Etymological Word Game: Is Love Selfish, or Woe a Horse?

· Etimología, Etymology

If ever there was a reason to study foreign languages, and not just one, I present here an idea for a parlour game, party game, rainy-day-stay-in-during-school-recess game – and should the linguistic level of the players not allow the level of creativity shown here, instead of an individual competition, one could have a brainstorming session, to see how many ideas come up.  As we show in the course of this article, these ideas, while they should mostly be about language, can bifurcate into other fields, such as mathematics, psychology (Rorschach test) and literature.  That much is offered to game players.

On a more serious level, the idea presented here can be applied in the creation of one’s own mnemotechnics in language acquisition.

The starting point is etymology, whether real or one’s own false creations. Sometimes a word comes to my mind – it may even be common – but on that certain day, it seems to be a curiosity.  If I am not doing anything important, like walking down the street, or just waiting, that word is used to lead me to other ideas.  It can provide for quite a few minutes of amusement.

In this article, an expression is taken which was found around the beginning of this millennium on a website which pretended to teach Chinese.  I say pretended, because when I tested the expression with some Chinese people, I discovered that the pretended phrase which we show in our diagram, (at the bottom of this article) which was translated as “I think you are very kind”, actually meant “You are very lovable”, and the kind of love one understands is neither platonic nor that which is known as agape. I was told not to say it to men – after the mistake was already made.  There may have been some room for error, as there is an expression in Chinese about Westerners trying to speak their language.

(I had better luck in putting some German into Chinese, which caused a client to remark that my translations were better than the on-line ones.  Yes, and they resulted in working at a financial loss, so please, no correspondence in something that will take up my time!)

I ignore in the chart, and here, the correct tones, and it is important to know, for those unacquainted with the language, that the transliteration does not correspond to our Western ideas.  For example, “q” has a sound related to our “sh”.  We show the expression only for completeness, and the reader need not worry about the pronunciation, other than to follow through with what we did with the expression.

The bad translation into Chinese of “I think you are very kind” was (done with the help of, to save time):


The transliteration is:

Wǒ juédé nǐ hěn kě’ài.

I know that the Google translation is correct, because I put in the true value of the words in English.  This is what I tested on some young women, to pleasing effect.

Unfortunately, what I had thought I was saying is said in Chinese as: Wǒ juédé nǐ hěn shànliáng.  The last part is made up of two words, each meaning “good”.

We want to keep it simple, and with the original expression which we learned on that website which existed more for the purpose of making the “learner” feel good than anything else.  After watching a Chinese video of which I understood nothing, I took the quiz, and got over half the questions correct, which should be statistically improbable.

We can take the expression from the point of view of appearance, or from the point of view of its sound in English, which is something like:

Woe jweh duh nee hunk a aye.

(Incidentally, my books show juédé as jué dé.)

In our game, we now completely ignore the original Chinese, unless it is our purpose to learn the expression.  At any rate, it will become necessary to apply our imagination.

As our diagram shows, we can derive “woe” from the first word, and “aye” from the last, which suggest symmetry in sadness, recognizable if we know “aye” as Spanish, not English.  Based on discussions I have had in other web-pages of mine, the vowel of these words could be replaced by any other vowel or diphthong, so we could get “we” for the first word, and it is not entirely out of range for a couple of the others, but less interesting in the overall scheme. The last word could suggest the courtroom or parliamentarian “yes”, “hey” with a dropped “h”, or the Spanish “¡uy!”, which goes from usages when one is pained all the way to expressions of surprise or admiration (with an optional silent “h” in front).  We have preferred to play with the similar sounding German word for egg, “Ei”., and we could have used the French “aïe”, which I find on-line as “ow”, in my old Larousse French English dictionary the word given is “Oh”, but on-line, it can be “ouch”, or a negative “Oh!” This is perfect for our purposes, as then the last word is spoken almost the same in Chinese and in French, and the first and last words may now be understood as identical.  Almost identical in my old dictionary is aï, which I mistakenly took for the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis), because I did not find the ai, a three-toed sloth, when I first wrote this article – not that it matters to much.  We discard the two animals as uninteresting for this present work, but when I give that description, it refers to my own feelings, and someone might be able to build better ideas with what I have discarded. The scheme of the discarded ideas, then, up to now, is:

         We …….. aye(-aye).

 Juédé nǐ can be merged together, if needed, or broken up.

What I have done cannot conveniently be put into the chart.  One idea was to use “She wed”, dropping the “e”, or a very badly pronounced “you wed”, dropping the “ou”, and corrupting the “y” as in “dontcha”, more precisely, “dontchoo”.

“Ni”, from the very first, we associated with the French pronoun “nous”, which fits in neatly with the vowel substitution idea mentioned above, especially because the “s” is not pronounced.  On the other hand, in German, we took the “n” of that word, joined it to the preceding part, and got a bad pronunciation of Sweden, which sound like “shwayden.  Also suggested was “sway”, the idea of the person (potentially) spoken too as kind or lovable sways the person to think or feel a certain way.

Those who want might see a hen in the next word, and the overall linking of ideas does not rule out an animal, now that we have the aye-aye (and one more to come). More aggressively, based on the pronunciation, we have Hun. We felt we could do more adding the following “k”, and making “hunk”, and saying the “e” which follows as the “o” in “of”, and as abbreviated in “whole lotta love”, which is the best we could get with “hunk of —”.  In this sense, we must see “lot” as in “I ate a lot of uncut bread, which was a chunk from a big loaf”, thus making the chunk or hunk the equivalent of a lot.

The explanation of “love” comes from an immediate association of the Chinese word with the first two letters of the French verb, “aimer”.  The pronunciation is not the same, and the French “ai” is “have” in the first person singular, meaning to have. Possession and love often go together, and our chart’s “All love is selfish” comes from a high-school English teacher of the 60s, who gave that insight to her class.  It must not have gone well for anyone she “loved”.

Adding a final “d”, as if the Chinese were an English past tense, we get a word like “kind”, which is, of course, what we wanted in the first place.

The sentence the illustration shows beginning with “Woe”, is left to the reader to complete with extra words, not relevant to the main text.  They would, for the most part probably be too controversial to put on line. Just what kind of person did she wed?

The German rendition suggests the use of dialect, where some final letters are dropped.  In my own speech, I notice that when I use feminine nouns, the “eine” end up as “ah”, but for neuter nouns, I use the correct “ein”. (That comment might help someone listening to provincial German.)

The sentence cannot be rendered into French, because they have no properly aspirated letter to take the position of the “h”. “W” is not a proper letter of the Spanish alphabet, and using a “v” or its similar “b” has not suggested anything useful – at least, as yet.

We then go back about 2000 years, to the times of the Roman Empire, and a centurion laments, “O! Ego! O!”  Clearly some case of hubris gone bad!  We will connect the “ego”, meaning “I”, to its Indo-European roots, and for the moment, it will be necessary to take on faith that “w” and “y” have vocalic qualities, which justify the transition from Chinese “wo” to Spanish “yo”, and Italian “io”, these latter two being derived more immediately from that Roman “ego”.  (Click the following image to enlarge.)


Interconnectivity of Various Indo-European Words Representing the First Person Singular

From there, we go into a transformation, which turns the Roman’s words, with the “ego” translated into English, in the middle of the two “o”s into the Hebrew word for horse.

I just thought of a variation, the old joke, “What’s high in the middle, and round at both ends?”  The state of Ohio.  With “h”-dropping, we might get the same answer.

Going to mathematics, if the circles are reduced to points, and the line of “I” is put onto its side, we get “. _ .” This is Morse code for the letter “R”, which we can do nothing with, except to further admire the symmetry.  Further, we could see a number, zero – one – zero.  In Chinese, the one is like a line, but we would have no use either for the dots or for the “R”, unless we give it a Southern “r”-dropping accent – ahh!

After a further twenty-four hours of thought, I was left not only with some unfinished business here, but new ideas for a type of symmetry.

Firstly, our chart makes what one might think is a big deal of of personal pronouns, the “I” or “wo” at the beginning, the “you” or “ni” in the middle. Our logic might be attacked on the grounds that “we”, while being first person, is only meant as a first person singular when used as the “royal we”. Many European languages have both a singular and a plural form of “you”.  Our slurred “you” even, at one point, was suggested as “she”.  What kind of broth of pronouns is this.

The secret is that the pronouns (I am not saying that this is universally true) can have a common source.  As difficult as it may seem to believe, such has been said of such three very different meaning words: he, she, and it. (Look at the words under “ko-“, but search for “et cetera at the link.)

If we so choose, we understand the first word as woe, and the last as meaning the same, in either Spanish or French, but if we choose, we can give a double meaning with the sloth, a creature which hangs in the trees.

We swayed aknee, hung(k) a(n) ai  [on a tree].

We even have come up with a rather distant:

Watcha doin’ Hank, ‘ey? … Aye!

I once “translated” an entire poem by Lermontov in this manner (which unfortunately seems to be lost), but Russian is an Indo-European language, and it is therefore understandable that many words bear a similarity to those we may know.  This is not true of Chinese.

On the other hand, Japanese, Hungarian, and Turkish do not suggest anything to me – at least, as yet.  A lot of studying remains to be done.

There has not been too much discussion about etymology as yet, so a few ideas from the American Heritage Dictionary will now be added.

De-, in Proto-Indo-European, is a demonstrative and adverb, roughly paralling one of its functions in Chinese.

Ed– is the root for our verb, to eat, more obvious in the word “edible”.

Kwo– comes down to us in relative and interrogative pronounces, as varied as whose, when, why, what, , and where.  Notice that the majority of these, in modern English, omit the “h” sound, leaving us with “w”.  This could be another possibility in our playing with “wo”, so an interrogative sentence could be formed, with the “aye” as a British “yes” answer.

Nes-, unbelievable, gives the French word “nous”, and also the English “us”, the meaning of the Gallic word. But we prefer, for “ni”, the closest root is “ne-“, giving us negatives such as not. “Neither, … nor” in Spanish is ni … ni. In Russian, this is ни … ни, strangely, transliterated “ni … ni”! Ne is also a French negative, impressively, for our purpose, in the expression, ne … ni … ni, used for “neither … nor” in that language, with the verb following ne.

There is no clear root for the word amatory, or the French and Spanish aimer, amar, in Indo-European.  Pri- means love, and gives us the word “friend”; it is the root of the given name Priyanka.  Leubh– means to yearn, desire, or love, and is the distant root of our “love”.  Two words possibly lend themselves to our game, kaa-, [I am writing this with a double “a” to avoid using special characters], meaning like, desire, or gher-, convenient if the “r” is dropped, meaning, like or want.  A recent publication suggest the Spanish word querer, often used for love, but also meaning to want, comes from a root meaning want, desire, seek (accessed 20180609). The American Heritage Dictionary only gives “to seek”.  The article (in Spanish) informs us that Ivonne Bordelois claims this word has a bit of the idea of possession, which ties in nicely with our using the French “ai”, (I have”).

The chart finishes with some reflections on Humpty-Dumpty, and some illogical syllogisms. After studying all this, how to say “I think you are lovable” should be firmly ingrained in many minds! (Click to enlarge.)

Click to Enlarge. Illustration to Accompaning Text: This permits a clearer presentation of characters which may not be rendered properly in the user’s computer.

June 6, 7, 9, 10, 2018.

© 2018, Paul Karl Moeller

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