Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 4 07:10:04 UTC 2011

Completely OT.

Here's one I certainly did not expect. I was browsing in Wiki and looked
at the "Halibut" article, where I read the following:

> The name is derived from /haly/ (holy) and /butt/ (flat fish), for its
> popularity on Catholic holy days.

The claim is taken from a 1941 Pittsburgh Press article (which, however,
does not mention "butt", but does identify halibut as "holy flatfish").
Sure enough, OED lists the same etymology for Halibut (which,
apparently, the Wiki writers did not check) and also includes a whole
article on Butt n.1

This is linked to Dutch "bot", German "butt" and "butte" and Swedish
"butta" for flounder (and, presumably, other flatfish). What I found
interesting is that it invoked a memory of referring to Baltic flatfish
as [boot], which I never quite figured out if it came from Yiddish or
from Latvian (this was in Riga, 1960s/70s). At this point, I am inclined
to guess Yiddish, but Latvian had some German loanwords too. [The reason
why this is not entirely clear is because my recollection is based on
insertion of random Latvian and Yiddish terms into otherwise Russian
dialogue, particularly when discussing fish and fishing or other highly
specialized topics. The word for lampreys (smoked) certainly came from
Latvian, but others came from Yiddish.] Whatever the case, Baltic
Yiddish dialects are virtually extinct. The post-WWII generations
already barely spoke it, unlike their parents--never mind the heavy
losses in the war. But now the vast majority of Lithuanian and Latvian
Jews have long emigrated--mostly to Israel and the US. The remaining
population is certainly not sufficient to sustain the dialect, even if
they keep speaking Yiddish at all. And the ones who emigrated are highly
unlikely to pass it on. And you can forget about Poland--prior to 1989,
there were a total of about 200 known observant Jews in Poland (some
"returning" from Israel), although there were more secular families
scattered across the country (some of the post-1989 politicians wore
their ethnic identity as a badge of honor). Despite radical interest in
Yiddish among younger Poles (complete with annual Yiddish festivals!),
the Baltic regions, particularly around the ports where Solidarity was
active, remain the most antisemitic. Yiddish as a whole may well be
dying, but some regional dialects are already all but dead.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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