Whores, Chops, and Measles

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August 7, 2017 by libroshombre


In his “Histories,” Herodotus told of Psammetichus, an Egyptian king ruling around 650 BCE, who wondered what was the original language. He ordered two newborns raised in isolation by a mute shepherd to see what language they devised. According to OxfordReference.com, “After two years the children began to speak, and the word they repeated most often was ‘becos’ … the Phrygian word for bread. Psammetichus concluded that the capacity for speech is innate, and that the natural language of human beings is Phrygian.” Who knows what the word meant in the made-up speech of those poor toddlers, maybe something derogatory? To today’s texters, “becos” is an abbreviated “because.”

After all, humans are innately gifted at insulting each other. Take, for example, “5 Derogatory Adjectives Derived from Words for Medical Conditions,” a recent posting on DailyWritingTips,com.. “Rickety, meaning ‘shaky’ or ‘unstable,’ or ‘in poor physical condition,’ derives from rickets,” the malformation or softening of bones caused by Vitamin D or calcium deficiencies, and “measly,” which originally referred to measles infections, “came to be used as a scornful term denoting a very small or unacceptably small amount.”

“Lousy, meaning ‘contemptible’ or ‘inferior’ or ‘ill,’” obviously comes from lice infestations, but the same condition gave rise to “crumby.” “Crumb” was “a nineteenth-century slang word for lice based on their appearance,” which was like bread crumbs. Lice babies, or “nits,” gave rise to other derogatory expressions like “nitpick” and “nitwit.” Along those lines, “doodle,” as in “Yankee Doodle,” originally meant a foolish fellow, as in the poet Longfellow’s description of “people who make foolish designs on paper when they’re thinking.”

“Baltimore Whore” is another negative appellation, but not what you think. It was the rueful nickname of the Martin B-26 WWII bomber, and Baltimore was the headquarters of Martin Aviation. “It was built for speed and was a highly strung, unforgiving airplane, that needed to be tamed by the most experienced pilots,” according to Aviation-History.com. “For the unwary pilot, it could be a deathtrap. In the rush to gear up for the war, it was hastily entered into service and was flownby inexperienced pilots. It was nicknamed the ‘Widow Maker,’ the ‘Baltimore Whore,’ the ‘Flying Prostitute’ (because it had no visible means of support), and ‘One a Day in Tampa Bay,’ after 15 crashes in one 30-day period. With a landing speed of 140 mph (225 km/h), it was too much airplane for the novice to handle.”

The “Baltimore Chop,” on the other hand, “is a ball that is hit sharply downward to produce a high bouncingground ball … The Baltimore Chop was named because it was a favorite weapon of the 1880s Baltimore Orioles” who “supposedly had their groundskeeper treat the area in front of home to make it especially hard.”

In Italy, when you call someone a doofus by saying, “ ‘non capisci una fava’ (you don’t understand a broad bean), you’re basically saying they don’t know anything.” But Italian, like French, Spanish, and other Romance languages seemingly sound romantic regardless of what’s being said. That’s the thrust of “How Italian Became the Language of Love,” a BBC.com article from last month by Breena Kerr, who described how she teared up when hearing some Italians talking about house remodeling. “Italians are always using the word ‘bello (beautiful) for everything good. In Italy, beauty is paramount. And Italian is no different … Italian, as we know it today, was meant to enchant, charm and beguile. It’s because the language was created by poets – artists who left their mark on the country by shaping its signature sound.”

Italy wasn’t unified until 1861, and “up until the 1950s, when televisions became more common, 80% of people spoke a dialect as their first language … Spain and France had unification earlier, and so theirs were the languages of government and administration … Italian on the other hand, was very oriented toward the literary.” Until relatively recently, “Italy was divided into regional kingdoms that lacked a cohesive government with an administrative tongue … Writers and poets shaped its style and vocabulary.”

“Pronuciator.” our library’s language learning database, utilizes self-directed lessons, live teachers, movies, music and other resources to immerse yourself in Italian. Why? Just becos.







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