Sunday, 27 February 2022

The Mean; You're Mean; I Mean.

Following on from several weeks featuring an alphabetical list of words which had previously had rather different meanings, I found myself thinking about the different uses of the word 'mean'. How can so many different usages have come from the just placing four letters in the same order? Surely it can't be purely random? There are three in the title - an adjective, a verb, and a noun - but there are actually six different uses, with three adjectives and two verbs.

We will start with a verb. 'Mean', as in 'intend' comes to English from the Germanic tongues, and ultimately from that original Proto-Indo-European language where the root of meino can be defined as 'opinion' as well as 'intent'.

As one of the adjectives, the sense is now largely obsolete as 'shared by all, common, general'. This came from Proto-Indo-European ko-moin-i 'held in common', itself with the root mei 'to change'.

As the noun 'mean' is 'the midway point between two extremes' as opposed to the average. This is reflected in the Proto-Indo-European root medhyo 'middle'.

The second use as a verb is derived from the above noun, this then to 'calculate the middle value' and has the same origins.

The second adjective describes one of middle rank or status, again having a common root with the noun but coming to English with the French, in words such as moiien 'medium' or even 'middle-class', and Latin medius 'in the middle'.

The third adjective is an abbreviation, and was originally used as 'mean-spirited', the latter used from the late 17th century when 'mean' was used as a synonym for 'stingy'. With the addition of '-spirited' the use changed to describe one as 'spineless, grovelling' and latterly has been used instead of 'cruel'.

Thus, the reason we have five meanings for what appears to be one word, is because these are five different words which have taken on the same spelling in English.

Sunday, 20 February 2022

Valentine's Day Abroad

After the deluge of emails regarding the last post (the dictionary does not specify quantity required to be a deluge, so one could well be a deluge) I decided to look at similar terms of endearment in other languages. Rarely do these colloquialisms and phrases translate as they are originally intended.

Tio (Spain) translates as 'uncle' but is also used in the same way as 'mate, buddy'.

Tia (Spain) translates as 'aunt' and, as with the previous term, also used to mean 'mate, buddy'.

ito (Spain) is used as a diminutive, so adding it is tantamount to using '-kins' on the end of a word.

ita (Spain) again used as a diminutive, the above is masculine and this feminine.

Carino (Spain) simply transaltes as 'darling'.

Bebe (Spain) means 'baby', not hard to see, but I've never understood why 'baby' is used as a term of endearment (began in the USA) when as an Englishman I always thought it was used as an insult.

Cielo (Spain) means 'sky', and why anyone would think referring to another by such is a term of endearment is beyond me. But then I never got the "My moon and stars" reference in Game of Thrones either, albeit Jason Momoa did seem a little out of it at times.

Dulzura (Spain) translates as 'sweetness', although more likely to be used to mean 'sweetheart'.

Corazon (Spain) means 'heart', never used to refer to the organ, only as a term of endearment.

Vato (Mexico) is a slang term used to mean 'guy' which, so I understand, is used rather more in fitting with the theme in Mexcio than it is in English-speaking nations. In Britain, of course, we burn our guys on November 5th.

Mijo (Central and South America) might mean 'my son' but is used more lovingly in the Americas - unless used as a noun when it describes 'millet'

Mija (Spain) is 'my daughter' and used as the above.

Mon coeur (France) is 'my heart', and not used to refer to the organ.

Mon bebe (France) as with the Spanish 'my baby' I have never understood this as a term of endearment, more likely to see it as being referred to as 'immature'.

-et (France) is used as a diminutive at the end of a word to suggest a term of endearment.

-ette (France) another diminutive, this the feminine version.

Mon chou (French) means 'my cabbage' which, apparently, the French do not see as calling someone a 'vegetable'.

Ma moitie (France) or 'my half' is seen as the same as 'my other half' in English, albeit it doesn't quite sound the same as seeing another as part of a pair.

Fragolina (Italy) is to call someone 'little strawberry', not what I'd call a plus but it takes all sorts, so the saying goes.

Stella (Italy) is the word for 'star' and if you see your lover as akin to trillions of exploding hydrogen nuclei, go for it.

Microbino mio (Italy) shows the Italians are really answering the call when it comes to non-translatable terms, for this means 'my little microbe'.

Schatz (Germany) doesn't come across well when vocalised by English-speakers. Neither does the story that Star Trek's William Shatner secretly married Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac, and when the news broke Stevie announced she would henceforth be known as Stevie Shatner-Nicks (unless you say it aloud). For Germans Schatz simply means 'treasure'.

-chen or -lein (Germany) is the German diminutive turning the name or noun into a term of endearment.

Liebling (Germany) literally translates as 'favourite' but is used in the context of 'dear' or maybe 'darling'.

Susse (Germany) means 'sweet' and no explanation required.

Perle (Germany) or 'pearl' seems odd as it's a name in English, but is only like saying someone is a diamond.

Hase (Germany) means 'bunny', not exactly what I'd call a term of endearment, but each to their own.

Knuddlebarchen (Germany) is indeed a compound term and means 'cuddle bear'. And having said we won't have many there is also:

Mausebar (Germany) 'mouse bear', Also:

Mousezahnchen (Germany) 'little mouse tooth' and undoubtedly my favourite:

Honigkuchenpferd (Germany) 'honey-cake horse'.

Mo chuisle (Ireland) 'my pulse' hardly seems like a nice way to describe someone, but perhaps I'm not looking at it from the right angle.

Wee (Ireland) is not really Irish but a dialect word. However, considering it's also used as a synonym for 'urine', I do wonder if it began with someone taking the proverbial.

U-ri gang-a-ji (Korea) is 'my puppy', and one I wouldn't think would work in English.

Amigao (Portugal) means 'big friend' and even I would never have the nerve to woo someone by calling her my 'big friend'.

I'm not going to attempt to use the Chinese characters, but in China 'heart and liver' is considered fitting for this theme. And for the same reason I shall continue with simply quoting the country when different alphabets are used, or sometimes the language, and how they translate to English.

Russia uses 'baby sun', 'little fish', 'little paw', as compliments.

Po-po (Hungary) 'little bumlet', usually accompanied with a friendly pat on that area.

Einayim sheli (Hebrew) 'my eyes' and apparently suggesting the one addressed is precious.

Ya amar (Arabic) doesn't sound too complimentary to me for it translates as 'my moon'.

One Cantonese term suggests 'silly pig' is an acceptable compliment.

Puttemus (Denmark) translates as 'cuddlebug'.

Snoepje (Netherlands) and the meaning is 'little candy'.

Pudingeto is a word from Esperanto and, if we accept this as an official language (I can't see why not) then calling someone 'pudding' is a loving term.

Shagua is a Mandarin term meaning 'fool'. I don't think I'd ever attempt using this.

Taku kairangi is Maori for 'my finest greenstone', and I can't help thinking of copper piping.

Mahal is a Tagalog word and, when used as a term of endearment, still doesn't change the meaning of 'expensive'.

Nefesim (Turkey) is another translation which makes the idea of referring to someone as 'my breath' rather odd - especially if they haven't brushed their teeth.

Minh em (Vietnam) and it translates as 'myself' which surely speaks more of the speaker than anyone.

Nha em (Vietnam) and although this translates as 'my home' is said to be a reference to the spouse.

Anh em (Vietnam) and is used by a wife to her husband, to describe him as older - even if he isn't.

Anata (Japan) and this has to be my favourite of the lot, for this simply means 'you'.

Doubtless I shall get complaints regarding some of my spellings, and doubtless I shall ignore them.

Sunday, 13 February 2022

Valentine's Day

For Valentine's Day, I thought I would take a look at the many terms of endearment found in English. Of course, I will look at these through the eyes of the etymologist. I've only used single words, phrases and most compound terms are ignored - and, most importantly, I've quite obviously stuck with those which may convey a slightly different meaning.

Babe is actually an earlier word than 'baby', itself the diminutive of 'babe'. The word is first seen as baban in the early thirteenth century, which almost certainly began as being imitative of baby talk (just as the word 'babble' is).

Honey is an old word, originates in Proto-Germanic hunang with the same meaning. The root is Proto-Indo-European, although it is not clear what that root is. One suggestion is kenekos meaning 'golden, yellow' or even 'brownish', all of which could describe the colour of honey. Such simplicity is common in early forms of language, for example many animal names are derived from their colour: bear 'brown' and hare 'grey'.

Sweetie is a diminutive of 'sweet', itself from Old English swete which, rather than describing a taste, referred to a person's disposition as 'pleasant'. Hence, what is seen as the modern use of 'sweet' is actually the original.

Love has not changed in meaning since its earliest known form of Proto-Indo-European leubh, used to mean 'care, desire, love'.

Sunshine is related to an Old English word sunscin which meant 'mirror'. It is worth noting how in the times when Old English was spoken, a mirror was a valuable item.

Dear is, like the word 'love', unchanged in all its meanings throughout its use.

Darling is a diminutive of 'dear' above.

Cupcake is not known as a compliment until the 1930s. It seems improbable that it could ever have been intended to refer to someone as 'sweet and desirable' - always assuming you like cake, or course.

Muffin is a word which is common to Western European languages, be they in the Latin group (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese) or the Germanic arm (English, German, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish), for both refer to a soft cake or bread roll.

Buttercup is a word unrecorded before 1777. Earlier the flower was known by two names, either a goldcup or a butterflower. Clearly all three names refer to the colour and shape of the flower, although why and when it was first used as a term of endearment is unclear.

Sugar is sweet, which is why it was used as a term of endearment, but the etymology of 'sugar' is not quite so complimentary, for we find words in Arabic, Persian, Latin, and Sanskrit all meaning 'grit, gravel' coming from the Greek for 'pebble'. Sugar originated in India (hence the Sanskrit link) and spread around the old world courtesy of the empire of Alexander the Great, who marvelled at this 'honey without bees'.

Beautiful is from 'beauty', itself traceable back to Proto-Indo-European dw-en-elo meaning 'to do, perform, show favour, revere' depending upon context.

Peach is from the soft fruit, itself named as it was referred to as 'the Persian apple'.

Gorgeous comes from 'gorge', a French word used rather differently to the English version in staing 'something adorning the throat', and derived from the Proto-Indo-European gwora 'food, devour'.

Doll is a pet form of the name Dorothy, although today it is most often used to describe the child's toy (as it has since 1700). Earlier, from 1610, it was used to mean 'mistress, paramour', by 1640 the term was a synonym for 'slattern', and from 1778 is also seen as meaning 'silly woman'.

Tiger goes back to Old Persian tigra meaning 'sharp, pointed'. Fitting for the large cat, but perhaps not for a man.

Handsome is a compound, where the two words first united in the late 14th century to describe something as 'appropriate', and not seen in the modern sense until 1580.

Stud can be traced to Proto-Indo-European sta when it meant 'to stand, make firm', which should be seen as a permanent settlement where horses were bred.

Casanova clearly comes from the man renowned for his promiscuity, the 19th century Giacomo Girolamo Casanova. To understand this more, perhaps we should Anglicise the rogue's name - in which case we would be referring to Jacob Jerome Newhouse. Try describing that ladies man as a 'Newhouse' and see where it gets you.

Dreamboat comes from a song released in 1936 entitled When My Dream Boat Comes Home, although some sources credit it to the book entitled Dream Boat, published in 1929.

Sexy is clearly derived from 'sex, the latter coming from Latin sexus 'male or female'. Earlier roots are unclear, although there is some thought of it being dervied from the same root as 'section' and thus meaning 'divide'.

Munchkin is first seen in L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz published in 1900. The author never explained how he came up with the word.

Precious is related to 'price', itself from Proto-Indo-European pret-yo meaning 'to sell'.

Poppet is an early form of 'puppet', and became a term of endearment in the later 18th century, about the same time as it came to be used as an expression of contempt.

Hen, a slang term for a woman initially but one which also came to be used as a term of fondness, comes from a root which meant 'to sing'. Now I have often heard hens clucking, and would never refer to it as singing - although the 'hen' here is used to refer to the female of all birds.

Pet clearly comes from the use of the word as a favourite domesticated animal, the verb 'to pet' derived from that. But the word isn't seen until the late 15th century, prior to that it has the same origin as 'petty', from the French petit 'small'.

Mate has all manner of meanings throughout history - friends as much as much as mating - and all derived from ga-matjon which meant 'one having food together'.

Duck, as a term of endearment, comes from around 1580, when it would have referred to a person who walked with a waddle - as pregnant women are apt to with their balance affected by the excess weight carried. The word for the bird describes its tendency to dip below the water.

Sunday, 6 February 2022

Ludicrous British Laws

As with last time, the following is the result of finding something while researching, something I was not looking for.

Walking home with something you have purchased made from wood, is against the law. Now, this is only against the law in London, and only if walking home. Thus if you live next door to the London retailer, make sure you go in your vehicle, or use a handcart, to avoid a potential £500 fine.

Another £500 fine awaits those who enjoy themselves in London. I often hear how the current crop of youngsters are glued to their devices, have no idea how to have fun and play out 'like we did when we were kids'. Londoners who play games, fly kites, or create slides on icy streets are falling foul of the law, and have done since 1839.

Ever been attired in fancy dress? What did you go as? A vicar, a tart, nurse, caveman? Hopefully you didn't go as a soldier or naval figure, for passing yourself as a member of the armed forces can land you with thirty days in a prison cell.

A £200 fine awaits anyone found to be drunk. Not drunk and disorderly, simply drunk. Almost a license to print money, one would think.

If you want to part with £500 in a fine, try indulging in one of the following: Belfast, Knicky Knocky Nine Door, Knock Down Ginger, Knock Out Ginger, Belletje trekken, Klingelstreich, Belleke trek, Knock and Nash, Chicky Melly, Chappies, Knick Knack, Cherry Knocking, Ding Dong Ditch, Sonne Decriss, Tok Tokkie, Rin-Rin-Raja, or Bel-Twi. Those are all the same game as it is known around the world, and simply knocking someone's door or ringing the doorbell and running away.

Don't make the mistake of having a pig sty at the front of your property if you're living in a town. Should the pig(s) escape, you could find yourself paying a fine of £1,000.

London householders beware, do not clean a mat or carpet in the street after eight o'clock in the morning. If you do, it's a fine of £500.

Vagrancy is also a crime, one which carries a month in a prison cell. But it covers any request for money. Ever asked for something for the parking meter?

Section 32 of the Salmon Act of 1986 points out that 'handling salmon in suspicious circumstances' is an offence. Unfortunately, it doesn't specify just what suspicious handling entails and thus perhaps you've been breaking this law for the last 36 years without even knowing it and could have spent two years in prison as a result.

The reason these seemingly ludicrous laws are still on the books? Because while it is difficult enough to get a new law passed or changed, it is nigh impossible to get laws removed as it is well-nigh impossible to foresee every possibility in the future. Rest assured you are never going to fall foul of these laws, as the powers that be are not going to enforce them - they have much more important jobs to do.