering this - which perhaps indicates how electric kettles are far less commonly used in that part of the world). Valiantis (talk) 21:59, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
As a thanking to all : Talkessel von Reutte (Tirol)

— Preceding unsigned comment added by Arapaima (talkcontribs) 08:21, 12 August 2013 (UTC)

In Russian, if you're interested, this was called котёл kotyól "cauldron, copper, kettle, boiler".--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 07:56, 10 August 2013 (UTC)


Can "speculation" be pluralised? It appears as a section title here, but it looks wrong to me. (talk) 10:10, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

It's out of place there, mainly because the details provided are not speculative but factual. But as a general question, yes, speculations can exist. -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 13:09, 9 August 2013 (UTC)


I've read that the surname Lenina from Brave New World is pronounced like [li:naɪna], although Lenin is pronounced like [lenɪn]. Is it indeed so and why there's such a difference?-- (talk) 13:42, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

AFAIR Lenina was her given name. The pronunciation is indeed so, at least Russian translation of the novel implies that her name is pronounced like [lɪnaɪnə]. Lenina is an open syllable; why are you surprised about this? Incnis Mrsi (talk) 15:00, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Well, [ˈlɛnɪnə] would be possible too, and closer to the Russian pronunciation. But I think that [lɪˈnaɪnə] sounds more plausible as an English given name. Lesgles (talk) 15:18, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
To Russian pronunciation of what? Do you speak about Huxley’s novel, or ? Incnis Mrsi (talk) 15:22, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
It's been years since I read the book, but I seem to remember thinking it was [ləninɑ], [ləninə] or similar. I have no idea if that works out phonologically. Evanh2008 (talk|contribs) 15:31, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Up to some point in the second half of the twentieth century, English names were usually pronounced according to the normal rules of English spelling and pronunciation; so in particular "Maria" was /məraɪə/. Since that point, English speakers in general have become more aware of how foreign languages and names are pronounced, and "Maria" is as likely to be /məriːə/. I would therefore expect "Lenina" to be /lɪnaɪnə/ unless it was intended to be a female version of Lenin. --ColinFine (talk) 20:01, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
As I recall, many of Huxley's characters in the novel were indeed named after communist or fascist figureheads (Benito, Marx, Trotsky, etc.). Evanh2008 (talk|contribs) 20:13, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
If it were the case as Colin says that before the mid twentieth century these names were pronounced according to the rules of English spelling, then Maria would be pronounced /'mariə/ with an initial stress, which, with the vowel developments of Middle English (great vowl shift, dropped final schwas) would become Mary--as indeed it has, but quite a bit earlier than the 1950's. It is hardly the case that we have movies and recordings from before then that show such pronunciations as Muh-rye-uh.
There does seem to be a strong tendency for these long vowels to be found in Britain, not the US. I just linked to the term clinamen from classical atomistic philosophy in the science desk. There a pronunciation Klein-ay-men is given with two long vowels. I have never heard this work pronounced other than clinn-a-min to rhyme with cinnamon. Given the IP transcription there, I suspect the source is British.
Of course, then there's Verizon which comes and throws everything off. μηδείς (talk) 16:36, 10 August 2013 (UTC)
I don't remember Huxley giving any indication in the novel on how her name is to be pronounced. It's all conjecture. --Xuxl (talk) 08:56, 12 August 2013 (UTC)

Talk:Horsburgh Lighthouse[edit]

Editors are welcome to join the discussion at Talk:Horsburgh Lighthouse, in which an editor has commented on the Latin-to-English translation previously discussed on this talk page but later archived.
Wavelength (talk) 14:44, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

We still capitalize "internet," don't we?[edit]

Spell check is telling me it's okay either way, but that can't be right, can it? Evanh2008 (talk|contribs) 15:15, 9 August 2013 (UTC)

We have the article Capitalization of "Internet". Both ways of capitalizing have always been in use. In the old days there was a difference in meaning, which is now disappearing. MuDavid (talk) 15:29, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
WHAAOE! Thanks! :) Evanh2008 (talk|contribs) 15:33, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
MuDavid's answer is not quite correct, nor, really, is the question. As [[[Capitalization of "Internet"]] explains, the form without a capital came first, so cannot really be said to be wrong. But it's far more common to capitalise it. HiLo48 (talk) 18:46, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
Yeah, I noticed that the un-capped form was the original. Intuitively, it always seemed sensible to me to leave it lowercase, but over the past ten years or so of editing, I've drilled the capitalised version into my brain. The fact that my spell check didn't tag either as needing correction threw me off. I think I'll stick with the caps for now. Thanks, HiLo! Evanh2008 (talk|contribs) 19:29, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
What does the lower-case "i" on the many Apple products stand for? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 21:35, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
It stands for the triumph of presentation over substance --ColinFine (talk) 22:47, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
That much is certain. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 23:07, 9 August 2013 (UTC)
I thought it stood for doubling the price. StuRat (talk) 05:11, 11 August 2013 (UTC)