Posts Tagged ‘language’.

Martin Luther King & Queen Victoria UPDATES


Photo by @doncarlo!

If you have a 2013 Gaxian Almanac, we’re well into the first page by now! Configure it as in the above picture and LET ’ER RIP.

I’d also like to take a few moments here to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr.

Anecdote the first

I attended a middle school named after the civil rights leader. I recently rediscovered my band jacket from my days playing the trombone and tuba:

You might be able to read the lapel there in the picture. It reads “Dizzy D Malki.” Was this my nickname in school? No, not in the slightest. My bandmate Selwyn informed me moments before the forms were due for the inscriptions that you could, in fact, request custom nicknames on the jackets. Selwyn suggested “Dizzy D Malki”, completely out of nowhere, and I accepted at once, as you do in these situations.

As I described on Tweet Me Harder once (I forget which episode), the joke ended up being on Selwyn — his own inscription, “Saxy Selwyn,” came back, on the day before the concert in which we were all to wear the jackets, reading “Saxy Selwyb.”

I still think “Selwyb” is one of the funniest words I’ve ever heard.

Anecdote the second

As you might remember from this post, I spent — well, spend — a lot of time thinking about letters.

My last name, Malki, is Semitic in origin, probably Aramaic. A linguist could explain this better than I can, but as I understand it, in Semitic languages, word roots are often made of consonant pairs or triads. For example, in Arabic, the concept of “marking” is carried in the root consonants k-t-b. From there you can add vowels to get kitab (book), katib (writer), maktub (letter), yaktubu (he writes), etc. More examples of root consonants are here.

Anyway the root consonants of “Malki” are m-l-k…

The very same initials emblazoned everywhere on my school, band jacket, gym clothes, etc. for three very formative years.

EDITED TO ADD: I forgot to mention this before, but there is even one more connection: the m-l-k root consonants in Semitic languages are related to the concept of “ruling”. So m-l-k (malik) literally does mean “king”! Thanks to commenters and emailers who pointed this out. Other m-l-k words in Arabic include imlik (to own) and malaki (royal).

Malak also means “angel” but there is some question about whether it’s related to the same root — it may instead be corrupted from an l-q root which includes words like litalaqi (to receive) and liqa (to encounter). Of course I don’t actually speak Arabic so who knows.

Why this matters

Because of this incredible impact that Dr. King’s legacy has had on my life, I have long been celebrating his holiday, typically observed on the third Monday in January, instead as a feast lasting five full days, only ending on the typical Monday.

I have been tirelessly lobbying Congress to extend the MLK Day holiday to five days, and in anticipation of the success of my effort, marked the 2013 Gaxian Almanacs with the holiday beginning on January 16th, five days before the “standard” (boring) observation, which otherwise would be the 21st.

Sadly, I received a letter today from all 535 members of the United States Congress, denying my request. So it is with a heavy heart that I must inform owners of the 2013 Gaxian Almanac that the indication of MLK day on January 16th is thus rendered inaccurate.

The nation will celebrate MLK day on only one day this year, the 21st of January. Please make any corrections necessary to your calendars as needed. (I hope this news reaches you before you have scheduled any important appointments for mid-January).

Canadians please note

My devotion to the memory of Queen Victoria notwithstanding, a similar plea has likewise fallen on deaf ears in your Parliament, so please celebrate your usual single-day Victoria Day festivities on Monday, May 20th instead of letting them spill over onto the 21st (as is marked on the calendar).

My apologies to anyone who wanted to party; please blame your respective governments. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TRY TO MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD. I am, however, pleased to report that the band jacket still fits nicely.

More Surprising Etymologies


Flickr photo by Tom Hynds

Comic #829 involves a false etymology for the words “pep” and “pepper”. Here are some more surprising etymologies, of various degrees of plausibility.

• Tea gets its name from the abbreviation on tungsten tellurium lanterns (atomic symbol Te), which were used by British soldiers in the Crimea to heat teakettles in the field. The beverage was previously colloquially known as rattle, short for “rattle and clink,” Cockney rhyming slang for “leaf drink.”

• The word sultan comes from the same Latin root as the word consult — in the same way that a president is one who presides, a sultan is one consulted. The title sultan was first assumed by Turkish ruler Fazzad bin Rahib during the thirteenth century in an attempt to emphasize rulership based on the classical qualities of reason and logic.

• The Old French mer is the root for many of our words relating to water, such as marine, maritime and marsupial. But mer was also used more generally as a metaphor for “truth” — the clarity and cleanliness of water representing honesty and sincerity. Thus we get camera, the “capturer of truth”, and mirror, the “twisted truth”. The -or suffix is often found in this context: terror means “the twisted earth”, or something unsettling and otherworldly; horror (using hor- as in horizon) means “twisted boundaries,” or something unreal made real.

• Speaking of fear, the bogeyman feared by children everywhere has its roots in the legend of John Bogieman, a poor farmer said to have given his children away as payment when he couldn’t make the mortgage on his farm. He kept his farm, but his vegetables turned up rotten evermore and he starved to death. Now, he wanders the earth searching for his lost children, and many say his ghostly form cannot tell innocent children from his own, whom he wants to take back with him to the underworld.

• The verbs punch and fart are both onomotopoeias.

Leave your own in the comments!