John Gordon Ross

A Man for All Reasons

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Language Stuff

Almost everyone uses language, so inevitably almost everyone thinks they are an expert in it. I don’t consider myself an expert, though most of my work requires at least language competence and sometimes actual skill, but I do follow the blogs featured on this feeds page.

(If you are wondering where the translation-related feeds have all gone, I have put them on their own page.)

Most of the blogs represented here are in English, most of the time, but don’t be surprised to find other languages used. Go with the flow – I occasionally find myself pleasantly surprised at how much I can grasp in languages I have never seen before.

Language On the Net

Language Log » Anaphoric ambiguity of the week

Saturday 9 September 21:59:39 UTC 2017

Obeying the sign: See also "Another step towards gender equality", 8/20/2006, "Dogless in Albion", 9/12/2011, and John Wells on "carrying dogs", 3/15/2013. [From here via Carmen Fought] [Link]

Language Log » Citation crimes and misdemeanors

Saturday 9 September 12:24:21 UTC 2017

Terry Provost wrote to express interest in the topic of "citation plagiarism", linking to a couple of Bill Poser's LLOG posts ("Citation plagiarism", 6/15/2007; "Citation Plagiarism Once Again", 4/23/2008), and noting that "yours was one of very few mentions of the topic I found". Provost points to a somewhat more recent article on a related topic (Charlie Tyson, "Academic Urban … [Link]

Urban Word of the Day » Hush Puppie Highway

Saturday 9 September 7:30:00 UTC 2017

Walking. esp when you have no car or your car is not working or your ride left you. no one wanted to pick me up so I had to take the hush puppie highway. [Link]

Language Log » Impromptu biscriptalism on a Starbucks cup

Saturday 9 September 4:42:45 UTC 2017

Photograph taken by a Russian friend of Nikita Kuzmin at a Starbucks in Shenyang, northeast China: The handwriting on the side says simply: wài's 外's ("foreigner's"), where the wài 外 is short for: wàiguórén 外国人 ("foreigner") lǎowài 老外 ("[old] furriner"), which we studied extensively in this post: "Laowai: the old furriner" (4/9/14) One might well ask why the barista didn't … [Link] » Irritating Byssus.

Saturday 9 September 1:00:54 UTC 2017

Felicitas Maeder’s article “Irritating Byssus – Etymological Problems, Material facts, and the Impact of Mass Media” (pdf; from Textile Terminologies from the Orient to the Mediterranean and Europe, 1000 BC to 1000 AD 36 [2017]) begins by quoting the OED’s etymological entry for the term byssus: < Latin byssus, < Greek βύσσος ‘a fine yellowish flax, and the linen made from it, but in later writers taken for cotton, also silk, which was supposed to be a kind of cotton’ (Liddell & Scott), < Hebrew būts, applied to ‘the finest and most precious stuffs, as worn by kings, priests, and persons of high rank or honour’ (Gesenius), translated in Bible of 1611 ‘fine linen’, < root *būts, Arabic bāḍ to be white, to surpass in whiteness. Originally therefore a fibre or fabric distinguished for its whiteness. It then examines written and material evidence of byssos in antiquity (“All mummy bandages analysed until today are made of linen”), the term byssus in the Bible (“In the Old Testament, different Hebrew linen terms were translated with the single term byssus in the Latin vulgate”), and later developments; she sums up this part of the argument thus: The conclusion is: In antiquity byssus was a fine textile of linen (or cotton, rarely silk). In the 16th century the filaments of bivalves like Pinna, blue mussel and others were given the name byssus, in analogy to the ancient byssus. The fatal consequences for textile history are: From that moment on, textiles called byssus in antique texts were no longer associated only with linen (or cotton, rarely silk). Byssus became, in popular wisdom, for journalists and for some authors, sea-silk. With the simple logic: byssus is the name of the filaments of the Pinna nobilis of which was made sea-silk, byssus is found in the Bible and in profane antique literature, so byssus is, almost always and everywhere and at any time: sea-silk. She goes on to talk about sea-silk in antiquity and in Italy, with extended quotes from the Enciclopedia italiana di science, lettere ed arti di Treccani, and ends with an extended section on “Invented tradition and the role of mass media,” concluding: John Peter Wild stated once: “To discover the meaning of a specific textile term, a lexicon is a good place to start, but a bad place to end.” How true! Studying the terms byssus and sea-silk in lexicons and dictionaries is of nearly no help. They only render the researchers uncertain with all their inconsistencies and contradictions. As we have seen, even actual specialised dictionaries raise more questions than answering them. […] These few examples – from the thesis of a Roman university to historical and textile studies of antique and medieval times up to a modern specialised lexicon and biological reference book – show the consequences of the impact of mass media in present-day research, at least in the matter of byssus and sea-silk. The ‘power of naming’ – so it seems – lies more and more in fanciful websites, odd blogs, facebook accounts, and magic events around ‘secret and sacred old traditions’. Interesting stuff; thanks, Trevor! > [Link]


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