August 13, 2011

Idle Queries, August 2011 Edition

  1. Under current US law, could a credit card association (e.g., Visa) refuse to authorize donations to all political parties and organizations, just because they are political? Could they block donations to a particular political organization, e.g., the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, because they do not like its politics?
  2. English has the (annoyingly un-parallel) words "chinoiserie" and "japonisme" to denote western art which tries to evoke that of China and Japan, or at least certain western ideas of that art. (We acquired these words in our usual way, obviously.) Are there analogous words for art which tries to evoke African art, or Indian? If not, what should they be?
  3. Which pairs of languages have the most mutual borrowing of words? Is there any word which has been borrowed from one language, transformed in the borrower, and then loaned back?
  4. How closely related do two species of cats have to be to respond to each other's territorial scent-markers? Is this always symmetric?
  5. Would it be wrong to put this print up in my office, across from the student chair?
  6. Would CSSR's performance improve if I made it worry that its life was meaningless?
  7. Is the presence of the Frankfurt School in increasingly-mainstreamed right-wing conspiracy theories simply revenge for The Authoritarian Personality, or is it also revenge for Prophets of Deceit: A Portrait of the American Agitator? (Which you should read; those people are now an influential faction of Congress. [See "increasingly-mainstreamed" above.])

I should perhaps add that there is no particular connection among these.

Update, later that day: John Kozak offers the example of French boeuf ("cow") -> English "beef" + "steak" -> French bifteck, and suggests that there are probably many more French -> English -> French loops.

Update, 16 August: The question about (what I learn from Scott Martens are properly called) re-borrowings seems to have struck a chord. Some suggestions from readers follow.

Ádám Tóth offers the chain froc (French) -> "frock" (English) -> frac (French); the mind boggles slightly at the idea of French borrowing an English word for clothing, but apparently so.

Continuing on the French-English-French loop, Matthieu Authier offers French pied de grue, "crane's foot", a drawing of which was apparently used to mark succession in family trees, hence English "pedigree", whence French pedigrée.

Shifting from going back and forth across the English Channel to going back and forth across the North Sea, Marius Nijhuis provides an interesting list for Dutch. I'll quote his e-mail (with permission) at some length:

In these cases the original word is still in use, mostly in roughly its original meaning, next to a reimported version with a clearly different meaning. They all involve French or English or both. German would be the obvious third language to look for loops. But German dialects and Dutch are historically too close, so words move back and forth too easily to get interesting changes in meaning.
  • Mannequin, currently used in Dutch for 'runway model'. From 'manneken', still the Flemish word for 'little guy'.
  • Boulevard, used in Dutch mostly for a road running paralel to a beach. The French word comes from 'bolwerk', Dutch for bastion.
  • Sketch, used in Dutch only for a short comedy act. The English word comes from 'schets', meaning sketch.
  • Drugs, used in Dutch only for narcotics. From English, through French 'drogue' meaning 'spices' in those days, from Dutch (or Old Dutch) 'droge waren', meaning 'dry goods' in shipping. Much earlier than 'drugs', 'drogue' had already returned as 'drogist', the Dutch word for 'drug store', from French 'droguiste', 'seller of spices'.
  • Etappe, nowadays mostly used in Dutch for a stage in a cycling contest. From French 'etape' in the Tour de France, through a chain of military uses from old French 'estaple', meaning trade depot, in turn derived from Old Dutch 'stapel'. And stapel also moved to English, leading to "staple foods", that returned to Dutch as 'stapelvoedsel'. In this case, 'stapel' has nearly disappeared from Dutch in its original meaning, Its current ordinary meaning is simply 'stack'.
  • Dock, written with a c, is in modern Dutch a device to put an ipod in. Dok is still the word for the maritime structure.
  • Cruise, used in Dutch for a luxury boat trip. From 'kruisen', tacking against in the wind in a sailing boat. Cruisecontrol (one word) is the normal Dutch word for the speed control in cars. Cruising as done by aircraft got reattached to 'kruisen', eventually leading to 'kruisraket', cruise missile. That is a curious word Dutch might never have formed on its own, since it can also mean 'cross missile' or 'crotch missile'.

There are actually even more reader e-mails on this subject in the queue, but I don't have permission to quote from them yet.

Posted at August 13, 2011 11:00 | permanent link

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