Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2014 April 25

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April 25[edit]

Hyphen in Moby-Dick[edit]

If the whale in Herman Melville's story has always been called Moby Dick from the beginning, why did he add a hyphen in the title? --KnightMove (talk) 06:32, 25 April 2014 (UTC)

Discussed at Talk:Moby-Dick/Archive 1#Hyphenation of Moby-Dick. -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 07:17, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
It appears that nobody knows why, and many later editions didn't hyphenate the title ([1][2]). -- BenRG (talk) 07:23, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
Hyphenated or not, is there any indication of where Melville came up with that goofy name? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 08:06, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
Never mind, this article explains it, or tries to. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 08:09, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
Looks like we almost ended up with the even nastier sounding "Mocha Dick", as bad a name as spotted dick. StuRat (talk) 15:03, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
May be.Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 19:18, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
And here is some possibly[-]enlightening info on what the deal is with the hyphen. Note that there is one place in the book in which the old whale is called "Moby-Dick". Adding to the intrigue is that the "Moby-" is at the end of a printed line and "Dick" begins the next line... as if it were intended as a single name and hyphenated as a continuation. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 08:18, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
Moby he was just being a Dick. Clarityfiend (talk) 10:03, 25 April 2014 (UTC)

American and British English[edit]

according to Comparison of American and British English, American English is abbraviated as AmE and British English as BrE. Then British English shows British English is abbreaviated as BE. So is it right to use AE as abbreviation for American English? --EditorMakingEdits (talk) 14:35, 25 April 2014 (UTC)

The shorter abbreviations aren't very useful because they are not widely recognized. AmE and BrE are only slightly better in that regard, though if you contrast them, it makes it easier to guess that Am means "American" and Br means "British". An additional problem with AE is that it could refer either to American English or Australian English. Marco polo (talk) 14:45, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
I prefer en-US and en-GB as being unambiguous and having a certain official recognition. Angr (talk) 14:49, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
However "en-US" and en-GB" originated in programming-language standards that the great majority of the general population doesn't know about and doesn't care about... AnonMoos (talk) 22:25, 26 April 2014 (UTC)
But the majority of the general population doesn't know or care about the differences between American and British English to begin with, nor are the abbreviations "AmE" and "BrE" any easier to understand for them. Angr (talk) 15:51, 27 April 2014 (UTC)
What does that mean? Unless you lead a semi-hermit lifestyle, isolated from TV, radio, and film, most English-speakers in the U.S. are exposed to speech in UK accents on a semi-regular basis, and the reverse is even more true for those in the UK. Many many people in the U.S. can often recognize British accents in a general way, or can even make a rough stab at distinguishing posh accents from working class accents, or (some) England dialects from Scottish -- even if they were completely unable to usefully describe the differences between any of these accents in analytic linguistics terms. All an American has to do to hear UK-accented speech is watch a Star Wars movie, or Ricky Gervais hosting the Golden Globes -- or for a more thorough immersion, "My Fair Lady"... AnonMoos (talk) 19:41, 27 April 2014 (UTC)
There's also the Wikipedia Talk page standards of Right and Wrong, although which is which differs from page to page. - X201 (talk) 14:56, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
  • As long as the usage is defined and consistent within the article there shold be no problem, but the relevant talk pages would be the place to discuss this. μηδείς (talk) 18:39, 25 April 2014 (UTC)

Floating a horse's teeth[edit]

I've heard the phrase "float the horse's teeth" a few times but I've never run across anyone who could tell me why it's called that. Today, I had the opportunity to actually see it done. I asked the vet where the term came from and her response was that she doesn't know because she keeps forgetting to look it up at the end of the day every time someone asks her what it means. So, I did some searching and found this link which says that it's called floating because the tool that is used is called a float. But I can't find a reason to call the tool a float either. The closest I've come is an entry at saying that a NZ term where a transport vehicle for carrying horses is called a float. Another theory I heard, from the horse's owner, is that it's called floating because some vets use a tool that injects water into the mouth at the same time the grinding is done to wash out the mouth while the grinding is happening, not unlike when a human goes to the dentist and they spray water while grinding. But like I said, that's just a theory. So why is it called floating? Or why is the tool called a float?

FYI, for those who've never heard of this, I'll try to explain: A horse's teeth keeping growing throughout their lives sort of like rodent teeth. What they eat wears the teeth down but doesn't always do it evenly. Sharp points can develop on the teeth which need to be ground down. So a veterinarian will sedate the horse slightly, put a speculum in its mouth, and they will take long handled files and file the teeth down. Those files look like very big toothbrushes with a rasp instead of bristles. The whole process takes 15-20 minutes. Depending on the horse's tolerance for the sedative, they can take between 30 minutes and a couple hours to no longer act drunk from the sedative.

Note: I am not a horse nor do I own one. I'm not asking for medical advice (or financial). I am just looking for an explanation of a term. Please don't hat this question. Dismas|(talk) 16:18, 25 April 2014 (UTC)

I posted a message at WT:EQUINE.
Wavelength (talk) 17:01, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
I believe this is related to the sense of 'float' as smoothing, as in plasterwork. Give me a few minutes. — kwami (talk) 17:04, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
As it often is, the OED is great for this kind of question. The evolution of the word seems to be something like this:
Float, transitive > for a rising tide to lift/float something > for the tide to cover or flood an area of land > to cover land with water, either naturally or artificially, esp. for agricultural or military purposes.
For want of Water to float them over some flats in the Lagunes.
"At float" (at that point where the tide will float a boat) thus means "at high tide", which leads to the next:
The above land was floated over by salt water, every full and change of the moon.
Can he float his meadows at the cost of five pounds an acre?
The field was floated with blood.
The danger [from fire] had been so great that the fore magazine had been floated.
> (Electrotyping) To cover (a forme, a page of type) with fluid plaster of Paris, to fill up the spaces before electrotyping, or (in the plaster-process) to form a plaster mould.
> To render smooth or level.
(Plastering) To level the surface of plaster with a float [see next]; to spread the second coat of plaster on a ceiling, wall, etc.
(Agriculture) To pare stubble from land, to pare of the surface of a sward.
(Wool-spinning) To take off carded wool in an even layer.
(Farriery) To file the teeth of a horse.
The Ceilings ... to be floated and finished in the best and workmanlike manner.
Fronts of old Houses ... are frequently floated down, the old decay'd Mortar raked out, and the Joints fresh pointed anew.
The space between the screeds ... must be floated with a hand-float.
Many an old horse will renew its life if its teeth are floated.
A tool for floating or making level.
(Plastering) A trowel or rule for giving a plane surface to the plaster. Also float-rule.
A file having parallel, but not diagonal, rows of teeth; a single-cut file.
A polishing-block used in marble-working.
The serrated plate used by shoemakers for rasping off the ends of the pegs inside the boot or shoe.
kwami (talk) 17:28, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
And the reason a float level is called that is that it has an air bubble in oil, which floats to the center, if the object measured is level. StuRat (talk) 00:58, 26 April 2014 (UTC)
A float is used in concreting to provide a smooth finish. Traditionally a wooden tool (often metal these days), it floated on top of the wet cement. This perhaps explains float for smoothing. No idea why we transport horses in something called a float. HiLo48 (talk) 01:50, 26 April 2014 (UTC)
I doubt there's such a direct connection between the two senses. It's presumably the same as the trowel used to float plaster, and a trowel doesn't float on plaster.
As for a horse float, a "float" was originally something that floated, like a clump of water weeds, or a raft, or a fishing float, and later more specifically a kind of flat-bottomed boat, such as a river-float used to carry loads, a fishing-float, fire-float, etc. Then anything float shaped (broad, level, and shallow), such as cooling floats (vats) in brewing, to the low, flat carts used to carry heavy loans in the 1800s, to a platform on wheels, such as the floats in a parade. A horse float presumably derives from one of the latter. — kwami (talk) 03:00, 26 April 2014 (UTC)
Well, the tool is called a float, but I would bet it was originally called a "float trowel" or something like that - because the stuff that it's acting upon is indeed called the float. And, yeah, a trowel will quite happily float on cement. --jpgordon::==( o ) 16:14, 26 April 2014 (UTC)
In the UK, the money placed in a shop's till at the start of a day is called a float. I assume it's because it keeps the ready cash afloat until there are enough small coins to avoid running out of change Jimfbleak - talk to me? 16:44, 26 April 2014 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────(talk page stalker)WPEQ member here. Interesting discussion. This is the gadget calle d a "float" If anyone can definitively source this word, or would like to move the conversation, trot over to Talk:Horse teeth, feel free. I honestly don't know where the word originated, so if the etymology folks find an answer, do let us know! (FYI: images of the process here. What I can add to the discussion (as a horse owner who has seen this procedure performed many times) the rasp is used to file down sharp edges that develop on horses' teeth over the years and smooth out areas of uneven wear. The "float" concept might have something to do with the reality that a horse does produce saliva and such, so I suppose the word may stem from a similar concept to the smoothing of other things. No clue as to the transportation being called a "float' in UK English, we Yanks don't say weird words like "lorry" or "horse float" over here. (grinning, ducking, running...) Montanabw(talk) 07:05, 27 April 2014 (UTC)

Kwami answered this pretty thoroughly, with a reference. Why are subsequent replies still speculating, as if Kwami hadn't answered this? (talk) 09:53, 27 April 2014 (UTC)
Indeed. Kwami answered it to my satisfaction! Thanks all! Dismas|(talk) 11:06, 27 April 2014 (UTC)
Agreed. StuRat's floating bubble is a false etymology, as well as a false link. Dbfirs 22:40, 27 April 2014 (UTC)


Wondering how Joseph Hamilton Daveiss pronounced his name (Daviess County, Indiana is not pronounced like Daviess County, Kentucky, and I don't know how to pronounce Jo Daviess County, Illinois), I decided to run a search for his...and then I realised that I didn't know what term to look for. What do you call the way someone pronounces his own name? It's not an endonym or autonym, since that refers to the name itself, e.g. if some people said he was named "Joseph Hamilton Daveiss" and he insisted that his name was "Hamilton Joseph Daveiss". Aside from a common misspelling of "ie" rather than "ei", everyone calls him the same thing; it's just the pronunciation that varies. I thought of Autophone, but it's a soft redirect to Wiktionary's entry for the Idiophone, a kind of musical instrument. Nyttend (talk) 21:21, 25 April 2014 (UTC)

Far as I know, Jo Daviess county in Illinois is a homophone of Davey's. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 23:33, 25 April 2014 (UTC)
Thanks. Same in Indiana, but in Kentucky he's just a weirdly-spelled Davis. [just hoping that your helpful note and my response don't make someone think the terminology question is answered] Nyttend (talk) 12:46, 26 April 2014 (UTC)
How about idioepy (on the model of orthoepy)? —Tamfang (talk) 00:47, 27 April 2014 (UTC)