Suppose that you stumbled upon ancient scripts—at least, you are pretty sure that it is writing because the characters are laid out in rows, like modern writing, but the characters are completely unknown to you or anyone else. Archaeologists have given a name to the very sophisticated civilization that left the scripts, but they have no idea what language they spoke or what cultures might have succeeded this civilization. How would you go about figuring out what the scripts said? Could you?
That was the challenge that faced scholars when, on the island of Crete, Sir Arthur Evans found around 2,000 clay tablets, dated to 15th century B.C., filled with mysterious characters.
By Dan Gibson
on Thu, Jul 24, 2014 at 1:00 PM
Photo by Paul Sableman, under Creative Commons license
Heading into La Cocina or possibly just wandering downtown, you might have walked by the painted wall above for El Rapido Mexican Food, formerly a great place to get a tamale, but vacant for awhile. However, if you have $325,000 and probably a lot of money to spend on renovations, the building at 220 N. Meyer Ave. could be all yours. The online MLS listing has 32 photos to scroll through, showing the various parts of the complex, which still has a stove hood and a dishwashing station, for either your commercial or somewhat ambitious residential needs.
Seller Motivated!! Rare 1880's Presidio Adobe home, beauty parlor and restaurant just North of the Tucson Museum of Art. Stunning original live work space includes famous Tucson tamale locale: El Rapido on W Washington. 13' ceilings, glorious zaguan room, original wood floors, windows, trim, several entrances on Meyer, corner lot where everything that still stands is Tucson's history. Call Listing Agents for Easy Appointments to Show. Zoned HC3 with multiple possibilities in the Center of Historic Tucson.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: English is a mongrel language. Its roots are Germanic, but it’s borrowed heavily from French, Latin, Spanish, Scandinavia and just about every other language on Earth. There are many reasons for all this borrowing; one of them is that English just doesn’t have a word to describe a particular concept or phenomena, but another language does. So we borrow. In a previous column I mentioned the weather terms haboob and monsoon that we’ve borrowed from Arabic. And when it comes to sex and food, where would we be without the French? We could get by without the German doppelganger for a person’s ghostly double or alter ego, but why would we want to? Two other German favorites are schadenfreude, which is getting a kick out of someone else’s pain or misfortune, like when a waitress spills a tray full of drinks, and zeitgeist, the cultural spirit of a particular era, like the 1960’s.
Lately, I have been looking for an excuse to take a Greyhound up to Anaheim, Calif., and go to the "happiest place on earth." Unfortunately, time and money has prevented me from being happy. So, watching this video of Disney character's face pop off is the next best thing.
This column strives to be a vast suppository of information about the English language, because I believe that the amount of education you have determines your loot in life. Now, you may think I meant to say “repository of information” instead of “suppository”, and “lot in life” rather than “loot”, but I meant to say what I said I meant, if you know what I mean, because—in honor of the upcoming birthday of George W. Bush—this week’s column is about malapropisms, mixed metaphors and other means of mangling English.
A malapropism is using the wrong word, but one that sounds similar to the right word—like saying that medieval cathedrals are supported by flying buttocks. A good malapropism can throw you off, so that you scrape your head trying to figure out the error, and then having to think what the world should have been. (It’s flying buttresses, by the way).
Unlike in later years, the lands bordering this stretch of the mighty river, down which Orellana and his men were headed, was densely populated, kingdoms made prosperous by elaborate techniques for farming turtles, manioc, maize, llamas, nuts, peppers, honey, pineapples, avocados, and other goods. In one region people harvested rubber and manufactured devices from it. In another, people specialized in producing vast quantities of pottery. The largest kingdom they encountered, the Omaguas, bordered three hundred miles along the river.
For the next few months, Orellana’s band—now down to fifty men—fought constant battles with thousands of warriors in flotillas of canoes, who were waiting in ambush as word of the odd, bearded white men preceded them downstream. As with the conquest of the Aztecs and Incas, the superior Spanish weaponry—steel swords, harquebuses, cross-bows and armor—enabled the relative handful of Spaniards to fight their way through vastly greater numbers of natives. The Spaniards would often land and fight through swarms of warriors in order to raid villages for food.
In February, 1541, Gonzalo Pizarro left the South American city of Quito in search of El Dorado, a fabled city of gold, with an expedition consisting of 220 Spanish soldiers, 4,000 native porters, 200 horses, over 2,000 swine, 2,000 war hounds, and countless llamas. The arduous trek over the Andes cost Pizarro nearly all of the porters, who either deserted or died, the swine, llamas and hounds. By Christmas day, 1541, on the bank of the Coca River, the remaining Spaniards were eating gruel made from boiling saddle leather.
In the end, Pizarro didn’t find El Dorado. But a splinter group of his army, led by one-eyed Francisco Orellana, did discover something more marvelous and enduring than gold: a river 4,500 miles long, that supplies one-fifth of all the freshwater that spills into the Earth’s oceans, and which in some places is fifty miles wide. Orellana’s band called this river the Amazon after an extraordinary encounter on their improbable eight month voyage down the river.
When an Arizona weatherman used the Arabic word haboob to describe a Phoenix area dust storm, one outraged listener railed: “I am insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob… hearing some Middle Eastern term?” Apparently haboobs come in pairs, because another one followed just a few days later.
Dude, relax, sit back on your sofa, or your divan, or your mattress, have a soda, spike it with alcohol, have a massage, and contemplate all the Arabic words you use all the time—starting with sofa, divan, mattress, soda, massage and alcohol. Alcohol contains a giveaway that it’s Arabic: that “al” prefix. “Al” means “the” in Arabic, as in Allah and Al Jazeira. So when you hear alcove, alchemy, algebra, algorithm, alkali, almanac, albatross and alfalfa you can be pretty darn well sure that English borrowed these words from Arabic.