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April 21, 2017  |  Friday words, 2017-04-21  |  1210 hit(s)

It's been a long Friday, but it's never too late to think about some words!

For the first term—well, it's a pair—some folks might be surprised to hear this was a term (terms) that I didn't already know. I'm a bit surprised myself, but there you go. Anyway! The term is anarthrous; in grammatical usage, it means a noun used without an article. It's actually common in some languages to not use the equivalent of the or a/an in front of a noun. That's not English, but is apparently true in Greek. My decades of listening to native Russian speakers fail to use articles in English suggested to me that this is true also in Russian, and sure enough.

In Greek, anarthrous actually means "no joint," and it's used in that sense in zoological contexts. (You might recognize the –arthrous part as related to arthropod: jointed-foot critters.) The OED has an amusing definition for anarthrous in this sense: "Jointless; or so fat as to appear so."

The no-article sense came up recently in a tweet about the odd habit in Southern California of using the word the in front the names of freeways: "the 5" or "the 10," meaning respectively Interstate 5 or Interstate 10. People outside SoCal refer to highways anarthrously, i.e., with no article. Whereas the denizens of LA and vicinities use arthrous highway names, which gives us the other word in the pair I promised—arthrous meaning with articles. I mention the highway thing only as an example of (an)arthousness; if you're interested in this peculiarity of LA driving, I'll refer you to a post on Language Hat's blog about it all.

For etymology this week I have something that's nearly topical: the word tulip. An area north of Seattle—the Skagit Valley—is the center of US tulip growing, and tulips are a very big deal up there—people flock to the area in April when the fields are in full bloom to enjoy the colors before the bulbs are harvested:


In fact, we were up there last weekend for a family event. And to look at the tulips, sure, why not.

Whence tulip? It originates in Persian as dulband, where it meant "turban." The notion is that the "expanded flower" (OED) looks like a hat thing. The word was filtered through Turkish, where the initial d became a t. To be clear, we got turban from the same word in Persian, only in that case the l in the middle changed to an r for reasons unknown. Two words in English for the price of one, sweet deal.

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