or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I suppose it's fair to say that I didn't need a new Mac, in the sense that one needs oxygen or a haircut, but I seem to have acquired one anyway. My old iMac was almost four years old, and the monitor had been going seriously wonky for over a year (first one column of dead pixels, then another, and eventually sixteen, making the watching of movies and videos unpleasant if not impossible). I could have gotten it fixed after the first two lines appeared--it was under an extended warranty--but I didn't want to let it out of my grasp for the couple of weeks it would presumably have taken to have the screen replaced, so I just said the hell with it.

And now I have the luscious machine you see above, with a 24-inch monitor (which makes my old one look about the size of a playing card) and a terabyte of storage, which is to say one thousand gigabytes, and four gigs of RAM, which I really, really needed, because I have the unbreakable habit of running a whole lot of applications at the same time, and Safari, though a terrific browser, is a real memory hog. And I wish you could see the keyboard!

The keys have the same area as those on a standard keyboard,

but they're extremely thin and low-profile, and the whole object has almost no margins at all and is likewise exceedingly thin, so your first impression is of a dinky, cheap toy, yet it feels terrific under the fingertips and looks elegant once you get past the idea that tiny equals chintzy. Overall it is an exceptionally beautiful machine and I am happy.


A couple of weeks ago I was listening to yet another Teaching Company audio lecture series, this one about biological anthropology (on sale right now and super cheap, definitely worth it), and the lecturer was talking, of course, about Neanderthals, and she pronounced it "nee-an-der-tall", which I have heard before. And here is a story which provides some evidence that homo sapiens killed off homo neanderthalensis: a Neanderthal skeleton with what appears to be a wound made by a spear, and not the first such skeleton found, either. The article uses both usual spellings, "Neanderthal" and "Neandertal".

Now, my own preference is for "Neanderthal", because that is how the word originally entered English. It is a German word meaning "Neander valley", which was named after Joachim Neumann: "Neander" is the Greek, or Graecized, form of "Neumann", which is German for "new man". (You don't see it so much these days, because everyone would laugh at the pretension, but once upon a time, scholars often took Latin or Greek versions of their names: Nostradamus is the Latinate version of NĂ´tre Dame, and the putative seer was born Michel de Nostredame.) But the interdental fricative "-th-" does not exist in German, and borrowings that use that pair of letters are pronounced as if the "-h-" were missing: "theatre" in English is "Theater" in German, and pronounced "tay-AH-tr" (not so different from the French, which, of course, is where the word comes from). Therefore, the spelling "Neandertal" is also possible in German, and in fact (according to this) the spelling was changed in 1904 to more closely reflect pronunciation.

However, by that time, the word was already well established in English with the original German spelling, and it may be the case that scientists were using the German pronunciation ("nay-AN-der-tall"), but to any native English speaker, a glance makes it clear that the word must naturally be pronounced "nee-AN-der-thal", and that, in my experience, is by a considerable margin the more common pronunciation. Not to say that the German pronunciation is wrong, of course: if that's your preference, then use it.

But get it right. If you are going to be stickler and insist that the "-thal" be pronounced in the German manner, then you must go all the way and pronounce the entire word as German, which means getting the first syllable correct. None of this "nee-an-der-tall" nonsense, as the Teaching Company lecturer, good though she was, pronounced the word. It's all or nothing: "nee-an-der-thal" or "nay-an-der-tall", whichever you like, but not some nonsensical Anglo-Germanic hybrid. Go big or go home.

"Thal", by the way, is related to English "dale": they both mean a sort of valley. "Thaler", short for "Joachimsthaler", "of the valley of Joachim", was a unit of currency, and can you guess what English word "thaler" or "taler" gave us? Yeah: "dollar".


Blogger Aigars Bruvelis said...

New Man Dollar
Neo - Mr Anderson
A New Man in the World dominated by Dollar.
Neanderthals are extinct species?
Think again:)

Friday, August 07, 2009 4:10:00 AM  

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