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iStock // Rebecca O'Connell
iStock // Rebecca O'Connell

5 Annoying Latin Errors from an Ancient List That Predicted Latin's Descendants

iStock // Rebecca O'Connell
iStock // Rebecca O'Connell

Sometime around the 7th century, a grammarian got fed up and started collecting all the annoying mistakes that people kept making in Latin. He wrote them up in the Appendix Probi, a straightforward list of the “say this, not that” variety. The most interesting thing about the Appendix Probi is not that it shows that people have always been making usage errors, but that the errors people made in Latin show the specific ways that Latin turned into its descendants, the Romance languages, including Spanish, French, and Italian.

1. FEBRUARIUS NON FEBRARIUS

The advice in the Appendix is not so different from what you might see on the same kind of lists for English today. Where our lists warn us to use “dependent not dependant” and “February not Febuary,” the Appendix tells the Late Antiquity Era Latin user that it’s “aquaeductus non aquiductus” and “Februarius non Febrarius.” Despite that advice, the syllable that Latin speakers kept leaving out of Februarius stayed left out in what eventually became Spanish (Febrero), French (Février), and Italian (Febbraio).

2. AURIS NON ORICLA

In many places where Latin had a diphthong vowel /au/, the descendant languages have /o/. For example, in Spanish, Latin paucus (a little) became poco, causa (cause) became cosa (thing), and taurus (bull) became toro.

You can see evidence of this change beginning in the Appendix Probi when the author complains that is should be auris (ear), not oricla. People were already swapping out /au/ for /o/, and that continued to the point where the word for ear in Romance languages became oreja in Spanish, orecchia in Italian, and oreille in French.

3. CALIDA NON CALDA

Another change from Latin to the Romance languages was the loss of unstressed vowels in the middle of a word. The Appendix says it should be “calida non calda,” and “viridis non virdis.” These days the words for warm and for green in Italian (calda, verde) and French (chaud, vert) are still missing that internal extra syllable.

4. EXEQUIAE NON EXECIAE

Some widespread changes in Latin’s descendants, like the change from a /kw/ to a /k/ sound, make frequent appearances on the list, (exequiae non execiae, equs non ecus, coqus non cocus, coquens non cocens, coqui non coci) even when they don’t address specific surviving words that changed. There’s no complaint about quomodo (how) becoming comodo, but that’s what happened when it turned into como (Spanish) and comment (French) in the descendant languages. The Appendix is evidence that that particular sound change was already well underway.

5. TABULA NON TABLA

Many of the annoying mistakes in the list nearly directly represent current-day correct words. Some exactly represent them. The advice that the word for crowd should be “turma non torma” is perfectly ignored by the fact that the Italian word for crowd turned out to be torma. The complaint about tabla for tabula is perfectly ignored by the Spanish word for board, tabla. With a few additional changes, that same mistake reaches all the way into English (through French borrowing) with table. Centuries of language change between late Latin and modern languages mean that mistakes have been piled upon mistakes. That, essentially, is what modern languages are. Really, it’s what all languages are. The same will be true for your descendants, though by then, they may be descendents.

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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Designer Reimagines the Spanish Alphabet With Only 19 Letters
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According to designer José de la O, the Spanish alphabet is too crowded. Letters like B and V and S and Z are hard to tell apart when spoken out loud, which makes for a language that's "confusing, complicated, and unpractical," per his design agency's website. His solution is Nueva Qwerty. As Co.Design reports, the "speculative alphabet" combines redundant letters into single characters, leaving 19 letters total.

In place of the letters missing from the original 27-letter Spanish alphabet are five new symbols. The S slot, for example, is occupied by one letter that does the job of C, Z, and S. Q, K, and C have been merged into a single character, as have I and Y. The design of each glyph borrows elements from each of the letters it represents, making the new alphabet easy for Spanish-speakers to learn, its designer says.

Speculative Spanish alphabet.
José de la O

By streamlining the Spanish alphabet, de la O claims he's made it easier to read, write, and type. But the convenience factor may not be enough to win over some Spanish scholars: When the Royal Spanish Academy cut just two letters (CH and LL) from the Spanish alphabet in 2010, their decision was met with outrage.

José de la O has already envisioned how his alphabet might function in the real world, Photoshopping it onto storefronts and newspapers. He also showcased the letters in two new fonts. You can install New Times New Roman and Futurysma onto your computer after downloading it here.

[h/t Co.Design]

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