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The Pig Latins of 11 Other Languages

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Pig Latin. Ig-pay atin-lay. It is not really a different language, but an encoded version of English based on a very simple transformation rule. Move the first sound to the end of the word and add "ay." Linguists call this kind of thing a language game, and lots of languages have them. Language games may be used as a secret code, a way to avoid saying taboo words, or just for fun. The transformation rules in language games can vary. For example, in Pig Latin words that start with vowels may take a –way, –hey, or –yay ending. Rules of language games in other languages may also vary, but here are some general guidelines for fun in 11 different languages.

1. Rövarspråket — Swedish

Rövarspråket means "robber language" in Swedish, and it was made popular in a series of boy detective books by Astrid Lindgren. You double every consonant and put an o between them, so Ikea, for example, would be Ikokea, while the new Swedish coinage ogooglebar (ungoogleable), would be ogogoogoglolebobaror. These words can get pretty long, so it's a good thing someone made Rövarspråket generator.

2. Löffelsprache — German

In German Löffelsprache, or "spoon language," a "lew," "lef" or "lev" is inserted between duplicated vowels. Guten Morgen! becomes out Gulewutelewen Moleworgelewen! Got it? Now try it on one of those famously long German compound words—say, Wirtschaftsingenieurwesen (industrial engineering). On second thought, you might have to actually be an industrial engineer to do that…

3. Jerigonza — Spanish

A language game played in Spanish-speaking countries, Jerigonza, meaning "gibberish," involves doubling vowels and inserting p's between them. Hola becomes hopolapa. Gracias becomes grapacipiapas. Do you like jerigonza? Te gusta la jerigonza? Or rather, tepe gupustapa lapa jeperipigoponzapa?

4. Língua do pê — Portuguese

There is a similar game in Portuguese called Língua do pê or p-language. The rules can vary a little, as they do in Pig Latin or any other language game. In Brazil, Brasil could come out as Braprasilpil or Brapasilpil. In Portugal you might get Popor putu pagal or Porpor putu palgal.

5. Alfabeto farfallino — Italian

In Italy, they use an f instead of a p, resulting in words like ciafaofo for ciao. Alfabeto farfallino means butterfly alphabet. Not only do all those f's make every word sound like farfallina—the word for little butterfly—but when spoken, it brings to mind the gentle puffs of air from butterfly wings. Just listen: afalbefetofo fafarfafallifinofo. Can you hear the butterflies?

6. Sananmuunnos — Finnish

Sananmuunnos means "word transformation" or "spoonerism." To play this language game sections of words are swapped with each other and vowels may be changed as well. If you apply sananmuunnos to sananmuunnos it becomes munansaannos, which can be understood as "a yield of penis."

7. Verlan – French

In French, Verlan is a method for making slang terms by swapping syllables or reversing them. The word Verlan is itself a Verlan word from l'envers (backwards), pronounced approximately lan-ver. Swap the syllables and you get ver-lan. Some Verlan words become so much a part of French slang that they get re-verlanized. Meuf (girlfriend, chick), a Verlan version of femme (woman), became so widespread that it got passed through the filter again to produce feume. This re-verlanization is sometimes called Verlan au carré or Verlan squared.

8. Nói lái — Vietnamese

The Vietnamese language game Nói lái involves the swapping of words, or parts of words, and tones. Usually the result is a real phrase that means something different. If you want to talk about chửa hoang (pregnancy out of wedlock), but don't want to say it outright, you might use hoảng chưa (scared yet?) instead.

9. Babigo – Japanese

In Babigo, the b syllables—ba, bi, bo, bu, be—are inserted after the syllables of Japanese words. You can greet your friends with kobonibichibiwaba (konnichiwa, hello) when you meet them for subushibi (sushi) to talk about beibesububoborubu (beisuboru, baseball).

10. Madárnelv – Hungarian

In the Hungarian Madárnyelv (bird language) game, the v syllables—va, vi, vo, vö, vé, ve, vu, vü—are inserted into each syllable after the vowel, turning madárnyelv into mavadávárnyevelv and Budapest into Buvudavapevest.

11. Bet-language – Hebrew

In Hebrew Bet-language, or b-language, vowels are duplicated and b's inserted between them. In 1978, this language game helped Israel get its first win in the Eurovision song contest with Izhar Cohen & the Alphabeta's "Abanibi." The song talks about how the boys were mean to girls when they were little kids. The truth was that they loved them, but they could only say it in code: Abanibi obohebev obotabach, which is ani ohev otach (I love you) in Bet-language. All those extra syllables make a catchy chorus.

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Pete Toscano, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce 'Pulitzer'
Pete Toscano, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Pete Toscano, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The Pulitzer Prize has been awarded to top creative and scientific minds for over 100 years. Named after late 19th-century newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, the prize is a household name, yet its pronunciation still tends to trip people up. Is it “pull-itzer” or “pew-litzer”?

Poynter set the record straight just in time for today’s announcement of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winners. Emily Rauh Pulitzer, wife of the late Joseph Pulitzer Jr., told Poynter, “My husband said that his father told people to say ‘Pull it sir.’”

If you’ve been saying it wrong, don’t feel too bad. Edwin Battistella, a linguist and professor at Southern Oregon University, said he pronounced it “pew-lit-zer” until a friend corrected him. Battistella looked to Joseph Pulitzer’s family history to explain why so many people pronounce it incorrectly. He writes on the Oxford University Press's OUPBlog:

“[Joseph Pulitzer] was born in Hungary, where Pulitzer, or Politzer as it is sometimes spelled, was a common family name derived from a place name in southern Moravia, the village of Pullitz. In the United States, the spelling Pulitzer would have quite naturally been Anglicized as PEW-lit-zer by analogy to the other pu spellings like pure, puritanical, pubic, puce, and so on.”

Ultimately, though, it’s up to the family to decide how they’d like their surname to be pronounced. Here it is, pronounced just how the Pulitzers like it, in a YouTube video:

[h/t Poynter]

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Jean Henry Marlet, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
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The Surprising Origin of the Word Morgue
Jean Henry Marlet, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
Jean Henry Marlet, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Today the word morgue conjures up images of an efficient, hygienic room overseen by professionals in lab coats and rubber gloves. Most of us are familiar with its inner workings only from cop shows and crime novels, never having had the desire—or need—to visit one in real life. However, our image of the modern, sterile morgue stands in stark contrast with the room that originally gave rise to the term.

In 18th century Paris, visitors to the Grand Châtelet—a combined court, police headquarters, and prison that served as the seat of common-law jurisdiction in pre-revolutionary France—could descend to the basement basse-geôle and peer in through the grille of the door. There, they would catch a glimpse of a small room where unidentified dead bodies were displayed to the public, strewn across the bare floor. The room became informally known as la morgue, an early definition of which appears in the 1718 Dictionnaire de l’Académie: "A place at the Châtelet, where dead bodies that have been found are open to the public view, in order that they be recognized."

Print of the Grand Châtelet of Paris by Allain Manesson-Mallet,1702
Bibliothèque de l'INHA via Europeana // Public Domain

The name for this gruesome room likely had its roots in the Archaic French verb morguer, which means "to look solemnly." Historians think that such rooms had existed in Parisian prisons since the 14th century, initially as a place where newly incarcerated prisoners would be held until identified, but later to deal with the many dead bodies found on the streets or pulled from the River Seine. (In fact, there were so many bodies in the river—both murder victims and suicides—that a huge net was stretched across the river at St. Cloud to catch the bodies as they washed downstream, from which they were transported to the Grand Châtelet.) But it was not until around the turn of the 18th century that the public were invited in and asked to try and identify the dead at la morgue.

The stench emanating from the corpses at the morgue must have been unbearable, and the public exposure to the "bad humors" was one of the reasons for the creation of a new, more hygienic morgue, at the place du Marché-Neuf on the Ile-de-la-Cité in 1804. This new morgue building (by now officially known as La Morgue) was housed in a building styled like a Greek temple that was close to the river, enabling bodies to be transported there by boat. The corpses were now displayed in a purpose-built exhibit room, with plate-glass windows and plenty of natural light, allowing crowds to gather and gawk at the corpses laid out on marble slabs. Refrigeration did not come until the 1880s, so the bodies were kept cool with a constant drip of cold water, lending the cadavers a bloated appearance. The clothes of the deceased were hung from pegs next to the dead as a further aide to their identification.

Drawing of the Paris morgue circa 1845
Hippolyte Destailleur, Bibliothèque nationale de France // Public Domain

The central location of the morgue ensured a healthy traffic of people of all classes, becoming a place to see and be seen, and to catch up on the latest gossip. Its popularity as a place of spectacle grew as the 19th century progressed, stoked by being included as a must-see location in most guidebooks to Paris. On the days after a big crime had been committed, as many as 40,000 people flocked through its doors.

The morgue was also written about by luminaries such as Charles Dickens, who touched on it a number of times in his journalism, confessing in The Uncommercial Traveller (a series of sketches written between 1860-9) that it held a gruesome draw: "Whenever I am at Paris, I am dragged by invisible force into the Morgue. I never want to go there, but am always pulled there. One Christmas Day, when I would rather have been anywhere else, I was attracted in, to see an old grey man lying all alone on his cold bed, with a tap of water turned on over his grey hair, and running, drip, drip, drip, down his wretched face until it got to the corner of his mouth, where it took a turn, and made him look sly." Dickens also described the crowds of people flocking to the morgue to gawk at the latest arrivals, idly swapping speculation on causes of death and potential identities: "It was strange to see so much heat and uproar seething about one poor spare white-haired old man, so quiet for evermore."

In 1864, the morgue at the Marché-Neuf was demolished to make way for Baron Haussmann's sweeping re-modeling of Paris. The new morgue building was situated just behind Notre Dame, again in a busy public space, re-affirming its purpose as a place to view and identify dead bodies. However, it was also in this new building that the morgue moved away from pure spectacle and began to be linked with the medical identification of bodies, as well as advances in forensics and the professionalization of policing. The new morgue had an autopsy room, a small laboratory for chemical analysis, and rooms where police and administrators could inspect the bodies and record any murders or suicides. The emphasis shifted—the morgue was no longer purely dependent on the public to identify the bodies; it now had medical, administrative, and investigative officers doing that work, moving it closer to our modern idea of what a morgue is.

By the 1880s the fame of the Paris morgue, and admiration of its now-efficient administrative structures, had spread across the world. The word morgue began to be used to describe places where the dead were kept in both Britain and America, replacing the older "dead house" and becoming synonymous with mortuary. Over time, the word morgue was also adopted in American English, perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek, for rooms where newspaper or magazine archives are kept—for example, The New York Times morgue, a storehouse for historical clippings, photographs, and other reference materials related to the paper.

The Paris morgue closed its doors to the public in 1907. A combination of factors led to the decision: gradually changing public attitudes to the viewing of dead bodies, concerns over hygiene and the spread of disease, and the increasing professionalization of the police and coroners. Today, the city office that has replaced it is known as the Institut médico-légal de Paris. Meanwhile, the word morgue itself has come a long way—from its roots in a grim spectacle, it's now become a place of professionalism and respect.

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