or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, June 29, 2007


Not that I actually follow wrestling or anything--it's so overblown that I actually get embarrassed and have to leave the room if it should happen to be on television--but it's sort of awful how a Canadian wrestler named Christ\ Benoit killed his wife and then his son and them himself during what must have been a really, really bad weekend.

I vaguely remembered that the word "mayhem" had a legal meaning somewhat disconnected from its usual one ("extreme bloody carnage"). Did it have something to do with killing a bunch of people and then yourself?

Not quite. It actually means "the willful infliction of physical injury so as to make the victim less able to defend himself", or just "the crippling or mutilation of the victim".

All very interesting. What was more so was the etymology: "Middle English 'maheym, maim'". "Maim"! Of course! Because what's "maim" but "mayhem" with the middle vowel sound elided, as the British do with such words as "medicine" and "ordinary" (which are generally pronounced "med-sin" and "or-din-ruh", respectively)? And "mayhem" and "maim" are, in fact, just two variations of the same word, which began as Indo-European "mai-", meaning "to cut", and also gave us the word "mangle", through the Germanic tongues via Old French.

There are lots more of those interesting pronunciation differences here. I thought the difference in stress patterns was particularly fascinating, as I'm currently listening to an audiobook, "The God Delusion"*, written by British author Richard Dawkins and read by him and Lalla Ward: with their British accents, they frequently pronounce words in ways that I find a little odd. Canadian English, I suppose I should point out, is a sort of mishmash of the stress patterns of the two tongues: we pronounce many words in the American fashion, such as "caffeine" and "paprika" (we stress the second syllable, Britons the first), but others as the British do, as in "parmesan" (first syllable stressed as opposed to the Americans' third) and "advertisement" (second versus third).

* I hope it wouldn't be in bad taste to note that Benoit placed bibles next to the bodies of his wife and son, suggesting that whatever supernatural powers the Christian god might have, they weren't sufficient to keep this from happening, bibles or no.


Post a Comment

<< Home