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Re: [ontolog-forum] (OT) German

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ed Barkmeyer <edbark@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 08 Jan 2008 18:47:59 -0500
Message-id: <47840BAF.8040003@xxxxxxxx>
Wacek Kusnierczyk wrote:    (01)

> what about a butterfly?  (sommerfugl in norwegian, literally meaning 
> summer bird; see http://www.insects.org/ced4/etymology.html for more)    (02)

"butterfly" is a really strange beast.  There is almost no commonality 
among European languages in either the word for the creature or the 
meaning of the roots it uses.  German "Schmetterling" is a "flutter 
thing", and I have no idea what the origins of (French) "papillon" and 
(Spanish) "mariposa" are.  Some linguistics professor long ago suggested 
that English "butterfly" is actually a Spoonerism for "flutterby". ;-)    (03)

Familiar wild animals in general have very diverse terms, which probably 
means that the words go back to hunter/gatherer societies.  Terms for 
familiar domestic animals tend to have much more commonality -- they 
were the subject of trade.  Terms for exotic animals tend also to be 
much more closely related, probably because everyone read the same one 
or two original works.  "Rhinoceros" and "hippopotamus" originally came 
from Greek authors -- few Europeans could read the Semitic languages of 
the Near East.  "Lion" was derived from a Semitic word, but almost every 
European language uses some cognate for the same beast.  (And it is not 
so surprising that some German author translated rhinoceros verbatim to 
Nashorn and hippopotamus to Nilpferd.  That would have been a typical 
"Deutsches (bzw. Preussisches) Reich" thing.  In a similar way, the 
French academy insisted for a while on calling email "courrier 
electronique". ;-) )    (04)

>> With these examples, I am often surprised that bees are not called "small
>> flying bears" or "miniature yellow levitating zebras".    (05)

Well, we do have "yellow jackets" (in American, at least), and 
"hornets", which are not small flying rhinoceroses.    (06)

In the immortal words of A.A.Milne, "you can never tell with bees".
And, as deliberately perverted by Alexander Menard, "de apibus semper 
dubitandum est", it comes remarkably close to my point:  "sensible 
language", like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  ;-)    (07)

-Ed    (08)

Edward J. Barkmeyer                        Email: edbark@xxxxxxxx
National Institute of Standards & Technology
Manufacturing Systems Integration Division
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8263                Tel: +1 301-975-3528
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8263                FAX: +1 301-975-4694    (09)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (010)

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