creek, up a creek
I had no idea that British usage of creek was different from the use of the word in the rest of the English-speaking world until I was translating an Old Norse work (appropriately enough regarding the discovery and exploration of Vinland) and found that my Old Norse dictionary, produced in the U. K., translated the word vágr as “bay, creek.” Unsure what was intended, a bay or a creek, I did some digging and discovered in British dialect the two words were synonyms. (Just to be clear, there is no etymological connection with the Old Norse vágr. Creek is simply a translation.)Read the rest of the article...
Acre, the unit of land measurement, comes down to us from the Old English æcer. The word is common throughout the Germanic languages, and has cognates in other Indo-European languages too, like the Latin ager and the Greek ἀγρός ”field," and the Sanskrit ajra ”plain, open country.” The modern spelling is influenced by the Norman French version of the word.
The exact definition of acre has varied over the centuries, and originally it referred to the amount of land a team of oxen could plow in one day, as recorded in Ælfric’s Colloquy, an early eleventh century schoolbook for teaching Latin, which among other things describes various occupations. It has this to say about a plowman:
Omni die debeo aratre [read arare] integrum agrum aut plus : ælce dæg ic sceal erian fulne æþer [read æcer] oþþe mare.
(Each day I must plow a full acre or more.)
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition)
Holt, a word for a wooded area, a copse, goes back to Old English. It’s root is common Germanic, with cognates found in Old Norse, Old Frisian, Old Saxon, Old High German, etc.
The word is found in line 2598 of Beowulf to describe how the hero’s men abandon him when faced with the dragon:
ac hy on holt bugon, ealdre burgan
(but they fled into the wood to save their lives)
Perhaps the most famous appearance of the word is in line six of “General Prologue” to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
(When Zephyr also with the his sweet breath
has inspired in every holt and heath
There’s really not much else to say about this word. I came across it while reading an Old Norse account of the settlement of Vinland and wondered if it was a borrowing from Old Norse. The English word isn’t borrowed, it’s just cognate with the Old Norse. Although in Icelandic it means a stony hill—not many trees in Iceland. And indeed, in the account I’m reading, Eiriks saga Rauða or Þorfinns saga Karlsefnis (Eric the Red’s Saga or Thorfinn Karlsefni’s Saga), from a late fifteenth-century manuscript, the word does indeed mean hill as it is contrasted with lowlands:
Þar fundu þeir sjálfsána hveitiakra, þar sem lægðir váru, en vínviðr alt þar sem holta kendi.
(There they found wild-growing (self-sown) wheat fields where there was low-lying land, and grapevines wherever there were hills.)
Book of Kells Now Online
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a detailed article on how the transition to digital and online formats are changing dictionaries. Digital dictionaries are more convenient, provide feedback to lexicographers on what words are being searched, and have the tools to track social trends in vocabulary use.
Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles Online
The first edition, from 1967, of The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles is now available online. A second edition is in preparation with publication targeted for 2015.
Making this resource freely available is a good thing, but the dictionary does have its limitations. Most notably, it is from 1967, so many recent Canadianisms are not to be found in it. There is no entry for poutine, for example. Also, the DCHP only includes citations from Canadian sources. While this policy is great for tracking Canadian usage, users must remain aware that many of the terms are older in other dialects. For example, the OED has a British use of Chesterfield a decade before the word appears in Canada, and use of toque goes back to the sixteenth century. And in a bad web design choice, users must click on each citation to see the bibliographic data, which is annoying and time consuming.
So while the DCHP is not a one-stop language site, it is a valuable addition to the lexicographic resources available on the web.
John McIntyre, copy editor for the Baltimore Sun, enumerates the various zombie rules that some people still cling to. There are no surprises on the list, but it’s nice to see them all listed all together. If he missed any, I can’t think of what they might be.
I’m pleased that I’m guilty of enforcing only one of these rules with my students: “Insisting on who for people, that for animals and objects.” I’ve gotten better at letting it slide, but it still irks the hell out of me whenever I see it, and the urge to pick up the blue pencil is a strong one.
The Problem With Peevery
Kory Stamper of the Harmless Drudgery blog points out the problems with correcting the grammar of others.
NBC Pronunciation Guide
Ben Trawick-Smith of the Dialect Blog has found a copy of The NBC Handbook of Pronunciation from over fifty years ago. It’s an interesting nugget. I didn’t know that American broadcasters had such guides, but I shouldn’t be surprised.
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton