Sunday, 25 September 2016

An Etymological Chemistry Lesson

Remember the school laboratory and our introduction to the noble or rare gases? Germany's Hugo Erdmann first coined the term Edelgas or 'noble gas' to indicate their extremely low level of reactivity. Some may recall these being referred to as 'inert', but this is now known to be untrue as some have been known to form compounds, albeit only under very unlikely conditions. These are also referred to as 'rare gases', this is also a misnomer as argon alone amounts to almost 1% of the Earth's atmosphere, albeit the remainder very much smaller amounts.

As we would expect the names coined for these gases are very recent, chemistry being a very recent science. There are but six noble gases and, in alphabetical order, each has an interesting reason for its name.

Argon is a Modern Latin word taken directly from the Greek argon. It is the neuter of argos, itself meaning 'lazy, idle'. This is a compound of a 'without' and ergon 'work'.

Helium may be the simplest to see as it is derived from the Greek helios or 'sun'. The reason for this is simply as it was first detected in the spectrum of the light from the sun, this during an eclipse of August 18th 1868 by astronomer Sir Joseph Lockyer and chemist Sir Edmund Frankland. Interestingly it was not isolated on this planet until 1895, and until then thought to be an alkali metal which is why the discoverers used the suffix '-ium'.

Krypton is another from the Greek, where krypton, the neuter of kryptos, was chosen by discoverers Sir William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers in 1898 for it means 'hidden'. Thus it has the same derivation as 'crypt' and both 'hidden', the gas as it remained undiscovered for so long.

Neon was also discovered and named by Sir William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers. They chose the Greek neon as it means 'new' and, in 1898, they had indeed just discovered it and thus could not be any newer. As both neon and helium were discovered by the same two scientists in the same year, it is only because neon was discovered first that we are not seeing advertising in krypton lights.

Radon is the heaviest gaseous element. This from the radioactive decay of radium discovered in 1918. It is derived from 'radium', with the addition of '-on' to indicate a noble gas, and ultimately from the Latin radius meaning 'ray' as it emits energy in the form of rays, as identified by Marie Curie. In France and Germany it has been known as niton from the Latin nitens meaning 'shining'.

Xenon owes its name to discoverer Sir William Ramsay, again in 1898, where he looked once more to Greek and chose xenon, the neuter of xenos meaning 'foreign, strange'.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Roman Roads

My history lessons, courtesy of Mr Wallbank, told us how these wonderful Romans brought the civilized world to our barbaric islands. Every week we heard of how they educated the savage Celts, brought viaducts, the arch, roads, housing, etc. Doubtless if I had bothered to listen long enough we would have been told the Romans also invented television, internet, iPad and every other technological advance of modern times.

Of course we now know this is not quite correct. The Romans came here to find a thoroughly advanced group of Britons skilled in metalwork - with the Britons equally keen to find a market for their products and the conquerors were simply responsible for writing the history. Doubtless the technologies of the day were not dreamt up by the Romans but acquired from those they encountered. For example our lesson on how the Romans invented the viaduct fails to take into consideration the Babylonians moved water around centuries before the foundation of Rome and its subsequent empire.

The same is true of the famed Roman roads. In Britain there are a number of major arteries known as Roman roads and yet the names alone tell us these are not simply 'Roman'. Indeed the tracks were undoubtedly in use for uears before the Romans arrived. Whilst we should concede the superior surface, enabling rapid movement of troops, is down to Roman intervention, these are no more Roman roads than the modern version of Watling Street with its dual carriageways, traffic lights, white lines and electric lighting.

To find the use and routes prior to the arrival of the Romans is impossible. However we can look at what happened in the years following their departure. For example, note how many of the following names are known as 'Streets', indeed none of the Roman roads are named 'Roads'. The term 'street' comes from Old English straet, a Saxon term referring very specifically to 'a paved road' and that would only be a Roman road. This element is seen in place names such as Stratford 'the ford on a Roman road' and Stretton 'the farmstead on a Roman road'.

The names of the roads themselves also provide information on how they developed and why they were named.

Watling Street was originally a stretch of road around St Albans, albeit then the place was home to the Saxon tribe known as the Waeclinga or 'the people of Waecla'. Eventually the name of this short stretch of road began to stretch along the route, albeit very slowly. Not until the 11th century did the name begin to be used for the whole length and also for other routes not part of this ancient route. This was down to a royal proclamation ordering designated 'safe' routes, among which was Watling Street. Those keen to ensure the trade routes to their towns were considered 'safe' took the clever step of naming such Watling Street. Thus anyone considering committing any crime (no matter how trivial) received the same punishment - death.

Ermine Street, running from London to Lincoln, follows a similar tale to Watling Street. With the earliest recorded version as Earninga Straete, this is from the Earningas tribe who lived around Arrington in Cambridgeshire where they gave their name to the Armingford Hundred and also to the route.

Icknield Street is originally recorded as Hikenild Street and generally accepted as a reference to the Iceni tribe of Boudicca fame as the earliest Saxon records speak of this as Icenhilde Weg.

Ryknield Street is a little different, with the name not found before the 12th century. Both the route and the lack of early forms (not to mention the differences in those records found) have brought into question whether this road ever existed as a true Roman road but is simply another attempt to copy a safe route and thus an erroneous version of Icknield Street above.

Fosse Way is undoubtedly both a Roman road and one named by the Saxons. Indeed, because this comes from Old English fosse meaning 'ditch', it is clear it will not have been named until the Saxons arrived (and the Romans had departed our shores).

Athough the Latin fossa has the same meaning of 'ditch', it is difficult to see why the Romans would name one road when leaving all the rest nameless. Indeed, at a time when the maximum distance travelled in a day would have been 32 miles - the distance a group of soldiers could march in a day and no coincidence as also the distance between Roman forts on these roads - the only thing to know was the next place to rest, final destinations were not applicable and the major roads are all known for their destination.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Universal Languages Few Understand

Anyone who has read much of this blog will be aware my interest is in the development of words and languages. Whilst modern languages are most often named after the nation where they were originally spoken, there are those which have no national identity. I am thinking here of the artificial languages created in comparatively recent times, the most famous of which is Esperanto although there are a number of computer languages included. As these are such recent creations, I would hope the names would have been well thought out beforehand. At least the modern origins should mean there are no doubts as to the origins.

Esperanto was created in 1887 by Polish-born Lazarus Ludwig Zamenhof but not officially named until five years later. Oddly the name of the language comes from a term in Esperanto where Doktoro Esperanto means 'one who hopes'. This is the pen-name used by Zamenhof and on the title page.

Idiom Neutral was published in 1902 by the International Academy of the Universal Language, it is a revised form of Volapuk (see below), this considered imperfect. The reworking brought in many western terms and while technically a revision is in almost every aspect a new language - the name describes 'the neutral language'.

Interglossa was invented by biologist Lancelot Hogben in an attempt to provide a link between science terminology and etymology and the classical languages after having noticed the difficulty students had in learning scientific terms. This 'between languages' idea is also the origin of the name.

Interlingua is a computer language produced by the International Auxiliary Language Association, this founded by the American heiress Alice Vanderbilt Morris in the 1920s. As a name it speaks for itself.

Novial is derived from nov 'new' plus the initial letters IAL standing for International Auxiliary Language. It is designed to allow those who speak native languages to speak a single common tongue. With sources in Romance, Germanic, Occidental and Ido tongues, it first came to light in the late 1920s and virtually disappeared with the death of its inventor, Otto Jespersen, in 1943. However the internet has seen a minor revival of interest.

Occidental, later known as Interlingue, was another planned language to allow those of differing tongues to converse. Created by German Edgar de Wahl its name is taken from the French and Latin for 'western'.

Tutonish was created in 1901 by Elias Molee, with revisions in 1905 and 1915. It is the first Pan-Germanic language and intended as an Anglo-German unifying language and it is from the name virtually suggested itself. However it never really caught on, as evidenced by its reworking and also the various forms of its name, including Tutonish, Teutonish, Teutonik, Alteutonish, Altutonish, Altetonik, Nu Teutonish, Niu Teutonish, and Neuteutonish.

Volapuk was published in 1880, the work of German priest Johann Martin Schleyer. He claimed he had been told by God to create an international language, one he named to mean 'world speech'. Perhaps unkindly the word is used in other languages, Danish for example, to mean 'nonsense'.

Algol is not derived from the star in the constellation of Perseus, this from the Arabic al-ghul or 'the demon', but a contraction of 'algorithmic language'.

Basic is a computer language, an acronym standing for 'Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code'. It was invented by Hungarian-born US computer scientist John G. Kemeny in 1964.

Cobol is another computer language and acronym created in 1960 by the US Defense Department and describing 'Common Business-Oriented Language'.

Fortran is also a computer language, one dating from 1956 and an abbreviated form of 'formula translation'.

Modula is a programming language created by the Swiss Niklaus Wirth in the 1970s. It is derived from the Pascal (see below) language and named because it uses a module system unlike its predecessor.

Pascal is a computer language invented in 1971 and named for the 17th-century French scholar Blaise Pascal, who invented a calculating machine in 1642.

One thought - if the idea is to produce a single language spoken by us all (presumably as a second language), why are there so many?

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Guam Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest of Guam's settlements.

Dededo is by far the largest settlement with a population of almost 45,000. The origin of the name is unclear but often said to mean 'two inches' and from the Chamorro word dededo. Other words from the same language are offered, such as dedeggo 'heel of the foot' and deggo 'tiptoes'. If any of these explanations are the true origin then the reference is a mystery.

Yigo is another which is by no means certain but most often said to come from either the Spanish yugo meaning 'yoke', as in that used to hitch an animal to the plough. However there is also an alternative name for the area, this Asyigo said to represent 'the home of a man called Yigo'.

Tamuning is a Carolinian word given after they settled here around the middle of the 19th century and thought to be after the chieftain of this people.

Mongmong-Toto-Maite are actually three villages and one principality. Once again the origin is uncertain but this has not prevented an intricate tale of how these names came about. It seems the Chamorro version of creation involved the god Puntan and his sister Fu'una. On his death Fu'una used the god's body to form the world and the sky, with his eyes producing the moon and stars and his flesh the earth. Hence the Chamorro words momongmong is a description of a heartbeat, toto meant 'to recline', and Maite is from ma'ette or 'the touch of another'.

Mangilao is undoubtedly from the Chamorro word ilao meaning 'to search'. This refers to this being a hunter's paradise where, in the past, many would come seeking deer, boar, fish and crabs.

Barrigada is from the local word for 'flank', here a possible reference to hunters coming here and the target when hunting deer. However this idea likely came from the Chamorro creation myth, for barrigada 'flank' and tuyan 'stomach' would refer to the two central hills of Guam, each formed by parts of the body of Fu'unta.

Chalan-Pago-Ordot uses the Chamorro Chalan Pago or 'the pago road', a reference to this being the route from Hagatna to Pago and is covered with Pago trees. Ordot is a second village name, this from otdot meaning 'ant'.

Yona is from iyo na, this Chamorro and meaning 'to possess something'. This has given rise to the tale of how visitors to the region, admiring the extensive coconut plantation, enquired who owned this area and heard the response Iyo na or 'we do'.

Santa Rita is clearly of Spanish origin, this from the patron saint of St Rita of Cascia.

Agat is thought to either come from the cry of the Marianas Crow which flies here calling out aga, this was then adopted by the Agat people who came to settle here and thereafter the place, or from the Chamorro haga meaning 'blood'.

Talofofo gets its name from entalo' i fe fo' meaning 'between the cliffs' and an apt description of the location. Note some argue this could also be from fo' fo' or 'bubbling spring' and thus 'between the bubbling springs'.

Sinajana is possibly from the local word china-jan, this referring to the local cookware designed specifically to cook the yams which, owing to their proliferation, would have been the staple food.

Inarajan is a Spanish pronunciation of the original Chamorro name of Inalahan

Asan is from hassan meaning 'scarce, rare', although just what this refers to is uncertain.

Merizo was earlier known as Malesso this from the Chamorro word lesso and the name given to the immature stage of the rabbit fish which run these bays at certain times of the year and prove a great delicacy for the locals.

Piti is thought to come from the Chamorro word puti meaning 'to hurt, ache' but the reference is unclear.

Hagatna is from the Chamorro haga' na, literally translating as 'his (or her) blood'.

Umatac is believed to come from the name of the Chamorro equivalent of March, this being Umatalaf, if so this may refer to the annual celebration held to the north of the village before and after the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century.

Ma'ina comes from Chamorro ina or 'shine, illuminate'. Here the reference is disputed, some point to those who hunted at night and used torches to light their way, others speak of the sunrise marking the arrival of a new birth, and a third explanation speaks of the moon illuminating the valley in which the settlement lies.

Unlike many nations of the Americas once under Spanish rule, few of the place names have come from this language but have retained their indigenous names. Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.