Archive for the 'linguistics' Category

a rose by any other name

I was fact-checking a local medical history piece, contributed by one of my writers, a couple of months ago when I stumbled upon this 16-year-old news article, which may prove instructive with regard to the Angsana Primary naming issue. I quote (and I do find this portion particularly incisive):

What is needed is not a clinging to historic names but someone to trace their history and evolution, and explain the changes in the context of the social and political developments that they mark. For example, what we know as Fort Canning Park, was once a real fort, called Fort Canning and named after the first viceroy of India.

Before Stamford Raffles annexed Singapore for the British, it was known as Bukit Larangan, or Forbidden Hill, the home and burial grounds of ancient Malay kings. Who knows what it was called before that?

Now, if Singaporean leaders of the 21st century should change the hill’s name to Lee Kuan Yew Park, to honour the man who led the country to independence, would it rob Fort Canning of its history?

Of course not. A place’s current name is like an onion skin. Peel it away and another name, another story lies below.

Continue reading ‘a rose by any other name’

what’s in a name?

I have always been interested in the linguistics of names, and this issue naturally piqued my interest……

Griffiths and Qiaonan alumni upset over new name for merged school – Angsana Primary
Qiaonan and Griffiths hold plenty of history and memories for former staff and pupils

By Pearl Lee And Ho Ai Li

What’s in a name?

Plenty of history and memories, say former staff and pupils of Griffiths Primary School and Qiaonan Primary.

They are upset that the two pioneer schools, which together have been around for 145 years, will be merged to form Angsana Primary School – a name with little connection to its predecessors.

“Why Angsana? Why not something like Griffiths-Qiaonan?” asked 86-year-old Eunice Tan Khe Tong, a retired principal, who was there for Griffiths Primary School at its start, and its end.

Continue reading ‘what’s in a name?’

you learn something new every day

Oxford Dictionaries has selected vape as Word of the Year. I had never encountered this term before so I wondered what on earth it was about! Perhaps it has been a pretty big word in the Anglosphere? Apparently it is a verb which means to ‘inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device‘!

I also came across this rather amusing article from Yahoo Tech. I quote, ‘In 2014, Oxford Online’s Word of the Year was “vape.” In 2013, it was “selfie.” In 2012, it was “GIF.” In that spirit, here are 13 vape selfie GIFs. Hooray, English language!’

you learn something new every day

Recently stumbled onto the verb animadvert, which is a really formal way of saying ‘to criticize’.

you learn something new every day

Recently found out that embonpoint could be used as a (high-sounding) synonym for a woman’s bosom! It originated from the French phrase en bon point, or ‘in good condition’. (The first example sentence given by Oxford Dictionary is rather hilarious: ‘the lady of a certain age and uncertain embonpoint wore strapless black lace kept up by sheer determination’!) When I first encountered this word, I thought it was some sort of needlework!

you learn something new every day

Carrie: Have you ever been in love?
Mr Big: Abso-fuckin-lutely!

(Sex and the City, season 1, episode 1)

Recently learnt that words separated by words, like abso-fuckin-lutely, are actually called tmesis!

you learn something new every day

Was recently googling to find out the etymology of the Chinese idiom ‘马后炮‘ (ma hou pao, or ‘cannon behind horse’), when I stumbled onto this old discussion on a local forum. Someone wanted to know how to translate that Chinese idiom into English, and someone else suggested ‘Monday morning quarterback‘. I had never heard this term before, and after checking it out, I concluded it summed up the essence of ‘cannon behind horse’ perfectly! :D

the grammar of a dinner

After lunch this afternoon, I returned to the office and somehow suddenly recalled this poem, by late Singaporean poet Arthur Yap. (A nice post about him can be found here.)

the grammar of a dinner

let’s have chicken for dinner.

somewhere else, someone else utters:
let’s have john for dinner.
we are alarmed by the latter
but a dinner, too, has its own grammar
& we are assured by grammarians
both utterances are in order.

john, + animate, + human,
couldn’t be passed off as repast.
chicken is + animate, – human,
& can end up in any oven.
if we combine the items of grammar
the way things in cooking are,
we would then have:
let’s have chicken for john for dinner,
let’s have chicken for dinner for john,
let’s have for john chicken for dinner,
let’s have for dinner for john chicken;
but probably not:
let’s have john for chicken for dinner,
let’s have for dinner john for chicken.

john is a noun holding knife & fork.
chicken collocates with the verb eat.
grammarians favour such words
as delicious & john eats happily,
but in a gastronomic dinner
taxonomic john isn’t to eat deliciously.

those were the days

Was at the MRT station near my house this afternoon, when I spotted a young man in a Tiffany blue tee emblazoned with these words in bold black:

Student
+
Dying
=
Studying

arrange by colour

Israel is 以色列 (Yiselie) in Chinese. 以 (yi) can mean ‘by'; 色 (se), ‘colour'; and 列 (lie), ‘arrange’.

The very first time I encountered the term ‘以色列’ was in a cloze passage from a Chinese exam paper in primary school. I did not realize that it referred to a country and simply thought that it meant ‘arrange by colour’. Which did puzzle me a little bit, as that intepretation did not seem to fit into the context of the entire sentence. I only found out what it was quite some time later. :)

in a land of homemade names, tiffany doesn’t cut it

Hatred got his name the way millions of other children here have — as a means of recording an event, a circumstance or even the weather conditions that accompanied their births.

“For instance, if it was windy, the name may be Wind. If it was rainy, it may be Rain,” said Matole Motshekga, the founder of the Kara Heritage Institute, based in Pretoria. “If there are problems in the family, they will use the appropriate name. So you cannot just name someone out of the blue. It has to relate to something.”

Thus a Zimbabwean baby born to parents who had spent years trying to start a family might be named Tendai, which expresses thankfulness, and a child born in a time of troubles may be named Tambudzai, which literally means no rest.

Or, just as likely these days, a baby will be named Givethanks or Norest. If a Sotho-speaking girl becomes pregnant before marriage, her unhappy parents may name the baby Question or Answer — an answer to the question of why their daughter was behaving so strangely before the pregnancy became known.

Read about a man called Hatred and other intriguing Zimbabwean names here!

a metaphor for our time

A metaphor for our time, perhaps…… or maybe not?

张无忌再也忍耐不住,从雪橇中一跃而起,拦在静玄身前,叫道:“且住!”静玄一怔,退了一步。张无忌大声道:“这般残忍凶狠,你不惭愧么?”

众人突然见到一个衣衫褴楼不堪的少年挺身而出,都是一怔,待得听到他质问静玄的这两句话理正词严,便是名派的名宿高手,也不禁为他的气势所慑。

静玄一声长笑,说道:“邪魔歪道,人人得而诛之,有甚么残忍不残忍的?”张无忌道:“这些人个个轻生重义,慷慨求死,实是铁铮铮的英雄好汉,怎么说是邪魔外道?”静玄道:“他们魔教徒众难道还不是邪魔外道?那个青翼蝠王吸血杀人,害死我师妹师弟,乃是你亲眼目睹,这不是妖邪,甚么才是妖邪?”

张无忌道:“那青翼蝠王只杀二人,你们所杀之人已多了十倍。他用牙齿杀人,尊师用倚天剑杀人,一般的杀,有何善恶之分?”

金庸《倚天屠龙记》第十八回

the grand budapest hotel

I enjoyed comedy film The Grand Budapest Hotel (though I disliked the ending, which was too Life Is Beautiful for my tastes) and was therefore quite amused to see this article in the Telegraph:

At the time of writing, the Grand Budapest Hotel was rated 1 of 1 hotels in The Republic of Zubrowka, having received 46 reviews which described it as “excellent” and only five that found it “terrible”.

Someone calling himself TheSamSolomon said: “My only complaint is the staff seem to be living in a different century- no one could find me an iPhone lightning cable nor did they know what an iPhone was. Also, the internet connection was almost non-existent. Zero was a great help though and he had many great ideas, he seemed a little bit deluded at time. But that must be the altitude.”

Click here to read the article, and click here to read the TripAdvisor reviews on this amazing institution! :D

hong kong loves weird english names

Devil. Whale. Chlorophyll, Violante, Treacle — you name it, Hong Kong probably has someone who goes by it. The former British colony is obsessed with weird English names.

Unusual appellations have been found on people of all kinds. The secretary for justice is Rimsky Yuen and the previous secretary for food and health was York Chow. Among celebrities, there is a Fanny Sit, Moses Chan, and Dodo Cheng. Models? We have a Vibeke, Bambi, Dada, and Vonnie. But lawyers take the prize. There is a Magnum, John Baptist, Ludwig, Ignatius, Bunny and four — yes, four — Benedicts.

Odd names make for odder situations. Last July, police arrested a woman named Ice Wong with 460 grams of ice — the drug, not frozen water. Months earlier, the law caught up with Devil Law when he was brought before a judge for drug possession and crashing his car into a bus. In 2010, a woman called Cash Leung was jailed for paying cabbies with fake cash.

I agree that most of the monikers that the writer mentioned are pretty peculiar, but why ‘Moses’ or ‘Benedict’? Anyhow, check out other unusual English names that Hong Kongers gives themselves here!

his friends know him as petroswickonicovick

Then there is Petroswickonicovick Wandeckerkof da Silva Santos, a 12-year-old soccer prodigy who has begun training with Corinthians, one of Brazil’s leading teams. Even in a country flooded with amazing names, his 19-letter first name and 12-letter middle name have raised eyebrows.

The boy said it took him awhile to learn how to pronounce his own name. His father, José Ivanildo dos Santos, a soccer coach, has been repeatedly questioned about the choice.

“The woman at the notary public’s office thought it was terrible and called me crazy,” Mr. dos Santos said in a televised interview. “But I told her I’d name my son my way.”

Read about the weird and wondrous variety of Brazilian names here!


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