A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Frank Reed
Date: 2017 Feb 26, 10:06 -0800
Tony Oz, you wrote:
"I was asking for the clues one uses to memorise, similar to the thin as a pin, thick as a brick a student of English could rely upon to distinguish the word "thick" vs very similar-looking word "thin"."
Yeah, I understand. After I finished writing my message last night, it occurred to me that you were asking for mnemonics. I was tempted to erase everything I had written and write "there aren't any" (except the ones you already know), but I decided to go with what I had written because it might be useful anyway.
"I'm talking about a different thing - the way to help a non-arabic-speaker to memorise mostly meaningless words and their correspondence with stars."
There's no real trick except familiarity and repetition. As I say, stick to the couple of dozen that matter, and you can easily ignore the remainder of the so-called "common names". Also "bear" in mind that only a fraction of the names are Arabic-derived. Here's the list I posted last night with the cultural origin indicated:
- Achernar Arabic
- Acrux modern coinage, ultimately Greek/Latin
- Aldebaran Arabic
- Altair Arabic
- Antares Greek
- Arcturus Greek
- Betelgeuse Arabic
- Canopus Greek
- Capella Latin
- Castor Greek/Latin
- Deneb Arabic
- Fomalhaut Arabic
- Gacrux modern coinage, ultimately Greek/Latin
- Hadar Arabic
- Polaris Renassiance Latin
- Pollux Greek/Latin
- Procyon Greek
- Regulus Latin
- Rigel Arabic
- Sirius Greek/Latin
- Spica Latin
- Vega Arabic
- And either Rigil Kentaurus or Alpha Centauri Arabic or Greek/Latin
As you can see, fewer than half are Arabic in origin, contrary to frequently-repeated statements. Also, of the ones that are Arabic in origin, some of those are simply translations from the earlier Greek or Latin names found in Ptolemy's catalogue. For example, Fomalhaut is a direct translation from Os piscis, the "mouth of the fish".
And you wrote:
"Besides, the "bear" in Russian is not the "honey eater", literally it is "someone who knows about the honey". :)"
Interesting! The great majority of English sources on the etymology of medved trace it to "honey eater". Do you know that English still has a trace of a word with the same root? There is a traditional fermented beverage called mead made from honey (mostly we encounter the word in tales of medieval life), and it's believed to be the same ancient Indo-European root as the "med" in medved.
You also wrote:
"They said the "honey-knower" to avoid using the bear's "real" name - to prevent him coming. This name substitution was made so long ago that now we use the second order "line of defence" - instead of the "honey-knower" we name them the "crook-legged". Hoping they will not guess. :)"
Those sneaky devils. :D Yes, it's hard to know how much of this is real and how much of it is a linguists' "just so story", but it's very popular --I love this stuff. And of course there are similar phenomena in other languages and even more bear nicknames in Russian. For a fun one, the Wikipedia article on the 1980 Moscow Olympics mascot Misha talks about this general phenomenon (and repeats the "honey eater" origin of medved, too). This whole business of name substitution and taboo animal names actually ran through my head a couple of days ago when I was driving to Cambridge. I drove past the practice arena for the famous New England hockey team, the Boston Bruins. The name bruin (Dutch for brown) is claimed to be one of these real name-avoiding euphemisms for a bear. They call him the "brown one" to cheat the dark magic of the bear's real name.
A modern pop culture equivalent of "naming magic" that gets us back to star names: don't say Betelgeuse three times in a row! ;)