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  Issue 143, page 4

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From Glen Galbraith:

I believe you were incorrect when, in last week's Spotlight, you said that emeralds and topaz were made of corundum (aluminum oxide). I believe emeralds are made of beryl (beryllium-aluminum silicate) and topaz is made of aluminum silicate with either hydroxyl radicals or fluorine. Thus, a blue topaz (no matter what the shade of blue) is not the same as a blue sapphire. So-called "Oriental emeralds" and "Oriental topaz" are actually not emeralds and topaz at all (and are also commonly called "green sapphires" and "yellow sapphires").  See, for instance: http://www.gemworld.com/faceted.asp

You win our Well Informed Reader of the Week award.  When we wrote that Spotlight we were relying on dictionaries (and rather antiquated ones, at that).  It seems that there have been advances in mineralogy since 1880.

From Jan D. Hodge:

Surely there must be a Tagalog reader (or two, or many) among your readers, but in case they don't reply to the above, I'll take a shot at it. That language (now officially Filipino) has, like Arabic (and Navaho), singular, dual, and plural forms. They are formed not by repeating the noun but by using signifying words: dalawáng [from dalawá, "two"] for the dual, and mga for the plural. Hence: 

batà (child), dalawáng batà (two children), mga batà (children)
aso (dog), dalawáng aso (two dogs), mga aso (dogs)

Very good.  Thanks, Jan.

From Jonboy:

Hi, great article on [letters we no longer use]. Stuff I had actually wondered about too!

Toward the end you say that MENZIES does not say the Z. A couple of miles away from me is Menzies Bay and the Z sure is pronounced...so I have tried to pronounce it without the Z...but I can't.

Pray tell just how is Menzies to be pronounced ? I can't do it !

Just discovered your wonderful WWW site. I love it 

Thanks for the kind words.  As for Menzies, it's actually correctly pronounced "menghis" (and variant spellings of the name occur indicating this, such as Mingus and Mengus).  Outside of Scotland is where the z starts getting pronounced.  (See next letter below.)

From Andrew Charles:

Regarding Lost Letters (Issue 142, page 1), the Y in "Ye Olde English Tea Shoppe" was originally a ̃ (thorn), which in the archaic Gothic script often used looks very similar to the letter Y. If you have the Lucida Blackletter (or similar) font you can see the confusion . In a curious coincidence ₫orn is now often mistaken for porn

As for yogh (annoyingly absent from character sets), the z in Menzies and a few other names is pronounced.  In Scots it may be hard to pick up, but is something like Menghis (the yogh is difficult to say if you aren't used to it), while outside of Scotland ignorant Sassenachs use a z sound: Men-zees. I saw on TV a few years ago one British parliamentarian note the different way people pronounced his name in Scotland and England. The former Australian Prime Minister is always referred to as Menzies with a z sound. There is another word where yogh has been mistaken for z, but it slips my mind. Perhaps it was demesne, but I don't think so. 

[And a]bout Gaul: 

One theory I have read is that the name was originally that of a large Celtic tribe in the north of Gaul, the Volcae. Their German neighbours then used their name (as walhaz, the h being more like the Greek X, khi) to refer to all Celts, and later all foreigners. Since the Gauls had no national identity they had no word for all the Gallic tribes themselves. The Romans then adopted the Germanic name as Gallus (w in Germanic becomes g when adopted by Latin speakers). The Germanic form was later applied to the Welsh and Walloons, and by Slavic speakers to the Wallachians or Vlachs (Latin-speaking Balkans from the Roman provinces of Dacia, Moesia and Thracia), the Latin via Greek to the Galatians (a group of Celts who tore through Greece and settled in central Turkey). 

From Hugo:

The French for Wales is Pays De Galles and gallois means Welsh (Welshman is Gallois, and Welshwoman Galloise). The French Gallois[e] means Gaul too. My French teacher (in Wales) said this was due to the Celtic connection, but I don't know if that is correct.

Secondly, as you said the English name for Wales comes from the wal- root meaning land of foreigners. But the Welsh name is Cymru, which comes from comrade.

Except that patriotic Welshmen would be outraged at the suggestion that Cymru is from comrade.  It is thought to derive from the (entirely theoretical) Celtic root *kombrogi  (which does mean "comrade", though).

From Prof. Albert R. Baca, Emeritus:

Not to ignore is another possible derivation for Gaul. The Latin for it is gallus, meaning "rooster." Even today the rooster is the bird-symbol of France, as the eagle is of the USA. This may be an erroneous etymology, but it made sense to the Romans. They knew that the etymological meaning of their country's name, Italia, derived from Vitalia, and it, in turn, from vitulus, meaning "cattle." Thus Italy was originally "cow-land," and so France (Gallia) was "rooster-land." Makes sense, doesn't it?

Yes, they all make sense as interesting theories or conjecture.  Can we ever be sure where the names come from?

From Jim Schuler:

I think you might have missed the second pun in the washroom picture: Manual Automatic Door. Which is it? Or does it mean that you have to push a button and it will open automatically? If that's the case then light switches are also "manual automatic" - how did home builders miss out on that opportunity? 

From Timothy Duduit:

Doesn't the handicapped symbol on the door have "Manual Automatic Door" printed beneath? If true (I can't tell on my laptop screen resolution), this oxymoron is more hilarious than the Large Woman sign!!!  Cool site! I enjoy it often.

Yes, that is in fact what is printed on the door in last week's Laughing Stock.

From Eric Z.:

It was amusing to see your feature on lost English letters. I can report that thorn and eth, with the same pronunciation you describe, live on to this day in modern Icelandic. They even show up on license plates (see attached photo from 1988)!

No modern yogh sightings, though, I'm afraid.

Great photo, Eric!

From jg (Jacque Gabrielle):

[Re problems accessing our site through Websense:] No problem with access this morning! ;)

Excellent!  Once again we thank Websense for their prompt response to the problem!

From Simone:

Related to Arabic's singular, dual and plural: in Russian the noun modified by the numeral (which acts as adjective) is declined as follows. 

One = nominative
two, three or four = genitive singular
five or more = genitive plural. 

Whee!

A Russian friend of ours tells us that these niceties are frequently lost in colloquial speech.

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