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The word “lox” hasn't changed in sound or meaning in 8k years (nautil.us)
189 points by _Microft 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 201 comments

> For example, sound [k] changed to [h] from Latin to Germanic, and the Latin word casa transformed into the English house.

The way this is written is incorrect. German is not a daughter of Latin, and the word "house" has a fully understood old Germanic origin [1].

Borrowings from Latin to German starting with the hard c sound retain that sound.

The relationship between the old Germanic and old Latin is that of cousins. The various Proto-Indo-European "k" sounds became "h" in Germanic and retained their "k" pronunciation in Latin.


English PIE Latin

hound kyon canis

who kwo- qui

1. https://blog.oup.com/2015/01/house-word-origin-etymology/


> From Proto-Germanic hudjǭ (“hut, shelter”), from Proto-Indo-European (s)kewdʰ- (“to cover, wrap, encase”), from *(s)kew- (“to cover”).

So the article is indeed incorrect in attributing it to Latin - it came straight from Proto-Indo-European.

de.wiktionary is less optimistic about it. AFAIK \sk should reflect in German "Sch-", not "H-" whereas the s-mobile going amis or never being there is yet unexplained; assuming k-, it is a lot closer to casa; The clue for \sk would be shed, but a shed is not a house, by far. Ii is not impossible that a few family terms (house of [family X], caste, husband [cp. Persian band* "dear") where exchanged or reinforced before the sound shift, perhaps mediated through Celtic; Or a the other direction, into Latin ... As far as Ger and Cel are concerned, 0 BC counts as prehistoric.

PS: if Haut "cutis, skin" and Haus "house, family, sex" ("race"?) share a root, is that a remnant of racism? Scandalous!

> PS: if Haut "cutis, skin" and Haus "house, family, sex" ("race"?) share a root, is that a remnant of racism?

No, because even if they did share a connection related to "skin", there are far simpler speculative explanations, like animal skin being used as a covering for a tent like house structure, like on a yurt.

Hehe, indeed "he's after my leather" means he's after me/my skin, in German (jemandem an's Leder wollen).

A Scheuerlappen, "rag cloth" like a burlap, might be out of leather, though usually of rather coarser material. Just saying so because yurt (from mongolic) reminds of shirt, skirt and Schürze, in rhyme. However the r implies another root, "to cut", same as for Geschir "cutlery, dishes; harness [of horses]; vessel" (though zurren, zerren "to strap, stretch" might be akin, also see zieren, too).

I don't think your notion is implausible, but we have the words tent and Zelt already, and howmany more. housing in that sense, as something movable, could be paradox for a immobilia, but who knows.

While "to hide, conceal" might explain the connection reasonably (note that hide~leather is related closer to Haut than hiding), that would have to be the connection to rule out all others, but it's not that simple. Many \ske- roots relate to "to cut", and in my mind many figurative idioms can be derived from that sense to explain this or that. On the other hand, s-mobile may be treated as a prefix, and, assuming the prefix was sek- originally (i.e. "off"?), then we are left with a load of short stems -et, -es, .... Which reminds of some Akkadian words, and the question about who invented the se-dentry life style.

Hey, it's tangential but it always funny to me... Are you perhaps german? I have no idea what other language would have "language" as feminine =). Though, in polish "speech" is. One of the meanings is quite close, esp. In the example of "mother speech" which seems like a direct copy of mutterspraeche. Its exatcly the same in meaning and literal translation.

I think it is interesting how words got their gender established as part of their etymology. It baffled me when learing german that every other word had it different and it's important for grammar.

> Are you perhaps german?

Nope, just a historical linguistics enthusiast, like a few others around here.

> I have no idea what other language would have "language" as feminine =).

Quite a few languages' words for language is grammatically "feminine", OTTOMH:

Arabic: "lugha(t)"

Sanskrit: "bhaashaa"

But grammatical gender of words without obvious gender associations shouldn't be interpreted in the biological sense of gender.

For example, there are languages whose "gender" system is actually more transparent, representing dichotomies like "animate" vs "inanimate", or "rational" (an entity capable of reason) vs "irrational".

Calling this phenomenon "gender" reflects a historical bias from the study of traditional Indo European and Semitic languages, which repurpose biological gender for grammatical gender, but it should really be called "noun classification" or something similar.

In Ukrainian, the word "language" is feminine as well (and it's not derived from the anatomical word for "tongue" like in most other languages).

That's interesting considering how closely Russian and Ukrainian are related and that in Russian, it's masculine and the synonym for the anatomical "tongue".

In German, Zunge "tongue" is fem. As is "Sprache", and most any other noun on "-e". "Zung'" just doesn't flow well, and it's not an "-er" (e.g. tonguer, which would be one with ... I need to look up the etymology of it). Equally, speaker, speach, speak, but there is no noun ablauting -ach with long A in all of German. That would be preterit verbs, which have no gender. That's where the noun is likely from, ie. the past participle slash gerund, cp. Gespräch "a talk [that was had]", or at least it had to dissimilate.

yup it's strange, for instance Serbian and Croatian are almost the same in many things (even used to be treated as one language for a long time before the political split), but still many common words have a different gender - e.g "flu" is in Sebia "grip" (masculine), while in Croatia it's "gripa" (feminine), but "planet" is in Croatia just "planet" (masculine), while in Serbia it became "planeta" (feminine). And there are even the words like "bol" (pain) that is written and pronounced exactly the same in both languages, but feminine in Croatian, and masculine in Serbian.

Gender often follows pronounciation, not the other way around. Female inflection correlates with objective inflection, to a degree. Dropping Ablaut "-a" is not too odd. Ger. "Grippe" is often used as a name, thus without article, just as you say "I have [sickness]", except for "flu", where flu is maybe influenced by flow.

grip is identical to the Serbian version in Albanian, masculine too planet instead in Albanian is masculine, like the Croatian version, interesting.

Portuguese and Spanish:

tongue (can mean language as well): a língua portuguesa, la lengua española.

language is different, Portuguese is feminine, and Spanish is masculine: a linguaguem de programação, el lenguaje de programación.

idiom is masculine in both: o idioma português, el idioma español.

Apparently (according wiktionary) the reconstructed vulgar latin word of origin, *linguaticum, was neutral.

While learning the language I've noted that in Portuguese words ending in ~gem are generally feminine regardless of their gender in French:

un garage -> uma garagem

un langage -> uma linguagem

un abordage -> uma abordagem

un bagage -> uma bagagem

And many, many others. My point is that I'm guessing that the diference in gender here is purely morphological and not tied to the meaning of the word and whether it's semantically tied to masculine or feminine traits (I'm sure you already knew all of that but I also know that English speakers often have misconceptions regarding how genders work in Romance languages, so I thought I'd clear it up).

> Apparently (according wiktionary) the reconstructed vulgar latin word of origin, *linguaticum, was neutral.

When the transition from 3 gender to 2 happened, neuter words had to be "assigned" to one gender or another. Sometimes this was just arbitrary, other times conditioned by phonology or semantics.

The same phenomenon occurred when Sanskrit's 3 gender system gave way to the dual gender system of the new-Indo-Aryan languages like Hindi. In that case, most neuter words became masculine because they were often already phonologically similar to masculine words in the accusative case.

It never occurred to me that words ending in -gem in Portuguese were mostly feminine. Guess we don't pay much attention to these things regarding our native language.

I have misconceptions about other Romance languages as well. I often confuse genders when trying to speak French, last week I learned moustache is feminine, while in Portuguese and Spanish it's masculine.

Italian too, lingua (tongue in both senses) is feminine, even if language (as in programming language) is linguaggio and is masculine.

Proto-Indo-European *dn̥ǵʰwéh₂s 'tongue' was feminine, hence why all the languages mentioned in this subthread (except Hebrew) have the word for 'tongue' feminine.

If the reconstruction is feminine because of the evidence in the daughter languages, you are presenting a circular argument. Maybe there are more reasons for the reconstruction that I don't know, just as I don't know why the PIE root should have been female, which would be much more interesting.

I haven't seen "son x" for anything in English. But there are daughter languages, daughter companies. Perhaps more.

In Hebrew the word for language (שפה) is also feminine. And apparently from this comment thread...in many languages that's the case.

In French too, la langue is feminine.

Language is often linked with the world of the mother. The masculine term is more formal

In spanish and english there are a version masculine (El lenguaje / The language) and other feminine (La lengua / The tongue) with subtle differences in meaning but equivalent basically. The feminine term is polysemic.

It seems that French use only the second version, in a polysemic sense also.

French has both as well, "la langue" (the tongue, both the organ and the spoken word) and "le langage" (the language).

We only use "langue" for natural (for lack of a better word) languages. Programming languages are always "langages de programmation". I believe that the usage is strictly the same in English (you wouldn't lay "a programming tongue" either).

In Portugese, both a linguagem and a língua are feminine.

Greek has it feminine too.

This is apparently an English word that has completely bypassed the English, because I've never heard the word 'lox' for 'smoked salmon' in my life. Did this somehow go from mainland Europe straight to America?

It came to English via Yiddish and therefore via the Jewish people. I wouldn't be surprised if there are a lot more Yiddish words in American English than British English considering the size of the Jewish populations in both countries, the timelines for their immigration, and the roles they have traditionally taken in society.

Here in Israel, where I spend about half my time split between Tel Aviv and Silicon Valley, it's called not by the Hebrew term for "smoked salmon" but by the Yiddish word "לאָקס" (spelled as לוקס in Hebrew)

I was born in Brooklyn, to a Yiddish speaking family. Occasionally I use a Yiddish word in Israel and I'm met by a blank stare. 60% of the Jewish population here came from countries like Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, etc, where nobody knew Yiddish.

Could you give a phonetic representation of that, for non-Yiddish speakers? Thanks.

In Yiddish it would be something like "lux" as in "deluxe" or "bucks". In contemporary Israeli Hebrew, that vowel doesn't exist so it would be pronounced somewhere between the "ucks" in "bucks" and the "olks" in "yolks" or "folks".

Both words are spellings of "lox." Also, lox isn't smoked, it's salt cured. Cold smoked salmon is usually called nova.

It took me quite a few rereadings before it finally clicked that you're probably not implying that there are more words in American English originating from Yiddish than those coming from British English words.

Yes to clarify I believe OP is implying: there are more Yiddish words in current American English than there are Yiddish words in current British English.

Exactly. Sorry, I probably phrased that original comment poorly.

Amsterdam Dutch vocabulary contains a plethora of Yiddish words which are commonly used, though not outside of Amsterdam. Hence it is in contrast to the rest of The Netherlands where you'll still find a few being used but not nearly as much and ingrained as Amsterdam.

Its not merely the dialect, its also the accent. The hard Dutch 'g' isn't spoken in everywhere in The Netherlands (for example the south doesn't use it).

A musical piece about the Amsterdam Dutch dialect is Osdorp Posse - Origineel Amsterdams [1]. It contains a lot of Amsterdam Dutch vocubulary. As someone who cannot speak Dutch, see if you can recognize any Yiddish words?

[1] https://lyrics.fandom.com/wiki/Osdorp_Posse:Origineel_Amster...

Wiktionary says "lox" comes via Yiddish: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/lox#Etymology_1

However the closely related "lax", used in some English dialects and in Scotland, also means salmon and comes, via Old English, from the same root: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/lax#Etymology_1

So maybe ask your Scottish friends?

I’m Scottish and as soon as I saw “lox” I wondered if it was related to “lax”. Not a common word but have encountered it a few times. I also quite like gravlax which I suppose comes from the same origin!

That's surprising! I know the Scottish dialects has a lot of Scandinavian influences, (ex they say "barn" to mean children)

Lax is Swedish for salmon, so I would've expected a similar root for that word! Some quick googling suggests the Swedish variant has roots in the Germanic and Baltic languages, which are not directly related to Yiddish afaik. Funny how languages are so similar sometimes, seemingly by chance!

> the Swedish variant has roots in the Germanic and Baltic languages, which are not directly related to Yiddish afaik

In fact, Yiddish is Judeo-German and has elements from Slavic languages.

Yiddish is a germanic language with Hebrew elements. If you know German or a Scandinavian language, you can understand a fair bit of written Yiddish just by squinting and guessing along.

lol "bairn"

A Barn is still a farm building in Scotland

Yeah, but ignoring spelling and instead listening to how it's pronounced - it's the same. My Swedish grandmother pronounced it pretty much exactly to how Scottish sounds to me.

Not just Scotland, Part of north England I'm from "Bairn" is very widely used (but we had a massive Viking presence that still shows up in place names and such).

My mother's family are from Durham and my grandmother called us 'the bairns'. Also pigs were swine and when we were ill we were 'out of fettle'. I've no trace of it in my own speech now, but still love the sound of it.

I once went to Norway and it seemed to me like they were speaking German with a Geordie accent.

I've always heard 'bairn' and 'barn' pronounced quite differently, with the former rhyming with 'air'

In my (English) head, a Scottish (and even more so Irish) accent does pronounce 'barn' to rhyme with 'air' too though.

Of course I'm probably doing a terrible impression of each in my head.

There are some strong accents that could pronounce them similiarly, the islands / getting close to irish could pronounce the "air" in "barn". But in general / central belt those words are pronounced differently

I was more implying that the Swedish pronunciation of its "barn" is more like English "air". (For some Swedish dialects.) The takeaway, when comparing related languages, don't think too much about spelling. Compare how actual people say words, and you will often find striking similarities.

>Yeah, but ignoring spelling and instead listening to how it's pronounced - it's the same

I’m Scottish and pronounce the two words quite differently. “Bairn” sounds like “bear” with an “n” at the end and “barn” has a much harder “a” sound.

Interestingly, “burn” is a common word for a small stream in Scotland, but I digress.

....maybe read the article?

The only places that call it lox are places that have considerable Jewish populations, even in the US. I never heard smoked salmon called lox until I lived next door to a Hillel house in college.

This thread surprises me. I grew up in Montana, non-jewish, without a particularly large nearby jewish population, and yet I’m sure I learned the word lox as a youngster.

Doctor Seuss.

The call it that in Germany as well, though they spell it differently: lachs.

Lachs is salmon, not to be confused with seelachs which is just (Atlantic) cod. Don't confuse the two in a restaurant. I made that mistake once. Couldn't believe the price either until we got our dish. Needless to say, mistakes were made...

Lax in Swedish. Pronunciation in all three languages is pretty similar though.

> only places that call it lox

Counter-example: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

It’s pretty common in any city on the east coast of the us.

The only time I heard the word "lox" was when I was a kid and had the James Bond film You Only Live Twice on VHS. This is the one where Blofeld is launching rockets from Japan to destroy Soviet and American spacecraft, with the hope of them blaming each other and triggering a war.

For some reason, one of the scenes that stuck in my mind was when the head of the Japanese intelligence services (Tanaka?) and Bond are reviewing the receipts that the latter managed to steal from the company they suspect is acting as a front for Spectre. Tanaka is reading out a perfectly innocent list of items and comes across a huge order for "lox", and asks Bond what that means. At first he just defeatedly dismisses as an American word for smoked salmon, but then has a brainwave and says something like "But... it can also be a shorthand for Liquid Oxygen, which is needed to power rockets!".

Yeah, it's a loanword, and thus about as much an English word as "quesadilla" or "kebab".

I don’t perceive “Quesadilla” as being foreign at all. It’s just as English as any other English word.

Some words that are fully considered English have an even more convoluted history than this. The word for “chocolate” came from Spanish, and came to Spanish from Nahuatl which is completely unrelated to English, and may (though it gets obscure here) have in turn come to Nahuatl from an unrelated Mayan language.

English is almost nothing but loan words.

This is a serious exaggeration.

English does have a lot of loan words, but they are comparatively less frequently used than non-loan words. The overwhelming majority of the most commonly used core vocabulary is descended straight from Old English.

In fairness, there are some major counterexamples: “they”, “use”, and “people” are loan words in the core vocabulary.

Edit: oh youou were talking about proper literarry borrowings. still though ...

"does" or at least do-support comes from celtic.

"have" is pretty close ot "avoir", and b/v (viz Ger "haben" is not a common sound correspondance.

"a" is not a word, it's a particle so short so that saying it descended is almost non-sensical. The proper form would be "an" (and even french "un" agrees).

"of", again a meaningless particle. There went so much wrong with prepositions, too, since PIE, they got turned up-side down, literally.

"non" rings of French, not German.

"to be" mostly changed since Germanic, and not straight forward either.

"than", nope, not original.

word has a fine root, most I'll take, core is not core vocabulary, the developed seemingly independently, but analogue to other Germanic languages, this, that are OK but close to Fr. ce, ca anyway, is is still pretty close to Latin est, Germanic or not ...

You were saying?

Wasn't it said that English isn't a language, but a bunch of midget dialects in an overcoat who trap nice languages in alleys, beat them, and rifle their pockets for loose grammar?

Actually the presence of non-Anglo-Saxon vocabulary in English is not because of English “stealing” anything, but because England was colonized and ruled by non-English-speaking people for centuries.

I.e. saying English stole from French is a bit like saying Hindi, Irish, or Navajo stole from English. Gets the power relations completely backwards.

That applies to basically French and Norse loan words from the Middle English period. It doesn’t apply to the large number of Latin and Greek loanwords or anything more recent.

Well, Latin was the lingua franca in Europe for a very, very long time. So it's a bit like how languages all over the world now have English loanwords. Still not because of English "stealing" anything.

You could make a case for the validity of this quip for more recent loanwords, but there are relatively few of those compared to French, Norse, and Latin.

I think about 30% of the words in an English text are loan words, and I would guess that's quite a high proportion compared to other modern European languages, but not particularly amazing.

The definition of loan word is a bit vague, of course, and the origin of some words is uncertain, and the proportion of loan words will depend a bit on the topic and the style of writing.

(There are 72 words in the previous two paragraphs, if you expand "30%" and "that's". So about 22 of them should be loan words? Seems plausible ...)

English has evolved more in England than in New England the past few hundred years. From what I've heard New England accents are closer to what English accents used to be than modern English accents are. Perhaps lox fell out of use in England but not here.

I have heard similar claims, but I think I wouldn't look to New England for that.

Example: Most English accents today don't pronounce an R if a vowel doesn't follow it ("non rhotic"). This is also true in accents of New York, New England, and parts of the US southeast.

However, a few hundred years ago English accents were all rhotic, like the majority of the US. I had heard somewhere that the non-rhotacism was actually adopted in the northeast and affluent south after it became popular in England and also after colonization by people who would have pronounced all the Rs. That is to say some well to do US accents kept up with changes occurring in places like London.

The R dropping accent in New England is limited to a surprisingly small group of people. Same with New York I believe.

Outside of some parts of Boston we pick up those Rs our friends drop and put them to use.

I grew up a few miles from Boston. No one had a Boston accent, save for people who moved from certain areas.

For me that is slightly disappointing, I find that there is some real character in that accent. From my (outsider's) perspective it is something classic to east coast American cities. An accent that brings forth unapologetic honesty and "bustin' your balls" kind of humour.

It's a social class marker; plenty of people have it, but if you're hanging around a college with a lot of upper middle class teeth gritting cheesebags and hangers on, you may never hear it.

I grew up with a western mass accent, which is a sort of lighter version of bahston with less non-rhoticity. I can turn it off, but lately choose not to, also for social class reasons.

I have an old relative who has the classic, very thick Boston accent. It is always fun to have her say, "park the car in the Harvard Yard", and she is willing to humor us. You are correct that most younger people don't, though some have a less significant one. Accents are disappearing among the young, which is somewhat sad, albeit inevitable. Newscasters never have an accent, most characters do not (and when they do, it's a "difference" of some sort), and people move around too much for them to survive. A Texas accent used to be John Wayne, now it is used on comedy shows to represent the "uneducated, fat, cousin-marrying red-neck bumpkin". At least we have recording technology now, so future generations can hear them.

I moved from the southwest US to New England as a child, specifically Hartford, Connecticut. I definitely heard this accent… ‘cah’ for car.

Accent is defined based on where you grew up from age 10-12.

Distinctive communities get broken up now and disrupted by media.

> Accent is defined based on where you grew up from age 10-12.

Not so. Maybe this is true in many cases, but I personally know of at least one outlier: a relative who grew up in West Virginia, lost her accent to work in radio and news, and when older re-married to a man from Texas with a heavy accent and developed one herself.

It is also the case that many people slip back into accents as they age.

I went to high school in the city of Boston with boys from all over the city. The different neighborhoods had different accents.

I think it's dying out and seen as less prestigious. Shame, because it sounds pretty cool.

Not just English in England wrt New England, but everywhere in the new world this is the case: Quebecois descends from an older form of French, Brazilian Portuguese from an older form of Portuguese (modern European Portuguese is insane to listen to next to Brazilian Portuguese), same for Spanish. The wonders of isolation!

Spanish also has interesting geographical stories alongside that narrative. Eg. Latin America lacks an /θ/ sound because the colonizers came from places like Seville.

The claim wasn't about New England English deriving from an older form of the language. The claim is that today's New England English more closely resembles that older form than today's England English.

Those aren't equivocal? We're just putting the emphasis on one end or the other it looks like

There doesn't even have to be an ocean in between countries - Modern Swiss German shares a lot more with Old High German than modern High German, since Switzerland didn't participate in many shifts (e.g. diphthongization) in pronunciation!

Weirder, after hearing Brits scoff at "Americanisms" for years I was pretty surprised to learn that 90% of them actually came from Britain. They even changed their accent late in the millennium. You can go to see Shakespeare in its original accent and it sounds closer to Welsh/Irish/American than the Queeen's English.

The more you know…

If you ignore Webster's aberrations - as every attempt to simplify spelling historically, has ended up complicating it, and he was no exception there... Like the 16th century attempt to simplify the language that had scholars adding letters so it was more internally consistent with Latin or Greek roots. Thus debt was created from det, doubt from dowt, scythe from sythe and hundreds of others, and a few got shorter - warre becoming war is the only one I can remember. The other reforms and "simplifications" weren't prettier.

A surprising amount of Americanisms, and even spellings - like recognize instead of recognise - not only started here, but were once preferred as more correct! It's only fairly recently that The Times - last 20 or 30 years - dropped "Oxford spelling" (As the OED goes that way too). Nowadays if you use that variant someone will inevitably cry Americanism. Web spell checker is, of course, whining about -ize above as it's in GB mode.

Yet it cuts both ways - there's a lot of real Americanisms that have been forgotten in the US and are never identified as such in the UK.

Got/gotten - British laziness or fashion decided gotten was no longer necessary somewhere along the line. Yet we still use forgot and forgotten. Go figure.

Given the sheer quantity of English that's been begged, borrowed and stolen from other parts of the world, I don't understand the singular picking out of Americanisms. Though the US "I could care less" clearly only makes sense as GB's "I couldn't care less".

Shakespeare's jokes and puns work SO much better in original pronunciation. Received pronunciation needs to die in a fire.

Peace. :)

"I couldn't care less" is the proper American form and the only form I heard growing up in the US. In recent decades, I have of course encountered the "could care less" form many times, but it's like "same difference" meaning "same thing": something that professional copy editors (which I used to be) will still probably repair unless it's being used to paint a picture of a character.

Gotten is a perfectly ordinary word in Scottish and Northern Isles English.

And -ize is perfectly acceptable to many British English spell checkers. Unfortunately it seems impossible to find one that will reject -ise spellings when the -ize one is the more etymologically 'correct'.

For instance, I am using Firefox with a British English checker and it, correctly, allows "advertise" but not "advertize"; however, it also allows both "mythologize" and "mythologise" when only the first would be accepted in the Oxford tradition.

I'll be sticking with the advice in Fowler's Modern English Usage, Second Edition.

You just need to find en-GB-oxendict [1]. Oxford spelling is used quite heavily in academia so it ought to be easy to burglarise ;)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_spelling

Shouldn't that be burglarize? Except of course that in British English it would just be burgle.

Yeah - it was a joke :)

Hmm...somewhere in Scotland other than where I grew up. For me gotten only existed in US movies, and "I'll gotten gains".

Everyone seems to want the 50 year old Fowler's. :)

> every attempt to simplify spelling historically has ended up complicating it

Have you looked into Korean at all? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangul is a quite remarkable success story in changing spelling with the aim of increasing literacy rates.


I don't know why some of us dislike 'Americanisms' so much. Some of it will just be resistance to change - the advent of the internet meant a fairly sudden exposure to written en-US.

Anecdotally, I'm the only one amongst my friends who cares about these things. The skyrocketing usage of Americanisms really grinds my gears.

Maybe after Brexit we'll get an Académie Anglais to settle these arguments for those of us who still want to speak the King's.

I think partially Daily Mail fake outrage, and as quite a few of our historic shifts in spelling and pronunciation have been for fashion or affectation, a degree of having another reason to feel superior to some other group. Not forgetting the old U, non-U garbage.

Course no one ever told the Mail that some of Webster's reforms and American spellings came from Shakespeare either. He was far more phonetic than modern spelling either side of the Atlantic - as was everyone back then. Then you discover Shakespeare's spelling wasn't even consistent with himself and used at least a few words both ways - color and colour springs to mind.

Surely it will be as successful as Académie Française has been preventing French adoption of le computer, le weekend and all the rest? ie not at all. :)

It's all a bit silly. No one yells Indianism, well Tamil, when someone talks of going for a curry, yet we probably acquired almost as many from India as the US.

Edit: Hadn't been aware of of that aspect of Korea - and that North and South hugely disagree on number of letters! Most extensive change I knew was Indonesia after independence, adopting Indonesian from Malay when there's hundreds of native languages, and most spoke something else.


Interesting. My understanding is that -ize comes from the older Greek, while -ise is the French version. Which makes for a fun discussion when Brits claim it as their own.

There's a good wiki on the subject if others are interested: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_British_English_s...

See the article on "-ize, -ise in verbs" in Fowler's Modern English Usage, Second Edition, where he makes the point that it is the French who changed from -ize to -ise.

Yes, that was the point I was trying to make.

The other side this exposes to me is that America, in terms of its overall European-descended demographic, is more Irish, Scots, German than Anglican by far

One of my challenges learning Norwegian has been dialects. There is a "standard" written form. The dialects, however, might pronounce things differently, completely change a few words, or change the way you use or conjugate verbs. (Not to mention that there are 2 varients of Norwegian, but that's another story.). Immigrants are taught the straighforward version - an "Oslo dialect".

The reason for this is mountains and isolation. You get a few villages that interact or a region that does so, and it varies wildly over the years before television and radio. People have simply kept the dialects in the modern age. Some are harder for native Norwegians than others, but supposedly they should all be understood.

No, this isn't true at all and is a complete oversimplificiation. The whole rhotic 'R' is just one small part of an accent. Secondly, what is 'a British accent'? They change so often over here.

It's just one of those 'facts' that seems sensible until you think about it a little bit.

Trying to define one English accent now or even 200 years ago is futile.

Appalachian English dialects in the US are supposed to be closest to those of London at the time of American colonization. Lox is a yiddish word, though, and while it may phonetically be widespread (as the article claims), the spelling and exact pronunciation in modern English likely spread with German Jewish immigrants. That's particular true in the northeastern US. The parent commenter was unfamiliar with the term, but anyone who grew up around New York would be familiar with it as a common deli item.

Oxford Dictionary of English cites it as North American, via immigrants' Yiddish.

Do you never get bagels for lunch or breakfast? Bagals and lox is extremely common where I am for breakfast.

Yes we do. But I've never ever heard anyone refer to a salmon and bagel refereed to as lox. My only association was with Gravlax, but I've never heard of lox.

I've never heard the term, then again I've only ever purchased bagels from grocery stores and bakeries. We have an Einstein Bagle shop fairly close by, but I've only ever had them when someone brings them to the office.

I've heard of lachsfisch (sp?) in German for salmon, and I think the Swedish term is similar, so if I ever heard the term, I probably attributed it to German. I've certainly had a lot of smoked salmon spread and smoked salmon by itself, I've just don't recall ever hearing it referred to in English as anything other than "smoked salmon".

So yeah, I recognize that word as German or Swedish, not English.

If you look at Einstein Bagles menu they have

Nova Lox and Schmear (yiddish for smear/spread which is usually cream cheese or flavored cream cheese)on the menu.

I'd say both terms(lox(originally pronounced lacks) and shmear) are sufficiently commercialized that they are common at any bagel place even outside of cities with large Jewish populations.

At least in the US, maybe not in the UK.

Also note that most lox isn't actually lox. Traditional Jewish Lox is brined salmon belly. These days lox usually refers to any smoked salmon, especially less salty types then traditional lox

Maybe the article is playing things up a little, by suggesting there is an unbroken line of descent from English "lox" all the way back to Khurgan "lox". Clearly English lost and then regained the word.

Gravlax? Although a slightly different kind of lox.

That’s a loan from Swedish though.

In Swedish:

Lax = Salmon

Grava = preparing raw salmon (or other fish/meat) by keeping it in a mixture of salt, sugar and spices.

Salt and sugar keeps the fish from spoling, lactic acid bacteria preserves the fish. Back in the days this was done by digging a hole in the ground, cover the fish with spruce/fresh leaves and salt. Then lleaving it lying there for a couple of days. This also gives the origin of the word "grava" which in this context would bean "bury".

> This also gives the origin of the word "grava" which in this context would bean "bury".

And is cognate to English "grave" as in a burial place! Other cognates are Middle English (and modern Dutch) "graven", and German "graben", both meaning "to dig". Ultimately deriving from Proto-Germanic *grabaną. "Groove" is also related. Interestingly the adjective sense of "grave" in English (as in "serious") is of unrelated Romance origin (cf. "gravid", "gravity", "gravitas").

Similar to "grob" in Russian where the "o" is pronounced like in "open".

Very similar to gropë in Albanian which means hole Gërrmoj - to dig a hole

(Edit: although the words are cognates, naturally.)

Via Yiddish, I believe.

"lox": From Yiddish לאַקס‎ (laks, “salmon”), from Old High German lahs, from Proto-Germanic lahsaz (“salmon”), from Proto-Indo-European laḱs- (“salmon, trout”). Cognate to Icelandic lax, German Lachs. More at lax.

It had a number of sound changes in between, and modern English "lox" just coincidentally resembles PIE's "*laḱs-". It should also be noted that the "k" is palatized, meaning it'd be pronounced more like "lakys" or "laksh".

This is fascinating to me. There's also "lax" from Old Norse, which also means "salmon". There's an Irish town near Dublin named "Leixlip" which comes from "Lax Hlaup", meaning Salmon Leap. It's also the location of some of Intel's big fabrication plants, to bring this back to technology for no good reason.

Wonder if HN can display Norse runic characters. This is the name "Lax Hlaup" in the Younger Futhark runic alphabet: ᛚᛅᚼᛋ ᚼᛚᛅᚢᛒ

Vikings have been in Ireland for a while, so Irish lax may originate from Norse lax

> Wonder if HN can display Norse runic characters.

HN can display any character as long as the computer rendering the page has a font that supports the glyphs.

HN removes some Unicode ranges, like emoji and a few other symbols.

Now that's interesting (and somewhat understandable).

It seems like the most significant change is the series of values of that consonant. I don't think the -az in Germanic is significant here because it's a separate inflectional morpheme (and can be ø in the vocative, and in nouns in subsequent Germanic languages).


I'd agree that there's an element of chance in what's happened to the k since it didn't necessarily have to change back to resemble the PIE form, but I'm not sure I see the other changes as ever having moved far from PIE at all.

I'm betting that ‘ma’ hasn't changed in dozens thousand, if not hundreds thousand years.

Also, dunno how legit this guy is, but he wrote a fiction book about life 32000 years ago, and did some research for it: https://www.livescience.com/39324-shaman-kim-stanley-robinso...

> Kim Stanley Robinson: Once I realized that the narrator had to be talking and not writing, that made a huge difference. Then I had to think about words. I had to think about every word … I realized that as a normal writer, one of my most common phrases to start a sentence would be "in fact." The word fact began to look wrong. They didn't have facts. That's a modern concept … I couldn't use all kinds of words. I tried to examine every word ... I did develop a different vocabulary for all of the words for sexual parts. That was because the English language words are all heavily weighted by Judeo-Christian or modern pruderies or concerns. They all had baggage. I went back to Basque and Proto-Indo-European and I used real words. I just used real words from their time. What we're finding is that Basque is amazingly old, Proto-Indo-European is amazingly old ... There are about 100 words that linguists now have determined are probably as old as 15,000 years old that never changed like "mama" and "aye." I've been getting a fair amount of incredulity and a little bit of objection to having my characters say "mama mia," but it turns out that both of those words are outrageously ancient.

Funny, the only "lox" I know of is shorthand for liquid oxygen.

I knew of the other usage, but I did think "but they didn't have liquid oxygen 8000 years ago!" when I saw the headline.

I really only know of either usage because a Bond movie I saw as a kid had the villain disguise his order for liquid oxygen as smoked salmon. Or something. Recollection is a little hazy.

I think the joke was that Bond is such a gourmet that he is the only one in the room who knows that "LOX" means smoked salmon.

That sounds like something in an Austin Powers movie, not a Bond movie.

Yep, this is the only thing I've heard it used for too.

Indeed, when I saw it used to refer to the fish I thought it meant liquid oxygen was somehow used in its processing.

Short, frequent words are more likely to appear genetically related by chance.

Source: https://www.pnas.org/content/110/35/E3253

From where is the idea that the sound hasn't change, can be?

That is a incredible claim. Is common that all the languages across history to have an explanation in how was pronounced or have sound samples of how the people talk about?

Because that is the only sure way to do that claim.

Just taking in account the changes I see in my own city, is impossible that words not change the sound. Heck, you can bet it change among people in the same HOUSE!

ie: I truly want to know how this can be proved...

It's called "the comparative method" and it has a very robust history of allowing us to view sound changes from the past.

Take that [0], Lisp. 8k years.

They wore chest beards back then.


The fascinating speculation for me is the similarity of Krishna and Christ.

I first read about this in the fantastic book "Ideas" by Peter Watson


Linguists will say that Christ didn't have a /k/, hence "ch", and then religiouss fanatics (what a pleonasm) will join in and give their versions of heavily revisionist history, a few serious scholars will admit that nothing worthwhile is known about either as a living being, and the debate will be desolved by the notion that the onus of proof is on the claimant, who will be called wrong, if not lunatic, until proof is advanced.

For one, dating of the stories does not really match, I believe.

I recently stumbled upon the word 'lakh' in the Indian number system meaning 100000 [1] , which according to Paul Thieme [2] may be related to the German word Lachs, for salmon, referring to the innumerable fish in a swarm. The way languages are connected in their histories while seeming so disparate today keeps fascinating me.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakh

[2] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakh

Huh, I wasn't aware of this word in the English language, but it is remarkably similar to the Swedish word "lax" which just means salmon. I guess our languages are more related than I thought!

English and Swedish are both Germanic languages, which means they share a lot of basic vocabulary. And a few centuries after the split between North and West Germanic, a bunch of vikings invaded England and stayed there for a long time, leaving another large number of words there. A few more centuries later, English was diluted somewhat by French, but that was mostly fancy words.

Especially if you go to local dialects instead of to "standard" English (and to a lesser extent, "standard" Swedish), the similarities are much closer than what you'd otherwise think.

I was curious about the Turkish word Pilav so looked it up. It turns out it's related to both Pilau in India and Paella in Spain, brought by the spread of Islam. In all cases it's rice or other grain cooked in a broth.

It's a much more recent dispersion than Indo-European, but I still found it fascinating that the Spanish, Turkish and Indian restaurants in my town have this connection in their cuisine.

Here’s the etymology given in Nisanyan’s etymology dictionary for Turkish: from Persian which in turn is from Sans pulāka पुलाक rice bowl < Sans pul पुल् a group

"Plov" in Russian, which would have been borrowed from the Central Asian peoples.

> The only places that call it lox are places that have considerable Jewish populations, even in the US.

The first time I heard the word was from my GF's (and future ex-wife's) mom; whose sister was married to a Jewish man. Sadly, due to a then recent bad taste experience with a pickled herring in wine sauce--I never sampled any until years and years after that. Oy vey; a lot of wasted years there!

I didn't realize people knew about liquid oxygen 8000 years ago.

Moreover, salmon probably entered English during the time French was the language of English nobility:


Richard the Lionheart was actually Richard (probably pronounced something like Rishaa?) Cœur de Lion and spoke French:


Apparently only one fourth of English words are of Germanic origin:


By the usual pattern in English, "lox" would designate the living animal, while "salmon" would designate what you'd put on a bagel (cf ox/beef, lamb/mutton).

Also: swine/pork, deer/venison.

Turkey as the name of the bird is however something still unclear. It's not called so in Turkey.

I don't quite understand the "not changed in sound" part.

AFAIK, "lox" came to English through Yiddish, which got the word from German. And in German, the vowel was always "a" not "o" (e.g. https://ia600301.us.archive.org/32/items/etymologisches00klu... traces the word to "lahs"), so the vowel quality and the final consonant appear to have changed.

Indeed, the Modern English descendant of the Old English cognate word (still present today as a Scottish dialect word for "salmon", supposedly), would be "lax" - https://www.etymonline.com/word/lax

> AFAIK, "lox" came to English through Yiddish

In Australia I have never heard the term - we goyim would just refer to a smoked-salmon bagel.

You put it on a bagel and don't call it lox? The world is a strange place.

Same in the UK.

The German word 'lachs' and the English word 'lox' are pronounced, essentially, identically.

Unsurprising, given the close relationship between Yiddish and German, and the fact that the English "lox" is literally the Yiddish word.

The consonants are the same, but whether the vowels are the same depends on your accent. In most British accents the vowel in 'lox' is fairly distinct from that in German 'lachs'. (Or I should probably say 'would be', since it's not a word known to most British English speakers.)

But the German "ch" phoneme doesn't even exist in (American) English?

In this chase, "ch" is pronounced as "k", not as one of the two German ch-phonemes that don't exist in English.

It's not pronounced from the throat like the German "ch" but otherwise it's as close as it gets.

There are (at least?) three different ways "ch" can be pronounced in German: Throaty as in "Buch", a slightly altered "sh" sound like in "Bücher", and just as plain "k", like in "Lachs".

I was very surprised to see wiktionaries phonetic transcription and sound sample of "Buch", apparently it is not throaty everywhere.

It's a /k/ in all "-achs", e.g. "Dachs", "wachsen", "Flachs", exactly as in "bochs" the emulator (compare "boxen"), except across boundaries, e.g. "wachsam, wach-sam" (wakeful, at guard), or contractions, e.g. "[Meister seines].Faches/Fachs".

More compelling to me are the Icelandic "lax" and the extinct Chinese pronunciation.

although... if the language "Tocharian B" is extinct, how can we know its pronunciation? There must be a way, but I can't fathom it myself.

Tocharian is not in the same family (Sino-Tibetan) as any of the Chinese topolects -- it's an Indo-European language spoken in Xinjiang.

Small correction: it was spoken in Xinxiang. A long time ago

There is something puzzling about the existance/presevation of the word in Tocharian B. The tocharian people were living in the tarim basin, a dry land, far away from any ocean. Were there any salmons there?

The Tocharians used an Indic script. We know what the letters mean for Indic languages, so we can get a pretty good idea of what Tocharian sounded like. Pretty good.

Not perfect, though. For example, Icelandic and Old Norse are very close in terms of how they're written, but (IIRC) have pretty substantial differences in pronunciation.

Yep. It's likely that Icelandic speakers can read Old Norse, especially with footnotes, but they most likely wouldn't be able to understand the sagas if they were spoken aloud. And a lot of the reason Icelandic is as conservative as it is is because of a push towards purism from Danish influences in the 19th century.

All the Scandinavian languages can be read by speakers of the other Scandinavian languages, somewhat accuately, in written form, given enough time, cursing and crying is invested into doing it. Icelandic and Faraoese are quite different from the others, but they're not THAT hard to understand when written down.

Speakers of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish can usually talk to eachother without major issues although the kids seem to be preferring to speak English nowadays.

Spoken Icelandic or Faraoese on the other hand? I usually manage to get a single word or phrase. The rest is gibberish.

> And in German, the vowel was always "a" not "o"

The letter changed, but the pronunciation didn't - hence "not changed in sound". German "a" == English (short) "o".

The General American pronunciation of lox is /lɑks/ [1], the Standard German pronunciation of Lachs is /laks/ [2]. Those vowels are not the same; the American one is further back. In other dialects of English, it would also be rounded and/or less open.

[1] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/lox#English

[2] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Lachs#German

And the dictionary of the Swiss German language (which in many ways resembles Yiddish more than Standard German does), says that the spelling used to be "Lächs", which probably means that the vowel used to be brighter than it is today: https://digital.idiotikon.ch/idtkn/id3.htm#!page/31041/mode/...

That's proto germanic, which means after the first soundshift. Do you know how old early yiddish might be? I don't.

I don't see in the article where it says the word hasn't changed, or anything about 8k years as claimed in the post title. It does say that "lox" happens to be composed of sounds that "haven't changed in English", which I take to mean that that English pronunciation in English hasn't changed during the time that the word has existed as part of the language. I don't believe the article claims that the pronunciation is unchanged across different languages.

You have it exactly opposite. Despite the fact that it is a recent addition to English via Yiddish, the pronunciation and meaning is unchanged for thousands of years.

You could go to the Eurasian steps in 3000 BC and ask for lox and they will know exactly what you mean.

A friend and I used to pour over a massive dictionary to discover insights into ancient indo-european thought. An example: "world" a conjugation of two germanic words - "were" (man) and "ald" (age). We surmised that the "world" was everything a man experienced during his lifetime, from birth to death.

Gives meaning to the phrase, "Not the end of the world."

Along the same lines, what I find fascinating is how similar the words for mother and father are across nearly all languages, even non-IndoEuropean ones.


There are 2 main competing hypotheses to explain this. The first one is that these words are historically related. The other one, which is controversial, is that these are the result of Sound Symbolism:


In particular sound symbolism hypothesizes that the initial "m" of many similar "mother" words is related to the sound of a lips sucking milk, like the verb "mamare" in Latin meaning "to suck".

Neither of those match the rather unsurprising answer I've heard before, which is that "mama" and "papa" are two of the simplest sounds babies can make and therefore two of the sounds babies are most likely to start making first as they learn to speak. And us parents naturally assume the baby is trying to talk to us when they start making sounds, so we latched onto "mama" and "papa" (or the various extremely similar sounds in other languages) as being the words the baby was using to refer to us.

Yes but then we might expect that in some languages "mama" and "papa" are reversed. What is surprising is not just that these simple words seem to be preserved but that they mean the same thing.

I think "ma" generally comes first in baby's lexicon, and historically the gestational parent has been the primary caretaker (and the gestational parent in most cases has the identity "mother"), so it's no surprise that the "ma" sound is associated with mother.

The counter argument is that there are gobs of languages whose names for mother and father sound nothing like ma or pa.

What are these "gobs of languages"? I know there are a few, but the sounds there are generally still things that are really easy for babies to say. What's interesting about "mama" is that it's the same (or very nearly) in tons of languages that don't share common roots.

Japanese, Many native american languages, Sundanese, Malay, many African languages.

Not to say that sound symbolism of the "ma" sound isn't a real thing, but rather that its adoption for the "mother" word is far from universal, but just frequent enough to be interesting.

I didn't say it was universal, but it's extremely widespread, and more importantly, it's widespread among a diverse set of languages that don't share a common root.

Incidentally, the Wikipedia page for "Mama and papa" says that in Old Japanese the word for "mother" was papa.

These three theories are convergent and not mutually exclusive

I beg to differ. Lox is salt cured (brined) for an extended period and not smoked. It's usually somewhat salty. Nova is short cured and cold smoked, and not nearly as salty as lox. At least at the Jewish delis I've been to. Google backs me up.

They jinxed it.

In a few years, "lox" is going to mean something entirely different, like a stray thread on a shirt or something.

Linguistics is a pretty amazing field that I always feel like I should learn more about.

You definitely should. It's quite a fun field, especially historical linguistics. I recommend /r/linguistics and /r/badlinguistics (they require an explanation of why things are bad). I've learned quite a lot from them.

I've sunk a lot of my spare time into binging all sorts of Wikipedia articles on the evolution of languages.

Same. There's usually a linguistics-related article on the front page of HN every couple days too. Seems like people who are interested in software tend to also be interested in linguistics...

Danish is "laks" and the sound is very close to the English one too. Interesting.

Really? When I was growing up lox meant liquid oxygen the fish was called salmon in my experience its only recently that English speaking people began to use the word for liquid oxygen for fish.

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