Plundering words from India

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

As I mentioned, I’ve been enjoying the audiobook version of Sharpe’s Tiger, and I was surprised to learn that the word loot was borrowed from Hindi. It’s included in this list of words English owes to India:

A – atoll, avatar
B – bandana, bangle, bazaar, Blighty, bungalow
C – cashmere, catamaran, char, cheroot, cheetah, chintz, chit, chokey, chutney, cot, cummerbund, curry
D – dinghy, doolally, dungarees
G – guru, gymkhana
H – hullabaloo
J – jodhpur, jungle, juggernaut, jute
K – khaki, kedgeree
L – loot
N – nirvana
P – pariah, pashmina, polo, pukka, pundit, purdah, pyjamas
S – sari, shampoo, shawl, swastika
T – teak, thug, toddy, typhoon
V – veranda
Y – yoga

Most of those are clearly Indian, but plenty surprised me — bandana, catamaran, cheetah, cot, cummerbund, dinghy, jungle, and pundit.

The action-name trend for boys is a backlash

Friday, January 24th, 2020

Parents tend to be more conservative about naming baby boys, Isabelle Kohn says, but when they do get creative, they turn them into throat-ripping action heroes:

Recently, there’s been a surge in female babies being named things like Echo, Victory and Ireland, and the girls’ names coming out of Hollywood are even more flamboyant. We all know Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy, but have you met Hilary Duff’s spawn Banks Violet Bair, Cardi B’s Kulture Kiari Cephus or Kylie Jenner’s mononymous child accessory Stormi?

Whereas it’s rare to see boys with more expressive names that set them apart, it’s normal — expected, even — to see girls with names or spellings that make them stand out (lookin’ at you, Maddisyn). Laura Wattenberg, a naming expert and self-proclaimed “Baby Name Wizard” who combs through annals of Social Security Administration (SSA) data to suss out naming trends, says the most popular “unique” girls’ names in recent years have been Genesis, Serenity, Heavenly, Promise, Legacy, Treasure and Egypt. Basically, she says, if it’s a word, it can — and will be — a girl’s name.

By contrast, expressive naming practices don’t seem to apply to baby boys at all. According to research from the SSA, parents are three times more likely to give girls “unusual” names than they are boys, a phenomenon often referred to by naming experts as the “originality gap.” The result of this gap is hordes of boys named Andrew. And Greg, and Michael, and Matt, Sam, Mark, Chris and Ryan — humble, simple and inoffensive names that convey neither the expressiveness nor poetry of feminine monikers like Eden, Phoenix or Diva Muffin, the label Frank Zappa so kindly applied to his daughter.

“For most of recent history, Western boys have been given drab, biblically informed names like Brian, John or Nicholas,” says Matthew Hahn, a professor of biology and informatics at the University of Indiana who co-authored a 2003 study comparing baby name trends to evolutionary models. “In general, they’ve been nowhere near as ‘creative.’” They’ve also been extremely patriarchal — it’s an honor to be named after the (male) head honcho of your family, and first-born boys are particularly prone to being gifted with grandpa’s nominative legacy.

[...]

According Wattenberg, a new breed of rugged, hyper-macho and blatantly “action-oriented” names for boys has exploded in popularity in recent years, and their inventiveness is starting to match the creativity and expressiveness that girls names have always enjoyed. Combing through pages of recent Social Security Administration data, she found that the usage of “doer” names like Racer, Trooper and Charger have risen more than 1,000 percent between 1980 and 2000, and have increased exponentially ever since.

In a recent Namerology article on the topic, she lists several of the burlier, more aggressive names that have been picking up steam: Angler, Camper, Tracker, Trapper, Catcher, Driver, Fielder, Racer, Sailor, Striker, Wheeler — deep breath — Breaker, Roper, Trotter, Wrangler — still going — Lancer, Shooter, Slayer, Soldier, Tracer, Trooper — wait, “Slayer”? — Blazer, Brewer, Charger, Dodger, Laker, Pacer, Packer, Raider, Ranger, Steeler, Warrior — kill me — Dreamer, Jester and — wait for it — Rocker.

[...]

For today’s parents, it seems the more aggressive and bloodthirsty the name, the better. Wattenberg’s research found that 47 boys were named “Raider” in 2018, and “Hunter” tops the brawny baby charts as the country’s most popular hypermasculine name. According to Hahn, names like these give parents a way to be creative without breaking the masculinity mold. They’re expressive, vivid and undeniably unique, but they’re also pulsating with testosterone and so certifiably burly that he suspects some parents are using them as anti-bullying shields. “Who’s going to make fun of Striker?” he says. By the same token, names like “Shooter,” “Gunner” or “Slayer” seem particularly resistant to playground taunting.

[...]

It’s also possible, he says, that the action-name trend for boys is a backlash to the evolving definition of masculinity. As the concept of masculinity evolves into something more dynamic, personal and sensitive than the John Wayne stereotype of the past, groups of conservationist parents are staking a claim on the increasingly endangered species of traditional manhood by naming their children after the most stereotypically masculine things possible. “It could be a backlash to changing norms around what it means to be a man, and a staking of a position about masculinity and traditional values,” he suggests.

Assegai is more savage sounding

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019

One of the odder decisions Robert Graves made in translating ancient terms into modern English was his decision to call the German spear an assegai:

It has been difficult at times to find suitable renderings for military, legal and other technical terms. To give a single instance, there is the word “assegai”. Aircraftman T.E. Shaw (whom I take this opportunity of thanking for his careful reading of these proofs) questions my use of “assegai” as an equivalent of the German framea or pfreim. He suggests “javelin”. But I have not adopted the suggestion, as I have gratefully adopted others of his, because I need “javelin” for pilum, the regular missile weapon of the disciplined Roman infantryman; and “assegai” is more savage sounding. “Assegai” has had a three-hundred year currency in English and acquired new vigour in the nineteenth century because of the Zulu wars. The long-shafted iron-headed framea was used, according to Tacitus, both as a missile and as a stabbing weapon. So was the assegai of the Ama-Zulu warriors, with whom the Germans of Claudius’s day had culturally much in common. If Tacitus’s statements, first as to the handiness of the framea at close quarters, and then as to its unmanageability among trees, are to be reconciled, the Germans probably did what the Zulus did — they broke off the end of the framea‘s long shaft when hand-to-hand fighting started. But it seldom came to that, for the Germans always preferred strike-and-run tactics when engaged with the better-armed Roman infantryman.

When I rewatched Zulu Dawn a few years ago, I did a little digging and realized that assegai isn’t a Zulu word at all:

Assegai is a Berber word for spear, which somehow became the English word for any African spear.  Shaka’s innovative short-hafted spear with a sword-like blade, designed for close combat, was dubbed the iklwa — a grisly bit of onomatopoeia for the sound it made when pulled from a victim.

Impious imps of the devil

Saturday, December 21st, 2019

I had always assumed the word impious was pronounced just like the un-negated root pious, but with an im prepended. While listening to Nelson Runger’s narration of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, I heard him pronounce it im-pee-uhs, and, sure enough, that’s the preferred pronunciation.

This pronunciation conjures the image of a mischievous imp, which has its own odd, unrelated etymology:

The Old English noun impa meant a young shoot or scion of a plant or tree, and later came to mean the scion of a noble house, or a child in general. Starting in the 16th century, it was often used in expressions like “imps of serpents”, “imp of hell”, “imp of the devil”, and so on; and by the 17th century, it came to mean a small demon, a familiar of a witch.

The Thule Society lives on

Saturday, November 16th, 2019

A “trans-Neptunian object” located in the Kuiper belt was recently named Ultima Thule and then rapidly renamed Arrokoth:

It is a contact binary 36 km (22 mi) long, composed of two planetesimals 22 km (14 mi) and 15 km (9 mi) across, nicknamed “Ultima” and “Thule”, respectively, that are joined along their major axes. Ultima, which is flatter than Thule, appears to be an aggregate of 8 or so smaller units, each approximately 5 km (3 mi) across, that fused together before Ultima and Thule came into contact. Because there have been few to no disruptive impacts on Arrokoth since it formed, the details of its formation have been preserved. With the New Horizons space probe’s flyby at 05:33 on 1 January 2019 (UTC time), Arrokoth became the farthest and most primitive object in the Solar System visited by a spacecraft.

[...]

Before the flyby on 1 January 2019, NASA invited suggestions from the public on a nickname to be used. The campaign involved 115,000 participants from around the world, who suggested some 34,000 names. Of those, 37 reached the ballot for voting and were evaluated for popularity – this included eight names suggested by the New Horizons team and 29 suggested by the public. Ultima Thule, which was selected on 13 March 2018, was proposed by about 40 different members of the public and obtained the seventh highest number of votes among the nominees. It is named after the Latin phrase ultima Thule (literally “farthest Thule”), an expression referencing the most distant place beyond the borders of the known world. Once it was determined the body was a bilobate contact binary object, the New Horizons team nicknamed the larger lobe “Ultima” and the smaller “Thule”.

The nickname was criticized due to its use by Nazi occultists as the supposed mythical origin of the Aryan race, although it is commonly used in ancient Greek and Latin literature as well as the historical Inuit culture of the Thule people. The Thule Society was a key sponsor of what became the Nazi Party, and some modern-day neo-Nazis and members of the alt-right continue to use the term. A few members of the New Horizons team were aware of that association when they selected the nickname, and have since defended their choice. Responding to a question at a press conference, Alan Stern said, “Just because some bad guys once liked that term, we’re not going to let them hijack it.”

Oh, but we are.

When the cognoscenti make a fracas

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

I was listening to the audiobook version of The Everything Store, when the narrator (Pete Larkin) caught my attention by pronouncing cognoscenti in a more-or-less Italian manner — with a ny and a sh — which I had honestly never heard before.

Later, he pronounced fracas with a long first A, which I hadn’t heard either. In both cases, these are the supposedly preferred pronunciations. In both cases, the word comes from Italian. In the first case, the preferred pronunciation is roughly Italian, in the second, not so much.

Human speech may have a universal transmission rate

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

Human speech may have a universal transmission rate: 39 bits per second:

Scientists started with written texts from 17 languages, including English, Italian, Japanese, and Vietnamese. They calculated the information density of each language in bits—the same unit that describes how quickly your cellphone, laptop, or computer modem transmits information. They found that Japanese, which has only 643 syllables, had an information density of about 5 bits per syllable, whereas English, with its 6949 syllables, had a density of just over 7 bits per syllable. Vietnamese, with its complex system of six tones (each of which can further differentiate a syllable), topped the charts at 8 bits per syllable.

Next, the researchers spent 3 years recruiting and recording 10 speakers—five men and five women—from 14 of their 17 languages. (They used previous recordings for the other three languages.) Each participant read aloud 15 identical passages that had been translated into their mother tongue. After noting how long the speakers took to get through their readings, the researchers calculated an average speech rate per language, measured in syllables/second.

Some languages were clearly faster than others: no surprise there. But when the researchers took their final step—multiplying this rate by the bit rate to find out how much information moved per second—they were shocked by the consistency of their results. No matter how fast or slow, how simple or complex, each language gravitated toward an average rate of 39.15 bits per second, they report today in Science Advances.

[…]

Research in neuroscience supports that idea, with one recent paper suggesting an upper bound to auditory processing of 9 syllables per second in U.S. English.

De Boer agrees that our brains are the bottleneck. But, he says, instead of being limited by how quickly we can process information by listening, we’re likely limited by how quickly we can gather our thoughts. That’s because, he says, the average person can listen to audio recordings sped up to about 120%—and still have no problems with comprehension. “It really seems that the bottleneck is in putting the ideas together.”

I suppose it depends on the content, but podcasts now sound normal to me at 1.5x, and audiobooks at 1.25x.

This naturally reminds me of the language of clear thinking.

A star shines at the hour of our meeting

Friday, August 16th, 2019

Lee Pace, who played the elf king Thranduil in the Hobbit movies, tried to greet Stephen Colbert appropriately:

What do you call a female defender?

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

The French language has masculine and feminine genders. Somehow this his become confusing when referring to female soccer players and managers. What do you call a female defender?

The language offers at least three options: the masculine form défenseur, the feminine form défenseuse, or another feminine form défenseure, which is pronounced exactly the same as the masculine. And if you follow French coverage of the tournament, you might see all three.

In Le Monde, you would read about a défenseuse or sélectionneuse (the word used for national team managers). A dispatch from Agence France-Presse, meanwhile, will say défenseure and sélectionneure. Television networks TF1 and Canal+, which are broadcasting the tournament here, often use one form in graphics on screen, but let commentators like Mr. Lizarazu employ another during live broadcasts.

Traditionally, you use the masculine form unless you want to explicitly refer to a female. I have no idea where this third, quasi-female gender came from.

When it comes to questions of proper usage, the country has its own ancient authority, the 384-year-old Académie Française. Its 35 members are known as the Immortals. They are charged with sporadically producing the definitive dictionary on usage and cutting through the babble of a constantly evolving tongue. They are even issued swords.

But time moves slowly at the Académie. In 1984, as more French speakers adapted their speech to reflect a growing number of women in the workplace, the Académie felt compelled to weigh in on the topic: It ruled out any changes, preferring to stick to the masculine form, except in cases where usage had already taken root. It was important to remember, the Académie argued at the time, that there was no connection between what it called “natural gender” and “grammatical gender.”

Have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

The term “confidence man” appears to have been coined in 1849 during the trial of one William Thompson in New York:

A debonair thief, Thompson had a knack for ingratiating himself with complete strangers on the street and then asking, “Have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?” Many did, which cost them their expensive timepieces. The much-publicized trial and the odd crime at its heart piqued the interest of Herman Melville, who reworked it eight years later for his under-appreciated high-concept final novel, The Confidence-Man. After boarding a Mississippi steamboat on April Fool’s Day, its Mephistophelean titular character adopts a succession of guises with evocative backstories and surnames (Goodman, Truman, Noble) with the aim of getting one over on fellow passengers. Spurred by self-interest and reflective of society at large, the dupes place unquestioning trust in tokens such as attire and profession, making them as complicit in the con as the perpetrator. In The Adman’s Dilemma, which used literary and cultural waypoints to chart the evolution of the common snake-oil salesman into the modern man of advertising, Paul Rutherford bleakly described Melville’s novel as “a study in deception and even a self-deception so complete that there was no possibility of redemption”.

Is it jury-rigged or jerry-built or jerry-rigged?

Saturday, June 22nd, 2019

When you duct-tape some complicated structure together, is it jury-rigged or jerry-built or jerry-rigged?

If we were building this structure back in the 18th century, we would have only one of these terms available to us: jury-rig has meant “to erect, construct, or arrange in a makeshift fashion” since the late 18th century, and appears in its participial jury-rigged form from its earliest days. The only caveat here is that our 18th century selves would be using the word completely unconventionally in this context—unless the many-tiered carpeted cat structure were also a boat. That’s right: in its early days jury-rigged was a strictly nautical term.

That fact is also our clue that jury-rig has nothing to do with the juries of the courtroom. Jury-rig comes from the adjective jury, meaning “improvised for temporary use especially in an emergency,” or “makeshift.” It’s a 15th century term that comes from the Middle English jory, as known (back then, anyway) in the phrase “jory sail,” meaning “improvised sail.”

The rig in jury-rigged likewise has nothing to do with the rig that has to do with manipulating or controlling something, like a game or election, to get a desired result. That rig is from a 17th century noun meaning “swindle.” The rig in jury-rigged is a 15th century sailing term meaning “to fit out with rigging,” with rigging being the lines and chains used in operating a sailing vessel. In the 18th century, if it was jury-rigged it was a boat:

La Couronne … bad bottoms, jury rigged.
Morning Herald (London), 16 Aug. 1782

Jury-rigged was, of our three words, the only option for describing our questionably constructed many-tiered carpeted cat structure for quite a while. But in the mid-19th century another word came along: jerry-built means “built cheaply and unsubstantially” as well as “carelessly or hastily put together.” The origin of this word is unknown, though there is plenty of speculation that it’s from some poor slob named Jerry, which is a nickname for Jeremy or Jeremiah. While one named Jerry may reasonably disdain the word, jerry-built is not considered to be a slur. Jerry was used in British English around the time of the First World War as a disparaging word for a German person, but jerry-built predates that use:

The warehouses themselves which have been destroyed were of the class called “Jerry built,” which is equivalent to the term applied in Manchester to the property of building clubs.
The Guardian (London), 28 Sept. 1842

Before things were jerry-built, it seems that some things were built in the “jerry” style:

Another witness in the same case, Mr. Heighton, a house owner, who was called on the opposite side, was asked what was the meaning of the Jerry style of architecture. “Any thing that is badly built,” was the reply. “Have you any houses in Toxteth-park?” was the next question. “Yes,” said the witness. “Are any of them built in the Jerry style of architecture?” “No.” “What do you call your style?” “A sufficient and substantial style.” “And all your houses are of that order?” “I should say so.” “And what do you call the Jerry style?” “If the work is not well done, and the houses not well finished, we call that the Jerry style.”
The Liverpool (England) Mercury, 12 Apr. 1839

The definitive proof is absent, but etymologists believe that the similarity between something being jury-rigged and something being jerry-built paved the way for our third word. The jury of jury-rigged isn’t transparent to the modern English speaker, but the rigged makes sense: after its “to fit out with rigging” meaning, rig developed other senses, including “to equip,” “to construct,” and “to put in condition or position for use.” And so it was that in the late 19th century, the word jerry-rigged sidled up to the language and asked to come inside, offering a meaning of “organized or constructed in a crude or improvised manner”:

Naturally the naval and military establishments have been potent factors in the improvement and development of so convenient a neighborhood, while the efforts of the corporation, in laying out the ground, have received great support from the Government, which, as principal landlord, has taken care that its tenants should carry out building operations in a fashion unconnected with the speculative builder and the “jerry-rigged” villa.
The Daily Telegraph (London), 17 Sept. 1890

I learned this one afternoon when something went wrong with the jerry rigged derrick we were using.
The New England Farmer (Boston, MA), 15 Mar. 1902

While some will assert that jerry-rigged is an inferior sort of word to be avoided, it is in fact fully established and has been busy in the language for more than a century, describing any number of things organized or constructed in a crude or improvised way. Jury-rigged and jerry-built are somewhat older and not generally criticized, and have the added benefit of having corresponding verb forms. Jury-rigged is the best choice when the makeshift nature of the effort is to be emphasized rather than a shoddiness that results; the one who jury-rigs is merely doing what they can with the materials available. Jerry-built is most often applied when something has been made quickly and cheaply; the one who jerry-builds something builds it badly.

Then there’s the question of whether you should call it duct tape

Getting under weigh at the coach office

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

Hans Schantz mentioned that Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast (1840) was the most challenging book he’d read, vocabulary-wise, because of the specialized nautical jargon.

I decided to revisit the book and was immediately struck by a bit a quasi-nautical jargon in the first paragraph:

The fourteenth of August was the day fixed upon for the sailing of the brig Pilgrim on her voyage from Boston round Cape Horn to the western coast of North America. As she was to get under weigh early in the afternoon, I made my appearance on board at twelve o’clock, in full sea-rig, and with my chest, containing an outfit for a two or three year voyage, which I had undertaken from a determination to cure, if possible, by an entire change of life, and by a long absence from books and study, a weakness of the eyes, which had obliged me to give up my pursuits, and which no medical aid seemed likely to cure.

Under weigh?

What happened was that the Dutch, who were European masters of the sea in the seventeenth century, gave us — among many other nautical expressions — the term onderweg, meaning “on the way”. This became naturalised as under way and is first recorded in English around 1740, specifically as a maritime term (its broader meanings didn’t appear until the following century). Some over-clever individuals connected with the sea almost immediately linked it erroneously with the phrase to weigh anchor. Weigh here is the same word as the one for finding out how heavy an object is. Both it and the anchor sense go back to the Old English verb, which could mean “raise up”. The link between the senses is the act of raising an object on scales.

It’s easy to find a myriad of examples of under weigh from the best English authors in the following two centuries, such as William Makepeace Thackeray, Captain Marryat, Washington Irving, Thomas Carlyle, Herman Melville, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens (“There were the bad odours of the town, and the rain and the refuse in the kennels, and the faint lamps slung across the road, and the huge Diligence, and its mountain of luggage, and its six grey horses with their tails tied up, getting under weigh at the coach office.” — Little Dorrit).

It was still common as recently as the 1930s (“He felt her gaze upon him, all the same, as he stood with his back to her attending to the business of getting under weigh.” — The Happy Return by C S Forester, 1937) but weigh has dropped off almost to nothing now. This paralleled another change, starting around the same time, in which the two words began to be combined into a single adverb, underway (though many style manuals still recommend it be written as two words). It may be that the influence of other words ending in -way, especially anyway, encouraged the shift in spelling back to the original and in the process killed off a persistent misunderstanding.

The Malay language transformed into Bahasa Indonesia

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Linguistically, Indonesia is one of the world’s most diverse countries, Jared Diamond explains (in Upheaval), with more than 700 different languages:

An important contribution to eventual Indonesian unity was the evolution and transformation of the Malay language, a trade language with a long history, into Bahasa Indonesia, the shared national language of all Indonesians today.

[...]

Even the largest of Indonesia’s hundreds of local languages, the Javanese language of Central Java, is the native language of less than one-third of Indonesia’s population.

[...]

If that largest local language had become the national language, it would have symbolized Java’s domination of Indonesia and thereby exacerbated a problem that has persisted in modern Indonesia, namely, fear of Javanese domination on the part of Indonesians of other islands.

[...]

The Javanese language has the additional disadvantage of being hierarchy-conscious, with different words used in speaking to people of higher or lower status.

[...]

Today, I share with Indonesians their appreciation for the advantages of the wonderful Bahasa Indonesia as their national language. It’s easy to learn. Only 18 years after Indonesia took over Dutch New Guinea and introduced Bahasa there, I found it being spoken even by uneducated New Guineans in remote villages.

[...]

Bahasa’s grammar is simple but supple at adding prefixes and suffixes to many word roots, in order to create new words with immediately predictable meanings. For example, the adjective meaning “clean” is “bersih,” the verb “to clean” is “membersihkan,” the noun “cleanliness” is “kebersihan,” and the noun “cleaning up” is “pembersihan.”

The Finnish language is distinctive, beautiful, and spoken by no one other than Finns

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

One of Finland’s strengths, Jared Diamond notes in Upheaval, is that it has a strong sense of unity:

Finland identifies with Scandinavia and is considered part of Scandinavia. Many Finns are blue-eyed blonds, like Swedes and Norwegians. Genetically, Finns are in effect 75% Scandinavian like Swedes and Norwegians, and only 25% invaders from the east. But geography, language, and culture make Finns different from other Scandinavians, and they are proud of those differences.

[...]

Out of the nearly 100 native languages of Europe, all are related members of the Indo-European language family except for the isolated Basque language and four others. Those four are Finnish, the closely related Estonian language, and the distantly related Hungarian and Lapp (Saami) languages, all of which belong to the Finno-Ugric language family.

[...]

Finland’s national epic poem, the Kalevala, holds an even bigger place in Finland’s national consciousness than do the plays of Shakespeare for English-speakers.

[...]

The letter k is very common in Finnish: of the 200 pages of my Finnish-to-English dictionary, 31 pages are for words beginning with k.

[...]

I have nothing against k’s—but, alas, Finnish, unlike English, has double consonants (like kk) pronounced differently from single consonants (like k). That was the feature of Finnish pronunciation that made it hardest for my tolerant Finnish hosts to understand me on the few occasions when I gave short speeches in Finnish. The consequences of failing to pronounce single and double consonants distinctly can be serious. For instance, the Finnish verb meaning “to meet” is “tapaa” with a single p, while the verb “to kill” is “tappaa” with a double p. Hence if you ask a Finn to meet you but you mistakenly double the p, you may end up dead.

[...]

Finnish also has what are called short vowels and long vowels.

[...]

If you find yourself confused by the four cases of the German language or the six cases of the Latin language, you’ll be horrified to know that the Finnish language has 15 cases, many of which replace prepositions in English.

[...]

But in Finnish, whenever you use a direct object, you have to decide whether your verb is doing something to the whole object (requiring the accusative case) or to only a part of the object (requiring the partitive case).

[...]

One of my Finnish hosts in 1959 was a Swedish Finn whose home language was Swedish but who was fluent in Finnish. Nevertheless, he couldn’t get a job from any government agency in Finland, because all Finnish government jobs require passing exams in both the Finnish and the Swedish languages. My friend told me that if, in the 1950’s, you made only a single mistake in choosing between the accusative case and the partitive case, you flunked the exam and couldn’t get a government job.

[...]

All of those features contribute to making the Finnish language distinctive, beautiful, a source of national pride, and spoken by almost no one other than Finns themselves.

[...]

Other central pieces of Finland’s national identity are its music composers, its architects and designers, and its long-distance runners.

[...]

The Finnish musician Jean Sibelius is considered one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.

[...]

Finnish architects and interior designers are renowned worldwide. (American readers will think of the St. Louis Arch, Dulles Airport outside Washington, and the TWA terminal at New York’s Kennedy Airport, all of them designed by the Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen.)

There is nothing very boyish about a war soldier

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

Dunlap didn’t like most of the civilians’ names for soldiers:

I do not like the use of that word “boy” in all places, either, for there is nothing very boyish about a war soldier regardless of his age. It used to gripe us to read blurbs about “our boys.” A soldier can call other soldiers boys, the same way a man refers to his lodge poker gang that way, even though there is not a lad under 60 in the bunch, but it irritated us to be called that in print and by civilians, the way it irritated us to be called “Joe” or “Buddy” by outsiders. I always wanted to hit civilians who called me that. No real soldier ever called another “Buddy” anyway. Besides, in the Pacific, only the Filipinos used “Joe” as a name. Privates were sometimes referred to objectively and collectively as “joes” but only replacements thought it a name. Soldiers called other strange ones “Mac” (or in our outfit, “Mate” was popular — the guys had been on ships so often they used sailor lingo). “Doughfoot” and “Doughboy” are more civilian terms. In the army if a soldier belonged to the cavalry he was a trooper, and if to the infantry, an infantryman. He was called foot soldier, or line man, if belonging to a combat unit.