Replying to LO25915 --
Richard Seel <email@example.com> writes:
>Your musing on words and their trajectories through
>semantic space are always fascinating.
Greetings Dear Richard,
I wish I could reflect better how fascinating the evolution of langauges
is to me self. We want to know how our organisations as systems can evolve
through time and thus search for examples which we could study. The
evolution of a language as an "irreversible self-organising" or "complex
adaptive" system fills me with awe. A language is far more than a
collection of words with each having a meaning. It involves dances of
sounds and symbols too on a floor where many other dance too.
When I jump into the evolution of languages, one thought visits my mind
most frequently -- What is the truth="aletheia"? I wish I had a time
machine and a tape recorder because script (and so much got lost any way)
capture sound so poorly. What is even worse, trying to capture sound with
the symbols of phonetics give such a complex string of symbols that I
sometimes want to say that its is fraud to symbolise speaking as to
formalise thinking. But then I will think of Homer's hero Theseus who came
up to the Labyrinth with the Minotaur in it and will say to myself "do not
>I was a bit surprised by the following, though:
>>Perhaps even more interesting is the word 'werewolf".
>>It evolved from a combination of two words -- again
>>"weor" for (hu)man and "wulf" for wolf.
>According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'wer' or
>'were' was OE for male person, and secondly a husband
>(male spouse). Similarly, wif was OE for female person,
>latterly one of low estate (still found in 'fish wife',
>'old wife' etc.) and secondly a wife (female spouse).
>In Old English 'Man' was primarily a genderless word
>for 'human' or 'person' (as still in German? - Mann kennt, etc.).
>Gender was indicated by the terms werman & wifman.
If fellow English speaking learners want to pronounce this "wer", "were"
or "weor", I think that they will come close to it by saying "hear", but
with replacing the "h" with the consonant "v" (lower lip against upper
teeth) like in "very".
I always come under the impression that there are curious inversions of
patterns between the Germanic languages which crossed the Channel into the
British Isles (Scottish and Old English) and the Germanic languages
(Frankonisch= Higg-Dutch, Sachsisch=Low-German, Schwabish=High-German,
Juttisch=Danish) which stayed behind. I have tried to illustrated it in
terms of the "-ness" and "-hood" inversion.
You have now touched upon another one. How to refer to human as a person
irrespective of sex. Since as a child I used to think that in English it
is "man". But the "entropy production" of the feminists made me aware that
I have to search much deeper for clues. It is useless to convince them
that it is a genderless word. Their tacit knowledge would not allow it.
What clues do we have? Back on the mainland the genderless word was "mens"
(German: "Mensch"). But like on the Isles it also gradually became
replaced by "man". Why?
I think that it may have to do with the "wif"(OE), "weib"(GER),
"wyf"(AFR). It seems that "man" was used to refer to the males and "wif"
to the females of all animals species (including humans). As for humans
themselves, I now have several documentations that up to a millenium ago,
the "man" and the "wif" worked closely together as a team, sharing
responsibilities in a harmonious manner rather than the husbands acting as
chauvinists. But then something strange happened in which the female
humans got derogated by the very name "wif". The "wif" was not anymore the
female "mens" (female human as person), but became the female
animal="deor". Simultaneously the "man" got elevated by referring to the
male "mens" alone rather than all male animal species. To put things back
into order, the word corresponding to "vrou"(AFR) "Frau"(GER) was used
increasingly to refer to the female person.
In my own language Afrikaans (AFR) this process seems to have followed the
ultimate course. When a man calls a female person a "wyf", she will
scratch his eyes out, if not destroying his family jewels. Now, in order
to still use "wyf" for females of animal species, a fantastic solution was
made. The diminutive form of anything is obtained in AFR by adding the
suffix "-ie" ("-kie", "-tjie" according to the rules of phonology) to it.
Furthermore, this diminutive acquired a most powerful use to indicate
endearment. For example, in English a beloved spouse may be called "my
love". In Afrikaans it is done too as "my lief". But to add all the
endearing which is possible, we will say "my liefie". (In English it will
correspond somewhat to "my love-y", but the meaning is much less
endearing.) So to make the use of "wyf" respectable once again, it was
transformed into "wyfie". This is for me a fantastic healing of a
destructive immergence of a former bifurcation by a constructive emergence
of a subsequent bifurcation.
Using this suffix "ie" can have its problems. My first name is Adriaan
which may be shortened into At (sounding like the "at" of what without the
"wh") or Ian. Now making an edearing of these names would be Adriaantjie,
Attie or Iankie. When my dear wife became acquainted with me many years
ago, she soon decided that there are far to many Attie names in the family
because Adriaan is a common name in the De Lange ("Of Length") families.
They are long people and what they do are often lengthy. Similarly, your
name Richard may be shortened into Rick so that the endearing form of it
will then be Rickie, or more Englsih like Ricky.
We now call only some female animals "wyfies". The much loftier
descriptive phrase "vroulike diere" (female animals) is now used by
adults. But curiously enough, children will at a very young age begin to
use "wyfies" until some adult "correct" them. Anither curiosity is that
since sexual differentiation also occurs in many plant species, the "wyfie
plant" is still used much more than "vroulike plant".
My dear wife and I have had many dialogues on how much shifts in meaning
have happened to our language in the duration of our lifetime. Some months
ago we talked about "mens". When we were kids, in both my world and her
world, most of the people whom we came into contact spoke of the "human as
person" by using the word "mens". This "mens" is now used in the sense of
merely "human" so that when we speak of "human as person" we will have to
use "persoon". In other words, the wholeness of the meaning of "mens" has
decreased significantly during some 50 years. It is more significant that
this immergence happened far less among Afrikaans speaking people living
in the deserts. Why? You cannot stay alive in the desert with impaired
I have written several times on the "entropic forces" operating in
Afrikaans which are tacit knowledge to all other Afrikaans speaking people
because they know nothing of "entropy production". For example, we can
break through the common three steps of comparison like "mooi"=pretty,
"mooier"=prettier and "mooiste"=prettiest with the following rule
"afgryslik mooi"=[abominable pretty]. This antithesis causes intuitively
such a strong entropic force that it drives the thinker to the very edge
of chaos where a bifurcation will happen. For the desert people it will
emerge to the fourth case beyond the superlative.
But for people living in cities the bifurcation will often result in
immergences. Thus I have to be very careful where I use such antithesic
connections in the seperlative. For example, "lewendig"=alive,
"lewendiger"=livelier and "lewendigste"=liveliest which is followed up by
"vrek lewendig"=[dead alive] caused me several problems the last few
years. People think I am saying that they are more dead than alive when I
am actually saying they are "livelier than liviest". See what I have done
here! I created the fourth case through a bifurcation by inverting the
common order between livelier and liveliest. This inversion of convention
also causes an entropic force.
Recently I discovered another compelling "entropic force" operating in
Afrikaans. Afrikaans is one of the languages in the world richest in
vowels. We have some 27 distict vowels. Try to render them with 26 letters
of the alphabet and imagine what an ortographic nightmare this is!! The
two vowels needing the least "entropy production" to make (smallest number
of muscles and least contraction in them) are "a" (short, like in what)
and "aa" (long, like in bar). Now compare the following pairs of words (of
which many words are not used anymore, or a different meaning is now
"baan"=force open , "ban"=ban
"baar"=bear forth, "bar"=bare
"haard"=hearth, "hard"=hard, stern
and many more like the following strinking two cases
It is most important to observe that it happens far less in other
An interesting exception is
"heel"=heal, whole, "hel"=hell.
I think the reason is that in other vowels the brain is far more occupied
in making the sounds or hearing them. In other words, since the brain is
almost idling in the "aa" and "a" case, it can be used creatively to
design entropic forces in terms of differences of duration, time being an
intensive quantity as expected. Unfortunately, as the pace of the race in
our world is increasing, these differences in duration gets less
pronounced and so this meaning making process becomes gradually lost.
However, once again, these desert people know how to create intuitively
meaning with duration in all sorts of voewels, meanings which would baffle
the dictionary maker.
So what is truth=aletheia? Since I have become wise to "entropy
production", I have gradually became aware to the point of sheer
excitement that truth is not only a being (picture), but also a becoming
(movie). I am getting increasingly frustrated when people claim that
humans of today know much more than humans of ancient tiems. They could,
for example, create language whereas we now can merely borrow.
Richard, you write:
>Thus a werewolf is a male phenomenon, perhaps
>indicating that men, as well as women, can be
>subject to the cycles of the moon.
Let as assume that "weor" was used for a male person rather than perhaps
also for a female person as I have indicated with "weor"=(hu)man. Then why
should only some men become werewolves? Well, "it must then be a thing of
sex in the genes" we would argue. Let us argue (with tongue in the cheeck
One argument may be in terms of the equivalence relationship "=" of being.
It goes like this. The male has the mixed sex chromosome pair XY whereas
the female has the pure pair XX. It seems that women are purer than men.
It is as if this impurity Y in men like you and me which carries the
genetic potential for wierd aberrations like the werewolf and dracula.
Another argument may be in terms of the order relationship ">" of
becoming. It goes like this. Both boys and girls inherent genetically more
from the mother than the father. As for the DNA in the chromosomes of the
cell's nucleus, half comes from the mother and half from the father. But
for the other genetic material (RNA) contained in the rest of the cell's
organelles like the mitochondria, boys and girls get almost all from the
mother. It is because of this genetic inferiority and the desire to
correct it that many men behave like chauvinists and "sheepwolves" and a
few even become werewolves.
Thank you Ricky for the lekker geselsie. This "lekker" in Afrikaans
encompass all kinds of appreciation (like from nice to bliss). Its root
"lek"=lick. The "gesels" encompass all kinds of communication (like from
"tongue in the cheek" to a "LO dialogue"). Its root is "sel" can perhaps
be described as "rapturous gifts". The "-ie" endears it all.
With care and best wishes
At de Lange <firstname.lastname@example.org> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa
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