Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You are now my unfriend

Actually, that would be a new coinage. I don't believe that the adjectival nominal form has made it into the dictionary yet, but the verb "to unfriend" has been announced as Oxford's Word of the Year for 2009. Ah, the joys of Facebook neologisms. We may even need a neologism to define this specific category of neologisms. Any suggestions?

Among the others, I have seen 'sexting' cropping up with increasing frequency, but I believe my favorite is 'funemployed.' I have seen first hand the benefits of funemployment, and they seem, well, pretty fun. And "tramp stamp" is so 2004. Other favorites?

On a much less modern note, the English word 'friend' is historically interesting. It is one of the last remaining traces in Modern English of the old present participal suffix (along with 'fiend') so productive in Latin, where it appears as -ent (e.g. nom. sing. dicens [<*dic-ent-s], gen. dicentis). It comes to us through Germanic in which the suffix was largely lost. Thus it was, originally, 'the loving one.'

UPDATE: Stupid Blogger thought the above notation was a faulty HTML tag and cut my post. It has now been restored in full (though too late for GReader to pick it up, unfortunately).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's in a paper, anyway?

Does it seem strange to non-classicists that this bizarre, five line passage (from Tacitus' Agricola, chapter 12) can serve as the basis for a 20-some page paper? Well, it does to me anyway:
fert Britannia aurum et argentum et alia metalla, pretium victoriae. gignit et Oceanus margarita, sed subfusca ac liventia. quidam artem abesse legentibus arbitrantur; nam in rubro mari viva ac spirantia saxis avelli, in Britannia, prout expulsa sint, colligi: ego facilius crediderim naturam margaritis deesse quam nobis avaritiam.

Britain bears gold and silver and other metals—the value of its conquest. The ocean also produces pearls, but they are dusky and of bluish hue. Certain men believe that some technique is absent in the collectors; for in the Indian Ocean,the pearls are pulled out of the rocks still living and breathing, whereas in Britain, are collected just as they are expelled: I, for my part, would more easily believe that the natural quality of the pearls is lacking than our greed.
Also, I am on a quest for a highly-technical, possibly extant term which, if it exists, would be the term in structural engineering for, more or less, 'the point at which the force would cause a structure to collapse in the absence of a support.' Suggestions are welcome (with credit given! hmm? hmmmm?).

Sunday, November 8, 2009


You all are watching football, because that's the only good thing to do on a Sunday afternoon (It sure beats reading Tacitus, at least). Therefore, you probably just saw the NCIS episode teaser. And heard this:
"He's as close to invisible as I've ever seen!"
That is all.

The Wicked Stepmother

We are all familiar with the wicked stepmother character in fairy-tales (Cinderella, etc.). While the Brothers Grimm, those famous collectors of tales (and linguists!), surely had some hand in it, this representation of the stepmother seems to have much wider traction.

There exists already very early in the Greek tradition the concept of a proverbially cruel stepmother. By the time of Hesiod, the stepmother (μητρυιὴ) has distilled, essentially, into a single word formula for cruelty. In the conclusion of Works & Days (822-28):
Αἵδε μὲν ἡμέραι εἰσὶν ἐπιχθονίοις μέγ' ὄνειαρ·
ὄρνιθας κρίνων καὶ ὑπερβασίας ἀλεείνων.

Some days are a great benefits to men on earth,
But others are indifferent, harmless, bringing nothing at all.
Someone praises one kind of day, but few understand them.
Sometimes a day is a stepmother, sometimes a mother.
He is fortunate and blessed of men, who
knowing all these things, works on, guiltless in eyes of the gods,
discerning omens of flight and avoiding transgressions.
The juxtaposition of the mother (μήτηρ) establishes a polar relationship, i.e, cruel : caring. But this minor contextualization is unnecessary for Aeschylus in the 5th century (PB 725-27):
ἐχθρόξενος ναύτῃσι, μητρυιὰ νεῶν.

Salmydessa is, the jagged jaw of the sea,
A hateful host for sailors, the stepmther of ships.
A pan-Indo-European theme? Even broader? I need to do some more investigating.