Thursday: July 2, 2009
In a recent post at Chicago Boyz, David Foster asks “what the proper Greek would be for ‘government by clowns’”. There are several possibilities:
- A bomolochos was originally “one that waited about the altars, to beg or steal some of the meat offered thereon” (Liddell-Scott), but it acquired a less specific meaning “clown, buffoon”, which was standard in derivatives like the verb bomolocheuomai, “play the buffoon, indulge in ribaldry, play low tricks”, though the idea of begging may be included. So perhaps the best word for “government by clowns” would be bomolocharchy (0 Google hits).
- Since our rulers live at our expense, how about a word that means “one who eats at the table of another, and repays him with flattery and buffoonery”? Compounded with “-archy”, that would give us parasitarchy, whose meaning will be clear even to the Greekless.
- Another possibility would be an animal metaphor for clownishness. The Greek word for ‘ass’ (donkey, not butt) is ónos (plural ónoi), so the shortest word for “rule by clowns, buffoons, asses” would be onarchy.
- The other meaning of English ‘ass’ also provides a very approximate equivalent for ‘clown’, and you don’t need to have studied Greek to figure out what proctarchy would mean.
I’m sure there are other possibilities, but I can’t seem to find my English-Greek Dictionary at the moment.
Wednesday: July 1, 2009
I think it was Patterico’s Pontifications where I recently ran across a weblog called Verum Serum. An interesting name, since it has three or four meanings in Latin:
- True Whey (taking Verum as an adjective and Serum as a noun). I thought the second word meant ‘gravy’, but apparently not, at least in classical Latin. Which is too bad: “True Gravy” might almost work as a website name, but not “True Whey”.
- Late Truth (taking Verum as a noun and Serum as an adjective). Alternatively, this could mean “Too Late Truth” or “The Truth Too Late”, since the adjective has both meanings.
- Truth of the Chinese (taking both words as nouns, with Serum genitive plural). Just to be pedantic, “Chinese” here is plural, so perhaps “Truth of the Chinese people”. (Hmmm. That’s not clearly plural, either, since “people” may be a singular meaning “nation” or a plural meaning “persons, humans”. English is a tricky language.)
So which of these interesting possibilities is the right one? None, as it turns out: it’s only half Latin. As the proprietors say on their ‘About’ page, “Verum is Latin for truth, as in truth serum. Why Latin? Because we’re tired of the Catholic blogs hogging all the cool names.”
Friday: December 29, 2006
Ann Althouse ends a post on Wisconsin cuisine with a linguistic comment:
. . . isn’t it cool that there’s a town called “Mazomanie.” It sounds sounds like a form of insanity. A cute and amazing mania.
It does indeed sound like a form of mania. Though unattested in dictionaries, ‘mazomanie’ certainly looks like a properly-formed ancient Greek word. Maníe (three syllables) is the Ionic form of manía, “madness”, and mazós is the Epic/Ionic form of mastós, as in ‘mastectomy’ and ‘mastodon’, so ‘mazomanie’ would be a word Herodotus might have used to describe’a mania for female breasts. It is one of the commoner manias today, particularly among adolescent males, but not many women would describe it as “cute and amazing”. Returning to Althouse’s culinary theme, I wonder if there’s a Hooter’s in Mazomanie, Wisconsin.
Tuesday: October 31, 2006
A local shopping center contains a ‘Center for Aesthetic Dentistry’. Wouldn’t that be the exact opposite of Anaesthetic Dentistry? Ouch!
Sunday: April 30, 2006
The Rat wants a feminine equivalent of ‘avuncular’. That’s easy: ‘materteral’. According to the Random House Word of the Day site, the word is listed only once in the Oxford English Dictionary, but is actually older (1823) than ‘avuncular’ (1831). They also note that Latin had different words for aunts and uncles on the father’s and mother’s side of the family: you father’s brother and sister are your patruus and amita, your mother’s are your avunculus and matertera.
They do not note that the etymologies of three of these are transparent: your patruus is a second father (pater), your matertera a second mother (mater), and your avunculus a lesser grandfather (avus). In Anthropology and Roman Culture. Kinship, Time, Images of the Soul (tr. J. Van Sickle, Johns Hopkins, 1991), Maurizio Bettini gathers the evidence that the father’s siblings were “were expected to maintain an attitude of discipline, harshness and aloofness”, while the mother’s were stereotypically “warm and affectionate even to the point of indulgence” (both quotations from Matthew Slagter’s review, here). It appears that The Rat will soon be an amita rather than a matertera, but ‘amital’ is not an English word, and I imagine she’s planning to be more materteral anyway. I recently learned that I will soon be a patruus magnus (great-uncle), but I plan to defy the etymologies and be greatly avuncular.
Tuesday: June 14, 2005
Language Hat has an interesting post on the etymology of ‘theodolite’, which he treats as some kind of exotic or obsolete scientific instrument. I have used one on the job, though not in the last quarter-century. From 1978 to 1982 I worked for a company that measured air pollution from moving trucks and airplanes, a process my boss invented, and we used theodolites to measure the winds at various altitudes. They were not carried along on the trucks and planes, but set up on the ground to track pink gas-filled balloons. As I recall, a theodolite is just a device to measure the precise direction in three-dimensional space from one’s own location to any object within sight. For instance, it may show that a neighboring hilltop or mountain peak is located at a bearing of 343°, i.e. north by northwest, and 12° above horizontal. It’s basically a small telescope on a tripod, with a plumb bob to level the platform, a compass to line it up north and south, and horizontal and vertical cranks with numbered dials to aim the sight and measure the vertical angle above (or slightly below) the plane of the earth’s surface and the horizontal angle clockwise from due north. One worker would turn the two cranks to keep the balloon in sight of the little telescope as long as she could, while another recorded the azimuth and elevation at set intervals of time. Our primitive computers (7K RAM, 40-character LED display, audio-casette storage — a bargain at $15,000 each) would then calculate the wind direction and (I think) speed at various heights, or perhaps we did that part on graph paper — it’s been a long time. As I recall, plumes emitted from power plants tended to skew clockwise as they went up, and sometimes had more complex shapes. We needed to know where the winds were blowing to decide where to send the truck or airplane.
As for the etymology, I told my fellow-workers at the time (an overeducated bunch) that ‘theo-dol-ite’ should mean ‘an instrument to fool the gods’. We looked it up, and Webster’s or Funk and Wagnall’s or whoever it was said that it means ‘an instrument for seeing clearly’. If so, the inventor messed up two of the vowels, since that should be a ‘theadelite’.
Powered by WordPress