Still here! (And a bit about “Old English”)

Hey everyone. I wanted to drop a quick post here to let those of you who are still subscribed to the feed (a surprising number of you!) that I’ve not abandoned this blog. I’ve been extremely busy with classes, and both of my blogs (this one and System 13) have suffered because of it. But, one must have priorities. 🙂

I won’t, however, post here without writing at least a little bit about language. So:

I have long been frustrated with people thinking that modern words with an -e slapped on the end constitute “Old English.” (Or should I say “Olde English”?) I hear expressions from people surprisingly often, showing how little they know about the evolution of their own, native language.

The most recent case was when I was discussing Myne Owne Ground, a book I had to read for a class I’m in. As can be discerned from the extended title (Myne Owne Ground: Race and Freedom on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, 1640-1676), the book is concerned with 17th century Virginia. Throughout the book, there are excerpts from court cases, land grants, etc. Many of the words in these excerpts are spelled incorrectly or inconsistently, and a great deal of the words have an unneeded -e appended to the end.

When talking about this with a fellow classmate, he commented that, “Yeah, all of that Old English will get you everytime.” (I suppose he could have meant “old” as an antiquated, from a previous time, etc., but I seriously doubt it.) I just nodded and smiled, but I wanted to say: “Alas, no – that’s not Old English! You’re only about 5 centuries late. If I were to show you real Old English – Anglo-Saxon – you’d realize how silly you sound.”

Old[e] English, indeed.

Putting the “straw” in strawberry

Yesterday while eating a bowl of fruit salad, I commented that I wondered where the “straw” in “strawberry” came from. My mom and wife both chimed in, saying that it referred to the straw that farmers put on the strawberry plants to protect them. I said that that sounded interesting, but not like a very convincing etymology. To appease my curiosity, I did a bit of searching. From the OED:

[OE. stréaw-, stréow, stréa-, stréuberi{asg}e, f. stréaw

STRAW n.1 + beri{asg}e BERRY n.
No corresponding word is found in any other Teut. lang. The reason for the name has been variously conjectured. One explanation refers the first element to STRAW n.1 2, a particle of straw or chaff, a mote, describing the appearance of the achenes scattered over the surface of the strawberry; another view is that it designates the runners (cf. STRAW n.1 3).
The view of Kluge, that OE. stréaw- in streawberi{asg}e is cogn. w. L. fr{amac}gum strawberry, is not phonologically satisfactory, and is also open to objection on other grounds.

And a bit more from Wikipedia:

The name is derived from Old English strēawberiġe which is a compound of streaw meaning “straw” and berige meaning “berry”. The reason for this is unclear. It may derive from the strawlike appearance of the runners, or from an obsolete denotation of straw, meaning “chaff”, referring to the scattered appearance of the achenes.

Interestingly, in other Germanic countries there is a tradition of collecting wild strawberries by threading them on straws. In those countries people find straw-berry to be an easy word to learn considering their association with straws.

There is an alternative theory that the name derives from the Anglo-Saxon verb for “strew” (meaning to spread around) which was streabergen (Strea means “strew” and Bergen means “berry” or “fruit”) and thence to streberie, straiberie, strauberie, straubery, strauberry, and finally, “strawberry”, the word which we use today. The name might have come from the fact that the fruit and various runners appear “strewn” along the ground.

Popular etymology has it that it comes from gardeners’ practice of mulching strawberries with straw to protect the fruits from rot (a pseudoetymology that can be found in non-linguistic sources such as the Old Farmer’s Almanac 2005). However, there is no evidence that the Anglo-Saxons ever grew strawberries, and even less that they knew of this practice.

The bold is my doing.

So, apparently, my mom and wife are not alone in thinking that the name is derived from putting straw on the plants.

The explanation based on the Anglo-Saxon verb streabergen is intriguing. I’m not sure where the Wikipedians came up with it, though. As far as I can see, there’s no citation for the explanation, and the OED mentions nothing similar.

Take the con.

I’m in the middle of reading The Mote in God’s Eye, a science fiction novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. A lot of the action takes place abord the ship MacArthur. I’m around page 100 at this point, and three or four times, I’ve seen the phrase “take the con”, usually spoken by the Captain to one of his subordinates. It was clear that he was saying “take over control of the ship”, but I was curious about the usage of the word con. I thought that it was perhaps an shortened form of control; I was wrong.

Apparently, the verb con can mean, on top of its meaning in the sense of a “con artist,” to direct the steering of a ship. Furthermore, the word con can be a noun, meaning “the action or post of conning a ship.” The word is indeed a shortening of another word, but not control; instead, the word is a shortened version of the now-obsolete cond, ‘conduct, guide’, which comes from the Old French word conduire.

(All of the information in this entry is from Oxford Online Reference.)

What in the tarnation are you doing?

I’m from southern Ohio. Throughout my growing up here, I’ve heard the word tarnation slung around, as well as used it quite a lot myself. For example (or e.g., now that I know how to use the abbreviation correctly):

Just what in the tarnation do you think you’re doing?

Or a shorter expression, which conveys confusion or dismay about something that’s happening or happened:

What in the tarnation?

It was only today that, after saying something with the word tarnation in the sentence, that I realized I didn’t know what it meant. So, of course, off I went to the OED. The word tarnation is a variant of darnation, which is a variant of damnation. If I fill in damnation where I would normally say tarnation, the result sounds surprisingly weird to me:

What in the damnation are you doing?

Odd. Very odd.

i.e. vs. e.g. – id est and exempli gratia

One of the blogs I read, Copyblogger, posted an article on common mistakes made when writing. One of the things they wrote about was the use (or misuse!) of the Latin abbreviations i.e. (id est) and e.g. (exempli gratia). Here’s what they had to say about the abbreviations:

6. i.e. vs. e.g.

Ah, Latin… you’ve just gotta love it. As antiquated as they might seem, these two little Latin abbreviations are pretty handy in modern writing, but only if you use them correctly.

The Latin phrase id est means “that is,” so i.e. is a way of saying “in other words.” It’s designed to make something clearer by providing a definition or saying it in a more common way.

Copyblogger has jumped the shark, i.e., gone downhill in quality, because Brian has broken most of his New Year’s resolutions.

The Latin phrase exempli gratia means “for example”, so e.g. is used before giving specific examples that support your assertion.

Copyblogger has jumped the shark because Brian has broken most of his New Year’s resolutions, e.g., promising not to say “Web 2.0,” “linkbait,” or “jumped the shark” on the blog in 2007.

Well! I feel rather silly. I’ve been using these two abbreviations incorrectly for a long time. I thought both of them meant essentially, “for example.” Apparently I was wrong!

I don’t know where I learned it – perhaps it was ages ago in elementary school, or on one of the countless websites I’ve read over the years – but I had it in my head that the abbreviation i.e. stood for “in example.” Apparently, that’s not the case. 🙂

No, that sentence should not end with a question mark.

I was at the post office today mailing a few items, when I saw a little placard that made me cringe. It showed a postal worker, holding her hand to her ear, as if she was listening. Below her picture was this text:

We’d like to know how you service was today?

Argh. No, that sentence does not need a question mark at the end. It should have a period, or if they were wanting to imply excitement, an exclamation point – but not a question mark. That’s a statement. Statements do not end in question marks.

I’m really surprised that made it through the editing process!