I’m in Missoula, Montana, right now, but before I write about the weird time I’ve had so far here (it’s looking up) or my very nebulous plans for the near future, I’m going to say I learned my lesson about blogging about a place prematurely when I gave Calgary a “meh” and then discovered cooler things about it, and so instead of Missoula, I’m just going to write about some odd things I’ve noticed.

First off, there is such a thing as the United States Boomerang Association. They have a newsletter. The newsletter is called Many Happy Returns.

Last time I was in Cincinnati, I was listening to some music from Mongolian band Altan Urag. One of their songs it called “Duujin Daajin”, which, when I was in Mongolia, the Grinnellian I was visiting explained to me means “seesaw”. While I was listening to that song, it struck me that both English and Mongolian have a word for seesaw that’s obviously inspired by the back-and-forth seesawing motion. In fact, English even has two, because we also call it a teeter-totter. And so I logically figured that a lot of languages might have words like that for a seesaw. But when I did the translation work, I was disappointed. These were the only ones I found:

  • English: see-saw, teeter-totter
  • Mongolian: duujin-daajin
  • Chinese: 蹺蹺板 (qiāoqiāobǎn)
  • Tagalog: lawin-lawinan
  • Hebrew: נדנדה (nadinedah)

There were also a few languages that borrowed the English word, like Korean and Japanese, which both interpreted it as shiso. But that doesn’t really count for what I’m looking for. Then it occurred to me that zigzag might also be a good word to check out. The results were even more disappointing:

  • English: zigzag
  • Chinese: 蜿蜒 (wān yán)—also notice that the characters have the same left radical
  • Welsh: igam-ogam

A whole lot of languages have words that look like the English word, though it’s hard to say which of them borrowed it from us, and which borrowed it from the German Zickzack, which is where we got it originally anyhow. Basque has sigi-saga; Hebrew has סִכסָך (sikhsakh); Russian and Ukrainian have зигзаг (zigzag); Serbian has цик-цак (tsik-tsak); Korean has 지그재그 (jigeujageu); Japanese has ジグザグ (jigujagu)—though they also have うねうね (une-une), which doesn’t exactly mean zigzag, as far as I can tell through an image search, but rather something like zebra-striped or psychedelic or trippy. An unimpressive lack of originality on the part of the world’s languages, English included. Only the Germans, the Chinese, the Welsh, and maybe the Japanese show any initiative.

I swear there was one more curiosity, but I can’t remember it right now. If I do, I’ll update this. Even though two curiosities is a pretty lame list, I’ll leave it at that for now because I’m in a library and I won’t be able to think of it without going out for a walk around or something.

File under: irrelevancies, Year of Adventure, language · Places: Cascadia

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