Wikipedia:Reference desk/Language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Welcome to the language reference desk.
Select a section:
Want a faster answer?

Main page: Help searching Wikipedia

How can I get my question answered?

  • Select the section of the desk that best fits the general topic of your question (see the navigation column to the right).
  • Post your question to only one section, providing a short header that gives the topic of your question.
  • Type '~~~~' (that is, four tilde characters) at the end – this signs and dates your contribution so we know who wrote what and when.
  • Don't post personal contact information – it will be removed. Any answers will be provided here.
  • Please be as specific as possible, and include all relevant context – the usefulness of answers may depend on the context.
  • Note:
    • We don't answer (and may remove) questions that require medical diagnosis or legal advice.
    • We don't answer requests for opinions, predictions or debate.
    • We don't do your homework for you, though we'll help you past the stuck point.
    • We don't conduct original research or provide a free source of ideas, but we'll help you find information you need.



How do I answer a question?

Main page: Wikipedia:Reference desk/Guidelines

  • The best answers address the question directly, and back up facts with wikilinks and links to sources. Do not edit others' comments and do not give any medical or legal advice.
See also:

May 21[edit]

How many letters in a row can a German word have?[edit]

Inspired by seeing the word Kipppunkt. Sagittarian Milky Way (talk) 02:56, 21 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Do you mean letters in general (i.e. longest word), or consonant letters, or identical letters? AnonMoos (talk) 03:17, 21 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
The example has 3 p's in a row. -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 03:20, 21 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I noticed that, but it still did not entirely clarify his question. AnonMoos (talk) 03:55, 21 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Identical letters. Sagittarian Milky Way (talk) 03:30, 21 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
German words do not ordinarily begin with double letters or end with triple letters, so 3 would seem to be the limit in ordinary cases. AnonMoos (talk) 03:55, 21 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Are there languages with more? Besides things like yessss!, zzzz's and mmmm, donuts. Llanfair...gogoch has llll somewhere but ll is a letter in Welsh. Sagittarian Milky Way (talk) 04:41, 21 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
From Luxembourgish: wikt:zweeeeëg. —Amble (talk) 04:59, 21 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
And from Manx: wikt:eeee. —Mahāgaja · talk 06:35, 21 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
There’s a genus of beetles called Aaaaba. —Amble (talk) 20:23, 21 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Aaaaba reminds me of c. 1994 editions of the Manhattan white pages. Millions of mostly real people (since the yellow physical phone book is for business) preceded by stuff like AAAAAAAAAAAA Plumbers. Sagittarian Milky Way (talk) 03:33, 22 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
So Aaaaba is called Aaaaba because Aaaba was taken. Why is Aaaba called Aaaba? (There isn't any Aaba, I checked.)  Card Zero  (talk) 11:06, 22 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Aaba and Aba exist but might not be taxons. Sagittarian Milky Way (talk) 20:02, 22 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Triple consonants are a recent phenomenon in German, legalised by the German orthography reform of 1996. —Kusma (talk) 06:02, 21 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Even before 1996, triple consonants were allowed in compounds where the second letter of the second word was a consonant, e.g. Kunststoffflasche. The orthography reform now also allows triple consonants in cases where the second letter of the second word is a vowel, e.g. Schifffahrt (formerly Schiffahrt). If an eel were found in the town of Aderklaa, I suppose it could be called an Aderklaaaal, though I suspect people would prefer to write that with a hyphen. In Welsh, sequences like dd, ff, and ll are actually considered single letters, so even though bleiddddyn 'werewolf' looks like it has 4 D's in a row to English speakers, as far as Welsh speakers are concerned, it has 2 DD's in a row. Nevertheless, that too is actually normally written with a hyphen: bleidd-ddyn. —Mahāgaja · talk 06:35, 21 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Oh yeah, I forgot about the old exception. Eels make great words: The Aa is a tiny river, but an eel found in it could be called Aaaal. —Kusma (talk) 08:42, 21 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Would an Afrikaaaal speak Afrikaans? Sagittarian Milky Way (talk) 20:13, 22 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

As far as I can tell, the ‹ë› in Luxembourgish is considered a separate letter from ‹e›, so zweeeeëg only has 4 identical letters in a row, and I'm yet to see one with 5. Meanwhile Manx eeee remains the longest row of identical letters I've seen that is not formed by compounding two stems, now matched by the made-up word Aaaaba. --Theurgist (talk) 13:22, 22 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

As in the paaaalindrome "Aaaaba was I ere I saw Abaaaa. Clarityfiend (talk) 06:29, 23 May 2022 (UTC) [reply]

May 23[edit]

Nineteen hundred[edit]

When did the use of hundred for years above 1000 in English and/or German start? Was it in use before the year 1100? 31.217.49.162 (talk) 16:08, 23 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

And now we've even reached the "Twenty hundreds", a phrasing that I believe is quite recent... 惑乱 Wakuran (talk) 17:19, 23 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Perhaps not as recent as one might suppose, as various Science Fiction writers (and others) were writing about this century for many decades before it started, and had to call it something.
Peripherally, I am reminded of having once read that Arthur C. Clarke thought of his film-and-novel collaboration with Stanley Kubick as "Twenty-oh-one: A Space Odyssey", and was surprised when a preference for "Two thousand and one" emerged. {The poster formerly known as 87.81.230.195} 90.209.235.54 (talk) 18:33, 23 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Here are some references to this kind of construction in Old English: [1]. There's an entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (see [2]) "Þæt wæs embe .xi. hund wintra ⁊ .x. wintra þes þe heo getimbred was." ("This was about eleven hundred and ten winters after it was built.") So this seems to have been a natural way to form numbers in the thousands and tens of thousands for a long time. I'd ask the question the other way around: When did large number names become systematic with only thousands as the base unit? In formal usage today, "one thousand one hundred", "eleven thousand", and "one hundred ten thousand" are all correct, but "eleven hundred" and "one hundred hundred" are incorrect (or informal). Since when? And where did the rule come from? --Amble (talk) 21:08, 23 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
This previous thread discusses at length the difference between British and American English in spoken numbers over 2,000. Alansplodge (talk) 21:50, 23 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
There's something parallel in British English (I don't know how it would translate to U S English or other languages). The film name 101 Dalmations is spoken "A hundred and one Dalmations", but the bus route between Beckton and Wanstead is spoken "route one-oh-one". Similar with telephone numbers, although "zero" may be more prominent. In arithmetic, "nought" is the preferred word for the "0" symbol before the decimal point (my mother chided me for using this word in a telephone number spoken over the phone to an elderly, rather deaf man, as "it sounds like four." In the 24-hour clock the leading zero in the hours 00-09 is "oh", and for the minutes 01-09 is the same, although "00" is "hundred" (I heard "oh-oh" for "hundred" on one occasion). 2A02:C7C:365E:E700:18D:B732:4EE4:44CB (talk) 11:57, 25 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
U.S. English is similar, we're more likely to read the number as "One hundred and one" when using the number as a count of something, and more likely to read the individual digits (as "one-oh-one" or "one-zero-one") when using the number as a label of something. It would be weird to hear of "Bus Route One Hundred And One" or conversely "I counted the number of M&Ms in the bag, and got one-oh-one". --Jayron32 13:35, 25 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
See also Names for the number 0 in English. Alansplodge (talk) 10:52, 26 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

May 24[edit]

Preposition + verb compounds in Germanic languages?[edit]

I’ve been thinking about the fact that in many Indo-Europen languages I have some passing familiarity with, there is a pattern of building variants of verbs by prefixing them with prepositions, e.g., in Spanish, we have built from tener, contener, detener, etc. (and given that this sort of thing also exists in Latin, I’m assuming it’s in other Romance languages). Greek has oodles like ἄγω yielding ἐπάγω, περιάγω, etc. Czech (which I’m assuming is representative of Slavic languages) has, e.g., jet yielding odjet, projet, přejet, etc.

But in English, the only similar words I can come up with are borrowings from Romance languages (e.g., contain, detain, retain) but no real parallels. Is this the case with Germanic languages in general or is English an outlier in Indo-European languages. (I’m also curious if this sort of thing is common in Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi and other languages more in the Indo- part of the Indo-European family tree).

D A Hosek (talk) 04:19, 24 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

I think there are a number of verbs in English formed in this way from Germanic roots, such as bypass, downgrade, offload, off-put, offset, outbid, outbreak, outburst, outcast, outdraw, overbear, overcome, overeat, undercut, underlay, upbraid, upheave, uphold, withdraw, withhold, and withstand, to name a few. CodeTalker (talk) 05:11, 24 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Also a non-productive cluster of for– verbs. —Tamfang (talk) 01:22, 28 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
In German and Dutch, forming verbs by prefixing prepositions is a big thing. For example, German übersetzen ("to translate") from über ("over") + setzen ("to set"). The prefix can be separable or inseparable, or for some verbs (including übersetzen) either, with a difference in meaning – splittable übersetzen has the more literal meaning of "to move across". The splittable ones are much like English phrasal verbs such as carry over, but as far as I could figure out even Old English had no splittable verbs.  --Lambiam 07:20, 24 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
The phenomenon of separating the prefix from the word is called Tmesis. It also occurs in Homeric Greek, Latin, Old Irish and Vedic Sanskrit. So perhaps it goes back to Proto-Indo-European. Av = λv (talk) 07:37, 24 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
In German, the "tmesis" is only possible for finite verb forms, and if possible, it is obligatory. The possible cases are: finite verb in the second position of a clause (SVO, adverbial+VSO, or OVS), or in a closed question (VSO). This is remarkable similar to the ordering of certain adverbials in relation to the verb:
Ich mache es rot, weil ich es rot machen will. (I make it red because I want to make it red.)
Ich mache es tot, weil ich es  totmachen  will. (I kill it because I want to kill it.)
It therefore seems a reasonable hypothesis to me that, instead of a tmetic process, we see the reverse: a (purely orthographic) rule, informed by idiomaticity, of writing the adverbial and the naked verb of certain two-part verbs together when they happen to meet each other without intervening words. The German orthography could have been to use a two-word phrasal verb tot machen instead of the prescribed totmachen.  --Lambiam 19:35, 24 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Modern English has lots of "Phrasal verbs" in which an adverb derived from a preposition occurs after the verb, with somewhat unpredictable meaning ("give up", "give in", "break out" etc), and also a smaller number of verbs with prepositional prefixes ("understand" etc). In modern English, these verb classes are distinct, but they both originated from an earlier situation somewhat like modern German, where a prefix can be separated from some verbs and appear in a separate location in the sentence, in certain cases. In late proto-Indo-European, most of the "prepositions" were probably mainly adverbs. Modern Hindi has lots of loanwords from Sanskrit, but it has postpositions rather than prepositions, and in the modern vocabulary it uses serial verbs and compound verbs, rather than the prepositional prefixes of the older Indo-European languages... AnonMoos (talk) 08:04, 24 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I'm reminded of the putative Winston Churchill quote (and let's face it, they're all putative at this point), regarding the supposed grammatical prohibition of the use of prepositions at the end of sentences, "This is the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put". --Jayron32 12:29, 25 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Yes, there are plenty of prefix verbs in Sanskrit. – I'm more curious about analogous constructions outside IE! —Tamfang (talk) 01:23, 28 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
The original questioner asked about Hindi, so I gave him some information about Hindi. AnonMoos (talk) 02:37, 28 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Getaway chin[edit]

The table in Molidae was created several years ago by an Indian IP. Is "getaway chin" an idiomatic phrase? I'd like to change it to something more universally understood, but I'd need to understand it myself first.  Card Zero  (talk) 16:00, 24 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Our article Mola alexandrini says that it has a bump on the head and a bump on the chin, so I think that replacing "Bump on head and getaway chin" with "Bumps on head and chin" would make the table clearer. Deor (talk) 17:05, 24 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Fair enough. What a mysterious choice of word, though. I suppose the chin complete with bump looks a bit like one kind of apophyge, and wikt:escape lists that as the 11th meaning, and ... yeah, no. Oh, could it have meant cutaway?  Card Zero  (talk) 17:17, 24 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I would interpret "cutaway chin" as an indentation where the chin is supposed to be, the opposite of a chin bump.  --Lambiam 08:42, 25 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

May 25[edit]

"before dying"[edit]

I see this cliche used over 4,000 times on enwiki but it goes without saying "before dying". Am I getting it wrong, or is there (ever) a good reason to use it? How would you reword it? -- GreenC 05:34, 25 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Seems like it would mean "soon before dying". --←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 06:00, 25 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Yeah, you won't see, "Arthur was born at Buckingham Palace on 1 May 1850 before dying in 1942 at Bagshot Park." Compare also the sense of "bucket list]" defined as "a list of activities to do before dying", which seems superfluous - although people who believe in an afterlife may have a post-mortem wishlist (taking a selfie with Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates?). But just "a list of activities to do" may mean things to do before going on holiday, or before marriage, so the specification of the limit carries information.  --Lambiam 08:29, 25 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Most of the first page entries (other than book/episode titles and direct quotes) are "They did X in year Y before dying in year Z". If you don't like "before dying", just write "They did X in year Y and died in year Z". —Kusma (talk) 08:37, 25 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
The second hit, Autumn (Manet), uses it in the phrase the painter only had time to make two, [...] before dying. So the "before" describes what it was that limited a particular activity, and it happened that the time limit was due to death, but that doesn't go without saying. And actually the first hit, where somebody carries out a political role before dying in office is similar, but implicit: the person only had time to do a bit of work in that role, before dying. There's an old joke about somebody putting up a sign saying "wet paint", and a passerby points out that "paint" is obvious, because anybody can see that it's paint, and "wet" doesn't need saying either, because why would you put a sign up about dry paint? I forget the punchline.  Card Zero  (talk) 09:44, 25 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
It contrasts with "after dying" which occurs only 332 times on enwiki, so people are evidently 12% as active after death. Shantavira|feed me 10:57, 25 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
  • The construction is very useful for indicating either proximity in time, or in juxtaposing ideas, in ways that present the concepts as fortuitous or ironic or something like that. Please don't change every such construction en masse, because many times the phrasing is serving an important narrative purpose and is not just placing items on a relative timescale, but is also being used for emphasis or other valid uses. --Jayron32 12:26, 25 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I'll mention in passing a related peeve: calling an artist's last work their "final" work, when the chain was broken by death rather than by retirement or change of focus. —Tamfang (talk) 01:26, 28 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

May 26[edit]

Similarly spelled words[edit]

Miss, moss, mass, mess. They all sound similar, so they're phonetically similar, and they're all spelled similarly so they're ???? similar. Is there a word for being spelled similarly?

They may or may not sound similar, being spelled similarly, e.g. the English bar and the German bär. Everything I google sends me to homographs, because Google doesn't seem to understand the difference between being similar but not the same. Thanks! 2A00:23C8:4384:FB01:31CE:9E6F:5A41:5803 (talk) 22:08, 26 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Orthographically similar? -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 22:10, 26 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Most of them have short vowels, but moss has an aw sound in the standard American dialect, different from the short o sound in the word "ox". Georgia guy (talk) 22:12, 26 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Thank you both. Yes, the words may or may not sound similar, and that I don't mind about, I was just using it as an example that we have a way of describing words that sound similar but I couldn't think of one for words that our spelled similarly. I actually considered orthographically similar but judging by our article on it, I wasn't sure. 2A00:23C8:4384:FB01:31CE:9E6F:5A41:5803 (talk) 22:18, 26 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Although rare, there's also the phenomenon where a word could be read out differently with different meanings, although spelled the same, such as read/ read and lead/ lead. 惑乱 Wakuran (talk) 22:30, 26 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Yes, that's the opposite of what I'm looking for. Those are homographs. I'm looking for words spelled similarly, not the same, and they may or may not sound alike. 2A00:23C8:4384:FB01:31CE:9E6F:5A41:5803 (talk) 22:36, 26 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Do you mean alliteration? Shantavira|feed me 08:19, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Sadly, that's also something differen't to what I was looking for. 2A00:23C8:4384:FB01:E9CE:806F:2617:CBB5 (talk) 15:06, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Homeograph – which is a homeograph of homograph.  --Lambiam 08:25, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
According to your link, homeograph and homograph are not homophones. The "e" in homeograph (as with other words starting with homeo) is pronounced, not silent. --←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 16:44, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Homeograph might be the best suggestion so far, although the classification of "similar" is by its nature somewhat vague... 惑乱 Wakuran (talk) 12:25, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Then there's the case of words that are mistaken for each other. A couple that come to mind are "mute" vs. "moot", and also the non-existent bird called a "morning dove". --←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 14:25, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I think you're describing malapropisms. 2A00:23C8:4384:FB01:E9CE:806F:2617:CBB5 (talk) 15:06, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Thank you all SO MUCH! Lambiam -- homeograph is the exact thing I was trying to describe, thank you. Jayron32 -- minimal pairs are what I described, thanks for teaching me something new. 2A00:23C8:4384:FB01:E9CE:806F:2617:CBB5 (talk) 15:06, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
See also assonance. 64.235.97.146 (talk) 15:31, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Thank you! 2A00:23C8:4384:FB01:AC:49AC:A1C:7B4D (talk) 00:29, 28 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

May 27[edit]

Catch-all term for embassy/consulate/trade office in English[edit]

Country A sometimes have embassy and or consulates in country B to provide consular services. These building/institutions can have many different names in English:

- embassy

- consulate

- trade office (when political pressure prevents it from being called a embassy/consulate [3])

Is there a catch-all term for all of these in English? Basically I'm looking for a shorter alternative to writing "embassy/consulate" all the time.

Thank you.Daniel T Wolters (talk) 18:17, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Diplomatic mission covers the first two, and avoids the MOS:SLASH problem. Be aware of limitations of the term for non-diplomatic purposes as covered by your third item. Bazza (talk) 18:54, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Thank you very much! Daniel T Wolters (talk) 19:23, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I don't think there is a catch-all phrase. Consuls are not considered diplomats. Note too there are also high commissions that perform the same functions as embassies, but are accredited differently. TFD (talk) 19:44, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Even though consuls are not diplomats in a narrow sense, consular officials normally enjoy some form of diplomatic immunity in the host country, and it is common to include them in the sense of the term diplomatic mission. However, the term refers only metonymically to the building in which they are housed.  --Lambiam 20:20, 27 May 2022 (UTC)[reply]

May 28[edit]