Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Kate Burridge in Daylesford

Language change is interesting, so I considered myself lucky to be in Daylesford recently for the Words in Winter festival and able to attend a talk on this topic by Professor Kate Burridge, linguist and radio commentator.

She started by showing us the rate of change is not constant.

For centuries the norm was rapid change in spoken English. For instance, between the times of Chaucer (fourteenth century) and of Jonathan Swift (early eighteenth century) there was such a massive change that Swift's readers would have had difficulty reading Chaucer.

She read the first lines of the Prologue from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales - in the accent of the time, I might add!
Whan that April with his showres soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veine in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flowr;
When Zephyrus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye
That sleepen al the night with open ye -
So priketh hem Nature in hir corages -
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.
In contrast, when she read the opening to Swift's Gulliver's Travels, we had no trouble understanding the text.
My father had a small estate in Nottinghamshire: I was the third of five sons. He sent me to Emanuel College in Cambridge at fourteen years old, where I resided three years, and applied myself close to my studies; but the charge of maintaining me, although I had a very scanty allowance, being too great for a narrow fortune, I was bound apprentice to Mr. James Bates, and eminent surgeon in London, with whom I continued four years.
Out of interest, after typing this quote, I spell-checked it, and Word thinks it is acceptable modern grammar.

The rise of written English as the pre-eminent form is the reason behind this slowing of the rate of change. When most business and study and social interaction occurred through spoken English, people didn't mind language changing, as long as they could understand each other. But we, with almost universal literacy, are strongly influenced by the way a word is written, visualising it as we say it, and this makes us resist change.

It was a great talk and has given me lots to think about.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

a lady's private place is in her boudoir

A friend told me today that the original meaning of the word boudoir is a place where a lady goes to sulk. Seeing my friend is a lover of words, I presumed she had told me the correct etymology.

But, of course, I checked online...

In the search for confirmation I've come across a fabulous site, Webster's Online Dictionary, where I found not only the meaning, but translation of the word into a range of languages.

A feature of the Websters site is an extended definition of words. Here's what is says about boudoir:
A boudoir is a lady's private bedroom, sitting room or dressing room. The term derives from the French verb bouder, meaning "to pout"[citation needed].

Historically, the boudoir formed part of the private suite of rooms of a lady, for bathing and dressing, adjacent to her bedchamber, being the female equivalent of the male cabinet. In later periods, the boudoir was used as a private drawing room, and was used for other activities, such as embroidery or entertaining intimate acquaintances.

In Caribbean English a boudoir is the front room of the house where women entertain family and friends.

Latterly, the term boudoir has come to denote a style of furnishing the bedroom that is traditionally described as ornate or busy. The plethora of links available on the internet to furnishing sites using the term boudoir tend to focus on Renaissance and French inspired bedroom styles. They have, in recent times also been used to describe the 'country cottage' style with whitewashed styled walls large heavy bed furniture and deep bedding.

In photography

Boudoir is also used in photography as a term to describe a revealing style of photography. Implied nudity is common, as is the subject showing part of their undergarments while still dressed. The is now a very clear blurring of the lines between soft porn and boudoir images, where it is more than just the undergarments peeking out.
The Free Dictionary offers translation also, but only into three languages - German, Spanish and French.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

origin of the word 'boredom'

I was watching QI on television just now and Stephen Fry said Charles Dickens coined the word boredom.

Many sites on the internet agree that Dickens was the first to use this word in print, in his novel Bleak House, giving as the date 1852, but Language Log says the word was first used in print in 1864.

I hadn't realised that Dickens invented words, but of course it's obvious he would have, as all good writers try to find new ways to express their ideas. According to Words That Teem With Meaning; Copenhagen Views on Lexicography, Dickens did indeed invent (or use for the first time) lots of neologisms. Some, like gunpowderous, had a short life, but we still use allotment garden and casualty ward today.

A journal called Charles Dickens:Linguistic Innovator looks interesting and can be purchased online.

Update 6 June 2016. Thanks to a comment by Paul Vargas, I've learned that Dickens was not the first to use this word in print. I've made a new post to explain what he told me. 

Friday, 30 July 2010

moths and mothers

A joke from the weekly Friday Funnies:

A little boy walked up to the librarian to check out a book

When the librarian asked him if it was for his mother, he
answered 'no.'

"Then why are you checking it out?"

"Because," said the little boy confidently, "I just started
collecting moths last month!"

Sunday, 25 July 2010

anamnesis - a new word I didn't know I knew

As I browsed the internet looking for information about my dog's limp, I came across a new word - new to me, that is. The word is anamnesis. From the context I took it to mean the information I would give the vet about my dog's normal behaviour.
The online Merriam-Webster gives it two meanings, and dates it from circa 1593
1 : a recalling to mind : reminiscence
2 : a preliminary case history of a medical or psychiatric patient
So the second one fits the context of what I read about vets interacting with dog owners.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica gives more information about the first aspect of the word:
a recalling to mind, or reminiscence. Anamnesis is often used as a narrative technique in fiction and poetry as well as in memoirs and autobiographies. A notable example is Marcel Proust’s anamnesis brought on by the taste of a madeleine in the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past (1913–27). The word is from the Greek anámnēsis, “to recall or remember.”
And then I discovered a page saying it's a concept developed by Plato.
He suggests that the soul is immortal, being repeatedly incarnated; knowledge is actually in the soul from eternity (86b), but each time the soul is incarnated its knowledge is forgotten in the shock of birth. What we think of as learning, then is actually the bringing back of what we'd forgotten. (Once it has been brought back it is true belief, to be turned into genuine knowledge by understanding.) And thus Socrates (and Plato) sees himself, not as a teacher, but as a midwife, aiding with the birth of knowledge that was already there in the student.
I guess if I knew this word in a previous life I must have forgotten it.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

verbs, nouns and transition to the future in Banyule

The headline in our local paper, the Heidelberg Leader, says Community produce plan flowers. "What in the world does that mean?' was the first reaction of each family member to read it.

I think it's clever headline, because it makes you think. At first it appears to be two nouns, an adjective and a verb: Community (noun) produce(verb) plan(adjective) flowers(noun).

When it doesn't make sense, you read it again, and there it is: Community(adjective) produce(adjective) plan(noun) flowers(verb), ie a community plan to plant produce along the footpaths is about to flower.

Transition Banyule is part of a world-wide movement to engage the community in planning the future.

I'm intending to plant a fruit tree on the edge of our property so neighbors and passers-by can help themselves to the 'produce' as they pass by. On Saturday 31st July we'll get together to organise it.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

more about the Bebook

I've come across an article in The Age, an appraisal of the Bebook that looks at its good and bad points. The writer, Adam Turner, basically concludes that it's overpriced, but that it has some useful features. The comments below his article are very helpful, too.

I still love my Bebook.

Friday, 2 July 2010

the Bebook is a good ebook reader

After two long years of trying to get my hands on an e-book reader, I've bought a Bebook. Quite impulsively, I must say. I've haunted Dymocks, Borders, Readers' Feast and other shops over the last couple of years and haven't been able to find a person on duty who could actually show me one working. (Oh, I just remembered that in the last couple of weeks Borders has introduced an e-reader and has some available for people to try out - but I didn't think it had enough features and I suspect you have to buy your books from them.)

I walked into the LaTrobe Uni bookshop recently, and there was the Bebook, available to try AND behind the counter was a young woman who not only knew how to work it, but who was enthusiastic and clear in her explanations. If I've understood her properly, it's not tied to any e-book company, so you can wirelessly buy books from a range of places, or download from your computer.

I haven't bought any yet, because it's so easy to download books from local libraries that I can't see why I would pay to own books. I've been downloading from Yarra Pleny/Brisbane Libraries.

City Library tell me they have e-books available also but I haven't tried them yet.

Here's a picture of my Bebook, propped up for easy reading during breakfast, on my Bookseat, which of course is wonderful for paper books also.

The screen is matt and I find it easy on the eyes. A couple of days ago I read it sitting in the train near a window, with the sun shining in (winter sun, not the glare of an Australian summer) and it was fine. I believe I would have been squinting if I'd been reading on paper, but I'm not sure about that.

Here are some examples of landscape orientation, in the five font sizes available:

It's a different experience to read a book on this e-reader rather than in a traditional book. I'm sure someone, somewhere, is doing a study of the way the brain processes print in the two different formats. As you can see from the photos, you get a different amount of text at each font size, which makes for a different scanning technique by the eye.

When I read my first books, non-fiction - How Dogs Think and Gut Instincts - I was aware that I was reading in an electronic format. But now that I've read an engrossing murder-mystery, once I was grabbed by the plot I lost consciousness of the medium, and at one stage even tried to turn the page instead of pressing the button.

So far, I'm very happy with it. Text does do weird things, though. Paragraph breaks re-arrange themselves at the differing font sizes, and occasionally direct speech runs together into one paragraph so that you think it's the same speaker, or one speaker's words are separated into different paragraphs so that you think it's a new person speaking. Also, diagrams in the health book (Gut Instincts) looked quite weird at the large size - but I simply went back to the small size to see how the diagram was supposed to be.

It's wonderful for reading in bed! Big print, light to hold and no pages to turn.

It cost $569 at the LaTrobe Uni bookshop, but as the shop is a co-op (membership $20), I got $70 discount.

It weighs about 300 grams (about 10.5 ounces).

There are lots of things you can do with it - take notes as you read, highlight sections, go to a particular page and other things, but my main aim is to simply read books, so I haven't used many features yet.

Here are more pictures of the five font sizes, this time in the portrait orientation:

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

are crepuscular dogs active at sunset?

Crepuscular...I just came across this favorite word in a book about dogs. I've enjoyed the word since reading and loving the hilarious novels of P G Wodehouse about Bertie Wooster, who was crepuscular. (Maybe it was another of Wodehouse's wonderful characters who was crepuscular, but I think it was Bertie Wooster.)

I'm chuffed to see that someone else loves this word; it's number 26 on the BBC News Magazine's list of fifty favorite words. (I'm being tough with myself here. I will not, will not, will not get distracted by the other 49 wonderful words.)

The American Heritage Dictionary give two definitions, and the second one relates to zoology:

Becoming active at twilight or before sunrise, as do bats and certain insects and birds.

So, dogs are supposedly crepuscular...That may explain why my dog Penny happily lies around all day and becomes active at sunset. I had the impression it was the thought of dinner that got her going. As to sunrise...no way is she active at that hour!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

origin of the word 'cynic'

Since I've been living with a dog I've often thought about some of the things we humans take for granted - for instance our dependence on our sense of sight, our enjoyment of 'good manners', our constant worrying about the future. Dogs don't care about things like that and seem all the happier for it.

In Stanley Coren's book, 'How Dogs Think', he says:
Plato's contemporary Diogenes, another significant Greek philosopher, although more eccentric than most, became known for wandering the world with a lamp claiming to be "looking for an honest man." While he had his doubts about humans, Diogenes thought dogs were extremely moral and adopted the nickname "Cyon", which means "Dog". He would go on to found one of the great ancient schools of philosophy, and he and his followers would become known by his nickname as "Cynics" or "Dog Thinkers." Diogenes' own intelligence and wit were such that Alexander the Great, after meeting him in Corinth, went away saying, "If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes."

When Diogenes died, the people of Athens raised a great marble pillar in his memory. On top of the pillar was the image of a dog. Beneath the dog there was a long inscription that started with the following bit of conversation:
"Say, Dog, I pray, what guard you in that tomb?'
"A dog."
"His name?"
Coren presents this information as part of a discussion of humanity's changing attitudes over time to the question of the dog's intelligence and ability to feel emotion. In Coren's version, Diogenes adopted the name out of respect for the dog.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosopy, on the other hand, says
the term may have begun as an insult referring to Diogenes’ style of life, especially his proclivity to perform all of his activities in public. Shamelessness, which allowed Diogenes to use any space for any purpose, was primary in the invention of “Diogenes the Dog.”

The precise source of the term “Cynic” is, however, less important than the wholehearted appropriation of it. The first Cynics, beginning most clearly with Diogenes of Sinope, embraced their title: they barked at those who displeased them, spurned Athenian etiquette, and lived from nature. In other words, what may have originated as a disparaging label became the designation of a philosophical vocation.

Monday, 21 June 2010

black swan events

I've learned a new expression today, and with it a new concept. On ABC Radio's Counterpoint program this afternoon I was listening to three philosophers discuss Enlightenment Values in the Twenty- First Century , and one of the speakers referred to what I thought was a black swan effect.

Or maybe he referred to a black swan event.

It was immediately apparent that it meant a circumstance that wouldn't have been predicted, because no previous experience suggested such a thing was possible.

A quick look around the Net told me that it's a theory proposed by Nassim Taleb. Here's a brief quote from his work, posted on Wikipedia:
What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable. I stop and summarize the triplet: rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability. A small number of Black Swans explains almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives.

Taleb says there's a 'nice summary' of his ideas at Arlene Goldbard's blog.

She finishes with these points:
Since we can’t control unpredictable events, we should accept uncertainty and seek to maximize our exposure to serendipity, as by putting ourselves in the way of new ideas.

Since there is such danger in accepting conclusions based on too little information simply because they confirm our beliefs, we should try to remain aware in the present of what we are doing, paying attention to what actually happens and refraining as far as possible from imposing theories on our experience.

We should recognize our poor record as a species in predicting the future, that we are much better at doing than knowing. Some things are more predictable than others: we are safe enough in expecting tomorrow’s sunrise to plan on breakfast. We can start noticing which situations are most susceptible to black swans, and when we encounter them, remember how little we truly know so our ignorance doesn’t lead us around by the nose.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Israelis can recognise sarcasm

A Great Catchy Name: Semi-Supervised Recognition of Sarcastic Sentences in Online Product Reviews. What an amusing title for a research report on teaching computers to detect sarcasm in written text.

Computer scientists at a university in Israel 'taught' an algorithm to recognise sarcasm by showing it about 5,500 sentences from Amazon product reviews that human volunteers said were or were not sarcastic.

This page has a few of the sarcastic reviews.

Here are some definitions of sarcasm.

I wonder if they'll buy the algorithm a graduation gift now that it's finished learning how to communicate more fully with the human race. They could buy it a downloadable punctution mark for sarcasm, the SarcMark.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

an unnecessary comma?

Reading about the Duchess of York today in The Age newspaper, I had to pause to think about the meaning of one sentence:
The man who inveigled the duchess into a long, boozy dinner, the sight of $US40,000 ($A48,000) in fresh notes beside an ashtray, and a bottle of wine afterwards is Mahzer Mahmood, whose elaborate stings have trapped celebrities, royals and crooks.
It's a sentence that sets the scene clearly, and I could imagine the duchess sitting there looking longingly at the money, but I had trouble with comprehending its meaning. At first I thought perhaps a comma, following the word afterwards, would make it clearer.

But then I remembered the rule that we should not use a comma between the subject and the verb. At its simplest, the above sentence is The man is Mahzer Mahmood. So we wouldn't want a comma before is.

So I guess it's just one of those long sentences that are correct but take a moment or two to process. If I'd written it, I would have put that comma in but I think I would have been wrong.

Monday, 17 May 2010

playing with the Google online translator

Mary made a comment on my recent post about the Frying Dragon mistranslation from Chinese. She mentioned a game on the Australian music quiz television program, Spicks and Specks. In the game the lyrics of a song are translated into Japanese using an online web program. Then they're translated back into English and the players have to work out what song it was.

I couldn't resist trying it out, of course. I thought I'd try Hindi.

Here's my song:

If you're happy and you know it,
clap your hands.
If you're happy and you know it,
clap your hands.
If you're happy and you know it,
Then you'd really
better show it,
If you're happy and you know it,
clap your hands.

And here's what I got:

अगर आप खुश हैं और आप इसे जानते हैं,
अपने हाथ ताली.
अगर आप खुश हैं और आप इसे जानते हैं,
अपने हाथ ताली.
अगर आप खुश हैं और आप इसे जानते हैं,
तो क्या तुम सच में चाहते हैं
बेहतर यह दिखाने के लिए,
अगर आप खुश हैं और आप इसे जानते हैं,
अपने हाथ ताली.

Okay, now to translate it back to English:

If you are happy and you know it,
Clap your hands.
If you are happy and you know it,
Clap your hands.
If you are happy and you know it,
If you really want
Better to show it,
If you are happy and you know it,
Clap your hands.

Hey, pretty good!

So, let's try Chinese:


And back to English:

If you feel happy, you know it,
Clap your hands.
If you feel happy, you know it,
Clap your hands.
If you feel happy, you know it,
Then you really want to
Better performance out
If you feel happy, you know it,
Clap your hands.

I wonder why Hindi came out so much closer to the original?

Okay, can't resist trying Japanese:


And, back to English:

If you know it is satisfied,
Clap your hands.
If you know it is satisfied,
Clap your hands.
If you know it is satisfied,
Then you really want
More, it shows
If you know it is satisfied,
Clap your hands.

Oh, I must stop! It would be too, too easy to get addicted to this game. I wonder why the imperative verb comes out okay in every translation. Must think about it...

Can't resist one more - Basque, a language that is very different from other European languages.

zu zoriontsu bazara eta badakizu,
clap eskuak.
zu zoriontsu bazara eta badakizu,
clap eskuak.
zu zoriontsu bazara eta badakizu,
Ondoren, benetan zenuke
hobeto erakusten du,
zu zoriontsu bazara eta badakizu,
clap eskuak.

And back to English:

If you're happy and you know,
clap your hands.
If you're happy and you know,
clap your hands.
If you're happy and you know,
Then, you really
more shows
If you're happy and you know,
clap your hands.

MUST make myself stop! But I wonder whether a German-English one would be virtually perfect, given that the two languages are so similar. Or, maybe, Dutch-English...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

飞龙 and the frying dragon lock

Why is it SO amusing when we read a translation from Chinese that involves the letter 'R' instead of 'L'?

I bought a lock recently, and I'll freely admit I purchased it only because the name on the box made me feel happy.Frying dragon. I had visions of a cute little children's story about a lonely dragon who succeeds in becoming Mr Popularity by frying up foods for the local villagers who haven't invented fire yet.

Or a dragon who doesn't like raw food and invents a method of heating up a giant pan so he can fry up a giant hamburger.


The possibilities are endless.

A search of the internet actually finds sites called Frying Dragon, but I hesitate to put links here as they seem to be unusual sites.

A Chinese colleague translated the paper insert in the box, and told me the fifth and sixth characters in the last line (飞龙) say flying dragon in English.

What a pity the company didn't check the work of their translator. On the other hand, their amusing mistranslation has resulted in one more sale. I don't need this lock. But I bought it.

The question of translating brand names between two such different languages and cultures presents its own problems - I read with great interest an article on this topic.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

verbing - using a noun as a verb

I’ve read a new word lately. It’s the verb to Milo. Weird. I noticed it on the label of my new tin of this delicious drink.

I presume it’s an advertising campaign hoping to cash in on the impact of verbing, the use of a noun as a verb. Some people get upset when language is altered in this way, but it’s just one one of the ways languages change and adapt to modern life. It's often the subject of discussion on the Net.

It’s an old process - Shakespeare, for instance, was a master of the art and examples abound of his use of verbs as nouns. I read somewhere that he introduced nearly three thousand new words into the language. He loved using nouns as verbs. For instance, ‘I’ll unhair thy head’ or ‘the thunder would not peace at my bidding’. Other verbal expressions first used by Shakespeare and now accepted as good English are to champion, to humor, to elbow and to rant.

Henry Bolingbroke, in the play “Richard II”, says of his enemies that he will make sure that ‘Destruction straight shall dog them at the heels’. If you have ever been followed around your house by your dog, nudging at your calf, you know the image that Shakespeare conveyed so succinctly.

However, I can’t see the new verb, to Milo, catching on. In fact when I went to the wesite on the label of the tin, the promotion of this campaign was already finished!

Thursday, 6 May 2010


After enjoying the novel Jack Maggs by Peter Carey, I read a review of it on his website. The review's by Peter Kemp, in the Sunday Times of September 21, 1997 and in part he says:
Freakish figures with quirky mannerisms and odd names - Mrs Halfstairs, Captain Constable - lurk in skewwhiff little rooms or down narrow corridors lined with ancient, mildewed ballgowns.
Skewwhiff - a word I've used all my life but never seen written. I would have expected it to be skewiff, so I searched for that spelling.

Wordnik has some citations of this spelling, but no definitions. A not-too-persistent search found some discussion of this spelling, but no authoritative definitions.

Skewwhiff, however, appears on lots of dictionary sites. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines skew-whiff as not straight (=crooked) and points out that it isn't used before a noun. But note that Peter Kemp in the quote above has used it before a noun.

The Urban Dictionary has two spellings - skew-wiff, meaning all messy, disheveled. Colloquial British term somehow derived from "askew"
and skew-whiff, defined as turned or twisted toward one side. Common usage in the UK.

My mum came from Edinburgh, and in our family we still retain a few northern English, lowland Scottish expressions, so I think that might be why we grew up saying this word.

The Viking Network relates the word askew - which we didn't use - to skew-whiff and says they're both of Scandinavian origin.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

collated screws

Posted by Picasa

Words are, indeed, all around us. There I was, driving along Heidelberg Road and a huge sign caught my attention. Collated screws. What is a collated screw?

Wait a minute... If you collate some pages, you join them together. So I wasn't surprised to discover that collated screws are stuck together in a band so they can be used in a screw gun.

Here's a photo from flickr. I wish I could post it here, but the rights are reserved.

Basically it comes from a Latin word that means to bring together.

And now I'm wondering if it's possible to buy collated nails...

Yes, and here they are.

It's always good to know how to use new words. Next time I'm chatting to a builder or a plumber, or even a carpenter - maybe - I'll be able to hold up my end of the conversation.

Monday, 29 March 2010

origin of the word 'kangaroo'

Papillon Bleu - whose blog I love to visit - asked me recently whether I'd heard the story that the Australian word kangaroo means I don't know in an Aboriginal language.

I've heard the story, but it didn't seem likely to be true, so I had a look in a couple of reference books on my shelf. They're general interest books, not specialist books, but they did have some information about this word.

Aboriginal Words of Australia, originally published way back in 1965, didn't have much. It does mention that the Aboriginal people at the time of early settlement by Europeans thought this was an English word, and also refers to the story that it meant 'I don't know', but says there is no evidence for this theory.

Australian Aboriginal words in English, Their Origin and Meaning, first published in 1990, points out how unlikely it was that any Aboriginal person would have said they didn't know the name for a kangaroo, given that it was a staple food throughout the continent.

The reference says this is the first and best-known borrowing of an Aboriginal word into English. Cook learned it from local people in 1770 when he was forced to make repairs to the 'Endeavour' in north Queensland. It was the local language's term for one particular species of dark grey kangaroo but the Englishmen thought it was a general term for a variety of marsupials and the speakers of other Aboriginal languages supposed the unknown word was an English term.

The really funny part is that the local Aboriginal people in one place thought it was the English word for 'edible animals' and it eventually was taken back into one language as the local word for a horse.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Australian Aboriginal place names

I took a trip on the Smartbus yesterday, pretending to be a tourist in my own city, and it was most enjoyable. A friend and I boarded the bus at Heidelberg and went to Mordialloc, breaking our journey at Chadstone Shopping Centre.

When we were sitting on the beach at Mordialloc, enjoying the overcast but warm day, I was struck by the fact that Mordialloc sounds as if it might be an indigenous place-name and that it phonetically resembles Woori Yallock, the name of a town in the Upper Yarra Valley.

When I looked on the Dictionary of Aboriginal Placenames in Victoria, I found that the traditional name for the beach I was sitting on was Murdayaluk, with murda meaning low/short and yaluk meaning river or creek.

Woori Yallock means running creek.

There were other places in the database with Yallock in the placename.

As I sat there, I wondered who had rested on this beach in the past, and how they had lived. And I wondered when they had told the newly-arrived Europeans what they should call the place.

Given that before the nineteenth century place names were recorded orally rather than in written form, I guess it's not surprising that the written forms of names were not consistent.

At the Victorian Government's Land Channel, it says:

The widespread use of Indigenous names provides a strong connection to our Indigenous heritage and acknowledges Indigenous culture. However some names may not be strictly accurate because of unfamiliarity with Indigenous language and culture at the time they were originally recorded.

Most of the Indigenous languages did not have a written form when Victoria’s places and features were being named under European settlement (although some Indigenous communities used message sticks to convey information between groups).

The people who first recorded fragments of these languages were not linguists paying careful attention to subtleties of pronunciation they were generally surveyors and explorers, who were usually the first Europeans to travel through the land and record names in their maps, charts and fieldbooks.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

a new punctuation mark available for purchase

I've just read on Slavenka and Obi's blog about a new punctuation mark that is available for purchase. As it so succinctly suggests in the name, SarcMark, it's for letting readers know your sentence is sarcastic.

It might have been useful when a British woman said, "It's jolly decent of them to let me have a half share of my win,"as a court awarded her only part of the prize in a lottery after the winning ticket fell from her pocket and someone else claimed to have won.

Yes, that sentence could have benefited from a specific punctuation mark.

I looked at the YouTube commercial for the SarkMark and, at first, I thought the examples weren't actually sarcasm, because they were so unsubtle and heavy-handed. But when I visited The Online Etymology Dictionary, where there is a table of types of humor (from Fowler's Modern English Usage, 1926, I began to think the British woman's remark may have been sardonic rather than sarcastic, because they were possibly self-directed and aimed at dealing with adversity, rather than aimed at a victim or bystander and intended to wound.

The SarcMark YouTube examples certainly fit the definition of sarcasm at WordNet - expressing or expressive of ridicule that wounds.

I was thinking of downloading the symbol - it's only a couple of dollars - but now that I've become more aware of the hurtful aspect of sarcasm I'm not going to do so.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The poet, the murderer and the Global Financial Crisis

The Poet and the Murderer is the story of a forged Emily Dickinson poem and of the man who made it.

The forger, Mark Hofman, was brought up in the Mormon faith, but became disillusioned with what he saw as the hypocrisy of the leaders of his society, and eventually began to forge documents to discredit the whole movement. However, he may not have taken this direction if not for an interest in electroplating when he was fourteen. He changed the mint mark on a historic Mormon coin using electroplating and discovered no-one could tell it was a forgery.

On page 77 the author, Simon Worrall, writes this about the word credit:
The experience also showed Hofman that most people, unless they have strong evidence to the contrary, are extremely trusting. Above all, it taught him how thin is the membrane separating the real from the fraudulent. Value, he instinctively understood, is not absolute, but relative. Ultimately it depends on an agreed set of assumptions. Credit, it is worth noting, derives from the Latin word credere, to believe.
It seems to me that the recent global financial crisis also showed how thin is the membrane between belief and disbelief. As long as we all believed debts would be paid and that credit would be endlessly available, the world economy worked. As soon as we no longer believed in each other, the credibility of that system was lost.

What an important word that is: credit.