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Morning rays, Cañon de Chelly

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Let it qaniɣ

I was talking to my friend Gary today about the deficiencies of the english language. I pointed out that there are fifty words for snow in Eskimo and not one decent word in english for the little sore you get inside your nostril when you pull out a nose hair.

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I started thinking soon thereafter about the eskimo snow thing and found out that it was basically total bunk. Sorry Kate Bush (She put out an album concerning the leitmotif called not so surprisingly, Fifty words for snow). First off there is no eskimo language, there are a group of languages for the assorted eskimo-aleut tribes in that part of the world and their language has the same approximate number of words for snow as english, although it is true that they can be more complexly modified by their linguistic roots.

A linguist named Laura Martin traced the history of the fifty words for snow myth in 1986. Apparently it had its origin in the work of linguist and anthropologist Franz Boas who wrote the Handbook of American Indian languages in 1911. Boas had done some field work amongst the Inuit at Baffin Island.

People have gone back and forth on the subject and the phenomenon has been labeled both a hoax and a literary cliche. What the hell. I used it. It works.

And I think finally I would be remiss in not mentioning that there are approximately 180 words for snow in the Sami language of the Lappes of Norway, Sweden and Finland. And 1000 words for reindeer.

The three universal words for snow across the major inuit dialects are qaniɣ 'falling snow', *aniɣu 'fallen snow', and *apun 'snow on the ground.

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I got a little lecture from Tom at the gym the other day regarding the words awhile and a while. I think he was a little sore because I caught a misspelling in one of his memo's memos that was apparently not supposed to be released into the public arena.

Anyway Tom let me in on the fact that one is an adverb and one is an article and a noun and you interchange them at your peril. I googled it. Be my guest:
Grammatically, a while is a noun phrase in which "a" is an article and "while" functions as a noun meaning "a short period of time"; awhile is an adverb meaning "for a while."  In other words, the meaning is the same, but the structure is different:  the word awhile has "for" built into its meaning.
I guess the skinny is that when you say a while, you should mentally insert for before it and see if it works or not. I believe that I am done with it.

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A couple years ago Jane Milner Mares let me have it for using an apostrophe in the possessive its. I don't do that anymore.

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I pulled the Chicago Manual of Style, the editor's bible, out of the library recently. A must have for any serious editor or wordsmith. Do you know what those paper things are between the binders of a book? If you answered pages you would be dead wrong. They are leaves. A leaf has two sides called pages. Learned it in the Chicago Manual of Style. Also a lot about copyright. Full of great stuff, including a good chart of proofreading conventions. My mother was a great editor. I should have paid more attention. Read galleys for her but never grabbed the proper correction lexicon.

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And then there was the moment that I realized that I was adding an unnecessary apostrophe mark to plurals. The shame...

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

god doesnt this shit make your head hurt? just write about the new fairy tale prince for christsake and leave my nostril hair out of it.

love buzz

Anonymous said...

I think he was a little sore because I caught a misspelling in one of his memo's that was apparently not supposed to be released into the public arena.

And then there was the moment that I realized that I was adding an unnecessary apostrophe mark to plurals. The shame...

Yes, you do still do that--see "memo's" above.

Blue Heron said...

Damn!