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Trivial chase

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Offline Phil

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Trivial chase
« March 01, 2017, 04:02:44 PM »
Did you ever take a Calculus course, and wonder where that "integral" sign ∫ came from? Did you ever look at an 18th century document such as the US Bill of Rights (first 10 Amendments to the Constitution), and wonder why "Congress" is written "Congre∫s" or "Congreſs", depending on whether it's handwritten or printed? Isn't it obvious? They're the same letter of the English alphabet!

What's going on here? This letter is a now obsolete form of "s", known as a "long s". It was used in English up until the early 19th century, and still has limited use in some Germanic languages (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_s). When handwritten, it often takes the form of the gracefully flowing integral sign ∫, and when printed, many fonts show it as an "f" minus most of its crossbar: ſ. The general rule for using a long s is that it normally doesn't appear as the final letter in a word (instead, a round or short terminal "s" is used. Note that in the Greek alphabet, there are different forms for terminal and non-terminal lowercase sigmas [s's: ς and σ]). When there is a double s, as in Congress, it normally appears as the first of the s's, followed by a short s: Congre∫s or Congreſs.

What is its connection to higher mathematics? The German co-inventor of the Calculus (along with Isaac Newton), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, started using an "s" in the late 17th century to signify "summation" (German: summe) over infinitesimals (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_symbol). His works were handwritten, and the "s" of choice would be the long s: ∫. Fortunately, in English, the word (summation) also starts with an s, so it was accepted by Newton. Different European cultures have different typesetting standards for an integral, some slanting it more than others, and differing in where the limits are placed.

You can still see a long S in use in German, in the form of the Eszett ß or sharp-s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eszett). It's not really an individual letter as much as it's a ligature or digraph of a long and short s (actually, z). An eszett counts as "ss" (not "sz") in sorting and alphabetizing, and is capitalized to "SS" (and before you get all bent out of shape, it has nothing to do with the Schutzstaffel or its double lightning bolt logo). In Germany, the One Way Street sign is either Einbahnstraße or EINBAHNSTRASSE.

A long s is found in the major fonts, but is often missing from many lesser (or more modern) typefaces. Some fonts even include an upper case long s (Unicode x1E9E).

   "You stupid fuh-hithead [ſhithead]" — Ben Franklin, in the Futurama episode All the Presidents' Heads
« Last Edit: January 26, 2018, 12:22:26 PM by Phil »

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Offline Phil

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Re: Trivial chase
« Reply #1: March 01, 2017, 06:19:40 PM »
Or, thou art a thorn in my side…

Back in colonial times, if you had asked a stranger for directions to "ye olde candle shoppe", you probably would have been bundled off to the nearest insane asylum (and they were nasty places back then, combination of warehouse for the crazies, snake pit, and entertainment for people who couldn't afford to go to the theater). Adding an extra "e" to "old" and "shop" is a modern affectation, but what about "ye"?

Well, there was a word "ye", but it really had not much to do with the definite article "the". Then why do people write (and say) "ye this or that"? Because a thorn can look like a "y", that's why. Huh? A thorn, in this case, is the archaic English letter Þ (uppercase) and þ (lowercase), still used in the Icelandic language. You mean that's not a cross between a P and a narwhal? Nope. It's an old Norse letter (one of several) which has since vanished from English. It had the sound "th" (today we write the digraph th for that sound).

Now, the cursive (handwritten) form of thorn looks a lot like the Latin "y". See the picture below, which looks like a "y" with an "e" floating above it. That's one form of thorn (plus an "e"). Several words were formed in such a manner: that (thorn with "t"), thou (thorn with "u" or "ou"), and the (thorn with "e"), and perhaps others. The first printing presses in England were imported from Germany or France, who did not have Þ and þ in their type collections. The nearest thing that a printer could come up with for a thorn lookalike was a "y". Also, due to the limitations of movable type, the "e" (or "t" or "u"/"ou") migrated off a bit to the side, as something of a superscript: ye. Eventually, it floated down to Earth (or at least, to the baseline) as "ye". It was still pronounced "the"! So, the next time you visit Boston, or Plimoth Plantation, or Sturbridge Village, or Jamestown, or Colonial Williamsburg; just roll your eyes and sigh when some says "yee" when meaning "the".



How about the other meaning of "ye" (the one pronounced "yee")? Apparently this one has been around European languages (including English) for a long time, and its spelling and pronunciation have not changed. While thou (thorn + "u" or "ou") and its various declensions thee, thy, and thine were used as an informal or intimate (even impolite) form of address (always singular), ye, you, your, and yours were used to address more than one person, or to address a social superior. Oddly, this was sometimes reversed in religious texts, in keeping with the Hebrew forms of address.

Maybe some day we'll discuss some of the other letters that like Þ/þ have disappeared from English but live on in some other European languages: Ð/ð, Æ/æ, Œ/œ, Ƿ/ƿ, and maybe some others. http://www.dictionary.com/e/letters-alphabet/

Some interesting reads:

P.S. Is "the" pronounced "thee" (long e: ē) or "thuh" (schwa: ə)? Either way seems to be fine, dear. I myself will pronounce it both ways in one sentence. It seems to depend on what the initial sound of the next (upcoming) word is, and whether a long e or a schwa will require less mouth, tongue, and lip movement to get to that sound. I think. It seems to work that way for me.

Grammar Girl spells it out more specifically, with a rule similar to a versus an:
Quote
Pronounce it “thee” if the next word starts with a vowel sound.

Pronounce it “thuh” if the next word starts with a consonant sound.
…although I don't know for sure if this is what I've ended up doing simply by what sounds better to me. It's interesting if this can be reduced to a hard and fast rule, although cases such as, "The colonists burned thuh effigy of King George," seem kind of borderline.
« Last Edit: April 22, 2018, 09:16:55 PM by Phil »

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Offline Phil

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Re: Trivial chase
« Reply #2: March 18, 2017, 11:40:30 AM »
Oh by the way, the alphabet used in English and other Western European languages is not the "Roman alphabet". It is the Latin alphabet, first created by the, er, Romans. For use by the Latin language. If you want to be pedantic, Latin was missing 29 letters: J, U, and W, as well as a–z lower case letters. Those are later additions to the alphabet. "Roman" is a typographical term meaning that the letters are upright, like a proud Centurion. In font names, a name part -Roman (such as Times-New-Roman) simply means "upright", and other fonts may say -Regular, or say nothing extra.

Other variants of font faces are condensed and expanded, various lighter and heavier (bolder) weights, and slanted or oblique (which are often different from italic, which is not only slanted, but made to look hand-written).

Eastern European, Scandinavian, and some other alphabets (such as Vietnamese) have Latin-based alphabets, generally the 26 letters (in upper and lower case) with an assortment of accent marks and ligatures not found in Western European languages. To round things out, the Greek alphabet is a forerunner of the Latin alphabet (note how similar the capital letters are), and Cyrillic is a mashup of Latin and Greek alphabets, with some creations by St. Cyril.
« Last Edit: April 15, 2017, 02:15:17 PM by Phil »

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Offline Phil

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Re: Trivial chase
« Reply #3: April 09, 2017, 10:29:16 AM »
Something that always irritates me is seeing people use the wrong form of two-word expressions/words, particularly those which are a verb (action) plus a direction such as "up" or "out". If it's a verb, it's two words; if it's a noun, it's one. Some examples:

  • back up verb to store away a copy for safekeeping: "Are you going to back up your computer today?"
  • backup noun that saved copy: "Are you going to need to restore your last backup of the system?"
  • build up verb strengthen or create or enlarge: "Don't pour that melted fat down the drain — it will build up deposits in the pipes!"
  • buildup noun something accreted or deposited into place over time: "The buildup of plaque in his arteries gave him a heart attack."
  • call up verb to contact or summon: "The President will call up the reservists."
  • callup noun the act of calling up people: "The callup took two weeks after the draft was reinstated."
  • clean up verb to make clean or remove corruption: "I need to clean up this mess!"
  • cleanup noun the act of cleaning up something: "You're going to have to do a cleanup after your system was hacked!"
  • fill up verb to add something to a container: "Did you remember to fill up the gas tank?"
  • fillup noun the act of filling a container: "I got a free drinking glass with my fillup today!" (Yes, they used to not only pump the gas for you, but give you a token of their appreciation, too!)
  • look up verb to search for: "I need to look up her telephone number."
  • lookup noun the result of looking for something: "Did the log lookup find anything interesting?"
  • set up verb to arrange or set out: "Have you set up the test yet?"
  • setup noun something set in place and ready: "What did the setup of this run cost?"
  • put down verb to demean or criticize: "You shouldn't put down your friends, on a whim!"
  • putdown noun the act of putting down someone: "Don Rickles was the master of the putdown, even of his best friends."
  • shut down verb to turn off or cease operations: "You don't shut down your computer with the On-Off switch!"
  • shutdown noun the act of shutting down something: "I don't think the shutdown of your PC went well."
  • call out verb to name, enumerate, or publicly shame: "You should call out Jim on this actions, if he does it again!"
  • callout noun an act of calling out, pointing to, or enumerating: "Does the callout point to the right footnote?"
  • check out verb to make payment in a store and complete the transaction: "My shopping cart is full; let me check out before I come to dinner." Also to inspect or size up someone or something, or get something out of a library.
  • checkout noun an act finishing a shopping transaction: "I think something went wrong with the checkout — I didn't get a confirmation email."
  • clean out verb to clear out or clean up something, such as "The robbers cleaned out the safe" or "I need to clean out this refrigerator before the new life forms become sentient".
  • cleanout noun an access to clean out a pipe or similar, especially wastewater and sewage pipes: The Headless Body of Agnew in Futurama has a sewer cleanout capping his neck."
  • lay out verb to design or organize and put in order: "I lay out my clothes for the next day before going to bed."
  • layout noun a design or organized state: "Has the circuit layout been checked over?"
  • shoot out verb to hit something with a projectile: "Watch me shoot out that streetlight over there!"
  • shootout noun an act of exchanging gunfire or other unpleasantries: "The three criminals were killed in a shootout with the police."
  • shout out verb to very publicly name or point out, usually in a friendly manner: "I'd like to shout out a greeting to my best friend!"
  • shoutout noun an act of shouting out or publicly pointing to: "I gave a big shoutout to you on TV!"
« Last Edit: August 04, 2017, 09:57:11 AM by Phil »

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Offline Phil

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Re: Trivial chase
« Reply #4: August 04, 2017, 09:46:23 AM »
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend.”
   — Polonius to Lærtes, Act I Scene III, Hamlet

OK, let's get this settled… what is the proper pronunciation of either and neither? That is, with a long e sound: ēther and nēther, or with a long i sound: īther and nīther?

Well, it's all the fault of a Hanoverian prince, King George I of Britain (ruled 1714 – 1727). Sort of. The people of Britain, rather than ruling themselves in a democracy like all respectable people do, named a surplus German prince (that they picked up for a good price) to succeed Queen Anne. He spoke German as his native tongue, and tried to learn the language of his new subjects (English, of course). He never quite mastered it*, and continued to pronounce the ei digraph in the German style (long i, ī) rather than the standard English long e sound, ē. Thus, īter und nīter. His courtiers and flunkies, rather than embarrassing the boss by correcting his pronunciation, went along and started saying īther and nīther. This spread to the nobility and upper crust, and eventually became the "received pronunciation" that you hear on BBC productions.

So, the standard (and older) pronunciation of ei is a long e: ē, while the more recent long i (ī) seems to be mostly confined to either and neither, and among the British upper classes and Americans who ape them in order to sound sophisticated. Although īther and nīther are acceptable and fairly widely used, don't let anyone tell you they're somehow superior to ēther and nēther — they're not!

* Supposedly, George's difficulty with the language discouraged him from interacting much with his government ministers. He preferred to talk with just one, a first among equals, thus creating the office of Prime Minister. Or so the story goes.

From the Dutch baas ("master") into English via Nieuw Nederland/New York & New Jersey. Interestingly, Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen's family settled in New Netherland in the 17th century, so it's quite appropriate he would bear that monicker! And what does "Springsteen" come from? Stepping Stone.

Still recēved, not recīved.
« Last Edit: November 19, 2017, 10:36:40 AM by Phil »

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Offline Phil

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Re: Trivial chase
« Reply #5: August 04, 2017, 05:04:41 PM »
N.B., e.g., i.e. — what's the difference?

A lot of ignorant people use these abbreviations interchangeably, especially i.e. and e.g.. They all mean different things, should be chosen with care, and be properly written.

  • e.g., is the abbreviation for the Latin exempli gratia, and the literal translation is "a good example". It is used to set off a phrase with one or two [good] examples, and can be replaced by the English "for example,". A medical specialist, e.g., a gastroenterologist, has more training than a General Practitioner. In that sentence, a gastroenterologist is used as an example of a medical specialist. It always has a period after both the e and g, and a comma (,) and space follow it. It is incorrect to write "eg." or "eg,". At the beginning of a sentence (legal, but generally discouraged), the E is capitalized. Never capitalize both letters, unless your sentence is all upper case. There is no need to list everything — one or (at most) two examples will do.
  • i.e., is the abbreviation for the Latin id est, and the literal translation is "that is". It is used to set off an explanation or elaboration on something, and can be replaced by the English "that is,". Drinking sulfuric acid is bad for you, i.e., it is poisonous. In that sentence, it is poisonous is an explanation for why drinking H2SO4 is not recommended. It always has a period after both the i and e, and a comma (,) and space follow it. It is incorrect to write "ie." or "ie,". At the beginning of a sentence (legal, but generally discouraged), the I is capitalized. Never capitalize both letters, unless your sentence is all upper case. The explanation or elaboration should be no more than a brief phrase. If you need more text than that, start a new sentence.
  • n.b., is the abbreviation for the Latin nota bene, and the literal translation is "note well" (also "observe carefully" or "take special notice"). It is used to warn the reader to read the following material very carefully, as it is of extra importance, and can often be replaced by "note" (except in legal documents). N.B., touching any component while not wearing a grounding strap will likely fry the board. You are being told to read this warning very carefully. Unlike the previous items, It is common to see both letters upper case, or even just the N. Also, it is often acceptable practice to omit the periods (especially if both letters are upper case: NB). It is common to see the comma replaced with a colon : or em-dash —.

    See also D.M. dignum memoria, meaning "'worth remembering", Many authorities recommend against using N.B. (and other Latin terms such as D.M.) in anything other than legal documents, as most people are unfamiliar with it and won't know what it means.
« Last Edit: August 04, 2017, 05:18:48 PM by Phil »

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Offline Phil

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Re: Trivial chase
« Reply #6: November 17, 2017, 11:54:08 AM »
[Knock, knock]
Who's there?
It's me!

OK, why are the Grammar Nazis going to jump all over you for saying "It's me" instead of "It is I"? Certainly, most people would speak the former ("me") rather than the "grammatically proper" I.

The rule has never been clearly explained to me, but apparently it has something to do with an implied action (continuation of the sentence) by the speaker. If you were to reply, "Me is here," rather than, "I am here," that would clearly be ungrammatical. The "It is I [who is here]" is implied when you say, "It is I." The verb is is a "linking verb", forcing the pronoun to be nominative/subject case ("I") rather than accusative ("me").

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/it-is-i-versus-it-is-me describes a linking verb as
Quote
Linking verbs are words like "is," "was," "were," "appear," and "seem," which don't describe an action so much as describe a state of being. When pronouns follow these non-action verbs, you use the subject pronouns such as "I," "she," "he," "they," and "we."

Well, OK, at least there's a stated reason and logic to say "It is I". Does it make sense to insist upon it, as almost no one uses this structure? As with "its" (rather than the much more common "it's") for the possessive of "it", is this something that has outlived its usefulness and should be allowed to fade away? "It is I" sounds so pretentious, pedantic, and overly formal to most people, and "It's I" sounds even worse.

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Offline Phil

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Re: Trivial chase
« Reply #7: November 19, 2017, 10:17:56 AM »
How the animals letters got their names: https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/11/economist-explains-8

A brief but interesting overview (behind a restricted viewings wall, so you may need to subscribe to The Economist to get unrestricted access).

To elaborate a little on "w", as the article says, it came from a double "u", written "vv". You've probably seen faux Latin scripts as building names, such as "MASSACHVSETTS INSTITVTE OF TECHNOLOGY", or a famous Roman ruler: IVLIVS CÆSAR (they didn't have lower case letters, or J, U, or W). There were common cases of putting two U's (V's) in a row, so eventually European languages created a new letter: double-u, or "w". So why isn't your Electrolux a vacwm cleaner? Probably because this only applied to double-u consonants, not vowels.

Of course, there's the eternal war between Brits and Yanks over whether the last letter (Z) is "zed" or "zee". I wouldn't be surprised/surprized if Noah Webster (of American English dictionary fame) had something to do with this. Keep in mind that the ampersand (&) used to be the last letter!

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Offline Phil

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Re: Trivial chase
« Reply #8: November 22, 2017, 04:05:23 PM »
"A historic event," or "an historic event"?

It never ceases to irritate me to hear otherwise intelligent people saying, "an historic" something or other. Come on, folks, "historic" starts with a consonant sound, so the indefinite article is a. Nothing simpler than that, is there? Sources such as Grammar Girl and the OED agree that it's a.

So, why do so many use an? The OED suggests that the words historic/historical, horrific, and hotel used to commonly have their aitches (h's) dropped in 18th and 19th century speech, so using an would have been logical ("it's an 'istoric event, guv'nah"). This has apparently simply carried over (for well over a century) to people who want to sound well-educated, but don't stop to think about what they're doing, and simply ape older speakers they've heard. My understanding is that this dropping of h's has been a feature of some regional British accents, including those which formed the basis of the BBC Received Pronunciation, and Americans who wanted to sound elegant picked it up (as with either and neither).

If you're going to speak with certain British accents, and drop your aitches, it would be proper to say "an 'istoric event". Otherwise, say "a historic event".