Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Oscars

In the week of the 84th Academy Awards ceremony will see little gold statues handed out to various individuals, most I will never have heard of and probably never will. My knowledge of the motion picture industry is limited, VERY limited. If I recognise an actor or actress it is a minor miracle, if I know their name they are part of a very exclusive club indeed.

Yet I know what I like and have always considered the addition of "Winner of the Best Picture Oscar" means it marks this offering in the 'avoid like the plague' category. So before I know which film I should make a mental note to shun at all costs this year, I decided to do a little research and see which recipients of the Best Picture Oscar I have actually seen and what I recall.

2010 The King's Speech - haven't seen it and, from what I understand, has no interest for me whatsoever.

2009 The Hurt Locker and I have to admit I've never heard of it, which probably tells me I'm missing nothing

2008 Slumdog Millionaire I actually know what this film is about, which is sufficient for me to know I have no interest in it whatsoever

2007 No Country for Old Men is another I've never heard of

2006 The Departed doesn't ring any bells either

2005 Crash is the third in a row I've no recollection of

2004 Million Dollar Baby I think this was about a woman boxing, not going out of my way for that then but at least I have a vague notion of what it was about.

2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and at last one I not only saw but went out of my way to see at the cinema! Really liked this film. However it was a pity to ruin a quite excellent trilogy with that dopey singing near the end.

2002 Chicago I think this might have been a musical, but then it might not and I shall never find out.

2001 A Beautiful Mind I've certainly heard of this, which must please the producers greatly considering my record thus far. However they shouldn't celebrate too much, not seen it and unlikely to do so.

2000 Gladiator and another one I've seen! Didn't see this at the cinema, caught it on Sky, I think. Liked it, too, especially the decapitation bit.

1999 American Beauty I have a vague recollection of the title but not seen it nor will I.

1998 Shakespeare in Love might tell me what it's about. However I loathed the bugger when I was forced to play Malvolio at school and certainly have no interest in his love life.

1997 Titanic yes fabulous, three hours of film (I think I recall this being banded about) and we knew what happened at the end even before they released it. In case you haven't seen it, the ship sinks.

1996 The English Patient I do remember this title and that's about it.

1995 Braveheart another one I saw, not at the cinema but years later on the BBC (I think). I remember being bored senseless by it and some shouting at the end.

1994 Forrest Gump is another I saw, although it was at least ten years after release when I did. Rather liked it, too. I was convinced by someone to give it a chance and it turned out to be worthwhile.

1993 Schindler's List is one of those I've heard of, know little about and have no intention of seeing.

1992 Unforgiven I have never heard of.

1991The Silence of the Lambs I believe is something about a cannibal? Not going out of my way for that either.

1990 Dances With Wolves another I've heard of but never seen and never will (unless someone offers me a lot of money).

1989 Driving Miss Daisy I have some recollection of the title character being an old woman? No, not seeing this either.

1988 Rain Man I believe Dustin Hoffman was in this, wasn't he?

1987 The Last Emperor I saw on the television years later. Liked it, although it was a bit on the lengthy side.

1986 Platoon stunned to recall I saw this at the cinema, but then recalled I was dragged along by someone even less memorable than the film. It was about a war (Vietnam?) and I think I liked it.

1985 Out of Africa no, not seen this and have no intention of doing so as I don't think it's a Sir David Attenborough creation.

1984 Amadeus don't even recall the film, yet I'm guessing it was linked with Mozart

1983 Terms of Endearment, don't remember this either!

1982 Ghandi, now this I have heard of but not seen and unlikely to.

1981 Chariots of Fire, well I know the tune! Does that count?

1980 Ordinary People never heard of it!

1979 Kramer vs Kramer, now this I do know something about and I think I saw about five minutes of this where Dustin Hoffman was making french toast. I didn't hang around long enough to see anything more.

1978 The Deer Hunter I know was a Vietnam War thing and Hank Marvin played a cover version of the theme tune at some time.

1977 Annie Hall was a Woody Allen creation, I believe. Not seen it though.

1976 Rocky I saw on television in the days before subtitles were commonplace, couldn't understand a word Stallone said but the fight scenes were reasonably good.

1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest I also saw on the television about 20 years after release. As a film it wasn't bad at all.

1974 The Godfather Part II I was forced to watch, along with the other two, about three years ago by the same person who pointed me in the direction of Forrest Gump. I would have rather have endured every episode of Peyton Place back to back.

1973 The Sting starred Newman and Redford I think, never saw it though.

1972 The Godfather Part I (see 1974)

1971 The French Connection is a film I have heard of but know nothing whatsoever about.

1970 Patton must have been about the general but I can't be certain as I never saw it.

1969 Midnight Cowboy I know from my days writing quizzes it was the first X-rated film to win this Oscar. Despite this the vast majority of my school chums claimed to have seen it (we would have been 13 in 1969) but to this day I never have.

1968 Oliver! was a film even I failed to avoid, which was a shame because the eponymous character was played by that irritating little sh*t.

1967 In the Heat of the Night rings no bells whatsoever

1966 A Man for All Seasons I have heard of, but never seen

1965 The Sound of Music I have seen most of it, although spread over a great number of years. I still have no idea of the storyline other than kids and a nun and some Nazis.

1964 My Fair Lady is another musical but not quite as bad as the previous effort. Like the original GBS version though. I admit my opinion of this celluloid offering decreased measurably when I discovered it beat Becket to the Oscar, Becket is quite simply the best film ever made.

1963 Tom Jones I have never heard of before.

1962 Lawrence of Arabia I have seen, many, many years ago, but remember nothing but the title character riding a motorcycle.

1961 West Side Story, another musical and I've never seen it.

1960 The Apartment of course I've seen The Apartment it's one of my favourites.

1959 Ben-Hur I know what it's about but I've never seen it.

1958 Gigi I have heard of and, of course, never seen.

1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai, a war film, never seen it.

1956 Around the World in 80 Days, I've read the book, but I know that doesn't count.

I shall stop there as while the Oscars existed prior to 1956 I didn't and anyway I think that's enough to show my lack of appreciation for most popular films. However it doesn't explain why I've just taken out membership of the Odeon Premiere Club loyalty scheme.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A Valentine's Day Afterthought

I needed to refer to to my copy of The Penguin Dictionary of Historical Slang this week. One word caught my eye as I had not realised it had ever had so many meanings, nor used in so many ways. That word was GANDER.

To me 'gander' had two meanings: officially used to describe a male goose but also used as slang term for 'look, peruse' as in "Have a gander at this!" Yet the dictionary has no less than ten other uses for the same word.

Gander - from the 17th to the 20th centuries described a married man, clearly taken from the term for the goose.

Gander-party - an alternative to a stag-party.

Gander - as in "What's good for the goose is good for the gander", earlier given as "What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander", and first seen in the 18th century as "Goose, gander and gosling are three sounds but one thing" and all asking for no preferential treatment.

Gander - used to mean to ramble or waddle like a goose, in use during the 19th century.

Gander - a fool, chiefly in use in London and thought to be derived from Gandin, the French personification of a fop or fool.

Gander-faced - an adaption of the previous use, this meaning 'silly-faced' in the 19th century.

Gander's wool - refers to feathers, itself a colloquialism for 'money'. Hence a rather long-winded reference to cash.

Gander-mooner - is a husband during the gander-month (see following) and the somewhat tenuous link to Valentine's Day.

Gander-month (also Gander-moon) - describes the month after childbirth and in use from the 17th to early 19th centuries. Yes, exactly what I wondered - why is there a male reference to childbirth, when this is something no male (human nor goose) has thus far managed to deliver? Somewhat inconsiderately this described the period when, with the wife 'indisposed', it was perfectly acceptable for the husband to sleep around.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Etymology of European Capital Cities (M to Z)

Following on from the previous post, the completion of the alphabetical list of European capital cities with their meaning.

Madrid, Spain - a Moorish fort once stood here named Majrit. While the modern name certainly comes from this early name the meaning has never been understood.

Minsk, Belarus - undoubtedly a lost river name related to Men, Mena, Menka, and Main, all ultimately from the Indo-European moinia or 'marsh'. The modern river through Minsk is the Svisloch, so perhaps this represents an early or alternative name.

Monaco, Monaco - during the sixth and seventh centuries BC the rock on which the city now stands was home to a Greek temple to the god Hercules the Hermit. Here is the link to the name coming from the Greek monoikos speaking of the 'hermit, monk'.

Moscow, Russia - coming from the Moskva river which flows through the city, there are several suggestions for the origin of the river name. If this is Slavonic moskva, which does seem the most likely, this is 'damp, marshy'; Slavonic mostkva describes 'bridge, water'; while Finno-Ugrian moska va refers ro 'the ford where calves are raised'.

Nicosia, Cyprus - it seems this is a result of the French-speaking Crusaders who pronounced the Greek name of Lefkosia as Nicosie, seemingly Italian influence giving the modern Nicosia. The Greek name comes from the man who rebuilt it in 300BC, Lefkonas being the son of Ptolemy I.

Oslo, Norway - once thought to be a name from Indo-European os with the River Lo giving 'the mouth of the Lo', this is now seen as an early error and the river name is derived from the place. Today it is generally accepted to be either 'the meadow by the hill' or 'the meadow where gods are worshipped' and derived from Old Norse.

Paris, France - this comes from the tribe who lived here, the Parisii. This raises the question as to the origin of the tribal name. Possibly this represents Gaulish par 'ship', suggesting these men were known as sailors or perhaps ship-builders.

Podgorica, Montenegro - situated close to Gorica, a hill name meaning simply 'hill', this place name describes its location 'under the hill'.

Prague, Czech Republic - while the name is disputed, the most popular derivation is from the Czech praziti 'place where wood is burned'. A second definition gives Slavonic prati, literally 'to work' it would refer to the dykes constructed in the river to hold fish.

Reykjavik, Iceland - an island known for its hot geysers and this is the meaning of the name. Here Icelandic reyka precedes Old Norse vek to refer to 'the smoke of the inlet'.

Riga, Latvia - founded in the twelfth century this is from Slavonic reka meaning 'river'. Note the river through Riga today is the Dvina, however there was once another called the Reka which silted up and no longer flows.

Rome, Italy - the city stands on the Tiber, a river previously known as the Ruma. This is thought be of Etruscan origin meaning 'to flow'.

San Marino, San Marino - a republic founded around the end of the third century as a religious communiy by St Marinus, a stone cutter whose name in Italian becomes San Marino.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina - comes from Bosnian saray evo giving 'the field around the palace'. It could be argued the first element represents Persian shahr or Turkish sehir, however neither change the meaning greatly as they both refer, albeit indirectly, to a centre of government.

Skopje, Macedonia - a site which has been inhabited for at least 6,000 years and known by the Latin name of Scupi. The meaning is uncertain, however it seems this has remained largely unchanged for millennia, certainly in use when this was a Greco-Roman fortress town. Considering its strategic importance this is the most likely origin of the name.

Sofia, Bulgaria - a place where the name has changed depending upon who was in control here. When first settled by the seventh century BC it was called Serdica, the Thracian tribe called the Serds founding the settlement. When the Slavs moved here over a thousand years later, they mistook the name to be from sered, the Slavonic for 'centre'. Move forward to the eleventh century AD and the Byzantine empire referred to the place as Triaditsa, a religious reference to the Holy Trinity. That religious idea is perpetuated in the modern name, itself from the Greek meaning 'wisdom' in a theological sense.

Stockholm, Sweden - whereas the suffix is undoubtedly holm 'drier raised land', the first element is by no means certain. It may represent stak 'bay' or stock 'post, pole' and a marker of some description.

Tallinn, Estonia - prior to the First World War this was known as Revel, thought to be from Danish revele or 'sandbank'. The Danish connection is seen in the modern name, itself from Estonian taani linna 'the town of the Danes', the area ruled by the Danes from 1227 to 1346.

Tblisi, Georgia - from the Georgian word tbili meaning 'warm', a reference to the warm mineral springs found here.

Tirana, Albania - from the ancient name for Tuscany, which came from the Greek and still seen in the name of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Clearly an early link with the Etruscans.

Vaduz, Lichtenstein - possibly Romanesque avadutg 'water' or from Latin vallis 'valley'.

Valletta, Malta - for once we not only know the meaning but also the man himself. Following victory over the Turks in 1565, this city was founded by, and named after, Jean Parisot de la Vallette, Grand Master of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem.

Vatican City, Vatican City - represents the Latin name for the hill on which this place stands. Mons Vaticanus took its name from vaticinia 'the place of divination', which shows the holiest place in Catholicism was named after a pagan shrine.

Vienna, Austria - is named after the River Vienna, it meets the Danube here. The river name is from Celtic, possibly vedunia meaning 'tree' or vindo 'white' and thus pointing to a stone building. Either way it is clear reference is to a very short section of riverbank in a river some 21 miles long, hence this name was relevant to only a small part and would have had other names elsewhere along its course, as indeed would apply to any river or stream.

Vilnius, Lithuania - another from the local river. Here the River Viliya (also known as the Nyaris) is derived from a Slavonic word meaning 'winding'.

Warsaw, Poland - it would be a surprise if a capital city anywhere on the globe has more stories told about its origins. The most likely origin is Warsz ev 'belong to a man called Warsz', although Hungarian varos or 'fortified town cannot be ruled out entirely. We can be sure it does not come from the twins War and Sawa, said to have been found by the king and his hunting party. Neither does it originate in the supposed cry by those on the cargo rafts to their cooks in "Warz, Eva!" meaning "Broth, Eve!"

Yerevan, Armenia - the only thing certain about this name is its great age. Of the many suggestions only two seem realistic: either 'the abode of the god Aru' or perhaps from Armenian yerevan meaning 'to appear', when the sense would be a mystery.

Zagreb, Croatia - while often said to be from German graben 'trench, ditch', it seems more likely to be from a related Slavonic word saying this settlement lay 'beyond the ditch'.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Etymology of European Capital Cities (A to L)

With Europe very much in the news over recent months, from finances to the February freeze, I have heard the names of many capital cities mentioned. Inevitably I was soon distracted by the origins of these names, rather than showing interest in the news.

Amsterdam, Netherlands - no surprise to find this is 'the dam on the River Amstel' on which the city stands and itself from Old Dutch aerne stelle meaning 'the area abounding with water'.

Andorra la Vella, Andorra - undoubtedly a very old place name and thus of very uncertain origins. The best explanation offered to date is the suggestion this is related to Basque andurrial meaning 'heath'.

Ankara, Turkey - by the seventh century BC this was known by the Phrygian name Ankire, perhaps featuring the Indo-European root ank 'angled, crooked'

Astana, Kazahkhstan - in the native tongue astana means 'capital', but this is itself derived from Persian for 'threshold, border point' and here understood to refer to where the court or ruling body is to be found.

Athens, Greece - ask any Greek or Athenian and they would have said it was named after the goddess Athene. However there is good reason to believe it is older and taken from the Pelasgians who occupied much of the Balkan peninsula more than five thousand years ago, in which case this means 'height, hill'.

Baku, Ajerbaijan - two possible origins for Baku, although neither is certain. The popular explanation is from Arabic through Persian, where baadku describes 'a mountain wind'. Another suggestion is Iranian abad ku, literally 'town of fire' and referring to some supposed worship of fire.

Belgrade, Serbia - the first stronghold was built here by a Celtic tribe around 2,500 years ago. This is from a Slavonic word meaning 'white fortress', telling us (rather unusually for the time) it was made from stone.

Berlin, Germany - another very old place name and again one where the origin is uncertain. Suggestions include the popular idea this contains an early word for 'bear', although there has also been 'evidence' showing diverse meanings as 'lake, hill, dame, court, customs, sandy', the list seemingly endless.

Bern, Switzerland - no surprise to find the first element is compared to the previous name, although this is no evidence this represents anything to do with the German for 'bear'. A more likely origin is the Indo-European ber or 'marshy place'.

Bratislava, Slovakia - its location means it has been influenced by many peoples and thus many languages, resulting in the place known by a number of different names. Bratislava was only offically adopted in 1919, although the name was first seen eighty years earlier when scholar Pavel Jozeg Safarrik suggested earlier names showed an association with Bohemian ruler Bretislav I.

Brussels, Belgium - a name from bruoc sella and a reminder this was 'the settlement in the marshes'.

Bucharest, Romania - traditionally held to be named after its found, a fifteenth century shepherd named Bucur. However the city was certainly established well before this and, while the origin is not certain, is related to Albanian bucur for 'pleasant beautiful' or the Romanian definition 'to rejoice'.

Budapest, Hungary - as many will be aware Budapest was two towns before the official merging in 1872. Not that this could ever be a physical merger as they lie on opposing banks of the Danube. Buda, on the right bank, and Pest, on the left, are of Slavonic origin and both have two equally plausible meanings: buda is either 'building' or 'water'; while pest is either 'cave' or 'hearth'. It is certainly not connected with the name for the Roman encampment here, their Aquincum speaking of 'ample water'.

Chisinau, Moldova - as with many names in areas which have been influenced by many peoples and languages, there are disputes over this name. If this is Romanian, then chisla noua speaks of 'the new spring'; if the Romanian name was originally Hungarian then this represents kis Jeno' the small place of the Jeno tribe'. There is alos the Russian version of Kishinev, which was how the name was introduced to English.

Copenhagen, Denmark - finally a name where we can be certain of the origins, this is from Danish kiopman havn 'the harbour of the merchants'.

Dublin, Republic of Ireland - and another name where the origins are certain. Here Irish dubh linn tells us the place was built at 'the black lake'. The contemporary Irish name is Baile Atha Cliath meaning 'the town of the ford of the hurdle'.

Helsinki, Finland - founded as a town by the Swedes in 1550 it was then known as Helsingfors, Helsing being the name of the tribe and fors the Swedish for 'waterfall'. They relocated the entire settlement to its present site in 1648, hence the 'waterfall' on the River Wanda is no longer really relevant, while Helsinki is simply the Finnish version of the original name.

Kiev, Ukraine - for once the traditional narrative appears to be correct. Legend has it the ferryman Kiy founded this settlement on the River Dnieper, although others claim one Prince Kiy gave his name to the place he captured in the ninth century.

Lisbon, Portugal - the Phoenician's were probably behind the name of Lisbon. However it is difficult to see if this is derived from ippo 'fence' or alis ubbo 'joyful bay'. We can be certain the traditional story of being named after the founder Ulysses, even though his Phoenician name was Olisipo.

Ljubljana, Slovenia - the most likely explanation is this place was named after the Ljubljanica river which flows through it, although back formation certainly cannot be ruled out. The version is from Laibach, as both city and river were known by the Middle Ages (and in use until 1918), itself from Old High German and speaking of 'the standing water liable to cause much flooding'.

London, United Kingdom - all will be aware to the Romans this was Londinium. However this is not the origin, the name was certainly much earlier and, as with the vast majoirty of apparently 'Roman' place names is simply a 'Latinicised' version of the existing name, best guess at which would be a tribal name, maybe Londinos.

Luxembourg, Luxembourg - as with many English place names this is derived from the Saxon peoples who referred to this place as Lucilinburhuc. Here Old Saxon luttil burug speaks of this as 'the little town'.