I have been fascinated with name origins ever since my mother gave me the baby name pamphlets that she received when she was pregnant with me. When I encounter an unusual surname, I wonder how it's pronounced, where it's from, what it means, and - when applicable - what its Chinese characters are.

howmanyofme.com estimates that only 583 Americans have the surname Cronkite. I grew up always knowing Walter Cronkite existed, so I never gave any thought to his rare name until last night. ancestry.com lists an etymology from Oxford's Dictionary of American Family Names:

Americanized spelling of Dutch Krankheid, from an abstract noun meaning 'weakness', hence probably a nickname for a sickly individual.

I can't imagine having a surname like 病 'sick'. (I wonder if that's in Giles' huge list of Chinese surnames in his dictionary which I left back in Hawaii.) No wonder it was respelled in America!

Krank- is obviously cognate to German krank 'sick' and English cringe and perhaps also crank(y). I can't find krank in any print dictionaries I have on hand or Van Dale's free online dictionary, though it's in their professional dictionary which I can't access unless I pay four Euro a month. I guess krank is obsolete in modern Dutch whose word for 'sick' is the obvious cognate ziek.

-heid (roughly pronounced 'height', not 'hide') is unfortunately known to English speakers through Afrikaans apartheid, cognate to 'apart' plus '-hood'. The correspondence of Dutch (and German) front vowels to English back vowels and vice versa has long puzzled me - I suppose umlaut must be involved:

Dut -heid, Ger -heit : Eng hood

Dut hoofd, Ger Haupt : Eng head

Straightforward front and back vowel correspondences also exist:

Dut, Ger hier : Eng here (but Dut horen, Ger hören : Eng hear!)

Dut hond, Ger Hund : Eng hound

Krankheid isn't even in Van Dale's professional dictionary, so I assume it's completely obsolete in Dutch. However, Ger Krankheit 'sickness' is alive and well. CONFIRMING CRONKITER

Walter Cronkite passed away today. According to this article,

Cronkite was the broadcaster to whom the title "anchorman" was first applied, and he came so identified in that role that eventually his own name became the term for the job in other languages. (Swedish anchors are known as Kronkiters; In Holland, they are Cronkiters.)

I could not find these terms in Google:

"Kronkiter" site:.se: 0 hits

"Kronkitern" site:.se: 0 hits (the suffix -n is singular 'the')

"Cronkiter" site:.nl: 0 hits

The only instance of Kronkiterna 'the Cronkiters' that I could find was in this silly PDF about K-planeten 'the K-planet'.

I also could not find these terms at the Swedish or Dutch versions of Wikipedia. Their articles for 'news presenter' (i.e., anchorman) are titled

Programledare 'program leader' (also programvärd 'news host'; Cronkite is not mentioned at all)

Nieuwslezer 'news reader' (also nieuwsanker 'news anchor' in Belgium; Cronkite is listed as a famous foreign news presenter)

Were Kronkiter and/or Cronkiter used in print before the Internet? THE BOTTOM OF THE TARGET

Last night, I asked,

What is a 的士?

The Mandarin pronunciation dishi (like 'dee-sher') of 的士 is not as helpful as the Cantonese pronounciation diksi. No, not 'Dixie', but 'taxi'. (Japanese tekishi is even closer to taxi, though 的士 isn't Japanese.) The resemblance is even more obvious if I point out that Cantonese d- stands for unaspirated [t]. I assume that 的士 was coined by a speaker of a Chinese language in which 的士 was [tiksi] with [k] in the first syllable and [i] in the second. If a Mandarin speaker were to transcribe taxi, he would have chosen characters like 特克西 tekexi (roughly 'tuh-kuh-shee') which would be read as the very un-taxi dakhaaksai (roughly 'duck hahk sigh') in Cantonese.

的士 looks like it should mean '...'s person' as 的 is usually the genitive particle de (not di) in Mandarin. (Other Chinese languages may have other unrelated genitive particles: e.g., Cantonese 嘅 ge and Taiwanese e [no consensus spelling].) I mentioned on Wednesday that

Md de [tə] 'genitive particle' ... may be a different spelling of an Old Chinese 之 *tə that may have survived more or less intact in modern times).

However, there is a third, now obsolete Middle Chinese (MC) spelling 底 for the genitive particle. 底 normally represented MC *tejʔ 'bottom'. Starting in the Song Dynasty, the genitive particle came to be written with 的 'target' which was something like *tiʔ at the time (while 底 had become *ti). Do these spellings imply that Md 的 de [tə] 'genitive particle' is not a direct survival of OC 之 *tə, but is actually from a Middle Chinese *tejʔ that shifted to Song tiʔ and then irregularly became modern de [tə] instead of the expected di [ti]?

Perhaps not. Middle Chinese rhyming dictionaries contain only sinographs used in literary Chinese, and there was no MC syllable *tə in the literary language. Hence there was no character read as *tə, and someone trying to write the colloquial genitive marker would have to write it with a similar-sounding character such as 底 MC *tejʔ 'bottom': cf. how Md [ə] is romanized in Pinyin as e even though it is not [e].

It's also possible that OC 之 *tə became colloquial late OC *tɨə and MC *tɨ (but without the normal palatalization of nonemphatic *t before high vowels which affected the literary reading of 之: OC *tə > LOC *tɕɨə > MC *tɕɨ). There was no literary MC syllable *tɨ, so 底 MC *tejʔ 'bottom' would be a rough transcription. In the Song Dynasty, colloquial MC *tɨ could have shifted to *ti and be written with 的 tiʔ 'target'. At some point after the Song, ti then became [tə], now romanized as de (but not pronounced [de]!). So in this scenario, the pronunciation of the genitive particle has gone full circle: OC *tə > LOC *tɨə > MC *tɨ > Song ti > modern Md [tə].

Which, if any, of these scenarios is correct? To find out, I'd like to see

- early romanizations of the genitive particle 的 in Mandarin dialects

- nonstandard Mandarin dialect equivalents of standard 的 de [tə]

I can't find any of the latter at the moment, but I looked in Coblin's English translation of Francisco Varo's (1627-1687) posthumous 1703 grammar of 17th century Mandarin which has the romanization tiě́ ([tiə]?) for 的 in the section on 'declension' (!) of nouns. Varo was relying from a Latin-based model, so he viewed X的 'of X' as the 'genitive case' of X.

[tiə] would not be far from late OC *tɨə. Perhaps LOC *tɨə > *tiə > modern Md [tə]. (But note that the dialect of Mandarin that Varo described is that of Nanjing, not Beijing. I don't know whether 的 was also [tiə] in 17th century Beijing. I wonder what the modern Nanjing genitive particle is. Is it a descendant of Varo's [tiə], or something else entirely?) PEOPLE OF THE WHITE LADLE

Last night, I asked,

Can you guess what a 爬蟲 pachong 'crawling bug' is? It's not a bug at all ...

... a 巴士 bashi 'snake person' isn't a snake or a person. What is it?

爬蟲 pachong are reptiles. It's appropriate that 爬蟲 pachong 'reptile' has 巴 ba 'snake' in it, though 'snake' is actually just phonetic.

巴士 bashi is 'bus'. Mandarin bashi sounds like 'bah-sher', so I suspect the word was borrowed through some non-Mandarin language like Cantonese in which 巴士 is basi 'bah-see'. If the word were borrowed through Mandarin, it might be something like 巴斯 basi, pronounced 'bah-sss'. (Mandarin si is never pronounced 'see'; one could regard the i as silent.)

Here's another form of transport ending in 士: 的士 Md dishi (sounds like 'dee-sher'), which happens to be homophonous with 敵視 dishi 'regard with hostility' (literally 'enemy-view'). What is a 的士? The Cantonese pronunciation gives away the answer which I'll reveal tomorrow.

The title refers to the parts of 的士:

的 Md di 'target' (originally 'bright') < 白 Md bai 'white' + 勺 Md shao 'ladle'

的 'bright' was later used to write unrelated (near-)homophones 'target' (and later Md de [tə] 'genitive particle' which may be a different spelling of an Old Chinese 之 *tə that may have survived more or less intact in modern times). (Could 'target' < 'bright spot'?)

白 is semantic in 'bright'

勺 Md shao 'ladle' sounds nothing like 的 Md di today, but they sounded similar in Old Chinese:



Hence 勺 'ladle' is phonetic in 的 'bright', though the readings of the two have considerably divulged over the millennia.

的 OC *t-lewk 'bright' is cognate to 灼 Md zhuo < Old Chinese *t-lawk 'burn, bright' which has the same phonetic 勺 'ladle' but with the semantic element 火 'fire'.

7.16.0:10: Further cognates written with three different phonetics (樂 龠 翟) plus the semantic elements 火 'fire', 日 'sun', or 光 'light' are

爍 Md shuo < OC *hlawk < ?*s-lawk 'shine'

爚 Md yue < OC *lawk 'shine'

曜耀燿 Md yao < OC *lawk-s or *lewk-s 'shiny'


In my birthday wish for ArmyWifeToddlerMom, I quoted the Oxford Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary translation of toddler:


xue zou de xiao hai

'a small child learning to walk'

The phrase 學走 also occurs in the sayings


xian xue zou, zai xue pao.

'first learn walk, then learn run'


xian xue pa hou xue zou

'first learn crawl later learn walk'

which should be self-explanatory.

Can you guess what a 爬蟲 pachong 'crawling bug' is? It's not a bug at all. Nor is it a toddler.

The graph 爬 'crawl' consists of 爪 zhao 'claw' (semantic) plus 巴 ba 'snake' (phonetic; possibly cognate*?)

Just as a 爬蟲 pachong 'crawling bug' isn't a bug, a 巴士 bashi 'snake person' isn't a snake or a person. What is it? Hint: bashi are a form of transportation.

*爬 Md pa [pha] 'crawl' is from Middle Chinese *bæ which may be from 巴 Md ba [pa] < MC *pæ plus a nasal prefix that fused with the initial: *N-p- > MC *b- > Md p- [ph]. GIA GI ZƏI MIA, MƏ WƏƏI NƗƗ BƐƐ RER!

Today I wish

gia gi zəi mia

'army wife baby mother'*

- known in English as ArmyWifeToddlerMom (AWTM**) -

mə wəəi nɨɨ bɛɛ reʳ!

'happy birthday' (literally 'birth day happy' in Tangut word order)

*I can't find any Tangut word for 'toddler' and I don't know of any less formal Tangut word equivalent to 'mom'.

My Oxford Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary translates toddler as


xue zou de xiao hai

lit. 'learn walk (linking particle***) small child'

'a small child learning to walk'!

**I pronounce it like 'autumn'. And when I add -ic to her name, the result sounds AWTM-ic (atomic)!

***In the construction X de Y, X is an attribute of Y. A HEAVENLY RECONCILIATION?

From a Middle Chinese (MC) perspective, 丑 MC *ʈhuʔ 'ox' at first glance makes no sense as an alternative phonetic element in 好 MC *xawh 'love'. (MC *x- could also be rewritten as *h-.) However, there are at least two instances of related words with MC aspirated retroflex/dental stop ~ back fricative alternations (the first is from Pulleyblank 1991: 55):

Stop readings (cf. 丑 MC *ʈhuʔ 'ox') Fricative readings (cf. 好 MC *xawh 'love')
畜 MC *ʈhuk 'raise domestic animal'; *ʈhuh 'domestic animal' 畜 MC *xuk 'raise domestic animals'; *xuh 'domestic animal'
天 MC *then 'heaven' 祆 MC *xen 'heaven (NW/SE dialectal variant); Zoroastrianism'; 顯 Han Old Chinese *xenʔ 'heaven' (dialectal variant); 天 used to write Old Iranian hin-

攄 MC *ʈhɨə 'extend' is not cognate to its phonetic 虍 < 虎 MC *xo 'tiger', but the two graphs have the same type of initial alternation.

Schuessler (2009) reconstructed the following Old Chinese (OC) initials for the above words. I have replaced his circumflex vowel notation with underlining for 'emphasis'.

OC sources of MC stop initials OC sources of MC fricative initials
*nhr- or *rh- *h-
*rh- *h-
*th- 祆 (none given; probably *h-)
*rh- *hl-

How can these alternations be explained within Schuessler's system?

1. *r-prefixation: The root of 畜 is *h-, and its *rh-reading is from a prefix *r- plus root-initial *h-. Similarly, there could have been an *r-prefixed variant of 好 OC *huʔ-s that was written with the phonetic 丑 *rhuʔ.

*rh- could be a simplification of an earlier *r-hl-.

I am not comfortable with OC nonemphatic *rh- as a source of MC *ʈh- since this is the one and only case of fortition of nonemphatic initials that I am aware of. I wonder if MC *ʈh- ~ *x- (or *h-) is really from OC *t-hr- ~ *hr- (= *t-rh- ~ *rh- in Schuessler's notation).

Reconstructing 虎 'tiger' with OC *hr- > MC *x- instead of *hl-

- explains why 虍 < 虎 is phonetic in graphs for *r-words (not *l-words!)

- conflicts with other spellings of 'tiger' indicating a lateral (unless these are unrelated soundalikes; I cannot think of any other instances of *r ~ *l variation in OC)

- conflicts with similar-sounding non-Chinese words for 'tiger' with laterals (unless these are related to the aforementioned lateral 'tiger' words in OC but not the OC *hr-word for 'tiger')

*r-prefixation cannot explain the nonretroflex stop of 天 *th- which may belong to a *t-initial word family (more on this next time).

2. *th-lenition: Perhaps some OC dialects shifted *th- in 天 to *θ- which then backed to *h- (cf. the shift of θ [spelled th] to [h] in Irish and the shift of *th- to h- in Toisanese*). (But are there any other *th-words with fricative-initial variants?)

Next: Heavenly cognates.

*The name Toisanese is based on standard Cantonese thoj saan. 'Toisanese' in Toisanese is hoj saan due to the *th- > h- shift.

That shift is part of a larger group of chain shifts (based on notes I took in 1998)

*tɕ- > ts- > t- > Ø-

*tɕh- > tsh- > th- > h-

*ɕ- > s- > ɬ-

that did not occur in any OC dialect (or in Irish - the other Irish voiceless fricatives f and x [spelled ch] did not back to h).

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