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AWADmail Issue 75April 8, 2002
A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages
From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
The People v. Potty Mouth:
From: Eric Grosshans (uhclemATfrii.com)
As the eyes are the window to the individual soul, so is language the window to the cultural soul. Consider; the Spanish word for handcuffs is "esposas", same as that for "wives".
From: Louis Hansell (louis.hansellATtelephoneintelligence.com)
There is hidden meaning in choosing Spanish words just after Easter: Rabbits are involved in Easter because of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Eatra/Ostara. She was identified with the dawn (sunrise services) and fertility. Likewise, the prolific rabbit symbolized fertility. (A separate story is how and why all these pagan symbols of fertility get involved in the Christian celebration.)
The Phoenicians ventured to the Iberian peninsula about 1100 BC. The rabbit was native to this area, and that was the only area the rabbit inhabited at that time. They mistook this animal for the African hyrax, another animal similar to the rabbit, and called the land by that name, "i-shapan-im", meaning "island of the hyraxes"; from the Semetic word for hyrax, "shepan", meaning "one who hides". That is where the Latin name Hispania comes from.
From: Leigh Wynkoop (ljwynkoopATyahoo.com)
A Nags Head, North Carolina hotel changed hands several years ago, and we found to our amusement that the new owners had changed the name and the huge letter-by-letter signage atop the building from "RAMADA HOTEL" to "ARMADA HOTEL." How convenient!
From: Simon Done (sdoneATtrl.co.uk)
When discussing 'salver', you mention the idea of a Proto (mother) Indo-European language (PIE). This idea is fairly well accepted. However, you choose an inappropriate word to illustrate this. Naranja arrived in Spain with the Arabic Moors (along with, for example, izquierda for the direction 'left'). Perhaps this is part of an even earlier common language, but it is not part of the huge lexicon of words that have common roots in PIE. One example is father/padre/pere/vater. Another is brother/bruder/frere. I believe that brother in Sanskrit (an ancient Indian language) is 'bhraatr'. This demonstrates the geographical spread of PIE, and I think is one of the words that triggered the idea of, and research into, a common root language. Naranja demonstrates word movement, but not PIE.
A second point is that the word naranja probably spread with the fruit itself, since the new users has no need for a word for something they did not have, whereas the idea of a brother/brater would have existed (and had a different name) before the new word arrived. This second type (word-substitution) would seem more interesting than the first (word-import), involving conflict rather than mere novelty.
From: Gokul P.R (gokulATcgi.cgl.co.in)
It's interesting to note the similarity in words from languages seemingly unconnected. Theres a word 'Mesa' in Malayalam, the language spoken in Kerala the southern tip of India, which also means 'Table'. I think that this would be so because of the Sanskrit link (most Indian languages have influences of Sanskrit, which also is proved to be linked to other languages of the west like Latin Spanish, German etc.).
From: Deborah Firestone (deborahfirestoneATcompuserve.com)
There is an area in south Boulder, CO called Table Mesa. I always thought it rather silly: "Table Table".
From: Mathieu Joly (jolymATparl.gc.ca)
I find it interesting that today's Word, mesa, of Spanish origin, is 'sandwiched' in your definition between two words of FRENCH origin, i.e. BUTTE and PLATEAU. Another example of the particular 'genius' of the English language in adopting easily words from other languages.
From: Jim McIntyre (jimcintATaol.com)
Interestingly, in Mexico, the organization known in the U.S. as Mensa, (for those scoring in the top 2% on a recognized intelligence test), is instead known as Mesa. I am told the organization was named Mensa as a sort of Latin pun, it is a round table table (mensa) where all are equal, but also from mens, mind. However, in Mexico, the word mensa is a slang term that I've been told loosely translates as "stupid woman".
From: Craig Nielsen (nielsencraigAThotmail.com)
My mom has always accused me of over thinking life. Perhaps the thought pattern I went down as I read your AWAD for mesa bears her out. Being a longtime employee in the oil industry and thus a dedicatee to our planet earth, I felt I knew all about the geophysical phenomenon that is a mesa. However, the second sentence of your definition (the qualifier, if you will) that said, a mesa is an area bigger than a butte but smaller than a plateau made me wonder; does this flat-top size relationship translate to towns? Such that, towns built on buttes being smaller than towns built on mesas being smaller than plateau towns. It seems to be so - Mesa, AZ is bigger than Butte, MT and Mesa, CO elephantines over Crested Butte, CO. But yet, there are no plateau towns (according to the U.S.P.S. zip code finder). Cogitating further, that is to say, continuing this logic to its next step ... will continued population growth coupled with never ending surface erosion eventually force these same four towns to "enlarge" their names or "graduate up" to someday becoming Plateau, AZ being larger than Mesa, MT and Plateau, CO out populating Crested Mesa, CO? Would this then leave room for the really small towns built on, say, peaks (Silver Peak, NV and Twin Peaks, CA) to aspire to simultaneously erode and procreate thereby becoming Silver Butte, NV and Twin Buttes, CA?
From: Cathy Ross (crossAToxfamamerica.org)
I live in Lima and I wanted to alert you to a new meaning of the term "cabana" in Peru. Cabana happens to be the name of the poor fishing town where President Alejandro Toledo, the first Peruvian president of indigenous origins, grew up as a boy. Since Toledo is famous for perennially arriving at meetings late, sometimes hours late, Peruvians are now referring to "la hora Cabana" or "Cabana time" to signify extreme tardiness or an excessively relaxed schedule.
From: Dennis Ference Susan Toy (theviewATcaribsurf.com)
Thank you for the Word A Day emails, Anu. I am writing from the island of Bequia (pronounced "beck-way") in the country of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, a multi-island state in the Eastern Caribbean. The country is proud to include a small group of islands that make up an area in the Southern Grenadines called the Tobago Cays, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful group of cays in the world and perhaps everyone's dream of the perfect Caribbean panorama. We pronounce cay "kee" here.
From: Jesse Sequoyah Taylor (chiefsequoyahATjuno.com)
I was born and raised in the Western US where we have a great culture based upon rugged individuality and outdoorsmanship. In subscribing to AWAD today I was intrigued by this week's theme of English/Spanish word borrowings. Many of the words unique to the 'Old West' still in use today are words borrowed from the Mexican Vaqueros:
lariat= la reata (rope/whip)
Colorado= colorado (red/colorful rocks)
Most other common foods and places have retained their original Spanish/Mexican meaning.
From: Lindsay Smith (ljsmithATmelbpc.org.au)
Belatedly catching up on my word(s) of the day. Re American influence, I test children's vision and over the last ten years besides coming in wearing baseball caps they pronounce the last letter of the alphabet now as "Zee" rather than the traditional "Zed".
All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry. -G.K. Chesterton, writer (1874-1936)