Wikipedia:Reference desk/Language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Wikipedia Reference Desk covering the topic of language.

Welcome to the language reference desk.
Want a faster answer?

Main page: Help searching Wikipedia

How can I get my question answered?

  • Provide a short header that gives the general topic of the question.
  • Type '~~~~' (that is, four tilde characters) at the end – this signs and dates your contribution so we know who wrote what and when.
  • Post your question to only one desk.
  • Don't post personal contact information – it will be removed. All answers will be provided here.
  • Note:
    • We don't answer (and may remove) questions that require medical diagnosis or legal advice.
    • We don't answer requests for opinions, predictions or debate.
    • We don't do your homework for you, though we’ll help you past the stuck point.

How do I answer a question?

Main page: Wikipedia:Reference desk/Guidelines

  • The best answers address the question directly, and back up facts with wikilinks and links to sources. Do not edit others' comments and do not give any medical or legal advice.
Choose a topic:
See also:
Help desk
Village pump
Help manual

April 17

How fast is radio news read?

I have been asked to write news reports for a local community radio station broadcasting in English. The editor asked me to deliver stories of about one and a half to two minutes length, but I have no idea how many words that would be. I create text, not spoken recordings. Roger (Dodger67) (talk) 12:18, 17 April 2017 (UTC)

Why not try listening to a few one- to two-minute reports and counting how many words long they tend to be? You could also try writing a few and reading them at a pace similar to what you hear on news radio to see how long they take. rʨanaɢ (talk) 12:20, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
That's probably the best idea, but see also BBC News - Formula 'secret of perfect voice' which reports research suggesting that "the ideal voice should utter no more than 164 words per minute and pause for 0.48 seconds between sentences. Sentences themselves should fall rather than rise in intonation".
I also found Journalists' Toolkit - Timing for a broadcast script which says that a "common estimate in broadcasting is 180 words per minute. News anchors read at about 150 to 175 words per minute". Alansplodge (talk) 12:36, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
And more... Broadcast Journalism: Techniques of Radio and Television News by Andrew Boyd (p. 182).
And finally... A comparative analysis of speech rate and perception in radio bulletins by EMMA RODERO: "Most authors addressing the medium of radio recommend a speech rate of between 160 and 180 words per minute (wpm). If this rate is considered, only one radio station, BBC, would be within the suitable limit". Alansplodge (talk) 12:45, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
Thanks Alansplodge, all those great sources tell me that about 300 words per article would fit nicely within the 1:30 and 2:00 target range. Roger (Dodger67) (talk) 15:21, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
I concur with the advice to read the copy aloud to determine how long it takes to read, as more difficult words (like foreign names) will cause the reader to slow down. StuRat (talk) 15:48, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
They shouldn't, because a competent (news)reader will ascertain the correct pronunciations beforehand and practice saying them until they can do so at the same tempo as the rest of the script. {The poster formerly knoen as} (talk) 18:39, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
Not always possible with breaking news: "And the just-released name of the terrorist is ... well ... let's just call him John Doe, shall we ?". StuRat (talk) 04:27, 18 April 2017 (UTC)

English Language: The use of Whom

Whom is used with a preposition when someone's name or identity remains unknown/unmentioned. But sometimes I'm not certain... Look at the sentence below.

"Vikings would eventually return to English shores to raid, however, led by new chiefs whom had had no part in past agreements made."

The people referred to in this sentence have not been given individual names, and their identities are not really known. They have been referred to as Chiefs, however, which is a common noun rather than a proper noun, and so, you could argue that they have been identified as chiefs. So am I right or wrong to use WHOM here? (talk) 13:59, 17 April 2017 (UTC)

"whom" is wrong here. Traditionally who is used where it would be a subject and whom where it would be an object (in modern colloquial American English, though, "whom" is more or less gone, and "who" is often used in both situations.) It has nothing to do with the knowledge of their name. (Also, in your example it's not being used with a preposition.) rʨanaɢ (talk) 14:06, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
Whom is an object pronoun. Consider the following table:
Subject pronoun Object pronoun
I me
he him
she her
they them
who whom
Just replace the who/whom with "they" or "them" and see which works "THEY" works, use "WHO", if "THEM" works, use "WHOM". Since "...they had had no parts in past agreements" works better than "them had had..." which sounds wrong, go with "Who".

--Jayron32 14:11, 17 April 2017 (UTC)

Thanks, guys. I'll try keep in mind your advice in the future. (talk) 14:18, 17 April 2017 (UTC) -- The simplest thing to do is to never use "whom" at all, except in rare cases when "who" would come directly after a preposition. ("To who am I speaking?" would sound odd.) AnonMoos (talk) 16:30, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
No, that doesn't work. The correct method is to use whom when you would use other object pronouns like "me", "them" or "him". Thus "I shot whom?" is the correct phrasing, even though "whom" doesn't follow a preposition. It's not that complicated; if people can figure out when to use "them" correctly, they can figure out how to use "whom" correctly. --Jayron32 18:13, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
That's the prescriptive point of view. The descriptive point of view is that "whom" is becoming obsolete in most contexts and is therefore best avoided. I like William Safire's rule: "Whenever 'whom' sounds correct, recast the sentence." -- (talk) 19:28, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
Jayron32 -- The "who except directly after a preposition" rule isn't fully "correct" according to some definitions, but it fits with the ordinary everyday speech habits of a large number of native speakers of English, and it's minimally acceptable in many contexts (not all, of course). Your "uncomplicated" rule can actually be rather complicated for people who are not experienced in grammatical analysis, since it involves a two-step process of mentally moving "who(m)" back to where it moved from, and then deciding whether or not in that hypothetical position it's part of a syntactic construction in which it is the object (i.e. object of a verb or of a preposition). By contrast, deciding between "they" and "them" is part of the ordinary common speech habits of all native speakers of quasi-standard English (unlike "who" vs. "whom"), and it only involves a one-step process -- figuring out whether "they"/"them" is a grammatical object in the place where it actually occurs (as opposed to in a different hypothetical position)... AnonMoos (talk) 22:04, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
It doesn't require any grammatical analysis. My kids have correctly used the word "them" since about 4 years old. No one had to teach them. Whom is no more complex. It plays the same role as "them" or "him" does. It isn't all that hard. --Jayron32 03:00, 18 April 2017 (UTC)
Well, the relative-clause stuff less obvious than ordinary usages of they/them, and I just got the "let him who" stuff straight today as a result of this conversation, so I think a case could be made that there's a little analysis involved. --Trovatore (talk) 04:15, 18 April 2017 (UTC)
Jayron32 -- Syntactically-conditioned morphological alternations of this general type (and much more complex ones in some languages) are obviously clearly well within the capacity of humans to learn and use. However, in the particular situation of "who"/"whom" in English, it's one of only about six forms that inflect for (non-possessive) case, and it's the only one of those six which is not usually located inside the grammatical constructions which condition the case form alternation, but instead moves to the front of the sentence or clause. Therefore "who"/"whom" is isolated and unique in the English language, and it has been observed to be eroding in the common spoken English of many people for more than a century. Edward Sapir in his 1921 book Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech has a whole long discussion of this (go to Chapter 7 and scroll down, or search for "where the drift is taking us"). Sapir says "Had which, what, and that objective forms parallel to whom, the position of this last would be more secure", which is exactly the same point (i.e. that the alternation of "who"/"whom" is not actually well-supported by similar alternations in modern English). AnonMoos (talk) 21:20, 18 April 2017 (UTC)
I'm not actually in favor of substituting "who" where the traditional rules would prescribe "whom", but I do prefer it to using "whom" incorrectly, which seems to be quite common these days. I had a disagreement with an otherwise well-written Wikipedian who insisted that "whomever" was always correct and "whoever" was just wrong and specifically, an American error. My sister teaches English, and reports that her students are sometimes quite shocked when she explains to them that "whom" is "not just the fancy version of 'who'". --Trovatore (talk) 23:05, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
This is another example of how different uses are appropriate in different registers. In a high register (one with a high degree of formality), one would say "Whom did I see?" since "whom" plays the role of object of the verb. But if one says that in casual conversation, one would probably be smirked at; "Who did I see?" is correct in the unwritten rules that govern that context. Loraof (talk) 19:46, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
The hardest thing to get straight about who(m), and especially who(m)ever, is what to do when it introduces a relative clause. Take a sentence like Who(m)ever the voters choose will serve as mayor or We will oppose who(m)ever dares to encroach on our rights. In the first sentence, the object of the relative clause is the subject of the sentence, and in the second, the situation is reversed.
The answer is that you go by the function the word takes inside the clause, not in the sentence as a whole. So Whomever the voters choose will serve as mayor, but We will oppose whoever dares to encroach on our rights.
The way to remember it is to notice that the subject/object of the sentence as a whole is not the who(m) word by itself, but rather the clause as a whole. Therefore you go by the function within the clause, where the who(m) word is directly the subject or object by itself. --Trovatore (talk) 20:41, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
To put it in the context of the original question, ... led by new chiefs who had had no part ..., but ... led by new chiefs whom the Vikings' enemies had not yet killed. --Trovatore (talk) 20:50, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
So is it formally correct to say "them that the voters choose will serve as mayors"? (just asking) Dbfirs 21:25, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
Well, at least I think it's the correct use of grammatical case. The sentence might have other problems; I'm not instantly seeing what they are, but I don't recommend that anyone write it in a dissertation submitted for a doctoral degree. --Trovatore (talk) 21:32, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
On second thought, I'm not sure. Does the relative clause start with them that, or does it just start with that, and modify the pronoun? In the latter case it should probably be they. This is a tricky one. I'm also not sure about "let he/him that is without sin throw the first stone". If you use the same analysis as for who(m), it should be "let he", but that sounds odd to me. --Trovatore (talk) 21:36, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
Dbfirs -- In that use, "them" is a non-standard alternative for "those", as in "There's gold in them thar hills" (a phrase which I vaguely seem to remember occurring in a number of old western films and/or TV shows in my childhood). It doesn't have anything to do with being a grammatical object, as far as I can see... AnonMoos (talk) 22:14, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
P.S. See ... AnonMoos (talk) 22:19, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
Oh lord -- Wiktionary even has an entry for "them thar" SFriendly.gif -- ... AnonMoos (talk) 22:24, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
Well, but the question is, could you write They that the voters choose ...? I'm leaning to the idea that "they" is actually correct here, on the grounds that the relative clause is the bit starting with "that", and "they" is the subject of "will serve" and not part of the clause at all. Similarly for "let him who is without sin" — the relative clause is "who is without sin", subjective case, but "him" is the object of "let", objective case. --Trovatore (talk) 22:21, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
Trovatore -- in "He who laughs last laughs best" type constructions, I think the usual rule is that the pronoun takes its case from its status in the main clause, while the relativizer takes its case from its status in the subordinate clause (if applicable). To me, "They that the voters choose" is a stylistically awkward way of saying "Those whom the voters choose", while "Them that the voters choose" doesn't make any sense to me except with non-standard determiner "them" -- as in the quasi-proverb "Them that works eats". AnonMoos (talk)`
Yes, that sounds right. --Trovatore (talk) 22:34, 17 April 2017 (UTC)
In very informal BrE that sentence would conventionally be "Them what the voters choose." {The poster formerly known as} (talk) 14:45, 18 April 2017 (UTC)

April 18

Symbol for transcribing Chinese

On the left-hand page here, there's (between the two Chinese characters) a strange symbol used in one of the transcriptions (vaguely similar to a 3 or letter z). Does anyone know what it is, and what transcription system it belongs to? Thanks, HenryFlower 15:34, 18 April 2017 (UTC)

Looks like an Ezh, but not sure what transliteration system it comes from. --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 15:49, 18 April 2017 (UTC)
Looks more like an altered yogh to me. Deor (talk) 22:47, 18 April 2017 (UTC)
In modern Pinyin, = zì. See wikt:字#Chinese —Stephen (talk) 22:16, 18 April 2017 (UTC)
Thanks -- ezh and yogh both look plausible. Ezh seems a bit closer in terms of the sounds which it's used to represent (though still not very close; on the other hand, I suspect yogh is a more common letter, which might make it more likely. I'm still curious about the system. HenryFlower 07:27, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Looks like Fraktur 𝖟 of the Legge system found in his translation of I Ching. Шурбур (talk) 20:31, 20 April 2017 (UTC)
It's most plausible given the original value of the Chinese sound. This transcription might have come from Germans as well.--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 17:27, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
It looks to me like what Unicode calls Egyptological alef; see Transliteration of Ancient Egyptian. —Tamfang (talk) 05:23, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
Thanks Шурбур, that does look like a good bet. Here 𝖟hui represents pinyin cui, while here 𝖟ing in pinyin jing, which are both reasonably similar. Being picky, how sure are you that the symbol which Legge uses is actually a fraktur z? HenryFlower 20:17, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
If you mean sources, I don't have any. Here you can see both capital and small letters. Шурбур (talk) 06:33, 22 April 2017 (UTC)
Thanks again -- with the upper case also, that does look a reasonable bet. I was hoping that somewhere he'd set out his system, but it doesn't seem to be anywhere in the I Jing book, at least. Incidentally I see he uses it there to represent tne initial sound in modern Qin, so that's quite a range of sounds. HenryFlower 06:47, 22 April 2017 (UTC)
Here's the table. Шурбур (talk) 07:02, 22 April 2017 (UTC)
Splendid -- cheers. HenryFlower 16:50, 22 April 2017 (UTC)

Muhammad variants

I've been trying to find some work which would explain if not every but at least most well-known variants of the name in various languages/dialects. Even better if with such a work after just looking at the particular variant one could identify from what language/dialect it may have come. For example, just looking at Mehmet one could deduce that it is a Turkish variant, and looking at Mamadou, that it is a West African variant. We have tables in Muhammad (name) and wikt:Muhammad, but it's mainly unsourced and unexplained.

Let's take an example of Turkish Mehmet:

1) Initial /m/ is OK in Turkish. Unchanged.
2) But Turkish knew no long consonants, hence /mm/ > /m/.
3) Turkish knew no /ħ/, so changed to /h/.
4) Final voiced consonants in Turkish tend to become unvoiced, hence /t/.
8) The Turkish variant might have been borrowed from an Arabic dialect (Egyptian? Syrian?) where the name has had the colloquial form [mæħæmmæd], and as Turkish knew no /æ/, hence /æ/ > /e/.
6) Vowels in penultimate syllables in Turkish might tend to be elided (not sure about that), hence we have the final variant Mehmet.

Or let's take Latin Mahometus. Here I haven't got explanations but questions. Why the first vowel is /a/ and the second /o/? Why /-et-/? Is it because it was derived from some language/dialect which had had such a form? What was that? Why in that language/dialect did the name have such a form? And so on. --Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 19:35, 18 April 2017 (UTC)

I would assume that "Mehmet" is probably the result of blending with Arabic aħmad. There were actually much more altered/corrupted forms floating around in the middle ages, such as Mahound... AnonMoos (talk) 20:49, 18 April 2017 (UTC)
In Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination by John Tolan, he lists Mamed (actually Greek), Machmit, Machometus, Machomis, Mahmet, Mahom, Mahomes, Mahomet, Mahons, Mahoumet, Mahound, Mahummet, Malphumet, Mathomus, Maumette.[1] So the Greeks heard the final -d, but in Latin and other western European languages, it almost always became a -t or an -s. (I see a couple of other spellings with a -t in the 12th-century chronicle of William of Tyre: Mahemet and Mahometh.) The name may also be the origin of the word "Baphomet". Adam Bishop (talk) 00:08, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Thanks! I didn't expect such an overwhelming variation already in such early times. It seems to be impossible to explain every variant, they simply could not make up their mind how to write that name! Any proper explanation eludes me. However, it just has struck me that the second /o/ may be a result of the assimilation to the pharyngeal /ħ/. The first /a/ may be a result of a Maghrebi dialect, where short /u/ is often reduced to a schwa which could be heard as /a/ to Europeans. Other letters are beyond the explanation, they're simply idiosyncratic. Though, I look forward for any further inputs, especially I'm interested in the variation within Arabic itself and its dialects, which I know a little but not enough, and in some languages of Islamic nations (Turkish, Persian, Urdu, etc.). Looks like I've found a tabula rasa in onomastic.--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 17:23, 21 April 2017 (UTC)

A > E sound change

Ae there any examples of low vowels being raised mid vowels, like e, e̞, or ɛ? I have been told this type of sound change is rare but I was never told why. And if there are sound changes like this, is the reverse more common? Idielive (talk) 23:52, 18 April 2017 (UTC)

A contextual change of "a" to "e" under the influence of an "i" vowel or "y" semivowel in the next syllable is common in some Germanic languages. It can be seen in English "men" as the plural of "man", and was the origin of the "ä" spelling in Modern German... AnonMoos (talk) 03:19, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
There are quite a few Latin verbs where an a in the root becomes e or ē in the perfect stem. Examples are facio ("I make"), perfect fēcī; iacio ("I throw"), perfect iēcī; stat ("he/she stands"), perfect stetit. When verbs with an a take a prefix, in the present stem the vowel often becomes i, but in the supine (root of the past participle) the a often becomes e. Examples factum ("made", supine of facio), but confectum ("prepared, made up", supine of conficio); iactum ("thrown", supine of iacio) but iniectum ("thrown in", and other derived meanings, supine of inicio). --ColinFine (talk) 21:36, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
The change of vowel in compound verbs is probably a relic of a first-syllable-stress era in early Latin and/or pre-Latin (we have something about it at Latin spelling and pronunciation#Old Latin stress... AnonMoos (talk) 11:23, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
Among the most straightforward examples of a > e is of course Middle English long /a:/ in the Great Vowel Shift. Another example is Indo-European /a:/ in Greek, which (in most environments) became /ɛ:/ in classical Attic Greek, and then further raised through /e:/ to /i/ in post-classical Greek. William Labov, in Vol. 1 of his Principles of Linguistic Change, has an illuminating discussion of why vowels in certain phonological constellations tend to rise along the a>i axis. On the other hand, the Latin alternation between a and e in words like facio/feci as mentioned by ColinFine is not really a reflex of an a>e sound change, but an effect of Indo-European ablaut. Fut.Perf. 21:58, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
The stetit formation is an example of reduplication, of which there is quite a lot in Latin. (talk) 09:21, 20 April 2017 (UTC)
Reduplication is less common in Latin than in ancient Greek or Sanskrit, and the steti perfect is an obscure example (listed as reduplication in the Gildersleeve and Lodge grammar, but not conforming to a traditional Indo-European pattern of reduplication, as far as I can see)... AnonMoos (talk) 11:18, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
Many Turkic languages (Turkish, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Yakut) changed /æ/ into /e/. In some /æ/ has a limited use, as in Kazakh where it's mostly reserved for Perso-Arabic loanwords, while in Kazakh words it's surfaced to /e/, particularly in suffixes, e.g. the plurality suffix has variants -lar/-ler, while compare it with Tatar -lar/-lär. Some Finno-Ugric languages know this as well, like more archaic Moksha /æ/ corresponds to Erzya /e/; it also happened in Hungarian and in the Permic languages.--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 18:06, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
I also saw your previous question but didn't answer in time. Again from Turkic: in Tatar and Bashkir the Common Turkic vowels e, ö, o correspond to i, ü, u, and vice versa, i, ü, u, ï (IPA /ɯ/) to e, ö, o, ë (/ɤ/). E.g., Kazakh ot, Tatar ut for "fire". --Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 18:22, 21 April 2017 (UTC)

April 19

"dɪfrn one ", instead of "different one ".

"student" is always /studənt/, but sometimes I hear myself say /dɪfrn/. Sometimes also /ɪmporʔn/. (e.g. "ɪmporʔn wʌn "), instead of /ɪmporʔnt/. I wonder if there are other words, ending with "nt", in which the final "t" is sometimes not sounded (please notice that my question is not about the first "t" of "important"). HOTmag (talk) 07:19, 19 April 2017 (UTC)

It's becoming increasingly common in British English to drop the final T. I don't think it makes a difference whether this is an "nt" ending or any other "t" ending. Iapetus (talk) 09:04, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
The final t is not dropped by Estuary English speakers, but rather becomes a glottal stop. However, when pronouncing "different one" as "dɪfrn one ", the "t" does not become a glottal stop: It completely disappears... HOTmag (talk) 09:45, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
In my experience, a final consonant is more likely to be dropped from a longer word, where there can be little confusion about meaning. Short words often require the sound for clarity - it makes a difference whether you say bad, bat or back. Wymspen (talk) 11:54, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
This is actually quite common in English. It belongs to a group of sound-changes known as elision. This specific type of elision is known as Relaxed pronunciation and even more specifically, it is called an apocope, dropping of the sounds at the end of a word. --Jayron32 18:01, 19 April 2017 (UTC)

"beginner" and "starter" are not interchangeable. What about "begin" and "start"?

Is there a context (besides that of starting a car), wherein "to begin" and "to start" are not interchangeable? (talk) 11:34, 19 April 2017 (UTC)

When I go out for a drive I need to start my car: I do not begin it. Start can also be used as a noun - next weekend I may watch the start of the London Marathon - but I will not watch its "begin" (though I could watch it begin) Wymspen (talk) 11:51, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Yeah, I mentioned "starter" when I was thinking about starting a car, but is there another context (besides that of starting a car), wherein "to begin" is not the same as "to start"? (talk) 12:29, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Looking over wikt:start and wikt:begin, I would say that (if they were prescriptively forced to be distinguished) start (as a verb) has some form of action (even if quite subtle), while begin means that some relevant state (active or inactive) now exists. If I were to watch a movie that shows only a blank screen for the first hour, then the movie does not start until an hour after it begins. Of course, I could start the film to begin the showing. Ian.thomson (talk) 12:47, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
You would watch the beginning of the London Marathon. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 13:00, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
This is a change to the noun form. The OP specifically asked about "to begin", the verb form. Akld guy (talk) 20:24, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
When runners leave the starting line. --Jayron32 18:14, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Yes, they do not leave the beginning line. Akld guy (talk) 20:24, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
It may not be what you meant, but "start" as a verb has meanings not directly associated with "begin". Bazza (talk) 13:38, 19 April 2017 (UTC)

Family names vs. Dynasty names

What is the relationship between family names and royal/imperial dynasty names? 劉 (traditional) / 刘 (simplified) / pinyin: Liú. Wikipedia notes it's a very common surname, as it was the family name of Han Dynasty emperors. Okay, so how are dynasty names selected? How come the family name and dynasty name are different? Also, what about the Tudor and Stuart dynasty in England? Is Tudor the name of the whole family and dynasty? If the current queen of England had been Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, then she's taking the name of a place in Germany as her family name? What's with these long family names? Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra would probably translate to "Michael of Cervantes and Saavedra". Why did people have complicated family names? (talk) 12:50, 19 April 2017 (UTC)

Your question mentions three distinct cultures who had very different reasons for doing named the way they did. It's like asking why Arabic names and Scottish Gaelic names follow a "name son-of-name" format -- they really aren't related even if they're both Patronymic. You might want to start with Surname. In Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries, it is common for a person's surname to be a compound of both parents' surnames. Ian.thomson (talk) 13:03, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Miguel de Cervantes adopted y Saavedra as an adult. His birth name would have been Miguel de Cervantes Cortinas. (talk) 13:24, 19 April 2017 (UTC) -- In England/Britain the basic practice has been that when the succession to the crown goes through a woman, the line that starts with her child or descendant is named after her husband (the father of said child). So Matilda married Geoffrey Plantagenet, and their son Henry II is considered to start the House of Plantagenet. The monarchs between George Ist and Victoria could be said to be of the Hannover-Welf-Este dynasty. British monarchs didn't really have surnames in the ordinary sense until the 20th century... AnonMoos (talk) 13:57, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
There's also tradition that, when needed, a British Royal will use their highest title as a sort-of interim surname. Prince Harry, for example, uses the surname "Wales" : [2] because he lacks a title of his own, thus derives his surname from his father's title. This is NOT His official surname, he has no official surname, his full official name is just "Henry Charles Albert David", he just uses "Wales" when convention requires him to put something down as a surname. Before he was given his own title, William also used "Wales": [3]. Currently, he'd use "Cambridge", as he now has his own title. --Jayron32 14:58, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
However, princess Elizabeth (now the queen) joined the "Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service" during WW2 under the name "Elizabeth Windsor"... AnonMoos (talk)
Interesting. Well, when she served, her father was King of the United Kingdom; "Elizabeth United Kingdom" doesn't exactly roll of the tongue, does it? --Jayron32 01:00, 20 April 2017 (UTC)
See [4]. (talk) 15:43, 20 April 2017 (UTC)
In China, each regime would select a character for the name of their regime which (with the exception of one short lived dynasty) would be different from the monarch's family name. This is what is usually referred to as the dynasty name, e.g. the "Han" dynasty ruled by the Liu family, the "Tang" dynasty ruled by the Li family, etc. There are different rationales for the choice of this name. It is often geographical, taken from the new emperor's ancestral place of origin or existing feoff, or (in the case of the Ming dynasty) inspired by the name of a movement (Manichaeism) to which the new emperor belonged, or simply an auspicious character. One thing to note about Chinese dynastic names is that, prior to the Qing Dynasty, "Han", "Tang", "Ming" etc were perceived as the names of the state, rather than just the names of dynasties that ruled a continuing Chinese state - which is different to the sense in which Western dynastic names are typically used. --14:51, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
The article on Manichaeism actually states that the religion was banned, rather than supported, by the Ming dynasty. History of the Ming dynasty says that Instead of the traditional way of naming a dynasty after the first ruler's home district, Zhu Yuanzhang's choice of 'Ming' or 'Brilliant' for his dynasty followed a Mongol precedent of an uplifting title. -- (talk) 17:48, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Based on my reading that is not the consensus. I said "inspired" because - the theory goes - some of his Manichaeist followers supported him because they believed he was the ruler foretold in one of their prophecies, so the choice of "Ming" partly sought to confirm that belief. It was not literally named after Manichaeism as such. Zhu had earlier been part of the Manichaeist movement of Han Lin'er. Wu Han was one advocate of this theory. There are other theories, but the consensus does not seem to be that "Ming" was chosen simply because it sounded "uplifting". --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 12:38, 20 April 2017 (UTC)
Re: the Ming, also see White Lotus, Red Turban Rebellion, and Hongwu Emperor#Rise to power. - (talk) 16:24, 20 April 2017 (UTC)
If the current queen of England had been Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, then she's taking the name of a place in Germany as her family name? Yes, by descent from a member of the Saxon ducal family whose share, in the most recent partition, included Coburg and Gotha. Like many noble families of the Continent, the Wettins adopted the name of their domain as their surname. —Tamfang (talk) 05:43, 21 April 2017 (UTC)

April 20

Solar eclipse of August 18, 1868

I tried to write down what King Mongkut has written in this letter: File:Eclipse 1868 Letter of Mongkut to Grehan.pdf. See file description. Andybody willing to look over it, correct mistakes, fill missing words? Thanks in advance. --тнояsтеn 11:45, 20 April 2017 (UTC)

  • That's what I've read:

Board the Steam Yacht
Royal Sovereign
anchored at ..... on
10th August 1868.
To Monsieur Amedée DeGrihan
Phra (a noble title)
the consul for Siam in Imperial
city of Paris in French Empire
18 Rue De Amsterdam called
Siamese consulate
My consul & intimate friend
left my home down to sea
French men of Sciences
Flerlin (actually Le Frelon?) from Saigon
various surveying & astronomical
that may we be dissapointed
as on several days last until
I have learnt there that
on land there
which are near to this place
so I fear lest many
if I would land and live
the French consul Monsieur ...
ordered to take several passengers
the vice Admiral

Шурбур (talk) 19:42, 20 April 2017 (UTC)

I can fill in some of those blanks, Шурбур, but don't know if you'd let me edit your comment. Here's a version I encourage anyone to edit until it is correct: (talk) 20:35, 20 April 2017 (UTC)

[first page]

Board the Steam Yacht Royal Sovereign anchored at Whaewan [Whae Wan, Whae Whan] 10th August 1868

To _____ Phra [a noble title] __________ Monsieur Amedéee Del_____

the consul for Siam in Imperial city of Paris in French Empire 18 Rue D'Amsterdam called Siamese consulate.

My consul & intimate friend After the day in which my last letter to you was dispatched from Bangkok I left my home down to sea and came here & arrived at ____ where we pointed out as the place of central line of the solar total Eclipse now getting near & where we have prepared for dwelling on Seeing the Eclipse as well as certain French men of Sciences came by the French Imperial man of war & a gun board "Flerlin" [actually Le Frelon?] from Saigon and placed their various Surveying & astronomical instrument

[second page]

for Seeing the Eclipse near to my place at only a few yards. I was Saluted with 21 guns on board man of war & treated with great respects by the French but I am sorry to see the sky was thickly cloudy day & night every day so we & those French men are fearing that may we be disappointed to see the most remarkable total Eclipse on 17th & 18th inst. for the sky being continually so cloudy as on several days last until the present day also I have learnt here that certain number of our workmen sent for preparation of our dwelling place on land here became attacked by wild fever usually occurring at Bourg ____ / Bang Tabhan gold mines which are near to this place at about only 25 miles so I fear lest many who are accompany me now may be attacked with such the Awful fever if I would land and live on ground of wild fever for several day so that I have

[third page]

resolved to retreat to be anchored at Phu Manaw near the town of Whaewan I will wait until the nearest day of the Eclipse the French consul Monsieur ____ will come down here on about 17th inst by board of our gun boat Impregnable which was ordered to take several passengers from Bangkok to be here. The commander of the French Man of war anchored here told me that after two month the vice Admiral De Grandier will return to Saigon. but this news were not mentioned in your letter privily or in very private written me by year relating to the intelligence of the said Admiral Grandier & arrival at Paris ____

I beg to remain your _______ ___________ _______ day of reign

Thanks so far. User:Deor improved the file description on Commons [5] and I tried to merge it with the proposals from above [6]. --тнояsтеn 06:49, 21 April 2017 (UTC)

Egg question

Is the phrase "as sure as eggs is eggs" really just a UK idiom, or also a Commonwealth one? I am assuming it's unknown in US? And is it "old fashioned" or just out of fashion? It seems it may be not even safe to use it in Britain. Martinevans123 (talk) 19:11, 20 April 2017 (UTC)

Never heard it here in the US. Loraof (talk) 19:29, 20 April 2017 (UTC)
Commonwealth? Yes, sometimes still heard in New Zealand, but usually: "as sure as eggs are eggs". It's not used as commonly as it once was, and could be considered to be disappearing as the older generations leave us. Akld guy (talk) 20:07, 20 April 2017 (UTC)
FWIW, Wiktionary only gives the form with 'is' (as do other online sources), which is how I (in the UK) have always known it. I agree it's probably a bit dated. AndrewWTaylor (talk) 21:00, 20 April 2017 (UTC)
I've (American) never heard it but would likely understand it in context. I've heard a number of other little "as sure as X is Y" type idioms before though not this particular one. One that comes to mind is "As sure as little babies wear diapers...". And Henry Blake used a similar construction in the American TV show M*A*S*H though I can't remember the exact quote right now. †dismas†|(talk) 22:51, 20 April 2017 (UTC)
I can assure you that, in the UK, we'd never put a chicken in a diaper. Martinevans123 (talk) 23:09, 20 April 2017 (UTC)
The equivalent idiom in the U.S. is probably Does a bear shit in the woods? --Jayron32 01:35, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
The Corpus of Global Web-Based English [7] shows that "sure as eggs is eggs" has 15 cites in Great Britain, 2 in Ireland, 4 in Australia and 1 in the US. "Sure as eggs are eggs" is somewhat rarer, with 10 cites in GB and 4 in Ireland, none elsewhere. CodeTalker (talk) 01:32, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
Ngrams give similar results. British English gives a range of about 1.5 x 10^-6 % prevalence, while American English is hovering around 7 x 10^-7 % prevalence, or roughly twice as common in British English sources. With these small of numbers, I suspect some sampling errors as well, this data is just above noise level. --Jayron32 13:48, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
"As sure as God made green apples, someday the Cubs will be in the World Series." -- Harry Caray. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 14:15, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
"Pigs Is Pigs". ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 14:18, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
And from an old fast-food TV commercial about chicken nuggets: "Parts is parts." ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 14:18, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
But oils ain't oils. -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 18:40, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
I was hoping to learn the genesis of this expression. Martinevans123 (talk) 19:08, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
Never heard it in Canada (nor in US-based broadcasts). Matt Deres (talk) 14:24, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
It’s the title of the last section of the Genesis track Supper's Ready: see §VII: "As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men's Feet)" (20:51 - 22:54).--JohnBlackburnewordsdeeds 19:09, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
Wiktionary (linked above by AndrewWTaylor) claims that it's a corruption of "X is X". ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 19:17, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
The first cite in the OED is from 1699: "As sure as Eggs be Eggs". Doesn't this pre-date the common use of "X" in algebra? The expression was probably popularised by its use in 1857 in Tom Brown's School Days. The old plural of egg in the 1400s was eyren. Is it possible that this saying reflects the change to the new plural over a hundred years? Dbfirs 10:40, 22 April 2017 (UTC)

A is A. μηδείς (talk) 02:16, 23 April 2017 (UTC)

April 21

Does Irish gean cánach really exist?

The phrase is reported in gancanagh, but I couldn't find that cánach on the internet. On wiktinary there is a Scottish Gaelic word cànach which is the genitive singular of càin meaning "tax". Given cànach = cánach the phrase would mean "love of a tax" and not "love talker". I'm not expert of Celtic languages, I'm just asking help to some users.--Carnby (talk) 15:55, 21 April 2017 (UTC)

I think @Alison: speaks Irish well enough. Maybe she can help. --Jayron32 16:45, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
Well, gean is common enough - it just means love or fondness. Cánach - I'm not familiar with. Cáin in Irish is like a tax or a levy. Canadh means singing, as in "ag canadh". And I know my folklore reasonably well, and have never come across that term before, either in reading or in RL. Not to say that it doesn't exist! Maybe check in with @Evertype:? - Alison 19:40, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
There seem to be many variant forms. Niall Ó Dónaill's 1977 FOCLÓIR GAEILGE—BÉARLA has:
  • geancánach 1 = geancachán. 2. Folk: Fairy cobbler. S.a. píopa 4. (Var: geancán m)
    The cross references are:
    • píopa geancánaigh, acorn-bowl.
    • geancachán 1. Snub-nosed person. 2. Snuffler. (Var: geancaide m, geancaire m)
It's probably related to
  • geancach 1. Snub-nosed. 2. (Of voice) Nasal. 3. Snubby, surly, rude.
gean-canadh and misspellings thereof look like an amateur's guess.
Other references:
  • Notes and Queries 9th Ser. iii. 187 has:
    "GANCANAGH." This is said to be the name of a kind of fairy appearing in lonesome valleys and making love to milkmaids. The word is said to represent Irish gean-cánadh, love-singing. Is this the true derivation? Is the word known to be in use in any part of Ireland among English-speaking people? A. L. MAYHEW.
  • English Dialect Dictionary Vol.2 p.553 has
    GANCANAGH, sb. Irel. Also in forms ganconer, gonconer. A kind of fairy said to appear in lonesome valleys, making love to milkmaids, &c.
    Lou. Extremely common, particularly near Drogheda (R.A.S.) ; What should he see but whole loads of ganconers dancing, Yeats Flk-Tales (1888).
    Hence Gonconer's-pipe, sb. an ancient tobacco-pipe.
    Found in raths, &c., ib. 324.
  • Patrick S. Dinneen, Irish--English Dictionary
    1904 ed. p.356
    1927 ed. p.526
    GEANNCÁN -ÁIN, {plural} {idem}, {masculine} a snub-nose, a snub-nosed person; {also, alias} GANNCÁN (S). GEANNCANATH. -AIGH, {plural}- {idem}, {masculine} one of the lower and more vicious kinds of fairies, a leprechaun ({Citation:Coney's Irish-English Dictionary of 1849}).
  • Stories of Leipreachans and Mermaids: 2nd Story (The Schools’ Collection, Volume 966, Page 351)
    The local name for the Leipreachan in this district is a geanncanach. He lives in a fort and is usually dressed in red, when people see him. He is supposed to be friendly.
  • Muirithe, Diarmaid Ó (July 1996). The words we use. Four Courts Press. p. 22. ISBN 9781851822201. 
    'You won't believe this', writes a lady from Dunleer, 'but we country girls were often warned by our mothers about the gancanagh, a little fairy man, when we were young — and by young I mean in our teens. What does gancanagh mean?' It means a man with an upturned nose (Irish geancachan); and your mothers were right to warn you, because he had the name of being a right boyo. [then quotes EDD above]
jnestorius(talk) 21:14, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
  • Consider these Wiktionary entries: can -ach -ach. They say the suffix is appliable only to adjectives and nouns (and verbal nouns too). I'm not sure whether these are applicable: wikt:cainnt wikt:caint. Шурбур (talk) 05:49, 22 April 2017 (UTC)
    • Compare also wikt:ioma-chànanach Шурбур (talk) 11:15, 22 April 2017 (UTC)

Looking for a word/expression

I'm after a word that refers to someone who makes little effort to think to the future, e.g. by concerning themselves with ephemeral pleasures at the expense of money and/or health. I'm sure that such words exist, but I can't think of one.--Leon (talk) 20:22, 21 April 2017 (UTC)

Hedonist? See Hedonism. Akld guy (talk) 20:33, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
No, that was only an example of the kind of behaviour to which I was referring.
Happy-go-lucky. DuncanHill (talk) 20:36, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
Not really.
Improvident? Grasshopper? Deor (talk) 20:50, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
Perfect, thanks!
Wastrel; profligate. Alanscottwalker (talk) 21:43, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
Poor forward thinking does not quite imply "Wastrel". "Profligate" doesn't refer to all sorts of poor forward thinking.--Leon (talk) 08:14, 22 April 2017 (UTC)
Careless, which leads to these suggestions to consider. -- (talk) 22:31, 21 April 2017 (UTC)
Insouciant, heedless? Wymspen (talk) 09:27, 22 April 2017 (UTC)
Imprudent --Viennese Waltz 10:31, 22 April 2017 (UTC)
If you want an expression, how about the metaphor of The Ant and the Grasshopper? Aesop's fables cover a lot of human psychology. Carbon Caryatid (talk) 21:26, 22 April 2017 (UTC)
Also The Three Little Pigs. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 23:14, 22 April 2017 (UTC)
See wikt:prodigal ("wasteful").—Wavelength (talk) 22:45, 22 April 2017 (UTC)

April 23

Plural of "mail"

According to Wiktionary (and at least one WP article), the plural of mail (noun) is mails. As a native US English speaker, this seems absurd. I would never say "today's mails consisted of two letters and a parcel". Am I missing something? 2606:A000:4C0C:E200:984A:CA94:A2BD:E53B (talk) 03:14, 23 April 2017 (UTC)

Mail in the sense you're thinking of is an uncountable mass noun. This seems to be meanings 3 and 6 in the Wiktionary entry. Meaning 6 is marked as uncountable and "chiefly US", but no clear distinction is made from meaning 3, and I agree with you that it would be very strange to use that as a count noun.
There are definitely count senses, though, especially in the context of e-mail. --Trovatore (talk) 03:19, 23 April 2017 (UTC)
What I was missing was familiarity with the term 'uncountable mass noun'. I'll read that article. In the meantime: is it just me, or does "Experimental airmails", "Scheduled Air Mails", etc., in the Airmails of the United States sound odd? --Thanks for the link, 2606:A000:4C0C:E200:984A:CA94:A2BD:E53B (talk) 03:30, 23 April 2017 (UTC)
It does sound odd, I agree. I'm speculating, but I think this might be an attempt to extend the idiom "the mails", meaning the postal system, as in offenses like "sending dangerous materials through the mails". I don't recall ever hearing the extension to "the airmails". --Trovatore (talk) 03:34, 23 April 2017 (UTC)
Oddly enough, "emails" is considered normal usage. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 03:47, 23 April 2017 (UTC)
I mentioned that in my first response, though I insist on the hyphen. --Trovatore (talk) 03:48, 23 April 2017 (UTC)
Oops, sorry. The hyphen seems to be used less and less. Hard to tell why. As regards the plural, I suspect the difference is that you mail a letter, whereas you send an e(-)mail. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 04:13, 23 April 2017 (UTC)
Retrieved from ""
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia :
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Wikipedia:Reference desk/Language"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA