I am picking up where I left off last week. At first sight, nothing could be more straightforward than the adjective still. It has always meant “fixed, not moving.” We sit still, come to a standstill, and enjoy still lifes (that is, pictures of living things in a state of rest).
From time to time, various organizations invite me to speak about the history of words. The main question I hear is why words change their meaning. Obviously, I have nothing new to say on this subject, for there is a chapter on semantic change in countless books, both popular and special.
To keep somebody or something at bay means “to keep a dangerous opponent at a distance; to hold off, ward off a disaster, etc.” The very first interpreters of this idiom guessed its origin correctly. They stated that bay here means “to bark” and that at bay refers to hunting.
The previous post on Nostratic linguistics was also part of the “gleanings,” because the inspiration for it came from a query, but a few more tidbits have to be taken care of before summer sets in.
A colleague of mine recently retired from teaching. As she began her last semester, she announced to her students that she hoped they would finally be the class where no one confused “its” and “it’s.” Her wish did not come true. The apostrophe rules of English are built to confuse us. Not intentionally. But they have evolved in a way that can confuse even the most observant readers and writers.
A dictionary is in indeed a collection of stories and each word entry has a unique tale to tell. If we choose the verb ‘be’, we encounter a special insight into English, and into the society and thought that has shaped it over the past 1,500 years.
The colleague who wrote me a letter is a specialist in Turkic and a proponent of Nostratic linguistics. He mentioned the Turkic root syn-, which, according to him, can mean “to test, prove; compete; prophesy; observe; body, image, outward appearance,” and wondered whether, within the framework of Nostratic linguistics, this root can be compared with the root of Engl. sin.
The phrase is outdated, rare, even moribund. Those who use it do so to amuse themselves or to parade their antiquarian tastes. However, it is not quite dead, for it sometimes occurs in books published at the end of the nineteenth century.
With the ever-increasing rise of globalization, the need to communicate more effectively across cultures becomes all the more important. In a hyper-connected world, we need to learn how to better understand the perspectives of others, and how to make accommodations in conversations that support both parties being on the same page. Simply put, different cultures see things differently.
Today I am beginning where I left off last week. As we have seen, Old Icelandic sannr meant both “true” and “guilty.” Also, the root of this word can be detected in the word for “being” (Latin sunt, etc.).
The original Earth Day Proclamation in 1970 refers to “our beautiful blue planet,” and the first earth day flag consisted of a NASA photo of the Earth on a dark blue background. But the color of fields and forests prevailed, and today when we think of ecology and environmentalism, we think green not blue.
This blog was launched on 1 March 2006, four or even five editors ago (to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut’s statement about his wives), and is now in the twelfth year of its existence. It has been appearing every Wednesday since that date, and today’s number is 587.
In a way, this is the continuation of the previous week’s gleanings, because I owe today’s subject to a question from a student of Old English. Although I cannot say anything new about carouse, the story is mildly instructive.
Many thanks for the comments. One of the questions was about the dialect that could be used for the foundation of a new norm. No spelling can reflect the pronunciation of all English speakers.
The Oxford Comma, so named because it first appeared in the 1905 Oxford University Press Style Guide, is the comma that comes before the word and in a series of three or more listed items. Also known as the serial comma, it’s the often ironic rallying cry of a certain type of language aficionado. And it’s in the news after a federal appeals court mentioned it in a court decision recently.
We are so used to the horrors of English spelling that experience no inconvenience at reading the word knowhow. Why don’t know and how rhyme if they look so similar? Because such is life.