or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Falling Flat

I'm studying German, and I will try very hard not to bore you too much with the details, but I was reading the Wikipedia entry on German grammar and I came across the following information:

Flavoring particles (Abtönungspartikel) are a parts of speech common to several Germanic languages but absent from English. These words affect the tone of a sentence instead of conveying a specific literal meaning.

"Flavoring particles"! They sound very much like the highly manufactured food additive known as "flavor islands". I'm not one hundred per cent sure that I agree with the contention that they don't exist in English: it seems to me that one possible example is that stereotypically Canadian utterance, "eh?", which generally implies the assumption of agreement, as in "Some hot, eh?". (For what it's worth, I've met only one Canadian in my entire life who uses that as a regular part of her speech--but she uses it a lot.)

I think I understand what's meant in the Wikipedia article. I was taught that in German, you can say, "Das ist ja wahr", which means something along the lines of "That's true, don't you agree?": adding "ja" implies that the listener already knows and presumably agrees with what's being said. ("Das ist wahr" simply means "That's true.") But, unless I'm missing the point of these flavoring particles, I really think we have such grammatical elements in English as well: "y'know" is another, conveying a strong sense of imprecision or vagueness ("It was, y'know, weird....") without having a particularly well-defined meaning, alongside "like" (It was, like, weird...").

Or maybe those things are just filler, just verbal place-holders, not Abtönungspartikel at all, and I'm completely wrong. Wouldn't be the first time.


We were out on the road today, having, as I said, rented a car, and as we were driving past Pugwash, Nova Scotia, I naturally wondered out loud about the word "pug". Obviously "pug" meaning "boxer" is short for "pugilist": that couldn't have been clearer. (And "pugilist" is from the Latin, where its source has the same meaning.)What wasn't as clear was whether the dog or the nose known as pug came from the same source. It seemed that it ought to: a boxer who's been punched in the face often enough develops a flattened nose which could theoretically be called pug (although the boxer's nose usually turns down, not up, at the tip), and a pug dog has that same smashed-flat face. But this etymology doesn't seem to stand up: nobody knows where that particular pug came from. Just, like, one of those words that comes out of nowhere, y'know?


Blogger Frank said...

As a former owner of a pug who often flips through those breed books you see at the bookstore, I can tell you that etymology of "pug" is rather contentious and obscure.

Monday, November 13, 2006 10:20:00 PM  

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