Monday, May 9, 2011

"Sunday" Trivia 15

Well, it's Monday again, and you know what that means... Sunday trivia! (Sorry for the tardiness. I have no excuse beyond enjoying the first few days of summer vacation.)

Metathesis is the rearrangement of sounds in a word. Besides being a common feature of casual speech, metathesis also plays into the etymology of many words in English. Bird, for example, comes from the Old English bryd, and horse comes from hros. Ask, which is commonly said as "aks" in some dialects, was present in Old English as ascian and acsian, which were both acceptable variations until the 1600s. In some cases, both forms remain in the written spellings, as with three and third. And sometimes a word will undergo metathesis back and forth over the centuries, as crud derived from curd which derived from crud.

And some words have been so scrambled they're unrecognizable. Walrus is from Dutch, and probably derives from the Old Norse rosmhvalr, hrosshvalr, or rostungr. And the rosm in rosmhvalr may come from Finnish mursu, so the sounds are even more tangled. Leprechaun comes from the Old Irish luchorpan, literally "a very small body."

Your trivia question today is about metathesis. Name two words in modern English from the same Latin source, but one of which has metathesized heavily, ending up with (almost) the same four consonants but with the last three in reverse order.

Hint: both words relate to communication.

(One consonant has been altered over the years but is still very similar.)

(Thanks to Becca Cheney for giving me walrus on last week's trivia!)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Sunday" Trivia 14

Late again! Final projects have been occupying my brain. Here's some trivia for you.

(Spoiler alert.) The answer to last week's trivia question was pineapple, a fruit which is called ananas in a huge variety of languages other than English. The etymology of pineapple is interesting as well - the term originally referred to pine cones, and was used for the fruit because of their similarity in shape. Pine cone emerged as a replacement a few centuries later.

English has a lot of weird little compound nouns like this, especially as names for plants and animals. Some are very transparent, like jellyfish, groundhog, or firefly. Others used to be transparent but are a little hazy now, like kiwifruit, which was named after the flightless bird but is just known as kiwi to some cultures with less interesting wildlife. Or horseradish - in Old English, horse was often used to mean "strong" or "large." Still others seem transparent on first glance, like greyhound, which actually derives from Old English grig-, "bitch," not the color.

But some are extremely opaque. Butterfly, for example, may come from myths about witches disguised as insects who steal butter, or the color of the bug, or the color of its excrement. (Butterflies have funky names in many languages, including psyche, "soul," in Ancient Greek and mariposa, "Mary rests," in Spanish.) Or cockroach, which uses the folk etymology of cock, "rooster," and roach, a type of fish, but is actually derived from Spanish cucaracha.

Your trivia question today involves compound nouns. No hyphens or spaces are allowed for any answer. Name:

1. An animal whose name is a compound noun with a religious etymology.
2. An animal whose name is from a Dutch compound noun.
3. An animal whose name derives originally from the names of two animals in Greek, because in ancient times it was thought to be a hybrid of the two.

(Update: Turns out there are a few answers to number 2! Can you name an example from Netherlands Dutch and from Afrikaans Dutch?)