Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Comic Word

For those of our readers who are into comics, particularly the series X-Men, there is a female character called Jubilee in them, whose actual name is Jubilation Lee. How do the English words jubilee and jubilation relate?

We do not know for sure. Jubilation comes from the Latin verb iūbilō (“shout for joy”). Hebrew yovel (= English jubilee) marked the year at the end of seven cycles of sabbatical years, which had a special impact on the regulations of property and management of land in the land of Israel, according to the Bible. The Latin translation of the Bible (Vulgata) translated the word as iobeleus, while the Greek translation (Septuaginta) rendered it as “a trumpet-blast of liberty.” The reason for the latter was that the Jubilee year was announced by a blast on a shofar (Armenian շեփոր, shepor), an instrument made from a ram’s horn (Hebrew yobhel “ram”).

The Armenian word յոբելեան (hopelian), which today means “birthday” or “anniversary feast,” is used to mark an anniversary of any kind (for instance, 2013 was the 95th hopelian of the creation of the Republic of Armenia on May 28, 1918), whereas the English jubilee is most commonly used to mark a twenty-fifth (“silver”) or a fiftieth (“golden”) anniversary. The Armenian word derives from Greek yobelos, where the Greek suffix –os was replaced by the Armenian եան (ian), which means “belonging to.”

However, there is an alternative explanation, after all. It has been suggested that Latin jubilo and Ancient Greek iuzo (“shout”) both come from a common Indo-European root *yu- (shout for joy) that predates the Bible. (There is also the Modern English word yowl.) If such were the case, then the Hebrew word yovel would be a borrowing from a neighboring Indo-European language rather than a derivation from another Hebrew word. And then the Greek yobelos, Armenian hopelian, and English jubilee would have an ultimate Indo-European origin, even if kept by the Bible.

Words can be fun and mysterious.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

How Do You Call Him?

You call someone. This means that you tell someone to come to your side, you give an invitation to someone, or you name someone.

These three meanings of the English word call are all covered by its Armenian equivalent կանչել (ganchel).

There is a fourth meaning, very common in English American usage, as a synonym of “to telephone.” Thus, if we mean to say “I called my brother” in Armenian, we should simply say «Ես եղբայրս կանչեցի» (Yes yeghpayrs ganchetsi) and end of the story.

It sounds perfectly right: English call, Armenian ganchel. But it is perfectly... wrong.

Why? The English word is the shortened version of “to call over the phone,” but we do not have this expression in Armenian: we do not say հեռաձայնով կանչել (herratzaynov ganchel), but ... հեռաձայնել (herratzaynel “to telephone/to phone”). This being the case, we are not allowed to shorten an inexistent expression in Armenian (herratzaynov ganchel) and turn it into... ganchel.

You will find yourself before amusing, and confusing, situations. For instance, someone might say in reference to a friend who has been missing for a long time:

«Թիւը գտիր ու կանչէ, խօսինք» (Tivuh kdir oo gancheh, khosink, “Find the number and call him to talk”)

How would you understand this gancheh? Would you phone him to talk or . . . invite him to come to talk? If your interlocutor had said հեռաձայնէ (heratzayneh) instead of gancheh, there would be no confusion.

Some people may think that this mistaken usage is only common in Armenian American speech, but, in fact, the same fourth meaning exists in other languages (French appeler, Spanish llamar, for instance). Therefore, you may find ganchel inaccurately used in many other corners of the Diaspora. Don’t think that because someone knows Armenian better than you, that then he necessarily speaks better than you.