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AWADmail Issue 529

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Dispatches from Scandinavia - part 3

This is the third of a series (1, 2, 3, 4) of vignettes from my travels this past month.

A Naughty Language

If you hear the words slut, bra, sex, or fart in my speech, you may wonder what's on my mind. But I may be talking about entirely everyday things, in a Scandinavian language. Welcome to the wonderful world of Swedish.

While checking into a hostel in Stockholm I noticed a little sticker on the front desk that said "Vid slut, ring" followed by a phone number. I wondered if I had found myself in the wrong kind of accommodation. When I asked what it meant, the man at the front desk said, "Don't worry about it."

That made me even more curious. "But what does it mean?" I insisted. He explained that the sticker said when all the flyers (about some tour) were gone, call that number to order more. It turns out the word slut in Swedish means end or close.

In linguistics, these words are known as false friends -- words that are spelled the same in two languages, but have very different meanings. These are words that lead you on, they make you believe you know them, only to turn around and leave you with a red face. Swedish is not the only language to have these.

In Spanish, rodeo means detour. In Italian, stanza means room and a piano is floor. In French, dramatique equals tragic and lecture means reading. A German pension is a hotel.

Here's one from Dutch:

Dutch ad (false friend)
Photo: Nutricia
Don't be alarmed. The child is saying "Mom, [I want] that one, that one, that one." See more Dutch false friends here.

Back to Scandinavia, here are the words in action:

Slut Rea (Final sale) Slut Rea (Final sale)
Photo: Rob
Sex Män I Skor (Six Men in Shoes)

En bra deal (false friend)
Photo: Photo: Let Ideas Compete
En bra deal (A good deal)

Swedish farthinder (false friend)
Photo: Owen Brown
Farthinder (Speed bump)

English knows a good thing when it sees it. We have borrowed the word fartlek from Swedish into English.

Read more: part 1, 2, 4

From: Rudy Rosenberg Sr (RRosenbergSr accuratechemical.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--corpus delicti
Def: The concrete evidence that shows that a crime has been committed.

The only female teacher I ever had was in high school in Belgium. I was convinced she had a "corpus delicti"; unfortunately I never got around to taste it.

Rudy Rosenberg Sr., Westbury, New York

From: Emmanuel Castello (emmanuel_castello merck.com)
Subject: Ne plus ultra
Def: The ultimate or the perfect example of something.

I believe there is a typo. You say the "Nec plus ultra' and not the "Ne plus ultra". I might be wrong though.

Emmanuel Castello, Lansdale, Pennsylvania

We do make errors, but this wasn't it. While the term has been recorded in various forms in Latin using various negative particles (ne plus ultra, nec plus ultra, non plus ultra), in English the "ne plus ultra" form is most prevalent. For what it's worth, ne was the original Latin particle of negation.
-Anu Garg

From: Pauline Ridel (pauline aspiringvegan.eu)
Subject: Ne plus ultra

In France we say "nec plus ultra" and it's often used to mean "the best", "couldn't be improved on": "AWAD est le nec plus ultra des sites de vocabulaire", for example.

My favourite computer shop in Paris has adapted the expression slightly, calling itself "Net + Ultra".

Pauline Reeder, Bourgogne, France

From: Simonetta Zysset (szysset inf.ethz.ch)
Subject: ne plus ultra

In Italian we use "nec plus ultra" and in Spanish and German "non plus ultra" to express the same meaning.

Simonetta Zysset, Zurich, Switzerland

From: John Richardson (rubrick.illumus gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ne plus ultra

The words 'Ne plus ultra' are familiar to any natives of Dublin in Ireland who have walked the length of O'Connell Street peppered intermittently with statues along its central aisle. At the north end of the street, on the junction with Parnell Street, stands the monument to Charles Stewart Parnell.

Parnell, the Protestant landowner who championed the struggle for home rule for Ireland in the late 19th century orated these fiery words which have been inscribed onto the monument:

"No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of the nation. No man has a right to say to his country thus far shalt thou go and no further. We have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland's nationhood and we never shall".

The words written below the harp are in ancient Irish script and read as follows:

Go soirbhighidh Dia Éire dá clainn - "That God may make Ireland flourish for her people."

The monument was designed and sculpted by the Irish-born American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, whose work also includes the Robert Gould-Shaw memorial on Boston Common, the Standing Lincoln in Lincoln Park, Chicago, as well as the Seated Lincoln located in Grant Park, Chicago.

This is the only occasion I have read or heard the words ne plus ultra, and they have been familiar to me for many decades but their meanings have never been clear until today.

John Richardson, Bremen, Germany

Email of the Week brought to you by Laxadaisical -- Chill flow, bro.

From: LukeJavan8 (via Wordsmith Talk bulletin board)
Subject: Cui bono
Def: To whose benefit?

In my freshman year of high school, I had a Latin prof who, when frustrated with some classmate who just could not get the intricacies of conjugation or declensions or something like the 'ablative absolute', would finally throw up his hands with the exclamation "Cui bono". He told us it meant: "What's the use?"

LukeJavan8, Omaha, Nebraska

From: Jesse Levy (jesse jlopen.com)
Subject: Latin

I remember thinking when I first heard the name Abu Abbas, that it was the beginning of a Latin conjugation: Abu Abbas Abbat Abban.

Jesse Levy, Burbank, California

From: Pam Kaatz (kaatz airmail.net)
Subject: Latin in English

While inputting a massive list of school address labels, I asked my "elderly" mother to read them aloud to me so I could keep my eyes on the computer screen. We were making great progress when suddenly my brain re-connected to a school name several labels back. I had typed the address for Maitre D' High School in Santa Ana, CA. I went back and asked her to spell it for me. Mater Dei. So I changed the (French) Head Waiter HS to the (Latin) Mother of God (Catholic) HS.

Pam Kaatz, Denton, Texas

All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry. -G.K. Chesterton, writer (1874-1936)

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