A. Katz amnfn at
Sat Mar 19 16:23:41 UTC 2011


You probably also don't feel that speakers are deprived of knowing the 
morphological boundary in the word elbow. This is often what native 
speakers will say: I don't feel deprived by not knowing what I have always 
not known.

In a way, that's a valid thing to say, since obviously the language works 
just fine without this kind of knowledge in speakers. But... it works 
differently from the way it would have worked without the massive 
borrowing that made the language's derivational system so irregular that 
speakers tend to disregard it when parsing words, even words like rooster 
whose component morphemes are both known to them.


On Sat, 19 Mar 2011, Angus B. Grieve-Smith wrote:

> On 3/19/2011 5:39 AM, alex gross wrote:
>> "A. Take the two bones in our lower arm. The only names we have for them 
>> today are ulna and radius. These are the 'scientific names,' the ones 
>> medical people--and few others--learn. Those bones are important to you 
>> every day, yet you have no everyday way of referring to them at all. But 
>> there is clear evidence from historical linguistics that these bones once 
>> had other names. The ulna was once called the 'el,' the radius possibly 
>> something like the 'spoke.' We know about the 'el' from Seventeenth Century 
>> poetry (maid to lover: 'if I give you an inch, you'll soon take an el') but 
>> also from modern German, where the words are die Elle and die Speiche."
>    An ell is also a unit of length equivalent to one's forearm; it's mostly 
> used in measuring coils of rope and such.  I've known this from a young age, 
> although maybe it's because my father was an audio engineer who studied 
> classics and Old English at the graduate level.  It's also used in the /Lord 
> of the Rings/ where Sam measures a rope in ells.
>    I dispute whether the bones are important to me every day.  Sure, I use 
> them all the time, but how often do I have to discuss one of them?  I would 
> venture to say never in my life.  I've known the words "radius" and "ulna" 
> since I was at least ten years old, and I still don't know which is which.  I 
> don't see anything wrong with using vague words like "arm" and "forearm," and 
> leaving the specialized terms to the specialists.  If someone said to me, 
> "she broke her el," instead of "she broke her arm," I wouldn't feel 
> particularly better informed.
> --
> 				-Angus B. Grieve-Smith
> 				grvsmth at

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