Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Hindi/English punning: lions, tigers, and shares

Thinking about the English idiom the lion's share "the biggest piece", this could be nicely misrepresented in mixed Hindi/English as the lion's शेर  [śer]. (शेर being Hindi for "lion".)

Or (almost) translated into the punnish बाघ का भाग [bāgh kā bhāg], though that would be literally "the tiger's share". As a non-native speaker, बाघ का भाग is a nice tongue-twister as well, in terms of aligning aspiration with the correct segments.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Linus Torvalds: " There aren't enough swear-words in the English language", or, perkeleen vittupää

Linus Torvalds, commenting on a Linux commit, had to result to swearing in (his semi-native) Finnish (emphasis added):
Sat, 13 Jul 2013 15:40:24 -0700
Subject Re: [GIT pull] x86 updates for 3.11
From Linus Torvalds <>

On Sat, Jul 13, 2013 at 4:21 AM, Thomas Gleixner  wrote:
>    * Guarantee IDT page alignment

What the F*CK, guys?

This piece-of-shit commit is marked for stable, but you clearly never even test-compiled it, did you?

Because on x86-64 (the which is the only place where the patch
matters), I don't see how you could have avoided this honking huge
warning otherwise:
 arch/x86/kernel/traps.c:74:1: warning: braces around scalar
initializer [enabled by default]
  gate_desc idt_table[NR_VECTORS] __page_aligned_data = { { { { 0, 0 } } }, };
 arch/x86/kernel/traps.c:74:1: warning: (near initialization for
‘idt_table[0].offset_low’) [enabled by default]
 arch/x86/kernel/traps.c:74:1: warning: braces around scalar
initializer [enabled by default]
 arch/x86/kernel/traps.c:74:1: warning: (near initialization for
‘idt_table[0].offset_low’) [enabled by default]
 arch/x86/kernel/traps.c:74:1: warning: excess elements in scalar
initializer [enabled by default]
 arch/x86/kernel/traps.c:74:1: warning: (near initialization for
‘idt_table[0].offset_low’) [enabled by default]
and I don't think this is compiler-specific, because that code is
crap. The declaration for gate_desc is very very different for 32-bit
and 64-bit x86 for whatever braindamaged reasons.

Seriously, WTF? I made the mistake of doing multiple merges back-to-back with the intention of not doing a full allmodconfig build
in between them, and now I have to undo them all because this pull
request was full of unbelievable shit.

And why the hell was this marked for stable even *IF* it hadn't been
complete and utter tripe? It even has a comment in the commit message
about how this probably doesn't matter. So it's doubly crap: it's
*wrong*, and it didn't actually fix anything to begin with.

There aren't enough swear-words in the English language, so now I'll
have to call you perkeleen vittupää just to express my disgust and
frustration with this crap.

 Reddit has some additional comments.

What does perkeleen vittupää mean?

  • Pää =  head (From Proto-Uralic *päŋe)
  • Vittu = vulgar term for female genatalia  (< Swedish fitta, with the same meaning, apparently ultimately from fett, meaning "fat" (n.), itself a borrowing in Swedish from Middle Low German vet, from Old Saxon *fētid, from Proto-Germanic *faitidaz )
  • Perkele = the name of the chief deity of the pre-Christian Finnish pantheon, now usually meaning something like "Devil" (itself ultimately from Proto-Indo-European; cp. Perkūnas, the common Baltic name for the god of thunder, deriving from Proto-Indo-European *Perkwunos, itself cognate with *perkwus, a word for "oak", "fir" or "wooded mountain")
Thus the gloss of one Redditor.

For what it's worth, note that two of the three morphemes (and the two which are actually crucial to the compound's vulgarity) are in fact of Indo-European extraction (or, at least Germanic, in the case of vittu), so at least it's not a defiency in Indo-European/Germanic...

Language Log has more on both vittupää and perkele.

[Bonus vulgarity: The version control system used for Linux kernel development is called "Git" (also originated & coined by Linus Torvalds).]

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The garden path to heaven

There is a Facebook page called "I Miss Someone Really Bad Who Is In Heaven".

My initial reading was:

Villain: "If only my parents could see me now..."
Sidekick: "Sir, I am sure they're smiling down from evil heaven."

I was somewhat disappointed to find that this is not the intended reading.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Singular "they" and Minecraft

A quickish note about a recent posting by Notch of Mojang. Notch, the original creator of Minecraft (which I really haven't had a chance to play for some time), notes that though the default character skin appears somewhat masculine (and is referred to as "Steve"), the original intent was that characters in Minecraft be genderless. Notch points to the genderless aspects of the other living creatures in Minecraft (cows, birds, pigs etc.) and the fact that all of these can breed with any other member of the same species to produce offspring as part of the same outlook.

The linguistic angle is his closing footnote, which relates to referring to Minecraft's default character as him:
* I do regret using masculine terms to talk about the default character. These days I try to use the up-and-coming use of “they” as a genderless pronoun.

They, of course, has been an "up-and-coming" genderless pronoun for at least a few hundred years now:
Matt. 18:35: So likewise shall my heauenly Father doe also vnto you, if yee from your hearts forgiue not euery one his brother their trespasses. [Tyndale's translation, 1526]
It has been pointed out repeatedly that singular they has been used in the Biblical translations of Tyndale and the King James translators, as well as other reputed writers of English literature such as Shakespeare and Jane Austen:
There's not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend
[Shakespeare, A Comedy of Errors IV, 3]
"It had been a miserable party, each of the three believing themselves most miserable."
[Austen, Mansfield Park]
 For more on singular "they", see Language Log's collection of posts on the topic, as well as Wikipedia's extensive page.

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Oh, no, maadarcho-": On subtitling vulgarities in Hindi films

John McWhorter, in his recent New Republic article, "Gosh, Golly, Gee: Mitt Romney's verbal stylings", discusses what he appears to view as Romney's over-sanitised style of public speaking as a marker of inauthenticity. Lucy Ferriss, in her post "Jeepers!" on the Lingua Franca site, is somewhat sceptical of this argument.

However, what struck me in Ferriss's post was the following paragraph, because it touches on something I was pondering a couple of days ago.
It is certainly true, as McWhorter observes, that public discourse has grown more casual and that examples of “taking the name of the Lord in vain” are not so proscribed as they once were. I only became aware of my own habitual use, not only of various expletives involving Judeo-Christian names for the deity, but of designated euphemisms, when I was in Pakistan recently. I would start to say, “Jesus, it’s hot,” and realize that my hosts’ theological frame of reference was somewhat different. Soon I began censoring not only “God” and “Christ,” but also “jeez,” “criminy,” “omigod,” and “lordy.” It was surprisingly easy to do, and as my speech changed, I also noticed no swearing (at least in English) on the part of my interlocutors, who did use other American slang freely.
 An oddly persistent feature of Hindi-language film English subtitling is the bowdlerisation of cursing. A particularly amusing instance of this occurs in the film Murder 2, a somewhat gruesome thriller. The main character, a hard-boiled ex-cop, is verbally abusing another character, and calls him मादरचोद (mādarchod).* Now mādarchod means "one who has sexual relations with his mother" and thus has a readily available and obvious English gloss. However, in the English subtitles mādarchod is rendered as "scoundrel". The disparity between the original and the translation afforded me a good chuckle (my wife simply ignores the subtitles, so wondered why I started laughing).

What is even more amusing is that this bowdlerised subtitling extends to subtitling English as well. So, in the same film, when the hero disgustedly says "Fuck." in sotto voce, the subtitles tell us that he said "Oh, no!".

I wonder if there is a certain subset of South Asians (who can speak English, and reside somewhere in South Asia, as opposed to abroad) who are uncomfortable with cursing in English (even if they do so in other languages) - this subset would seem to include everyone who provides English subtitles for Hindi films.

Postscript: "Taking the name of the lord in vain" doesn't translate well very into a Hindu setting. Hindi speakers will exclaim हे भगवान! (he bhagwān) "Oh, lord!" in times of crisis (or mock-crisis), and likewise will say "Oh, lord!" or "Oh, god!" in English in the same fashion. But these are all what I would call vocative uses, supplications to divine powers for assistance (and I would think "lordy" would fit into this category too). I can't think of Hindi language curses which parallel zounds (< "by god's wounds"). Hindi swearing usually involves some sort of reference to sex or sexual organs, usually involving someone else's mother or sister --- बहिनचोद (bahinchod) "one who has sexual relations with his sister" being in fact a bit more typical than मादरचोद (mādarchod).

 * मादरचोद (mādarchod) is interesting from the standpoint that mādar is a borrowing from Persian but is infrequent outside of this compound. That may well not be accidental --- its use in other contexts may be "blocked" by association with mādarchod.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Donkey Anaphora and the King(s) of France

An end-of-the-semester gift from one of my semantics students:

A t-shirt for a (as yet fictitious?) band. Started as an in-class joke which arose from the juxtaposition of two topics:

(1) presupposition failure in sentences like "The king of France is bald", and
(2) issues involving the binding of pronouns in sentences like "Every farmer who owns a donkeyi beats iti."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lizards, Walls, Dragons: on an apparently undocumented Nepali lexeme (भित्ति)

I have not posted in some time due to dissertating, searching for (and thankfully finding) a job, and subsequently moving. Here's a short posting on a Nepali word which I heard from my wife which I can't find in any Nepali dictionary.

When we moved into our new house, we discovered that there were a number of house-lizards already resident (and, less amusingly, quite a few German roaches), which our cat has really enjoyed hunting down. I remembered having such lizards in our house in India, and immediately I saw them remarked to my wife "देखो! छिपकली है!" (Look! There's a lizard!"), using the Hindi word for "lizard", छिपकली [chipkalī]. My wife replied, "in Nepali we call them 'bhitti' (भित्ति)."

I'd never heard this word before, and was curious. I checked Turner's A comparative and etymological dictionary of the Nepali language as well as his mammoth four-volume A comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan languages. Neither mentions bhitti or anything like it. I also checked a number of Hindi dictionaries, none of which turned up anything. Except for Platts' A dictionary of Urdu, classical Hindi, and English, which has an entry for भित्तिका bhittikā:
S بهتکا भित्तिका bhittikā, s.f. Wall (=bhīt, q.v.); small house lizard.
This isn't quite bhitti, but it's close. I had already supposed (and my wife had already suggested) that bhitti was connected with the word for "wall" (in Nepali, भित्तो bhitto or भित्ता bhittā), given that they're often found on walls. So bhitti is something like "wall-(related) creature". [Turner does have an entry for bhitti, but he gives the meaning "wall".] 

Platts' entry indicates a Sanskrit origin, and indeed  bhittikā looks awfully Sanskritic, with the "diminutive" -(i)ka suffix, which is not really always diminutive, but rather can also attach to words with no change in meaning. But here perhaps a diminutive based on "wall" makes sense. 

Interesting, the Sanskrit word for "wall, panel, partition", bhittí, comes from a root √bhid- "to split", which is very dear to my heart (part of the Proto-Indo-European dragon mythology). 

So there's a "new" Nepali word:  bhitti "house-lizard", which doesn't seem to have been recorded before. It may be dialectal (i.e. I'm not sure that Kathmandu Nepali speakers would use it), and that's perhaps why it wasn't previously recorded. In any case, I think it's a cool word, given that it does sort of connect lizards and dragons, indirectly.

[Incidentally, Platts suggests that Hindi छिपकली [chipkalī] derives from the root chip- "to hide", which is what I always assumed (going back to an early Indo-Aryan *chapp- "press, cover, hide". Turner, on the other hand, derives it from Sanskrit शेप्या śepyā which means "tail" (and "penis", but I think "tail" is what is relevant here). The (potential) Nepali cognate of Hindi छिपकली [chipkalī] is छेपारो chepāro, though the latter might be more plausibly derived from  Sanskrit शेप्या śepyā "tail", especially as छेपारो chepāro seems to refer to outdoor lizards (while माङ्सुलि māṅsuli is used for house lizards).]