Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: preserving an indigenous language, bird by bird; heroic phone operators; wishing for an Amish paradise.
“Mr. Grant had spotted a small kingfisher, or birrangbirrang in Wiradjuri, as it swooped low over the Murrumbidgee River in the oppressive summer heat, calling to its mate.”
Michelle Innis, “An Heir to a Tribe’s Culture Ensures Its Language Is Not Forgotten,” The New York Times, April 8, 2016
Wiradjuri is the language of the second-largest Aboriginal group, also called the Wiradjuri. Birrangbirrang is probably imitative of this type of kingfisher bird.
“There was static over the phone—after a storm, the telephone wires hanging above the streets would usually get tangled, causing heavier static than usual—and then came the voice of a Hello Girl from the downtown telephone exchange.”
Skip Hollandsworth, “How Police Failed to Find America’s First Serial Killer,” Esquire, April 5, 2016
Hello Girl was a name given to switchboard operators in the early days of the telephone. The Library of Congress says that the term began to appear in the late 19th century although Hello Girls gained even more recognition during World War I when women fluent in both English and French were employed to facilitate communication among American officers in France. French operators, understandably, spoke only French and apparently had too much of a laissez-faire attitude, at least for American tastes.
“Homintern was the name various people jokingly coined to describe a sprawling, informal network of contacts that occupied a prominent site near the centre of modern life.”
Gregory Woods, “From gay conspiracy to queer chic: the artists and writers who changed the world,” The Guardian, April 8, 2016
Homintern is a term coined in the 1930s to describe the conspiracy theory that gay men hold all the power in the art world. The word is a blend of homosexual and Comintern, a worldwide association of Communist parties, which was established by Lenin in 1919 and dissolved in 1943. The word Comintern comes from the Russian komintern, which is an abbreviation of Kommunisticheskiĭ Internatsional, “Communist International.”
“Indeed, as Dumas was quick to point out, in many ways, Lincos was written more for Earthlings than ET.”
Daniel Oberhaus, “Building a Language to Communicate with Extraterrestrials,” The Atlantic, April 5, 2016
A blend of lingua cosmica, itself a play on lingua franca, Lincos is a language developed by German mathematician Hans Freudenthal as a way to communicate with extraterrestrials. Lincos uses math and is a spoken language, rather than a written one, “made up of phonemes, not letters, and governed by phonetics, not spelling.”
“It’s unlikely, in other words, that the wishful Amish writing blog posts about desperately wanting to become Plain will ever do much more than that, let alone seriously pursue conversion.”
Kelsey Osgood, “Can an Outsider Ever Truly Become Amish?” Atlas Obscura, March 29, 2016
A wishful Amish is someone from outside the Amish community who wants to be in. Accepted Amish-Mennonite converts are extremely rare.
Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee had a girlfriend who was a hello-girl, and the word appears in the text several times.
Freudenthal may have claimed to have a spoken language, but I doubt if anyone ever spoke it. He did, however, write in it.