Origin of words...

D

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I found out today, purely by chance, skimming an article about a Buddhist region of Russia (I'm not Buddhist, my wife is) about a word I've heard her use for years and never quite 'understood'.

In Thai, it's pronounced like "joy stick".
The English equivalent it turns out is "joss stick" (a stick of incense essentially) - my mum used incense quite a bit when I was growing up but I never heard this term before coming to Thailand.

Anyway. So it turns out the root word is Latin "deus" (God), which became "deos" in Portuguese, then "dejos" in Javanese, and then the Chinese pidgin English made it "joss"... which the Thais pronounce as "joy".


Holy shit I hate languages.


Tomorrow: why is the word "orange" for fruit shared with orange the colour in several languages. (I honestly have no clue).
 
D

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I don't know the origin of it either, (I'd guess maybe cockney slang) - but it was a common phrase (both the direct Bob version, and the indirect Robert version) when I was growing up in Australia.
 
D

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Actually Bob’s my dad. This saying would be accurate for my cousins though.
So, your question made me look it up, to find the original background - "bobs your uncle" doesn't mean much unless you already know the phrase, but it's essentially like "easy as pie" "piece of cake" (to imply something being easy)

It's not definitive, but it's theorised that the phrase came from a bit of 19th century Trumpism, when a British PM (named Robert) appointed his nephew as Chief Secretary of Ireland.

I guess a modern day American equivalent might be in reference to Jarred Kushner as "Donald's your dad in law".
 

Alli

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I love language and all its intricacies. Many languages actually. Of course, it’s most fun comparing the English spoken in various English-speaking countries, cause we don’t speak the same language. It’s too gross a difference to be contributed just to dialect.
 

lizkat

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So, your question made me look it up, to find the original background - "bobs your uncle" doesn't mean much unless you already know the phrase, but it's essentially like "easy as pie" "piece of cake" (to imply something being easy)

It's not definitive, but it's theorised that the phrase came from a bit of 19th century Trumpism, when a British PM (named Robert) appointed his nephew as Chief Secretary of Ireland.

I guess a modern day American equivalent might be in reference to Jarred Kushner as "Donald's your dad in law".

Up here in the boondocks I decided to switch to "... and Bob's your uncle!" from "et voilà!" after 2003 when the US and the French had got in a series of tariff spats over the latter's lack of support for the invasion of Iraq.

Remember some US folks insisting on saying "Freedom fries" instead of French fries? Yeah. Well some of those folks live around here. They thought it was great that the US price of imports like camembert and brie went through the roof, too: "Let them keep their damn cheese". Same as later on when the Trump administration put up tariffs on European steel and aluminum... the EU then laid taxes on stuff like USA's orange juice, peanut butter, Harley-Davidsons... and I remember folks here saying the French didn't deserve a good bike anyhow (this despite the fact that that tariff meant lower revenues for a struggling American enterprise!)​

Anyway I started giving "Bob's yer uncle" a shot instead of "et voilà!" figuring there are lots of Scots-Irish folk around here, as in all up and down the Appalachian Chain, but was surprised to draw puzzled looks most of the time, except from people my own age or older. OK, so around here for most younger people, history started somewhere around the time Ronald Reagan said it was morning in America again.

So I finally settled for "Nothin' to it!" which went over fine but by then was definitely an overstatement of sorts every time I heard myself say it.

Honestly I love living in the mountains once again, not that far from where I was born, but I have to say there's a lot about the prevalent mindset that is way different today compared to what I was born into as WWII was concluding. The feeling of camaraderie towards the British and French was a lot stronger then, doubtless because of what the allies had been through together and a sense of shared sacrifice among families "across the pond".

I do love thinking about origin of words and phrases though, even words in the same language that describe things of similar shape but possibly different purpose or size, etc. Like who decided to call a fork "fork" and a spoon "spoon"? versus larger utensils like "harpoon" and "shovel"?

I've also been fascinated by how some languages have picked up English words now as their own, when they didn't happen to have a word of their own for something, yet English itself has borrowed so many words from other languages.

This borrowing is still common, especially in areas of advanced technology, and I think particularly in countries like India or Pakistan where there are a zillion dialects but almost everyone is taught English, so it's simpler just to say "hard drive" rather than fish around for whatever expression might have first been used to describe such a piece of gear in one or another "first language" dialect in those countries. It's just startling to hear a couple people chattering in say Urdu on a NYC subway line, and have the term "hard drive" pop out in mid phrase...

Some countries, France among them, are very protective of their own language, and work hard to deny the rise of "loanwords" from elsewhere. But there's probably no place as hardcore about it as Quebec,according to a piece in Bloomberg awhile back:

Officials in the Canadian province are particularly aggressive about language issues, given their status as a lonely Francophone island in North America. Previously, Quebec officials have tried to insist on such mouthfuls as coup d’écrasement for the tennis term “smash” and enforced the term un parc de stationnement where the French happily say un parking. (Recently, the office is said to be adopting a more lenient approach.)

At least you won't get a raised eyebrow in Montreal if you say "... et voilà!"
 
D

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larger utensils like "harpoon" and "shovel"
I shall keep this in mind when next asked if I want utensils (rather than chopsticks) at an asian restaurant lol.

I don't have a problem using chopsticks.. but a harpoon might have logistical benefits if they're really big wontons.
 
D

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I've also been fascinated by how some languages have picked up English words now as their own, when they didn't happen to have a word of their own for something
The way those words get adapted via pronunciation is often enough that a native speaker won't necessarily even recognise the word, or may lead to other words being mistaken for borrowed words.

e.g. `Farang` (which most Thai's pronounce as `Fuh-lung`) is quite informal (/offensive, to some people) way to refer to a western/european foreigner (typically, those of European descent) - although some Thais will then use `Farang dum` for those of African descent; 'dum' means black in Thai.

For years the similarity in sound made me think it was originally derived from `foreign`. It's not at all. It's a Persian word, that original came from French and referred to a germanic tribe called Franks.

How on earth that made it here, is beyond me.

This borrowing is still common, especially in areas of advanced technology
The relationship between modern 'casual' Thai language and English is really bizarre to see. A lot of words they'll just borrow (and then pronounce with different inflection or stresses, e.g. "computer" > "compyootERR", etc - but there's a bunch of weird cases where they just use an English word for something, even when there is a Thai equivalent, or, and this one is the weirdest: they use Thai characters to phonetically spell out an English word (for stuff that there are definitely Thai words for, like "shoe shop" or something). So if you're not bi-lingual and read Thai, you're fucked.

At least you won't get a raised eyebrow in Montreal if you say "... et voilà!"
I am quite hesitant to use those common little phrases a lot of people know, if I'm specifically where the phrase comes from, because IME (admittedly not with the French) they're as likely to assume you're fluent, as they are to just appreciate you knowing one common phrase.
 

Alli

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This borrowing is still common, especially in areas of advanced technology, and I think particularly in countries like India or Pakistan where there are a zillion dialects but almost everyone is taught English, so it's simpler just to say "hard drive" rather than fish around for whatever expression might have first been used to describe such a piece of gear in one or another "first language" dialect in those countries. It's just startling to hear a couple people chattering in say Urdu on a NYC subway line, and have the term "hard drive" pop out in mid phrase...
I found this to be the norm in Québec. You’re halfway through a perfectly good conversation in French and all of a sudden what you need just works better in English, so you switch to English for a sentence, and then back to French. Or vice versa. It bothered me at first, but then I realized it was just code switching. The less aware of it you are, the more natural it becomes.
 
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It bothered me at first, but then I realized it was just code switching.
My wife does this by mistake occasionally. She'll be talking to her mother (minimal English) in Thai and I'll suddenly hear a word, in English, that I know there is a Thai word for (and sometimes know the Thai word) and I'll just look at her oddly, and she'll suddenly click that she's used the wrong word.



Actually, as niche as it is, some of the most annoying usage of seemingly borrowed words (or at least sounds like) I've seen here is measurements.

There's a Thai word which means "1/8 inch". Took years to finally work out what it meant with my wife. Anyway. So for e.g. PVC pipe or timber or metal that's manufactured in mm, but sold in nominal inch sizes (e.g. 3/8", 1/2", 3/4", 1", 1 1/2" pipes, 2x4, 1x2, etc ) - anything below 1" will be referred to with this 1/8 word. So it isn't 1/2". It's 4/8. 6/8 not 3/4. Etc. Ok fine. One word, one fractional unit. I can learn that and remember that.

But then the Thai "word" (which may or may not be borrowed) for inch... is pronounced "mil". As in. the very common abbreviation used for millimetres. They don't actually refer to millimetres (much) in spoken language if it's measured that way, they use centimetres (pronounced as "cent" mostly, it seems)..
 

lizkat

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I found this to be the norm in Québec. You’re halfway through a perfectly good conversation in French and all of a sudden what you need just works better in English, so you switch to English for a sentence, and then back to French. Or vice versa. It bothered me at first, but then I realized it was just code switching. The less aware of it you are, the more natural it becomes.

I do sometimes hear that in the conversations of various members of my extended family who are fluently bilingual (English v Hebrew, Portuguese, or Chinese). So In the presence of some of the rest of us, in the event part of the exchange in another language goes on for more than a few sentences, usually one or the other conversant says something like "ah English ok?" to switch back and become more inclusive of the rest of us.

And I remember army brat cousins who spent their early childhood in San Antonio and were bilingual in Spanish-English: they definitely used to switch back and forth a lot when just speaking with each other, using a word from whichever language came to mind first. They did seem to know which language to favor in general though, when they were talking to someone whose apparent preference was either Spanish or English. Human brain's plasticity for languages while young is amazing.
 

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A brilliant thread.

Culture matters, too, and not just language, as a country's culture influences just how that language is spoken, irrespective of fluency.

But, it is more than just language, it is also the more subtle stuff such as "culture" and how that language is used to express thoughts, feelings, facts.

A friend of mine who is Scottish, is a university lecturer who teaches English, and is living in, and teaching in, Portugal, where she is also married to a Portuguese academic. Their children are completely bilingual, but also had to master the cultural nuances of each language when speaking it in the country where that was the dominant language.

Thus, when visiting their grandmother in Scotland, while they knew English perfectly, and were completely fluent, it always took them a day or so to remember, to master - or recall, and apply - how English should be spoken in that Scottish (British?) setting - less directly, less robustly biological, more formal, more understated, more "politely"; the converse applied on their return to Portugal, where their Portuguese speech - native, and fluent - was, for a day or so, influenced by the patterns of the more reserved and polite, formal and understated English they had been speaking in Scotland, to the scoffing disbelief of their friends who thought that inexplicably, that they had somehow become priggish snobs, even though they were speaking fluent Portuguese.
 
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Alli

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Culture matters, too, and not just language, as a country's culture influences just how that language is spoken, irrespective of fluency.
Nail. Head.

This is why no matter how many years one studies a language, it is impossible to achieve true fluency without absorbing a lot of television, popular music, and literature. And that can span some decades.
 

tranceking26

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Likewise.

And I love how language changes, and adapts, borrowing, tweaking or inventing words and phrases as needed, all of which allows it to express new concepts and ideas and thoughts, challenges that the older form of the language may have not been able to meet.
Yeah it's fascinating. I never grew to appreciate languages until years after school and college. Where I'm from it's very rural, so something different to what I see online.
 

lizkat

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A piece from Ars Technica fits into this thread, in its own way... however I must say don't read it unless you can accept spoilers galore regarding Andy Weil's book Project Hail Mary.... as the Ars Tech piece itself warns right up top.

Anyway I appreciated and recommend the remarks of a linguist consulted for the piece, a Dr. Betty Birner, professor of linguistics and cognitive science at Northern Illinois University. For me it was worth having some of Weil's book possibly spoiled by reading what she had to say about the differences between "language" and "communication".

Also speaking for myself, somehow never (yet) a particular fan of science fiction, I've enjoyed a number of the pieces about Weil's latest novel, but so far haven't put a toe into its waters (or out into its bleak reaches of deep space) past reading those reviews. Maybe I'll have to give the book a shot before the inevitable movie shows up.
 
D

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It isn't really about the origin so much, but I've mentioned several times how Thai words have this annoying (to a non native speaker at least) trait where several words are pronounced this same, but in slightly different tone, and mean wildly different things.

The other day I was introduced to another of these. One is the word for 'ride', like to ride a horse, or ride a motorbike. The other is the word to shit. Not sit. S H I T.

Thanks Thailand.
 
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