or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, April 22, 2007


If you don't watch The Amazing Race...well, why don't you? It's only the best reality show ever, or at least it was before it started to go a little downhill and Project Runway came along. But anyway, we still watch it, and then about a week later I read the recap on Television Without Pity, which is always hilarious.

You know how you're reading something and the same word crops up over and over again and eventually you begin to doubt that it actually is a word? Something like that happened with this week's recap, except that instead of thinking it wasn't a word, I began thinking it was hilarious. And then I had to know where it came from, though I could guess.

Here's the (first half of the) paragraph:

Kuala Lumpur! Those two big towers! We've been here before! The supply of countries is running short! Soon, we will have to try other planets! Phil provides the Founding Trivia Of The Week, which is that this particular city was founded by tin miners. It's too bad we don't have much tin anymore. You basically only hear "piece of tin" in relation to cars that fall apart easily, which, in fairness, are rarely even made of tin. Tin needs better PR.

"Tin". Comedy gold! I looked at it and thought, well, that pretty much has to be very old, probably from Old English and maybe even a native-born word. A lot of really short, utilitarian words are. And it is from Old English, but we didn't invent it ourselves, because the German word for tin is Zinn, which in German is pronounced "tsin", with the "t-" being pronounced--the first half is like the last half of "guts"--and which may look familiar to you from the name of the American historian Howard Zinn and also from the flower called the zinnia, which got its name from the botanist Johann Zinn.

I'm not saying we got "tin" from one of the Germanic languages, necessarily, but there's definitely some common ancestor there. According to Answers.com, almost all the Germanic languages use the same basic word for "tin", but none of the other Indo-European languages (such as Albanian, Celtic, and the Romance languages) have it.

Tinfoil, by the way, is no longer made of tin because it was alloyed with lead for pliability, and we all know how bad lead is for general health and well-being. (Some people think aluminum is just as bad--that it causes Alzheimer's disease--but the jury's still out. It's not something I worry about.)


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