Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2013 June 20

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June 20[edit]


22 minutes into season seven of Dexter, Viktor Baskov curses his bad luck with an expletive that sounds almost like Mork's shazbat!. Any ideas what the word might be, in either Ukrainian or Russian? —Tamfang (talk) 02:23, 20 June 2013 (UTC)

The бат might have something to do with the verb ебать, to fuck. -- Jack of Oz [Talk] 09:45, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
I can't make it out. To me it sounded like he said Stolzfus! in German. μηδείς (talk) 17:53, 20 June 2013 (UTC)

Howard Cosell's accent[edit]

What label encompasses the accent with which sports broadcaster Howard Cosell spoke? (talk) 14:12, 20 June 2013 (UTC)

He was born in North Carolina, raised in Brooklyn, and started out as a NYC lawyer. I would say he wasn't known for his dialect, so much as his idiolect. μηδείς (talk) 18:03, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
Yes, good answer. SemanticMantis (talk) 18:35, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
Cosell's way of talking was so unique that it used to be said that "he sounds like an imitation of himself". ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 00:59, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
Although the rhythm of his speech was fairly idiosyncratic, he nonetheless retained many aspects of the New York dialect (which article lists him as an example), such as non-rhotacism. Deor (talk) 11:02, 21 June 2013 (UTC)

Stroke order[edit]

What is the logic behind the stroke order of Chinese characters? Take for example []. Why not make it with just one movement, starting left, going up and coming down, in the same way as we would write an 'i', but without a dot? Why not make them easier to write? OsmanRF34 (talk) 15:07, 20 June 2013 (UTC)

There are a few reasons here.
  1. Many writing standards have historical bases, and a lot come from calligraphy. If you're writing with a brush (as people did once upon a time), 人 would look different if you wrote it in one movement (there would be the biggest, thickest part in the lower left, as opposed to the top where it's supposed to be).
  2. The example you give cannot actually be written in one stroke anyway, unless you backtrack without lifting up your pen. It may look that way when you're looking at it on a computer in certain fonts, but in handwriting the second stroke is actually supposed to start lower than the first stroke; see this animation. So what you're suggesting is not even really possible. Most of the radicals that are written with multiple strokes are ones that really must be--like 宀 (see it in handwriting as the upper half of this--as you can see, it can't be done in less than three strokes). There are only a few exceptions to this, like 口 (here).
  3. You can't make a direct comparison between Chinese characters and our cursive. While some letters, like 人, look like they could maybe be written in a single stroke (but see above), how would you propose to write 藏 in a single stroke? 额? Or 三? These are just a few examples.
  4. That being said, stroke order is not necessarily "logical". As you can see from Stroke order#Stroke order per polity, people writing the same characters in different countries will often write it with different stroke orders; that alone is enough to suggest that the stroke order you learn is not the "best" or the only naturally possible order. Just like most writing and language conventions, stroke order is somewhat arbitrary and learned and you can't expect it to conform perfectly to "logic". But if you want your handwriting to look like native speakers' writing, it's best to learn the correct stroke order (if you even write with a pen at all these days...)
rʨanaɢ (talk) 16:06, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
Your example stroke is not practical at all because traditionally, CJK languages are written vertically in columns going from top to bottom and ordered from right to left, with each new column starting to the left of the preceding one. See Horizontal and vertical writing in East Asian scripts. Oda Mari (talk) 16:25, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
I understand that this is related to how the scrolls are/were unrolled for writing. But I am wondering whether there is a similar explanation to how individual characters are written (from top to bottom and left to right). Top to bottom makes sense, since the texts were written top to bottom as well, but why not right to left? bamse (talk) 10:36, 23 June 2013 (UTC)
Characters look different depending on stroke order. Width and pressure of lines in the wrong place make the characters look "wrong", even though they are perfectly legible (unless you're me. My wife has a good laugh when I try to copy her writing. I have no clue what I'm doing, and no, I can't read or speak Chinese. My name user name may mislead you a bit.) Mingmingla (talk) 16:47, 20 June 2013 (UTC)


I frequently use whilst in my writing; however, I was wondering: what is the difference between "while" and "whilst"? All I've been able to think of are some instances where "whilst" sounds a little awkward in a sentence and "while" would make it flow better... thanks! --Yellow1996 (talk) 16:43, 20 June 2013 (UTC)

See wikt:whilst -- as that entry notes, it is synonymous with "while" but it's a Britishism: "Rare in North America and may be considered archaic, pedantic or pompous.". I don't believe I have ever even once used it. Looie496 (talk) 16:47, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
Ah, that would explain why many people that read my stuff think I'm archaic, pedantic and pompous. ;) I use a lot of Britishisms in my writing, probably on account of the fact I read lots of old British books (or old North American books, back when those types of words were more frequently used...) Thanks! :) --Yellow1996 (talk) 16:58, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
Until recently, British style manuals generally discouraged "whilst", and even today "whilst" seems rare in formal writing. -- Elphion (talk) 17:27, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
Could be useful in an ambiguous sentence such as I got duck legs for a little while in China. It's an adverbial genitive, apparently, whereas while can be a noun. (Though the adverbial genitive page says that those are also nouns in some sense. I don't know.)  Card Zero  (talk) 20:40, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
I don't understand your example, CZ. What does "I got duck legs for a little" mean? -- Jack of Oz [Talk] 21:12, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
For a little (money). OK, not very idiomatic. Perhaps "for only a little" would have worked better.  Card Zero  (talk) 21:15, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
Thanks. Seems a bit contrived. How about:
  • How did you survive in Asia without much money?
  • Oh, I was a sex worker in Vietnam, and I taught a little while/st in China. -- Jack of Oz [Talk] 21:37, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
That example only uses "whilst" to eliminate an interpretation that was unlikely in the first place. Mind you, so does mine. With hours of careful work and intense concentration, I bet it would be possible to come up with an example that doesn't seem contrived at all.  Card Zero  (talk) 21:42, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
I'm sure there's one out there somewhere. But this sort of proves the point, doesn't it. It is hardly ever - almost never - necessary to resort to "whilst". I've had discussions with people here who readily admit they never use the word in speech, but feel it's inappropriate to use "while" in writing if "whilst" is available. None can point to any authority for this belief. I see it used by writers whose writing skills are, frankly, execrable. Why it should have such a foothold in the minds of the multitude is a mystery to me. -- Jack of Oz [Talk] 23:47, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
This subject came up before, at which time I remembered having read something about 20 years ago about what I think may have been called "adverbial s" in English. I couldn't find the reference, and can't find it now, so don't trust my memory entirely. It's found in words like besides, since, hence (where I believe it originates as a genitive) and you come acrost it in words like amongst and amidst, which don't bother Americans in the least. In fact, my father often tells the story of the farmer's daughter he met who sits amongst the beans and pees. μηδείς (talk) 00:53, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
I mist the comment above on the adverbial genitive, see that. μηδείς (talk) 00:56, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
It's probably to do with Register (sociolinguistics). Words of Latin origin sound scientific; perhaps antiquated (but not obsolete) words sound wise and serious, redolent of legalese. In While, the picture shows whilst appearing on a warning notice - a serious context. It could be worse, anyway: Norwegian language conflict.  Card Zero  (talk) 01:45, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
"Whilst" was used by Shakespeare, Donne, Defoe, Scott, Thackeray, and many other writers right up to the 21st century, so I don't see why we (Yellow1996 and I and anyone else) can't continue to use it (though I tend to reserve it for occasions when I want to emphasis a contrast). Dbfirs 07:21, 27 June 2013 (UTC)


This is an interesting one for me. In English, we use the word 'bag' for a woman as a term of contempt, whereas in Japanese they use the word 'fukuro' (meaning 'bag') as a term of endearment for mothers. Are there any other languages that use this term - either as a term of contempt or endearment? KägeTorä - (影虎) (TALK) 17:53, 20 June 2013 (UTC)

Dutch 'zak' (meaning 'bag') is a term of contempt, but not specifically for women; rather it is equivalent to English 'asshole', 'jerk' and may be a shortened form of (vulgar) 'klootzak' (lit. 'ballsack'), which has basically the same meaning. - Lindert (talk) 18:40, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
Same with German Sack, although it's not common as a term of contempt on its own. An alter Sack is an old fart (usually male, but it could probably be applied to old women as well). The usual German equivalent of "old bag" (female) is alte Schachtel (old box). Angr (talk) 20:22, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
"Bag" isn't much used in US English as a term for women. The only exception I can think of is "old bag", which is insulting. StuRat (talk) 22:56, 21 June 2013 (UTC)

Language improvements/your input on specific article[edit]

Rjanag removed my request previously as spam. Not sure why, so I'm reposting it. In the spirit of WP:IAR and improving the encyclopedia, I don't see any problem with requesting language-specific help from this desk for articles.

So then, this is a request for help on an article rather than a specific question. I've started a push to get Honda S2000 up to FA quality. While I'm fixing references and content, it would be great if you could edit directly (or comment on the talk page) to improve the language and tone. The aim is to turn the article into brilliant prose. Specifically, I'm requesting input on three things:

  1. Overall layout and flow of the article. Are the sections in logical order? Do they tell a compelling story? Are there any jarring segues? Is it "brilliant prose" (it really isn't at this stage)?
  2. Flow of sections and paragraphs. Are the sections coherent? Do the paragraphs naturally lead from one to the next?
  3. Flow of specific paragraphs and sentences. There are quite a few instances of awkward wording in sentences or whole paragraphs. Would like some expert writing rather than a ham-fisted effort from me to bring these up to snuff.

Of course any other improvements would be most welcome. I've also created a talk page section to capture comments if you don't want to edit directly. Thanks. Zunaid 20:54, 20 June 2013 (UTC)

I did post on your talk page, coming from the notice above. But the point is that we have other procedures to get you help in the writing style of the article. You need to request a copy-edit. Itsmejudith (talk) 21:24, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
I agree that this isn't the venue for getting help bringing an article up to FA. Angr (talk) 21:29, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
Zunaid: the reference desks are for asking specific questions and getting specific answers. For help with a project (such as an article), you can use one of the other venues suggested by the editors above and at your article's talk page. rʨanaɢ (talk) 22:42, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
In the OP's defence, we often have people come here asking for our opinions on certain pieces of writing, and we almost always happily oblige with said opinions, as well as suggestions for improvement. If we're going to be hardline in our policy - and I'm not saying we shouldn't be - then we should apply it consistently to all comers. -- Jack of Oz [Talk] 00:56, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
But those are mostly non-Wikipedians who probably don't know what other writing-improvement resources we have – and they're mostly asking about non-Wikipedia writing (so that WP:Peer review would be the wrong place for them anyway). The OP is hardly a newbie, having been a contributor for almost 8 years, and really ought to know that the Reference Desk isn't the place to get help improving a Wikipedia article. Angr (talk) 18:37, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
Still, it raises the issue. When we do help people with their writing, that's about us bringing our own knowledge and skill to the table, rather than providing any kind of reference (usually), which is what we say we're here for. If this sort of help - however we may delimit it - is a legitimate part of our role here, we ought to be upfront about it and welcome such questions in our signage. If it's not appropriate, we shouldn't do it for anybody. Maybe this should now continue on the talk page. -- Jack of Oz [Talk] 21:25, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
To me the difference seems like this: the situations you're describing are where people are asking about e.g. a specific sentence (at least, in the instances I can think of), so it really is more like asking one question ("how can this be worded better"), whereas asking about a whole article is really asking someone to do work rather than asking for an answer to a question. (I'm fine with moving this over to the talk page if you want to just paste the whole section over or something.) (talk) 23:14, 21 June 2013 (UTC) (User:Rjanag, not logged in)

To go down[edit]

Wiktionary, Merriam-Webster and Oxford Dictionaries don't mention it as a meaning, but still I'm not sure: Might the expression to go down be used for any activity in some way lowering your body? Like, for example, bowing, curtsey, fall down on your knees, to get down... --KnightMove (talk) 23:26, 20 June 2013 (UTC)

In my particular age group it's a euphemism for oral sex. Calidum Sistere 23:29, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
Thanks, I already knew that... ok, I agree that it fits my question. So, no others? --KnightMove (talk) 23:51, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
Networks go down. μηδείς (talk) 00:40, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
And you can go down to the shops, or down to the pub, etc. (This could be British English only, I'm not sure) -- Q Chris (talk) 07:12, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
Usually just "down the pub", in my (BrE) experience, even if "motion toward" is implied: "Let's go down the pub after work". AndrewWTaylor (talk) 10:47, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
To "go down the shore" is typically mentioned as a Delaware Valley-ism. μηδείς (talk) 17:24, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
Likewise, to "Go down Cape" is to head towards Provincetown, Massachusetts. Going up Cape is towards Bourne, Massachusetts. --Jayron32 19:46, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
To get down means to dance. Maybe that was what you are thinking of? --Jayron32 01:01, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
You can certainly "go down on your knees", but "go down" by itself isn't usually used that way. Clarityfiend (talk) 03:42, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
Or "going down" as in being defeated, possibly from what can happen to the loser in a boxing match. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 04:20, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
Moses went down HiLo48 (talk) 04:46, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
"Does your wife go?" - She sometimes goes, yes. -- Jack of Oz [Talk] 06:27, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
"I must go down to the seas again ..."    → Michael J    10:26, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
"Workin' in a coal mine, goin' down down..." ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 22:45, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
  • To decrease in value, as in "Did the stock market go down today ?" or "Will gas prices go down ?".
  • To decrease in size, as in "The American car industry has been going down for decades."
  • To decrease in other ways, such as "My grade point average will go down as a result of that final exam". StuRat (talk) 22:51, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
Yes, whenever I had a History exam at school, I always knew I was about to "go down in History". -- Jack of Oz [Talk] 23:41, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
That one is so old it's on Medicare. And worse yet, you beat me to it. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 00:57, 22 June 2013 (UTC)
  • ... also "to be sent to prison" (is this UK only?) (missing from Wiktionary, though they do have wikt:send down) Dbfirs 07:03, 27 June 2013 (UTC)

How do ejectives usually develop from non-ejective consonants?[edit] (talk) 23:38, 20 June 2013 (UTC)

It's discussed in conjunction with stød, a characteristic of Danish. (Kortland argues stød may actually be a retention from PIE, rather than an innovation within Danish.) See also ejectives. μηδείς (talk) 00:46, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
The paths I've heard of are:
  • Coalescence with adjacent glottal stops or glottalized vowels (though it's possible some of these are artifacts of analysis, and what appears to be [tuˀ] > [t'u] is really the other way around)
  • Glottal reinforcement (English; voiceless stops are preglottalized medially and word-finally; before a pause, this can surface as ejection, assuming this isn't inherited from (pre-)PIE)
  • Devoicing and reanalysis of implosives
  • Allophonic alternation with implosives (Mam, though proto-Mayan had a set of glottalized stops to begin with)
  • Optional boundary markers (at least one Totonacan dialect uses aspiration or glottalization to mark a pause, which can surface as ejectivization)
  • Influence of nearby languages (Eastern Armenian and many Southern Bantu languages have ejectives instead of plain stops, from Caucasian and Khoisan influence).
  • I have no solid example, but I've heard gemination may lead to ejectivization via debuccalization of one of the elements, i.e. [pp] > [ʔp] > [p'] — Preceding unsigned comment added by Lsfreak (talkcontribs) 02:27, 21 June 2013 (UTC)
For what it's worth, a paper was published very recently in PLOS One that argues that regions of higher altitude are more likely to have ejectives: The conclusions have been widely challenged, however; see [1], [2], and [3], among others. rʨanaɢ (talk) 02:42, 21 June 2013 (UTC)