More on Wolof "hip"

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Thu Dec 9 13:57:13 UTC 2004

On Thu, Dec 09, 2004 at 08:14:40AM -0500, Stahlke, Herbert F.W. wrote:
> Wilson,
> I was puzzled that Jesse wrote, "Even obvious problems with the
> etymology-such as the fact that Wolof does not generally use the letter
> "h"-were ignored. (The word in question is actually spelled xippi.)"
> without adding that the <x> represents a voiceless velar fricative, a
> sound English hasn't had for a long time and that English replaced
> word-initially with [h] back in Old English times.  The sounds are much
> more similar than an English reader would suspect by looking at the
> letters <x> and <h> and assuming their usually values in English.  This
> complaint doesn't weaken Jesse's argument, but his use of English
> letters without explanation appears to strengthen his case beyond the
> facts.

Several people have questioned this, and I realize now that I should have
been more clear about this in the article (I thought it was clear). The
spelling issue is not about the phonological possibility of borrowing--I
agree that Wolof "x" becoming English "h" is not implausible. My point
was solely that anyone who promotes a putative Wolof _hipi_ as a source
for English _hip_ is not even knowledgeable enough about Wolof to know
the right word. The spelling argument is an argument against the
proposers of this etymology, not against the etymology itself.

Jesse Sheidlower

P.S. Doug suggested last week that those who promote _hipi_ as the
source are perhaps choosing a spelling that will seem to English
speakers to be closer to the English word. Perhaps I am guilty of
the opposite. In any case, it was not intentional, and I should have
clarified it.

More information about the Ads-l mailing list