or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I Love Saturday

Saturday, like Thursday, is pretty self-evident, I think: Saturn, right? Right. It's the only day in the English week not to have gotten its name from the Roman rather than the Norse pantheon. (I mean, not counting Sunday.) The Germans had the same idea as the French for Saturday, though: Samstag in German, samedi in French, and both words come eventually from "Sabbath". (In parts of Germany, Saturday is called Sonnabend: the first half you can figure out, and the second means "evening", so, like "Mittwoch", it's named for its position in the calendar.)


From an interesting article about bees in BoingBoing:

1. A well-trained honey bee scientist wouldn't spell the name "honeybee", even though you'll find it mistakenly spelled this way in a number of dictionaries (as well as on the MS spell checker), and even in Wikipedia. The biological convention is that the name of an insect is separated into two words when the insect is what the name implies. So "honey bee" is separated into two words, since its a bee that collects honey, whereas "butterfly" is one word since it isn't a fly that produces butter.

I could get really snippy and say that a bee doesn't collect honey--it collects flower-nectar which it then converts into honey by partially digesting it. I won't, though (even though it happens to be true).

However, I will say that the words scientists use and the words regular people use are not necessarily the same words. "Centimetre" is a good example. Normal people pronounce it "SEN-tuh-mee-ter", because, well, that's how it's pronounced in everyday English; even if you'd never seen it before, you could look at it and guess that that's a likely way to pronounce it. Doctors, however, I am told, do not pronounce it this way: they use an oddball hybrid of the French pronunciation and the English, and pronounce it "SON-tuh-mee-ter". (The French manner is "son-tuh-me-truh", with no real stress anywhere in the word--but of course in English there must be a stress somewhere in a four-syllabled word.)

Words adopted into the sciences from other languages tend to retain their original pronunciation, because there's very little evolutionary pressure to force them to conform to regular old English. But the mass of us who aren't scientists, when we encounter such words, may reconfigure them to suit ourselves. Look at "margarine". Originally it was pronounced with a hard "-g-", because it was named after margaric acid, which has that same "-g-". But widespread usage softened the consonant, partly, I expect, because the name "Marge" already exists, partly because "margarine" in some places is shortened to "marge", and no doubt for numerous other reasons as well. Or take the artificial sweetener aspartame: that's named after aspartic acid, with the accent on the second syllable, and so the sweetener's name was originally conceived to be pronounced "ass-PAR-tame". But that's not what people did with it: it's more or less universally pronounced "ASP-ur-tame" in English, and I couldn't say why: we have "aspirin" and "aspirate" with their stress on the first syllable, but also "aspersion" and "aspiring" with their stress on the second. And yet there it is. Nobody told us to do it: it just happened.

I'm a little baffled by the writer's scientific etymology, too. A butterfly sort of is a fly, or flying thing, that produces butter: its name apparently comes from the Dutch "boterschitje", "butter-shit", because its droppings are not the flyspecky browns and blacks of houseflies, but yellow.

In the final analysis, "honeybee" is a perfectly good English word; it isn't misspelled in any dictionaries. It might not be the word the scientists use, any more than "bumblebee" is (or is it?), but it works just fine for the rest of us.


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