Of Navy Beans and Haricot Beans

Gourmands beware: vegetables can go by many different names throughout the English-speaking world.

For instance, the North American vegetable "squash" takes its name from "askutasquash" (literally "green thing eaten raw") courtesy of the indigenous Naragansett Indians of the New England region. However, in the United Kingdom and in parts of the British Commonwealth, the vegetable is called a "marrow" (due to comparisons between the cooked flesh of the squash and bone marrow, although this hardly sounds terribly appetizing). To add to the confusion, the vegetable (or at least one variety) is called a "marrow squash," including in the USA.

French influences seem to be more evident in names of vegetables in British and some varieties of Commonwealth English (but not others). What North Americans and Australians call a "zucchini" (taken from the Italian) is called a "courgette" by Brits, the Irish, South Africans, and New Zealanders. What North Americans, New Zealanders, and Australians call "snow peas" are called by the Brits as "mangetout" (literally, "eat everything"!), although I have read that there is technically some difference between true snow peas and true mangetout peas.

Furthermore, what North Americans, Australians, and New Zealanders call an "eggplant" is called an "aubergine" by the Brits, "brinjal" (derived from Sankrit and Persian and also the distant root of "aubergine") by South Africans, Malaysians, and some Indians. In Trinidad, the vegetable is called a "meloongen" (a Latin derivative).

Beans appear to be especially vulnerable to variation across the Atlantic. "Navy beans" in the USA are called "haricot beans" (taken from the French word "haricot" for bean) in the UK. "Lima beans" in the USA are "butterbeans" to Brits, and "fava beans" in the States are "broad beans" in Blighty. Moreover, "stringbeans" in the USA are "runner beans" in Britain.

The term "corn" is rather interesting since, traditionally, in British English "corn" has meant nearly any type of grain, so the Brits have often called this vegetable (or grain, if you wish) "maize," descended from a Taino Indian (Caribbean) word by way of Spanish. Nowadays, the Brits and Irish seem to have largely supplanted "maize" with "sweetcorn," whereas Americans and most of the rest of the English-speaking world call the vegetable simply "corn." In South Africa, however, it is often called "mielie" (derived from the Portuguese word for corn: "milho").

There are some vegetables with acceptable alternates. What Brits call a "gherkin" (descended from Dutch and referring to the vegetable) is usually called a "pickle" (also derived from Dutch, but referring to the salty liquid in which the vegetable is pickled) by Americans, although "gherkin" is occasionally used in the United States. What Brits call "coriander" is generally called "cilantro" by Americans, although there appears to be some interchangeability (and some debate as to whether they are technically the same!), and the terms "garbanzo" (derived from old Spanish) and "chickpea" (with "chick" derived from the French word for the vegetable "pois chiche," descended in turn from Latin "cicer," the origin of the Roman name Cicero!) sometimes used interchangeably within various dialects of English, with Brits tending to prefer "chickpea."

And let's not forget the "avocado" (descended from the Spanish "aguacate"), which has been known colloquially in various regions as an "alligator pear," which is what the English in Jamaica first called it due to the avocado's rough skin!

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)


this New Zealander speaks good American English

I just saw the excellent movie "Star Trek" again (which I saw earlier this year with a very disillusioned hardcore Trekkie) and I have to say that I had no idea that the actor who plays Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) is from New Zealand. His portrayal of Bones isn't just good, but his American accent is as well. And I didn't realize until I did a search online that he was also in "Lord of the Rings", which is one of my favorite movies.

Check out the clip below--you'll agree that he's a good actor and sounds American.


French Thanksgiving Quiz

Today is Thanksgiving, and I've been informed that we're going to be eating a lot of delicious food (I'm going to my sister's house to celebrate). I got some French wine for the occasion, and interestingly enough, I found a French Thanksgiving vocabulary quiz. American Thanksgiving is not connected to the French, so it's sort of odd that someone would create a quiz for the holiday, but who cares--I love languages and Thanksgiving, so it works out for me :D

There are 50 questions, but you can take shorter versions of the quiz. I took it and got a "pas mal" so maybe my French isn't as bad as I thought. Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving!


I can see why this book is a bestseller

I spent a weekend tearing through the book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man by Steve Harvey, who seems to be able to do everything. Seriously--he's a successful comedian, has also made lots of money on TV, and can even do great radio. A lot of people aren't good on the radio, even famous people who've found success elsewhere before trying it out. But just like other things he's done, he's aced it (and has gotten rich from that as well).

His book was so well-written and so informative, I couldn't put it down. But he didn't write it alone--he had a coauthor. Still, you can tell it's his voice--he just probably had help to clarify his thoughts and make them flow nicely.

So I can see why this book is a bestseller. I highly recommend it, though it's written for women who aren't married. But I still found it informative and entertaining.


Executive producer

I see the title "executive producer" thrown around the radio biz, but most of those people are "just" producers (I put "just" in quotes because there's nothing wrong with being a producer without the "executive" in front of it). I've stayed silent about this embellished title, but I've seen it so often, I can't help but talk about it now.

It seems that the TV and film industries have lots of executive producers, and there are several sources of the definition out there. One site says "an executive producer is someone who is either financing a film, or is representing a studio or party that is financing a film." And other sites mention films and TV too, but I don't see any definitions for radio executive producers. Even Wikipedia doesn't mention radio in their list of types of executive producers.

I know a very successful producer of a top morning show who doesn't call himself "executive producer," even though he has a few people working below him. He just says "producer". I think because he cares more about the quality of work he does than the title. But I've noticed that people who have *no* people working for them will call themselves "executive producers" on their resume, in their voicemails, and wherever else they can broadcast their importance.

So if you see that title, ask them what they're executive of, and who they supervised. Chances are that very few of them actually called the shots on the show or worked alone, except for the occasional intern.


The Mystique of Double Consonants

Double consonants can be confusing in English because often they are pronounced exactly the same as single consonants. In this regard, it would perhaps be much easier for those who are writing in English were like Italian, which has double consonants, although the consonants are lengthened when they are doubled. Hence, speakers can hear the doubling. Curiously, although the doubling of English consonants cannot usually be heard, often doubling (or lack thereof) can affect the pronunciation of the preceding vowel. For instance, "a" is pronounced differently in "scarring" and "scaring," even though the "r" is pronounced identically in both words.

Spanish tends not to have double consonants except in the case of "r" and "l." "rr" is treated as a separate letter of the Spanish alphabet, pronounced as a longer, more strongly trilled version of the singular "r." Furthermore, "ll" is pronounced entirely differently from "l," with the former sounding very similar to "y" and the latter sounding similar to the English "l." Consonants that are doubled in French, Portuguese in German tend to sound the same as the singular counterparts, with the notable exception of "s," which often sounds like an English "z" in the singular and an English "s" in the plural.

There are so-called rules that govern the doubling of English consonants in verb stems when followed by "-ing" or "-ed." For instance, one-syllable words ending in a "consonant-vowel-consonant" sequence (such as "rub" or "stun") undergo doubling ("rubbed," "stunned"). In two-syllable words, if the stress is on the second syllable, then the consonant in which the root ends is also doubled ("admit">"admitting"). The rules are described in greater detail here.

But this is not the whole story, as there are dialectal variations. For instance, "final -l is always doubled after one vowel in stressed and unstressed syllables in (Commonwealth) English but usually only in stressed syllables in American English". Hence, while most, if not all, dialects of English have "rebel">"rebelled," American English has "travel">"traveled" and Commonwealth English has "travel">"travelled." To confuse matters, American English occasionally doubles "l" in roots where Commonwealth English does not. Thus, American English has "skillful," 'enroll," and "fulfill," while Commonwealth English has "skilful," "enrol," and "fulfil" (although "skill" remains "skill" in most, if not all dialects).

With all of this orthographical chaos, it should come as no surprise, then, that "misspell" is commonly misspelled as "mispell" even by native English speakers!

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)


I just saw this good French movie tonight

I'll be honest: I don't go to movies much because they seem crass and shallow, or have too much violence or the stars are so self-indulgent and obnoxious, it's hard for me to shell out the 11 bucks (!) to support them.

But I saw a really good movie tonight: Coco Before Chanel. It's in French, so it was especially interesting for me to read the English subtitles while trying to figure out what they were saying.

Here's the French trailer for the film, and below that is the English trailer. I'm putting the French one first because, of course, I'm a language fan :D


What "pissed" means in American English

I'm sure there are tons of people defining the word "pissed" online, but I'd like to add my take here, because recently I exchanged emails with a Brit who needed some clarification.

To Americans, the word "pissed" means really angry. Like "I'm so pissed that jerk got the job I wanted!"

But to Brits, "pissed" means drunk. It never means drunk to us. We simply say "drunk". Or if we're not at the drunk level, we say "tipsy" or "buzzed". And if we're very drunk, we say "wasted".

So when a Brit asks me if they seemed "pissed", at first I think I made them angry, but then realize they're talking about drinking too much.


Kanji practice site

Wow, Dartmouth has some really nice Japanese resources. They built a kanji site where you can practice reading, listening, and even watching someone write the kanji in a mini video! And the person who is voicing the Japanese sentences sounds excellent--obvious a native speaker who knows how to read beautifully. It has up to 400 kanji, and you can listen to the on-yomi and kun-yomi readings of each character and follow along with the transcription of what is being said. A very good site--one of the reasons why I'm glad universities have lots of money.


Talking with my friend George about Japanese and Hong Kong

My friend George, a really nice guy who I met in Japanese class a few years ago, moved to Hong Kong and was back in town visiting family and friends before starting a new teaching gig over there. I asked him about Hong Kong and learning Japanese, because he plans to move back to Japan one day. So here's the audio (it's 4 minutes), which includes a recommendation for Japanese Pod 101.

Listen to the interview at this link (mp3 file).


The voice of Mythbusters

I've been watching Mythbusters for a while, and I've assumed the narrator is American. But tonight I heard the word "against" pronounced "a-GAIN-st". Americans say "a-genst"--NEVER pronounce the "gain" literally--ie, use the long "a" sound that you think would be applied to the "ai" combination.

So I thought the narrator was Canadian, since I've heard Canadians pronounce some words in a more British way. (Canadians' accent is between British and American, though I'd say they sound way more American than British). So I did a quick search, and found out on a fan site that he was born in England, "grew up in North America" and now lives in Australia. It sounds like he probably spent at least part of his time in Canada, because otherwise they'd specifically say that he grew up in the United States or Canada, unless he wants to be vague about his background.

Anyway, he's a very successful voiceover guy in Australia--he's probably one of the go-to voices for people over there who want an American accent. But from my perspective, his English sounds more international than just American. If you listen to the demos on his site, you'll hear him say "bean" for "been" (whereas we say "bin" for "been"). And he seems to slip into slight non-American accents when he says other words.

Well whatever his accent is, he's probably making a great living from speaking, so congrats to him!


Writing "awhile" for "a while"

For some reason, I have trouble wrapping my mind around "a while" vs. "awhile." The rule is simple enough, according to daily writing tips:

"A while is a noun meaning “a length of time”

“I slept for a while.”
- (compare with “I slept for a bit” and “I slept for three hours”)
“I was away from my desk for a while.”
- (compare with “I was away from my desk for two minutes”)

Awhile is an adverb, meaning “for a time,” or literally, “for a while”.

“I slept awhile before dinner.”
(compare with “I slept deeply before dinner” and “I slept badly before dinner”.)
As you can see, the words can be used almost interchangeably in some cases – but a while needs to be accompanied by a preposition, such as “for” (“I slept for a while”) or “ago” (“I left work a while ago”). Awhile always means “for a while”.

Logically, this makes sense, with prepositions, "a while" is used, while "awhile" is used as a stand-alone adverb. I am not sure why "a while" looks so wrong to me even when it is used correctly. It is also curious because English lacks analogous pairs like "alot" and "a lot" or "akimbo" and "a kimbo." Usually only one choice applies to most, if not all, situations. Hence, the "awhile"/"a while" dichotomy may strike my eyes as strange, especially since, as the description states, "the words can be used almost interchangeably in some cases."

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)