April 26, 2011

A digger and his Sheila*

Here's an interesting World War II poem written in exaggerated, but authentically tiresome, Australian English.


*  "Digger," or "dig," was the First and Second World War term for an Australian soldier, and has been used by Australians where an American would say "guy" and as a form of address. "Sheila" ("woman") should be adopted into everyone's vernacular.

April 24, 2011

To warn a meeting

Here's an interesting, and a little archaic, use of the word "warn"--"to warn a" town meeting. It seems to be the only time when "warn" is used without a preposition and the object of the verb is the thing to which the warning pertains (that is to say, the object is not the person being warned). The Oxford English Dictionary lists the preposition-less use as obsolete, although it's found in one or two legal dictionaries.

It's a local term of art for announcing a town meeting according to legal notice requirements. The word is used in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut, and from statutes and legal cases it seems to tend to refer to announcements of special, rather than regularly held, meetings.

April 19, 2011

Timely and timeously

“Timely” and "timeously" are synonymous, and mean "occurring at the proper time or within an expected time" (“fulfill the contract in a timely fashion”).  Each is used both as an adjective and an adverb.

Timely is pretty common, but how about that word, “timeously” (pronounced /TIME-ussly/)? It’s a Scottish usage and it’s indicated as South African in dictionaries, too.  It shows up in other places in southern Africa too.  For example: “Land issues in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are said to have a lot of similarities, which need to be addressed timeously,” wrote Irene Hoaës in the New Era newspaper out of Windhoek, Namibia (July 15, 2010). My clumsy Lexis search uncovers hundreds of news references from southern Africa (and plenty from Scotland too).  Note that use of "timeously" is mostly isolated to those nations (an Australian commentator is surprised to see it used1).  The base adjective “timeous” is used too, but more seldom.

Give "timeously" a try—did you really think you had all the adverbs you needed?

Now for my two cents.  I don’t like the use of "timely" as an adverb (“Macduff was from his mother’s womb/ Untimely ripp’d”). Most adverbs are structured as (adj.) + -ly (“happily,” “sheepishly”). “Time” is not an adjective, and “timely” is already the adjective.  Therefore I, if my opinion mattered, would insist “timely” ought to parallel “friendly,” “kingly” and “lovely” as being solely an adjective. I would write "he did it in a timely way" instead of "he did it timely"; or maybe I'd use "timeously" if I was a braver American.

1. Alan Peterson, “Is Timeous a Wrongeous Usage?; Words,” Sydney Morning Herald, April 8, 1989, p. 84 (he finds “wrongous” as well as “righteous” in his big dictionary, too).

April 18, 2011

The crossover of African American slang

A lot of slang, and even standard English, was adopted from the black community by Americans at large.   The verbs “bad-mouth” and “tote” (carry) may even originate in African languages. 

The thorough dissemination of black slang among the entire population, from rap music or television I think, is clear even in my temporary home in northern Vermont (a really WHITE place): 

This is an ad for the New England ice cream and (greasy!!) food chain Friendly’s.  Even in the great white north, we’re all supposed to recognize this slang and get the joke—the advertiser isn’t even concerned that a sense of racial separateness might make us uncomfortable. 

“Chill” in its sense of "relax" is, according to J. E. Lighter’s Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1994), late 1970s black slang that came into its own in the ’80s; “peeps” means one’s people—relatives or close friends, according to Geneva Smithson, Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner (2000).  The phrase in the ad is a pretty familiar one to me, although I can't cite it right now.

April 16, 2011

Online foreign language dictionaries

Who needs Google Translate?

For translations from German words online I use Leo, operated by the sonorously-named Technischen Universität München. It's got technical vocabulary, many senses for each entry, and user forums that are genuinely useful.

Tufts University runs Perseus, which has Lewis and Short's Latin dictionary, besides others. It's also got a "Word Study Tool" here, so that those of us short on Latinity can look up puzzling forms.  It offers Greek, Arabic and Old Norse too.

Any other suggestions for reliable resources, for any language?

April 15, 2011

Kill all the "Juris Doctorates"

It's a very common error to call the J.D. (law) degree a "Juris Doctorate"; lawyers sometimes make this mistake too, even in print.

"Juris Doctorate" can't be right because it mixes Latin "juris" and English "doctorate" (the Latin word would be doctoratus). "J.D." is short for juris doctor, "doctor of law." It's not doctor of "laws" either--"juris" is singular for "of law."  The venerable Stanford Law School says that "J.D." is "doctor of jurisprudence," but there's no evidence on websites or in dictionaries of "doctor jurisprudentiae" in the U.S.--but I guess "doctor of jurisprudence" can be an acceptable (if arrogant and maybe imprecise) translation of "juris doctor."

So do you address lawyer with a juris doctor degree as "Doctor," as you do someone who has a philosophiae doctor or a medicinae doctor degree?  It may be common in Europe, but it's really not done here in the U.S.--it's even considered unethical in many states.  Have you ever heard of a lawyer calling himself "Doctor?"

April 12, 2011

Tag questions!

A "tag question," or "question tag" is the short question clause placed at the end of a sentence in English to indicate that the sentence is a question:
He's coming, isn't he?
We did a good job, did we not?
A little bit of research shows that grammarians don't regard the "huh?" in "We did a good job, huh?" as a complete tag question, but it's very similar.1

English tag questions get more baroque among foreign speakers of English.  Fijian(!) English speakers would insert the tag question "isn't it?" even into questions about a person doing something:
He's coming, isn't it?2
A friend of mine once remarked on his Chinese colleague using "isn't it" in the same way. I, for my part, encountered a Chinese-speaker in (of all places) a Reykjavik youth hostel who would insert "I think so" after questions AND affirmative statements.

And let's not forget the exotic "eh?" inserted after many sentences in Canada, looking for the hearer's affirmation (oddly, not marked as especially CANADIAN in Webster's Third).

1. There are "tag imperatives" that look similar, too, as in "Take out the trash, will you?"
2. Loreto Todd and Ian Hancock, International English Usage (1987), 204.

April 11, 2011

Velazquez or Velázquez?

My last post ended with a treatment of the plural of Velazquez and found the recommended plural is "Velazquez."1 But do we, writing good English, include the necessary acute accent mark over the "a" in the name? There's no definitive answer in the bookshelf of English usage guides. There are endless good-writer examples of "Velazquez" and of "Velázquez." It's not clear that there is a rule, and I would say that use of the accent mark over the "a" is more common in more recent publications. This may be because of a growing awareness among English-speakers of proper Spanish, or that it is easier to write "á" in Microsoft Word than on an old typewriter.

I am reminded of the old rule that, when special characters are not available one's keyboard, one writes "Vela'zquez" whenever one is minded to write "Velázquez."

Just be consistent!

1. A footnote to my remark that I don't take exception to "Velazquezes" in English usage. I am of course not alone: "Velazquezes" is used extremely often to refer to families named Velazquez, and even metonymically for more than one painting.  E.g., "Titians, Rembrandts and Velázquezes,"Intl. Herald Tribune, Oct. 20, 2009, p. 12; "dozens of Goyas and Velazquezes and Zurbarans and El Grecos and Riberas and Dalis and Picassos," N.Y. Times, March 23, 2007, p. E1). And note that the company which publishes both the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times varies in its treatment of that "a."  (Note that there's internal consistency in the Times quote; in Spanish, it's "Zurbaráns.")

On the other hand, a search of J-STOR and Academic Search Premier revealed almost no academic use of "Velazquezes" (I could not determine how often "Velazquez" is used as a plural, but the answer may be never).

April 6, 2011

What’s the plural of Jones?

I suggested last year that a couple with a last name ending in “s,” call them Mr. and Mrs. Jones, print wedding souvenirs with “The Joneses.” A drunken, soon-to-be Mrs. Jones reportedly yelled “What the hell is Jonziz?”

The plural of Jones is obviously not Jones or Jones’, it’s Joneses. It’s analogous to “lenses” and “buses.” Error in writing and especially error in pronunciation are common--it seems to me that many or even the majority of Americans say “Jones” for the plural; saying /Jonziz/ isn’t entirely natural or comfortable.

So, what are the possessive forms of Jones and Joneses? All the English style guides insist that singular possessives are formed with -’s and plurals with only -’, so the possessive of Jones (singular) is Jones’s and the possessive of Joneses is Joneses’.

Fair enough. The Chicago Manual of Style adds another wrinkle: What to do if that final “s” of the base name is unpronounced, like in the French Louis or Charles (pronounced /looey/ and /sharl/)? For a singular Louis or Charles, you make the possessive with the apostrophe-s, "-'s." For the plural, however, you don't add anything, because adding an "-es" would lead mispronunciation. That is, "Charlezes" is just wrong because you'd prounounce it /sharlziz/, when the plural is merely /sharlz/. Chicago would have you write that "eighteen Louis" or "ten Charles" were kings (pronounced /looeyz/ and /sharlz/); the possessive is formed with -’, as under the above, usual rule for plurals, and the pronunciation presumably follows the Joneses' = /jonziz/ rule.

So you get the odd parallel paradigms, used in proper English writing and speaking, for English "Charles" and French "Charles":
When you write about:    American /charlz/    French /sharl/
sing.Charles drinks Bud /charlz/Charles drinks wine /sharl/
sing. poss.Charles's hot dog /charlziz/Charles's brie /sharlz/
pl.those Charleses go to Kmart /charlziz/   those Charles go on strike /sharlz/
pl. poss.those Charleses' SUVs /charlziz/those Charles' Fiats /sharlziz/


And another foreign wrinkle on pluralizing and possessive-izing foreign names: Chicago would also pluralize a -z name like Velazquez as “Velazquez” (with possessive “Velazquez’”), which accords with the judgment of various Spanish grammars.1 I suppose this is because Spanish-speakers pronounce -ez as /ayss/, which sounds just like their plural. I would have no problem writing plural “Velazquezes” (with possessive “Velazquezes’”) in English, and perhaps I will if it ever comes up. My approach would also make it easier to refer to multiple of the master’s paintings, which you’re each metonymically calling a Velazquez.

The plural of a name ending in "y," like Perry, is "Perrys" not "Perries."

1. Batchelor, A Reference Grammar of Spanish (2010); Real Academia Española y Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, Nueva Gramática (2009).

April 4, 2011

"It happened on a day"

Following up on the last post: I was reminded of the archaic idiom "on a day," meaning the unspecific "one day" (and not as in "on a day in March" or "on a day to be appointed," which use "on" in a totally unidiomatic sense).

"And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and shee constrained him to eate bread: And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, hee turned in thither to eate bread." -- K.J.V., 2 Kings 3:7

April 3, 2011

“Come back to my blog on tomorrow”

A couple times, a few months ago, natives of Washington, D.C. said in conversation that they’d see me “on tomorrow.”

This was a new one on me, and it turns out that “on tomorrow” is dated to 1829 in Virginia in the DARE and OED; DARE features “on yesterday,” too.  DARE has cites from New York and Massachusetts speakers after 1900, so it may not just be a southern usage. 

I wonder how long it will take for “on tomorrow” to become standard American English.  See also . . . I actually kind of like it, at least.  It leaves a much better taste in my mouth than “y’all.”