Sunday 27 November 2016

Canada's Provinces

Having recently been reminded of how the name of Canada being named for a tiny area around the St Lawrence where the Iroquoi referred to their kanata or ‘village’, I thought it a good idea to examine the origins of the names of the territories. These twelve names have a variety of origins, some simplistic, others transferred from the Old World, and even those from the indigenous languages.

Alberta's name is down to the Scottish Marquis of Lorne, the Governor General of Canada, who named it after his wife Princess Louise Caroline Alberta in 1882.

British Colombia shares an origin with the US District of Columbiia in being named after Christopher Columbus, although this was much later than the US names and not known as such until 1858.

Manitoba is a province named after Lake Manitoba, itself from the Cree tribe's name for the island in the centre of the lake which they called Manatuapa or 'great spirit' as they regarded this as the home of said spirit.

New Brunswick is named to honour King George III in 1784 when it was separated from Nova Scotia (see below). George was not only the third George to be king of England but also the third of the House of Hanover, also referred to as Brunswick.

Newfoundland is possibly the most simplistic English place name anywhere. Discovered by John Cabot, an Italian-born Englishman, in 1497 he never actually named it such but is first seen in a document of the following year when it is simply said to be 'the new-found land'. Correctly the territory is Newfoundland and Labrador, where the English name of the island was translated to Portuguese as Terre-Nueve. The Portuguese exploration of this region is also seen in the naming of Labrador, itself directly from the surname of the navigator Joao Fernandes Lavrador. Hence the dog taking its name from the region and often abbreviated to just 'lab' should correctly be called a 'lav'. Also of note is the name given to some parts as New Britain, named as this was north of what was known as New France in the 17th century. This all started in 1612 with Welsh captain Thomas Button when he spent the winter on the shoreline of Hudson Bay at a place he called Nelson on the shores of the Nelson River. He called the region 'New Wales' and erected a sign telling others who came here. Nobody arrived until 1619 when Captain Luke Foxe discovered the sign and referred to the lands north of the mouth of the Nelson River as New North Wales and that to the south as New South Wales.

North West Territories is another requiring no explanation other than to say it is referred to as being 'north west' of Rupert's Land. A much better name is the earlier Inuktitut name of Nunatsiaq or 'beautiful land'. In the earliest days it was proposed the name should be changed to Denendeh, an Athabaskan word meaning 'our land'. This was rejected along with the rather amusing idea this should be known as simply 'Bob', which likely began as a joke but attracted a lot of interest until the joke ceased to be funny.

Nova Scotia is literally the Latin for 'New Scotland' and named by Sir William Alexander after being granted the area by James I. Previously the French had settled here and knew the place as Acadia.

Ontario, like Manitoba, is named after its lake. Here the Iroquois oniatar-io means 'beautiful' in referring to lake. The river and state of Ohio in the USA share this derivation.

Prince Edward Island was discovered in 1534 by the French explorer Jacques Cartier who called it Ile St Jean or St John's Island as it indeed became known when ceded to the British in 1763. In 1798 it was renamed after Prince Edward who was the fourth son of George III but, more importantly, the father of Queen Victoria.

Quebec takes the name of the city, one of the oldest known names on the North American continent and from the Algonquin kebec meaning 'where the river narrows'.

Yukon, as our final example, is thankfully an indigenous name. The region takes its name from the Yukon River which simply means 'big river'.

For those interested I looked at the origins of the names of Canadian cities a couple of years ago.

Sunday 20 November 2016

Atomic Etymologies

Following on from my recent examination of Elemental Etymologies, and after hearing the latest news on the hunt for the Higgs Bosun, thoughts turned to the origin of these. With the science of splitting the atom a very new idea, the names of the sub-atomic particles would be expected to have very recent beginnings. However some of the following have a most surprising meaning and origin.

Atom is certainly the oldest of the words and also comes first alphabetically, hence it is the logical place to start. It is first seen in the late 15th century and taken from the Latin atomus meaning 'indivisible particle'. Even though we are speaking about sub-atomic particles from hereon, this definition still fits as this is indeed the smallest state any of any element, and smaller and it is quite simply something else. Latin took the Greek atomos meaning 'uncut, unhewn, indivisible' from a 'not' and tomos 'a cutting'. What had been ancient speculation by Greeks such as Leucippus and Democritus, saw a revival in 1805 by the British scientist John Dalton.

Quark is, for a particle only named just fifty years ago, still questioned. As a sub-atomic particle it was certainly named by US physicist Murray Gell-Mann who, in correspondence with the Oxford English Dictionary, informed the editors he took it directly from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake but already had the sound in his head before he found the word in print. Now this is said to be plausible as Gell-Mann's parents emigrated to the US from Austria-Hungary and German quark does exist (its meaning of 'curds, rubbish' is hardly relevant here). The questions concern the pronunciation which in US circles is generally pronounced to rhyme with 'stark' and in the UK more often rhyming with 'walk'. Note George Zweig, who deserves equal credit in the work, suggested the name ace.

Ion, as a noun, came into being when suggested by polymath the Rev William Whewell to physicist and chemist Michael Faraday. Whewell understood the Greek ion, being the neuter present participle of ienai 'go' came from the Proto-Indo-European ei 'to go, to walk' and perfectly describes how electrons move towards the electrode of opposite charge. Incidentally, this ancient root can be traced to words with identical meaning in Greek, Latin, Old Irish, Irish, Gothic, Gaulish, Sanskrit, Avestan, Old Persian, Lithuanian, Old Church Slavonic, Bulgarian and Russian.

Electron was coined by Irish physicist George J. Stoney in 1891. He combined 'electric' with 'on', as seen in 'ion' (below) as the flow of electrons is, in a most basic sense, what the layman refers to as 'electricity'.

Proton was coined in 1920 by the English physicist John Rutherford. He used proton as the neuter of the Greek noun protos meaning 'first'.

Neutron is 'the electrically neuter part of the atom' and named in 1921 by US chemist William D Harkins, he taking 'neutral' and 'on' (see 'ion') to produce a word which has a basis in 'neuter' and originally referring solely to gender in the sense 'not capable of breeding'.

Neutrinos are particles smaller than a neutron, the term coined by Italian physicist Enrico Fermi and ultimately shares its etymology with 'neutron' (above).

Photons are units of electromagnetic radiation (light to you and I), and derives its name from the Greek photo 'light' and the suffix 'on' (see 'ion'). Note the Greek photo can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European bha 'to shine'.

Baryon comes from the Greek barys 'heavy' and the addition of 'on' (see 'ion').

Fermion is a name coined by Paul Dirac and inspired by Italian physicist Enrico Fermi with the addition of 'on' (see 'ion').

Lepton is named from the Greek leptos 'small.slight' and derived from lepein 'to peel' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European lep 'peel, shave, to scale (from fish)'. Here the suggestion is the lepton is a weak force and shares a root with 'leper'.

Mesons are intermediate in mass between protons and electrons hence, with the suffix 'on' (see 'ion') the Greek mesos or 'middle' was used.

Hadron uses the suffix 'on' (see 'ion') to follow the Greek hadros 'thick, bulky' as well as 'great, large, ripe'. This prefix comes from the Proto-Indo-European root sa 'to satisfy' and shares an origin with 'sad'. Scientist working at the Hadron Collider (a fabulous potential pub name) might have their own opinions as to their work being related to 'thick' and 'sad'.

Higgs boson is the Holy Grail for physicists - the Holy Grail that is until they discover something ever deeper - and is named after Peter Ware Higgs CH FRS FRSE and Satyendra Nath Bose FRS. Neither men gave the alternative name of the 'God particle' to the Higgs boson, this most often attributed to Leon Lederman as the author of the book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? (catchy isn't it?) but actually came from the publisher (yes, been there!) after Lederman originally came up with the phrase the "Goddamn particle".

Pions were named from the Greek letter pi, itself from the Hebrew where it meant 'little mouth', together with the suffix 'on' (see 'ion').

Positron was coined in 1933 and simply takes the first part of 'positive' and the ending of 'electron' to describe itself.

Muons were once known as the 'mu meson' but scientists agreed upon the shorter version. Hence the 'meson' (see above) took on the Greek letter mu, itself derived from the Egyptian hieroglyph for 'water' and which also formed the basis for the Polish word for 'slime', the Sanskrit word for 'urine', and the Avestan word for 'excrement'.

This is why language is so wonderful. In the modern world of science we need to travel back thousands of years, only to discover the 'water', 'urine' and 'excrement' all, etymologically speaking, stem from the same thing.

Sunday 13 November 2016

Not All At Sea

As a youngster I did not enjoy a very boring holiday week in Great Yarmouth. Nothing against Great Yarmouth, it was the torrential rain which threw a very real dampener on things. Yet for years one image stuck in my mind, that image is still there in the form of the Barking Smack public house. At the time I had no idea that 'Barking' was a place name and that a 'smack' was a vessel. Recently I visited the resort again and, reminded of the visit years ago, wondered why a vessel would ever be called a 'smack'. Not only is the smack examined here but many other vessels, not all to be found at sea.

Barge can also be used to mean 'bump into', and it came as something of a surprise to find this usage is derived from the vessel normally handled quite roughly. The name of the vessel came to English from Old French barge and ultimately from Latin barica and Greek baris meaning 'Egyptian boat' and this from Coptic bari or 'small boat'. Barque (sometimes 'bark') shares this origin.

Although trireme is a much better known term, there is also a bireme, the difference being the former has three rows of oars and the latter just two. The suffix in each case comes from the Latin remus meaning 'oar' and derived from same root as the word 'row' in Proto-Indo-European ere with the same meaning.

Brig is a shortened form of 'brigantine', itself referring to a vessel most often associated with trouble, particularly piracy. Hence it has the same root as 'brigand' and also 'brigade' in Italian briga 'to fight' and also seen Gaelic brigh and Welsh bri both meaning 'power'. Note the prison on board ship, known as the brig, is derived from the name of the vessel as, once again, it was associated with trouble.

The canoe may have been used for millennia but the word can be traced to the 15th and 16th century voyages of Christopher Columbus. The Spanish canoa is taken directly from the Arawakan (Haiti) word canaoua, used solely to refer to the boat.

Caravel came to English from Middle French caravelle, this from the Spanish caravo and Latin carabus referring to this small wicker boat covered with leather. Further back we find an apt description of the upturned boat in the Greek karabos meaning 'beetle, lobster'.

Catamarans were first seen when trading in what were then known as the East Indies. As most will know the modern catamaran uses two small hulls with the main body of the vessel atop that connecting these hulls. It came as no surprise to find this was the origin, where Tamil kattu-maram literally means 'tied wood' and from kattu 'binding' and maram 'wood, tree'.

Clipper is less than two centuries old and named for its speed, the verb 'clip' still used to speak of a fast pace.

Coracles are those ancient one-man craft typically seen in an artist's impression of early life in Britain. Our modern word came from the Saxons, itself related to Welsh corwgl, Gaelic curachan and Middle Irish curachan, the latter meaning simply 'boat'. These all likely share a root with Latin corium meaning 'hide, leather', cortex 'bark', Sanskrit krith 'hide', and Russian skora 'hide' and kora 'bark' in Proto-Indo-European ker 'to cut' and point to this framework being covered with skins

Dinghy is a Hindi word, where dingi simply means 'small boat'. It is doubtless related to Sanskrit drona-n 'wooden trough' and dru-s 'tree'.

Dreadnought is not so easy to see today but, when coined by the Royal Navy in the late 16th century, simply meant 'fearing nothing'.

Ferry, as a vessel, comes from its use as a verb which originally meant 'to carry, bring, or transport' (particularly over water) and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European per and shares an origin with 'port'.

Galleon shares an origin with galley and galliot the origin of all uncertain but is certainly of great antiquity as it is represented in most European languages.

Gondola is recorded since the 16th century but prior to that nothing is known of its origins.

Junk always seemed an odd word for a vessel but of course the modern 'rubbish' use has a quite different etymology. As the name of a vessel it has travelled quite a long way, coming to us from Portuguese junco 'Chinese sailing ship', from Malay jong 'large boat' and ultimately from Japanese djong.

Kayak came to English from Danish kajak and Greenland Eskimo qayaq meaning 'small boat of skins'. Note the kayak is, at least in its homeland, the male craft and the 'umiak' its counterpart really does mean 'woman's boat'.

Ketch is derived from the Middle English cacchen meaning 'to capture' and another vessel named for its use in warfare.

Launch may seem obvious but it is not named from the verb, albeit the spelling has been influenced by such. This comes from the Malay lancharan itself from lanchar meaning 'quick, agile'.

Liner is surprising recent, unknown prior to 1838 and simply means 'a vessel belonging to a shipping line'. Interestingly the use of 'line' here is also very recent, dating from around 1786 when it referred to lines of horse-drawn coaches.

Luggers are named for their lug sail, itself named for its supposed resemblance to an ear flap (lug hole!), which in turn shares an origin with the handle of a pitcher.

Pinnace comes from a root shared with the Latin pino 'pine tree' and also 'ship'.

Punt is an Old English word for a flat-bottomed boat taken from the Latin ponto and named for its apparent resemblance, and also effective use, to a bridge.

Sampan is a light Chinese boat name from the Chinese san pan, quite literally meaning 'three boards'.

Schooner is related to the archaic term scon, once used to mean 'to send over water'. Both are related to shun, itself meaning 'to turn aside', which also came to be used by the railways in the form of 'shunt'.

Skiff is a small boat with a name shared with 'ship', itself common to many European languages in a variety of forms and traceable back to Proto-Indo-European skei meaning 'cut, split' and referring to wooden ship construction.

Sloop came to English from Dutch sloep, this from Middle Dutch slupen 'to glide'. Interestingly this also shares a root in Proto-Indo-European sleubh, which has also given us 'sleeve' and that part of the garment which can the wearer has to 'slide' on.

Tugs are powerful vessels doing what their name suggests. The term 'tug' as a verb can be traced to Proto-Indo-European deuk meaning 'to lead'.

Yacht is quite well known as being from the Dutch, although the Germanic root is common to many of this group of languages and describes speed. The Proto-Germanic yago and earlier Proto-Indo-European yek both originally used to refer to 'the hunt'.

And of course the smack, the name that started it all. Not seen before the early 17th century, as this single-masted boat did not exist prior to that, came to English from the Dutch or German smak meaning 'sailing boat' and ultimately from smakken 'to fling or dash'. This can only be seen as the noise made by the sails as it catches the wind.

Sunday 6 November 2016

Equine Etymologies

A few months ago I looked at the origins behind the names of the various parts of a suit of armour. Since then it has always been my intention to look at, to me, quite baffling names given to the various parts of the horse andcfinally here it is beginning with the noble steed itself.

Horse is a Germanic word, where all its languages are little different from the Proto-Germanic root of hursa. This in turn is derived from Proto-Indo-European kurs meaning 'run', a very apt description of a horse. Note the Greek term 'equine' has taken different route, coming through the Greek and ultimately Proto-Indo-European ekwa or 'horse'.

Stallion came to English from the French where around the end of the twelfth century staloun described 'a male horse used for breeding'. It shares an origin with Old High German stal meaning both 'stable' and 'stall' and where breeding stock would be kept.

Mare is another Germanic word, this from the Proto-Germanic root markhjon originally meaning simply 'horse'.

Foal once again has a Proto-Germanic root. Here fulon ultimately comes from Proto-Indo-European pulo meaning simply 'young of an animal'.

Cannon is the large bone, once simply the middle toe of the earliest horse known as Eohippus, fused to give the creature added height. Undoubtedly this name comes from its resemblance to the tapering barrel of a cannon, itself ultimately meaning simply 'tube'.

Coronet is the upper, almost circular part of the hoof and thus is almost identical to that worn on the head and thus took the name.

Croup is the name given to the topmost part of the hindquarters and associated muscle, it gets its name from the French croupier which, prior to its modern usage, described 'one who rides behind the other' and referred to where the second individual sat.

Fetlock is the tuft of hair behind the pastern joint of the animal. This Germanic term is from fetel and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ped-el and originally referred to 'the foot part'.

Flank, the fleshy part of the side, came to English from Old French flanc 'hip, side' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European kleng 'to bend, turn'.

Hock, the joint in the hind leg of the animal, corresponds to the ankle joint in humans but derives its name from Old English hoh and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European kenk 'heel'.

Hoof is a Germanic word, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European kop meaning 'to beat, strike' and imitative of the noise made by the horse as it walks.

Loin, the side of the animal, gets its name from its use as the choicest cut of meat as food. Less appetising is how the same word also gave us 'lumbago'.

Mane is yet another traceable back to Proto-Germanic where mano, and the ultimate origin of Proto-Indo-European mon, simply meant 'nape of the neck'.

Pastern has only been used for a part of the leg since the early 16th century. It came from the tether known as a pastern used to keep the animal, not just the horse, where it had been left. This, in turn, shares an origin with 'pasture' and even 'pastor' as the early animals were tethered in the pasture rather than fenced in.

Poll is the occipital crest behind the ears, it shares an origin with the sense of electoral poll in that it refers to the head, and was originally used to refer to a haircut before it was also applied to trees and plants (as in pollarding).

Stifle, the equine equivalent of the human knee joint, does share an origin with the more often heard sense 'choke, suffocate' as both come from Old High German stopfon 'to plug up, stuff' as this is could easily be seen as a description of a joint.

Withers is that point just above the top of the shoulder blades and where the height of a horse is measured. It is this sense where Old English wither, also used to mean 'against, contrary, opposite', speaks of this being the point where the beast of burden would oppose the weight of the load.