Just a quick bit of lexicon this morning:
Exonym [Greek – ἔξω, éxō, “out” + ὄνομα, ónoma, “name”]
An exonym is a name referring to an ethnic group (ethnonym), language (glossonym), place (toponym), or person that is used by people outside said group. The United Nations defines exonym as the name used in a specific language for a geographical feature situated outside the area where that language is spoken, and differing in its form from the name used in an official or well-established language of that area where the geographical feature is located.
Endonym [Greek – ἔνδον, éndon, “within” + ὄνομα, ónoma, “name”]
An endonym is a name referring to an ethnic group (ethnonym), language (glossonym), place (toponym), or person that is used by people inside of said group. The United Nations defines endonym as the name of a geographical feature in an official or well-established language occurring in that area where the feature is located.
Here are some examples of exonyms with their endonymic counterparts in English and their native languages:
China/Zhōngguó (中国), Dutch/Nederlands [ˈneːdərlɑnts], Greece/Hellas (Ελλάς), Germany/Deutschland, Gypsy/Romani, Moscow/Moskva (Москва), Japan/Nihon/Nippon (日本).
This phenomenon is not, unique to English:
Korea is referred to differently, depending on which Korea is doing the talking. North Korea refers to “Korea” as Chosŏn (조선), but South Korea refers to it as Hanguk (한국) or Namhan (남한, 南韓 – “South Han”). The official Korean name for the Republic of Korea is “Dae Han Minguk” (대한민국 – “The Republic of Korea”). (There are other variations, but you get the picture.)
America is called beikoku (米国) in Japanese and the English language is called eigo (英語). In China, America is called měiguó (美国) and the English language is yīngyǔ (英语).
Many exonyms were born as a result of the namer not understanding the namee’s language. In Russian and other languages, for example, the word for “Germans” is Немцы (Nemtsy), which is derived from the word немой which means “mute.” The accepted folk etymology is that the German language appeared so unintelligible to the Slavs that they dubbed them “mutes.”
In addition to Russian, this word is also used in the Arabic, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Hungarian, Slovak, Slovenian, Serbian, Polish, Romanian, Turkish, and Ukranian languages. (Interestingly, a theory regarding the word “Slavic” suggests that it comes from slovo, meaning “word.” This, again, differentiates between those with words and those without.)
Sioux is likely a shortened form of Nadouessioux, a proto-Algonquian word meaning “foreign-speaking.” Berber comes from a Greek representation of gibberish (“bar-bar-bar”). The list goes on and on.
Do you know any exonym/endonym combinations? Please leave a comment and share them with us.
You’ve probably heard of synonyms (words that share the same meaning) and antonyms (words that mean the opposite of each other), but have you heard of contranyms?
A contranym is a word that has seemingly contradictory meanings. Because of their two-faced nature, they are also sometimes referred to as “Janus words” after the two-faced Roman god. In a nutshell1, we’re talking about a word that is its own antonym. Contranyms do not necessarily need to be spelled the same way; those that sound alike, but are spelled differently, are called homophonic contranyms.
Some examples in English are:
- 1shell (hard outer covering/remove hard outer covering)
- Peanuts come in shells.
- These peanuts have been shelled (i.e., the shells have been removed).
- oral/aural2 (speech/hearing)
- I have an oral (speaking) exam today.
- I have an aural (hearing) exam today.
- fast (speedy/not moving)
- This car is fast.
- Stand fast!
- oversight (to miss/scrutiny)
- That was an oversight on my part.
- This program is under strict Congressional oversight.
- strike (to hit/to miss)
- Strike one!
- He strikes the ball with the bat.
Another word that, through misuse, has become somewhat of a contranym is literal. Some have (confusingly) come use the word to mean “figuratively” (e.g. “I literally died laughing”). However, the original meaning also remains (e.g. “I am literally typing this on a MacBook Pro”). Confusion ensues. To mitigate this, I’ll sometimes write “literal-literal” and “figurative-literal” in blog posts.
While working on a translation today, I happened upon a contranym that appears to cross over linguistic lines: yama.
Яма (yama): pit (Russian)
山 (yama): mountain (Japanese)
(Of course, because they are spelled differently, they are technically homophonic contranyms, but you already knew that.)
Do you know of any bilingual contranyms? Please share them in the comments section and I’ll post them in a future article!
2Depending upon your regional dialect, you may pronounce these words differently.
The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!
French linguistic protectionists are probably losing their minds over this*, but yet another Russian word has found its way into the French language: malossol (малосоль), meaning “lightly salted.” It’s usually seen on caviar and pickle labels, but can now actually be found in the Larousse (which, by the way, does not mean “The Russians”) dictionary. Considering this rather specific usage, I’m not sure there’s much danger in the near future of French kids ordering their pommes frites “malossol.”
What is this world coming to? What ever happened to good, old fashioned FRENCH words like bistro? (Wait… that comes from Russian, too?** Never mind.)
Read all about it in English or Russian. Strangely, I had trouble finding a news article on this topic in French. If you happen across one, please post a link to it in the comments section.
*I don’t know if there’s any relevance here, but the official language of the Russian court used to be French. Just sayin’.
**This etymology is, not surprisingly, not supported by some French linguists.
"In my world there are only ponies. They eat rainbows and poop butterflies."
If you’re a Russian learner, but bored with textbooks, why not check out the Russian version of LOLCats? Don’t expect to see Vanya asking for directions to the movie theater, though. Some of these pictures do to the Russian language what LOLCats did (and continues to do) to English. If your Russian slang helmet is a bit rusty, fear not. Each comes with its own English translation and, if it exists, a cultural or historical explanation.
سنة جديدة سعيدة!
Bonne année et bonne santé!
Ein glückliches neues Jahr!
Ευτυχισμένο το Νέο Έτος!
해피 뉴 이어!
С Новым Годом!
Felix sit annus novus!
Склещивание (skleshchivanie) – the phenomenon wherein dogs get stuck together post-coitus
Меня зовут Миша Хакэр. Я полиглот. Мои основные Языки являются Английским, Французким, Русским, и Японским. Теперь изучаю Немецкий и Испанский языка. Я тоже могу понимать чуть-чуть на около 20 языков. Например: Арагонский, Белорусский, Болгарский, Китайский, Чешский, Эсперанто, Итальянский, Корейский, Македонский, Румынский, Польский, Шотландский, Словацкий, Сербском, Испанском, и Украинском.
Bonjour, Tout le Monde!
Je m’apelle Michel Hacker. Je suis un polyglotte. Mes langues principales sont Anglais, Français, Russe et Japonais. Je suis également en train d’étudier l’Allemand et l’Espagnol. En raison des langues que j’ai apprises antérieurement, j’ai aussi constaté que je peux lire des morceaux de moins de 20 langues différentes. Pour exemples: l’Aragonés, le Biélorusse, Bulgare, Chinois, Tchèque, Espéranto, Italien, Coréen, Macédonien, Roumain, Polonais, Écossais, Slovensk, Serbe, Espagnol et Ukrainien.
My name is Michael Hacker. I am a polyglot. My main languages are English, French, Russian, and Japanese. I am also currently studying German and Spanish. Because of the languages I have previously learned, I have also found that I can read bits of as many as 20 different languages. For examples: Aragonés, Belorussian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Esperanto, Italian, Korean, Macedonian, Romanian, Polish, Scots, Slovensk, Serb, Spanish, and Ukranian