Aspiration and respiration

flickr laurenissuperman

“The word ‘aspiration’ has a breathing sense to it. …We have to breathe and to find reasons to stay alive on our own terms.”

— Lidia Yuknavitch

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Language Pulsations: Turkey Around the World (Repost)

turkey etymology

 

The various names given to this bird [the turkey] in so many languages are…a fascinating commentary on the expansion of world trading and migrations, not only human, that took place at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century. –Olaf Caroe “Why Turkey,” Journal of Asian Affairs, 1970.

Note: this was originally posted last year and, in honor of Thanksgiving, is reposted here with minor edits.

Every year around this time, I get asked the one-million-dollar Thanksgiving question: what is the difference between Turkey (the country) and turkey (the bird)? In the past, my explanations have centered on the fact that the English named the turkey after the Ottoman “Turks,” who first introduced the bird to them. This year, I began to wonder: is English the only language in which the turkey is named after a country? If not, in how many languages is this the case? The answer: English, Turkish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, German, Greek, Hindi, and Urdu all currently or at one point named the bird after a country’s name.

My new question became–why? What is the grander international narrative of the Thanksgiving fowl? As it turns out, tracking the different appellations applied to the meleagris gallopavo perfectly recreate trade routes of the 15th and 16th centuries. To understand the whole story, we have to start with Portuguese. To this day, the Portuguese word for turkey is peru, as in Peru, the South American country (thanks to A.G. for confirming this). In the Journal of Asian Affairs, Olaf Caroe notes that, in Hindi and Urdu of the 14th and 15th centuries, the turkey was also called peru. Why?

We find some reason in the directionality of trade routes in that era. As historian H.B. Paksoy explains (Essays on Central Asia, Carrie, 1999), in 1494 the Pope in Rome forged the Tordesillas treaty, granting a monopoly on commerce originating from the newly discovered North American continent to the Portuguese (as opposed to the Spanish). At the time, Spanish possessions in the New World were collectively labeled Peru. Thus peru, applied to the bird, would suggest merely that it came from Central America.

The Portuguese, using their new trading privileges, brought the turkey from America to Goa, its colony in India. From India, the turkey was traded all over the Eurasian continent, as the names of the turkey in various European languages suggest:

(One major language that is missing here is Spanish. In Spanish turkey is pavo, feminine pava, the Latin word for peacock from which Spanish-speakers do not distinguish the turkey. Yet even this name partakes in the Indian hypothesis, because Spaniards believed that the peacock was an Indian bird.)

Thus, not only did European states originally meet the turkey through their trade with India, but most Europeans thought that the turkey was actually native to India, when in truth it was from “the New World,” the Americas. Essentially, Europeans did not know the difference between the New World and India, due to the widespread misconception that the New World was East Asia. Caroe writes,

The confusion may have arisen from the nearly simultaneous discovery of the Americas and of the Cape [of Good Hope] route to India by Spain and Portugal respectively. … Add to this … that the West Indian islands and the Red Indian take their names from the belief of the early explorers that in the New World they had reached the coasts of India. So the bird, in common with the native tribes of America, got an Indian connotation.

From India, one of the places the turkey was then introduced to was Egypt, a province of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, the Turkish word for “turkey” is hındı, meaning “from India” and probably a borrowing from French dinde, a contraction of  poulet de l’Inde, “chicken from India.”

When traders took a breeding stock from Ottoman Egypt–commonly known at the time as “Turkish” Egypt because it was ruled by the Ottomans–to Spain and thence the British Isles, the bird was designated “turkey” in English. Caroe points out that in essence, this word is not really a divergence from the European trend of naming the bird after India: “To the English mind of the sixteenth century, Indian, Moor, and Turk meant much the same” (they were all furreners).

But that was centuries ago, and we’ve come a long way since then. Today’s words for turkey around the world less reflect colonial-era trading routes and more U.S. cultural imperialism. According to various online dictionaries, “turkey” in Hindi, German, Greek, and Danish are borrowings of the English word (टर्की, Türkei, Τουρκία, and Tyrkiet, respectively… although the Dutch word is still kalkoen).

So, when you chow down on your turkey (or vegetarian substitute) you can be newly impressed by the long history and international travels of the bird.

How do you say turkey in other languages and where do those words come from? Let me know in the comments.

Language Pulsations: Apology and Sorry

“Don’t you agree?!”

I looked up, startled out of my homework haze. I was sitting at a guard desk in a campus dormitory, mechanically checking student IDs, when a spunky freshman and her boyfriend addressed me.

“Agree about what?” I asked, surprised.

“That girls like sorry’s better than apologies,” she repeated.

“… Is there a difference?”

“Exactly!” the boyfriend said, obviously vindicated.

“No, there’s a difference!” the freshman from earlier protested. “An apology is, like, you’re apologizing that what you did made me feel bad. Saying sorry is, like, more personal.”

Then the elevator whisked them away, leaving a question hanging in the air: What is the difference between saying “I’m sorry” and “I apologize”?

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Language Pulsations: Turkey Around the World

Every year around this time, I get asked the one-million-dollar Thanksgiving question: what is the relationship between Turkey-the-country and turkey-the-bird? In the past, my explanations have centered on the fact that the English named the turkey after the Ottoman “Turks,” who first introduced the bird to them. This year, I began to wonder: is English the only language in which the turkey is named after a country? If not, in how many languages is this the case? More than I ever imagined: English, Turkish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, and, at one point, German, Greek, Hindi, and Urdu.

My new question became–why? What is the grander international story of the humble Thanksgiving bird? As it turns out, tracking the different appellations applied to the meleagris gallopavo perfectly recreate trade routes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Olaf Caroe writes,

The various names given to this bird [the turkey] in so many languages are…a fascinating commentary on the expansion of world trading and migrations, not only human, that took place at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century. (“Why Turkey,” Journal of Asian Affairs, 1970)

To understand the whole story, we have to start with Portuguese. To this day, the Portuguese word for turkey is peru, as in Peru, the South American country (thanks to A.G. for confirming this). Caroe goes on to note that, in Hindi and Urdu of the fifteenth/sixteenth centuries, the turkey was also called peru. Why?

It has to do with the directionality of trade routes in that era. As historian H.B. Paksoy explains (Essays on Central Asia, Carrie, 1999), in 1494 the Pope in Rome forged the Tordesillas treaty, granting a monopoly on commerce originating from the newly discovered North American continent to the Portuguese (as opposed to the Spanish). At the time, Spanish possessions in the New World were collectively labeled Peru. Thus peru, applied to the bird, would suggest merely that it came from Central America.

The Portuguese, using their new trading privileges, brought, among other things, the turkey from Spanish territories in the Americas to Goa, the Portuguese colony in India. From India, the turkey was traded all over the Eurasian continent, as the names of the turkey in various European languages suggest:

One major language that is missing here is Spanish. In Spanish turkey is pavo (feminine pava), the Latin word for peacock from which Spanish-speakers do not distinguish the turkey. Yet Caroe suggests that even this name partakes in the Indian hypothesis, because Spaniards believed that the peacock was an Indian bird.

Thus, not only did European states originally meet the turkey through their trade with India, but most Europeans thought that the turkey was actually native to India, when in truth it was from “the New World,” the Americas. The catch is that Europeans did not know the difference between the New World and India, due to the widespread misconception that the New World was eastern Asia. Caroe writes,

The confusion may have arisen from the nearly simultaneous discovery of the Americas and of the Cape [of Good Hope] route to India by Spain and Portugal respectively. … Add to this … that the West Indian islands and the Red [Native American] Indian take their names from the belief of the early explorers that in the New World they had reached the coasts of India. So the bird, in common with the native tribes of America, got an Indian connotation. [My politically-correct correction]

From India, one of the places the turkey was then introduced to was Egypt, a province of the Ottoman Empire. Thus the Turkish word for “turkey” is hındı, meaning “from India” and probably a borrowing from French dinde, a contraction of  poulet de l’Inde, “chicken from India.”

When traders took a breeding stock from Ottoman Egypt–commonly known at the time as “Turkish” Egypt because the Ottomans were a Turkish dynasty who ruled from Istanbul, Turkey–to Spain and thence the British Isles, the bird was designated “turkey” in English. Caroe points out that in essence, this word is not really a divergence from the European trend of naming the bird after India: “To the English mind of the sixteenth century, Indian, Moor, and Turk meant much the same” (i.e., they were all furreners).

Today’s words for turkey around the world less reflect colonial-era trading routes and more US cultural imperialism. According to Google Translate and Word Reference, “turkey” in Hindi, German, Greek, and Danish are borrowings of the English word (टर्की, Türkei, Τουρκία, and Tyrkiet, respectively… although the Dutch word is still kalkoen).

So, when you chow down on your turkey (or vegetarian substitute) you can be newly impressed by the long history and international travels of the bird.

How do you say turkey in other languages and where do those words come from? Let me know in the comments.

Language Pulsations: Ouch (Repost)

What is the first word that comes out when you stub your toe or start banging your head against the desk after six hours of nonstop studying? Is it “ow,” “ouch,” “ay,” or something else?

According to the Online Etymology dictionary, “ouch” derives from the German cry of pain, “autsch.” Since the earliest examples of “ouch” have been found in the U.S., it is likely that the German word was transmitted into English via Pennsylvania German version of “autsch,” which was “outch.” In any case, it is not clear where “autsch” came from—it is a relatively rare word in German—and the OED simply suggests it is “probably imitative” of the sounds that occur naturally when we experience pain.

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Language Pulsations: Sketchy (Repost)

“Sketchy…” “Sketch!” “Totally sketchville…” Sketchiness and the judging of things and situations as sketchy is so ubiquitous in teenage and college social culture that I never gave it a second thought. There are so many moments in daily life that beg for the word—Facebook stalking, the cream of mushroom soup at the university cafeteria, Rob Blagojevich, or that guy you met who constantly washes his hands with Clorox wipes. What did we ever do without “sketchy”?
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Language Pulsations: Random

While at a Habitat for Humanity build one weekend, we noticed tinkly Christmas music wafting over the neighborhood and into the work site. We looked up from our digging and saw that the sound was emanating from a mostly unmarked white van making the rounds. “An ice cream truck playing Christmas music? In March? That’s random,” we mused.

Later, while scrolling through a newly-Friended Friend’s profile pictures on Facebook, I came upon a photo of my new Friend cradling a guinea pig in his arms. Someone had commented, “you are so random and I love it.” And, in the cafeteria, I overhear someone muttering, “What a rando he was…”

As Urban Dictionary user Pip writes, “random is the latest buzzword” among teenagers. There truly is an infinite number of different situations that demand the label “random.” Wore two different-colored socks? Random! Ate cottage pie for dinner? Random! Wrote a column about the word random? Random! “Random” can even have a positive connotation, as the enthused Facebook comment suggests. Or it can have a negative connotation, as the volunteer’s statement showed.

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Language Pulsations: Caucasian

View of the Pankisi Gorge in the Caucasus (via pankisi.org)

Once in a while, confused and flawed ideas about race translate into weird and stubborn language holdovers. Take the designator “Caucasian.” Although this term did not appear on this year’s census, it is, as Wikipedia puts it, a term that “continues to be widely used in many scientific and general contexts.” A 1996 scientific paper in the journal Bone (which sounds more like a Goth webzine than an academic publication) describes “the effect of socioeconomic status on bone density in a male Caucasian.” For some reason, cops in police television dramas and movies tend to identify suspects as “Caucasian” rather than just calling them “white.” Other examples are from Kill Bill“Silly Caucasian girl likes to play with Samurai swords” (Kill Bill Vol. 1, 2003)and Superbad“He was Caucasian, kind of looked like Eminem, does that help?” (Superbad, 2007).

It’s an unfortunate contradiction that this most unscientific of scientific terms should retain a place in science. Because, of course, after a bit of thought one quickly realizes that the designator “Caucasian” refers to the Caucasus, a mountain range between the Black Sea and the Caspian. These mountains spread themselves out through Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and northern Iran, as well as southern Russian so-called autonomous regions including Dagestan and Chechnya. It’s a fascinating region with an intricate history that blends multifarious cultural influences. But as far as I know it’s not where my recent ancestors came from, or Uma Thurman’s, or Eminem’s, even though we are all supposedly “Caucasian.”

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Language Pulsations: Awkward

Awkwardness courtesy of Alli at Hyperbole and a Half

“That’s so awk!” “Awkward turtle!” “Stalkward!” “Wow, awkies…” “Awksome!” It seems like teenagers these days cannot get enough of the word awkward. However, the word happens to have a rather awkward etymology.

It comes from awk, a Middle English word meaning “back-handed, wrong way around, perverse,” added to the adverbial suffix -weard. As it turns out, “awkeward” was a directional term that meant “in the awk (i.e., wrong) direction”—this is why “awkward” is similar in spelling to the likes of “toward,” “forward,” and “backward.” Imagine—in old forms of English, it was acceptable “to go awkward” just like you we can “go forward” today!

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