17 August 2009

it means "related to awesome"

by Cecily
Language Log has a series of posts up wherein Geoffrey Pullum tries to figure out the meaning of a mysterious word that he doesn't know and has never seen written.

The great naturalist Sir David Attenborough, on Radio 4, mentioned a curious-sounding class of animals that he appeared to be calling Sicilians... I listened carefully; it definitely sounded like "Sicilians". But what was this word? These creatures (he made it clear) did not live in Sicily.

Professor Pullum uses the Power of Phonetics to decide that the word must go like this at the beginning:
[PS or C or S] then [E or I or Y]* then [C or S or SS]

but he can't figure it out!

He should have asked someone with a name like mine, because I totally knew what the word was, because all my hopelessly recondite lovers-of-abstrusity friends and relations are always making hilarious jokes in which I am compared to a blind underground snake-worm. Other times the jokes are about sewage systems. My friends and relations are so educational.

*I kind of think he is wrong about this. The second part is only limited to E/I/Y if the first part is a C or PS. Otherwise the vowel could be anything (ANYTHING!) and it'd come out schwa. That's what I think. Now you know.

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